We are in the middle of a sermon series looking at justice-related topics and how we can be more inclusive to those on the margins of society. Yesterday, the sermon looked at the story of the indifferent judge and the persistent widow (Luke 18-8). If you’re unfamiliar with the parable, the widow goes to the judge looking for assistance. Widows in that time were dependent upon family and societal support to live. The judge refused to help and only agreed to her demands for fear of being shamed by this widow.
Often when we hear this parable, we focus on the widow’s demand for help and her persistent prayer life. I took a different path yesterday by looking at the judge’s attitude and how it can often define how we act when we deal with conversations about including people on the margins of society. The judge was the epitome of someone indifferent to the cries of others because they did not affect him.
When it comes to welcoming people with invisible disabilities in the church, we can be more like the judge than we would like to admit. We can be indifferent to the passion of families who want to be in the church but often feel that the church does not hear their desires.
How can we be like the judge of Luke 18 towards families with invisible disabilities?
For one, we can make assumptions about a person with invisible disabilities or their family’s needs. We assume, for instance, that a non-verbal person cannot communicate or participate in activities like other children. We also believe that a special needs parent is too busy to contribute to their careers or the church. The assumption comes with our biases about people and our perspective about what a person can or cannot do.
These assumptions are painful to experience because the family is not given a chance to share or talk about their experience or what they can or cannot handle. Others make that decision for the family because they believe it is in their best interest. A better posture is to engage in conversations focused on learning, shared expectations, and giving the family and a child a chance to say what they can or cannot handle.
Another way the church can be like a judge is to dismiss the realities individuals with invisible disabilities or their families experience in the church. This dismissiveness often is expressed through defensiveness. We can become defensive when a family shares their concern about the lack of welcome towards their child. Defensiveness is a natural posture we often take when we hear that we have not been as welcoming as we would like. We will defend our actions and express how the family should be more understanding. We will also dismiss the family’s concerns by suggesting they are wrong for feeling what they feel.
Dismissiveness prevents dialogue from taking place. It hinders the church and the family from engaging in a conversation that leads to understanding and adaptation. It also hinders the opportunity for both parties to share love and grace toward one another and prevents the possibility of growth and acceptance.
There are other ways that the church is like the judge in Luke 18. It can play favorites. It can ignore basic accommodations. It can also use budgetary realities to prevent doing things that can help families and individuals feel welcome in the church.
My family has experienced many of these concerns in the church, even as a pastoral family. I know how they prevent families and individuals with invisible disabilities from attending worship, because it hinders my own family from wanting to engage the church. It also leads to families being guarded and hesitant to trust a faith community to be welcoming toward their families.
My hope is for the church to be more welcoming toward families like my own. It will require the church to listen, accept, and adapt. The church will also need to admit it has been more like the judge than the welcoming example of Christ.
That simple admission would go a long way to building bridges and making adaptation possible in churches, especially the small church, that struggle to welcome families and individuals with invisible disabilities.