Fall 2021 | Divine Access: Disability and Belonging

In an age of reckonings, people with disabilities are making sure their presence is known and their spiritual insights are honored. Disability isn’t an issue on the margins: at this moment, about 25 percent of Americans have a disability of some kind. Most people will eventually experience a disability or know someone who will.

This Reflections issue features an array of voices: ministers with disabilities, advocates, self-advocates, theologians, and poets, as well as Yale Divinity School scholars, alums, and a student representative.

People with disabilities and their allies are fighting for better laws, more accessible campuses, more welcoming congregations—bringing a deeper vision of belonging to the life of faith, if congregations are willing to listen.


From the Dean's Desk

One of the best told stories in the Fourth Gospel is the account of the man who was born blind (John 9:1–41). It is clearly structured around the healing of the man (9:1-7), a series of interrogation scenes (9:8–12, 13–17, 18–23, 24–34), and the final encounter between Jesus and the man (9:35–38) and the religious authorities (9:39–41). 

Articles in this Issue

By Caroline Cupp ’08 M.Div.

The future of church depends on listening to what people with disabilities can teach congregations about worshiping a wounded savior from the margins in the 21st century.

By Bruce Gordon

People who live with mental illness face stigma at every turn. Congregations are filled with the company of the depressed who are seeking help and looking for empathy and friendship, not uneasy silence or pity.

By Kyle Stevenson

An encounter with Jesus is deeper than any cure. “The concept of healing is not the issue,” this Baptist minister says. “God does heal. However, God does not always cure, and there may not need to be a cure.”

By Tony Coelho

As a young man he wanted to be a priest, until he was told his epilepsy disqualified him. So he found a political calling, and became the primary sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

By Joel Baden ’99 B.A.

The case of Saul in the Hebrew Bible suggests the hazards of interpreting the meaning of evil spirits and mental illness in scripture.

Those who are identified as being differently abled are now asserting their voices in ways reminiscent of other historically excluded groups. They want more than a nod of solidarity; they want measurable action.

By Cyndi Jones

God was pleased to choose Moses—the one with the speech impairment—to represent God to the People of God. If only the church saw the image of God this way.

By Dianne Bilyak ’06 M.A.R.

The writer’s relationship with her older sister has taught her about the tension between responsibility and freedom, the complexities of giving and receiving, and the gift of acceptance, solidarity, and love.

Filmmaker James LeBrecht talks to Reflections about the award-winning documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution and its effect on national consciousness of disability rights and the 21st-century meaning of belonging.

By Nancy S. Taylor ’81 M.Div.

Becoming a hospitable church takes time and imaginationand an appreciation of the courage it takes a newcomer to subdue fear or anxiety and show up at the door.

By Bill Gaventa

Disability issues are finding a place in theology, curricula, and congregations, but cultural resistance continues around the value of people’s talents and gifts: People with disabilities hear God’s call too.

By Daryl Hopkins Denelle ’22 M.Div.

A student traces her growing sense of vocation through the disruptions and heartbreak of a pandemic and the challenges of accessibility. “Community and infinite grace—in whatever way possible—is the only way forward,” says Daryl Denelle.

By LaTonya McIver Penny

Slavery’s cruel calculus—that a Black person’s value came strictly from physical productivity—continues to harm Black bodies, especially those with disabilities.

By Samuel L. Caraballo ’13 M.Div.

In an era of ruthless politics and policies, it’s up to people of faith to speak up for people with disabilities and ensure they have a seat at Christ’s abundant table.

By Janet E. Schaller

A pastoral theologian’s research shows women with disabilities resisting society’s emphasis on physical difference and speaking up as whole persons—body, mind, and spirit together.

By Melody Escobar

May this pandemic and the new era following it awaken us to view all of God’s children in their glory as one Body and turn to one another in solidarity.

By Jeongyun April Hur ’14 M.Div.

As God’s creatures, no matter what their condition, all people are endowed with infinite value. This truth is daily drowned out by an ableist-oriented society driven by competition and conquest.

By Evelyn Santiago and Chad Sinanian

Two self-advocates share their thoughts on the need for outspoken persistence and collaboration in order to change a society that would sideline them. “Don’t let anyone tell you what your limitations are,” says Chad Sinanian.

By Susan K. Olson ’93 M.Div.

The University’s Student Accessibility Services office endeavors to meet the needs of a growing campus clientele. “Slowly the culture is shifting,” says Susan Olson.

From the Editor

By Ray Waddle

A deeper vision of human belonging is gaining traction, calling for greater imagination, better public policies, and a bolder belief in the image of God.

Reflections is a publication of Yale Divinity School