Despite being a clergy person, I don’t read a lot of theology texts in my spare time. Reading is a leisure activity for me and I much prefer a good mystery or historical tome to something explicitly theological.
When I do read theology, I prefer to fill the gaps in my knowledge. Disability theology is a big piece of that. I know little about disability liberation theology, even less about the Disabled Rights Movement that was and is active in the United States. When I reached out for suggestions, the one people kept coming back to is Dr. Nancy L. Eisland’s The Disabled God. So I decided to grab a copy and get to learning.
I’ve read some criticisms of the book, a few of them fair. The book is not a comprehensive look at disability in the human experience, nor is intersectional at all. Dr. Eisland acknowledges as much in the beginning. The latter is a fair criticism: Dr. Eisland recounts her experience of having access to a machine that helped her body. This might not have been the case for low income folks, especially ones who are non-white such as her. Intersectionality is essential to understanding any kind of marginalization; disability certainly included.
But the former is not necessarily fair. Disability is a broad tent and there’s no way any one person can speak in a manner that encompasses all experiences. This is an introductory book; an examination of social and ecclesial shortcomings and a suggestion to push in a different direction.
To that end, I think Dr. Eisland does a good job. She outlines in broad strokes the historical advancement of Disability justice in the United States, as well as the stagnancy of the institutional church, particularly through the lens of the old American Lutheran Church.
She then dips into theology, first by challenging symbolic attachment to disability (the brave suffering model usually attached to disabled folks) and then continuing with her thesis: that Jesus was wounded and thus disabled at the crucifixion and that He remained so after the death and resurrection shows that His disability welcomes disability into the Imago Dei, the image of God (hence, the title of her book). She then extends this to communion: the practice of literally consuming Christ’s disabled body.
I think those are really good arguments and could go along with them. I wish she had gone deeper into other Scriptural examples of marginalized identity in Imago Dei imagery but she makes her point. If nothing else, it’s food for theo-thought to help able bodied folks reform their (our, my) own prejudices and structures of power.
Again, this isn’t a world class comprehensive theological tome but it is a great starting point for understanding disability theology. And that’s perfectly fine.