Faith and Woundedness: Why I Still Identify as a Christian
by Lisa Hancock
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about harm inflicted on persons with disabilities and their families by Christians, be they lay people or ordained church leaders. That such harm is done, that persons within the disability community carry such wounds, may come as a surprise to some. Yet, the damage continues to be perpetuated by poor theological understandings of disability, weak biblical exegesis of disability in the Bible, and pastoral responses to disability that lack nuanced and robust understandings of disability in our current cultural milieu. This is not to say that all Christians commit such theological injury. Yet, the fact remains, Christians have done harm to persons in the disability community, and these persons now carry wounds inflicted by others in the name of Christianity.
These reflections lead me to a question I just can’t shake: knowing my own woundedness, my family’s woundedness, and my community’s woundedness at the hands of Christians, why do we remain Christian? Now, don’t get me wrong, I have deep compassion for persons who have been wounded too much by Christians and have left the church and/or have vowed never to enter a church. And though this is not the direction I have taken, I can fully understand and embrace the need for self-preservation when the Christian church and its participants have proven to be more harmful than helpful. There is too much in this world that the disability community face that threatens our existence—why go to church to experience more of it?
So, I ask myself, why are you still a Christian when Christians do so much harm to your community and others? Why are you getting a PhD to teach theology, particularly disability theology, to future Christian leaders? A simplistic answer I have heard to such questions is, “Remember, the church is full of flawed people. You don’t put your faith in the church, you put your faith in God.” While this statement holds a nugget of truth, it has to be contextualized for the disability community, a community whose understanding of God has often times been shaped by Christians who claim that God’s ultimate and perfect plan does not include disability. For people whose existence and identity takes shape within disabled embodiment, this version of God does not seem like a deity who would welcome the faith of a person with disabilities, particularly a person who takes pride in their disabled embodiment.
Yet, the nugget of truth in this simplistic answer is worth deeper exploration. The nugget here is the importance of faith. Through faith, I believe in God, yet that belief goes beyond what fallible humans say about God, while also calling me into relationship with God and others that transforms me, transforms all who enter into the journey of faith, into the image of the God who reveals Godself to us and about whom we can never know everything. Faith leads us into the depths of God’s being where we realize that all we say about God, be it technically correct or wholly insupportable, can never fully encompass the width, breadth, and depth of God’s mystery and love for all creation. Thus, not only are humans fallible when speaking about God; our words are always insufficient. We keep using them because it is how we communicate, but our best words about God are words that point ourselves and others into relationship with the God whose depths cannot be fathomed and whose love overflows and encompasses us all.
So, as I ask myself these questions about why I’m still Christian, it comes down to faith. Faith that God is more than the harmful words that others say about God and the communities I inhabit. Faith that the most definitive word about God is Love. Faith that God’s faithfulness and love win out over the harm humans do to one another. Faith that God seeks to heal the wounds we inflict on each other. Faith that while individual Christians and churches may reject or suppress persons with disabilities within their communities, the Church as the community of God instituted and joined with Christ in the bond of love flings its arms wide for persons of all embodiments, saying “Come and be and join and live in the light of God’s love together!” I pray that faith guides us to make this community of faith a reality here on earth in this time and place as it is a reality of Christ’s Church in all times and places.