Monday, November 6, 2017

Invited to the banquet, sorta

In today’s gospel the pharisees are told,

when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind

It has been 2000 years, and while the poor may have achieved full participation, in far too much of our church the disabled still enjoy only a sort of invitation. 

Here in the Diocese of Richmond we have begun preparations to celebrate our 200th anniversary. And in those 200 years, I am the only person with a visible disability ever ordained to the priesthood. Since then we have imported a blind priest. That’s two in 200 years. This is in large part due to the fact that until St. John Paul II promulgated the current code of canon law, those with “corporal” disabilities were irregular for orders ex defectu, by reason of defect. The law was based in a focus on Jesus as the lamb without spot or blemish. 

Now before anyone’s screams about the Church being antiquated, we should remember that the ADA was not passed by Congress and signed into law until 1990, seven years after the Church changed its law, and religious organizations are still exempt. 

Sadly, one is hard pressed to find a Church, Catholic or Protestant, with a Pastor who has a disability. You can become disabled due to war, old age or infirmity; but if you are born with a disability, unless you can entertain like Stevie Wonder you are likely to be disuaded long before you reach the doors of a seminary or get ordained. 

It starts at the local level. . Look around your church/parish. How many people with disabilities are involved in ministries or much less leadership? At best many parishes will have a special mass once a year at which the disabled are allowed to participate. Imagine if we did that with a racial or ethnic group.

In some ways all forms of discrimination are harder to confront in the 21st century. They  tend to be more subtle, and wrapped in plausible deniability, so that if someone complains they are accused of being hyper-sensitive. And if that doesn’t shut them down those who discriminate move to the indignation attack, “How dare you accuse me of discrimination?”  And yes, sometimes it is so deeply engrained in a culture or a person that it can be almost subconscious. 

At my age I have learned to laugh at some of it because of the ignorance it represents. And personally, I see no great benefit in spending energy getting worked up over the use of “crippled” or “lame” in the lectionary. The greater issues are things like equal dignity, opportunity/pay. 

As Christians we can and should do better. We should be better than the surrounding culture not simply reflect it.