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One of the keystone ideas in Protestantism is the belief in the priesthood of all believers. This is the belief that God has called each and every one of us equally to be participants in furthering our deity’s grace upon all our lives, our communities and all of creation. This does not take away a leader’s role and calling to the community, but gives more responsibility of inquiry and action to each individual part of the whole in transforming our world. This is especially true and deplorably missing in many of our churches when we look to those who live with a variety of disabilities and mental illnesses. Too often Protestants look at people with disabilities as victims who need our help in overcoming their difficulties or as inconveniences to be taken care of. Sometimes we look with pity or indifference, when the challenge for the protestant church is to live our heritage and see all people as fully human and essential elements in carrying out God’s work in our society. In our society we find this to be of utmost importance when planning disaster assistance when it comes to those in our community who suffer from disabilities.
Collaboration has been the hallmark of many of our initiatives in the realm of disaster preparedness and response to a variety of forms of devastating circumstances. This is always our initial and first hope. Yet, Protestants are also in a unique position to remind bureaucratic and possibly paternalistic institutional agencies that they are entrusted in a social contract with people of disability’s well being and that they are dealing with thinking, breathing individuals who have a stake and a valid viewpoint on their own safety. This can mean that Protestants should take a strong advocacy role. As recent national disasters have indicated the local church and the national church has a vital role in determining the areas that our city, state, national governments, agencies and contracted non-profits have ignored, resources squandered or cultures misunderstood for needs of disaster’s most vulnerable sufferers. Advocacy is essential in standing with and multiplying the voice of those who may not have access to the corridors of power and capital.
Having a father-in-law that is confined to a wheel chair from Spastic Paraplegia has heightened my awareness of how people with disabilities are treated in society as well as in the church. Having no access to a bathroom during worship, turned away from chain restaurants with no ways of accommodating his chair and evacuating from multiple hurricanes in his home on the East Coast of Florida has convinced me that we must begin to see each citizen as integral parts in our society and more than statistics, laws and allocations of funding. This is one area where the Protestant church can and should lead, prod and show the entire society the worth and value of all living beings.
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