In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Amy Kenny joins Pete and Jared to discuss what we have been taught about disability and invites us to reconsider how we think about disability being portrayed in Scripture. Together, they explore the following questions:
- I don’t have a physical disability. Why does this topic pertain to me?
- Where can we find examples of disability in scripture?
- What implications do the healing stories in the New Testament have for disabled people?
- Where do people get the notion that disability is connected to sin?
- What is the difference between curing and healing?
- Aside from physical healing, what deeper reasons could Jesus have had to heal people?
- What are some ways that Christians are unknowingly ableist in their speech and actions?
- Why did some churches fight against the accessibility guidelines put forth by the ADA in 1990?
- What are some examples of ableist language in our liturgies, prayers, and songs? Why does that matter?
- What are practical ways Christians can work toward inclusion and justice?
Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Amy Kenny you can share:
- “I’m asking for people to reconsider what they have been taught about disability, and how they think about it being portrayed in Scripture, and to not erase it from the narratives in Scripture.” @DrAmyKenny
- “Moses has a speech disorder, Elijah deals with depression and suicidal ideation, Timothy is chronically ill, the list goes on. Those disabilities aren’t cured in Scripture, yet we erase them when we tell stories. In turn, we erased the way that God is already at work in disability now.” @DrAmyKenny
- “[Luke 14 is] generally taken to be eschatology, and yet the folks aren’t cured or changed, they’re just welcomed as they are without condemnation. My disabled body bears the image of God, and doesn’t need to be fixed or changed or cured to do that.” @DrAmyKenny
- “While my body is disabled, I am not in need of healing, I have already experienced that with Jesus.” @DrAmyKenny
- “Sometimes we’re looking for that quick fix, the kind of cosmic vending machine Jesus who just brings us these quick cures. The work of healing is actually slower and it takes endurance. It actually means sitting with someone in all the discomfort, silence, and sorrow.” @DrAmyKenny
- “Disability Justice really affirms the unique qualities of each body and stresses that nobody, disabled or otherwise, is inherently worth more than another. Everybody has strengths and needs that fluctuate over time, and there’s not a hierarchy or shame of those.” @DrAmyKenny
- “Our liturgies, our prayers, our songs—all of those feature a lot of ableist language. All of those are assuming this eradication of disabled people, which is eugenics, and saying that’s holy or that is heaven somehow.” @DrAmyKenny
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.
Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.
[Jaunty intro music]
Jared: Well, welcome, everyone to this episode of the podcast. Today we’re talking about the topic, “My Body Is Not a Prayer Request” with Dr. Amy Kenny, who has written a book of the same name.
Pete: Yeah. What a coincidence that is. The title of our podcast is the same as the title of the book. That’s amazing!
So yeah, and Amy teaches at the University of California at Riverside. And her area is early modern literature. But she also researches the history of medicine, science, and technology. She is into disability studies and we had a wonderful discussion about the Bible and disabilities and churches and how we can make that conversation better than it has been.
Jared: And I think part of this, and again, I want to emphasize, sometimes people think like, well, this isn’t necessarily relevant to me. But what I want us to see with a lot of our guests is their unique perspective on the Bible and faith can inform and teach us things that we didn’t already understand or know. And so, we actually have a pretty good, I think, theological conversation in the middle of this episode about what is the Bible and what do we do with it, which are the two central questions we ask in every episode. And so even here, with something that seems maybe periphery to some of our everyday lives, we can have Amy teach us how to read the Bible in new and better ways.
Pete: Alright, let’s get into it.
Amy: Disability has always been kind of a problem with a lot of church spaces, thinking that disability is something to be eradicated, erased, cured… But what if Jesus is saying that disability is a way to encounter God, or a preventative remedy to sin? My disabled body bears the image of God and doesn’t need to be fixed or changed or cured.
Pete: Amy, welcome to our podcast. It’s great to have you here.
Amy: Thank you. It’s an honor to be here.
