I hear from many pastors about how to become a disability-friendly church. Usually they are thinking in terms of the facilities or programs. Basically: What is the stuff that needs to be done?
I appreciate this eagerness but there is actually some theological groundwork that needs to be done before a church can truly be welcoming and inclusive.
Here are three theological areas to reflect on:
What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
Our value is based on being imager-bearers of God. But what does that mean. Much of our language gives the impression that our image is affected by our physical or mental capabilities. Do we see people with disabilities, perhaps profound disabilities, as reflecting less of the image of God? Why or why not?
What does it mean to worship God?
One of the main purposes of a congregation is to gather for worship. But what does worship look like and what is the goal? Some congregations see worship as putting on a show with excellence that will impress newcomers and make them want to stay. How is that affected by the presence of people with disabilities who make unexpected sounds or movements? Are people with disabilities a distraction or are they integral to how the congregation worships.
What does it mean to be the community of God?
What is the nature of Christian community? Who is embraced into community and who is simply tolerated? How much effort is put into having fellowship with people who look and sound just like us? When we say we love each other, what does that look like?
The great thing about all of these theological concepts is that they can help us to improve in all areas and not just how we welcome and include people with disabilities.
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