I feel like the Church is failing the disabled

FireDragon76

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There is so much focus in the media and religious bodies with same-sex-marriage and LGBT issues... that I feel like the voice of the disabled is being marginalized in the Church. There is still a long ways to go towards integrating disabled individuals into society, and addressing the rollbacks of disabled civil rights that have happened in the last couple of decades (the evisceration of the Americans with Disabilities Act), the cuts to food stamps (SNAP) and Social Security, and so on.

I have Asperger's and low vision. I feel out of place in the institutional church, an outsider. I have been involved with adult Autism and Asperger's support groups off and on for the past couple of years. Adults with Autism are invisible, the perception is falsely that Autism is a childhood disease only. Many adults with Autism live with families that act as caregivers and endure a great deal of hardship out of love, often with less support from the wider community and the government. Many of these people are marginalized from the Christian church, either due to direct disability issues (people with Autism tend to be less religious), or because they feel Christianity has little to say to them, especially little to say to the hardship in their lives.

I've been working through the Social Security system for years. It really angers me to have to fight through a system that is thoroughly stacked against the disabled. I don't know how to deal with it spiritually. I know I am not alone in this issue, there are many adults with autism that rely on their parents for their sole support, but it's still frustrating to face injustice, then be expected to participate in a religious community and have your own perspective ignored in favor of trendy political causes that require no risk at all from the bourgeouise (and honestly that is what being pro-LGBT amounts to- yes I'm pro-LGBT as well but it's a cheap cause, hardly something brave, for a liberal Christian). It really makes you feel like a total outsider to the community, and that doesn't feel very welcoming. In the end, I'm starting to wonder if Christianity should be my spiritual home at all.
 
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theophilus777

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Disabled. I know a single Mother with 13 year old twin sons, who both have autism. Seriously deep on the spectrum. She is gifted and educated for Church leadership, but hasn't even been able to go to Church in ... well, not quite 13 years but since her kids became unmanageable. It makes her feel totally unwelcome, and does not help her Spiritual condition.

Not all disabilities are so difficult to accommodate, but doing what we can needs more attention than it gets.
 
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Drumfan84

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I know, in my church, there is one man who suffers from blindness, who regularly attends Sunday evening services. And, until his passing earlier this year, an older gentlemen in a wheelchair, was often helped by his family and set next to the pew in the aisle to attend services. I know that is the more blatant examples of disabilities being welcomed into the church, because they can be accepted.

That's not to say that men and women suffering from disabilities that are much less seen/noticeable can't be accepted into any/all churches. I do, however, agree that there should be more awareness brought to these issues, so that the people in the religious community can find way to help those find a place in their respective churches, and be welcomed with open arms.
 
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FireDragon76

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I was not thinking so much about the physical issues of going to a church building, I was thinking more about the social justice issues surrounding disability in our culture. Social justice is an important part of the witness of liberal Christian churches, and yet, from the standpoint of a disability insider, most of the prophetic voice is coming from outside the Church and the Church itself is largely silent, obsessed instead with low-risk social justice issues that bourgeois culture has long since embraced. Justice for the disabled, on the other hand, strikes at some sacred cows in American culture, particularly the obsession with the autonomous self or the subtle prejudice against diversity that still exists.

To put this in perspective- I find a television program like Star Trek (yes, I'm a Trekkie) to have a much more inspiring vision for human (and nonhuman!) diversity and disability than the average Christian denomination, to the point I find myself finding more spiritual connection in that whole subculture than in mainline Protestant churches, where the issue is often reduced to questions of how the disabled can be physically accommodated in worship. There is little respect heeded to the different life stories of the disabled themselves, or their spiritual needs. There's just a one-size-fits-all spirituality imposed on us.
 
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graceandpeace

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What do you think the Church should be doing to help the disabled more?

Of course there are attempts to physically accommodate individuals in a worship service, & many churches or at least individual believers are supporters of food stamps, etc to help those in need. I think many want to help more, but maybe just don't know how or are afraid they will offend a disabled person.
 
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FireDragon76

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What do you think the Church should be doing to help the disabled more?

Mostly, I think it is an issue of consciousness raising rather having a lot of specific ideas. The concrete steps that the church needs to take can only come from engagement. Many clergy and Christians are not even aware there is a problem that needs their engagement.

I have noticed you are involved a lot with the Anglicn tradition and Episcopal Church. One thing I notice about that church is a lot of focus on contextual theology, specifically feminist theology, creation spirituality, and also, to a less extent, gay theology. There is an emerging theology of disability that is equally contextualized, but my perception is that it hasn't influenced many religious leaders to rethink how exactly they are sharing God's love with persons with disabilities.
sin
 
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graceandpeace

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Mostly, I think it is an issue of consciousness raising rather having a lot of specific ideas. The concrete steps that the church needs to take can only come from engagement. Many clergy and Christians are not even aware there is a problem that needs their engagement.

