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?