Blog Quickie: (Don’t) Gimme that Old-Time Religion

Hello readers,

Welcome to my first Blog Quickie, so named because it will be considerably shorter than most. A blog quickie is what happens when:
(1. I have a topic that fits into the blog but covers new stuff along with old stuff, so I don’t want to belabor it
(2. It’s been over 7 days and I want to “whet your appetite,” so to speak. Yes, there are more July posts coming.

I’m currently reading a book from one of my all-time favorite Bible study writers and speakers. Over the years I’ve done multiple studies of hers. She has continually uplifted and challenged me, enough that I buy her non-study material as well. The book I’m currently reading is no exception, but one little thing early on in it gave me the idea for this post.

The book is entitled Get Out of That Pit, and is aimed toward Christians who are living in “pits”–situations where they feel stuck, unable to commune with God or stand against Satan, and unable to see beyond their troubles. Some pits, the author (Beth Moore) says, are pits of sin. That is, if you willfully steal money or cheat your company, with full knowledge and desire to do so, you are in a pit of sin. In that case, you jumped in, although you can also slip into pits of sin. That’s what happens when, say, you never meant to get involved in an affair, but what started as flirting got out of control. It’s what happens when you took the pain meds for their intended purpose because your quality of life was nil–and next thing, you woke up addicted to them.

What gave me the idea for this post though, is what Beth calls “a pit of innocence,” or getting thrown in. You didn’t sin to get into this kind. You didn’t ask for it. Something or somebody just threw you into a bad situation and, like Joseph’s brothers in Genesis, walked away or sat down to eat their PB&J or quinoa and vitamin water right in front of you.

Beth gave several examples of pits of innocence, such as:

-Your spouse continually abuses you or abandons you

-You get molested or gang raped

-Your house burns to the ground during the few months you didn’t have insurance

-You’re falsely accused, of a crime or something else, and have to pay for it

-Your best friend stabs you in the back

-A family member perpetuates years of abuse, manipulation, or crime onto you and your spouse, children, etc.

-You lose a loved one, for any reason, especially a child, a young spouse, or someone else you didn’t think would die for years

You birth a severely handicapped child

Yup, that’s the one. That bold type is there for a reason.

Okay, I get it. Having a disability, or birthing/adopting a child with one, is not a rosy situation. Sometimes it’s, well, the pits. I myself am working through whether my disability has become a “pit of innocence,” because sometimes the hand of God *allows* a pit even if He didn’t throw you in (which by the way, He doesn’t. God does not throw away His creations). But I have a real problem with the idea that the existence and raising of that child is a pit, or what another author, Wendy Pope, calls a Personally Intense Trial (PIT). The implications are pretty negative, so I’m not going back over them.

Unfortunately, I’ve noticed this mindset tends to permeate Christianity, and especially certain denominations I won’t name. Beth alludes to it again when she refers to a friend’s offspring as “desperately handicapped.” Christians on Facebook allude to it when they post pictures of people with obvious disabilities, with captions that say, “This person couldn’t get one like or amen–please share!” They do it when they post pictures of a mother cradling two young children with obvious disabilities–a picture with a caption lauding the mother as a hero.

I have heard fellow Christians–and, it being the South, many non-Christians in my region–say “bless their hearts” when speaking of, or even straight to, PWDs. Classic Christian hymns, poems, and other writings refer to PWDs as “lame,” “simple,” “crippled,” and “poor” (probably because back then, they were almost guaranteed lives of poverty–not that that’s changed much).

Now, do those writers mean to do that? Do Beth Moore, Wendy Pope, Greg Laurie, TD Jakes, whoever, mean any harm? No. I’d say the same thing about writers from other religions who said or wrote this kind of stuff. But in this case I have to say, “Please don’t give me anymore old time religion.” Not in the sense of fundamental truths about God, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, any of that. No. That’s fine. That’s great. Some traditions deserve to stand–need to stand.

But I don’t want anymore of this “poor, pitiful them” doctrine. I don’t want any other statements, writings, sermons, etc., that paint PWDs as poor and desperate, no matter how severe their disabilities are. Again, I GET IT. I really do. If the child you now hold in your arms will never say, “I love you,” will never recognize your face, will never whatever–that is a trial. That is an occasion to cry out to God. But the person him or herself is not a trial, and “old time” doctrines about disability say otherwise.

We need a new theology of disability. We need a theology that says, while the disability itself is the pits at times, people are not personified pits. We need a theology that says PWDs are strong, worthy, loved, needed, and gifted. We need to hear that PWDs are givers and providers, not just takers and consumers. We need to hear, “Living ingeniously” or “Succeeding his/her own way” not, “Desperately handicapped.” Let’s replace “bless their hearts” with, “Blessed be the name of the Lord for bringing them here.”

Selah.

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