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

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Some musings about a Christian model of disability

Using the social model of disability we look to the effect or the impact that the environment has on individuals. It is arguable that the environment has never been fully accepting of people who are atypical. So the change that is being advocated is not a change back to a better day but a change to a new day. So to change the environment under a social model of disability is to create something entirely new. What we are about is softening environments that people with disabilities find themselves in. What we are about is changing environments so that they do not reflect negative societal attitudes or negative historical practices towards people who have disabilities, as well as limited physical notions of what it means to be a human being.
A Christian model would be a combination of the social model and something else. The social model component of the Christian model of disability would be that the environment would change such that people with disabilities might experience of what might be called social healing. Social healing is not a change in an individual in the way one would typically think when one thinks of healing and an individual with disability. Rather, social healing implies a healing of a sick environment such that it changes in its interactions with people with disabilities. The end result is that although those with disabilities have not changed they feel as if they've changed only because the environment is different. In some ways, social healing is a permutation of the social model of disability.
In a Christian model we are not only attempting to change the social environment, we are also attempting to change the way that individuals with disabilities see themselves. A Christian model would take the traditional biblical notions of human beings and just ensure that they are applied to people who have a difference known as disability.
In summary, however, a Christian model of disability should do several things.
First, in many ways the Christian model would adopt many aspects of the social model of disability in terms of saying that much of the difficulties faced by people with disabilities are not due problems that they have within themselves as much as they are due to the way in which society, the way in which the social environment interacts with them. The second aspect of a Christian model is to understand who people are who have differences called disabilities in relation to those who are more typical. A Christian model would also rely heavily on the sovereignty of God which is a difficult thing to do. To rely heavily on the sovereignty of God is to accept oneself as one is. This acceptance of one's self is not some syrupy, paternalistic pablum. Rather it is fully loaded, with God at the center telling all people they are a reflection of who He is and how He can be seen in the way he has made them. The Christian model therefore is not saying something or creating something new in the way that people with disabilities are understood. It is merely (but powerfully) awakening all to who people with disabilities are from a biblical perspective.
A third aspect of a Christian model of disability is to understand who God is. God is in charge. God is sovereign. Things will happen in our lives which will bring us joy. Things will happen in our lives which will cause sadness and discomfort. The Christian model would accept that these things come from the hand of a loving and just God and are a part of his plan not only for individuals but also for society. This is a critical aspect of understanding the Christian model of disability because this implies that there are purposes behind the things that occur in the lives of human beings. The notion of a sovereign God who is all-powerful coupled with the experience of disability in the world can largely lead to several potential outcomes. One is that God is in control, however, our sinful condition causes things to happen in the world that God would not necessarily desire, but that he definitely did set in motion in response to human sin. A second idea is that God directly causes disability in the lives of human beings in order to accomplish his purposes. These two options both implicate God as being behind disability. Now if God is behind disability then somehow it is a part of understanding his plan for human beings. This is an important understanding because disability would then imply purpose, it implies a lack of randomness, and it implies value in disability. If God is behind the cause of disability or if God is the cause of disability it implies that there is a purpose of disability that accomplishes something that he wants to accomplish. So therefore from a Christian perspective not only does the environment need to change, not only do biblical principles related the human beings need to be applied to those with disabilities, but we must also understand that there are purposes behind the things we see occurring in the lives of people in the world. This is a very difficult notion to swallow, to understand, to accept because of the suffering that we see in the world. It is only through faith that we can come to trust God in the midst of the difficulties that we see in the world. So a critical third aspect of the Christian model of disability is to understand who God Is, understand who God is in relation to man, understand the sovereignty of God and then put these things together in a way that leads us to faith and acceptance of God's purposes in our life.
The experience of disability significantly includes problems in each of these three areas. Society does not want to change. Society wants to continue in the way that it is currently functioning. Therefore one problem of disability relates to the social consequences of disability.
Human beings who have disabilities are either taught or come to believe that they have less value that they have some negative characteristic and as a result see themselves negatively, see themselves as not as valuable which is a second aspect of problems revolving around disability.
And thirdly people with and without disabilities do not believe God do not trust God do not understand God to any extent and therefore the purpose of differences in the lives of human beings is not understood. This is the third aspect of disability that is problematic.
A Christian model therefore would say the environment (the society) needs to change, the individual needs to change in their understanding of themselves from a biblical perspective, and understandings of God and who God is in reference to the experience of human beings need to change. A combination of these three changes, in society, in individual self perception and in understanding God will result in more positive outcomes are people with disabilities as they become more integrated into the larger society. If any of these areas are not developed we will continue to see the problems that we see. If your society continues on with its negative perceptions then the experience individuals with disabilities will continue to reflect the negative social consequences of disability. If individuals with disabilities don't see themselves in the way that the Bible would portray them then they may come to understand themselves as being of limited value of having no purpose as mistakes or defects or variety of other negative understandings of themselves. Finally if the individual with disability does not understand who they are in relation to God and who God is and they potentially see their life experience as random and having no meaning.
But with an understanding of who God is, there is the potential that they see their experience more as a part of a larger plan that comes from the hand of God potentially giving meaning to their lives and their life experience.


Sue Giffin said...

In response to the first point of the Christian model: society is often plaqued by ignorance, pride, and selfishness. The means to help overcome this is through education and exposure. Fear is fed through ignorance - fear of what to expect; can I catch this; and are they dangerous. The stigma is perpetuated through stereotypes in the media and films. Education and inclusion will help alleviate this.

