No Stumbling Blocks: Disability, Autism and the Church (Leviticus 19:14)

World-autism-awareness-day“Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD”

Leviticus 19:14 is one of those verses that you’d hope was unnecessary. The idea that someone would deliberately trip a blind person, or exploit someone’s deafness, is reprehensible and offends our sensibilities. Don’t put stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or wheelchair users or those with autism or…

Parenting autistic children is a whirlwind of emotions – love, compassion, joy, frustration, anger, exhaustion, happiness, doubt, occasionally all within five minutes. It’s the invisible stuff that most defines autistic life – always knowing where the exits are, always building extra time into itineraries to make room for the epic putting on of shoes, always having to be one step ahead of your child’s individual quirks and traits and obsessions. People don’t see these things, the battles and the bargaining and the UN level diplomacy that it often takes to get out of the door and into school, McDonalds or Church.

That last one is important. Having an integrated view of disability in church has pastoral implications. If members of a congregation are deaf, preachers need to stand where they can be lip-read. If congregants are blind, maybe notices need to be spoken rather than printed. How easy is it for a wheelchair user to get to communion? How often do we use video clips with subtitles? Is the music too quiet? Too loud? Who decides?

These questions need to be asked, and there are never easy answers because need is individual. And that’s fine, because this is about community and compassion and an ongoing dialogue that reflects God’s heart for the most vulnerable. Asking these questions is an opportunity and a gift.

Take autism as an example. Many people on the ASD spectrum have sensory issues – they’re sensitive to noise, for instance, or may have an extreme reaction, positive or negative, to various tactile sensations, and if you’re a parent of autistic children you’re constantly aware of these sensory needs.

So maybe there are unacknowledged ways in which being more aware of our sensory environment can enhance worship. After all, a church service is all about creating a sacred space in which we can worship and receive from God and so exploring that environment with all members of our communities is important. Again, ask the questions: maybe a more structured, even liturgical, service would be helpful. Maybe there are ways we can use touch and smell and taste in worship. Maybe messy or café style church is good for kids who struggle to sit still, or maybe a bit more structure is good for everyone.

None of these things are right or wrong, they’re going to differ depending on the needs of individuals at any given time. Disabled members of the community aren’t just passive observers who have programmes done for/to them, they have a voice and needs and gifts that need to be encouraged and put at the centre of church communities.

So let’s not be nervous. Let’s not be exclusionary. Let’s open the doors, remove the stumbling blocks and embrace the diversity of God’s kingdom.

( touch on similar themes in a post on blind Bartimaeus…)

5 thoughts on “No Stumbling Blocks: Disability, Autism and the Church (Leviticus 19:14)

  1. Reblogged this on Laura Droege's blog and commented:
    A few weeks ago, I had a conversation at church with a member who has a son with rare but severe disabilities; eventually it will take his life prematurely. Often, she and her husband cannot attend church because their son requires 24/7 medical care. She was passionate about how the church universal needs to be more mindful of those in the church family who have disabilities, whether that person attends the service or not, and those who are their caregivers (should they require one). Here’s a great post calling for churches to be more aware of the members’ needs, and actively work to integrate those members who may be marginalized for their “disability.” Everyone is valuable and everyone has gifts that can build the church. Integration may make some uncomfortable, may require creative thinking, and may be difficult for those who like things “their” way. But it’s worth the effort!

  2. Saw this reblogged at Laura Droege’s (thanks for sharing it!). I so agree with you, Matt, as a parent of 2 kids on the spectrum. To include and engage people of all ages and all disabilities is challenging, but so important. Thanks for writing about this.

  3. Pingback: Giving Bartimaeus a Voice: Hearing those with disabilities in our churches (Mark 10:48-52) | The Left Hand of Ehud: Matt's Bible Blog

  4. Pingback: Launchpad: Autism, Disability and the Church | The Left Hand of Ehud: Matt's Bible Blog

  5. One area where Christians sometimes do the autistic equivalent of putting stumbling blocks in front of the blind is when they are informed that autistics need direct communication but communicate (or don’t communicate) in ways that are passive aggressive and then turn around and condemn or worse cut off relationally the autistic for not understanding the passive aggressive signals or for not doing what the non or less autistic wanted–condemned because the autistic “was supposed to know that they were supposed to do or not do something”

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