We live in a world where people are named, categorized, and labeled based on what they can and/or cannot do. Most often, those with perceived “disabilities” are primarily seen as less valuable, important, or worthy. In contrast to this, we know we are ALL created and made in the image of our God; this image includes our gender, ethnicity, and abilities.
Today’s guest post is from Pam Christensen, Associate Director of Children and Family Ministries at Quest. This is important. Really important. And it is also really vulnerable as she shares of her “disabilities.” I need you to read it because it touches a topic that is rarely spoken of not just in our churches but in our larger culture. It’s the topic of disability and how we view or not view those who are disabled.
Read on and let me know what you think. Let me know of your experiences. Let us know how the Church can grow and learn in this area.
I am broken…
I have disabilities. I have two chronic illnesses and a learning disability (yes, adults can and do have learning disabilities and yes, they still affect us, even when we are not in school, but that is another blog posting for another day). Between them, my diagnoses affect how I sleep, how and what I eat, my relationships, my finances, my breathing, my work, even my driving.
I am broken…but maybe not the way you think.
Throughout human history, the myth of an “ideal” version of humanity has been repeated until it is believed. Over the years, this has come in different forms: the myth of being male as “ideal”, the myth of being white as “ideal”, the myth of one culture being more “ideal” than another. In all of these myths, there is a basic theme: if you are not a part of the “ideal”, you are “less than”.
Then there is the myth of ability: a whole, sound mind and body, as defined by science and culture, is the “ideal”. Anything else is “less than”. That’s made clear even in the language we use: disability, literally “not able”. A victim. A problem. Broken.
Over the years, we as Christians have allowed the myth of ability to co-op and warp our perceptions of those who are not typically-abled. Even the early Church Fathers, who took the radical approach of establishing hospitals that were for the care and cure of those with disabilities (unheard of in their cultures during the 3rd and 4th centuries), struggled with this. They welcomed and cared for all, but their patients were not allowed to become leaders, pastors, bishops (Disability and the Christian Tradition, Swinton and Brock, 2012). Brothers and sisters to be cared for and assisted, but not individuals, gifted and called by God for his purposes.
Several months ago, I had conversation with someone around this subject. In articulating my belief that the church needs to seek inclusion of and reconciliation with those with disabilities or who are not “typically abled”, I compared it to the need for reconciliation and inclusion of those marginalized due to race and/ or gender. This person responded that by comparing disability to gender and race, the implication was that gender and race were deficits, which they are not. I responded, “I agree. Neither is disability a deficit.”
I am broken…but not because of my disability.
We all are broken…and equal in our brokenness. I am a sinner, saved by grace, justified by love, overwhelmed by mercy from the Cross that I did not deserve. Sinner, but saved. Depraved, but redeemed. Broken…but healed.
I am broken…and called.
Scripture declares it!
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Not only that, but scripture says those that may be seen by others as “weak”, “less honorable” or “unpresentable”, are equally called and gifted, essential to the function of the Body, Christ’s church.
1 Corinthians 12:14-27 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
What would happen to a part of our own bodies if we fail to use it? If we coddle it because we see it as weak, injured or fragile? If we ignore it because we are sure we don’t need it? If we think that working it, exercising it, using it, would take too much time and effort? If we pretend we don’t see it, hoping it will go away?
What would happen? We all know the answer.
That part would weaken, atrophy and the tissue may even die. The only way to strengthen a weak part of our bodies is to utilize it.
The irony is that when the Body of Christ ignores, pities, and fails to utilize the gifts of those brothers and sisters with disabilities, we choose to atrophy. We, the Body, cease to function as God designed us to.
When we approach those who have disabilities from the standpoint of “how can I help?” instead of “how can I come alongside and work with you?” we miss out on the ways God works through each of us. Not only do we deprive our brothers and sisters of opportunities to do that which they are called to, but we miss out on the opportunity to see the work of God in a new light. That’s not to say that everyone doesn’t need help up from time to time. I do. You do. We do. That is the nature of true community. But what if the person who is giving you a hand up has depression, is in a wheelchair, can’t speak, has schizophrenia, cancer, ADHD, diabetes or epilepsy? What if the person giving you a hand up, doesn’t have hands?
I am broken…but not in that way.
