Would disability theology cure (some of) the ills of the Church?

Even choosing to write the words ‘disability theology’ is a statement. Why not theology of disability? I’m really not sure what to even call it.

However, I do believe a serious discussion and some resolution regarding a theological view of disability and people with disabilities would go far in determining the future course of the Church and her interaction with those otherwise deemed unacceptable.

There are several books I’d like to recommend. ]] and ]] have contributed to this discussion. (Don’t forget this review of Moss’s lecture on the topic by Brian LePort.) David F. Watson has written about it as well.

I have had the pleasure of taking a class on the subject as taught by Watson, but my interest exists beyond the class. It was a class I had to take to graduate and not one I was initially happy about; however, after taking this class I was grateful. I learned a great deal about theology — perhaps more in this class than in actual theology classes.

I want to encourage you, dear readers, to take a gander at some of these books listed here and dig deep.

Why?

Usually, disability is something we can identify. We know what Down’s Syndrome looks like. We know what MS and other physical disabilities look like. Some of us can identify mental illness as well. These things set others a part from us and has for much of human history. Read ]] on this.

But what about those things we use to separate others from us, especially in the Church? Color. Gender. Orientation.

I firmly believe if we can correctly grapple with a correct theology in relation to people with disabilities — one affirming their humanity — this will lead us to examine those we regularly dehumanize.

But, there is more. In an age where we are on the brink of cures for what we call disabilities, we must understand the ethical considerations laying wait for us. I’d had this discussion with a few people, actually. There is a possible cure for Down’s Syndrome. If it is a cure, the the person with DS is sick, right? If they are fully human with Down’s Syndrome, then do they need a cure?

Several scientific studies have suggested homosexuality is connected to birth order and hormones in the womb. What if a cure for this was found? What if by taking a tiny pill, one could become straight?

What are the ethics of these medical advancements?

I have a lot of questions, but few if any answers. It is, perhaps, due to the fact I am not faced with disability nor do I have a person with a disability in my family.

But, these questions do weight on my heart and soul at times…

What are your thoughts?

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6 Replies to “Would disability theology cure (some of) the ills of the Church?”

  1. Is theology disabled (suffering from inability) or is it handicapped (suffering from a disadvantage)? There is a difference. Someone with a handicap may be able to walk. While they may not do so very well, they can put one foot in front of the other. As a result, handicapped individuals may be allowed to park in a handicap parking spot closer to a place of business. On the other hand, if someone is disabled, they may not be able to walk. Thus, those with disabilities may not only qualify for handicap parking, they may also require a wheelchair for purposes of mobility.
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    Instead of being imposed by some externality, such as a birth defect or accident that may hinder a person’s ambulatory capacity, many of the church’s present difficulties are self-inflicted. An aversion to homosexuality may serve as an example in this regard.
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    Until quite recently, homosexuality was poorly understood. Although the practice will widely understood in antiquity, it didn’t receive it current label until the 19th century. Now that term is becoming passe. Both nature and nurture seem to contribute to individual sexual orientation. Chemical pollution may also be a contributory factor.
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    Biblically, homosexuality was most probably classified as a sin because its sexual practices excluded the possibility of conception. Much the same was true for withdrawal and masturbation (spilling his seed on the ground) as well as copulation during menstruation. Of course, the latter was merely categorized as unclean.
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    The biblical preoccupation with procreation arose from a Bronze Age necessity. The ancient Hebrews were relatively few in number. Threats to longevity abounded. Life was unpredictable at best. Reproduction was paramount.
    .
    Even as late as a couple of centuries ago, there were an estimated billion people on this earth. These days, thanks in large measure to sanitation and immunization, the human race has almost more people than it can count. The most recent headcount suggests, give or take a few million, there are a little over seven billion humans on the planet. If every person on the earth represented a mile, the human population would translate into over five trips to the sun and back! (And, to think, we wonder why there is a water shortage when, depending on age and physique, about half the human body is composed of water.)
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    Current estimates are that almost 13 percent of the world’s youth are unemployed. In North America, that number is approaching 18 percent. At the other extreme, child labor is rampant. There are an estimated 215 million child laborers worldwide. Many are as young as five-years-old. Yet, despite these abysmal numbers, biblical purists slavishly insist on enforcing Bronze Age reproduction standards.
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    Nor, for what it’s worth, are Christians alone in their time warp. Islamic sharia law is frozen in the 8th century.
    .
    If Christianity is going to save itself (in the spirit of Philippians 2:12-13), the religion must become more like the Samaritan and less like the Pharisee. For all their quirks, the Amish offer an excellent example in this regard. When disaster strikes, they show up, do the dirty work, and expect nothing in return. Like them or not, the Amish walk their talk. They offer a testimony that will withstand the test of fire! It is a lesson mainstream Christianity needs to learn if it wishes to be taken seriously in a religion mad society. Being preoccupied with who is or is not going to hell is about as useful as debating how many angels can stand on the head of a pin!

  2. Thanks for this post, Joel. I appreciate your thoughts, and I’m glad you found the class helpful. One question: if we identify a person as disabled, are we saying that they are less fully human?

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