Good Intentions Gone Awry
Lucado is a fine author with a heart as big as Texas. His insensitivity toward people with disabilities in this particular devotional really surprised me.
In this reflection on Ephesians 1:10, Lucado unpacks what he believes to be a few implications of this verse with regard to human bodies, including the replacement of our bodies today with eternal bodies.
He writes, “Even on the days you felt fine, you weren’t. You were a sitting duck for disease, infections, airborne bacteria, and microbes. . . . I hate disease. I’m sick of it. So is Christ. Consider his response to the suffering of a deaf mute," quoting Mark 7:33 and 34.
Lucado continues, “Jesus will heal all who seek healing in him. . . . To say some will be healed beyond the grave by no means diminishes the promise. The truth is this: “When he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2, emphasis mine).”
Then he concludes, “’We shall be like him.’ Let every parent of a Down syndrome or wheelchair-bound child write these words on the bedroom wall. Let the disabled, infected, bedridden, and anemic put themselves to sleep with the promise ‘We shall be like him.’ Let amputees and the atrophied take this promise to heart: ‘We shall be like him.’”
As the parent of a child who has severe disabilities and a friend of many people who live with disabilities, I find Lucado’s words unhelpful and even upsetting for several reasons.
Confusing disease and disability
He says that he “hates disease,” then illustrates his point with Jesus’ healing of a man who was deaf. Most people I know who are deaf or hard of hearing would find this illustration to be confusing at best or offensive at worst. Deafness as well as most other disabilities are not diseases. In fact, people who are Deaf (capital D) will tell you that not only is their deafness not a disease, it is not a disability at all. They will tell you that they are a language and cultural subgroup of the broader society, surely not people afflicted with a chronic disease. Many people with disabilities aren't looking for "healing" at all.
Lack of People First Language
Although at one time Lucado’s word choice was acceptable English usage, that time has passed. Just as it is no longer acceptable and appropriate to refer to African Americans as “Negroes” or “colored people,” likewise, the time is passing for terms like “deaf mute” and “wheelchair-bound child.” Even if Lucado is not aware of the increasing use of people-first language with reference to people with disabilities, surely his editors at Zondervan should have made this correction before the book was released.
Belittling People with Disabilities
Lucado’s concluding paragraph implies that people with disabilities are less Christlike than people who do not have disabilities. It’s reassuring for all of us that we shall be like him in the new heavens and earth. Why would the parent of a child with Down Syndrome find this more reassuring or important than the parent of any child? As the parent of a daughter who lives with severe disabilities, I admire her Christlike abilities to live in the present, to endure suffering without a hint of self-pity, and to show kindness and joy to the people she meets. Frankly, many people that I have met who have Down syndrome or use wheelchairs are much more Christlike that many Christians who do not have a disability. Christ himself bears the marks of his disability in his resurrected body!
The purpose of this blog is not to slam Max Lucado. His literature for children and adults has advanced the cause of Christ in many ways. But James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Those of us who lead in the Christian community with our spoken and written words must recognize that even well-intentioned and articulate people can cause hurt. May God help all of us who teach and write to do so in a way that builds up and does not tear down.