Disabled God: Disability Ethics Research Paper
The Church by Its Nature Should Be in the Forefront in Showing Positive Attitudes Towards Disability
Published: 2018-05-06 - Updated: 2023-07-19
Author: Rev. S Manohar Pradeep, B.Sc., M.A., M.A., B.D., (M.Th) - Contact: Contact Details
Peer-Reviewed: N/A - Publication Type: Research Paper
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Synopsis: Disability Ethics research paper by Rev. S. Manohar Pradeep from Bangalore India regarding well being of persons with disability for moral theologians and ethicists. There has been an attempt to extend disability theology to disability issues in academia for ethical arguments from the perspective of margins. And one such attempt is healing narratives in the Bible (New Testament). The Church by its nature should be in the forefront in showing positive attitudes towards disability. Unfortunately very few churches are accessible to people with disabilities.
The definition of disability is an interminably enthralling theme to anyone concerned in the study of disability. The collective definition of disability is "physical or mental condition that limits a person's movements, senses, or activities." Bernard Helander delineates 'a person who in his/her society is observed as disabled, because of a difference in appearances and/or behaviour.' In most instances, a person with disability, has functional limitations and/or activity restrictions. This paper pacts with disability theology and ethics from Indian subaltern perspective, engaging to live out our faith in solidarity with the minority communities.
Context of Disability
There has been an attempt to extend disability theology to disability issues in academia for ethical arguments from the perspective of margins. And one such attempt is healing narratives in the Bible (New Testament). The healing narratives in gospels are traditionally interpreted as an act of liberation. The discrimination and marginalisation felt by majority of disabilities in all contexts led to liberation theology and ethics. The construction is based on same scriptures, where Jesus was not only a miracle worker but also a boundary crosser. Jesus' ministry was involved with outcastes of the society, sick and the rejected and at the same time he lived among persons with disability. He struggled for Justice, reconciliation and self-determination of the disabled. Liberation ethics says God provides strength to struggle, grace to realize and Christ as an example of one who struggles for humanness along with the persons with disability.
Disability theology begins with the analytical and ethical audit of body mediated experiences of impairment (physical, intellectual, psychological, and social) which are significant and relatively unsurprising element of human life, and as such are worthy of theological reflection. Simo Vehmas and Pekka Makela argue that disability is not a property of the individual, rather it is a societal construction. Historically disability has been interpreted with traditional dominant interpretations and constructions such as consequence of sin, tragedy, punishment and Karma theories (cause of the evil) in Indian scenario. In this context entire branch of theology had been evolved and that is theodicy. Persons with disability are also created in the image of God, so disability theology calls for a fresh understanding of the image of God. The liberatory theology of disability includes a deliberate recognition of the lived experience of persons with disabilities and of certain aspects of the Church's institutional practices and Christian theology and the proclamation of emancipatory transformation.
Liberatory Movements and Theological Articulations
Nancy L. Eiesland was a professor of theology at Candler School of Theology, speaks out of her own experience with disability and the marginalization of so many others. Her book, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability, examines how churches and other religious charitable institutions still assume that disabled people should adapt to society rather than society accommodating and including them. Nancy, in her book, focused on disability-rights movement to identify people with disabilities as members of a socially disadvantaged and one of the largest minority groups rather than as individuals who need to adjust. She highlighted the hidden history of people with disabilities in Church and society. Announcing the emancipatory presence of the disabled God, the author maintains the vital importance of the relationship between "Christology and social change." Nancy contends that in the Eucharist, Christians encounter the disabled God and may participate in new imaginations of wholeness and new embodiments of justice. Though this book was written in the context of Americans with disabilities, it can be used as theological framework for liberation in any context.
The evolution of the disability rights movement (DRM) in India spans over four epochs. Voices began demanding the rights of people suffering from disabilities in the early 1970s. The 1980s witnessed the consolidation of demands from various groups and their organization under a cross-disability umbrella, representing the interests of the disabled. Many NGOs started operating in the disability sector during this decade and this subsequently provided further momentum to the DRM. After a series of petitions and protests, the government passed the Persons With Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995 (or PWD Act), which reserved three percent of government posts for those in the PWD category. So the year 1995 became a benchmark year for the DRM, which stands for the beginning of a new era altogether, in which people suffering from disability found visibility in educational institutions and government services. These movements in India lead to societal concerns and manifestations of social exclusions but church India continued with charity model, where it looked at the disability as objects but not subjects. Hardly one could see churches observing disability Sundays, upholding the dignity of the persons with disability.
