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Disability and Religion

Disability and Religion

Disability in the eyes of Religion

Christian traditions consider disability as simply a punishment for sin, a test of faith, or a potential miraculous healing power and inspiration. However, according to the Bible, God is proactively on the side of the poor and the oppressed. For example, Jesus lived among people with disabilities like the blind and deaf as well as the mentally ill, and those who were typically considered unwelcome. Jesus served them and humbled himself toward them, which made him greater in the eyes of God. Thus, there is nothing naturally wrong with a person who experiences a disability. Society’s narrow view about disability is attributed to people’s unexamined assumptions that influence their ability to engage with people with disabilities more fully. For example, stereotypical portrayals of individuals using wheelchairs or those with developmental impairments make them ignore the diversity of disability. Whether it is visible or invisible, everybody has a form of a scar or a limp.  Thus, this diversity and uniqueness does not qualify anyone to be less human. Society often forgets that individuals with a disability have other identity characteristics, like gender, ethnicity, and political views. Thus, disabled people should not be viewed as abnormal.

Disability is a normal aspect of human experience, something that all people experience at some point in their lives. Disability theology introduces a significant shift in religious engagement with disability through Eiesland’s theology of disability of the Disabled God. This perspective offers an alternative to conventional images of God and opposes the belief that disability is in any way a result of sin. Referring to the story about Jesus and the resurrection, it is evident that disabled people should not be excluded from worship or leadership. This is because Jesus’ scars did not make him ineligible for continued leadership. By virtue of disabled people’s complicated bodies and experiences with social injustice, Eiesland argues that they are endowed with epistemological privilege that allows them to understand things about themselves, God, and life that non‐disabled people may never experience. Rather than seeing physical impairment as a problem that needs fixing, this perspective shows that exclusion, intolerance, and injustice, as well as people and structures, are the main factors that perpetuate social inequality against disabled people.

Eiesland’s theology of disability demonstrates that God is for or on the side of people with disabilities. And perhaps Christians need to attend to issues of injustice and exclusion and send a clear message about the intrinsic values of disabled people, such as they are not a problem but rather part of the goodness of creation of God. Eiesland’s view that God (the one who is intimately powerful and all-knowing) even experiences disability is an essential call for change on ways society handles disability issues. This theology is founded on constructive ideas embodied in the limits and social models and deconstructs the impairments of the medical and moral models.

 Discussion Questions

  1. In your opinion, do all people experience some level of physical impairment themselves? Explain
  2. According to the article, “the most astonishing fact is, of course, that Christians do not have an able‐bodied God as their primal image. Rather, the Disabled God promising grace through a broken body is the center of piety, prayer, practice, and mission.” Do you think this true? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think the church has done enough to handle the issue of disability and in what ways should the church fight forms of injustice encountered by people with disabilities?

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