One Body“By adopting an inclusive attitude, we are showing that everyone has a place in the body of Christ.”
During my years on summer camp staff, I regularly took part in a skit where a group of staff members would march in line and chant, “We are the body of Christ—we work together well.” Throughout the skit, we would remove a member from the line because their role was not appreciated, only to have invited them back into the line once we realized that their absence greatly impacted our group’s effectiveness. The purpose of the skit was to show the campers that every person is important and has a place in the body of Christ, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:21-26 (NIV): “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
From an early age, I knew that it was God’s intention that everyone be a part of the body of Christ (the Christian church) but as I got older, I came to the heartbreaking realization that not everyone feels that they can be a part of the body of Christ. Unfortunately, many people with disabilities are discovering that it’s difficult to find community within the Christian church due to accessibility, misunderstanding of disabilities and lack of awareness.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines disability as “a physical, mental, cognitive or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with, or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions.” Disability is an umbrella term covering a wide range and level of impairments.
Fifteen percent of the world’s population lives with a disability, according to a fact sheet created by the World Health Organization.
Only five to 10 percent of the world’s disabled are effectively reached with the Gospel, according to Joni Eareckson-Tada, founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center.
In her book “Religion and Disabilities,” Elizabeth O’Hanlon writes, “80 percent of families with special needs will not attend church.”
Why is it Important to Include Others?
All people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). When we include others, we are showing that person that they are accepted and valued. In 2020, The Salvation Army International Headquarters released a position statement on disabilities. In the statement, it says, “We know less of who God is and how God appears in the world when people with disabilities are excluded. Inclusion is beneficial for everyone. Diversity within our communities and congregations strengthens us and shapes our mission and ministry. The aim of all Salvationist practice is to ensure that we are a church that makes the embodied gospel accessible for all.”
How Can We Be Inclusive?
Be a friend.
For many with disabilities, making friends can be challenging for numerous reasons, leaving some to feel isolated and rejected. Talk to them, invite them to be a part of your life and better yet, enter their life.
Communicate with those with disabilities about issues they are facing. You can attend training events, read informational books and articles about disabilities (See “For Further Study”) and work with those in leadership around you to make needed changes to remove barriers.
Help at events that build community awareness or enrichment such as walks or Special Olympics games.
By adopting an inclusive attitude, we are showing that everyone has a place in the body of Christ.
If you are a member of the disability community, please know that you have value, and your voice matters. If something is hindering you from being a part of the church, please speak to someone in leadership. The church is not the same without you.
For Further Study
- Leading a Special Needs Ministry: A Practical Guide to Including Children and Loving Families By Amy Fenton Lee
- The Salvation Army International Headquarters Position Statement on Disabilities: bit.ly/salarmy-disabilities
- World Health Organization 10 Facts on Disability: bit.ly/who-fact-sheet
- Religion and Disabilities: The Experiences of Families of Children with Special Needs Journal of Religion, Disability & Health Vol. 17 by Elizabeth O’Hanlon
- Joni and Friends Online Course: Many self-pace training modules covering a wide range of topics. bit.ly/joniandfriendscourse
Captain Christina (Arnold) is an officer and currently serving as The Salvation Army’s Western Territory Director of Special Needs Ministry and Corps Officer in Olympia, Washington. Together with her husband Jared, they are raising 2 boys. Captain Christina enjoys spending time with her family, hiking and art.