Human beings are created to live in relationship with one another, rather than in isolation. It is through relationships that our characters and values develop.
Everyone in the society and in our church should count, for every life matters to God our creator.
To include is to make path ways or avenues for everyone to hear, understand, and respond to the good news of Christ to the best of their abilities, to be allowed to participate, given a chance to contribute like everyone else, to give, to enjoy, and feel welcomed and be part of the church and community. It’s an issue change of mindset of not seeing persons with disabilities not as objects of charity but as equals, as boys and girls, men and women who are equal in God standing.
WHERE DOES INCLUSIVE CHURCH & SOCIETY START?
It all begins by the change of our attitudes and mindset towards persons with disabilities. It all begins by seeing disability beyond disability, where as we see the person before the disability. It all starts with an Inclusive people who have understood that our God is an Inclusive God and that inclusion is what also concerns Him much (Read Mathew 28:19-20), it also goes with inclusive thinking, inclusive ministry, inclusive language, inclusive life, inclusive buildings and an inclusive society, these are the aspects we need to understand if we are to get to a state of inclusive Church and Society, this is where it all begins.
We could also say that the word accessible is to deal with the building, and the word inclusive is to deal with the people; to change our attitudes and our mindset toward persons of disability.
It’s not only the church and society that needs to be inclusive. An inclusive church and society starts with inclusive individuals, inclusive minds and inclusive positive attitudes.
THE TREE MAJOR DISCRIMINATION Now let’s look at three major types of the discrimination that are out there toward the persons with disability.
Three major types of discrimination have been identified: attitudinal, environmental, and institutional.
Disabled people may be socially excluded by attitudes of fear and ignorance by non-disabled people, who may use negative and pejorative language about them; or they may be excluded from society because of generally low expectations of what disabled people can achieve.
Environmental discrimination occurs when public services, buildings, and transport services are not designed with access for disabled citizens. Institutional discrimination occurs when the law discriminates (explicitly or by omission) against the rights of disabled people, making them in some way second-class citizens – without the right to vote, to own land, to attend school, to marry and have children. (Alison Harris with Sue Enfield)
GOD AND “INCLUSIVE”
There are many verses from the Bible that can testify about this but I’ll just share a few.
I was reading the “Capernaum Board Handbook” that had a beautiful translation of Mathew 28 about the mission and call to the church by Jesus Christ; “The mission and call to the church by Jesus Christ is to go and make disciples of all nations, baptise them in the name of the Father, Son and The Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). How well do we know this as Christians? Yet even though “all nations” include physically, intellectually and developmentally challenged people, we see little, if any, evidence of this is in most Christian enterprises today. So we start here as a reminder that Jesus’ call in Matthew 28 is a call for the body of Christ to see out all people. Everyone is invited to the party. To people with disabilities, this is especially good news, for they rarely are invited and welcomed anywhere.”
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
Now, we also see that God cares for all and His intentions are to make sure that we all enjoy Him as His own creation. In John 3:16, we see how God cares so much about His creation that He sent His only son to die for us, so that we all who believe in Him should not perish but have internal life. This is an invitation to all His creation and He also invites us as the Church and Society to do everything for all just as He sent His son to die for all of us not excluding anyone despite our physical or psychological state of being.
This is my prayer that as the Church we will wake up from our sleep and respond to the call of Jesus Christ.
STATEMENTS FROM SOME OF THE FAITH LEADERS AND ORGANISATIONS
Outside the door of every congregation, there are those who cannot enter, or once in, do not feel welcome. Through your outreach, you will be fulfilling God’s mandate to make the House of God fully inclusive to ALL the people of God! (Reverend Harold H. Wilke, Founder and Director the Healing Community).
When we think of persons with disabilities in relation to ministries, we tend to automatically think of doing something for them. We do not reflect that they can do something for us and with us…they have the same duty as all members of the community to do the Lord’s work in the world, according to their God given talents and capacities. (Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on Persons with Disabilities, no. 17, NOD, 2001).
Allah does not judge according to your bodies and appearances, but He scans your hearts and looks into your deeds. (Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam).
Remember that all can contribute to the building of the kingdom of God and should receive the blessings of giving and receiving. All members need a friend, an assignment or calling and nourishing by the word of God (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).
It’s of Gospel importance that we look at Disability beyond disability, if we are to achieve the “Inclusive Church and Society.”
It is the restricted thinking that many people have toward the persons with disabilities that bring discrimination in our churches and societies. This is a call to a change of our attitudes towards persons living with disability.
