I don’t have much to add to this article except that I really think everyone should read it; know what the effects of this type of treatment are and it’s long term impact. Consider the number of people it is used on each year and the reasons for which it is used (like a meal tray not being turned in). Does this sound like justice to you? Are we equipping people to re-enter society?
It is estimated that 15 percent of any given population has disabilities that are visible, and that percentage would climb if we were to include things that are invisible to the eye, such as mental illness. (Tataryn, 18) Yet does such a large percentage of the population get to participate fully in the society in which it finds itself? Furthermore, does the society to which these individuals belong find themselves able to benefit from what these people have to offer? When people with impairments aren’t able to participate fully in the society to which they belong they are existing in a space where ableism is defining how they are perceived and treated.
“’Ableism’ names a subtle and pervasive bias that assumes nondisabled people…are ‘normal’ and that people with disabilities represent an undesirable deviation from this norm. The disability is seen as a personal dilemma to be privately endured and we’ve placed the responsibility to adapt on the individual with the disability.” (Kujawa-Holbrook, 211) Ableism is able to seen in all sectors of society. As an example, the church I attend just announced that a sign language interpreter would now be available for the hearing impaired during one of their five services. While this is certainly a step forward, it puts a constraint on when hearing-impaired people can attend service and groups them all together, effectively segregating them from the rest of the congregation. Many of the videos posted to media by my church also do not have subtitles, so it can be challenging for a person with that kind of impairment to feel truly connected to the community.
Publicly we face many ableism challenges, particularly in Cincinnati. Often aisles and entryways are not spaced appropriately for people in wheelchairs and in downtown areas they sometimes don’t have curb cuts or ramps. Additionally, entry into buildings or the use of a bathroom is often not possible because of the older buildings and lack of updates. Usually if my family is going out, we go someplace familiar or check out the location beforehand in order to confirm it is actually wheelchair accessible. This is true of many social gathering spaces, although the growing occurrence of family restrooms is very helpful and accommodating. However, when it comes to swimming pools or entertainment parks the options can be very limiting with no way to gain access to many of the rides or amusements.
Even in politics, the issues of disability are not often discussed unless it is in relation to the elderly or soldiers. That ties it even more to the idea, as the book mentions, that “disability” is a matter of tragedy rather than circumstance. Perhaps the reason it is so little discussed is because of the challenges faced in voting. Where many without impairments complain of the difficulty of voting, the impossibility for some to potentially obtain transportation, wait in line and navigate the voting booth can be a challenge. If they have a home, they can certainly write-in, but many who are disabled by our society find themselves homeless and therefore struggle to have a political voice.
When we look at theology, it is most certainly influenced by the perspective one has biblically. Does one view God as a Creator who spoke diversity into existence and continued to create and inspire diversity in His creations, as he did when He created humankind or told Noah to preserve the diverse life He had created through the Ark? Or does their view of God tie sin to differences between people and ignore that Jesus chooses to hang out with those who the Pharisees called “unclean” over those who were “pure?” Jesus demonstrates clearly that even those whose impairments were linked to their own personal sin were not made any less human because of it or any less worthy of His love and community. Furthermore, as a community, we are called to be one another’s burden bearers in Galatians 6:2.
But the attitude we more often hear says that a person’s life choices caused them to be in the situation in which they find themselves, supporting an ableist perspective. This could be things that people sometimes attribute to character flaws instead of illness or social injustice: addiction, prison sentences for past mistakes, diabetes or an eating disorder. But even if that were the case, it doesn’t change the fact that they are as much human as you or I and equally deserving of our love and companionship. When our ministry doesn’t resemble the ministry of Christ in the way that He dined, preached and lived alongside ALL in his community, we are allowing the paradigm of ableism to carry social injustice into our ministry and potentially nullify it.
Kujawa-Holbrook, Sheryl (Ed.) & Montagno, Karen (Ed.). Injustice and the Care of Souls: Taking Oppression Seriously in Pastoral Care. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009. Print.
Tataryn, Myroslaw & Truchan-Tataryn. Discovering Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference. United States of America: Novalis Publishing, 2013. Print.
We like to claim that the United States is the land of the free, but how free are we? I want to believe that all people, regardless of where they are in their faith journey, want justice for the oppressed but it is a PARTICULAR call on the heart of those who are a follower of YHWH and Jesus. In that vein, I encourage everyone to watch “13th,” a documentary available on Netflix, and keep in your heart these passages.
“Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” Zechariah 7:10 (NIV)
I would wonder what the effect of a ballooning prison population starting in the 70’s might have had on the stability of the family unit; in effect do we not create widows and orphans through incarceration?
“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4 (NIV)
God puts all of us together; the cause of the voiceless is the cause of those with a voice. Those with power have a responsibility to act for those who are powerless. We should be defending and upholding the cause of anyone experiencing injustice.