– Pam Christensen
PS: If you’re in the Seattle area, Quest Church is hosting a 3 week depth class on “Faith + Ability beginning this Sunday from 1-3pm. You are welcome to join us:
In light of this year’s theme on Reconciliation and in our continual pursuit of discipleship, we are excited to launch our first depth class on “Faith + Ability”. The purpose of this class is to create an open dialogue about how our faith intersects with our understanding of people who are typically-abled and differently-abled. Here are some target questions we will cover: What does God say about how we are created? How do we, as both differently-abled and typically-abled brothers and sisters, learn to understand and celebrate one another? We look forward to having your voice in the conversation.
12 Replies to ““I have disabilities…I am broken but not because of my disability.””
Tell Pam thanks for sharing her voice as a member of the disability community, especially as person with chronic illness. Disability from chronic illness is often invisible to the abled. We’re often unheard and more often subjected to tokenism or paternalism. Thanks, too, pastor, for using your platform to get this message out.
This is a wonderful post. I recently left my job to start a research project concerning disabilities and the Church. This encourages and emboldens my efforts!!
Hey Cathy … check out http://trinityonline.org and search for outreach and then disabilities ministries and then Light and Power faith stories (sorry that there isn’t a direct link). This is the ministry that my husband and I facilitate for adults with mostly intellectual disabilities.
Also my husband has had a blog for years that deals with disabilities and Christianity (disabledchristianity.blogspot.com). Please let us know we can assist you in any way. We have spent 35 years together in disability ministry and we both feel like that Christians and churches are just “waking up” to the fact that people and families affected by disability are an essential part of the church. Amen!!!! Kathi McNair
THANK YOU SO MUCH for addressing this issue! It speaks so much out of my heart and I wish I could be there to take the classes! I will PRAY and lovingly participate in my prayers…
Having gone through advanced-stage cancer, a rare chronic lung disease plus suffering from the aftermath of the harsh medical treatment(s), I have had my share in disability, both physically and mentally.
What I noticed is this:
1) When the news of a serious illness hits, AT FIRST there is a lot of response. However, it wears off very quickly. Then there seem to be several different responses: Some truly care. Some keep at a save distance. Some cut themselves off emotionally, sometimes to the point of becoming critical / dismissing the sufferer etc.
2) If the disability is VISIBLE, people more likely react with compassion. (Sitting in a wheelchair for 9 months I received kindness. When I could walk again, still suffering from mental slowness, I encountered harshness, impatience etc.)
3) The LONGER the disability goes on, the harder it is on the sufferer to endure, which is often not understood by those who never experienced something similar. Generally, there seems to be the belief that the sufferer should have got used to the suffering by now.
Having experienced all that, I found it most helpful to FOCUS on JESUS. He understands. He sees our true worth. He knows us and He alone can meet our deepest needs. By this, the sufferer is protected not to react in bitterness and most importantly, not focussing on self, not focussing on the suffering, but on our BELOVED LORD.
Thank you for letting me share.
Cayce and Cathy, I’m glad this could be an encouragement to you. Thank you for your encouragement of me. I’m thankful for the way that God is moving in the church and in our world as we move from inclusion to belonging, from the head to the heart.
Thank you for posting this, Pastor Eugene.
Dear Brother Cho, Thank you for this spiritfilled Teaching, please share more. in JESUS LOVE, Evangelist Babu.
Absolutely fantastic post!
Wonderful post !! You have said so much of what I have been trying to say but just haven’t put into the proper phrasing that people will accept. ! Thank you
Thank you for sharing this. My brother has a disability and it was encouraging for me to read this.
Thank you Pam, Eugene, and other Quest staff/members who are addressing the issue of marginalizing persons with disabilities. I am amazed at God’s timing, God’s patience, and God’s hand in all things.
I am presenting a project summary tomorrow on the book, “The Disabled God” by Nancy Eiesland, who herself is a person with disability. She presents a theology of disability, ways to talk about “body knowledge”, and foremost the importance of engaging the participation of persons with disabilities in the church! (right on with what Pam is emphasizing).
Our responsibility is to listen and encourage persons with disabilities to be advocates, taking time to listen to their stories and ideas.
This article is very exciting and again encourages the ways God is convicting and moving hearts at Quest and the larger church body! May we be ready and willing to have open ears, willing to change our perspective and learn more.