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From Inclusion to Justice book cover by Erin Raffety. Includes an illustration of a hand with multi color desgin.

From Inclusion to Justice

American Christianity tends to view disabled persons as  problems to be solved rather than  people with experiences and gifts that enrich the church. Churches have generated policies, programs, and curricula geared toward "including" disabled people while still maintaining "able-bodied" theologies, ministries, care, and leadership. Ableism—not lack of ramps, of finances, or of accessible worship—is the biggest obstacle for disabled ministry in America.


In From Inclusion to Justice, Erin Raffety argues that what our churches need is not more programs for disabled people but rather the pastoral tools to repent of able-bodied theologies and practices, listen to people with disabilities, lament ableism and injustice, and be transformed by God's ministry through disabled leadership. Without a paradigm shift from ministries of inclusion to ministries of justice, our practical theology falls short.

Drawing on ethnographic research with congregations and families, pastoral experience with disabled people, teaching in theological education, and parenting a disabled child, Raffety, an able-bodied Christian writing to able-bodied churches, confesses her struggle to repent from ableism in hopes of convincing others to do the same. At the same time, Raffety draws on her interactions with disabled Christian leaders to testify to what God is still doing in the pews and the pulpit, uplifting and amplifying the ministry and leadership of people with disabilities as a vision toward justice in the kingdom of God.


Set in the remote, mountainous Guangxi Autonomous Region and based on ethnographic fieldwork, Families We Need traces the movement of three Chinese foster children, Dengrong, Pei Pei, and Meili, from the state orphanage into the humble, foster homes of Auntie Li, Auntie Ma, and Auntie Huang.


Traversing the geography of Guangxi, from the modern capital Nanning where Pei Pei and Meili reside, to the small farming village several hours away where Dengrong is placed, this ethnography details the hardships of social abandonment for disabled children and disenfranchised, older women in China, while also analyzing the state’s efforts to cope with such marginal populations and incorporate them into China’s modern future.


The book argues that Chinese foster families perform necessary, invisible service to the Chinese state and intercountry adoption, yet the bonds they form also resist such forces, exposing the inequalities, privilege, and ableism at the heart of global family making.

Book cover for Families We Need by Erin Raffety. Image includes a Chinese woman squatting with a little boy in the foreground.

Disability, Congregations, and Justice

2021. “Listening Even Unto Rebuke.” Invited Commentary. Canadian Journal of Theology, Mental Health, and Disability 1(2).


2021. “Disability and Christianity.” (with John Swinton) In Christianity & Psychiatry, Ed. By J.R. Peteet, H.S. Moffic, A. Hankir, and H.G. Koenig. Springer International Publishing.  


Mar. 2021. (Online) “From Charity to Classroom Co-Learning: Togetherness in the Spirit as a 

Model for Experiential Education with People with Disabilities.” (With Stuart Carroll). Special issue on Disability & Theological Education for Journal of Disability & Religion.   


July 2020. “From Depression to Decline to Repentance and Transformation: Receiving Disabled Leadership and its Gifts for the Church.” Guest Editorial. Theology Today 77(2): 117-123.  


July 2020. “From Inclusion to Leadership: Disabled ‘Misfitting’ in Congregational Ministry.” Theology Today 77(2): 198-209.  


2019. “Lonely Joy: How Families with Nonverbal Children with Disabilities Communicate, Collaborate, and Resist in a World that Values Words.” (with Kevin Vollrath, Emily Harris, and Laura Foote) Journal of Pastoral Theology 29(2): 101-115.    


2018. “The God of Difference: Disability, Youth Ministry, and the Difference Anthropology Makes.” Journal of Disability & Religion 22(4): 371-389.    


2017. “Disruptive Youth: Toward an Ethnographic Turn in Youth Ministry.” (with Wes Ellis) Ecclesial Practices 4(1): 5-24. 


2015. “Minimizing Social Distance: Participatory Research with Children.” Childhood: A Journal of Global Child Research 22(3): 409-422.  

2019. “Chinese Special Needs Adoption, Demand, and the Global Politics of Disability.” Disability Studies Quarterly 39(2) (online, no page numbers).  


2017.  “Fostering Change: Elderly Foster Mothers’ Intergenerational Influence in Contemporary China.” In Transnational Aging and Reconfigurations of Kin-Work. Cati Coe and Parin Dossa, Eds. Global Perspectives on Aging series, Rutgers University Press, pp. 92-111.  


2016. “From Cultural Revolution to Childcare Revolution: Conflicting Advice on Child-Rearing in Contemporary China.” In World of Babies: Imagined Childcare Guides for Eight Societies (Second Edition). Alma Gottlieb and Judy DeLoache, Eds. Cambridge, pp. 71-92.   

Children & Youth Ministry

Disability, Families, and China

Selected Academic Articles


Selected Popular Writing

June 2022. “From Inclusion to Justice: A Dream for Disability Ministry.” The Presbyterian Outlook.  


Mar. 30, 2021. “Lenten Hope in a Pandemic.” Church Anew Blog.


Feb. 5, 2021. “2nd Sunday of Lent.” Disabling Lent: An Anti-Ableist Devotional. Published by Unbound.


Sept. 28, 2020. “Trading Our Ropes for God’s Faithfulness.” Church Anew Blog.


Jul 2, 2020. “Leaning into Disability, Lamenting with Freedom.” Church Anew Blog.


10 May 2020. “Commentary on John 14:1-4.” With Lindsey S. Jodrey. Preach This Week by Luther Seminary.  


2017. “Why I’m Worried: An Inhospitable Present for People with Disabilities.” HuffPost Parents.  

2016. “I’m Not Sorry.” HuffPost Blog.

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