Reading for Trinity Sunday: Romans 8:12-17
Peace be with you!
Being welcomed into a community is important because it creates a sense of self-worth and dignity for a person. People create communities based on a common opinion or thought process, although each person has a unique perspective as a result of their past experiences. Communities adopt new individuals into their fold and share their ideas.
For people with disabilities, being adopted into a new community takes time and patience. The person with a disability has to first overcome physical barriers, such as stairs, lack of space to maneuver a wheelchair, and bathrooms. Second, the person with a disability has to break down psychosocial barriers, such as being seen as different and incapable of functioning like the others. Communities, including congregations, have a difficult time accepting those individuals who are unable to conform to the accepted normal.
As Christians, God adopts us when we confess Jesus Christ is our Savior and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us (Romans 8:14). God has no perceived notion as to what physical abilities his children should have. God does not care if you have a limp, cannot walk, are missing a limb, or cannot hear and/or see. There are no physical or psychosocial requirements to be adopted by God, other than simply believing Jesus Christ is your Savior.
Furthermore, Jesus only gives us two commandments: 1) to love your God with all your heart and 2) to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40; John 15:12). Jesus gives no other requirements (time, space, or social standing). Jesus himself ate with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, Canaanites, and others outside the Jewish tradition. Jesus challenged the Jewish authorities by healing a man on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6) and challenged social norms by having a conversation alone with a Samaritan woman (John 4). Jesus pushed against social norms into order to develop real relationships with people. Jesus said, “The healthy do not need a doctor but the sick do” (Mark 2:17; Luke 5:31; Matthew 9:12). Jesus did not come for the individuals who are perfect; he came for broken people.
Then why do congregations turn away people with disabilities? Congregations follow the social model of only inviting those individuals who fit the accepted normal. We fall into the same trap as the Pharisees: making a ritual mold for everyone to fit into. By doing so, we create an exclusive church structure—the very thing Jesus challenged. In Discovering the Trinity in Disability: a Theology for Embracing Difference, Myroslaw Tataryn and Maria Truchan-Tataryn write:
“The categorization of people labeled with disability as ‘those’ people, as ‘special,’ as Other is something of an absurdity, because traits of disability have always been part of human experience. Even the use of disabled as a categorization of people is problematic, considering that the term represents a limitless set of potential human anomalies that would not necessarily render anything in common between those bearing the label.”[i]
In other words, if you live long enough, having some form of disability is inevitable. The older you get, the more prone you are to physical abnormalities due to strokes or heart attacks, which can cause you to need a walker or wheelchair. Congregations take care of the elderly as they decline in their physical abilities, yet a younger person with a disability is discouraged from becoming an active member of the church. Although I disagree that there are no fundamental commonality between the different disabilities, I do agree with the idea that disability is a common human experience.
And if you believe in the notion of disability being as a result of sin being a part of the world, then everyone should have some form of disability. We are all sinners. This is why God sent Jesus in order to give us God’s forgiveness, grace, and love in the world where people have pain and suffering.
Church is called to be an inclusive group with people from all walks of life. I am blessed to be a part of a congregation that engages with me and uses my spiritual gifts. Due to my speech impairment and spastic movements, it has taken time to build relationships with various members of the congregation. I had to spend time with various individuals and demonstrate my spiritual gifts and abilities in order to break down any and all psychosocial barriers. God adopts us all into his family no matter what your race, age, heritage, and abilities. In the same way, my congregation has adopted me into their fold and the various members love me for who I am—a child of God who just happens to have cerebral palsy. When a church openly welcomes people with disabilities, the congregation allows God’s love to be expressed to people with all abilities—disabled or abled.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for adopting us into your fold, despite our abnormalities. Help us to resist the need for an “accepted normal” as a community. Lead us to welcome those a bit different from us into our fold and to build relationships with individuals with all abilities. Thank you for giving us space to build relationships with one another. Amen.
[i] Myroslaw Tataryn and Maria Truchan-Tataryn, Discovering the Trinity in Disability: A Theology for Embracing Difference (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2013), 14.