For 50 years, people with and without developmental disabilities have shared life in L'Arche communities.
RECENTLY, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH moved toward beatifying Archbishop Óscar Romero, who was martyred while presiding at a Mass in El Salvador in 1980. Romero preached that, for the love of God, soldiers and paramilitary forces must stop murdering their brothers and sisters—and he paid with his life. Many have since honored his witness during El Salvador’s civil war as “a voice for the voiceless.” Without a doubt, more of us should take on that mantle.
And yet. Sometimes we are notcalled to be a voice for the voiceless. Sometimes we are called to listen carefully and discover the voices in our midst. Sometimes we are called to consider whether weare the ones preventing voices from being heard.
We are almost 25 years beyond the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and while access is still not all it should be, we need to move beyond the wheelchair ramp. We need to listen to those living with disabilities—as fully human, as fallen and holy, as friends of Christ, as people with abilities, as disciples on the Way.
What is disability? This simple question is not easily answered. There are people living with impairments, a loss of expected physiological form or function. A person missing a leg. A person whose optic nerve did not develop correctly. A person who has sustained a brain injury. The disability refers to the consequences of an impairment: loss of walking, blindness, memory issues. Handicap, in turn, refers to the societal disadvantage resulting from an impairment.
But when talking to people living with disabilities, those clear-cut categories become muddy. Some embrace the term “disability” as a simple aspect of who they are, a way of describing their lives and advocating for societal change. Others reject the term, saying they perceive no negative consequences from their impairments, only positives. Others fear the term and simply do not use it.
These are important conversations we are having. Where do we invest our money responsibly in organizations who do the work of justice? How do we interpret Scripture regarding sexuality and marriage, and how does that intersect with church and parachurch employment practices? In what ways can we truly love our neighbors — gay, straight, rich, poor, Christian, Atheist? These are questions that matter to real life people in our world, and we must talk about it.
But we are talking too fast.
What is troubling about the events of the World Vision Reversal last week is not just the divisive and contentious nature of the voices coming from different sides of deeply entrenched ideological lines, but the speed with which it happened. So much of the hurt came not from the impact of actual punches, but from the whiplash of sudden, rapid reactions.
“The less engaged people are, the more they tend to criticize. The more engaged people are, they have far less time [and] energy with which to criticize.”
She might as well have completed the above statement with the dismissive wave I heard in her voice. But she didn’t.
She’s a pastor’s wife. Her bread and butter (and heart and soul) are wrapped up in the local church. I have been there. Perhaps the mile I walked in those shoes helps me understand the sentiment. And I think there is a place for tempering unjust criticism from sources that seem negatively biased. That protects people, sure.
But I can’t let it go at that.
Listen as Sojourners CEO Rob Wilson-Black asks Jim Wallis about his recent fast for immigration reform.