After I broke my leg when I was seven, I remember how painful it was to hobble up and down the steps at church. Before my leg healed, I remember asking my peers to hold one of my crutches so I could get down to a class. It felt quite dramatic, and I can’t imagine the lengths people have to go through if they are in a wheelchair. This is the issue that the Associated Press tackles in a recent story on how disabled worshipers struggle to find their place in the pews. The story is a good idea; the execution of it? Not so much.
The disabled faithful say such experiences remain common in houses of worship, stoked by ignorance of their needs and doctrines that paint disability as proof of sin.
Huh? That’s quite a sweeping generalization for all houses of worship. Surely cost has something to do with it. The reporter mentions this just briefly as she sets up her story.
Years after federal law required accommodations for the disabled, separation of church and state means houses of worship remain largely beyond the law’s reach. State laws and denominational measures meant to take up the slack are tricky to enforce and face resistance from churches who call them both costly and impractical.
The issue is gaining new attention as the disabled community expands, fed by aging baby boomers and a growing number of people with intellectual disabilities who are demanding a more prominent place in the pews.
This makes it sound like without a law enforcing it, churches are doing nothing to accommodate people who are disabled. In my experience, churches go out of their way to welcome the disabled. Just recently I attended a church where women took turns doing sign language.
And what does it mean that people are demanding a more prominent place in the pews?
Later in the article, the reporter returns to those doctrinal issues she mentioned above.
For some, there are still spiritual barriers more ingrained than the physical ones.
They include a history of labeling disability as a deviation to be corrected, typically through things like faith healing or even exorcism.
Who believes this and how prominent is this theology? Why not speak to someone who would promote this belief? Also, don’t medical professionals see disabilities as a deviation to be corrected?
Modern prosperity gospel has only deepened the divide, said Kathy McReynolds, director of public policy at the Christian Institute on Disability in southern California. That doctrine says good things come to true Christians.
Conversely, “Because of your own personal sin, you have this disability and if you had faith, you would be healed,” McReynolds said.
Again, if the reporter wants to go that route, why couldn’t she find someone from the prosperity gospel side of things to get their take on people with disabilities?
Covering the disabled and the struggles they go to in order to attend church is worthy of coverage. It is probably an expensive struggle for older churches to update while remaining historic (I think of mainline Protestant churches that might not be able to afford it). An angle the reporter could have explored is how much adding disability features cost a megachurch to include in its plans. This article from Your Church magazine (which is owned by my company) suggests that ADA laws apply to churches with 15 or more employees and one employee is disabled, and churches that rent to outside groups. I’m guessing this applies to newer churches (possibly megachurches). Unfortunately, the reporter felt she needed to add some spicy theology to the mix.
This is how one of our readers put it:
The topic about churches not doing a better job of making their facilities handicapped accessible can stand alone. However, the swipe at the “theological bias” seems rather out of place. Perhaps a lack of wheelchair ramps in churches wasn’t sexy enough for a whole story.