The last decade has seen an abundance of serious academic scholarship focused on disability theology, coupled with an increase amount of first-person literature on disability experience within the church. Lamar Hardwick brings forth fresh nuanced perspective in this latter category in a very accessible read entitled Disability and the Church: A Vision for Diversity and Inclusion.
This work is divided into a tripart structure: birth, barriers ,and the building the body. Hardwick makes it abundantly clear that he writes from pastor’s perspective who believes firmly in the role of the local church in building true Christian community revealed in Revelation 7. He weaves stories, anecdotes, contemporary memes, and scriptural refences as a masterful narrator – the crescendoing wave powerfully landing his points. To the experienced disability theologian, there is not much new exegetical insight, but the notes have been re-arranged, re-mastered, and re-sung in a stronger key. The first 3 chapters utilizes disability presentations on television, interpreted through his own personal experiences and artistically segues into the birth narrative of the church (Acts 2) and its predictive precursor – the Lukan banquet where persons with disabilities are given preference.
In perhaps the most striking and pivotal chapter, Hardwick emphasizes a theme that is interwoven throughout the chapters. Most disability literature unintentionally imagines the disabled body as white. The chapter on Barriers to Inclusion bridges both disability and diversity and critiques this ideal in stark vividity. The reader is reminded that the body of people with disabilities and those of African Americans both bear the marks of a society and too often a church that rejects them in pursuit of a perfect body – instead of the body of Christ.
Having presented the problem, Hardwick draws upon the Parable of the Sower to paint the broad strokes of creating an inclusive church. Drawing upon leadership literature, he recognizes the change can only be permanent of the culture itself is rebuilt. He devotes three chapters to practical steps in creating an inclusive church, moving from programs to people, to developing leaders from the ranks of disabled self-advocates.
Hardwick concludes the book with a series of affirmations – primarily for people with disabilities who question their call to leadership within the church. Strategies are presented to help existing churches mentor leaders into their roles. Only when all are utilizing their gifts, will the church be complete.
COMMENTS & CRITIQUE
Disability and the Church is an excellent primer for the local church pastor who desires to be purposefully building a diverse and inclusive community. It contains many practical and engaging ways for special needs lay leaders and others to change culture. And most importantly, it illustrates a path forward for people who are identified with disabilities to serve in leadership roles in their local church. It is rare for a book to cover as many aspects of pastoral care ministry as this one does; it should become a standard text not just in disability contexts, but in general pastoral leadership.