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

Thursday, June 23, 2005

A theology of disability

In 1965, Robert Perske presentated a paper to a conference entitled "The Church and the Mentally Retarted." The title of his paper was, "An attempt to find an adequate theological view of mental retardation." He discusses "a history of how we have dealt with mental retardation in America" as a kind of a backdrop to the theology which might have been developing at the same time. He discusses periods of "total rejection . . . found early in American society" followed by attitudes about "bad blood and sins of the fathers." From there we proceeded to the feeling of "God's special children with the publication of the books "Angel Unaware" and "Retarded Children: God's Children."

He then says we came to the point where we sought a "special theology." He says, "This is probably the first period in American history that pastors have sincerely sought an adequate theology for the mentally retarded." Ultimately he says, "A special theology may not be adequate . . . the theological view we seek cannot be a special view." He suggests, "Therefore our task should be to enlarge the existing general theological views so that they include the mentally retarded. If we sincerely see the mentally retarded as human beings, we sould struggle to broaden and strengthen our general theological views to encompass people with other deficits as well."

I am unsure that we have actually passed the point of wanting a "special theology." If normalization means treating people as normally as possible, perhaps a once size fits all theology would be sufficient. But one size never fits all, and although we are all humans our experiences are different.

Answers.com defines social construction in the following manner
A social construction, or social construct, according to the school of social constructionism, is an idea which may appear to be natural and obvious to those who accept it, but in reality is an invention or artifact of a particular culture or society. The implication is that social constructs are human choices rather than laws of God or nature.

If a theology of mental retardation would in some way flesh out a God perspective on disability, then perhaps we do need such a theology in order to counter the "invention or artifact" of nearly all cultures about who persons with mental retardaton are. These perceptions are built into us, and become as close to us as intuition or consicence. Clearly cultures see peopel with disability as something different. The church appears to see them as something different. So although we say we are all the same in God's eyes, it seems we have adopted a cultural perspective on disability, as a church, rather than what might be called a theological perspective on disability.

One of my quests has been to try to understand disability from God's perspective to the extent I am able. The main reason is to be able to somehow take off the social constructions which are like blinders on my eyes, making me look in a particular direction, and instead see the truth, the truth about "disability" from a God, or theological perspective.



Anonymous said...

I just found your blog while looking for a website to start a blog myself but I could not pass up the opportunity to comment on your message. First, let me introduce myself. I'm a 31 year old who has been moderately physically disabled since birth and I now have schizoaffective disorder (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder mixed together). My wife worked in as an intern in the Deaf and Disabilities Ministry at a very large Christian church near us from June of last year until May 31st of this year, at which time she took a position in their Elementary Ministry. Still, she has trouble understanding how people with disabilities are viewed in churches and by others in the world.

In fact, we had a conversation today about how when I was in elementary school the school wanted to put me in special education and my parents had to fight to keep them from dooing so. She couldn't understand why people would be so ignorant as to put a child with physical disabilities only in special ed classes. Perhaps I should have pointed out that the disabled children's class at the church had several physically disabled children who the "normal" children's teachers just didn't want to deal with or were afraid to deal with--and that is going on now, not 25 years ago when they were trying to put me in special ed.

Of course there are several people's theologies regarding disabilities that I definately would love to go back and take advantage of. I could be rich and famous now if I had. Let's see, there was the man at the small Baptist church I attended when I was 13. He paid me $5 every time I had a seizure. Then there's the people who always want to pray for me. Inevitably the ones that don't know me well enough pray that God will heal my legs and let me walk again. On more than one occasion I've been tempted to get out of my power wheelchair and stand up and jump around a few times praising the Lord. You see, I can walk, just not long distances and I can't stand for a long time.

You said you wanted to see "disability" from a Theological perspective. Well, I'll tell you how I see my own disabilities from a theological perspective but I will tell you I don't want to suggest this perspective is universal to all people with disabilities. When I was 16 God gave me two verses of Scripture that gave me a purpose for my life and I've found another important one since then. The first two are Exodus 4:11 and John 11:4. Exodus 4:11 says "Who hath made man's mouth and who maketh the deaf and the dumb, or the seeing or the blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" John 11:4 says, "This sickness is not unto death but for the Glory of the Lord, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby." God said to me, "I made you the way you are and I did it to bring glory to my Son. And He called me into His service that day. Later I found 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 which says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, The Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble witht he comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." In other words, everything I've been through is so I can help other people. That's how my disabilities will bring Glory to Jesus Christ.

Impossibleape said...

God Bless you James. You have givrn us some great stuff here. I hope you continue to share your understanding and your ministry.

your choice of scriptures and the meaning you have taken from them speaks to me as truth and wisdom.

I had a good chuckle at the Benny Hinn moment you shared, about getting out of your chair and jumping around to please the fervent, but ignorant pray warriors.