Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Ableism in Church

I LOVE my church. I love the community, the acceptance and the connection to God.

So you can imagine my upset when, for the first time in 11 years, I feel rejected by it.

I've made it my mission to educate myself on the Theology of what is written in canonical and apocryphal bible texts over what society deems is written in them...

An example is Mary Magdalene.

Mary is known as the prostitute that Jesus saved.

However, she WASN'T a prostitute. Pope Gregory I, in 591 AD, created this. This is partially because Jesus casts seven (or more) demons from her (this is important later) in theory, demons potentially changed her personality and physical actions making her a woman of ill repute. However, there's no evidence for this.

Another misconception is Disability based on these 4 points:

1. Sin.

a) Original sin; Adam and Eve created a fallen world and ALL bad things (including disability) is a result of their actions.
b) Somewhere in my heritage a family member sinned.

2. Possession.

Demons posses a person subsequently making them become something other than their "persona" (you can see the relevance of Mary's situation) For someone to be disabled these demonic beings should be exorcised.

3. Bad spirit.

Based upon an individuals soul/personality. This is saying "you have a negative energy" impacting your personality (in relation to mental health (Again, Mary's wrongfully assumed position))

4. Medical reasons.

This is easy to understand.

How would YOU determine the difference? Am I sinful, possessed, have a negative spirit or a serious medical problem causing me to be a disabled individual?

As a Christian of significant years I DON'T know how to determine the difference; it's never been taught. When I've met someone with a disability I've never seen points 1 to 3.

What about scriptural evidence?

Points 1 to 3 have some presence in the OT but if we truly believe Jesus came to teach we should prioritise, to some extent, the NT views on it to see IF Jesus contradicts OT understandings; which he does:

John 9:1-3
"As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him"

This eliminates #1. Sin doesn't cause disabilities.

Based on NT (above and below) we are looking at the presence of God:

1. People are healed and through that we see the glory of God; this is varied - see later.

2. That, despite their disability, their presence and relationship with God can be inspirational. Aka, Faith through the hardest moments glorifies God ( Matthew 5:14-16, 2 Corinthians 12:9-12, Romans 5:3-5, Romans 8:18, Philippians 4:13)

You can imagine the difficulties I face when, more than once, the truth is NOT preached. Instead, it's misused for the gains of evangelism.

Here's 3 first-hand examples:

1. A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 12:12-27:
"The verse says "the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body"...."if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body" just like those verses if one body part isn't working the right way, then it isn't working as one body. God doesn't want disabled body parts. He wants all his parts working together".

2. Based on a sermon mentioning the 4 above points:
"It is our duty when we see anyone with a disability to stop them, see what's making them that way and pray for them to be better."

3. Based on another sermon:
"Before you were created he knew you. We read in Jeremiah that he has a plan for us.
One of his plans is for us to be in divine health. The Man healed at the pool Bethsaida was there 38 years. Jesus went to him and said "do you want to be whole?"

These comments are not only offensive and incredulous but also ablest.

In #1, the wording is horrendous. "God doesn't want disabled body parts" Really? When clearly the bible shows differently. I get the intention but it's poorly executed.

In #2, there's no understanding. Shouldn't we be asking what they want prayer for, not assuming it's based upon the prayer givers judgement of what's deemed as "better"? Why are we judging someone as lesser without principle foundation of their life? The nudge for prayer could be for another reason.

Finally, #3. The main flaw being the divine health now concept. This concept is NOT Christian but Hindu. In Hinduism Divyang means: "living with what is deemed our divine body." In the same sense Viklang (disabled) needs prayer for intervention. Therefore, persons with disabilities are not divine entities. They are just as "human as anybody". What a sad life these viklang live that they need intervention to gain Divyang. This isn't what the bible preaches! It preaches healing but also that we ONLY receive our divine bodies when resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 1 Corinthians 15:52, 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, Philippians 3:21, Revelation 21:4)

We also need to look at the term "do you want to be whole?"

Jesus does not say this in true translations. The verse is: "Do you want to get/be well/healed?" (John 5:6)

There are translation exceptions (E.g ASV, DRB, LSV, YLT) however, theologians do not concur with these. Shouldn't a deeper, clearer understanding be given when preaching the message? Just as above, it's an assumption. The correct translation shows what we all should do: ask the person.

Where do we draw a line on spreading misinformation to suit the narrative of the preacher? In theory, we can choose any translation to spread any message.

What is this physical "wholeness" being taught? Am I not whole?

