Wednesday, October 29, 2008
The gospels have many accounts of people with various infirmities or disabilities coming to Jesus and receiving healing. This is actually an evidence of him being who he claimed to be. Does this type of healing continue to occur today? I am sure it does, and I am not talking about the high profile evangelists making a lot of money from supposedly healing people. To its detriment, the church has at times approached people with various disabilities with only a "ministry" of healing. I have also know people who will never go to a church again because of the church's overemphasis on their need for healing, and the church's linking healing with the disabled person's faith or lack thereof. I have discussed this elsewhere in this blog, but I will only say that if your perspective on disability is that the only answer, the only truly Christian response to disability is healing, then you need to meet a man named Paul who wrote a lot of the Bible, who apparently had a disability and although he asked God for healing was definitely not healed.
But I think there is a great ministry of "healing" that the church can play in the lives of every person who experiences a disability and also a healing in the lives of families of persons with disabilities.
Dr. Hans Reinders in his excellent book, The Future of the Disabled in Liberal Society, talks about the manner in which society addresses down's syndrome. Basically he discusses the fact that typically, the suffering experienced by a person with down's syndrome is not the result of the syndrome, it is the result of society's treatment of the person who has the syndrome. He goes on to indicate that we address a sociological issue with a medical procedure. That is, I experience discrimination because of my disability, so society's solution is to kill me (through abortion) not to address society's wrong attitudes about me or my disability. This, however, is the place where the church can have a particular impactful healing ministry.
If I am experiencing suffering because of the social consequences of my disability, then the church through its efforts can "cure" me of that suffering through what they do. I will still have my disability, however, there is the potential that I will feel much less of the social sting of my disability should the church step up and be what the church was intended to be to me.
So the church first of all comes to me and invites me in.
The church then welcomes me and is glad that I am there.
The church gives me opportunities to have responsibilities as that empowers me as a member of the church.
The church talks about people like me, people who face the issues I face, from the pulpit, particularly issues related to my disability in order to help me and those around me.
The church embraces me as a regular member, including me in all the social activities of the church.
The church socially softens to overlook many of the socially impacting aspects of my disability such as social skills, other behaviors over which I may not have control.
This overlooking is not an uncomfortable, don't know what to do kind of overlooking. This reminds me of times where I have seen people with severe intellectual disabilities doing ridiculous things in church like literally pouring the entire sugar bowl into their coffee cup. As they did so, those in the environment looked on helplessly. Whereas if someone they knew, or one of their children for that matter did such a thing they would correct them. Correct them, not reject them. I have a friend who due to a hearing impairment, speaks in a very loud voice during the sermon at church. If the person wants to say something to me, like "Can you help me get to the bathroom?" it is going to be said in a loud voice. I could try as hard as I wanted to get the person to not speak in a loud voice but it will never happen. So I as part of the environment soften, the person doesn't feel condemned, and social healing occurs. In every way possible, I as a disabled person, am a regular member of the church, the social network of the church, the religious training of the church. The church interacts with me in a manner that understands that my disability will impact my life, but they first see me for me. Together we work through the challenges and inconveniences that my disability presents.
I believe the end result of such a relationship with a church is healing. It is the healing of the social issues which are typically many of the biggest issues I may face as a result of having a disability. I may or may not be healed physically, however, many of my social interactions are in fact healed.