If you have been following my recent posts you will notice I have been meditating, as of late, on disability and Christianity. See here and here. I read a post in the Huffington Post by Maria Lin that is a must read for anyone who cares about Christian Community. Read it here. As some of you may know, I lead a group that talks about disability theology, and am part of a church that partners with various ministries for people with disability, and partners with a church plant targeting people who are disabled (the couple planting the church both have CP). Check out the website for Broken Tree Community Church here, and do yourself a favor an watch the intro video. You can hear from the pastor of that church, my friend Steve Roloff.
I say all of this for the following reason. For a while now I have been confronted with the uncomfortable truth that the church is the place where everything Maria Lin asks for in her article is what the Christian community should have. That article should have ended with a witness to a Christian community who proved to her that it is possible, but it was not there. Nor, sadly, did I expect it. My friends with disability tell me about how they have been rejected from coming into church before because the church didn’t know what to do with them. While it is often harder for them to do things we take for granted, the church forces them to conform with our norms – norms often in place just because “that is the way we like it.”
At the heart of our rejection of the disabled is, I believe, the reality that those people with disability have an uncanny way to tap into our vulnerability. If we accept the message of the cross we should see this as an opportunity to find our humanity and know grace, but since we have adopted a secular model of human personhood we see it as an uncomfortable affront. We spend our lives trying to control our reality and here comes someone who is, often literally, uncontrollable (even to themselves). We pride ourselves on our social savviness, and then find out that we cannot understand what they are saying. We surround ourselves with people who think, act, and dress exactly like we do, and then we find ourselves with someone who shares none of those aspects of life with us (and aren’t usually nearly as impressed by them as we are). One of the great failures of the modern church is that this issue has long been ignored. Perhaps one of the greatest neglects of how we see disability is that we see the disability itself as the primary problem. In many cases, the physical or mental disability is trumped by the social ramifications it causes: the rejection, the looks, the comments, the assumptions. The church should be the place where these things are unknown, and yet it often rivals the world in how pervasive they are.
What is the ethos of your Christian community? Does it thrive off of ableness, power, and worldliness, or is it a place that embraces those who are different, disabled, and socially ignored? If the picture I have painted is true, what do we do? Where do we start? This is not just a simple matter of programs, but is a complete worldview shift about the nature of human persons, life, and “success”?