Where are Moses, Jacob, Job, Bartimeus and countless other spiritual leaders people with disabilities, all, chosen by God who are not lifted up as spiritual leaders in the Church? The Massachusetts and Rhode Island Councils of Churches have asked this question and have endorsed a thoughtful and prayerful statement entitled THE ACCESSIBLE CHURCH: TOWARD BECOMING THE WHOLE FAMILY OF GOD.
“The boards of directors of the two states’ leading ecumenical bodies seek to draw attention to the…lack of persons with disabilities in the life of the church and to answer two key questions: ‘Why do we find ourselves in this situation?’ and ‘How do we begin to work together for changes so that all may worship and be one in Christ?'”
“Many Christians are without a community of believers to share their joys and struggles; it means that many congregations are impoverished and incomplete.” The Massachusetts and Rhode Island Councils of Churches have begun an unprecedented campaign together with a network of disability advocates to move toward reconciliation, wholeness and unity.
These seem lofty words, and one may be skeptical that all the fine words in the world do not necessarily create change. It is this reporters’ firm belief that there is integrity in the process that the two councils have begun. It has been the experience of this reporter that the issues of disability and ableism have drawn many different denominations together to speak with one voice. There is a moral mandate to address and act upon these issues of disability and ablism from the Biblical and historical roots of the Church. Faith communities are called to act as social witnesses, to speak out against the barriers that persons with disabilities and their families face. The greatest barrier is communication. There are also the barriers of education, transportation, employment, recreation, and ATTITUDE.
A firm foundation and grounding comes from a statement from the World Council of Churches. There is a common belief in a loving and just God, that humankind is created in God’s image, and that God’s creation is indeed good. Every person is vital to the life of the Church and we all are dependent on one another and on God to experience God’s grace within community.
The most exciting part of their statement is that they acknowledge that the Church “has not done the critical thinking, political analysis, and prayerful reflection necessary to unmask our biased patterns of thought, language, and behavior which [reveal as unacceptable] our prejudice and discrimination against persons with disabilities.” It has been this reporters’ experience that THIS, in particular, moves congregations far beyond a comfortable place and does much to heal the injustices that persons with disabilities have historically confronted.
We are all faced with a moral command, both non-disabled persons and persons with disabilities and their families, to unite to DO justice. For those persons who do not trust that the actions of the Massachusetts Council of Churches and the Rhode Island Council of Churches cannot create change, this reporter would ask you to risk trusting and to take responsibility to share this news with others. YOU are the one who can make this happen.
For a copy of “THE ACCESSIBLE CHURCH: TOWARD BECOMING THE WHOLE FAMILY OF GOD,” write to the Rev. Diane C. Kessler 14 Beacon Street, Rm. 416, Boston, MA 02108-3760.