a postcard that says My pastor always talks about how if people would find God they wouldn’t need pills. I’m bipolar but I took his advice–my pastor is an idiot

The word idiot makes me uncomfortable in the same way that retard, dumb, and crazy do, but this card from this week’s postsecret collection really spoke to me. It reads: “My pastor always talks about how if people would find God they wouldn’t need pills. I’m bipolar but I took his advice–my pastor is an idiot!”

One of the defining moments in my life was when a particular revivalist was in town and my mom dragged me to go see him. During the service, the congregation got in this mode of deep prayer and speaking in tongues and he asked me to come up. When I went up to the pulpit, he started praying hard and telling me to get out of my wheelchair and walk. Of course I refused— at that point in time I couldn’t stand without support (and who wants to fall on their face in front of the whole church?) I had been getting this for years and normally the pastors back down. This guy didn’t. He yelled at me and told the congregation that I did not walk because I did not have enough faith. From then on, they whispered about me.

In my community, to be Korean is to be a Christian. The two are intrinsically connected and if you don’t go to church, you aren’t a part of the Korean community. I’m not sure that the pastor knew how much his words would change my life but that’s when I knew I was different from other Koreans here (and gave up on 13 years of trying to fit in with full-blood Korean people). That’s when I started struggling with faith and the hypocrisy of organized religion.

I think the more disabled people develop pride around disability, the harder time they will have with organized religion [sidenote: I reference Christianity because it is what I have experience with]. A big reason for this confusion is because to be a part of the church and to be disabled, you often have to be a person willing to accept a pat on the head, charity, and wishes for healing. Faith is a strong foundation that many disabled people are desperately looking for but if they believe that God made them as they are and that they aren’t “broken,” it goes against everything most churches teach. It shouldn’t be like that.  But if they don’t have us, who will they save? Who will they perform their miracles on? How will they ever feel good about themselves again!?! (sarcasm..)

I hate that society’s need for an inspirational figure and something to pity has to get in the way of my struggle for faith, particularly when there have been so many times when it was just belief in a higher power that *literally* kept me alive…


Filed under ableism, API-A, disability

21 responses to “faith

  1. The shift there from “I want to help you” to “It’s your fault for not choosing to overcome your disability” is soooo toxic. The help itself is useless, and … if you did try to stand up and fall over, he would’ve said the same thing. There’s no way to come out ahead.

    It’s also a convenient way to dodge the real support they could offer – the kind where they acknowledge your humanity and free will and don’t act like you’re a burden.

  2. I get that attitude about a lot of stuff. I think I get it even more about being trans than I do about my diabetes and about my anxiety/depression/hyperactivity.
    I’m sorry your church was like that. Did your parents support you? I’m not sure but my parents might switch synagogues if there was an attitude like that about diabetes.
    Idiot tends not to bother me the way that retarded does, maybe because I hear people factually described as retarded but rarely as idiots.

  3. What a horrible man.
    I’m sorry, but that’s honestly how I feel. I’m distrustful of clergy in general, I’ll admit, but this guy . . . what a fucking dick. I’m sorry that people suck so damn much.

  4. wow, I’m sorry to hear that. I have noticed what you said about as PWDs develop disability pride, organized religion stops being so helpful. My old roommate tells a story about her uncle (a Promise Keeper) haranguing her in the hospital – after major surgery to replace both hips! – about how she wouldn’t have needed the surgery if she’d just prayed harder.

    I mean. Come on.

  5. to be a part of the church and to be disabled, you often have to be a person willing to accept a pat on the head, charity, and wishes for healing.

    So, true. I was adopted by a religous family when I was taken from/abandonded by my also disabled and institutionalised mother. The more I learn about the ethics of religious charity to PWD the more I’m sickened by the paternalism of saying that because organised religion ever offered any services or meaning to PWD, all PWD are meant to uncritically accept infantilsing, stigmatising lies about our lives and conditions that may leave us AS bad off as having been left alone by the do gooders. It’s like, get someone else to be your damn feelgood proxy already.

  6. As a crippled man strangers have blessed and cursed me many times. Religion, in my case, Catholicism, is not ammenable to disability as a civil rights matter. While I may have left to the Catholic Church a long time ago, the Catholic Church has not left me. I have learned it is best to simply avoid all organized religions. But this does not mean religion is no longer a problem as people with visible disabilities seem to be a magnet for religious nuts.

