Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A proper response to disability - part 3

So because I consider myself to have a disability and strive to identify – at least emotionally – with other people who have disabilities, I’m naturally drawn to discussion on the topic, particularly in a church setting.

I know a lot of deaf and hard of hearing people who have a hard time with church. Even churches that provide an interpreter or other accommodations haven’t equipped the rest of the congregation to come alongside of those with the hearing loss. So the deaf and hard of hearing tend to just fellowship with each other. And this doesn’t just happen in church, really, but in daily living. And not just with people with disabilities. We all tend to clump together with people who are like us, regardless of how much we say that we are in favor of diversity and unity and yada yada yada.

So when it happens in church, on one hand, it’s natural and unsurprising. On the other hand, that’s not who God has called us to be in Christ. Scripture says that we are all one in Christ, and that we are part of one body. There shouldn’t be division in the church because we’re all the same before the Lord. I really long to see the church come alongside of people with disabilities, not just to minister to them in the sense of serving them and making life a little easier, but to enter into their world with the intention of learning from them as well. To welcome people with disabilities as wholly functioning parts of the Body, not treat them as a fringe ministry.

I'm so thankful for blogs like The Works of God and Wrestling with an Angel. Both of the men who write these are fathers who have children with a disability. I don’t know the particulars of each and a parent’s perspective is a bit different than the child’s, but I can identify with a lot of what they share and I appreciate their gospel-centered perspective on suffering.

A while ago, John Knight (The Works of God) wrote a post that helped clarify my own thoughts. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but I particularly liked his argument that God cares about disability, so if we are called to care about the things that God cares about, then we need to care about disability, too.

What this means, too, is that the responsibility for caring for those with disabilities in the church should not land only on those who live with it (the individuals themselves or the family members who care for him/her). We should all be concerned for one another, regardless of the state of our bodies, because we are all members of the same body, and we all belong to each other.

But I'll be honest. I'm not entirely sure what it looks like for a church to come alongside of people with disabilities. I think it starts with a solid theology of suffering, though, and an understanding that God is good even when difficult things happen in our lives or to our bodies. That's a hard truth to cling to, but I think the more a congregation understands this, the more willing they will be to do the coming alongside thing. And as with any kind of group, really, it starts at the top. Pastors, elders and other church leaders should be setting the example and even consider preaching about it.

What do you think? How can a church come alongside of those with disabilities? Should it? What are some things that might keep people from doing so?


  1. Hey girl! I am enjoying this series. Thought provoking indeed.

  2. I struggle with how to relate to people in my life with disabilities. From my correspondence with you, I'm starting to think I should just gather up my courage and ask.

    My specific example is this guy at our church that is confined to a wheel chair. I'm not sure what the nature of his condition is. He serves on the Mission Board. I do to, somewhat begrudgingly.

    The chairperson of the board always has these little projects that we can let this guy do to "make him feel useful". And I cringe because he's a person just like me and is probably peeved at doing niggling little tasks for the mission board. Unless he isn't. But I wonder if anyone knows, or if they've assumed that they're giving Brad purpose when really they're being a bit condescending.

    I'm not sure this speaks at all to your question, but it's the situation that comes to mind.

    Perhaps if we just communicate and ask questions, even the ones that are a little uncomfortable, we could do better to be a united congregation.

  3. This is Carin.
    I have one strong feeling related to this. "Disabled" people also need to get involved and do things they are gifted and able to do. I have seen first hand that SOME "disabled" people come to church with the attitude of "you serve me [because I'm disabled]". While you are exactly on target in thinking about the church's response to those who are disabled, also, we who are viewed as "disabled" have a responsibility to become involved and serve as well. And it need not be only in the area of our "disability" as you said. For example, as a deaf person, I am still able to serve my church family in many ways - not only the deaf - but my CHURCH FAMILY (all of them!). There are some things that I am not able to do well because of my hearing loss, but there are many other things I CAN do to serve. I need to do some of them and not just sit back with the attitude that "oh I am deaf....."!!

  4. Carin, that is an excellent point. I'm definitely NOT on board with the "you are here to serve ME" mentality. In refusing to reach out and be part of the Body, and/or by ONLY interacting with others who share their disability, the "disabled" person just perpetuates the division for sure. Maybe I will explore this a bit in tomorrow's post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!