Jared: Well, we want to jump in a little bit midstream. You have this quote in your book that says you “wish the church could interpret my disabled body in this way, as a mark of holy living, an antidote to sin, and a way to reveal God to the surrounding community.” So, as a way to get into our conversation, can you give us a little background on your experience with the church? And then expound on this quote, and what do you mean by that?
Amy: Yeah, certainly. So, I grew up in and around the church. I’m originally from Australia. And I’ve also lived in London. So, I’m definitely going for that whole citizen of heaven vibe. And regardless of which denomination of church I was in, or which country I was in, disability has always been kind of a problem with a lot of church spaces that I’ve been in. I’m disabled, I use a wheelchair, a mobility scooter, a cane to get around. And it seems as though that’s a problem for many church folks, thinking that disability is something to be eradicated, erased, cured. And so, I have that quote, in the book, really, as a way of inviting people into thinking about disability in a different way. And I’m talking there about Jesus telling folks in Mark 9 that if you cut off your hand or your eye or your leg, if it causes you to sin that you should cut it off. And somehow everyone’s a biblical literalist, until it comes to this verse. I think, we usually take it to mean, “Wow, sins really bad, huh?” But what if Jesus is saying that disability is a way to encounter God or preventative remedy to sin? What if Jesus is suggesting that being nondisabled, enhances temptation somehow. So, I’m not really trying to initiate a cut off movement. But I am wanting us to think again, about conflating disability with sin, and to ask us to imagine other possibilities for what Jesus might mean. And in the book, I also talk about this idea of the disciples, thinking in John 9 that this blind man is to blame for him being blind that his sin or his parents sin has caused his blindness. And Jesus says, nope, that’s just not the fact. In fact, his blindness is a way to reveal God’s works. And so, I’m really asking for people to reconsider what they have been taught about disability, and how they think about it being portrayed in Scripture, and to not erase it from the narratives in Scripture.
Pete: That’s really fascinating. Amy, the, you know, the cutting off the hand business.
What you’re suggesting is looking at that a few steps beyond what Jesus is saying to, okay, now that that person is without a hand, what will this experience now mean to this person? And how will he encounter God (he or she) encountered God differently as a result of that. Right?
Amy: Absolutely. And I think too often we have been taught that disability is bad, God is good, and so therefore, let’s just get rid of disability. When actually I think there’s lots of examples where that’s not what Jesus is saying, or what the other stories are inviting us to think about. So, we regularly erase disability, I’m thinking about, you know, Moses has a speech disorder, Elijah deals with depression and suicidal ideation, Timothy is chronically ill, Zacchaeus is likely a little person, Paul has the thorn in the flesh, the list goes on. And all of those disabilities aren’t cured or erased in Scripture, yet we erase them when we tell stories. And I think in turn, we erased the way that God is already at work in disability now.
Jared: Yeah, maybe you can expound on the John 9 connection because I’m curious, in your experience, you know, this idea, it seems pretty prevalent, which we find it in our Hebrew Bible in the Old Testament, and it seems to have gotten individualized in Jesus’s day that if you have a disability or something’s happened to you, it’s because you’ve sinned? Have you experienced some of that in the church growing up that there’s a sense that you must have done something wrong, like these things don’t just happen for no reason. Is that the kind of thinking that you would have encountered?
Amy: Absolutely, I’m just one kale smoothie or essential oil away from being nondisabled, from leaping out of my wheelchair with chariots of fire beaming in the background. I’ve had everything from people trying to exorcise my demons, to people holding me down while praying for me, to people actually creating some sort of home remedies and giving it to me, all under the guise of healing. And along with that a lot of condemnation about if I just believed enough, I would be fixed.
Pete: Amy, why do they do that? In your opinion, I mean, is it purely altruistic? Is it from a place of caring? Or do you think it’s from some other place in their psyches below the surface?
