For many years, disabled people have been been neglected by churches and theologians. Our own stories have not been heard – stories of being shut out of churches, dealing with ableism in the pews, and being prevented from following our call to leadership.
That’s why we need research. If we are not counted, we don’t count.
My PhD research was the first large participatory study centering the stories of disabled Christians. I interviewed 35 disabled Christians (that number is now up to 50). Many of their stories were about being shut out of churches, either through poor physical access or church cultures that excluded them.
Many had been told their impairments were a sign they had sinned, were under a curse, or were being punished by God. Their different bodies and minds were seen as a sign of the Fall, rather than celebrated as unique images of God. Those with visible impairments were too often ‘pounced on’ for healing prayer that they had not asked for.
Many had their experiences ignored and invalidated, until some felt pushed out of churches. There were positive stories of good inclusion, too, with some churches working hard to include people. Most excitingly, participants shared their unique lived experience of faith, God and disability, and their transformative disability theologies – which could change everything for the Church.
Each of these stories matters, and churches need to hear them and learn from them.
Sharing the Research
My research found that churches have a long way to go until they are radically inclusive of disabled people. As long as that’s the case, I’ll have work to do! My blog has regular updates on how I’m sharing and building on the research. I often work together with the disabled Christian community to take these stories out to the churches. My recent appearances and events are linked here.
For an introduction to the research, download a short booklet written in accessible language. Contact me if you would like the booklet in a different format.
Watch this space for a book based on the research, to be published in 2022.