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Becoming God’s Household: Employing People with Disabilities Equitably in the Church

I am both a person with multiple disabilities, and a faithful servant of Christ. I’ve been trying my entire adult life to be paid something like equity for the accessibility-advocacy work that I do in the church…and happily, sometimes I’ve succeeded! I have a few thoughts about economic equity for believers with disabilities. So, in this short post, I want to connect part of Paul’s “household code” in Ephesians 6:5-8 to the need for believers with disabilities to experience economic even-handedness. We need to be paid properly for our work!

Before I examine Scripture, let’s begin with a little context on labour and Canadians with disabilities. Sarah Polack and Lena Banks make clear that the economic wellbeing, physical health, and educational statuses of people with disabilities are all related. Canada’s own Public Policy Forum further clarifies that Canadians with disabilities live closer to poverty than do our able-bodied siblings. Indeed, in that same vein, the Angus Reid Institute reports that 59% of Canadians believe, as of June 2021, that the benefits offered to people with disabilities are inadequate. Therefore, nine-tenths of Canadians support a Canadian Disability Benefit. These sobering facts betray the stigma attached to visible and invisible disabilities in our culture, and so belie the oikounomos, the radically generous “economy” or “household” that God has promised God’s children of all abilities – both in this world and the next.

Paul asks his coworkers in Christ to offer their gifts fervently to the ones who ask for them, because he has the long game in mind.

In order to nuance that narrative, and to write one that supports the fiscal wellbeing of Canadians with disabilities, let us press on to Paul’s “household code.” In Ephesians 6:5-8, Paul asks slaves and labourers to obey their earthly overseers. He encourages activity undertaken in “fear and trembling,” asking that the slaves not do their tasks “merely for looks” (6:5, NRSV). These tasks, done with alacrity and purity of heart, cannot simply be performative, because the workers are to do them for Christ, not simply for a paycheck or other benefit (6:6). Paul writes quite firmly, “Render service with enthusiasm, as for the Lord and not for humans, knowing that whatever good we do, we will receive the same again from the Lord” (6:7-8). 

Why does Paul ask that of his friends in Ephesus, and how does that apply to believers with disabilities? First, his demand here aligns with his interpretation of the Way of Jesus. In Luke 10:1-11, Jesus sends out his friends with similar purity of heart: they are supposed to preach the Gospel with fear and trembling, knowing that the power of God will protect them from harm, and believing that the Holy Spirit will offer them the reciprocity they need to flourish, even in straitened circumstances. Furthermore, in Ephesians, Paul asks his coworkers in Christ to offer their gifts fervently to the ones who ask for them, because he has the long game in mind. By serving their superiors, Paul’s friends honour Christ.

We deserve recompense for our labour in a way that allows us to thrive.

Having said that, Paul is not simply advocating for an entrenchment of an exploitative status quo. Workers who labour for Christ’s sake can give gladly to others out of their strengths; they also deserve to be recompensed with enough, to “receive the same again from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:7-8, NRSV). Finally, this is where my own experience is germane. I know that I can write job postings, blog posts, spreadsheets, lectures, and content for accessibility webinars. I can do those things, and Paul reminds me to give that labour to my colleagues gladly; that said, I am filled with life when I am both able to point people to the needs and talents of people like myself and given enough in return to make that work worthwhile. I can render my service with enthusiasm, a la Paul, when in return I get what I need, and other folks with disabilities do too.

Thus, Paul applies to the economic needs of people with disabilities in Canada in two diffused, but related, directions. On one hand, he speaks to slaves and labourers, and asks them explicitly to offer their work to their supervisors and colleagues cheerfully and fulsomely. On the other, Paul implies that the labour of those workers, offered cheerfully, deserves the reciprocity of God’s radical Reign. When people with disabilities do work in churches – whether that work is ushering, data entry, praying, preaching, singing, receiving and counting offering, or simply giving a ministry of presence to the community – we deserve recompense for our labour in a way that allows us to thrive. When believers with disabilities prosper, so does the whole church; when we give from our limited store what we have to offer, we help all of God’s friends to truly become the household of God – a household where everyone receives their due.

Photo provided by the author.

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