Letter to GBGM

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Letter to GBGM, 1 September 2017

Mr. Thomas Kemper, General Secretary
General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church
458 Ponce De Leon Ave NE
Atlanta, GA 30308

Dear Mr. Kemper,

We, The United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD, an Official National Caucus founded in 1990), were both saddened and shocked by GBGM's choice to discontinue funding of the Disability Ministry Committee of the United Methodist Church. Furthermore, we were offended by the change as well as the choice of language utilized in the 2016 Book of Discipline to outline the purpose, structure, and funding for disability ministry. Over the years we've worked closely with this committee toward achieving the full inclusion of people with disabilities in worship, leadership, and ministry. The situation we now find ourselves in serves to remind us that this work is far from being completed.

As stated above, we strongly object to the language “special needs” used in The Book of Discipline. It is evident that people with disabilities were not consulted, otherwise, the writers would have known that we find this language patronizing at best. The incident has caused the disability community to ask, what does it say about GBGM's leadership practices when proposed changes to paragraph 1330 in the Book of Discipline were made without consulting the very people directly affected by these changes? These actions speak to a total lack of understanding by GBGM about disability culture. They are dismissive, disenfranchising and dehumanizing.

We do not question your intent to fund many disability-related projects around the world. In fact, we applaud you. Moreover, we understand that this may better establish your work as global. Nevertheless, these proposed projects are not the same as the advocacy and justice work being done by the Disability Ministry Committee. The work of the committee is to help our denomination, Jurisdictions, Annual Conferences, and churches do a better job of including and inviting people with disabilities to participate in leadership roles. This work involves in-depth and intentional trainings and capacity building throughout every area of our denomination. We understand that this work is not as eye-catching as sending wheelchairs to Africa or funding schools, but it is critical to achieving equity for people with disabilities in the United States and around the world.

In the disability community, we have a motto: “Nothing About Us Without Us!” We were not at the table when decisions were made that impact the work of the disability committee and its efforts to educate the church. The decision of GBGM was done without informing or discussing its implications on the disability committee. In addition, it was decided without respect for their efforts to make the church in the United States fully inclusive. Too often churches stop at physical access, believing that their work to include people with disabilities is done. This is not the end but the beginning of this work of empowering people with disabilities for worship, leadership, and ministry.

We can share countless stories that demonstrate how discrimination in the UMC has not been eliminated when it comes to people with disabilities. From our work as instructors in the UMW Mission U study, People With Disabilities And The Church, we learned firsthand how uninformed Annual Conferences, Districts, and congregations are about inviting and including people with disabilities. Health and well-being for people with disabilities is not just about being able to walk or see or hear better. It is not only about medical devices or more effective treatment for a disease. Health and well-being for people with disabilities means being treated as partners, consulted about anything that affects their lives, being included at the table when decisions are made.

Our disappointment with GBGM is not just about the funding, although the discontinuation of funding provided to the committee for its work speaks volumes about the value placed on empowerment of people with disabilities. Even more disappointing is the total disregard for the committee in the decision-making process, and the assumption that the committee would simply acquiesce to the decision already made without their knowledge or consent.

Had they been consulted, you would have known the sordid history of the Church and people with disabilities. You would have learned of the long and painstaking years it took to develop the relationship that the committee thought it had with GBGM in 2015. At that time there was a feeling of mutuality and respect, so much so that the committee and The Association of Ministers with Disabilities were actively sought out to consult on the wording and intent of any legislation that the denomination was proposing that effect people with disabilities. It would appear that all of that hard work has taken two huge steps backward.

All actions have consequences and GBGM must understand that these actions are very hurtful to not only the committee, the disability community within our denomination, but to other denominations Disability Awareness Ministries as well. You probably did not realize that they looked to The United Methodist Committee as a model for the rest of Christendom. They looked at the relationship between GBGM and the committee as a beacon of hope, as something to aspire to. And now . . . .?

We strongly encourage the following actions:

  • At GBGM board meetings or events, include training on disability and inclusion by people with disabilities on the committee. Learn the difference between the medical model and social model of disability, and a charity versus justice approach to empowerment.
  • Set a meeting with key people on the committee and listen to how GBGM's decision-making process could take steps to include the people impacted by their decisions.
  • Foster meaningful dialogue with committee members and others with disabilities and listen to their stories of how the church has failed them. Only then will your response be genuinely heard and appreciated by people with disabilities.
  • Include people with disabilities who are national and international experts on their own lives and needs before making any decision to assist.
  • Recognize and remedy the imbalance of power that exist when you hold the purse strings and make all the decisions.
  • Janine DeLaunay, Co-chair UMAMD

    Russell Ewell, Co-chair UMAMD