I am in a Whatsapp group that is looking at social inclusion for people with disabilities. This last week there was a message from someone asking about the process for filing a PIL petition (Public Interest Litigation) seeking to make places of worship in India accessible. There were a number of replies including one reporting “We have got kind of a positive verdict on a PIL to make Hindu Temples accessible in Tamil Nadu.” My first response was “whoa, we are going to get left behind and lose our chance to lead with Christian love and hospitality.”
Inherent in the commandment “love thy neighbour as thyself” is the concept of open hospitality, a calling and welcoming-in to become part of the Kingdom of God. This kingdom is for all. We know that Jesus paid particular attention to all kinds of people with disabilities; the blind, those with withered arms, the lame and paralyzed all experienced his loving touch transforming their lives.
The system of PIL in India seeks to provide an opportunity for anyone to file a petition for something that will be for “the public good.” A successful PIL will result in the court delivering social justice.
Let us think about this a little: the Whatsapp message was about a PIL seeking to make places of worship accessible; that sounds like an issue for the “public good” given that there are probably as many as 26 million people with disabilities in India now and very many will struggle to access places of worship. But as Christians do we not wish to welcome people with disabilities into our churches and prayer halls? Do we mean to exclude them? Do we even think about them?
This is not a social issue that is only the concern of activists or NGOs, The Psalmist says
“All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you.
They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might,
so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.” Psalm 145: 10-13
Are we not the faithful people mentioned here and aren’t we supposed to speak of the glory of God’s kingdom so that all people may know of God’s mighty acts? Church is who we are and also where we meet to tell of the glory of God’s Kingdom and to praise Him. Accessible church is a matter of Christian duty founded on love and hospitality.
“Bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” Luke 14:21.
We already have the instructions; let us lead the way in sensitive understanding and act as salt and light, bringing God’s love to all and being an example.
Jesus says in John 13:34-35
“…As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
We must not wait for a PIL to be told to make our places of worship accessible for that would be to have missed a chance to give the Glory to God.
If you want to know how to make your church accessible (and much more) please contact Jubin at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask for a copy of the Disability Inclusion Toolkit prepared by Engage Disability.