From Societal to Ecclesial Exclusion
The History of the Church' interface with disabled is unfriendly. The Church by its nature should be in the forefront in showing positive attitudes towards disability. Unfortunately very few churches are accessible to people with disabilities. Rather than permitting disabled to participate in all aspects of Church and to celebrate fullness of life along with enabled, it acted as catastrophe to disabled due to dominant Church' traditions. On other hand rather than empowerment the church has more often supported the societal frameworks (NGO's) and attitudes that have treated people with disabilities as objects of pity and paternalism. In all realms church is not allowing disabled in full participation in the life of church. In Indian context, persons with disabilities from margins, exploited, poor and women face much more difficulties and face multi-layered oppression. This intersectionality further diminishes space for persons with disabilities but will provide robust methodology to theologize for their liberatory motifs. The dominant structures with their traditional views see disabled as chastisement, fatalism, consequentialism and tragedy. The world is dynamic in nature and all spheres of social life are changing drastically, so as theological articulations. Liberation theologies are too much focussed on Dalit, Women, Black, Feminism, Tribal, Mingjung, and on Ecology, neglecting disability theology in all realms. So there is a need to rearticulate from the perspective of disabled, and there is a need for full branch in theologising disability from the perspective of margins. Miguel De La Torre, opines that by choosing a location on the margins from which to engage human action in all its spheres such as political, economic, cultural and social gives liberation. This method gives insights on suffering and oppression of people on the margins as well as the associated dehumanization of the dominant culture that destabilizes disability as something that is against God and in need of liberation. This method also uncover and dismantles the system of domination and exploitation that contribute greatly to the suffering of minorities.
Accessible Theological Method
In relation to a theology of disability, the measure of the usefulness of a practical theological method is accessibility. A theological method must provide to way access. Persons with disabilities must gain access to the social symbolic life of the church, and the church must gain access to the social symbolic lives of people with disabilities. The overall idea behind accessing method is for enabling people with disabilities to participate fully in the life of the church. This accessible method allows disabled for full recognition that not all people have enjoyed this comfortable relationships with the church, primarily because the church has refused to address them in ways that affirm their dignity and self-understanding. The symbol of Jesus Christ, the disabled God is both gift and enigma, enabling a two way access through his broken body.
Bodies of Knowledge
Specific stories of people with disabilities are prerequisites for a liberatory theology of disability. The stories often leave the impression that with great personal effort people with disabilities can overcome, physical limitations and the societal barriers. They emphasize personal qualities as determinative of success and failure and ignore discrimination. The narratives of Diane DeVries and Nancy Mairs narrates their experience of painstakingly inhabiting bodies and of disputing with society about their proper social place. In the process they demythologize disability and refuse to acquiesce to society's stigmatization. The alternative knowledge they relate about their bodies and social relations reveals full bodied resistance to the dominant stereotypes of people with disabilities and moves us toward a liberatory theology of disabilities.
Perspectives on Living Disability
Diane and Nancy symbolise two quite different perspectives on living disability. Because of Devries congenital disability, she has never internalized able-bodiedness as the norm to which she should aspire. Thus she was able to see her own body as different but not defective. Devries evaluated her body positively as compact and streamlined her awareness of the differences between her and others did not lead her to conclude that her body was incomplete. Mairs had lived in normal body for twenty five years. She was not born with any congenital disease. She experienced the diminishment of her body, which she described as her body going away. She utilized her disability as a creative resource for articulating her disability. Both Devries and Mairs represents the experience of people with disabilities to the alternative perspectives embodied by people with disabilities. These bodies of knowledge provides a primary source for the development of a liberator of disability. These lived experiences provides an alternative understanding of embodiment and their experiences reveal painstaking processes of putting themselves together using whatever resources available. This alternative understanding of embodiment suggests that embodiment is a social accomplishment achieved through attentiveness.