Amy: That’s probably for that therapist to say…
Pete: Yeah, that’s a good point.
Amy: But broadly, I think that, I think most people are well-intentioned and they’ve been discipled wrong. You know, they’ve been discipled into ableism, instead of into thinking about disabled people as image-bearers. And I think it also comes from a place of fear that people are projecting their own fear onto my disabled body. What if they become disabled? What if their kid, their parent, their loved one becomes disabled? And it’s easier to look away and to erase than it is to actually come to terms with some big theological questions around disability, theodicy, God’s will—all of those million-dollar questions, I think, my body is really asking them to confront in those moments.
Jared: How have you wrestled with those questions? Because I think those are good questions in terms of, again, we go back to John 9, and that’s what they’re wrestling with, is where does this come from? And Jesus doesn’t really answer it in a straightforward way in that passage, you know, and I don’t know if the Bible really does. But how have you wrestled with it? Or what are passages that you go to wrestle with the theological implications of this?
Amy: Yeah, Jesus is kind of like that, isn’t he? [Light laughter] You know, never really fully answering.
Jared: Always [unintelligible].
Amy: Always has, yeah, he always has a story. I think I go to a few places. One is that I really love the story of Jacob in Genesis, and it’s not exactly flannel board material. But Jacob wrestles with the angel all night long, and then his hip is wrenched out of the socket and he’s disabled. And I think a lot of times this is read as a punishment. But that’s not really what the story tells us and that’s not how Jacob interprets the incident, either. He talks about God being gracious, and this is a transformative moment where he can now understand his brother, as an image-bearer and as someone to be an interdependent community with. So, I think, this limp, this cane that we see him with in Hebrews when he’s leaning on his walking stick and worshiping and blessing each of Joseph’s sons, that those aren’t curses, those are blessings. That’s part of the transformative blessing that Jacob has.
And I think another place that go to is Luke 14, where Jesus is telling a story about instructing folks to invite poor and disabled people to their banquets, and one of the guests tries to pull a fast one and say, “Oh, but we’re all blessed.”
And Jesus corrects them and says that we’re to invite poor and disabled people, and that folks who refuse won’t taste Jesus’s banquet. And I think generally that story is taken to be eschatology, and yet the folks aren’t cured or changed, they’re just welcomed as they are without condemnation. So, I think those two stories are really instructive for me, in reminding myself that my disabled body bears the image of God, and doesn’t need to be fixed or changed or cured to do that.
Pete: Yeah, that’s a thoughtful reading. I had never thought about that with the passage in Luke. Yeah, so I mean, let me ask, this is something that came to mind a couple minutes ago. There are healing stories, obviously, in the New Testament. Jesus heals a lot of people of infirmities and illnesses, sicknesses, and things like that, which is, you know, supposedly a sign of a messianic age, you know, Luke chapter four, for example, how do you incorporate that into this larger reading that you have, which I have to say is very compelling. I’m just wondering, I want you to answer the question that I know, I would be asked if I said this—how do we
Amy: So, you want me to…
Pete: Yeah, I want you to help me answer other people. Because I think what you’re saying makes tremendous sense, but someone’s gonna say, “Yeah, but Jesus heals people.”
Amy: Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s a difference between curing and healing. I think that curing is a physical process that’s individual and fairly rapid, give or take, and that it concentrates on eliminating disease. And I think healing is a socio-cultural process that’s about restoring the social and spiritual dimensions, between someone and community. And I think a lot of times, both of those are occurring in scripture. But we think that the physical has to be conflated with the spiritual. And so that’s what some of these notions of disability being connected to sin come in, I think.
John 9 is really helpful here for me in how I understand what Jesus is doing with healing, because that narrative is quite long. And yet the curing takes place in the first six or seven verses.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Amy: And then after that, the story continues. If it was just about changing a physical state, from blindness to sight, then it would stop after verse seven. But it continues for another 40 verses or so with Jesus and the man and the community interacting, and with the man learning who Jesus is, and coming to terms with calling him the Son of Man and I think that’s when the healing takes place in that narrative. So, I have found that really encouraging, because while my body is disabled, I am not in need of healing, I have already experienced that with Jesus.
