This two part series, written by Chantal over a month ago, is very timely given the recent spotlight on ableism in the church due to an article published this week in the NY Times suggesting that churches drop their online services. For a more direct response to that article, we recommend Shannon Dingle.

Come back soon to read part 2 of this series, Jesus is Not Ableist.

In this insightful episode of the podcast The Bible for Normal People the hosts explain why and how, ‘disability theology’ relates to everyone. They point out that “every theology has an adjective.” Every person reads the Bible through the lenses of their personal experience. No one is neutral and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Disability theology is typically viewed as a niche theology rather than theology for everyone. However it is important for this to reach majority culture to promote lasting structural and systemic changes that will encourage access and belonging for all.

A blue logo on a white background reads "The Bible for Normal People."

In this podcast episode, author, speaker and disability theology advocate Stephanie Tait shares her journey through chronic illness, coming to terms with disability and some of the ways that it impacts her faith. She explains that incorporating disability into identity is a very personal process and it can be a long journey.

Tait relates the unraveling of her assumption that “if you do what you’re supposed to do, and if you follow God’s will, God will guarantee at least a baseline minimum of success.” This assumption inevitably leads to the erroneous conclusion, that “if one just has enough faith, God will show up and do something amazing.” This conclusion often sparks largely unanswerable questions: “Am I doing something wrong?” “Is there some secret sin in my life?” “Is there a spiritual lesson that I need to learn for this to end?” For Tait and many others who experience disability these beliefs and questions may perpetuate a revolving crisis of faith. If you or someone that you know is wrestling with questions like these, do not lose heart.

When such assumptions concerning the connection between faith and chronic illness or disability do not pan out over the long term, they may lead some people with disabilities and their families to a fork in their spiritual journeys. Option one being the belief that “God is a real jerk.” Option two being the belief that “people with disabilities must be horrible people to deserve this much ‘extra punishment’.” Both reactions make sense in context but neither promotes spiritual, emotional or psychological well-being. Tait shares the faith renewal that she found by being authentic and open with God, no matter what others tell you that you should or should not say to God.

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A future blog post on the Disability and Faith Forum related to the second half of this podcast will consider Jesus’ perspective on bodily cures, and some tips for interpreting healing stories in Scripture in ways that are not harmful to people who experience disability today. It will also offer some practical strategies we can use to reduce the negative impacts of Ableism in the church today. In the meantime, here are some questions to consider:

  1. In what areas of your life could you be more authentic with God today?
  2. Are there assumptions that you have made about yourself or about God that might be hindering your relationship with Him?
  3. How might you explore your assumptions more deeply?
  4. Are there fruitless questions which you have been asking that you would like to surrender today?

About Chantal Huinink

Chantal lives in Kitchener, Ontario, and has served with Christian Horizons for more than four years in various capacities. She is an experienced motivational speaker, social justice and accessibility advocate. Chantal has her Masters of Divinity and Social Work from Wilfrid Laurier Universityhas and a BA in psychology and human development from the University of Guelph.

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