Indian context is different from any other context, where caste and class plays key role in every aspect of life. It is impossible to understand society without these two facts. Women in India face paramount oppression and marginalisation. The plight of the Indian women continues to be a concern. They are thrice alienated basing on gender, caste and class. Disability intersects in these three spheres and push women further to the boundaries. Disability can be restricted with artificial devices in Global North, but in Global south, economics also play vital role in further disabling bodies. The wounded psyche of the Indian women with disabilities traces their plight rooted in consequence of sin. Christians by faith, have some hope in the future as their God is the disabled God with wounded hands and legs. But in other faiths, the women is seen as perfect goddess according to Hindu scriptures, where perfectness embodied in nook and corner in Indian society. So, any kind of disability in women is seen as abomination in society and other ritualistic practices, resulting in total exclusion.
The Body Politics
For persons with disabilities, the body is the center of political struggle. In challenging society's stigmatization, disabilities initiated social movements that stressed positive self-image and self-help. Disabled people highlighted their body politics as church and society refused to allow their bodies to be warehoused in institutions, restricted from public buildings and discriminated against all spheres of human life. But people with disabilities able to define their experiences in society and their orientations is most clearly epitomized in the minority group model of social analysis. Toward a liberatory theology, this minority group model provides a theoretical lens for understanding how such factors as negative stereo types, prejudice, and discrimination affect the lives of persons with disabilities. This understanding gives positive framework for the abled to think and act from the perspective of disabled.
It starts with bible and theological expositions. In Christian theological articulations and traditional interpretations, there is a need to re-evaluate, revisit and reread scriptures from disabled perspectives. Texts of terror in the bible and their views are dominant from traditional and cultural point of view. In Christian tradition sin opens up space for grace and inclusion. In disabling this dominant traditional theology and to make disabilities to struggle for full bodied participation in Gods community we need liberatory theology and new hermeneutical keys.
In Christian traditional view, disabilities always denotes unusual relationships with God and with the community. In Hebrew Scriptures moral impurity and physical disability is a common theme (Leviticus 21:17-23). This text speaks ineligibility to serve before God. New Testament also draws same parallel link between sin and disability (Luke 5:18-26). From NT point of view the relationship between sin and impairment is both supported and contradicted by Jesus. Another view of Biblical translation is virtual suffering "Thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor 12:7-10) by as orated by St. Paul. The themes in the bible demonstrates the theological obstacles encountered by people with disabilities who seek inclusion and justice within the Christian community. It cannot be denied that the biblical record and Christian theology have often been dangerous for persons with disabilities. The interpretations of biblical passages and Christian theologies continue to reinforce negative stereotypes support social and environmental segregation and mask the lived realities of people with disabilities. For the Christian church to stop doing harm and energize their efforts to be a body of justice, critical and careful attention must be given to a theology of disability as an established feature of the systematic theological enterprise. A theology of disability must be made a visible, integral and ordinary part of the Christian life. As long as disability is addressed in terms of the themes of sin- disability or traditional disability modes it will be seen primarily as a fate to be avoided a tragedy to be explained or a cause to be championed rather than an ordinary life to be lived. The Disabled God
The foundation of Christian theology is the resurrection of Jesus Christ where Jesus broke the silence of the rabbinic traditions and himself posed as the Messiah by fulfilling the prophecies. Yet seldom is the resurrected Christ recognized as a deity whose hands, feet and side bear the marks of profound physical impairment. Nancy made an icebreaking theology by interpreting Jesus as disabled God, the In other words, "the resurrected Christ of Christian tradition is a disabled God." Nancy, suggests that the resurrected Christ represents "a human-God, who not only knows injustice and experiences the possibility of human life, but also reconceives perfection as unself-pitying, painstaking survival." The image of disabled God is an image for liberation for disability point of view. This is the crux of the disability theology which further laid path to disability ethics. This theology of liberation emerged from the context of common labour for justice and corporate reflection on symbol. It is just a beginning and an invitation to emancipatory transformation for both people with disabilities and others who care. Liberatory theology of disability is the work of the bodily figuration of knowledge.
