“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, March 04, 2011

Theology awakened by disability

There are those who worry about developing theology through various lenses of disability, or gender or ethnicity. I agree with their concerns. Theology should stand on its own as after all it is about understanding who God is. However, if my understanding of who God is results in me NOT loving all of his human creation then I don't understand who God is. I would worry that any conclusions that grow out of that flawed starting point are suspect. They are particularly suspect when I see the way the Christian world interacts with people it may deliberately choose not to love. We may not need a "disability theology" but we definitely do need a theology awakened by disability.
A student in a class at CBU wrote me the following recently.
When I interviewed this pastor about the efforts he has engaged in to bring persons with disabilities and their families into their fellowship, his response seemed incorrect, so to speak. He stated that he has been called to make disciples of the people, not to have a special ministry for individuals with disabilities. He indicated that nowhere in the Bible does it state Christians are to do so. I reminded him of all the times Jesus modeled the correct way to respond to the disabled, by reaching out to them and going against the status quo. He stated that why didn't Jesus reach out to all the disabled then. He did admit that everyone is equal, in that we all need Jesus. However, he said that marketing for the disabled to come to church is not correct.
I truly do understand that I am out of my depth in talking theology and I understand concerns about interpreting theology through various lenses. My point is that if I can develop a Christian, theological perspective that does not include love, that supposed understanding of God is flawed. How do I know that theology is flawed? At least in part through the experience of persons with disabilities with the Christian church. I would say I am looking for evidence of theology being acted out in the lives of people. In Matthew 15, Jesus speaks of the religious leaders of His time saying, "These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me." I don't know how I can get more basic in understanding God then to say "God is love." If I don't even have that as a starting point for theology there is little left to worry about, right or wrong.

Those who gain entre into Christian colleges and seminaries with programs that engage disability, bring a corrective I would argue, to the theological positions they have often been built upon. I have often said that I believe this work is one of the most important things we could be doing in the world! What is it that we are changing in them? It may be as simple as teaching them about love. We are pointing to foundational theological positions, however, what is it that this awareness is stemming from? Is it not the experience of persons with disabilities? If churches and theologians and Christian colleges were responding in love to people with disabilities we would not need this corrective? That bringing disability to the Christian world is such a incredibly mission critical exercise, to me, points to our theological problems as the Christian church. Our awareness of those problems, in part, grows out of our understanding of the experience of those with disabilities.