As some of you may know, I’ve been working with kids with disabilities for almost 2 years now. Initially I began just to gather some work experience but it ignited a passion and a love for these people. I see so much intelligence and beauty in them and experience so much joy in my work.
So it got me thinking about what God’s intentions were in creating these people so different from others. I started following a theologian, Kirk Patston, who’s currently researching and writing his Phd on the Theology of Disability. I’ve been attempting to consolidate what I’ve gleaned from his lectures, seminars and research but I’m not quite at the stage to present anything too coherent. But I thought I’d fill you in on my progress so far.
There are a number of ways that people approach disability, of which religion is only one. But we’ll start there.
– The Religious framework tends to present two poles: disability as punishment from God or as a special divine gift.
– The Medical Framework, uses language such as “suffers from”, disability becomes something that is treated, a problem.
– The Social Model is interesting, it picks up on the fact that whether or not something is considered a disability depends on whether the society accommodates for them. For example, if everyone used sign language as well as spoken language, deafness would not be considered a disability.
– The Cultural framework sees disability as a creation of cultural dialogue. Kirk interestingly used different types of films to illustrate this: he pointed out the differences in the typical role of the disabled in films aimed at different people. In films for young boys, the disabled are terrifying. In films for adult men, the disabled are the joke. In chick flicks, disability is a tragedy that an individual overcomes.
– And finally, the Biopsychosocial model, and as the name suggests it is an interaction of multiple dimensions: the biological, psychological and social approaches.
Where do I stand on all this? Well, I think, as with anything, that a multi-dimensional approach is needed to understand disability. As you may realise, I don’t agree with prebirth screening. Our culture has become one of elimination, deciding who should and shouldn’t be born. Then a lot of questions are raised as to how to care for these people in our communities, right? What if society can’t afford the ‘burden’ of people who have special requirements?
At this stage, all I can say about my own point of view is that we need to be inclusive, especially in the church. As you can see in the video I posted above, this is not as simple as we think, but is more necessary than we think. Inclusion doesn’t mean providing another place just for people with disabilities to be cared for so that our own communities aren’t ‘weighed down’ by their needs. I actually think it calls for the church to show the love of Christ by going out of their way to love and serve them. These people are valuable humans.
Paul talks about the church as one body, and uses this image to illustrate the importance of it’s different members.
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that could not make it any less a part of the body….if the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?…..The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.
1 Corinthians 12:12-22 (my emphasis)
I think these people are blessings. And the challenge they present to us is one of Christ-like sacrificial love. We should seek to serve these people and change our face-value judgements on their worth.
If you are interested in knowing how to best accommodate for the disabled in your church CBM have been developing and producing resources in their Luke 14 Project, some of which are freely available but some you can purchase.