“Open your mouth for the mute, For the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV)
This is not about anarchy but about making sure that a portion of our society isn’t existing in an oppressed state or being taken advantage of.
“He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” Psalm 146:7-9 (NIV)
So what do your actions say about which side you are on. Even something as simple as voting. Where do your votes fall for the widows, the fatherless, the foreigner and the poor?
A few additional articles:
http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/03/americas-prison-population (Article looking at the current prison population of the United States and what it means)
http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2015.html (2015 Prison Statistics)
http://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2015/08/14/jailsmatter/ (Role jails play in US)
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/magazine/the-bail-trap.html?_r=0 (The issues around bail for those in poverty and the ripple effect it has on their lives; many are found innocent)
http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/07/us/kalief-browder-dead/ (Man jailed as teen for 3 years without conviction commits suicide)
Examining the Cherokee culture through the lens of the Catholic Social Teachings provides new perspectives and insights that might not be gained otherwise. I decided to use the following six principles. First, the dignity of human person, which says that human life is sacred and the foundation of society’s moral vision is in respect for person’s dignity. Second is sustainability of family, which says that the family is the building block of society which should be supported, not undermined, and participation in society and its organization should be for the common good. Third, justice and economy, refers to a right to those things which ensure human decency not just for ourselves but for our families and society. Fourth is care of ecology, or stewardship of all creation, protecting both the people and planet. Fifth is promotion of peace, in understanding we are all one human family in a shrinking world. Last is the right to work, or that the economy should serve the people and not vice versa.
Dignity of human life was very important to the Cherokee; this may at first seem counterintuitive with the retribution. “By far the most important role that the matrilineal clan played was as the arbiter of justice. Cherokee jurisprudence was simple, and enforcement was swift and certain. An anonymous observer explained, ‘Retaliation is the principle of their criminal code. Whenever an individual is killed, a relative of the deceased kills the murderer.’” (Perdue, 49) In fact, because human life was so valued, murder was the worst crime you could commit and the only way to balance that according to Cherokee beliefs was to kill the murderer. Even as they moved past the point of retaliation killing, their profound respect for life continues to be reflected within societal interactions, customs and legends.
The matrilineal aspect of the Cherokee is something that supported the sustainability of the family as a block of society. Although the seven clans were divided and organized along matrilineal lines, patriarchal ideas started to seep its way in through things like property ownership, legislation, monogamy, etc. Yet, “Missionaries had considerable evidence for the persistence of matrilineal kinship. Mothers often brought children to schools and checked on their welfare.” (Perdue, pg. 174) Although the pressures of the world and economic change told the Cherokee to change the ways of their tradition, it was clear that the shift to a patriarchal society would be more challenging than the missionaries or the Americans had thought. “In other words, the ‘mass and common’ women refused to abandon their own ways of doing things and adopt the values and lifestyle that missionaries advocated. Selu had met Eve, but she had not surrendered.” (Perdue, 184)
It is clearer that the family is still somewhat fortified in tradition, and that the dignity of human life remained relatively intact, but what of justice and economy? Did Cherokee families and societies as a whole experience human decency? This is a mixed bag; with great injustices and atrocities being perpetuated against the Cherokee people by a world economy and the American people and government in particular, the only respect for human decency being shown to the society was from the inside, and even that was betrayed by the signers of the Treaty which sent most Cherokee West on the Trail of Tears. While the Cherokee themselves respected life, very few respected the lives of the Cherokee, which just a few examples being where markets were fixed with regards to deerskins regardless of the poor quality of goods being traded, land was being stolen without protection from the government and alcohol being sold to Cherokee in barracks for what little they had left on the walk westward.
The fourth Catholic Social Teaching, care of ecology, was something that traditionally was accurate for the Cherokee. An example of this would be hunting. Prior to contact, they would purify before and after the hunt and they would kill only what was needed and could be used. After contact, when skins became a trade, they began to hunt with a ferocity, and would leave carcasses for animals to deal with after skinning the kills. Rituals of purification after things like hunting and war fell to the wayside due to the frequency with which they were engaging in both activities. On the flipside, they continued to have greater respect for the land than the “land grabbers” heading West did, who wanted to clear all the indigenous growth and wildlife to make room for cities, cultivation, cattle, hogs, and other farm animals.
Next is the promotion of peace. Although the Cherokee were never exactly peaceful people, one might not describe what they did pre-contact as war. “Native Americans had gone to war long before the European invasion. Nevertheless, the intensity, scale and duration of warfare increased dramatically, and Europeans added new participants, methods and motivations. Incessant warfare brought men to center stage in Cherokee society because war was the occupation of men, and political decision making came to focus on military and diplomatic matters, the business of men.” (Perdue, pg. 86) This mindset and attitude continued from the time of contact up to, in many cases, removal. While peace was something often pursued by the Cherokee and other natives, no sooner was a Treaty signed than it was broken by America in many instances.
