Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Read and Learn: Some (More) Thoughts on Special Needs

After I wrote my post last week about special needs, I began a class on Presbyterian Polity. Even in reading through the first few chapters of the Book of Order, it was striking to me how the thoughts in my post played out on the pages so to speak. Here I will highlight two portions but please be assured there are many more instances I could cite.

This portion comes from chapter 4 of the Book of Order which is entitled "The Church and Its Unity."

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall give full expression to the rich diversity within its membership and shall provide means which will assure a greater inclusiveness leading to wholeness in its emerging life. Persons of all racial ethnic groups, different ages, both sexes, various disabilities, diverse geographical areas, different theological positions consistent with the Reformed tradition, as well as different marital conditions (married, single, widowed, or divorced) shall be guaranteed full participation and access to representation in the decision making of the church. (G-9.0104ff)
Book of Order G-4.0403 (italics mine)
I am thankful for the phrase "full participation" here as rationalizing the ways and degree to which people who have special needs or disabilities participate might seem legitimate enough on the surface, but are they really?

This next portion comes from chapter 5 which is entitled "The Church and Its Members."

The congregation shall welcome all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God’s grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the membership and ministry of his Church. No persons shall be denied membership because of race, ethnic origin, worldly condition, or any other reason not related to profession of faith. Each member must seek the grace of openness in extending the fellowship of Christ to all persons. (G-9.0104) Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the gospel.
Book of Order G-5.0103

It is true that "disability" is not explicitly mentioned in this passage, but the catch all phrase "or any other reason not related to profession of faith" leaves lots of room for that. The last sentence of this passage is quite sobering. In what ways do I cause a scandal to the gospel by rejecting Christ as manifested in others? How are the limitations I place on others representative of the limitations I put on God?

Gracious and loving God, help us see past the limitations of cognitive and physical abilities. Let us remember that you do not look at people the way we do for whereas we often look at the appearance, you O God, look at the heart. Help us see as you do Lord. Amen


Adam Copeland said...

I've always found those passages in the BOO disturbing. It's like we're trying to list all the ways we're jerks, and it just gets ridiculous because since we are jerks--or "sinners"--we fail. Even our lists surely fail. So let's lose the lists.

Pinkhammer said...

Thank you for your comment, Adam. It seems to me that if those passages are disturbing it is in a good way. Sometimes we are too comfortable in the status quo. The importance is not on the list but rather on ensuring those who have been denied a place in worship or service are ensured a voice and a place. There are many who take comfort in those lists as it ensures they will have a voice. If "sex/gender" wasn't on that list, I probably wouldn't have a voice. And for that, I am thankful.

Sarahlynn said...

I agree with Adam that there's no point flagellating ourselves over our failures until we're too whipped to do better.

But I also agree with Sara that without being specific there are plenty of opportunities for people to skim over the uncomfortable bits or add in silent "excepts."

While most (though not all) in our denomination now see full participation by women as a no-brainer, the same can't yet be said for other groups (including gays, lesbians, or the developmentally disabled). Too often we see others' inconvenient differences as frustrating limitations to our programming or manner of speaking or just to our comfortable approach to event planning or whatever.