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Ellen Stumbo loves the Church. However, in her new blog post, she admits that sometimes this “beautiful” institution “can also be so ignorant that it pushes away the most vulnerable.”

In her article, she shares the pain that too often surrounds disability and illness in the Church, and the grievous misunderstandings so many churches seem to perpetuate about those who are handicapped. It has become all too common, she writes, for pastors to insinuate (or outright claim) that fewer parishioners would deal with disability, if they were have more faith and less sin. She asks,

“[W]hat about the man that carries lust in his heart? Or the woman who is full of bitterness and jealousy? Are those not more damaging to our souls than a physical or intellectual disability? Do we not all need healing from the addictions, selfishness, and pride that we carry?”

As the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, Stumbo writes that she longs for the day when church Sunday Schools are just as accepting of (and prepared for) special needs children as public schools classrooms are. Unfortunately, 80% of families who deal with disabilities and handicaps don’t even bother attending church. Other special needs families have shared with Stumbo their reasoning behind staying away from church, such as:

  • “My child is not welcomed in any of the children’s activities, they said he is too disruptive."
  • "I took my child to Sunday School class, but they wheeled him to the corner and he sat there until I came to pick him up."
  • "They said I had to keep my child with me because they had nobody that could help care for her during Children’s church.  I tried, but she can be noisy, so an usher asked us to please leave the sanctuary because she was disrupting the service."
  • "I asked the pastor if we could possibly have someone help my child during Sunday School, they told me they were not responsible to find me babysitters.”

In his Crosswalk.com article 14 Truths that Shatter the Lies of Disability, Paul Tautges shares the testimony of Krista Horning.

“People ask me how I live with disability. How do I live with disability? …For me, disability is the deep hurt and shame that says I am not accepted. Disability says ugly things to me. It tells me I am alone. I am different. I am worthless. I am weak. It tells me my life is hopeless. Disability lies to me and sometimes it is easy to listen and believe. Sometimes I don’t want to live with disability. Sometimes I don’t want to be who God made me to be. [But] God tells me the truth. So I keep listening to Him. He opens the eyes of my heart and I believe. I trust Him and His words. God says beautiful things to me.”

When the rejection of others (and her own shame) tells Krista she is worthless, she turns to Scriptures to experience the peace and comfort of God. But Church, shouldn’t we be the ones to speak these words of comfort over our brothers and sisters who are disabled? Jenny Herman on the Crosswalk homeschooling channel offers advice for how you can help and encourage families who have a child with Down Syndrome:

  • “Offer to watch the kids so parents can have time to do errands or go out for a quiet cup of coffee and recharge.
  • If the children require such intense care that the parent cannot leave or you are unsure of your ability to watch them alone, offer to go over to the house. Play with the children while the parent accomplishes something else in another room.
  • Give a helping hand out and about. If you’re not sure if a parent wants your help, kindly ask, “May I offer you a hand?” or “Would you like some help?” If you see one child having a meltdown, consider offering to hold the sibling’s hand and walk with the family to the car. See a child bolting from a parent? Help catch him or stay with the sibling so the parent can get the escapee.
  • Don’t judge parenting skills. Life for the special needs parent is hard enough without enduring glares and pointed comments.”

Stumbo writes,

“Disability is a part of life. It has nothing to do with faith, it has nothing to do with healing. It has everything to do with being human, it has everything to do with being the body of Christ. People with disabilities are part of the Body, and we need them. We need them just as much as they need us. We are all connected in this journey, all of us. All of us!”

What about you? Does your church offer special needs programs? How can you take the extra step and help those around you who struggle with, or have children who struggle with, physical or mental disability?

Debbie Holloway is the Family Life Editor for Crosswalk.com

Publication date: April 2, 2014