In exploring the relationship between physical embodiment and religious symbols, two fundamental insights must be acknowledged. All human beings are embodied. People with disabilities have struggled that embodiment includes physical ability as well. By focussing on the physical status of individuals people with disabilities have questioned the use of 'normal' bodies as the basis for scholarly study of religion or practice of religious rituals. Second, religious symbols point individuals beyond their ordinary lives. Religious symbols not only prescribe or reproduce social status but they also transform it. The power of symbols and myths is in the motive force. Symbols create normative standards for human interaction. Here Nancy was talking about symbols that are empowering which are vital for any marginalised group. She argues that the symbols are crucial for emancipatory transformation to disability. The importance of visibility in the stigmatization of people with disabilities and discourse about disability suggests that a liberatory theology of disability must create new images of wholeness as well as new discourses. A reconception of the symbol of Jesus Christ as disabled God, is developed here as a contextualized Christology. It is contextualized in that the disabled God emerges in the particular context in which people with disabilities and others who care find themselves as they try to live out their faith and to fulfil their calling to live ordinary lives of worth and dignity. Christian theology is rooted in the incarnation of God and resurrection of the God. Christian theology seeks Jesus bleeding on the cross rather than laughing Jesus. Resurrection gives hope to the hopeless portraying that there is life after death. Hope theologians like Jorgen Moltmann, opines that hope is not of other world, but it should manifest in the midst of brokenness. For example: Rich man and Lazar story delineates that there will be peace only after death (Luke 16:19-31). Moral theologians and ethicists, should bring hope as hope promises transformation of structures.
Theological Implications of the Disabled God
The Symbol of Jesus Christ, the disabled God has transformative power. This revelation of God disorders the social symbolic order and God appears in the most unexpected bodies. The disabled God does not engage in a battle for dominance or create a new normative power, but God is present in social symbolic order at the margins with disabilities that instigates transformation from the decentred position. The resurrected Jesus Christ in presenting impaired hands and feet alters the taboo of physical avoidance of disability and calls for followers to recognize their connection and equality at the point of Christ's physical impairment. Thus the Church which depends for its existence on the disabled God, must live out liberating action in the world. The church finds its identity as the body of Christ only by being a community of faith and witness a coalition of struggle and justice and a fellowship of hope. This theology and it mission necessitates that people with disabilities be included into all realms of life.
Persons with Disabilities in India
Samuel George expresses his living experience from Indian context. He was marginalised both from church and society. Church used to ask him, to have faith for his healing from Polio. So, no faith, no healing. Since there was no healing, there was a shift in people's attitudes, now thorn in the flesh replaced faith. People advised virtuous suffering God has given you. So you have to bear. Society and church stepped back in giving life partner. This kind of marginalisation touches on various aspects of disability such as religio- cultural, soico-political, emotional, spiritual and theological. According to 2001 census 2.19 crore persons are with disability. Disabilities are segregated physically, psychologically and socially. Enabled often maintain distance and presence of disabled is uncomfortable. People from dominant communities try their best to restrict the opportunities of the handicapped. Their economic security is often threatened by the frequent refusals of work opportunities in many areas of employment. This segregation and non-acceptance in society further cripples the status of disability.
In Indian scenario medical rehabilitation has now been replaced by an emphasis on social rehabilitation. There has been an increasing recognition of abilities of persons with disabilities and emphasis on mainstreaming them in the society based on their capabilities. It is noted that the social attitudes of the enabled are known to affect the social integration of disabled people. Will of God and Karma theories are much prevalent in pluralistic context of India. The dominant religious ideologies lay their understanding of disabilities as misdeeds in his/her previous life. This is the condition of the disabled in India avoided by the society and sanctioned by the religion. The need of the hour is social integration of the disabled into the mainstream of the society. Though Acts related to disability in India is present, the severity of the problem is so high that there is much to be done for the transformation of disabled. Theological Responsibility
Humanity is created in God's image. Disabled from their lived experience, opines that disability is to see it as one among many ways to live. In this understanding notion of being 'normal' could be viewed as oppressive. In his understanding persons with disabilities may be understood as one minority group among many minority groups. This notion challenges the traditional theological interpretation of disability. Even in ecclesial context also there has been a change in the attitude. Disabilities are not objects of pity and charity but equal partners in the mission of God in the realization of the kingdom of God. In the light of the New Testament, persons with disabilities point of great weakness can ultimately become their great strength. Such is the journey and mystery of the cross. Churches in India have to take a pro-disability stand. Church has to shift from advocacy to more pragmatic and practical stand. She has to create a barrier free environment for the social, theological and spiritual integration of the disabled.
