disability and theology #10

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James 1:27

And let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.
Titus 3:14

The people of God are repeatedly called to care for the vulnerable, oppressed and in urgent need. People with disabilities and those who care for them far too often fall into one or more of those categories. Providing for people with disabilities and their carers in material ways is just the start of our love for them. The church should be the model of accessible community.

The community around us (in Australia, at least, I can’t speak for the rest of the world) has been progressively working at creating spaces that are physically accessible, and I reckon the church should be a community leader in this regard as a pragmatic demonstration of the welcome we offer to all people. We ought to delight in the ways in which our community has come to respect and honour people with a disability rather than grumble about the burden we might have to shoulder to be open to all. When we fail to provide access for people with a disability, or when we use language that is archaic or acts as an unnecessary stumbling block to unbelievers, we ought to repent.

In the gospel of Mark  (2:1-12), we hear of some friends who are so desperate to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus that they cut a hole in the roof of the house Jesus is in. Now, I’m not saying church is the only place we ‘meet’ Jesus, nor that this passage is speaking directly about providing physical access. But I do think that the heart of desperate concern for the friend with a disability, and the desire to share with them the freedom Jesus provides, is something we ought to imitate. And I suspect that includes making sure they can be part of Sunday services and life in and around our church buildings.

The love that Christians are called to show each other and the world is abundant, gracious and relational. The picture Jesus paints in Luke 14:12-24 of the way God pours out His abundance on broken people is the same abundant generosity His church is to display: we are called to show hospitality especially to those who cannot repay our generosity. The love that we enact ought to open up possibility for (if it does not already embody) genuine relationship and affection.

The responsibility that the church bears to uphold people with a disability is great. It may be tempting in the face of an overwhelming challenge either to despair at the magnitude of the problem or to shrug it off as an inevitable part of the Fall. Neither of these responses is adequate, for the gospel fills us with confidence, power, patience and diligence. We can seek justice for the oppressed, patiently working and fully trusting that in siding with the weak we are siding with God — endeavouring to do His work in His timing with His power by His Spirit for His glory.

View the complete archive of posts in this series HERE.

Download a list of references HERE.

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