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Note: This project was developed as part of the requirements for the Certificate in Disability, Inclusive Ministry and Christian Faith created by Martin Luther University College, Wilfred Laurier University.


Genesis 1:27, 31 (NLV)

27 So God created human beings[a] in his own image.

    In the image of God he created them;

    male and female he created them.

31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!


I remember sitting in Sunday school as a small child, learning about God creating the heavens and the earth in six days, and taking a nice long rest on Sunday. Pretty impressive work—definitely worthy of my praise and adoration of Him. 

I grew up learning all the stories of the Bible, never questioning any particular aspects of the narrative until I moved away from the small town where I grew up—specifically the Christian community I had been a part of—to a vibrant city full of people from many faith traditions and different lived experiences far from my own. 

Some of these people, who became my friends, asked me hard questions about my faith. I often heard painful stories of rejection, with many sharing how they had not been accepted in church. I became curious about other people’s lived experiences with faith and the challenging situations they had encountered connected to faith. I began to question the perspectives I had as a child, noticing how some harmful narratives could have found their way into the faith I had been given as a child.

This led me to the disability community, where time and again, I heard frustrating stories of people being minimized because they lived with a disability. I have had my own tough church experiences related to mental health challenges within my family. I’ve sat in the church balcony feeling isolated and disconnected from my church community. While I have been able to reconnect and grow in my faith, it has left me with a deeper realization that we, as the Body of Christ, need to pay attention to our capacity to welcome or, sadly, reject people who want to join us at the table. We wield tremendous power, whether for good or evil.

One term I often hear within the faith community is “Imago Dei.” Latin for “image of God,” this term is uniquely associated with humans, upholding the concept that we have a special connection with God that is different from any other living creature God created. Yet, as humans, have we created a system of hierarchy, deciding who is created in God’s image, who is less than, who should be pitied, and who should be rejected? Have we layered on top of God’s divine creation of humankind our own ableist perspectives? After a number of conversations with people in the disability community, I believe we have, indeed, done this. 

As I listened and learned from friends within the disability community about their connection to church, often noting their lived experiences of being rejected or treated as less than, what I heard repeated over and over was the fact that Bible narratives, read through the lens of ableism, have caused harm. When Bible stories are told, often the focus is on how a disability has been cured, leading to a negative narrative for a person with a disability that their body needs fixing. Is this actually what the Bible is saying? Have we, as a society seeped in ableist perspectives, simplified stories in a negative way? Can we re-envision Bible stories to focus on the holistic healing that took place through Jesus rather than focus only on the curative narrative that we often focus on?

Author and disability advocate Bethany McKinney Fox offers the idea of “holistic healing” rather than our traditional, ableist perspective on healing:

In Jesus’s context, having a disability was about more than what a person couldn’t do (see, walk, etc.). It was also about what they were not able to be: namely, valued, integrated members of their social community and worship space with meaningful vocations (things that continue to be true for too many people with disabilities today). 

Resultantly, Jesus’s healing work needed to involve holistic transformation. Apart from bodily cure, the people Jesus heals experience healing socially, relationally, spiritually, and in many other ways. It is a whole life transformation, including how people perceive them. 

So, let’s return to the younger version of myself, sitting on the carpeted floor in the church basement, learning Sunday school stories. Is there a better way to share the stories in the Bible that focus on Jesus healing people? Can we shift away from the focus on curing the disability and uplift the fact that Jesus sought to bring people into community? Often, curing a person of the disability was simply a portion of the story and certainly not the main conversation. In minimizing these stories into simply curative narratives, not only do we perpetuate an ableist viewpoint, but we limit what Jesus' true intent was for the connections he established. 

I invite you to join me in exploring four stories: Jacob wrestles with God; the man born blind; the man being lowered to see Jesus; and Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Can we re-envision each one, shifting away from the curing narrative to understand the healing on a community and spiritual level?

 Integrated into this conversation will be the voices of people with disabilities, people I know who live with a similar disability to that of the person in the story. How do they feel about the passage of the Bible based on their lived experience? What will they highlight that those of us without the lived experience of a particular disability would not catch? Their perspectives will help inform how we re-envision each story.

Returning to the notion of Imago Dei, can re-envisioning the scene from each of the four healing narratives allow us to expand our understanding of the term from a disability justice lens so that, as disability advocate and author Amy Kenny suggests, we need to “recognize the Imago Dei in every body-mind, regardless of the ability, aptitude, and appearance”?

Four Biblical texts will be analyzed throughout four articles, and a new way of exploring the narrative from a positive perspective connected to disability will be investigated. As a creative element to this practice, a traditional work of art will be viewed in juxtaposition to a new work of art created to visually depict the re-envisioning of the story.

  • Jacob wrestles with God
  • Man born blind
  • Man being lowered to see Jesus
  • Jesus and Zacchaeus

Join us next month when we explore the first Bible story - Jacob wrestles with God.

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