In July 2008, I was interviewed for an article on disability and religion for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. When the reporter spoke to me he asked me to describe the problems I was having attending and participating in church. Prior to my interview other disabled people exposed the physical barriers. However, my story was different. I shared about the isolation and loneliness I felt going to church.
Active member Since College
You see, ever since I was a college freshman I was an active member of my church community. Attending services and Bible study weekly, tithing regularly and participating in church activities like choir, campus and single ministry events. Even volunteering to serve in children’s church. My dedication and commitment didn’t stop even after losing my vision. I continued to be an active member of my congregation. But by the time the reporter talked to me for that AJC article I was about done. I was exhausted and was losing my desire to be a devoted parishioner.
Now, let me be clear. I was not struggling with my relationship with God per say. It was more about His people and how they treated me because I was disabled. This is why the audiobook My Body Is Not a Prayer Request: Disability Justice in the Church By Amy Kenny, spoke so deeply to me. The author is disabled and a Christian. She writes her story from this perspective. She gives many examples of how her body is used as a call to action to the church. She wants change and the church to be more inclusive.
Kenny is physically disabled, using a cane and motorized scooter, she not only shares about the physical but attitudinal barriers and microaggressions Christians impose on people with disabilities. This goes back to my explanation to the AJC reporter. Let me give you some examples from my own life.
My Life Examples
- A woman was walking in my subdivision and stopped me as I was getting into my ride. She gave me unsolicited advice she got from God to tell me to eat more carrots and drink more water to cure my vision loss.
- A man got angry when I didn’t stop to here his healing testimony. I was trying to board the bus with my groceries and didn’t have time. My bus driver was miffed because he only shared it with me, as if disabled people needed spiritual encouragement more.
- A woman frantically flagged down the car I was in in the Walmart parking lot. She wanted to pray for me. She saw me walking and getting into the vehicle with my white cane. She thought I needed prayers. When she was told this was highly inappropriate she got defensive and annoyed.
Already Healed and Made Whole
Kenny strongly communicates that people with disabilities don’t need to be fixed, cured or healed. As believers our bodies are already sanctified and whole. We are already new creations in Christ. She asked do we need to call these kinds of behaviors out or just take the high road?
I have done a little of both. I realized that my congregation didn’t know what to do with me or people like me. Sometimes they did nothing. Other times it was the wrong move causing emotional harm. Still other times, I called it out receiving an apology with a commitment to change.
What I came to realize, and Kenny too, is My disability doesn’t need to be erased in order for me to have a full, happy and abundant life. This thought not only shows what people think about me but also reveals people’s notions about God. Kenny says people don’t focus on Biblical passages where disability is celebrated because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Instead there is a concentration on those scriptures where disability is a result of sin and disobedience. We are uncomfortable around disability.
Challenges Not Just in Church
Kenny shares how these thoughts and attitudes are not just in the church. She goes into great detail about her personal life. How she wasn’t believed during doctor visits. How she dealt with housing discrimination. How she was hindered at the DMV from getting her disability car tag. I have dealt with similar situations too. I got used to it because this is how the world operates. Yet, when it comes to church I was expecting a different outcome. I was expecting a better result. Since we are called to be like Christ I was looking forward to encouragement, love, grace and embracement. I already knew the world would b hard on me but I was shocked and deeply saddened when the same things happened at church too.
Kenny is calling the church to change. I applaud her for that. The work and effort she is making to make the church a more inclusive place is admirable. But I have to say I have moved on. Perhaps she is more optimistic than me. I have left the church all together and don’t attend worship services anymore. The constant battle with the church plus the world was too much for me.
Don’t Attend But Made Peace with Church
Today, I have made peace with the church. Even though I don’t attend anymore I still believe in community worship. Perhaps one day things will change and I will want to come back. But in the meantime, I honor my relationship with God by the way I live my life and treat others. Since I know what it feels like to be on the other side, I work daily to be kind, considerate and nonjudgmental.
If you want to understand more about disability and the church, I highly suggest you read this book. Kenny gives numerous examples of ableist behavior. She also gives tips on how to be a better Christian ally to those of us with disabilities.