I have multiple degrees, been at the top of 3 different professions in the last 20 years. I have 4 amazing children, a beautiful partner and an amazing relationship with God. I was an incredible ice skater, played many instruments; which I've taught to hundreds of children. I am a confident artist, an enthusiastic cook, have travelled the country and Europe and I'm only 40. So which part of my life, so far, isn't whole?

I live in an ablest world where my family can enter buildings and events, can visit friends and family whilst I sit outside due to inaccessibility. I'm patronised for being "brave" for attending where non disabled, due to bad weather, haven't. A world where I'm stereotyped into social understanding and treated with fear and disregard.

I'm not fundamentally okay with this but, like many, am resigned to it. Not because of my disability but because of intersectionality and the ever-growing minority around us.

I have no understanding of being persecuted and prejudiced due to racial or gender impact socially because I'm a white male. Difference is EVERYWHERE and it's time everyone is accepted by seeking change and inclusion.

In any other scenario it would be seen as obscene. Scenarios of being born, deemed from personal judgement, within societal frames as unacceptable. For example, if someone prayed for a person to be white there would rightly be racial outcry.

A person can approach someone in a wheelchair with a genetic condition and pray for healing and restoration. However, would any other person born with a genetic disorder, say someone with Down Syndrome, be acceptable? Or is that obviously wrong?

One condition classed as a disability vs another is a minefield of debate upon the individual. When the truth is that it shouldn't be a debate.

However much we believe in an unstoppable all powerful God it becomes the pretence of the prayer, not the action itself.

God's work is glorified through others, the Spirit leading someone to achieve something that no one expected. The size of the achievement doesn't negate what He's done. Hallelujah, praise God! All without the fumbling, prejudiced assumptions and ableism that's presented.

Evangelism is a culture of passion that shines through the antidote of monotony. It drives forward a positive future of action and hope. Recognising God in where you are, the people that you have and discerning the impact He has you there to make. I appreciate greatly the evangelical movement but not at the expense of biblical truth or the people it affects.

Sadly, the entirety above isn't the only on-going ablest problem. I have witnessed and experienced Systemic Ableism, Internalized Ableism, Implicit and Explicit Ableism in our church and others:
  • Children rejecting church due to their needs and disabilities being misunderstood and judged.
  • Physical actions towards adults such as being over-physically hit and grabbed
  • Wheelchair users being moved without permission and communication ( classed criminally as assault and abuse) 
  • I've witnessed personal space and sensory needs rejected despite the word "no". 
  • Finally, despite some positive efforts, direct and indirect accessibility issues formed from a lack of education that continues physical restrictions inside and outside the building.

With all of this going on you can understand why I feel rejected.

Prior to my committal to faith I searched for answers. At 13 it broke my heart that "God made me this way". It was only through my exploration and further faith filled understanding that I learnt it wasn't God.

He showed me that although I won't be healed now, my faith, life and death will glorify Him and I'm fully at peace with that. His will, His power and all for His glory.

Many individuals take years/decades to accept their disability, life and future only to be told not to accept it, seek a miraculous cure, gain renewed hope only to find the same revelation as I did. We're not all strong enough to accept this; which causes harm and can lead to extremely dangerous consequences.

The world is becoming more inclusive; in the last 30 years we've made ground breaking movement on who we are as individuals. Things have changed within women's rights, gender equality, role reversal in households, on racial acceptance and equality and when it comes to sexuality, we've gone from a binary understanding to a multi-coloured rainbow.

According to Driedgar (1989) "Disability is the Last Civil Rights movement coming after the liberation" [of the above minorities] and yet, 30 years later and the movement emphasis is on socio-structural barriers at the expense of personal experiences of oppression.

Ableism is still firmly fixed within our culture and society; especially the Church. When fighting for inclusivity it's difficult seeing the church exclude and isolate when the gospel doesn't. We're called to be fishers of men, passionately disciple-making through cooperation and unity as an earthly body drawing people in, not repelling them.

A very good friend said (when they proof-read this) "REVIVAL begins within the church family first - before spreading to the rest of the world."

It's time that those of us with the education and understanding teach about these issues so there's no more excuses:

  •  Speak to Leadership to develop better use of language, presentation and actions; all based on biblical truth and the experience of the individual rather than outdated societal beliefs.

