There is a time to every purpose under heaven, and now it’s time for a Heretic Homily! I’m Constance McEntee, also known as Antinoë Magdalene, ordained minister in the Universal Life Church and amateur priest.
May sixteenth is Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus making seemingly complex theological ideas accessible through the use of parables. Some of those parables might seem less accessible to us in modern times as they were offered for a very different culture in a very different part of the world during a very different point in history. For instance, I was once talking about story of Jesus cursing the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14 and Matthew 21:18-22) with a theologian whom I respect. The tree was “out of season” and he cursed it anyway for not bearing fruit. The fig tree was said to symbolize the early church and its fruit was ministry. To me, this didn’t make any sense. I could accept the idea that the tree was the church and the fruit was its ministry, but if it was out of season, wouldn’t the fruit not have been ready anyway? Eventually, the theologian got exasperated with me and said, “You get it. You’re just not listening to me.” This was patently untrue. I was listening but I didn’t understand. Some years later, it would be explained to me that in the culture of Jesus’ time, the metaphor would have been clear. It’s unclear to many now, myself included, because of the difference in culture.
But, there’s another issue related to accessibility and the Gospels, and this is the way the senses are used to indicate understanding. Blindness and deafness are used as metaphors for intelligence throughout the bible. I once even heard a preacher use blindness as a metaphor for ignorance while there was a blind person in the FRONT PEW with their guide dog. To me, this was careless on the preacher’s part, and a different wording would’ve been ideal.
I’m a seminary drop-out, and the main reason is that I didn’t qualify for the necessary financial aid to pay for the course of study. But also, my language processing learning disability made it very difficult for me to complete the reading in a timely manner for the classes I was able to complete. This is another pair of ways in which the Church becomes inaccessible. Money is required to get that master of divinity in order to be ordained by most faith traditions, and academic writing is simply inaccessible by design. Clear and concise isn’t possible. Academic writing is concise because it relies on technical jargon which is unclear to the average reader. Why would specialized words be used when clear phrases would serve the same purpose?
I often feel that the Christian canon should be updated for current times. Not only would parables based on our current societies and cultures make these concepts accessible, removing ableist metaphors from scripture would aid accessibility as well. The ways in which Christian theology is taught is inaccessible also, due to costs and the insistence that minister training be like any other type of graduate school.
But seminary isn’t like other types of grad school. Seminary trains people for ministry. If we are to accept the idea of the priesthood of all believers, then the canon and the courses of study must be accessible to all believers, regardless of their abilities or access to exploitable wealth.
All aspects of Christianity must be accessible to all segments of the population. It’s what Christ would have wanted. It’s what Christ charged us to do.
So, my friends, go forward and work for accessibility in all things. And do so with the blessings of the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love-overflowing.