Saturday, February 2, 2008

Disabling theologies: Having a disability is not a punishment from God

Last night, a Christian acquaintance of mine was talking about losing an item that was worth hundreds of dollars. There was a clear, logical reason that she lost it, part of which was carelessness, but aside from that, the interesting thing about it is that she saw it as a lesson from God and told me "Sometimes God takes things away from us." Then she added, "Well you know all about that."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

Then she sort of stuttered around a bit before basically saying that she was talking about what happened to me when I acquired my disability.

What she was saying comes from a disabling theology based on the  erroneous belief that God is somehow punishing people when they have disabilities. Having a disability or living with a disability is not a punishment. Sometimes, I've found, when people struggle to find meaning in the meaningless, to make sense of things they seek to blame someone. This can lead to a very fear-based belief that disability is the result of punishment in conjunction with a belief that living with a disability is some awful, terrible thing.

So here's my take on being told that God took something away from me.

Today is a beautiful sunny day and it's a Saturday. I have a day planned just like everyone else, and perhaps because I will do those activities in a wheelchair, some people just see that and don't see past it to realize that my life is just like theirs. I wake up, brush my teeth, have breakfast, make plans on weekends, and do all the same things everyone else does who doesn't have a disability. I have a few books I'm reading, a few friends I need to call, a few pieces of work to catch up on.

It's easy enough to say that I know sometimes people still say this kind of thing because I hear friends with disabilities tell me they've heard things like this too, but when confronted with it, it's disturbingly dysfunctional. I can't help but wonder how many people these kinds of statements have chased away from churches. It's like being prayed upon.