Analyses from Old Testament and New Testament
Jewish people look at the five books of the Old Testament to give answers to all life concerns. When we look at the Old Testament it portrays disability in different ways as per the different context mentioned. Some holds it as a mark of impurity or a mark that disqualifies one from the temple service (Leviticus 21:18-21). 2 Samuel 5:9 also talks about prohibitions of the blind and the lame into the house of the Lord. Some portrayed blind people as groping (Isaiah 59:10, Deuteronomy 28:29), other point out that God can cause people to be blind (Exodus 4:11), other suggest that God punishes sinners by blinding them or their animals (Zephaniah 1:17; Zachariah 12:4). While some portion in Old Testament talks about the compassionate of God towards disabilities (Isaiah 35:5; 42:7; 42:16; 42:18-19). Compassionate towards blind person and other disabilities is also expected to upright believer (Leviticus 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:18).
New Testament is emphasis mostly by dominant Christian because of Jesus teaching and promises, thought it have some similar understanding regarding blindness yet, it also introduces some different ideas. In Jesus' ministry Jesus heal a good number of blind people (Matthew 9:27-28, 12:22, 15:30-31, 20:30 and 21:14, Mark 10:46-52; 10:52). In John 9 Jesus affirmed the blind man that it is not his sinned or his parents' sin that he is blind, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him? Luke 14:14 mention blind people's economic status and suggest investing them to a feast because they cannot repay you.
Constructing Theology for Disability
Hendriks-R denotes that the attitude of people towards disabilities is greatly influenced by the cultural pattern that pervades our societies since time immemorial which Hendrik-R calls it as 'the paradigm of the straight'. The able bodies are considered straight and normal those who don't come under this category are marginalized in the society. The able bodied makes the social morns and regulations for our societies, as they were consider better, stronger and superior than those who are physically and mentally challenged, they are the one who govern, make decision on other's behalf especially for disabilities. The voice of disabilities are unheard, their experience, aspiration or needs are seldom counted in decision making process. The theological communities are called to address this injustice issues and offer an alternative culture, a paradigm which favours, love, accept every group of people. Our theological thinking has its influenced from the church, which mostly has no liberative message, disable people are condemned as sinful, those who deserved to be looked down and marginalized. In this light, John 9:1-12 offer a different eyes to look at disable which is liberating and reoriented of theological understanding towards disable people; it demands justice for people who are marginalized for who they are. Jesus was calling his disciples then and now, including the churches and theological communities of today to start reconstructing a more equal, and disable loving society and church for all, a space for disabilities to grow among the communities. In the Old Testament, theological language are being used to identify God's power manifesting towards dominant group which needs reinterpretation, because it doesn't tally with the experience of people with disabilities. The power used inside the churches and societies has often marginalized, even excluded the disable bodied persons, in such society and church there is need for of an alternative theology. Jesus suffering in the cross, in a manner in which he manifested his power is a new and liberating way, by such act Jesus challenged the abusive power and offered new liberating way and also shows his disciples in particular and the world in general that power we received from God is not meant to be misused for dominating purpose, rather for the service and empowerment for all people. Theological term such as King, Mighty and powerful God needs reinterpretation for this purpose. We need to rediscover the relevant ones and make use of them in constructing a more relevant theology relating the disability.
To construct a theological reflection for disabilities one need to pick up a suitable methodology. All theologies are contextual; there are no fixed truths and propositions. Theology is faith articulated from a context, our experience influences our theological thinking, so the experience of the disable like the experience of the women or Dalits, Tribals should generate a theology of a new genre. Abraham is of the view that the community to whom it addressed should be the first act of our theology, theological reflection is only a second act. So disable theology should start from a struggling community of the disabled; their struggle for the right to exist, for equality and against all cultural and prejudices and stigma, without this community our theology is only a construct in concept. Contextualization is an authentic process of perceiving how God present with people with disabilities and unmasking the ways in which theological inquiry has further instituted able-bodied experience as the theological norm. In disable theology Jesus Christ can be seen metaphorically as 'Disable God', because Jesus Christ is that of disabled God. While Jesus was presenting his impaired hands and feet to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disable God and this challenged not only the stereotyped stigmatization of the disable person, but it is an empowering and liberating way of doing theology. It is liberating as it clearly recognized the limits of the bodies and an acceptance of the limits as the truth of being human.
