Jesus’ Disability

Would Jesus with his disability be welcomed, included, supported and engaged as a member of your church?

According to theologian and sociologist Nancy Eiesland, in Luke 24:36-39, when Jesus returns to his disciples after the resurrection and appears to them, he shows them his body that had been changed by the crucifixion.

Jesus’ hands and side were so terribly injured that he still bore the scars from his wounds. He invites the disciples to touch his wounds. Jesus’ body was disabled by the cross.

Eiesland wrote in The Disabled God, “In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God.”

So when we think about the people the church is created to serve, we cannot forget who it is the church is created to follow: a Savior with a disability.

What does this mean, then, that the United Methodist Church has announced that amendments have failed to get 2/3 votes needed for approval that would add language to ensure greater equality and inclusion as part of the life of the church?

Amendment #2 did not pass and it stated that members not be “denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and government of the church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, martial status, or economic condition.” This change was not supported by a majority of the UMC. There are many groups included in the requested change, including people based on “ability.”

This raises important questions.

Does this mean that the UMC does not protect people with disabilities from discrimination in the church?

Does this mean that the UMC can deny access to the life, worship and governance of the church because of a person’s disability?

And why were mental health conditions not included in the proposed amendment?

Can the UMC discriminate and deny access to the life, worship and governance of the church based on a person’s mental health?

According to Eiesland and the witness of the gospel, it seems like the church is in danger of denying Jesus access to the life, worship and governance of the church.

And if Jesus is denied access to the church, then we’ve got a big problem.

The UMC Council of Bishops reported their dismay over these results and pledged to research why these amendments didn’t get the support they needed. One reason could be the stigma that exists in churches towards people with disabilities and mental health challenges. The stigma is what keeps us from talking about disabilities and mental health as justice issues.

Breaking the silence, sharing personal stories and educating ourselves about disabilities and mental health in the church are powerful ways to reduce stigma. The United Church of Christ has developed tools for churches to use and certification programs that help congregations increase their awareness and deepen their commitment to being communities of radical hospitality, accessibility and belonging. The Accessible-2-All and the WISE (Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged) curriculums are free and available for use at A2A and WISE.

To welcome Jesus is to welcome people with disabilities and mental health challenges. For the UMC and for all of the expressions of the church, now is the time to strengthen our commitment to work on making our churches more accessible and more welcoming, inclusive, supportive and engaged for people with disabilities and mental health challenges.

What we will find is that Jesus will show up with his disability and show us his wounds. Jesus will tell us about God’s love and how nothing in all creation can separate us from it…not disabilities or mental health challenges.

4 thoughts on “Jesus’ Disability

  1. As chair of the DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church, of course I am disappointed that Amendment II did not pass, but the reasons are much more complicated than “the church does not support the full participation of people with disabilities.” Many words would have been added by this amendment, so there are many reasons that people voted against it. Given that Amendment I also failed, I have to conclude that at least some of the reason that Amendment II failed was that people either don’t think discrimination against women is real or that they think it’s okay. I could go through all of the groups included in Amendment II the same way. While I think that the United Methodist Church has a long way to go in welcoming people with disabilities, I don’t agree that the failure of this amendment is solely on that basis.
    Regarding mental health, the ADA considers mental health challenges as disability. Our committee addresses these concerns. I would say that “ability” also covers people with mental health challenges.

    1. Thank you for your leadership and for your response here. It is very helpful to hear about this from your experience and perspective. Please let me know if you plan to issue a public statement or letter about this as I think your perspective is very important. When I read the headlines about this, the focus was on gender and not the other groups listed. It made me wonder if there was also some resistance around the other groups, such as ability.

      I know that the ADA includes mental health in the disabilities designation. It’s been my experience that naming mental health specifically helps to decrease the stigma that is so pervasive in the church. Historically, the church has been hesitant to discuss the invisible disabilities associated with mental illness. That is why naming mental health specifically has become important for the UCC.

      I an grateful for this dialogue and look forward to learning more and growing as we do this work. Thank you for reaching out.

      1. We haven’t talked about a statement because this is such a complicated issue for us, with so much intersectionality that it is difficult to know what to say. I will take that as a suggestion and take it under advisement. Thank you!

        For years we have only nominally “covered” mental health in our resources and information, but two years ago we voted to have Mental Health Ministries under our umbrella. While MHM has long operated as an ecumenical entity and been part of Pathways to Promise, etc., both our committee and MHM saw an opportunity to collaborate and we are now living into that collaboration. While I can see the advantages of having separate committees for disabilities and mental health, in our situation we are finding strength in unity.

        As a result of that, I believe it is an error to read too much into the lack of a mention of mental health in this amendment. We already cover many “invisible” disabilities. If we get into listing them, it will become cumbersome. Still, when we propose this amendment again (and we will!) we will have a conversation about this. Please realize that we did not put this forward in 2016. The amendment came from Commission on the Status and Role of Women. “Ability” and some of the other groups listed were added in legislative committee. At that point, only voting delegates have a voice. This took us by surprise! And we are still grateful!

        There are protections for people with disabilities in our Social Principles, which are not binding as legislation is, but still expressed in writing. We are not left undefended, but the constitutional amendment would have been stronger.

        Sharon

      2. Thank you for sharing more about the process and shedding light onto the complexities. I think you raise important points that would be important to include in the current public discussion. It’s a great opportunity to raise awareness and educate people, especially now while this news story has their attention. As you say, it is intersectional and sometimes the ability aspect gets less attention.

        My goal in writing this brief blog post was to bring attention and raise awareness and to ask questions. Thank you so much for taking the time to engage in conversation. I’ve enjoyed learning more from you.

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