Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Clergy / Caregiver Divide -- Perceptions on Disability: Areas of AGREEMENT

Over the course of the next week, I will continue to publish partial preliminary findings of my research on perceptions between clergy and family caregivers regarding disability issues in congregational settings.  All of these findings will be eventually placed into a formal summary report as well as incorporated into my doctoral project dissertation with the appropriate discussions on significant statistics.

Strongly Disagree
Stronlgy Agree
One panel of questions utilized a 4 point Likert scale and asked caregivers to rate their perception and what the rating they expected clergy to give themselves.  Questions ranged across topics including sacramental observances, congregational participation, and orthodox Christian theology. This was then compared to the actual clergy ratings as well.  Depending upon the question, 87-90 clergy members responded while 37-39 family caregivers responded.  Statistical significance was determined through a t-test for differences in means.

Areas of Strong Agreement
(no major statistical difference at 80% or higher confidence level)
CAREGIVER Rating (mean)
Actual Clergy Rating (mean)
People with IDD are created in the image of God.
Clergy representatives allow persons with IDD to receive communion.
My place of worship allows persons with IDD to become members.
Clergy representatives have been adequately trained in ministering to people with IDD and their family caregivers.
Persons with IDD may NOT need to experience God’s saving grace.

Brief Discussion
Of the five statements where there is virtual agreement, two address questions of theology (anthropology and soteriology), two address social belonging in the community of faith (communion, membership), and the final one addresses clergy training and preparation. 

It is good to note that both groups are in high agreement of persons with IDD being created in the image of God.  This basic acknowledgement of personhood drives relational disability ministry.
Both questions on belonging (communion, membership) also have a high agreement factor.  These two important steps into full active inclusion into the life of the congregation tend to be the easiest and least disruptive.

While both groups also heartily disagree with the statement that persons with disability need to experience God’s grace, it is surprising that the conservative clergy members did not strongly disagree with this point.  In part, I think there may be some unanswered wrestling with a cognitive based salvation common in western evangelical theologies.  Most soteriological models have not thought through intellectual disability.  This may be indicated by the caregivers estimating the clergy response to be a mean of 2.23 – a statistically significant different rating.  This may also reflect the caregivers’ perception that clergy members are more ambivalent on this theological statement.

Family caregivers expected clergy members to rate themselves with a 2.97 mean for adequate preparedness for ministry while only giving them a 2.32 rating.  In this case, clergy members acknowledge their lack of training and rated themselves in-line with the caregivers.  This discrepancy may indicate clergy desire additional training but are unwilling to admit their competence inadequacies to families.  Research on developing relationships between family caregivers and social service agencies indicate that developing mutual trust through vulnerability is a key to successful collaboration.

These statistics indicate areas of strong mutual agreement already exist.  As pastors receive additional training and supports in disability theology and ministry, areas not in agreement may be resolved and flourishing may occur.

Coming Soon:

The Clergy /  Caregiver Divide – Perceptions on Disability: Areas of Strong DISAGREEMENT