The Issue of Perfection
Perfection is human construct, which is stigmatizing and oppressive to many who doesn't come under the constructed norm of perfection. K.C Abraham pointed out the problems related with the so called perfect body. He says that the ideas of perfection and beauty are passed down by our culture which is already imprinted in out psyche and sanctioned tend to preclude any form of disability. There is no 'beauty' in the disabled. Perfection is measured by physical and mental endowments that are rarely found in the experiences of the disabled. So any form of disability makes a person less than human. When God created the world God said, 'good' and not 'perfect.' Cowan opined that good means something that 'suits my purpose'; perfection is determined by people's values. So the perception differs from one another, physical perfection may differ radically from one another, the value one hold should not be used to devalue the other physical difference. The society has contracted norm, structure to judge beauty and perfection. Such structure is bias, the 1960's slogan- 'Black is beautiful' for self-affirmation challenged such norm and structure. The child born with physical and mental disabilities is not born handicapped, simple disabled, but the society and people around him/her teach them that s/he is handicapped.
The life of Disability brings certain challenges to our understanding of human nature. Our theology is anthropocentric, discussion on imago dei try to explain human uniqueness, which has its influenced from the western philosophical tradition, both Greek as well as enlightenment philosophy. Such ideas distinguishes human from other creatures as well as disabled who have no linguistic ability. When we look at creation account in Genesis, God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image according to our likeness.... So God created humankinds in God's image, God created them, male and female, he created them' (Genesis 1:26-27). The image of God has been interpreted differently throughout Christian doctrines and theology, and those doctrines don't take into account the experience of disability, particularly person born with impairments. Cowan opined that, 'the liberatory theology of disability must insist that the only condition for the presence of the image of God must be human life itself. Where there is human life, there too is the image of God, though it may be yet to be repealed and comprehended.' The liberating theology of disability will be the view which sees the symbol 'image of God' as reflecting and being reflected in human life in relationship. A relationship where human being are meant to live in harmonious community, where there is quality relationship, reflecting the nature of the Triune God which is mutuality and love. Human relationship of exploitations, self-defeating attachments failed to reflect the true relationship of God. Imago dei, thus should have self-transcending life in relationship with others, with the wholly others we called God, and with all those different others who need our help and whose help we also need in order to be what God intends us to be.
The Concept of Sin
A biblical insight that has influenced our theology is the affirmation that human nature is sinful. Some have interpreted as hubris to understand the nature of sin, some interpreted it as 'missing the mark'. How does Christian understanding of sin affects the life of the disabilities is a crucial question. A dominant Christian understanding is of the view that disabilities are the consequences of sin. Majority of Christian still believe and condemned it as sin and the work of demons, a curse to family and punishment from God. This wrong understanding has cause exclusion of people with disabilities from active involvement in spiritual, social and developing life of the church. Sin here becomes the disruption of relationship. Eiesland comes up with two concepts to provide discussion on the specific violence committed to the disabled. First, the concept of 'stigma' and second the 'minority-group model'. To which she says that stigma are social constructed relationship. History shows that stigma was imposed on individuals in the form of physical marking or branding to disgrace them. And in modern society stigma arises through social processes of communication whereby individuals are marked or isolated because of a quality they possess or because of something discrediting known about them. Stigma is based on interpersonal relationship rather than a psychological reaction to events. The minority-group model is articulated by psychological. This model arises due to the negative attitudes shown by that majority who are physically able, similar to the problem faced by the racial and religious unprivileged minority people. The solution for this problem is by creating an environment that respect everyone including the unprivileged.
Jesus and Disability
Jesus challenges the way in which society discriminate and condemned the disabilities. Jesus love for disabled people can be seen in various biblical texts. Jesus ministry involve healing, he went around restoring people to health. John 5: 1-15, the man who lay by the pool of Bethesda waited for 38 years before Jesus made him walk again. And also in John 9:1-6 the man waited all his life to see and Jesus made it possible. Jesus confronted the religious language of his time, culture and used blindness as a symbol for the spiritual inability to 'see' his identity as the Messiah (John 9:39; Isaiah 42:16-19), Jesus also declares that the purpose of his coming to earth is to let 'those who do not see may see', which literally means those whose physical eyes are not functional, Jesus came to cure them. Jesus never makes connection between disabilities and sin, when the leper cried out to Jesus, he cried out for healing and not for forgiving his sin. He didn't consider himself as a sinner (Matthew 8:14). Two blind men asked Jesus for sight, but not forgiveness for their sin (Matthew 9:27-31). Jesus rather attacked those who made the disables person as sinners, by accepting them, healing them, protecting them, caring them. Jesus broke the barrier of separation between the disabled and able in all walks of life. Jesus also gave himself so that all people will live. Jesus death can be seen from three interlocking perspective. First, his own intention, Jesus is love, came from God to the world, voluntarily and sacrificially die to take away the sins of the world and to give eternal life to all. Second, because of his self-identification with God, he was plotted to death. Third, the healing miracles of Jesus triggered this conspiracy to kill Jesus. In the healing of the paralysis, Jesus already knew his life was in danger; still he carried out the task of healing. He healed the blind and raise Lazarus to life. Jesus voluntary and loving God revealing acts of restoring physical life to people with disability and to a dead person ended up sacrificing his own life. Thus, Jesus the life-giver, suffers for people with disability.
