Meghan Schrader is a co-organizer of the SDS Christian Interest Group/Caucus. Her first publication, “The Sound of Disability: Music, The Obsessive Avenger and Eugenics in America,” will be published in the forthcoming anthology Anxiety Muted: American Film Music in a Suburban Age, edited by Stanley C. Pelkey and Tony Bushard; published by Oxford University Press.
In my first blog post, I’d like to contrast my experiences in two different Christian communities. I believe that these anecdotes will help illustrate the dichotomy between how disabled Christians want to be seen as members of our faith communities and how our experiences are currently concieved. When I was eleven, I already firmly believed that my disabilities were personal differences rather than deficits and that God looked at them in the same way. I reasoned that He created different races, so why not different abilities? That year, I attended a fundamentalist Christian camp where a well-intentioned counselor advised me that my learning disability was caused by Satan and that I needed to pray for God to break the bonds of supernatural oppression in my life. Her suggestion was so antithetical to what I believed about my disability and God that I wasn’t even angry at first-just shocked. (It took me a few moments to process the statement and become upset that she attributed my cherished eccentricities to *the devil.*)
I told her that I believed God had made me who I was on purpose, that there was nothing wrong with me, and that what I really wanted was for people to accept me for who I was. Why, I asked, should I change while the people around me persisted in their bullying and bigoted behavior? Why, frankly, would I want to be like them? Should they not change their perspectives? Was that not part of God’s plan? I think that she was very taken aback and also somewhat humbled by what I said. It’s my hope that the conversation was enlightening for her.
That was in 1994. Seventeen years later, in 2011, I was having a discussion with a pastor about selective abortion. In contrast to the aforementioned camp counselor, this pastor hails from a very progressive Christian community where attributing someone’s disability to the supernatural is considered to be backward and cruel. While the pastor appreciated my perspective and desire for increased disability services, she asked me: “But what about really severe disabilities…like a severely hydrocephalic child…do you think, maybe, that God gave us that technology so we could know ahead of time?
Rather than discuss my response to the pastor’s question, I’d like to contrast it with my earlier experience of having my disability attributed to Satan. It really doesn’t matter that the first woman was a fundamentalist, pro-life Christian and the second was a progressive, pro-choice Christian. While the solutions proposed by their statements seem diametrically opposed (medical vs. spiritual intervention), the sentiment contained in their statements is the same: severe disabilities are horrible and eliminating them is a compassionate, Christian thing to do. Little consideration is given to the harm done to the person who is subject to such measures because their solutions of exorcism and targeted abortion both spring from our society’s morbid fear of human deformity and difference.
The latter discontinuity is something that our group hopes to address by exploring the intersection of disability justice with Christian theology. We hope to affirm disabilities as a good part of God’s creation and to explore how Christian disability studies scholars and activists can reconcile challenging intersections between those identities. We also welcome non-Christians who wish to consider these issues with us. We will provide a safe, open space for believers of all perspectives to experience fellowship with one another, as well to explore how we can apply our Christian values in the public sphere.