“Now Jesus met many people with illnesses and disabilities, but I don’t believe Jesus saw a ‘disabled person’; he saw a person, a full and whole person, who may have had a disability but had much more to him or her than that [Jesus] revealed there were many around who were far disabled, paralysed by legalism and having suffered an amputation of compassion and care.” (Nick Stanton explains)
SEE THE PERSON FIRST NOT THE DISABILITY
It’s of a Gospel importance that we need to look at Disability beyond disability, it’s not a call to the Church only, but an individual call to all of us if we are to complete the body of Christ.
“As far as am concerned, an accessible Church & Society is one where the members “ignore” the disability but instead “see” or “relate” to the person with the disability. If we all consider one another, with more respect for people who are different, life would be more better for everyone.” (Andrew Bartley)
It’s of a Gospel importance that we need to look at Disability beyond disability, it’s not just the church’s call but an individual call to all of us, if we are to complete the body of Christ.
WHAT ABOUT THE DISABILITY MODELS?
We need all the models of disability intervention (Medical, Social and Relational) but most importantly, we need a model that will help us to steward the issues of disability, that model that will help us to empower and include persons with disabilities. We need to map out something that will help us see the identity of a person clearly in the Lord rather than from the disability itself or how the society defines it. This model is called, “THE RELATIONAL MODEL.” I found this model very significant in the issues of inclusion. Bellow is how Tony Phelps Jones explained it from the book; “Making Church accessible to all”:
THE RELATIONAL MODEL
Human beings are created to live in relationship with others than in isolation. It is through relationships that our character and values develop. In the relational model, we work together to make the best of any circumstances in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. We recognise that we are all dependent on others for elements of our daily life and needs, so a key word in this model is ‘interdependency’. Everyone has something to contribute, from which others can benefit. This sits comfortably with the New Testament understanding of church and the indispensability of every person.
Each of the models we’ve considered (Medical, Social and Relational models of disability) can help our thought process, but the relational model draws us back to God as we consider God’s view of people and their potential. The tri-approach (using the 3 models of disability) can bring very good results too. You can learn more about the 3 models of disability intervention from my previous blog.
An inclusive faith community means that every person, regardless of ability, is offered the same respect and opportunity to participate in their worshiping community. Differences are both accommodated and celebrated so that each individual feels a sense of welcome and belonging. (Pathways.org)
In all societies, many families respond to disability by being over-protective. They rarely allow disabled family members to go outside the home, in case they get hurt or ridiculed. Everyhing is done for the disabled person, includ- ing things that he or she would be perfectly able to do independently. The effect of this over-protectiveness, usually motivated by love, is to render the disabled person passive and inactive, and to feel helpless and patronised. Denied the freedom to take risks and responsibility or to learn from mistakes, he or she is permanently treated as a child, and not allowed to grow up.
“Disabled people want to be treated as normal citizens, with rights. They want to be treated equally and participate as equal citizens in their own communities. To achieve this, you need political and social action to change society.” (Alison Harris with Sue Enfield ” Disability, Equality, and Human Rights A Training Manual
for Development and Humanitarian Organisations”)
A welcoming Church and Society as part of inclusive offers empowerment, not pity; advocacy not avoidance; and support not stigma. (Disability and Faith)
May we be inclusive people who reach out to those who have been disabled by others but never disempowered by God. May our Church and Societies be the ones in which everyone is considered as a Human created in God’s image and have something to offer and contribute. May we be inclusive by also not overlooking the needs of the persons with disability. The issue of inclusion lies at the heart of a Chrisian who is a follower of Jesus Christ and honours His church. We need to workout something that will allow all people to initiate and engage in the activities in our own churches and societies at each ones capacity and best of ability, where all people will be empowered, able to respond and contribute for the good of the community and church development.
Key things to focus on: Empowerment, Engage, Discipleship, Listening, Leadership development, Identity, Invitation, Accommodate, Cerebrate, Disability, Access, Society, Church, and Home.
I got much inspired to write this by my own experience in my own church and community and in the activities am engaged in and the conversation I’ve had with different people including persons with disabilities (especially the care givers “mothers”) of persons (children) with disabilities and got some inspiration from different articles and video clips talking about disability and again I’ve been inspired by the things that have surrounded me.
http://fb.me/CSDisability (You can access much of my thoughts about Disability, Church and Society in writing through this link). I would like to hear from you too so please leave a comment.