  7. I totally understand your feelings. I have lost my husband to Paranoid Skizophrenia and Ministers have told me not to ask for any help. Not even food. My husband was a Corrections Officer and we had a child and home together. I lost everything except for my child ( thanks be to the Lord). I had asked people to go pray for my husband when he was in the hospital and ministers told me that it was enough that they prayed at the church. Paranoid Skizophrenia is the New Taboo Disease in society! I have had so-called Christians laugh in my face when I told them what had happened to a 35 year law enforcement Officer (Corrections). They would say,”Oh, I ‘m sorry—I guess you drove him nuts uh?!!! ha, ha! I would just look at say, “Wow–where did that come from?” People in the Christian Church can not seem to cope with the unanswerable problems in life. Some Christians told me that I did not pray properly for my husband. They said I had prayed selfishly! What does that mean? Well, I have had to rebuild from the ashes. With God’s help. I have never lost my faith in the Lord. Don’t give up. God may send angels to your aid sometimes. I have had total strangers say the kindest things to me, or just help me. Keep the faith!!!

  8. Some congregations are too worried about numbers of who got healed because they are trying to bring in the money. Read by Reuben Long. I have experienced when my husband loved Creflo Doller and yet it did nothing to stop the mental illness that he suffered from. That really hurt…because my husband would give alot of money to Creflo Doller. We would go to the church service in Madison Square Garden and it would seem to take hours to take up the offering but it did not take long before Creflo would stop preaching. My husband was confused and getting sicker by the minute and I could not stop him from going to or sending that money to Creflo Doller. What a nightmare!!! I hope that the Lord helps innocent believers to see the wolves in sheeps clothing. It nearly ruined my life. I love the large Ministers and the strong efforts to reach the masses…but I do not like it when they make the Christian walk seem like a “cake walk”—because it is not! The apostle Paul was hung upside down on a cross and his faith was put to the test. Why are are new Christains being told that all you have to do is this, or that and you will get a new car, or house, or health? Tell the truth—we will have trials and tribulations etc.—Keep the faith and take care!!!

  9. I have to say, I think a lot of this is Protestant, specifically Calvinist. They believe in predestination, so that would make sense; if you are Christian, you show some “evidence” of that in your life. It’s the same p;ace the whole “prosperity gospel” comes from: if God loves you, He will make you rich. Gah!!!!

    In the Catholic tradition, being poor, broken, etc is all considered a sign of holiness, or at least it once was. As Catholics were assimilated into the whole WASP-y mainstream, that got to be a source of embarrassment. But in places like the Philippines, you still have people hanging from crosses, literally, at Easter, to show their devotion. (Calvinism, it should be noted, is very white!)

    I dunno if you saw this post about St Therese, but I touched on some of that… it was in the Disability Blog Carnival! ((proud))

  10. I’d like to add that I agree with William, above, that just because Catholics may spiritually channel disability for their/our own purposes, I agree that it does not usually translate to the legal sphere, for increased civil rights. 😦

  11. Just a note, i’m not sure that it’s a calvinist only thing. Plenty of the healing revivalists are pretty firmly Arminian…a good calvinist might possibly think that disability was a sign of damnation (not necessarily, but possibly) but could *never* think that that person could do anything about it. An Arminian thinks that you can and should do something.

    the church as a whole needs new understanding of disability…i’m still struggling to put words to this.

  12. been there, done that…I was raised in a community baptist church (1970s) and was subjected to countless prayers and faith healing attempts…but in the end, the cerebral palsy prevailed…thank god for electric wheelchairs…hehehe…

  13. “My pastor always talks about how if people would find God they wouldn’t need pills. I’m bipolar but I took his advice–my pastor is an idiot!”

    To be fair, that is the attitude i had when i was a fundamentalist Christian, and it’s about the only intellectually consistent attitude that a fundamentalist Christian can have about the issue…

    Oh shit. I said “intellectually consistent” and “fundamentalist Christian” in the same sentence… 😮

    Then again, my fundie church was a weird one. It was very anti-racist, anti-poverty and politically quite socialist, but rabidly anti-gay, anti-feminist and anti-any-non-Christian-religion. There were a lot of ex-Muslims in it (it was in a roughly equally mixed white and Pakistani immigrant area).

    Disabled people were also welcome there, although they did get the “prayer for healing” stuff. It seemed to be more aimed at the people with acquired impairments, though. The pastor adopted a girl with learning disabilities and there were other learning disabled people there who were “accepted as God made them”.

    In my observation, people with impairments actually seem more likely to be religious than the non-disabled population. When those people develop a disabled identity, tho, they tend to either reject religion altogether or it mutates into a much less prescriptive and/or authoritarian form…

  14. What makes me sick is how Religion keeps reaching out to Disabled People and how many people (Disabled and Non) keep buying the crap.

