From the Wall Stree Journal (9/3/09):
Making God More Accessible
By MARK I. PINSKY
The television commercials were disturbing: Traditional-looking churches barring or physically ejecting racial and ethnic minorities, gay couples—and people with disabilities. One tag line was "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." The national campaign, which aired several years ago, was sponsored by the liberal United Church of Christ. "We included people with physical disabilities in these commercials—in a wheelchair or with a walker—as an extension of the call and hope that churches would be intentionally inclusive of 'all the people,'" said the Rev. Gregg Brekke, a spokesman for the denomination.
Instead, the imagery provoked grumbling from some denominations because of its implied critique of other church traditions. But at least when it came to the physically handicapped, the criticism had more than a grain of truth. Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are places where people with disabilities might not expect to feel excluded, isolated or patronized. Yet that has often been the norm. For years congregations have effectively excluded the disabled from worship—by steps, narrow doorways and straitened attitudes—or segregated them in "special" services. Houses of worship (except those with more than 15 employees) were excluded from the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which, among other things, bars discrimination against people with physical or intellectual disabilities—including access and architectural barriers—in public accommodations and transportation...
..."Of all the barriers to full participation and inclusion, the barrier of unexamined attitudes is the most difficult to address," said Ginny Thornburgh, director of the American Association of People with Disabilities' Interfaith Initiative. Its goal, she says, is "to bring the powerful and prophetic voice of the faith community to the 21st-century disability agenda," and to involve all religious communities. "There are no barriers to God's love," Ms. Thornburgh says. "There should be no barriers in God's house."