  • Highlight the physical, mental and emotional obstacles faced inside and out of the church. Finally, utilise us to hold talks and cultivate a breath of fresh air that ignites the fading embers of what is a smouldering dream of equality, changing not only those lives that are affected individually and collectively but to flame a cleansing, spirit-lead fire of revival and inclusion; if we're not available, then Leadership needs to find us.

Isn't it about time that the church embraces the countercultural call of the gospel to extend a loving welcome of Christ to those who are rejected in wider society?

My oppression has lasted 27 years with perdurable hope that the focus shifts and yet, the older I get it just invigorates my soul to stand against the perpetual oppression and say: 'No more.'

If you're interested in changing this please click on the below links and read my posts on Tackling Ableism:


  1. Thank you so much for this!

    I couldn't agree more. My mom and I went to New Hope Church in Texas last night and experienced this. We were stopped in the middle of worship for "emergency prayer" that my pastor was called to do it. God was apparently saying it was an emergency due to prayer not working before because I hadn't let go of my hurt and pain and given fully over to him. Even though i didn't feel like that. It really frustrated me as i was really getting into worship and feeling closer to God just for these barriers to jump back up which had nothing directly to do with me as a Christian. We Initially said no and it was fine only to be told that it's only myself holding God back.I always thought that God was unstoppable but here I am with the power to stop him. On our way out so many people grabbing us, shaking our hands and retelling us that we will see God healing us soon if we just believe enough. It just doesn't stop but what's the point when they don’t recognize the issues. When we first went my sister took us and she's normally the normal looking one in our group and all we had was people talking to her and asking her what's wrong with us. My mom replied "Quite a lot is but nothing wrong with my hearing so you can talk to me" which made me laugh then all that happened was the woman to look slightly startled and replied "what an amazing and encouraging attitude to have". To be honest we thought it was really rude of her but instead apparently it's encouraging. I don't think people understand because they don't live it. I have good faith and our church is generally means well that we ignore it all now because there so much of it. It doesn't matter where we go we get it. Went to Walmart Saturday and had such a rude man in the queue comment how the 2 for 1 deal on new gardening equipment was on the items and not for us as our chairs sat in front of each other at the cashier. No one else laughed but he obviously found it funny. What people think and experience will never be the same. Sorry you had to write about it. You're not alone though. God sees and feels all that we go though. Our persecution just makes us stronger even when it's the church doing it just got to keep fighting for the changes we want.

    Through faith we are given a spirit of power, love, and discipline, and for that we have nothing to fear.  We can hold promises and be confident that he'll see us through even the darkest of days. Stay blessed, keep being the inspiration that you are so more people understand. We are called to demonstrate, justice, mercy and walking humbly teachable, before our great God. You've shown that's possible now it's time for others brother. God bless, David.

  2. Preach!! Such biblical truth here. You're challenging what is always horrendously faced. It is so harmful to do this and don't even realise. It's really imapcted my depression over the years and would do the same for others. So beautifull y written 👏👏👏 Let's hope and pray people read this and change.

    Have just read the other 2 articles and emailed all to my pastor. Let's seek the change we want to see and live the message at the heart of His gospel@ amen!+

  3. The eloquence of your words are outstanding. Our physical disabilities have nothing to do with us meeting Our Lord. Our souls, faith and love are what matter, and in that we are whole. Our disabilities give us a privileged insight into the spiritual , I believe more so or equal to any able bodied person. We understand pain, frustration, and loss, all born from our disabilities. We see things on a different level to others. Healing of the soul has nothing to do with healing of our bodies. To go way further the church healing us could mean the ending of our lives, where we have no more pain, the release. Not sure anyone praying for us would do so, so willingly if they thought a prayer to heal is actually one of release, and what that means.

  4. Brilliantly written, Martyn. It just clear something needs to be done. We should be aiming for better and not keep regurgitating the same information. As you said we only can use any bible verse to spread any message of hate. Sure some will get upset by this and not agree as you're attacking issues they're openly ignoring but the article and comments are really quite powerful so let's hope it helps and change happens

  5. Very well written,Martyn. It seems very complicated but I can understand why it is upsetting for you. I hope our leaders do something to sort this out for you and for others so church can be a welcoming place again. Keep up the good work in sharing awareness Xxx

  6. It is difficult to call for change when able-bodied people rule the world with their head buried in the sand as they do. You've extensively written the life of disabled people in any building or service! Except you've just chosen church highlight.

    These leaders need some serious education to improve their understanding. You're right, it shouldn't become an argument. Support us or not its their choice.

    Education starts with yourself before it can be passed on.