    When one of our ADAPT Members died, we went to his funeral and the pastor was getting revved up saying, he can walk in heaven,he doesn’t need his wheelchair in heaven. Then one of our folks yelled out, “Maybe Heaven is accessible!”

  15. Sly, you are undoubtedly correct, since I admit I don’t know squat re: Arminian vs Calvinist, except I know that the Arminians are in the Augustinian tradition and seem more modern (to me). But I totally get your point and thanks.

    Very interesting how this intersects with disability. When I first moved south, I immediately noticed that certain Baptist churches wouldn’t allow AA meetings. They disagreed with the whole illness “concept”, and believed alcoholism was a sin, period. So, no meeting places for sinners! A local preacher (in AA!) told me that was Arminian rather than Calvinist, echoing what you have said here.

    I’d love to read your take on all of this! 🙂

  16. Looks like you struck a chord. I am not surprised. Religion has been used as a means of social control since the hunters and gatherers started… um…. hunting and gathering.

    We do not conform to cultural norms and therefore become the objects of concerns to the religious. Just by our existence, we upset their paradigm, raise questions, challenge the status quo. Rather than exercise intellect, they try to change us to fit their views because it’s the easy way.

    People with disabilities are better off steering clear of such closed minded establishments.

  17. Day

    I have to admit that this thread has lead me to think…a lot. I am a practicing Catholic and am very grateful to a very forward-thinking nun, St. Julie who was supportive and always available when it came time for my Confirmation (which was only about 4-5 years ago). I can and have seen Christians and Churches that are quite paternalistic towards people with disabilities, but I have also had the positive experience of a Church that held me just as accountable as my peers and was supportive and accommodating.

    I wonder how much the make-up of the church plays into the mindset. I was very active in a congregation that was mere blocks from a college campus so the majority of members were younger. Did that make a difference?

    Also, are churches any more guilty than the “pity” model voiced by regular members of society. Don’t forget this site was one of the co-hosts of the “Say No to Pity” Anti-MDA Telethon blogswarm (I’m sure I butchered the title there). This fallacy about people with disabilities is prevalent throughout society.

    *grins* But I’m also an advocate at heart…as well as a lobbyist. Many churches have VERY strong advocacy networks. Why is it that we…the ACTIVE disability community has not managed to engage them in disability advocacy? Why haven’t we worked to outreach and build into their networks? I honestly cannot say that we have made a good effort to do so. In Washington, I DO know that the lobbyists and policy folks have worked together on disability legislation – Lutheran Services, Catholic Charities etc.,(they both have some great people that I’m proud to work with)have been VERY supportive, but I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t done the same outreach locally. I haven’t attempted to change attitudes on a personal level.

    I am reminded that the civil rights movement started out in the churches. They were a source of strength and support and one we would do well to at the very least, try to bring in to the ‘disability’ fold.

    As I said, this thread gave me much to consider. Perhaps this is our wake-up call and challenge…

  18. Day

    Umm…that is Sister Julie, not Saint Julie. *smile*

  19. wow, so i’m not sure where to even begin. thank you to everyone for sharing your experience around faith and disability… it sounds like there were definitely hard, painful moments for all of you folks around religion but for a lot of people it’s worth it to keep searching for the right fit.

    i absolutely love Day’s point about ableism knowing no boundaries and that it is also the responsibility of the disability community to influence communities of faith. i think it can be difficult for personal reasons but we’re only hurting ourselves if we don’t attempt to knock down barriers in all arenas.

    it’s a tad ironic to use the word “healing” in this conversation but it seems like this is a discussion that must be held so the scars of all these hard moments can fade away and we can continue with life.

    i love you all. : )

  20. Thanks for this post.

    One of my coworkers has a pretty different take on religion, and life in general, than I do (she’s a very religious evangelical christian who always wants to “leave things in HIS hands,” I’m some kind of non-denominational jew with a brand of judaism focused on community, queering judaism, activisty stuff mixed with some agnosticness). Anyways… once she received a call from someone she had prayed for who said that the test came back and she didn’t have breast cancer. She was saying, see, the lord takes care of you, whenever I pray for someone it always works out, the Lord doesn’t let anyone down, you just have to ask. So… what does that mean about me since I did get diabetes? Do I deserve it cause I’m not godly enough? God didn’t think I was worth healing, or noone with magic powers like her prayed for me?

    The other problem with that is that the only definition of being taken care of by God is perfect “normal” health & wellness. I know there are some differences between the way sickness and disability play out, but I still thought this was related.

  21. I recently made a post about this as well on my blog. This also irritates me to no end

    Why Christian’s Upset Me

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