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At The Gates

A deafening clarion call to Christians

At The Gates

Disability, Justice and the Churches

By Naomi Lawson Jacobs and EmilyRichardson

ISBN 978-1-9136571-8-5


I’m starting to write this review 100 pages into reading the book because I feel an irresistible urge to respond and to respond right now. 100 pages that should be telling me of caringChristians finding innovative ways of following their saviour’s example of reaching out to the excluded, embracing all in the invitation to the body ofChrist, bridging the divides that separate.


Instead, I have found myself a hundred times or more wanting to weep with frustration at the perpetuation of secular social norms of exclusion, differentiation and rejection in a self-declared spiritual body that is supposed to be radical in its expression of love.


Here I find a church that is rejecting when it should be accepting, indifferent when it should be caring, giving me every reason to walk as far a way from it as possible when it should be drawing me irresistibly with its love and inclusiveness. Here I find example after example of disabled people denied access to your buildings because it’s too difficult or adapt them. Here I discover that those who actually manage to make their way inside experience a segregation that is far too reminiscent of apartheid -wheelchairs corralled into areas that the non-disabled find a tad less inconvenient; Here so-called accessible toilets locked until the embarrassment of users gives way to desperation. Sacraments administered in elevated locations that require access by impassable steps. In seeking to elevate and honour your God, it appears, you have suppressed and dishonoured some of his most deserving children – those that Christ himself would call to the head of the feast.


And when we move beyond the physical realm into question of emotional, mental and spiritual inclusion matters become worse. The book abounds with witness statements of unannounced flashing lights that trigger autism and disabled people excluded from participation in ministry because sermons must, by tradition alone, be delivered from pulpits accessed by steps. Most invidious of all are those that feel the need to pray for healing of disabled congregants without being asked to do so– and then blaming the victim of prayer for their failure to embrace God’s healing.


Christians, if this is the way you treat the disabled, precisely what is it that differentiates you from the nonbelievers?


Precisely what is it that you are for?


Precisely in what ways are you seeking to be more Christ-like in you behaviour, your attitudes, your priorities?



If I sound angry, then please go back and read what Christ did on finding money-changers in the temple.


But fortunately here I also find hope that dissipates my anger, for the disabled story-tellers quoted in this book‘ modelled a different way to minister.’ This should not be revolutionary; theChurch should have learned this from Jesus’ ministry of hospitality.’  


Why, I find myself asking, is it so difficult for people to break out of the comfort zone of the traditional and wake up to the fact that we, the disabled, are not, in the words of one story-teller in the book, ‘monstrous, inhuman, inherently vulnerable, unworthy of society’s resources and too impure to enter the Temple?’


I was effectively hounded out of the church thirty-five years ago due to mental disability (‘The Lord can heal you,’ they said. ‘Why won’t you accept his healing?’).  Now, this book stirs up healing waters in the church ‘transforming ablest attitudes when we show how to live with impairment or illness.’  Why is that so hard for Christians to understand this?


The painful truth that confronts the church in2023 is that far from leading the field in compassion, inclusion and insight, when it comes to disability, it is decades behind the society In which it functions.


If you want to be more like Christ, that has to change. More than that, if you simply want to survive that has to change. As the authors put it: A church that wants to be different from the world must seek to listen to stories like these. Christian, I beseech you: wake up and listen! 

May this book succeed in its mission to illuminate and transform beyond measure.


Disclosure: I am the father of Naomi Lawson Jacobs. 


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