Channel 4 News ran a very interesting piece as part of their No Go Britain series on what life is like today for disabled people on disability and Christianity and how many disabled people feel marginalized by a religion that claims to love and welcome everyone with open arms. It isn’t so much that churches are actively excluding people with impairment from their ministry, far from it, for many branches of the faith disabled people take a prominent role in their message and acts of worship. But it’s the manner of that involvement that is making a lot of disabled Christians question their role in congregation and their relationship with God.
The issue seems to revolve round the notion of prayer and healing and the eagerness many Christians, especially those within faith healing and the pentecostal denomination, to make disabled people the focus of a demonstration of the love and power of God by asking for some miraculous healing to occur through the laying on of hands or via prayer. For anyone with even the very briefest familiarity with the Bible it is easy to see why Christians would have such a focus of disability, after all Jesus is said to have made the blind see and the lame walk. But whether you believe He was the Son of God, just a nice bloke in sandals or that He was about as real as the Tooth Fairy, I think it’s safe to say that the treatment of disabled people two thousand so years ago is vastly different to how we view them today and, perhaps more importantly how disabled people view themselves. Many people today see their impairments as an intrinsic aspect of who they are and simply do not want to be healed. For someone to be accosted by a stranger in the street, as many faith healers do, offering to pray for their disability to go away is, for many, an uncomfortable and upsetting situation. If you don’t feel like you need to be healed, is it really alright to say no? It has me in the past and I, like many of those people spoke to by Channel 4, felt obliged go allow with it. This is because, in my case, I was aware of the good will intended by the blessing and did not want to offend the person’s religion. But, even though I do have a vague sense of spiritually and a belief in a greater power (I’m not a committed Christian), I find it hard to belief that if there was an answer to curing my disability it would come about by faith along. Personally, I am too much of a realist to think something that miraculous could occurred without some sort of medical treatment. But the aspect of healing and praying away illness and disability that I find the most troubling is the sense that the act is more for the benefit for the person who is offering it than it is the person who is receiving. It is an exhibition of their good will and charity in the name of God, Him working through them to giving something to someone who they view as more unfortunate than them. But doesn’t such a mindset mean that disabled people are viewed as naturally inferior or broken, in need of God’s love to fix them?
And what about those disabled people, especially those who are active members of churches, who do want to receive some divine relief from whatever impairment they have and are yet to, ‘take up their mat and walk’? If they are a member of a church that repeatedly teaches that God’s love can heal and yet you still remain disabled, the doubt must cross your mind that God doesn’t love you in particular, or that you aren’t worthy or pious enough to be rewarded. Indeed, I have heard about certain healer or clerics who claim that, if prayer and the laying on of hands doesn’t work, it is because the person’s faith isn’t strong enough. It’s easy to see how someone could loose their faith. Many disabled Christians would prefer not to be singled out as a demonstration of God’s Love, or if prayer is given for it them, it be framed as a request for God to give them strength in facing all the challenges in their life, something that would cover a multitude of sins (no pun intended). But because Christianity, like so many other areas of life, is run by able-bodied people looking at what they think disabled people might need, this isn’t the case and the individuals interviewed by Channel 4 seemed to think the church gave very little back up for those who don’t receive a miracle.