Responsibility of the Church - The Church as Herald
The Church as Herald Proclaims the Good News of salvation, commissioned to advocate and act as mouthpiece that through her the world in darkness might be illumined. In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus Proclaim about the light of the world. And this light includes everyone, the lowly, and the needy as well. If the commandment is to fulfil the great commission to person we know in Mark 16:15, then we cannot overlook this segment of society. This proclamation brings hope, joy and liberation not only to few selected but also to those marginalized in the society.
The Church as a Servant
The church as a Herald is also willing to serve. As a servant the church is not only a messenger but a worker, an agent to bring God's healing in the world. The church becomes the salt of the earth, integrating with the world and reconciling differences. God strength is made perfect in our weaknesses (1 Cor. 12:9). God expects the Church not only to be compassionate people but to be people of power, and to empower others those who are in need. The attitude of the Church towards disabilities is that the disability in a person is not just but part of who the person is, for that particular person has a unique gifts and church should help to become productive member of the family, church, community and society.
Church Advocacy for Change and Empowerment
The Church should follow the example of Christ the Good shepherd who seeks out to people who have disabilities and together determined their needs. By doing so the church is able to use their fullest potential according to what they can truly function. The church of advocacy is expected to lead. Churches involve in advocacy services should be committed to the goals and program. Church puts their hand in the wound of those who are hurting. By taking part in advocacy, churches become the witness, advocates and catalysts for change and empowerment. Advocacy awareness also provides opportunity for the church to widen their understanding about disabilities; help to recognize their gifts, the church becomes more welcoming community. When the church acts as an advocacy, the church is 'building community', because the church shares the care and strives to help 'neighbour in need.'
Some Ethical Concerns
The disabled are denied their basic human rights and they are excluded from society. Justice is always understood as balancing the rights of different groups, prophets brings to our awareness the concept of compassionate love as integral to justice. The test of justice is how society treats the most vulnerable sections, where they are not asking for charity but demand in their own way, justice and participation.
Justice is possible only when there is participatory structure for the weak. In the area of education, health, housing and other basic areas of life, the state and community should include structure which support disable people to participate fully in the life of society. The state and community should take responsibility in providing such structure.
Power is a category that shapes our ethics. There are two contrasting images given in New Testament: Demon and Servant. Jesus in Mark 6:7-13 gives his disciple a commission to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the sick and to cast out demons. The command to cast out demons is problematic to us. When we look at the account where Jesus cast out demons, we see demons possessing uncontrollable power; they go destroying themselves, others and the environment. Abraham says that demons are with us, especially when we use self-oriented power. When power is used to abuse or gain control others and nature, which can end up as destructive force. Power should rather be used to heal, to build up the other.
Due to our belief or negligence and attitudes towards people with disabilities, they are often been ignored and suppressed throughout their whole life. Discrimination, denial, exclusion at homes, churches, and society is also rooted in the wrong understanding of God's creation which perpetuates people to treat them as impure, sinner and imperfect. The whole bible itself comes from able point of views. Our church and society is dominated by the able bodied people, our decision lies at the power of dominant people who are able. Various attempts have been made to realize the diversity of God's creation, to construct theology from disability point of view, to make our church disable people friendly, there is a need for all to partake in this journey to make the world a better place for all people irrespective of the difference we have.
"For many disabled people the church has been a city on a hill: physically inaccessible and socially inhospitable." - Nancy L Eiesland.
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Cite This Page (APA): Rev. S Manohar Pradeep, B.Sc., M.A., M.A., B.D., (M.Th). (2018, May 6). Disabled God: Disability Ethics Research Paper. Disabled World. Retrieved September 26, 2023 from www.disabled-world.com/news/asia/india/imago-dei.php
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