Jared: Well, I think that’s a great way to unpack those passages. In some ways, I don’t know if this is appropriate to say or not, but I think, kind of hermeneutically when I think about what can we do as the church and as people—we can’t cure, but we can heal. And I think that’s really helpful, because when we read these passages, sometimes it’s hard to say, what is the way of Jesus in this, we don’t have the supernatural powers to cure people of disease, but we have the power to heal in some ways. And so, I think that’s in some, in some ways that ties into this idea of disability justice. And I don’t know if it ties in for you, but I’m gonna segue us there. Because I think that’s, I go to the question of how do we bring healing in this space? And I think this idea of Disability Justice probably ties in somehow.
Amy: Yeah, absolutely. I think sometimes we’re looking for that quick fix, the kind of cosmic vending machine Jesus who just, you know, get brings us these quick cures, and the work of healing is actually slower. And it’s long, it takes endurance. And it actually means sitting with someone in all of the discomfort and in all of the silence and sorrow and I think that’s really more the work of healing to your point, Jared.
Disability Justice really affirms the unique qualities of each body and stresses that nobody, disabled or otherwise, is inherently worth more than another. So everybody has strengths and needs that fluctuate over time, and there’s not a hierarchy or shame of those.
And I think this sounds very similar to this notion of co-flourishing and that idea of there being goodness between us and healing created when we have a community that actually is with one another, instead of trying to just erase or eradicate one another.
Pete: What I’m hearing is, I mean, I had never made this connection before hearing you speak, Amy. But in a way, we’re seeing the tearing down of some tribalistic walls. We have the other who’s different. It could be another religion, in the ancient world it could be another literal tribe, it could be another nation. People look different. And, you know, there was a lot of tribalistic thinking in the ancient world. Part of that probably had to do with people with disabilities, I imagined. What’s wrong with you? You must have sinned, your parents, and something made you different. There’s a cause for it that we can use as an excuse to hold you apart somehow.
But I guess what we’re seeing, I’m asking you a question whether you think this is a helpful way to look at it, because this is how I’m putting the pieces together. What do you think in the Gospel, we’re seeing beginning movements toward tearing down that kind of a tribalistic barrier, now with disabilities? That’s not completely done yet. Just like, you know, Paul says, “there’s no male or female, Jew or Greek,” you know, there’s no social distinctions. But they continued, they didn’t stop with the Gospel. You still had Jews, you still had rich people, you still had men and women. But the boundary marking territorialism of those designations are taken away. So, Jesus could have said, the disabled you will always have with you. Because that’s, that’s who they are. You have the poor with you, you have men and women with you, you have Greek and Jews with you. You know, it’s all good. You know, we’re all people. And it’s part of building I think, a, I’ll stop with this. It’s part of building in a consciousness of this, the human drama, which is global and big and doesn’t rely on these distinctions that we make.
Amy: Absolutely. And I think a lot of what Jesus is doing in healing people is allowing for some of those barriers to be torn down. So, sticking with the John 9 passage that we’ve been looking at, really, that should allow that man entrance into, you know, Temple worship, entrance into society, kind of more of a, not as much of an outsider status. But instead, they question him and don’t believe his story. And they gaslight him and so he still remains on the outskirts. And I think another way of saying all of this might be to think about Matthew 25, and Jesus inviting us to care for the least of these. And this idea that that is really disability justice at its heart, thinking about whatever we do for the least of these, in this case, disabled folks, we are doing for Jesus, because disabled people are marginalized in many different ways in our society.
Jared: Can you say a little bit more about that practically? Like what are ways that, particularly in a faith context, or Christians are perhaps unknowingly ablest in not in maybe the ways that they talk, but also the way they act? What are some of these practices that maybe haven’t been in their minds, conscious, but are still ableist nonetheless?
