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Jacob's Ramp

Dave Hingsburger | 17:16 UK time, Thursday, 20 September 2007

From a perfectly straight face came an incredibly bent sentiment.

I was chating with someone at a conference a few weeks ago and they launched into a discussion about Christianity and "Finding God" ... as a believer in a kindly God ... I responded in a kindly manner. I mentioned that it has been hard for me to find a church in my new community because none that are near are also accessible.

Cold eyes met mine.

I knew something big was coming.

"You know why that is, don't you?"

Now I assumed it was because the churches were built long before the concept of accessibility had entered public conciousness. But no, I was told, "It's because, if you truly believed, you wouldn't be in that wheelchair."

"Pardon me," I responded with my typical wit.

Then it was explained to me that disability was the ... exact quote ... "Physical embodiment of sin".


With emphasis on concern for my soul (and with noticable lack of concern for their own) I was informed that I needed to get on my knees (as if I could) and beg forgiveness, ask for healing, and be made whole in God's Kingdom. That God was waiting for me, wanting my call ... Give my heart afresh ... I just blinked and slowly pulled my wheelchair back and away from the conversation.

It's hard to be a Christian, even a moderate one, sometimes because Christians can be so annoying. And in this case, stupid. My religious leaning is towards an inclusive kind of ideal. A place where all is welcome.

I've read, here on the Ouch blog about the medical model of disability and the social model of disability, but there is also the moral model of disability. That disability is because we're bad, slovenly, lazy and unclean people. That our parents were bad, slovenly, lazy and unclean people. That we got what we deserved in the first case. That our parents got what they deserved in the second place. Disabilty exists to punish me or punish my ma. Either case, it's disturbing to think that the equation ...


... still exists and still is given credence. At the same time I remember having a long chat with a guy named The Reverend Jeffery Wilder who is a Southern Bapist Minister with cerebral palsy. He was telling me that in the biblical story about the angels ascending and descending to and from heaven via Jacob's ladder. "Ladder," he said, "is a mistranslation. People have been arguing about this story for years, but if they looked at the souce they'd find that the word isn't 'ladder' it's 'ramp'. In fact they were traversing Jacob's ramp."

Jeff's point is that heaven is already accessible.

Get with it.

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  • 1.
  • At 07:24 PM on 20 Sep 2007, Chris Page wrote:

That's one of the reasons I reject any form of religion in my life. I don't need more people judging me than I already have.

It's hard to be a Christian, even a moderate one, sometimes because Christians can be so annoying. And in this case, stupid.

So true.

I have spent years trying to avoid the many people, at various churches I have attended, who've told me that disability is all about a lack of faith. Just believe more strongly, or something, and you will be healed. It's the oddest sentiment, especially since it's mainly aimed at people with mental health problems or invisible impairments or conditions where some sort of 'recovery' is just about possible (if rare). You don't tend to hear the Christians telling people with amputated limbs that God will regrow them. Funny, that...

There are some great churches out there - mostly those on the more liberal end of the Christian belief spectrum, but not exclusively - who demonstrate their inclusive beliefs through everything from British Sign Language-translated services to well-adapated and accessible church buildings. It can be tricky to find these, though, as you point out.

I'd be interested to hear how well, or badly, other religions deal with disability.

  • 3.
  • At 05:20 PM on 21 Sep 2007, Mariamne wrote:

I am a disabled Christian and i have never received anything but kindness and support from the churches i have belonged to. That may partly be because I stay away from evangelical fundamentalists who have a tendency to judge anything that moves. Find yourself a middle of he road or liberal congregation and you will find normal and compassionate people.
Chris Page might ask himself if he is not being as judgmental as the people he is avoiding!

  • 4.
  • At 08:11 PM on 21 Sep 2007, DavidGillon wrote:

>> if you truly believed, you wouldn't be in that wheelchair."

If they truly believed they wouldn't be so wilfully stupid!

(And I'll take disability over stupidity any day of the week and twice on Sunday)

Wow - what a jerk.

I recall writing about the moral model of disability in my post on the social model. I've come up against that one a LOT.

  • 6.
  • At 04:12 PM on 22 Sep 2007, minichessemouse wrote:

i am a disabled Christian and my current church has amongst others, blind, deaf and cerebral palsy sufferers. everyone is very supportive. yeah they pray for healing if we want it but they don't exclude anyone on the grounds of disability. there was an instance a few weeks ago when my friend who has cerebral palsy was note taking for my deaf friend :-)

One time when I was staying at a hotel in New York to cover a conference for Proyecto Vision (, a couple of women in an elevator I was taking mentioned that they were going to some major event for Christians at the other hotel across the street and offered to take me to a faith healing to make me hearing. I told them that I did not want to be hearing, if I were going to be healed of anything I would only bother healing my foot (I have a foot problem that means I can't run, jump, or stand for long periods). I mostly said that as a way of emphasizing that I'm fine being deaf, that I'd rather get rid of a problem that I knew they'd probably perceive as being much more minor (because it doesn't actually stop me from walking). The two women shrugged and said, "Okay, come heal your foot" -- they really didn't seem to care what I got healed, I think in this case they were just trying to lure me to the Christian faith or something. I didn't feel pressured or "preached to" at all, and I'm usually sensitive to that kind of thing as an atheist. They were very pleasant people who seemed to be making this offer in the same spirit as two people out on the town looking for one more companion to go with.

This was an interesting encounter because, until then, I had assumed that Christians who were into faith healing were pushy about it and that they would have basically the kind of attitude Dave encounters in the story he shares here about That Jerk. I've heard stories in the Deaf community about deaf kids being taken for faith healing and so forth, and that was the sense I got out of those kinds of stories. This was the first time I realized that for some people who are into the faith healing thing, it apparently isn't something that you try to push on people, it's just an expression of faith or whatever. And I think for those people, they just don't realize how sensitive an issue religion in general can be for people with disabilities and why offers of healing may not always go over too well. Makes me wonder what would happen if there were more outreach from the disability community to the more moderate members of religious communities just to help them realize the kinds of experiences we sometimes encounter from some individuals who try to preach the "disability = sin" thing. Maybe if they understood how their community is sometimes perceived by disabled people, they could be a more moderating influence within their congregations?

In another, completely separate story: once when I was in Berkeley California, I met a Buddhist woman who got this really worried, uncomfortable, pitying look when she realized that I was deaf. She tried to tell me that some people who convert to Buddhism get their hearing back. With her, I was more blunt about telling her I wasn't interested. I bring this up to raise the point that it isn't only Christians who have this attitude that disability is something to be healed through faith.

  • 8.
  • At 01:33 PM on 23 Sep 2007, Chris Page wrote:


It is one of MANY reasons why I do not follow a religion - not the sole reason. Why should I open myself up to such judgement from those elements of the faith community? You will note that I didn't say all religious people were as judgemental, so I fail to see the reason for your criticism of me for expressing a valid opinion.

  • 9.
  • At 09:09 AM on 24 Sep 2007, Kirsten wrote:

I know what you mean.

I'm a Christian, but I don't bother going to Church.

Mostly because it's all the way down the village and is too far for my poor Arthritis to take me.

I go to a Christian club for teenagers on a Sunday and I feel if, one day, I do need to use a wheelchair I'll just be treated the same way you have, my good friend.

But for now they just feel sorry for me.

Goodness. How is it possible for someone to so drastically misinterpret the teachings of Christianity? The log in her/his own eye has clearly just grown another foot.

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