Finally, we have the right to work. Unfortunately, the Cherokee were needlessly harassed by the Americans regarding the ways in which the labored and lived out every manner of their lives; from conducting business to managing the home. This included an assault on the original division of labor: women doing most of the agricultural work and raising children while men make war, hunt and assist on an as needed basis. The Americans and missionaries found this entirely unacceptable and so they tried to force change to men working the fields and doing animal husbandry while women tended the home and children, models of piety. “Contrary to this idealized republican woman, Native women farmed.” (Perdue, 186) The longer this went on, and the more white people who wanted this land, the bigger of an issue this became. It was one of the was Georgia Governor Wilson Lumpkin justified removal. “Lumpkin’s gendered language should not be ignored. Cultivation of the soil by men constituted legitimate ownership of land-minimal farming b mere women did not entitle one to possession.” (Perdue, 189) Therefore, it appears that eventually it was determined that the Cherokee do not have the right to work in an economy where people are served but rather, they existed in a world where if women live on land, it is acceptable to take it from them. Removal and dispossession became the order of the day, and their ability to work freely in this world was hindered by discrimination, some might argue, until the last couple decades.
The Holocaust was a major obstacle for modern Christian theology. The body count was too high, the treatment too brutal, the target too specific, the apathy too apparent. What answer could possibly be given for a God that allows atrocities on the scale that occurred in concentration camps, often at the hands of Christians? This was not war. It was the murder of six million Jews and three million others who were from minority groups or were sympathizers. They were defenseless. The answers to the questions for why certain things happen to certain people were no longer adequate. Nobody could reason away that such abuse was God’s Will or was for the best; those regular platitudes Christians mistakenly offer so often as solace, not realizing the weight it places on the victim, become apparent in their inadequacies in this situation. It would have been impossible for the symbol of the cross to not raise questions and dilemmas about God for Christianity.
Traditional theology teaches that, “…God does not will suffering directly. Rather, having created a world with its own natural laws, a world, moreover, where human beings have free will, God allows or permits disaster to happen… Even when suffering is unjustly inflicted on the innocent, God allows it out of respect for human freedom. No matter what happens, God will bring good out of evil in the end.” (Johnson, 51) But this kind of modern theism almost takes God out of most of the story; placing the Trinity only at the beginning and the end. It reinforces this distant, uninvolved Creator that shook off the dust once the work of creation was complete. Furthermore, it creates the perception that if things aren’t fair now, it is okay because God will make it alright in the end. This can be dangerously manipulated to justify the act of doing nothing, of promising reward in the next life instead of seeking justice for God’s creations now.
That answer was, not surprisingly, inadequate to many. The inhumanity that occurred within the concentration camps (and the US unwillingness to be involved until forced, the Japanese internment, the brutality on all war fronts, the Rape of Nanking, nuclear bombs, etc.) made people all over the world question their understanding of Christians and their Trinity. Christian theology and the cross had to take into account the suffering of the people in a way that did not have God as a distant, top of the pyramid Lord indifferent to the suffering of man. Additionally, presenting God as someone who sacrifices His own undeserving Son would translate extremely poorly to those who lost loved ones in the War and in camps. It makes no sense without the context of the resurrection (which was often a theistic after thought). Atheism provides an unfortunately reasonable response to an indifferent God that creates Christians who are okay with torturing and murdering millions of men, women and children. Not surprisingly, faith in God is not at its all-time high in countries that went through the World Wars. And yet there is an even better answer to the issue of the crucifixion in ideas like Dorothee Solle.
Dorothee, a German Lutheran theologian who visited Auschwitz, is described in Quest for the Living God as coming “…to the realization that rather than being a dominating force or an ineffective form of love, divine power is a creative, noncompelling, life-giving good. This is power that flows through relationships bringing others to life, power as love.” (Johnson, 64) To her, God isn’t this omnipotent God, whose main attribute is power and whose primary concern is over who wields power and who submits. God also isn’t impotent love, dying helplessly on the cross, weaponless and without any power. God instead elects to sacrifice and suffer with humanity, and the full story of the cross is in the resurrection because it brings hope to those in the world who themselves are a member of the crucified. ”None of this Christian theologizing is meant to remove the terror of the Holocaust from the Jews… But the God who shared in the suffering and death of the cross and brought the power of life to bear in the resurrection of Jesus Christ was there, suffering in the death camps.” (Johnson, 64)
There were, as mentioned, other theological paths that could be taken following WWII; this is just one solution. However, if the idea isn’t the distance, absence, or indifference of God then another option is that God was present in the concentration camps, beside those who suffered or even suffering with them and hope rests not in endless suffering but in a God that resurrects those that suffer injustice. This is, right now, an aspect of God that resonates with me. A God that takes sides, whose power within his human story lies in his teachings, his life and in his power to be resurrected out of an unjust death and yet to be present with us always. In other words, the Trinity, who I’ve come to see most simplistically as The Giver, The Gift, and the Giving. But more on that later…