Amy: Yeah. So, in 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act, gave us curb cuts and the rights to accessible public spaces, a lot of churches fought against that. And so, churches still today do not have to include disabled people. They do not have to have curb cuts or accessible bathrooms or accessible parking. And so, discrimination is actually legal for faith spaces and for Christian schools, because churches fought against that in 1990. I think many people are unaware of that history. But if you look at the fabric of our churches, you can kind of see it play out by the fact that very few disabled people are pastors or elders or put into positions of leadership. And I think even just the way that we gather—our liturgies, our prayers, our songs, all of those feature a lot of ableist language as well. So, thinking here about, “Hear ye, ye dumb, ye deaf, crazy, ye dumb.” “I once was blind, but now I see.”
There’s that Hillsong song that says there’s no darkness, no sick, no lame in heaven because streets are made of gold and will finally be healed and whole. You know, all of those are assuming this eradication of disabled people, which is eugenics, and saying that that’s holy, or that that is heaven somehow.
Pete: Yeah, I can see why that wouldn’t sit, right.
Amy: Yeah, I’ve had people at churches give me a poem called, “No Wheelchairs in Heaven,” just strangers at churches that I’ve been a part of, you know, or people who you just kind of casually know, and thinking that that’s an encouraging thing. But actually, that’s rooted in the idea that I have to be erased, or very much changed in order for that to be something glorious or holy.
Pete: Yeah. And you know, until that time, you’re still here. So, you’re not whole until then, in the meantime, we’ll just pat you on the head, or ignore you or keep giving you poems.
Amy: Right, yeah, or potions. And our faith should speak to the right now, it shouldn’t be so future oriented that we don’t have anything to offer or any community to participate in with disabled folks until some sort of afterlife that just crossing that threshold shouldn’t be the only time that we care about 25% of the US population and 15% of the global population.
Pete: Well, I do think, I mean, just riffing here. I do think that especially, well, let me put it this way. Is it true in your experience in terms of the church, broadly speaking, that the problem of not recognizing disability is more of a problem in let’s say, more conservative Christian gatherings than let’s say mainline Christian gatherings?
Amy: I’m trying to be honest with my answer, so that I don’t jump in with yes.
Pete: Just lie. Just lie, Amy. That’s fine. We’re fine with lying.
Amy: Yeah, totally. Then I’d have to cut out my tongue.
Amy: I think, in some ways, I think that’s true. And in others, I think even the most progressive spaces that have, you know, women preaching or that are very open-minded, or have a dialogue around race, or around LGBTQ, even those spaces are problematic when it comes to disability, because often we’re just forgotten, frankly. And when we are remembered, it’s often very patronizing. It’s this idea of, we need to be grateful to be included at all. I was part of a church that did have women preaching, and was very open-minded and inclusive, and we had a large population of people who were unhoused, we were very, it was a very welcoming community. And yet, when I brought up that we shouldn’t have “lame,” you know, an ableist slur in the worship services as part of the musical liturgy, or when I asked for a ramp to be put in so that I could access the building that we were in, I was told it was too expensive or that wasn’t stewarding tithe well, or I just needed to be grateful for people carrying me in. Well, all of those things are a little bit dehumanizing.
Pete: Yeah. You know, just the use of the word lame, for example, and I think, I mean, the angle I was trying to go for, and you know, if I’m not right, I’m not right, but sort of a biblicism, or liberalism in certain traditions, where words like, you know, lame are things that are bad. And they use it because it’s part of the biblical tradition.
So, the resistance might be, they’ve absorbed a particular understanding of the Bible, maybe more literalistic not digging beneath the surface a little bit, where disability is an abnormality that has to be fixed. And I’m just wondering, and this is far too simplistic, but I’m wondering if sort of being tied to an ancient text, which comes to us from an ancient context, where there was no such thing as disability consciousness, whether… I guess, I’m asking you whether you do this…whether your thinking really has to transcend that biblical tradition. It has to become more of a theological argument or even a psychological discussion, or a sociological discussion, and really move beyond the Bible.
