The holiness of disability

Does the church really believe in the holiness of people with disabilities? Some people believe the church should do good things for the poor. but do we believe in their holiness?

These questions from Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, challenge me.

In my ministerial formation class this year, I shared with my group that I’ve been wrestling for some time with the question of who sets the norm for faith. Do people that our society calls “normal” — people whose bodies and minds function in ways we recognize as proper — serve as the standard when we ask questions about holiness and salvation?

If so, the we need to come up with adjustments and accommodations to deal with people whose bodies and minds do not work in “normal” ways. We say things like: “Well, to be saved, you have to repent and pray to Jesus for forgiveness, but Joey does not have the IQ to understand that, so God makes an exception.”

Is that the right way to understand it?

Or is it perhaps the case that the mentally disabled or impaired are the norm of spiritual life and relationship with God, and we “normal” people complicate and confuse things? Like the people of Israel who demanded a king, when they already had God, we demand a system of complex ideas to give our big brains something to do other than seek communion with God and neighbor. God obliges us, just as he obliged Israel by giving them king Saul.

I’m not sure these thoughts really get at the questions raised by Vanier. I do find the questions provocative. Do we believe in the holiness of people with disabilities? What do we mean by holiness when we ask this question?

What do you think?


6 thoughts on “The holiness of disability

  1. Two thoughts on this –
    First, there were two “special needs” kids in our confirmation class this year. Their understanding of Christ and His role in their lives may not be the same as their classmates nor ours but they clearly knew that these past few months were special months and they know, perhaps better than we, that they are children of God.

    And what does it say about our relationship with God when we say that someone whose body is not like ours or whose mind is not like ours is incapable of understanding God. Does that attitude on our part say that we don’t really know what our relationship with God is about?

  2. John, I believe, unintentionally, your language is somewhat hurtful. Here’s a different perspective worth reading, despite some profane language, it hits the nail on the head as to those who feel those of us with disAbilities are somehow less than worthy. By the way, I sustained a head injury at age 28 and, since that time have gone on to teach law at a Top 50 law school, am sending a wife through seminary at Perkins, have been a speaker at Living Faith, Seeking Justice, been in Conference leadership and sit on a Board of one of the UMC’s General Commissions. Currently, I am also leading the UMCOR Response to Spring tornados in Texas while the Conference Disaster Response Coordinator recuperates from surgery. No “big brains” need apply!

    Vince Gonzales

    Sent from my iPhone

    1. I did not mean to suggest anyone was less worthy. Our society certainly does make such judgments, but I was not trying to endorse those but rather question them. I will look at the language again before I post on this topic. My son has autism, so I am certain these questions will remain on my mind and rise again on this blog.

      God bless your ministry, Vince.

  3. John,
    My wife wishes to add some thoughts – All people are worthy of God’s love regardless of what state of “normal” they are in. I sometimes believe those that we call “disabled” are more worthy because they enjoy an innocence that we “so called normal people” do not. The two young people who made their Confirmation this year were in my 3rd and 4th grade Sunday school class. Both learned the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed. Both learned to sign th= Lord’s Prayer and were part of our Children’s Day program that year. Are they worthy? You bet because they don’t question God’s love
    Ann Walker

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