The Prophecy of the Disabled Body

The following is an excerpt from the Theological Statement that opens the May 2018 Report of the UUMA Ableism Task Force (PDF). The members of that Task Force were Rev. Josh Pawelek and Rev. Barbara F. Meyers, co-chairs; Rev. Mark Belletini; Rev. Erika Hewitt; Rev. Evan Keely; and Rev. Theresa I. Soto.

Our bodies inherently have value; our bodies are where we live, and they’re the container for all of our experiencesincluding our religious and/or spiritual experiences. If we tolerate or perpetuate the devaluing of other people’s bodies, we’re also willing to devalue their spiritual experiences.

Ableism is the centering of able bodies and experiences over disabled bodies and experiences, while simultaneously devaluing and erasing those disabled bodies. If, in the words of Eli Clare, “ableism is the grease that makes the machine of all other oppressions move forward,” then the devaluing of disabled bodies is connected to all of the other bodies that don’t have to matter.

If we believe that all people have inherent worth and dignity, then we believe all bodies have inherent worth and dignity.

If we believe that all bodies have inherent worth and dignity, we also believe that every person also has agency over their body; that people are more than the work that they do; that caring for one another is a moral responsibilityeven bodies that do not conform to a capitalist standard of working for pay. All
bodies are worthy of our care and concern, because they are human people with human bodies.

If we believe that one of the sources of our living tradition is direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life; then, we must notice that to which we are moved. If disabled bodies are part of life, then they are good. Part of the urging of transcendence, then, is to resist all forms of devaluing of disabled bodies, including unexamined rhetoric that devalues disabled bodies and places high value on normatively able bodies by using disabled bodies as a point of reference for negative

We already know that words shape our reality. We know that “it’s a metaphor”and: there’s more. It’s also not a metaphor. We frame much of our engagement around things that do not include everyone.

We don’t just put our stories onto other people’s bodies; we also put our metaphors onto them: one-directional, in which the able-bodied metaphor is superior. It’s not true.

Every body is the location of holinessnot just able bodies.

When we sing songs that say that the able-bodied way is the only way, we’re missing an entire possibility. More is possible. Instead of focusing on the loss of a metaphor, we can consider what else is possible.

As Unitarian Universalists, we assert that revelation is not sealed. There is a specific, ongoing revelation that is the disabled body as a text, and post-textually, as an experience.

The disabled body, then, is a prophetic body. It calls Beloved Community to account for a past in which the Good News has only been for those with the right abilities, the acceptable bodies. And still, the disabled body cannot be hidden nor silencedthough it may not audibly speak. The disabled body bridges time to a future in which belonging and contribution are a natural function of inclusion as a core value and spiritual practice of Beloved Community. The prophecy of the disabled body is this indictment and this promise. To what does it call us?