Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast About Disability

Episode 42: Not Enough State in the Church

June 06, 2022 Laura Stinson Season 2 Episode 19
Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast About Disability
Episode 42: Not Enough State in the Church
Show Notes Transcript

Honestly, there are a lot of problems with the way religion (especially Western religion) intersects with disability. This week I'm talking about just one, but it's kind of a big one.


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MALE VO [00:03]
This is Bad Attitudes.

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LAURA [00:20]
Hello friends and strangers! Welcome to another episode of Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast about Disability. I’m your host, Laura.

Think churches care about disabled people? Hmm, maybe not.

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As always, I want to remind you that disability is not a monolith. My experience as a disabled person is going to be different from the experiences of other disabled people. I am one voice for the disabled community but I am not the only voice.

When I say that churches don’t care about disabled people, that’s not factually accurate. And maybe it’s unfair of me to say that. But, if you didn’t know, churches and other religious entities are EXEMPT from the Americans With Disabilities Act. This includes schools run by religious entities and any public events hosted by said entities.

This means that churches, mosques, synagogues, etc. are not legally required to be accessible to disabled people. It means that institutions that use the idea of welcoming all people as a big part of their marketing may not actually be welcoming to all people.

The reason for the exemption is that by requiring religious entities to comply with the ADA and allowing the government to initiate legal proceedings against religious entities in regards to the ADA would be, quote, “an impermissible government interference with religion.” Basically, there would be too much state in the church.

I find this somewhat laughable considering that most churches are basically commercial enterprises these days, and that a whole LOT of churches are putting the government in the pulpit. Religious leaders are telling their congregations how to vote, but disabled people can’t get a little protection when it comes to accessing religion?

I personally have never really understood why churches don’t have to pay taxes. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time, but a lot of things seemed like a good idea in the 18th century. Slavery. Child marriage. The Second Amendment. That doesn’t mean those ideas are appropriate today. Religious institutions benefit from infrastructure as much as businesses and individuals, so why shouldn’t they be contributing towards the maintenance of that infrastructure?

Frankly, not paying taxes is how we end up with mega churches and guys like Steven Furtick, Joel Osteen, and Jim freaking Baker. None of these men are what you could call squeaky clean, no matter how much they testify. Furtick was under investigation just a few years ago for building a 16,000-square-foot MANSION and calling it a “gift from God.” It might just be me, but I don’t think God would feel it necessary to give a family of five a house with seven-and-a-half bathrooms. God can math, right?

I know this will draw ire from a lot of people and I don’t have any evidence to prove it, but in my gut, I truly believe that Steven Furtick is a con man and Elevation Church is a scam.

I can say that, thankfully, most of the religious institutions I have visited have been accessible. A lot of the time they let their congregants take advantage of accessible parking, but at least the parking is there and the access exists. I know that is not the case for everyone. I heard one story from a woman whose mother became disabled and could no longer attend her longtime church due to inaccessibility. When she died, the church would not allow her to be buried in its cemetery because she wasn’t active enough in the church. I have to wonder if the woman continued to contribute financially to this church after she was unable to attend, and how the church felt about accepting her money even though she wasn’t an active member. Probably felt just fine.

It may not seem like a big deal since a lot of religious institutions still make an effort to be accessible, but this feels like another way we permit religion to discriminate against the disabled. In many ancient communities, for example, in Native American communities, disabled people were revered as being stronger in mind and spirit. It wasn’t until the advent of modern religion that disability began to be associated with the devil, with demonic possession, with punishment for sin. 

Disability is not viewed favorably — or even neutrally — in religion. It is something that MUST be prayed away, that MUST be healed. Don’t forget about the prevalence of faith healers making the rounds, convincing innocent people that they or their children could be healed simply by the laying on of their hands — in exchange for a nominal monetary donation, of course. And these people aren’t part of fringe religions. These are mainstream religions that many of us may even ascribe to. They call upon scripture that we are all familiar with. Right out in the open, religious leaders are telling people that being disabled is not okay — and making money on it all the while!

There is one small bright spot. And it’s very small. But, if a religious entity receives federal funding for a program or activity, that program or activity must be accessible, per the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. I told you it was a very small bright spot.

I am not saying that religious institutions have to be held to the same standards as commercial businesses under the ADA. There may be some leeway there. I am also neither a legal expert nor a religious expert. All I know is that religious institutions should not be allowed to ignore such a large part of the population, especially considering that, as younger people continue moving away from organized religion, the majority of people going to church are going to be getting older and more in need of accessibility.

It is ridiculous in 2022 to treat religious institutions as if they are the same as they were in the late 1700s. Especially given all the evidence to the contrary. If churches insist on influencing our political opinions — and it seems clear that many of them do — they need to start paying taxes. If a church is going to make a donation to a political campaign, they need to start paying taxes. If churches are going to continue to invite politicians into their pulpits, they need to start paying taxes. They need to be held accountable just as any other business would be held accountable to the laws of the land. 

I’ll also note, with extreme interest, that 99.9 percent of the religious entities doing the aforementioned are Christian churches. Not synagogues, not mosques, not other religious institutions. It is almost solely Christian churches that are attempting to influence the politics of their members. The United States is not a theocracy and should not be treated as such.

Whenever I speak on the topic of religion, I always feel like I should clarify where I stand. I’m not much on organized religion; I’ve never gotten much out of going to church. I consider myself more spiritual than religious. But, I do believe in God and Jesus — just not Republican Jesus.

Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you in the next one.

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