Six-Week Study on the Church and Disability – Part 1

This is for a class assignment – my last. It is not beautifully edited yet, and indeed, will likely never be. But, I’m going to share it anyway.

Introduction:

What does Scripture teach us about people with disabilities? Is there something more that we can add? This six week study will focus not only on the written word, but will involve a series of exercises that will hopefully bring a new focus upon the idea of personhood.

Week 1: That I might be good

Text: Genesis 1

Before you read:

  • Think about the words we use to identify things that are not in their place. We use words like “broken” and “good” to theologically describe various attributes of a person. Perhaps they are broken if they are a sinner. Maybe they are good if they have done something that is morally good. Thus, broken becomes our word for “bad” and good our word for “acceptable.”

Exercises:

Application:

In the first chapter of Genesis, the first chronological chapter of our bible, we read of the wondrous creation of our world. This is often turned into the idea that when God created the world it was good, this is opposed effects of the Fall. Before Adam’s sin, everything was morally “good” and thus, healthy and beautiful — perfect. Certain Christian theologies argue that the Fall (Adam’s sin) has give us disabilities. John Walton reminds us that good has another connotation. He writes, “that it was all “good” reflects God’s wisdom and justice.” God’s wisdom shows a certain direction in God’s creation. God is very much the methodist here as the Divine follows a certain amount of cadence he methodologically creating a world. Later Christian theologies have suggested that in the Fall, as demonstrated in Genesis 2-3, sin has become such a stain on the human race, we now have death, cancer, sickness, and disability.

Paul says in Romans 8.22 that Creation has groaned, struggled, until the time of Jesus. Revelation speaks of a new creation that has come to be. Christian theology also teaches that Jesus undoes the effects of the Fall. Even if you take the Fall as a theologically historical event, is it fair enough now to say that the “good” to our world has now returned?

Your assignment this week was to review the people first language. The Snows have melted away many language barriers between the abled and those who are disabled.

At the bottom of the simple chart, the Snows have asked that people add new descriptors. How might we come to describe “good,” “broken,” “impure,” and “holiness” in such a way to remove these words from the language of the Fall that has given rise to the idea that people with disabilities are some how in needed of repair?

Preparation for Next Week:

Text: Deuteronomy 23.1; Leviticus 21.16-24

Before your read:

  • If God doesn’t make mistakes, then explain those with congenital disabilities.
  • Watch this video:

Exercise:

  • You are not allowed to pray or speak about God. Your family can continue this, but you are not allowed to be in the same room, even at dinner prayers.
  • You must remove all bibles and devotional books from your house
  • For the next week, you are not allow to go near a church. You must drive around churches, but least a block if not more. The next Sunday morning, you are not allowed to enter the sanctuary, but must remain outside behind the closed doors.

Week 2: That I might serve God

Discussion:

  • How did you spend your week? Was it difficult being a believer but avoiding all aspects of the worship of God?
  • What are some other times we have banned people because their appearance from participating in some social, religious, or political rite?

Application:

It is difficult for the modern believer, as especially those who have the open table of Communion, to understand the social separation those who had some manner of physical oddity experienced in the ancient world. The Levite could not be a priest and the disfigured were banned from God’s Temple.

In the passage from Leviticus, the disfigured person was one who had any physical appearance that stood out from the rest of the crowd. What if we were to choose to exclude those with dark hair from acting as clergy? Or if serving the Lord’s Table was limited only to those who were in shape?

Count the number of physical defects you see in this passage? According to Haydock, later Rabbis would include up to 140. Dig into v.18. Haydock again draws something that should worry us. It was not just a split nose as some translations say, but a nose that was too big or too small!

In Acts, reportedly written by a physician, we encounter two people who were healed of their blemishes, but only one would be healed physically. In Acts 3.1-27, Peter and John encounter, as most of our translations label him, a “crippled beggar” outside of a gate to the Temple. When the beggar asks for money, Peter and John instead bless with with a healing. The first thing this beggar does is to enter the Temple and praising God. This sign of “praising God” is a Lukan note to the reader that something has just happened that is connected back to the Old Testament. Later, in Acts 8, the Apostle Phillip meets a eunuch traveling away from Jerusalem. He would not have been allowed inside the Temple, but knew the Jewish bible well enough to have a copy on his person. Phillip offers him healing as well, but the Eunuch remains a eunuch.

What do these healings teach us about the view of physical deformity in the New Testament and what it means to be healed? The beggar had given up, seeking on to exist, but he was next to the Temple, as close as the could get. The eunuch had not given up but could come as close to God as he was allowed to, by reading Scripture. They were given their healings in the form of bring them closer to God. To do so, the crippled man was given the change to walk into the Temple while the Eunuch was given the chance to help build a new Temple.

Preparation for Next Week:

Text: Judges 16; 2 Kings 25.7

Before you read:

  • Does God give us abled-body people disabilities as punishment?
  • If so, what does it say about those born with the same disability we could at any minute receive?

Exercise:

  • One evening this week, you are to remain completely blind. Find a blindfold that can fit securely so that no light is received
  • You must carry out your even routine — even cooking.
  • Try to focus on how you are acting and how your family are acting around you.

For example, see this post by an author with the Answers in Genesis group, equating disease of the various sorts, with evil: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/aid/v7/n1/problem-millions-of-years-natural-evil (Accessed 11.29.12)

Otieno, Pauline A. “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Disability: Implications on the Rights of Persons with Disability in Kenya.” Disability Studies Quarterly 29, no. 4 (May 11, 2009). http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/988.

Victor Harold Matthews et al., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Ge 1:19.

The Rabbins reckon 140 blemishes on which the Sanhedrim had to pass sentence. They also require in the high priest superior beauty, strength, riches, and wisdom —George Leo Haydock, Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary (New York: Edward Dunigan and Brother, 1859), Le 21:17.

George Leo Haydock, Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary (New York: Edward Dunigan and Brother, 1859), Le 21:18.

Doble, Peter. The Paradox of Salvation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

 

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