I mean, we can’t find any solutions. We can’t find solutions to racism in the Bible. We can’t find solutions, you know, to slavery in the Bible, because it’s all over the place.
So, you know, on one level, I think it’s very important to read the biblical passages from an angle that’s going to make people think long and hard about what they think the Bible actually says. But at some level, it seems to me that we have to go beyond the Bible to argue this to the church. So that they’ll really, really listen. Not just Bible verses, but some bigger theological structure about the nature of humanity and something like that. I don’t know what it would look like, but I don’t know. Does that make any sense to you?
Amy: Yeah. So, what I’m hearing is we’re renaming the podcast, “Theological Structure for Normal People.”
Pete: [In hushed tone] Don’t tell anybody, Amy, we’ve been doing that all along anyway.
[Light laughter at himself because he’s so funny]
Amy: Yeah, totally. I think that’s I think that’s fair. I think that rooting it in Scripture is comforting to people and I think some people need that, you know, for their own spiritual formation. But I agree with you that disability justice does transcend a literal interpretation, or really needing a Bible verse for each value around understanding the importance of the diversity of creation, and that disability is included in that diversity.
Pete: Right. And, exactly, which is not something that you pick up on from the biblical tradition explicitly. What this reminds me of Jared, I mean, jump in here, if you want to. What this reminds me of, for example, is Matthew Vines, who we’ve had on the podcast four years ago or something, but he wrote a wonderful book, God and the Gay Christian, which is basically a defense, a biblical defense by looking at passages from different angles of LGBTQ inclusion. And it’s really a good book. He makes you think about, “Does that…I guess it doesn’t really say what I thought it says. Well, there’s a depth here, there’s, there’s a context here I hadn’t thought about.” But and what that does, it’s almost like a gateway drug for people who need to find things in the Bible almost to give them permission, I get to think about this now. I thought it was so obviously unbiblical, I get to think of it. And I think that’s a real value for the church, because not everyone is going to be where you are, you know, having thought about this deeply and theologically for a long time. They’re just starting out. So, there’s really a lot of benefit for, practical benefit for let’s look at the Bible from a different angle and let’s see what we see. But the larger questions might have to wait, I don’t know for, you know, deeper kinds of theological discussions.
Amy: Yeah. And they might not have easy answers. And I think a few ways to do that with disability in Scripture is to think about God as disabled. Both Daniel and Ezekiel describe God’s throne as a chair with wheels, and that sounds a lot like a wheelchair to me. Jesus’s body after resurrection is the only example that we have of that imperishable form and it’s disabled. It has horrific scars. And then the Spirit, Paul tells us, in a sense, groans too deep to utter, which, you know, might be similar to the way that folks who are non-speaking communicate. So really inviting people to think about not just God as disabled, but what some of these passages with our imagination and fueled by the creativity that we have been given, might mean for the disability community.
Jared: Yeah, and maybe a simpler way of getting at what you were saying, Pete, is there are issues that we have to get comfortable with understanding how they go beyond the Bible if we’re going to deal with them adequately. And I think that for certain traditions, that’s a challenging thought because you were taught that everything you’re going to ever encounter in the history of the world has an answer in the Bible. But that’s a totally different framework to think of, well, we can think about different trajectories. And we can also just think about where we are ethically and morally as a culture and society using the tools that we have. And then we can use our imagination and use that framework for how we understand the Bible, and we can start seeing it in new and creative ways rather than cutting ourselves off from all of the wonderful, you know, innovations in ethics and thinking. We do this all the time with science, we’re not going to say we can only develop scientific things or technological or medical things that we find in the Bible. And yet with things like ethics and justice, we limit ourselves to what we can only find in the text explicitly.
