Confronting Ableism within Christianity

Last Monday, noted Jeopardy winner and Mormon Ken Jennings tweeted out:

When I saw that tweet shortly, I was disheartened to see such an ableist and ignorant tweet. The tweet reminded me of the meme that George Takei posted on social media last month which mocked a woman in a wheelchair reaching up and grabbing a bottle of alcohol. Like Takei had, after the posting Ken received numerous replies saying that his attempt at humor was in poor taste and calling him an ableist. Sadly, unlike Takei, when challenged, Jennings did not rescind his tweet or make any effort to apologize.

As a Christian with a disability, this brings up a topic that I have struggled with, like many people with disabilities, for a long time: Being desired while embodying an imperfect body. As I grew up, I yearned to be deemed “dateable” by my female peers. People would say I was nice, but I was never referred to as hot or attractive. I felt left out in the whole dating scene for most of my teenage and young adult years. In part, I now see this yearning also as a cry for love that I could not give myself because I had internalized the hate that was directed towards me over the years. All the taunts, jokes, and stares when I spoke affected my own self worth to an extent that I am just now realizing.

Last Spring I reflected on my sexuality as a Christian with a disability when I took a class entitled Sexuality and the Christian Body. When I was a child, I thought that God gave me a speech impediment as a sin. One reason was that I was often reminded how I was different than others. Within the church then and today, Christians often talk about the perfect body of Christ. This “perfect” talk leaves many of us with disabilities feeling left out of the Body of Christ with our deformities of one kind or other. Often, we are treated as charity cases, rather than valuable members of the body of Christ. This talk affects how we are seen outside of Church setting too. More often, we are pitied rather than desired because our bodies are deemed imperfect.

But as I was working through these issues during the Lenten and the Easter seasons, I started to view the body of Christ in a new way. When Christ is resurrected, the apostle Thomas does not believe and states “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’” (John 20:25 NRSV).

When Christ does appear to Thomas, He invites Thomas to touch his wounds. Christ does not appear wound-free, but nevertheless He is perfect. This is the body we are invited into as disciples: A perfect differently-abled body of Christ. We are all invited no matter our abilities into this body.

Like most Christians, Jennings unfortunately refuses to see the beauty of people with disabilities. Denying the beauty of our differently-abled bodies denies the differently-abled body of Christ which we are all a part of.

– Greg