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Disability and Theology | Congregational Accessibility Network

4525307149_19b7c14bb6_image-GodThis week, I am attending the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability held this year in Holland, Michigan.   Dozens of persons have gathered from across North America and around the world.

Some might wonder what disabilities have to do with theology. The word, “theology,” comes from two Greek words: theos (God) and logos (word).  Thus, theology is a word about God, a study of the things of God. If we believe in a God who created and has an ongoing relationship to the world, we should be able to ask “God questions” about any human study or human experience.

As many persons are quick to point out here at SITD, disabilities is a part of the human experience. It is not just that estimates of the number of persons with disabilities in the United States is 18-20% of the population.  It is not just the fact that all of us will eventually face disabilities ourselves (leading up to our deaths).  It is more the fact that we are all finite and mortal. We all have abilities (things we can do) and disabilities (things we can’t do).  We all live as bodies which are limited and vulnerable.

At the same time that we live as vulnerable human beings subject to decay, diminishment, and death, the Judeo-Christian tradition asserts that we are also created in the image of the Almighty God.  So here we have the point of intersection, of tension, and of conversation.  How do we talk about a God who is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-wise creating children with physical, mental, developmental, and intellectual disabilities, with limits that sometimes strike us as quite severe?

There are no quick and easy answers here.  When you get all of these people into a room together; people who come from a variety of faith traditions including Christians, Jews, and others; individuals with a variety of disabilities in and of themselves, not to mention family members, friends, and persons with whom they work and worship; you are bound to have some lively discussions.

Indeed, we may not all agree!  Yet, what I find remarkable about such a diverse group is the level of unity and solidarity experienced in a setting of such diversity!

While some among us have studied theology and help us think together about the “God-word” and this notion we call “disability,” their insights serve mostly to highlight the common experience that we share as human beings.  Our talk about God needs to honor God and those created in the image of God, no matter what the abilities and disabilities, no matter what the talents and limitations.  The awareness of our own mortality and frailty places us in the same humble position before God.  The awareness of the gifts and abilities that we have been given then fills us with thanksgiving. Thankfulness leads us to want to offer our gifts to meet another’s need while also being open to receive gifts in return to meet our own needs.

Human beings are all different.  Part of those differences have to do with the abilities and disabilities that we all have.  The big problem comes when we start comparing disabilities with each other rather and using our abilities to exert power over others.

God has given us differences.  God has given us each other.  God has given us different combinations of abilities and disabilities so that we will need to develop an interdependence, a dependence on each other that represents our dependence upon the Spirit of God.  When we use our abilities to seize power over the disabilities of another, we violate our common bonds as God’s children. When we walk together and work together, then our God-talk binds us together despite our many differences.

Theology serves to remind us of our common humanity as those in God’s image as well as the delightful diversity as children of God.

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