Pete: Yeah, I don’t mean to reduce it all. By the way, Jared, I like my complicated one better than your simpler one.
Jared: I know you did. That’s why you said it.
Pete: Plus yours wasn’t that simple anyway. It was pretty complicated.
Jared: [Light laughter]
Pete: I think, anyway, so yeah. I think that going beyond the Bible is important. And again, you know Amy, I’ve never had to speak with people who aren’t getting it. Right, and you’ve lived with this. But I think like so many, this is what we get back to the Bible, in a sense. So much of this really comes down to what does the Bible mean for you? How does it function for you and for your tradition? And people who have, let’s say, a more flexible strategy of engagement with the biblical text, are going to be able to hear things differently. And others who don’t have that flexibility are going to be much more literalistic. And, you know, Jesus heals people, and that’s all there is to it. So, the right thing is you have to be healed somehow too. But to burrow down a little bit is, you know, that’s, I mean, that’s where the action is, as far as I’m concerned.
Amy: Yeah. And to get away from thinking that the Bible is the fourth member of the Trinity, and instead recognizing it’s, you know, a great tool and an invitation for us. But that what we’re worshiping isn’t the Bible itself, but the living God. And I think it’s also an invitation for some of us to really have a meeting with ourselves about what do you think about disability? What are some of the assumptions, and pity and shame that we operate in? And what are some of the biases that we have, and stop blaming the Bible for it? Instead, you know, really have a meeting with ourselves of thinking about how we can go about changing that internalized notion of ableism as well.
Pete: Right. Well, how do you, Jared, I don’t know if you want to go in this direction. But how do you help people to understand like, what sort of approaches or strategies might you have? I imagine that differs with different contexts, but maybe just give us something here that we can be thinking about too on our own context of how to maybe address things more deliberately.
Amy: Yeah, I just turned my scooter up to rabbits and I just run them right over. And I just zoom away before they can before they can fight me back.
Pete: Okay. [Laughter]
Amy: [Laughter] And podcasts.
Yeah, I think that there’s a few things that people can do. I think, even just noticing what words we use as negative, negative ideas, or derogatory words. So, a lot of those are rooted in ableism. So, if you think of lame that we already said, dumb, stupid, idiot, moron, right? All of those come to us from disability. And it’s not really about being PC police or changing words specifically, but noticing that words are a repository for our bias, and that they often reveal to us what we think of disability. And just taking inventory of, in our own lives, in whatever space you find yourself in. Is this space accessible? Does it allow for a number of different physical and sensory needs? Do you have friends who are disabled? Do you learn from disabled people? Do you hire disabled people? All of those kinds of questions, I think, can reveal not just the narrative that we tell ourselves about disability, which is usually, “Oh, of course, I wouldn’t be against disabled people,” but can reveal what we actually practice in our lives.
Pete: Mm hmm. You know, we had Stephanie Tait on, Jared, I guess it was a couple years ago or so. And she, I had never thought about this before, but she sort of suggested gently, that, you know, when we go places to speak, we ask about how accessible the location is. And, you know, recently I was speaking somewhere. It was a nice stage, blah, blah, blah, happy church, whatever. There were steps. You couldn’t avoid it. There’s no way…a disabled person could not be up on the stage—singing, playing an instrument—they couldn’t get up there. So yeah, I mean, that that made me think too, about how set up we are for this. But of course, this gets back to the evangelical and fundamentalist resistance to the Americans for Disabilities Act, Americans with Disabilities Act in 1980. I mean, that gets back to that because they don’t have, it’s not part of the DNA to change that.
Amy: Right, and it suggests that we don’t lead, we being disabled people. So, we don’t have anything of value to contribute. We are ministered to in a patronizing and pitying way, we are not leaders in our own right.
