Persons with disabilities have a history, but it is too often an untold history. Especially in the church, disability history is silenced, just as many people with disabilities are silenced. Despite this, I believe the church provides the resources necessary for their inclusion and valuation as essential members – if only their history criticizes and challenges the history of the church.
When my wife and I moved from Ohio to California we only brought with us what we could fit in our (small) car. This required that we leave behind most of what we owned. Only the most essential items could come with us. I usually relish any opportunity to purge, like to do so frequently, and try to convince others to do the same. Lately, however, I’ve been starting to reconsider my position on the subject.
I believe my desire to rid myself of my possessions is directly connected to a feeling that I don’t really have a history. There isn’t really a narrative (religious or otherwise) that I find myself within, or have ever found myself within.
Of course, in reality, I do have a history – everyone does. But I have always felt cut-off from it. This is probably why I resist, and have resisted, being a part of “the church.” The history and traditions of the church seem foreign to me and to my sense of identity. It feels disingenuous accepting and inheriting the long tradition of the church, and, dare I say, irrelevant.
So now that I’m truly cut-off from my history, living in a foreign place among strangers, I find myself longing for those relics which help me to locate myself, which help me to remember who I am and where I come from. Perhaps history actually begins in exodus.
What does this have to do with persons with disabilities?
Every theory of the church must therefore raise the question, and allow it to be raised: who is it intended to benefit, and for whom and in whose interest is it designed?
– Jürgen Moltmann
First, whether we like it or not, the church has not always treated persons with disabilities with love, dignity, and respect. This is part of my resistance in fully embracing being a part of the church. I have witnessed the ways in which the church either remains silent or perpetuates negative beliefs about people with disabilities, as well as the exclusionary practices of the church towards people with disabilities. Why would I want to be a part of a tradition that continues to exclude and marginalize people like my brother? Inheriting the tradition and history of the church means, in some way, taking on the failures of the past, and I’m uncomfortable with that.
Yet, despite this, I believe that only the church can correct these mistakes. Only by acknowledging the sins of our fathers, and, in some sense, taking them on as our own, can we ever hope to redeem our past and welcome those we’ve sinned against back from the exodus we’ve sent them on. We must allow those whom history has forgotten to criticize those who write history. Persons with disabilities have a history in the church, but it is too often an untold history because to tell it is to criticize “the church in its existing form.”
If theology were to lose its freedom to criticize, it would turn into the ideology of the church in its existing form.
– Jürgen Moltmann
Hopefully, as I continue my journey at the Hatchery, I can not only find my place within the church and its history and tradition, but work to carve out a place for those persons with disabilities who have been denied a place within the church’s history.