I have noticed you are involved a lot with the Anglicn tradition and Episcopal Church. One thing I notice about that church is a lot of focus on contextual theology, specifically feminist theology, creation spirituality, and also, to a less extent, gay theology. There is an emerging theology of disability that is equally contextualized, but my perception is that it hasn't influenced many religious leaders to rethink how exactly they are sharing God's love with persons with disabilities.
sin

How do you think they should share God's love with the disabled?

What can individual parishioners do?

Serious questions, because I honestly have little experience with the disabled.

And what does contextual theology mean?

I've only been attending TEC since earlier this year, but I've not encountered any discussion on feminism, etc from the pulpit. I've heard many churches have such conversations regularly though.
 
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FireDragon76

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And what does contextual theology mean?

The biblical precedent for contextual theology can be see in St. Paul's address to the Greeks on Mars Hill. He noticed their interest in religion and philosophical questions, their pursuit of worshipping divinity (even an unknown God), and that created a place to start a conversation. Before he could engage with the Greeks, he had to first take them seriously, recognize they were not Jews, that they had unique experiences, and he would have to change his approach to doing things if he would meet any success.

In modern terms, contextual theology starts with the German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann. Moltmann was a prisoner of war after WWII and the confrontation with the injustices of the Nazi regime deeply troubled him. He took the atheist-Marxist critique of religion very seriously, and this lead him to rethink theology from the ground up, starting with Christology, and ditching a lot of the terms of classical theology (for instance, classical theology emphasizes God's transcendence, aloofness and impassibility- Moltmann emphasizes God's immanence, availability and suffering). This lead to a focus on human salvation as something all-encompassing , not just focusing on the spiritual needs of people, but also their material situation as well. This lead directly to developments such as Liberation Theology in Latin American, and Feminist theology in the United States.

How do you think they should share God's love with the disabled?

I don't think the Church focuses enough on the unique needs of the disabled. We are treated as objects of pity, but not as persons that have the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. Discrimination in more subtle forms is still widely tolerated and our unique perspectives are often excluded. To add insult to injury, our concrete needs are often ignored altogether because they are much more demanding to meet, than say, a gay person who just wants a ceremony in a church, or a woman that wants to be ordained and have gender-inclusive language in her liturgy. The sins of the temporarily-abled, their pride, self-sufficiency, and idolatry of health and material success are numerous and quite often, unrepentant. Their is a hardness of heart that causes many people to ignore the injustices of a society where food stamps and disability entitlements are cut, rather than seeing it as an offense that cries out to Heaven, and instead see them as merely "unfortunate", even necessary, as if God's justice places no demands on our material resources and self-sufficiency.
 
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gerbilwoman

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I agree. God doesn't treat disabled people any differently so why should the church? This has been a big issue for me. I am also on the Autism spectrum. I am very very sensitive to sound and the volume of the music is too loud. I tried earplugs but it is hard because the volume changes throughout the mass so I need to keep adjusting them. At my old church they would be sure to bring Communion to the people who were unable to walk up to get it. They also have earpieces to increase the volume for the hard of hearing. They also accommodate gluten allergies by offering gluten-free host. Yet they are not willing to lower the volume for me. The church is affiliated with two others, and between the three of them they are not even willing to have one quieter mass a week. Even if they did it once a month I would be fine with that. I know others who have asked about this as well, so it's not like I am the only one. I haven't been to church in a while. I got very discouraged, I felt like God didn't want me there. I have realized it is just how the church is run, it's not that God is against me. Going to try some new churches and see if I can't find a new one that is better. Treating disabled people differently is not fair and it's not right.
 
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camethodactor

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The Jesus movement, before it got absorbed by the divide and conquer theology and politics of the Roman Empire, was a prophetic movement of ordinary men and women who sought to loosen the yokes of oppression, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to all who are captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor, to unconditionally love and celebrate each and every child of God, by loving the Lord with all their beings and loving others especially their enemies. The least among us including God's LGBT children, the handicapable, the poor and others are supposed to be our examples of discipleship- of denying ourselves, to give all that we to the poor, to take up our crosses to follow him. Speaking as a pastor in formation, the church in both mainline and evangelical traditions, has failed the least among us especially the handicapable. Part of the problem is the church acts too much like a corporation/empire (i.e. profiting those who have power and those who are well off, concerned more with acquiring power than in self-emptying, concerned more with money and endorsing the status quo rather than speaking prophetically). When churches act complacent or indifferent in the light of oppression, they are essentially endorsing the oppression. The church needs to go beyond token actions like accommodations in worship and address the injustices faced by the oppressed, marginalized and excluded in our world that are endorsed by our powers that be. If Jesus is our Lord, as we profess him to be, we need to take him, his teaching and example seriously. If God is love, as we profess, then we need to love abundantly, if God is life, as we believe, then we must live life abundantly and make that life abundant for all God's children where all truly means all. Each of us is called by the Lord to be co-creators with God, to transform the human race into the human family, of working for the realization of God's kingdom that is present in this moment and yet to be fully realized. I speak this truth as a soon to be pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and as an advocate for the handicapable. We shall know the truth and the truth will set us free, Hear our prayer, Lord!
 
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