Ten Reasons People With Disabilities Shouldn’t Go To Church

This summer, I am launching a series featuring each of the Ten Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore from my e-book, Outside In, which you can get for free by subscribing to my newsletter here. I will be inviting guest posts, adapting parts of my book, and sharing original ideas. I hope you will follow along and consider picking up the book (for free).

Today I am excited to invite my friend Matt to share his perspective. Matt is a fellow Wheaton graduate. He lives with disabilities including visual impairment, some autism spectrum tendencies, and bipolar disorder. Matt no longer identifies as a Christian, in large part because of the radical exclusion he has felt by the church. In my book, Outside In, I propose it is crucial for Christians to posture ourselves as people who listen, especially to voices from the outside. Matt is not an “ex-Christian,” or a “non-Christian.” To me, he is an amazing human being with a poignant story to share. Please join me in hearing why he thinks people with disabilities shouldn’t go to church.

(Please note, Matt wrote this post as a play off of April Fiet’s satirical piece “10 Reasons You Should Quit Going to Church,” so even though this is more serious, it is still somewhat tongue-in-cheek.)

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1.  Inaccessibility.  This really shouldn’t be on the list because it’s a reason why you couldn’t go to church, not shouldn’t. But I put it on here nonetheless because churches are behind in providing accessible facilities as well as transportation for those of us who can’t drive.

2. Baggage.  A lot of us with disabilities grew up being made fun of at church. Like all childhood experiences this went deep… and informed our view of church as an adult, perhaps making out to be a more hostile place than it actually is.

3. Being a lone wolf.  A lot of us with disabilities were the only one in our community with that specific disability (or possibly any disability at all). This makes for a very isolating road. Minorities have churches which cater to them but people with disabilities do not (because they are spread so thin geographically and have had organizational and transportational barriers).

4. Do doo doo.  Especially for males there is right and a wrong answer to the question, “what do you do?” If you give the wrong answer to this you are branded a man-fail and ignored. People with disabilities have a staggeringly high rate of unemployment and underemployment so they’re less likely to be viewed as worth engaging by church people.

Disability& the Church

5. Singled Out.  The church in America is designed to incubate. It’s generally concerned with married people and their kids’ upbringing. If you are single (which a large portion of people with disabilities are) you are viewed as a lesser person and ignored.

6. Theology that sees individuals with disabilities as objects.  Good compassionate theology is out there but it doesn’t often make its way to the church near you. People with disabilities are sick of being seen as items of unanswered prayer or objects to project your romanticization of suffering upon. Disability needs to be celebrated and that’s something most people can’t get their head around.

7. Experience of God.  A lot of Christian teaching instructs us to take the voice of God seriously. For mentally healthy people this can be fine but for those of us who are mentally ill the results can be disastrous. The problem is, the people who have had the experience of God turn against them are so ill they aren’t in positions of power.

8. Perspectives run against the cultural narrative.  Some denominations have made great strides in racial inclusivity which is amazing. They need to build on that including people with disabilities in positions of decision making. There is a deeper problem in that prejudice against people with disabilities hasn’t abated the same way other prejudices have. This is because disability runs counter to the cultural (and dare I say Christian) narrative of youth, vitality, and prosperity. A racial minority can still ride this narrative to a place of respect.

9. Being judged based on appearance.  The internet, not the church, is the chosen refuge of those of us with disabilities. Online we escape the snap judgements levied on us in real life. Plus, geographic dispersion and transportation are no longer issues so people with specific disabilities can virtually congregate together.

10. Including people with disabilities hit people’s pain points.  Let’s face it, most American Christians are drawn to the faith through promises of comfort. These people aren’t going to turn around and remodel an inaccessible bathroom or give a ride to church to someone with a mental illness who is effectively a shut-in because they don’t have any friends.

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Read previous posts from Outside In Summer Series:

Five Reasons Christians Should Do Comedy

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  • Andrea Stoeckel

    Just reposted this to my home church page

    • Thank you for sharing Matt’s perspective!

  • Dan Vander Plaats

    Cindy – I appreciate hearing Matt’s perspective. I am wondering how he/you would respond to the message we share through http://www.the5stages.com.

    • That looks really cool, Dan! I hope it serves to make the church more empathetic – thank you for sharing!

  • Pj Baker

    Cindy, When I first saw
    your title, I was like….WTH? hahaha…but after reading it, I appreciate what
    you are doing. I want to share a link with you. My mother is an author of a
    book ministry called “A Promise Kept Book Ministries”. I assist with
    the PR and social media. We recently released our new book called “Chin Up!:
    Hope Through Adversity.” My mom co-authored with a young women by the name
    of Katy B., who is about 35years old and is disabled herself. She is an absolute
    joy and a great encouragement to the church. Despite all the hardships and
    trails, her book is a testimony to grace and love of Christ. Here is the
    link: http://www.apromisekeptbook.com/chin-up.html. I hope this book is a
    great encouragement not only to people with disabilities but to everyone! Thanks again for sharing some really valuable insight.

    • Thanks so much for sharing, PJ, hope the book gets read and helps many people.

  • Darla Doxstater

    So that whole “least people” bit in Matthew is being ignored? Wonderful.

    • We can do better!

  • Uncanny Sarah

    so much of this is true, but those who have a disability also get tired of constantly asking for help. if i can’t find my own way somewhere, I tough it out and either don’t go or wait ages for a bus. (i’ve waited several hours in the snow or rain before before giving up). also, maybe just maybe churches could be quick to use their contacts to help especially disabled find better jobs. they aren’t usually sitting on a stack of contacts or able to go long periods of time without unemployement, plus it can be much harder to find things (the previously mentioned underemployed works against us). my church has been great about a lot, of things, but i see a few places where all churches could improve. =)

    • I suggest pooling contacts and resources at church for the unemployed in my book – so glad to see that may have been a helpful suggestion!

  • Brian Graham

    Luke 14:21

  • Tony Piantine

    Cindy, Thank You for this article, it evokes much needed talk in the disability ministry community. I believe it speaks to the issue of our value as people. The us and them mentality is the speak of slaves. People with disabilities are the church, and therefore cannot be excluded. The building, and those who seek to control those who enter it through a system that is divisive and elitist, offer only an institution that is a faux version of the full body. If we continue to discourse over the fact that “they” won’t allow us access, we are merely empowering those who see certain people as valueless. Satisfaction with simply being recognized by the exclusive and powerful is devaluing and only empowers the ableist power structure that exists in the institution of the American church today. Lets rise up and accept that we are the church and take on all the responsibilities that go with that mantle. Then change will come, and we can stop being the victims, and see Gods power truly displayed in a body that is full.

  • O ye of little faith.

  • Meredith Gould

    Super-essentially important points that cannot be made often enough. Last year, Rev. Sue Lang and I did an article about how churches really need to get with social media because it allows people with disabilities (visible and hidden) to participate. We wrote it for The Lutheran magazine: http://bit.ly/1NLfzT4 More accurately, she wrote the main article with my input and I wrote the sidebars!

    • That’s awesome, Meredith, thanks for sharing!

  • I’m late here, but as a fairly recently disabled person, I wanted to say how much I appreciate Matt’s words, especially point nine. For me this is the key – exposing how much of culture’s values, which are antithetical to the gospel, creep into the church’s mentality. We preach that God loves the needy, but we love the Christians who seem self-sufficient and don’t need lifts to church, or special seating, or an arm to walk on, or space away from crowded areas. There are some really important points here, uncomfortable ones, that the church need to listen to.

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