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Raw faith

“Oh how Christians love to pray. Many an unwanted prayer has been sent in my direction. But when I ask about wheelchair access they are all too quick to get nasty. Churches are the most hostile social environments a person with a disability can enter.”

Raw faith

Recently, I read a comment on social media that I haven’t forgotten. Written by someone who has been physically disabled for most of his life, it was a response directed to a friend about Christians and disability. Given the nature of social media, I was (along with many others) privy to the conversation. Here’s what I read:

“Oh how Christians love to pray. Many an unwanted prayer has been sent in my direction. But when I ask about wheelchair access they are all too quick to get nasty. Churches are the most hostile social environments a person with a disability can enter.”

I can only wonder what experiences shaped that response.
I remember searching the Bible after Rachel’s birth, looking for encouraging words related to disability. I’ve been raised with the language of creation-fall-redemption and that in Christ, we, the broken, are redeemed and will be made whole someday. Much of the New Testament shares how the disabled were healed: seizures cured, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear and the blind to see. Given that my children are still disabled after much prayer, sometimes the gospels are difficult to read.

How do we reconcile permanent disability with faith in a loving, all-powerful God whom believers call the Great Physician?
I have a friend who was told by her church leaders that her daughter’s disabilities were the result of unconfessed sin. From the story in John 9 of the man born blind to present day, many followers of Christ have mis-preached or misunderstood that disability is a result of someone’s sin. Forgetting that the entire world became imperfect with submission to the serpent, there are those who have twisted the theology to point blame. Still others use disability like an object lesson with a desperate theme or an opportunity to showcase inspirational good.

Our created world is indeed fallen.
Some years ago, I attended a conference that focused on God’s design in disability. The conference premise was built on the belief that disability is part of God’s design, and someone who has a disability desperately needs God. Part of the conference included a panel of well-known Christian writers who addressed concerns such as confirmation of the salvation of nonverbal children (who cannot verbally articulate a desire to follow Christ).

I am thankful to be wrestling with God who established a covenant long ago that means today I don’t have to wait for my nonverbal children to miraculously speak or sign for their salvation. They’ve been in their Father’s eyesight longer than mine.

My friend Brenda recently asked her priest if her son, significantly disabled with cerebral palsy, could take his first communion. The priest said her son was welcome and didn’t need to learn the official litany, as long as he could learn the words, “I am sorry, Jesus.” My friend walked away from her parish and chose not to teach this to her son because, in her words, “God is the one who owes my son an apology.” My friend asked what of her son, who is not able to dress, eat, pee or walk without assistance, needed repentance.

How do we, as followers of Christ, help – and not hurt – others as we move together through life?
For the past year, I’ve participated with planning a conference in Niagara Falls called Life to the Full. It’s about bringing church leaders and community to the intersection of faith and disability; I am apprehensive and excited, hoping our humanity doesn’t disguise God’s incredible love – or gloss over the grit.

Not unlike my friend who wanted God to repent of her son’s disability, I wish that God would explain the “why” with suffering, particularly as it relates to my children. I am thankful that I was taught it is ok to be honest (and angry) with God. The freedom to lament is one of the few strings that keeps me close to Christ, knowing I belong to him. My hope is that this conference will mirror what our churches should be – safe, accessible places where all are welcome, places that preach both redeeming hope and the permission to lament. Sola Gratia.  

About the Author
Raw faith

Sara Pot, COLUMNIST

Sara Pot is a new columnist with CC. She lives in St. Catharines, Ont. with her husband, four daughters and their golden doodle; she welcomes conversation and feedback to thepotfamily@gmail.com.

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