Monday, May 11, 2015

Disability and the Gospel, by Michael Beates

Michael Beates, teacher, theologian, board member of Joni Eareckson Tada's ministry Joni and Friends, and the father of a child with a disability has given a gift to disabled individuals and their families.  His book Disability and the Gospel is a great resource for biblical, historical, and theological reflection on a Christian perspective on disability.

Some of what I liked about disability and the gospel:

A survey of disability in the Old and New Testaments.  The most important point: Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with disabled people.

A survey of theological views on disability.  Some of these were not very complimentary.  Insightful, nevertheless.

A discussion of the meaning of "the image of God."  This was the most thought-provoking part of the book, for me.  I've always though of the image of God not as a physical image but ability to reason.  So what if an individual is born with a disability, or becomes disabled, and loses capacity for reason?  What about the severely mentally handicapped?  I have no doubt that they share the imago dei, but what is the image dei in the context of disability?  Interesting and challenging.

Most important of all is Beates's clarion call to the church to include individuals with disabilities in church life.  Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said that 11 o'clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.  He applied that sentiment to race; it can be applied even more strongly to disability.  For the most part, Beates writes, churches are not welcoming to individuals with disabilities.  From simple matters like parking and ramps, to more challenging matters like noise and grooming, many don't know how to assist and respond to fellow worshippers with disabilities.

I hope churches are making more progress than what Beates reports.  In my experience, many churches are making strides.  Some in small but significant ways, like in my small church, where disabled children have a buddy to help out during Sunday school. Other larger churches in the area have dedicated classes for children with special needs, and host respite programs, where parents can drop off their disabled children for a night out.

However, these are focussed on children.  Adults with disabilities are embraced less readily.  Beates wants the church to understand that disabled Christians are no less gifted by God, are part of the body, and have much to offer the body as a whole.  Church leaders will be challenged by Disability and the Gospel to seek out disabled Christians in the church and community and help them exercise their spiritual gifts.  (I love to see my non-verbal daughter wheel herself up to the front of the church and lay hands on people, praying silently for them!)

Beates writes out of his personal experiences with his daughter.  His scriptural and theological treatment is accessible (pun intended!) to the layperson.  I was encouraged and challenged to foster spiritual involvement and ministry with my daughter and other disabled individuals in my church and community.

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