Disabling Mission, Enabling Witness by Benjamin T. Conner’s subtitle gives an effective outline of the contents of the book: Exploring Missiology Through the Lens of Disability Studies. Conner provides readers with an introduction to a whole field of disability studies in a short space, giving them tools to explore further and apply knowledge immediately to their contexts.
The book is divided into two parts. The first sets the stage by introducing, first, disability studies and then introducing mission studies, providing each in context with the other. The second part focuses on enabling witness, showing that disabilities provide much to the church’s witness.
What happened to this reader, time and again throughout the book is that my eyes were opened to issues I hadn’t even considered before. Conner’s mission is surely, in part, to awaken people in the church to the powerful witness of people with disabilities to speak to our contexts. I was aware, already, of some issues regarding “ableist” interpretations of Scripture. For example, arguments that heaven will necessarily mean all disabilities will be wiped out can be seen by some as meaning that part of their identity–such as being deaf–is something inherently bad that needs to go away, when in reality is an “enabling” part of their life. Despite some awareness to these issues, though, I found that Conner awakened new understandings and approaches I had never thought of. For one, how is it that people with disabilities impact the congregation in ways that help to preach Christ to all? How do we go beyond seeing “disabled” persons as mere totems and rather as people with their own interpretive capacities and outreach? I have personally grown up and lived in churches throughout my life with people with various levels of disability and have found their witness to be extremely valuable.
Another surprising aspect was Conner noting how easily mental health is marginalized and/or not addressed or not seen as a “real” disability. Gatekeeping exists within concepts of disability as well, such that sometimes people are told they are not “really” disabled or that they should view themselves in a certain way. Moreover, disabilities continue to be seen as inherently negative (see example above regarding heaven) when they are often not viewed as such by the people living their experience as such.
Conner goes beyond these mere introductions and calls readers into an awareness of how disabled persons have their own cultures and capacities that are, unfortunately, too often left untapped or even overthrown or colonized by even well-meaning people.
My own writing of this review has been made difficult–in a good way–by more awareness of how disabilities are perceived by myself as an abled person and one who has not paid much attention to the language I use of others.
Disabling Mission, Enabling Witness is an eye-opening introduction to the issues related to ability and disability in the church. On a personal note, as someone who is married to someone who’s considered permanently disabled, I found the book deeply insightful and helpful. I highly recommend it.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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