I recently posted a video as part of the Not All Like That Project – find it here. If you’re a gay-affirming Christian, I encourage you to film and to share your own testimonial. As Dan Savage argues, when Christians who support full equality for our GLBTQ sisters and brothers remain silent we allow those Christians who oppose equality to speak on our behalf. That’s not just bad for GLBTQ rights, it’s bad for Christianity. So speak up – making and posting a video is so easy that even those of us born before the internet was invented can do it.
And now, this week’s question:
Having a special needs child has shown me how we view people with special needs, and the non-verbal in particular, as “less than.” Some say my child’s special needs are because of Karma, others my sin, some even say it is my child’s past life sin. All meaningless!
Why can’t we change the way that we see and think about this population? We have to fight for therapy, for help for our children to get support so that they have a chance to reach their full potential and enter into society. Always fighting for acceptance, always wanting inclusion for our children. Always teaching others to see our child as a full person first, then educating them on the “label” or “the disability.”
Even I, as my child’s mother, have had to wrestle with these questions and teach my self a new way of seeing, a better way of thinking about my child.
To be able to see the person’s worth just because they are alive and here as a gift. Without asking what can they do, what can they contribute, to give them worth.
Even churches are not aware of how they are not equipped with welcoming these families. Even though Christ has given these children worth, we seldom take the time to see the person with a disability, to get to know their name and their family.
What is their place in society, their worth? And who gets to decide?
Understanding neurologically, physically, or mentally atypical people as “less than” has a name: it’s called ableism, and it’s one of the last socially acceptable examples of bigotry in our culture. Most of us have grown up enough that we will no longer tolerate overt racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on — we would be appalled, for instance, if a friend told us that he would be devastated to have a female child. But, as Heather Kirn Lanier recently wrote in a powerful and poignant article, we will casually, uncritically, and even sympathetically listen while the same friend tells us that having a disabled child is a disaster.
Thankfully, because of the example and the hard work of people such as yourself, Wrestling, we are moving ever closer to a time when we will defeat ableism, when we will build a more just world for people with special needs. Thank you for that. I am grateful for everything that you are doing.
I have three thoughts about how you might make your work for justice even more effective and about how you might take care of yourself at the same time.
First, give yourself permission to employ a ministry of impatience. Your letter gives several examples of the pop theology to which people have subjected you in their efforts to explain your child’s special needs. I am going to suggest that your assessment of this theology — that it is “meaningless” — is generous. What this theology actually is is idiotic, self-congratulatory, and destructive. The technical term for talking about God in this fashion is “horse puckey.” I encourage you to use that term (or, if you prefer, an even more colorful one) the next time that you encounter someone attempting to pass off his bigotry against your child as wisdom. The best-case scenario is that doing so will shock him into rethinking things. The worst is that it will stop him from telling you about his pitiful and small picture of God. Either way, it’s a win for you.
Second, if you haven’t done so already, find as many allies as you are able. Thanks to the Internet, it is miles easier to connect with people who share your passions and your struggles than it was a generation ago. My friends with atypical children tell me that it is particularly important for them to build a community with other parents whose children have similar challenges to their own. There is catharsis and solidarity in being able to talk with someone who knows exactly what you are going through. You are not alone, Wrestling: go seek out the people who equipped and ready to journey with you.
Third, be patient and gentle with yourself. You are allowed to be angry. You are allowed to be disappointed. You are allowed to mourn for the typical child whom you once imagined would be yours. There isn’t a right way for you to feel. It is neither a contradiction nor a betrayal of your commitment to your child when you wrestle with the big questions and big feelings that flow out of caring for a person with special needs. To the contrary, doing the work of wrestling only proves that you take your vocation as a parent seriously.
If we truly believe scripture’s claim that human beings are made in God’s image, then the question of who decides the worth of a special needs person is already answered: just like you and me, those with special needs are God’s beloved children. Their worth is beyond measure. Or, as Psalm 139 has it, each of us, typical and atypical alike, is “awesomely, wondrously made.”
Do you have a question about life, love, or faith? Submit it online or email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.