[Note: I write the following from a deep love and respect for the Evangelical corner of the church. Out of that respect, I want the best for the churches, the leaders and those who attend. My sending church is an Evangelical Free church and I love it – deeply. They are family. In this blog I am talking generally, I’m not talking specifically about my own church.]
There was a great article in a recent publication of Evangelicals Now (EN), written by Glen Scrivener. It was titled “Evangelical Futures: BWWS – The ‘Blokes Worth Watching’ Conveyor Belt”. (You can find it here – but it’s behind a paywall. Sign up for a free trial to see it)
In it he uses analogies from a book called ‘The Trellis and the Vine’, where the writers give an image of the supporting structures (the trellis) surrounding the organic growth of God’s people (the vine).
The article is is raw and honest, and I’ve taken that as permission to be raw and honest myself! I would normally be kind and gentle in how I work with people, so I apologise if this is not my normal gentle self.
Glen in his article tells us that the ‘trellis’ is broken. I would go further and say it’s inaccessible too.
I say this from personal experience and from seeing the disappointment and hurt of others.
In the orthodox evangelical world, disability in any form will often get you chucked out of the BWW club or it will bar you from even entering it. When I’ve asked leaders if they also mentor disabled young people and those with additional needs the answer is clear: No.
I’m a woman with disabilities, working in an evangelical ministry environment. I’ve been ignored in meetings only to have a man say the same thing and be applauded for their amazing idea. I’ve had the same thing happen because I’m disabled.
I’ve had ‘able-splaining’ about things I am highly qualified to talk about and train/lecture in. (Able-splaining is a bit like mansplaining; A non disabled person explaining disability issues to a disabled person who “couldn’t possibly understand the complexity”….even though they actually know more!)
I talk about issues of disability in the world of evangelicalism and I either get blank looks, thanks with no action, or ‘able-splained’ as to why I am wrong. There are rare exceptions, and I mean rare.
If you’ve come to this blog and looked at the ‘about me’ page, you will see that I am a visually impaired wheelchair user working full time in the area of ministry alongside and with those who have disabilities or additional needs. I do consultancy and training and also lobby different groups about disabled people and those with additional needs being welcomed, discipled and mentored like any other person in the church. (Something I was doing BEFORE I became disabled myself – so this is not about me!)
I also try to raise awareness as to what life is like out in the real world if you are disabled in any way.
But I’m hitting a brick wall in many places. I’m also finding many gate keepers would could make a huge difference, but they don’t see it. Disabled people remain mainly unseen.
With the work I do alongside families, the majority of complaints I get from them are about Evangelical churches, including being asked to leave their church for a variety of reasons – none of them valid.
If I go to meetings about evangelism and mission, aside from the fact they are rarely accessible and organisers are happy to leave me at the back unable to join in with anything, disability is never on the agenda – we are not worth evangelising. I’m told that they will naturally be included as part of the community…..but they are not, because we make what we do inaccessible for many. Using disabled people in outreach and on the planning groups is also something that is rare. We have to be intentional and proactive in all these areas. It won’t ‘just happen’.
I once offered to do some free consultancy for an evangelical networking organisation – instead, they hired a non disabled man that knew nothing about the subject who kept ringing me for advice to feed back to the leadership.
I could tell so many more stories!
In the last couple of years I have found out that something else will always be more important and there will never be time to have this subject on an agenda.
On the whole, we are seen as weak, powerless, a tragedy, not worth mentoring and disability is certainly not seen as worth having a bible study about.
I am in my ministry because I became disabled later on. If I had been disabled at the point of feeling called to work as a children’s evangelist (with a very specific call to children with additional needs and disabilities), I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Even if there was such a thing as women worth watching – disability would preclude me from it.
I will never been seen as anything more than the person that moans about how ‘The Church’ does disability – even though I have many other gifts…
I love my evangelical corner of the church, but I ache for those with disabilities and additional needs. I’m sad that the churches are missing out on such a huge blessing by not using their gifts, or maybe – not even seeing them as God’s perfect creation.
I have the best job in the world – but a lot of the time it sucks.
It’s also a job that should not have to exist.