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.