Last week, a former employee of the Sagamihara centre for the disabled made his way around sleeping patients, stabbing them as they slept, killing 19 people before he was caught. It’s one of the worst crimes in recent Japanese history.
It would be easy to just add this to 2016’s litany of death and destruction, but we should pause here for a moment. The killer, who I’m leaving anonymous (because why should he get the oxygen of publicity?), had a manifesto. He wanted to rid Japan of people with disabilities, believing it would be better if they all just disappeared. He’s pitching for a job, chief executor in a genocide of disability.
But while the massacre at Sagamihara is horrifying, let’s not pretend it’s an isolated incident; it’s anomalous in terms of scale, not in terms of it happening. It was reported last year that there’s been a 213% rise in disability hate crimes in the UK since 2007, with much of the blame being placed on the depiction of those on benefits as scroungers and fakers. Elsewhere, children with disabilities are murdered by their parents but they seem to get an inordinate amount of sympathy, as if disability is an acceptable motivation for murder.
How we talk about other human beings matters, but too often this is a sin of omission rather than commission.
So. The Church.
Our churches try not to be racist. Sometimes they try not to be sexist. And there’s not a church on the planet that would confess to being ableist, but ask yourself why people with disabilities are under-represented in our congregations, why parents of children with disabilities so often feel like their kids are rejected by church. Ask yourself why I needed to include a link to a definition of ableism, and why my auto-correct seems to dislike the word.
There’s a toxic and a dismissive culture out there. Sometimes that manifests in a lack of accessibility, or brutal outworking of government bureaucracy, or hate crimes, or terrorism like Sagamihara. And this is insidious; in a few weeks time people will claim inspiration from the Paralympics and then go and dump their car in a disabled parking spot, just because they’re a hurry. Many churches will proudly point to their DDA compliance then tacitly exclude, say, people with autism.
I have children with disabilities. I don’t expect the church to be perfect, but I do want it to be better, I do want an acknowledge that people are not problems. Because this isn’t about the convenience of congregations, this is about affirming the full humanity and value and divine image-bearing of people with disabilities in a world where Sagamihara happens, where we need a Disability Day of Mourning, where the voices and contributions and value of people with disabilities aren’t as affirmed by the church as they should be, losing a host of insights into the mysteries of God in the process.
The world is a hostile place. Sometimes the church is fed by that hostility more than by the Spirit. But we’re called to be different to the world’s and empires around us, we’re called to a higher grace and a higher love. And we need to have the humility to admit there are times and spaces in which our hearts need healing. And the Sagamiharas within us need to be crucified with Christ.