And we have gifts to share with the community. And those are, you know, a diverse range of gifts because disability isn’t a monolith. But the stairs to the preaching spaces or, you know, even well-meaning comments that I receive a lot are, “Oh, I’ve never had a disabled teacher before.” “I’ve never had a disabled Professor before.” Thanks, I guess. You know? I mean, we can teach too! What a concept.
I think it’s really thinking about who the space is set up for both physically but also in terms of sensory needs. And in terms of, you know, whether someone is blind or low vision, deaf, wheelchair users, Autistics, that all of that if we want to be an inclusive community, all of that has to be part of the everyday work that each of us are doing to make sure our communities are accessible.
Jared: Yeah. Well, before we end, I have one question. But I actually have a heartening story that I think after we had Stephanie on, I think it was last season. We, I teach junior high at my church once a month. And it was something around disability awareness, and I don’t remember what all was behind it. But I thought for the activity, I took all of us middle schoolers around our church building. And I had found some checklists online, of what we can look for in terms of and you know we’re pretty progressive, in a lot of ways, congregation, and I was hopeful as I had the all the kids grade it. So, we went around, and they had to call out what grades they would give on like a scale of one to five, or how accessible, you know, this space was or that space was. And these kids were harsh! I loved it. I loved every second. Like, for those of us who are as adults, we’re kind of like, “Wow, that’s pretty g…” And they were like, “No, you said it had to be like this. And this is definitely not like that. Give it an F.” And we’re like, “Oh, my gosh.”
So, I just thought that was so heartening that the kids were like, that seems so unfair, why wouldn’t you have access for everybody? This is so obvious. And I just appreciated their input on that. So, what are, just because we as we wrap up. What are practical ways, you mentioned a few, but is there any other practical ways we can work as Christians toward justice in this arena, and maybe turn the tide from not being the people known for being against the Americans with Disabilities Act, and being one of the forerunners for inclusion and justice?
Amy: Yeah, I think what you just described, that accessibility audit, is something that every community can do, thinking about whether that space can actually accommodate or whether they’re just kind of paying lip service to that. So doing some sort of accessibility inventory is a great idea. Hiring disabled people to speak at your conferences, or churches, reading our books, learning from our wisdom of what it means to be embodied. And believing us when we ask for our access needs to be met whether or not you’ve thought of them. I think defense is usually the first reaction, instead of learning and growth and accommodation.
And I think another really practical way that folks can think about how to do this work in their communities is to think about not just those assumptions you’re making and the language that you’re using to describe people, but who do you let influence you? Who are your friend groups? Who are you in community with? And sadly, more often than not, for a lot of Jesus followers, the answer is not disabled people. And really sit with why that might be and use that not as a mechanism of shame, but really just to name and repent or kind of think about how that can be different going forward, how you can create a more inclusive community, because I think that’s going to ultimately impact what you learn from Scripture and how you use Scripture as well, if we’re reading it in and with folks with different lived experience.
Pete: Absolutely. Yes. Thank you, Amy.
Yeah, well, listen. Thank you, Amy, thank you, for taking the time to be with us to help us understand something that, you know, is not in everybody’s back pocket. There’s a lot here to think about and the need to, not to get schmaltzy, to love everybody, which means justice and fairness and kindness and goodness and respecting each other’s humanity more than we respect our own. And I just want to thank you for being here with us and taking the time to share your thoughts and your wisdom with us.
Amy: Yeah, thanks so much for having me. I think that, you know, perfect love does cast out fear, heard that somewhere.
Pete: Mm hmm.
Amy: And I think these fears of disability can truly be cast out if we love big enough.
Stephanie: Well, that’s it for this episode of The Bible for Normal People. Before you go, we want to give a huge shout-out to our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you.
If you’d like to help support the podcast, you can leave us a review or just tell others about our show. You can also head over to patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3 a month, you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.
Dave: Our show was produced by Stephanie Speight; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marking Director, Savannah Locke; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. For Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team—thanks for listening.
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