In response to the second point of understanding: It is important to remember that God does not make mistakes, and that each individual is carefully and wonderfully created to be a unique individual. God's word says, "...before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. before you were born I sanctified you..." Psalms 139:13-16. Jesus(our our one true example)did not turn anyone away;instead He took them by the hand, healed them, and allowed them to join Him. How can we as a body of Christ not include these precious ones?
In response to the third point: Understanding who God is-God is creator, Messiah, Master of all, and King of Kings -there are not enough words to describe His excellent greatness. "For there is no distinctionbetween Jew and Greek; for the Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be save" (Romans 10:12-13).

Whwn one looks at the church through this perspective one would ask - What is disability? I know that it will take time, and it will probably never be perfect, but through reliance on God, prayer, and education maybe we can start to make a change.

Blaine Clyde said...

I long for the day when we see a Christian model of disability in place. Let it start first with us. If we can personally embrace the Christian model, then we can begin to share it with our local churches. I really believe it takes each one of us being willing to speak up and speak out the truth. We need to be willing to be the voice for the voiceless. Let us be the ones who help our local churches not only understand the Christian model of disability, let us be the ones showing the local church.

I have seen my own church slowly become a more welcoming community for all people, which includes people with disabilities. This did not happen over night. It has been a slow process of speaking out, sharing, inviting my friends with disabilities to church, and inviting friends from church to come hang out with my friends and I. These opportunities to experience life together has given the church a chance to see and understand the world of disabilities. The more opportunities that we have to do life together with our friends with disabilities, the more chances we have of beginning to embrace a Christian model of disability.

Sarah Slayman said...

Jeff, I have often talked to you about the aspect of healing. Mostly because I hear people say, "they" just need a healing, or I believe in healing. Even if healing is the ultimate answer, what about how we respond to those with disabilities in the meantime? The answer - social healing. We need to heal our selfish pride and change our perceptions. In the Christian model, you mention how people with disabilities see themselves from a biblical perspective. I never thought of that. This is an aspect that I will begin to ponder and incorporate into my classroom and philosophy.
My experience is that through continued education, we may begin to see a healing and change perspectives on what healing can mean. Sarah

Heather W. said...

In her book Same Lake Different Boat, Stephanie Hubach reviews perspectives of disability. She indicates that historically disability has been seen as an abnormal part of life in a normal world (medical /moral model). This view was held until the enlightenment of postmodern thought realized that disability is actually a normal part of life in a normal world (social model). Then she calls the reader to look at disability through the lens of scripture and makes the argument that disability is actually a normal part of life in an abnormal world.
I think that is the Christian model of disability. At creation the world was as God intended it, normal. But through the fall the world became outside of God’s original intent, thus becoming abnormal. In every human experience there is a mixture of both the blessedness of creation and the brokenness of the fall. “Due to God’s common grace, no one exists in the extreme of complete brokenness. Due to the fall, no one enjoys the extreme of complete blessing. We all experience some mixture of the two in every aspect of our humanity (Hubach, 29).” Disability is just one degree of our common (normal) brokenness (abnormality).

George said...

I absolutely love the emphasis you have put on God in this model of disability. I think a successful Christian model on disability needs to always come back to God, who he is, what he does, and why he does it. I believe that if we are going to move towards an all-inclusive church, pastors also need to take a refresher course on the characteristics of God. If pastors were to truly understand God and his sovereignty then I honestly think everyone else would fall into place. How can we ignore the fact that people with disabilities are not only created in the image of the Almighty but that they are also created in that image for a specific purpose that God had destined for that individual. If a pastor were to understand that concept then you would think that they would be bending over backwards to allow that individual with disabilities as many opportunities as possible to worship with the church because they were put in that situation for a specific purpose.

Sarah Marie said...

After reading this post the implication of what it means to be a Christian was the driving force that really hit me. As a Christ follower myself and having grown up in the church it has become easily acceptable to be a "Christian" but not really live like one.

This past weekend my pastor was going over how some of us live two different lives that church life and then the social life. We act like we are caring and compassionate but the second we leave the church our character changes and the "road rage" kicks in.

This brings about the importance of combining both worlds so that you can truly be a follower in and out of church. I too long for the day when the role of the Christian Model is actually lived by and not just talked or preached about.

My feelings on disabilities is that everyone has one. I know that everyone has different perceptions and takes on this statement. But aren't we disabled by our own lust and sinful nature. In the Bible, it says that God will use your weakness to show his strength. This means that he uses those "disabilities" to show he who is. His love, strength to conquer set backs and courage to step out of the ordinary.

Anonymous said...

The veracity of this passage just has my thoughts about the Christian model just going through my mind. One can go about life thinking, oh we go to church we pay tithe we are “good” people, but really are we modeling our life of Christianity of our convenience or to Christ? The interaction and invitation to fellowship we have to share with our brothers and sisters in Christ is so important. Are we really doing his will? There has been lesser value placed on individuals who are disabled. Overlooking the importance it is for all of us collectively include and never exclude everyone into partaking in an authentic and genuine Christian experience.
In the first model, touching on societal brutality of how disable patrons are perceived. The fear of the unknown and lack of desire to educate and accommodate is pitiful. We as Christians have to really flex our love to the ones who in society forgets about. In the second model, God shows us purpose and that he does not want us to throw pity and rearrange. He didn’t do anything by mistake; therefore having disabilities does not devalue oneself. In the third model was basically like, God is God and he is the creator. He loves us and he wants us to acknowledge him and not to be troubled because he is our comforter, we have no need to question him.
Fantastic passage! Awesome read!