Once upon a time (in 2001), a congregant of an Episcopalian church decided to start a spiritual healing group for people with musculoskeletal disorders. I have such a disorder, and my nurse (I was at that time hospitalized on a psychiatric unit) was also a congregant of the church, so one day she called and arranged for me to join the group. A couple hours later, after some reflection, the woman starting the group called back to disallow my participation. The group leader knew three things about me: I was a Christian, had a musculoskeletal disorder, and a psychiatric disorder. I was refused admittance to a church group because I had a psychiatric disorder.
And there I saw it clearly: it was Jesus’ time, and the priest was standing on the steps of the temple refusing me admittance because I was a leper.
Actually, in Biblical reference, I would have been described as possessed by demons, but we have come a long way—oh, such a long way!—since Biblical times that we no longer think people are possessed by demons. Although, come to think of it, that’s not true either. Around 1992, a Salvation Army chaplain told me about his perception that a certain man could not pass in front of the altar because he was possessed by demons, and my friend’s mother, whose spiritual basis was formed in Jamaica, likewise accused her of being possessed.
But for most of contemporary society, we no longer believe in possession. We are too cool. We now believe in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, multiple personality disorder, and so forth—but we still treat people like lepers.
I am physically disabled. I have been receiving home health aide care for five years, started using a wheelchair three years ago, and have been bedridden for four months. Six weeks ago, I was hospitalized on a psychiatric unit in a community hospital in New York. On that unit, they variously refused to push my wheelchair, bring me breakfast in bed, give me a shower, and assist in my toileting.
I am a leper, you see, and we all know that the cure for 21st century leprosy is meanness—and if meanness doesn’t bring ‘em around, then you cast them out of society.