As persons with varying abilities and disabilities, we both give and receive as partners in God’s work of ministry. While we are working toward the goal of inclusive communities of faith, let us take care not to slip into patronizing attitudes toward others we consider disabled. We are all people created in God’s image; God has graced each one of us with gifts for sharing within the body of Christ.
A few years ago, World Council of Churches invited a group of persons with disabilities to reflect together on biblical and theological understandings of disability among God’s people. The group’s resulting “interim statement,” A Church of All and for All has enduring meaning and provides much food for thought for those of us engaged in building inclusive communities. I invite you to savor the excerpts below. I hope these whet your appetite for reading the entire document (see the link below).
—Christine Guth, ADNet Associate
Every human being is a gift
“Every human being is innately gifted and has something to offer that others need. This may be simply one’s presence, one’s capacity to respond to attention, to exhibit some sign of appreciation, and love for other people. Each has something unique to contribute (1 Cor 12:12-27) and should thus be considered as a gift. We cannot speak about this "giftedness" without also speaking about each person's limitations. They are the basis of our need of each other and of God, irrespective of the labelling of our abilities. Living in this interdependence opens us to one another and to a deeper, more honest, self-knowledge, and so makes us each more fully human, more fully people of communion, more fully realising the Imago Dei [image of God] we bear.
“Most people with disabilities have other gifts to contribute to the life of the community and church. These are as varied as the many different parts of the human body, but all are necessary to the whole. They include natural abilities in perception and movement; talents and skills developed through education and training in areas such as academic disciplines, religion, science, business, athletics, technology, medicine, and the arts….In our relationships, it is our task to call out the gifts of each other so that each person’s potential may be realised and God may be glorified.”
Gifts from living with disability
“Individuals with disabilities, as well as their families, friends and ...care-givers, may also have gifts to share that have emerged precisely from the experience of living with disability. Individuals with disabilities know what it is to have one’s life turned upside down by the unexpected. We have found ourselves in that liminal [borderline] space between what is known and what is yet unknown, able only to listen and wait.
“We have faced fear and death and know our own vulnerability. We have met God in that empty darkness, where we realised we were no longer "in control" and learned to rely on God’s presence and care. We have learned to accept graciously and to give graciously, to be appreciative of the present moment. We have learned to negotiate a new terrain, a new way of life that is unfamiliar. We have learned to be adaptable and innovative, to use our imaginations to solve new problems. We can be resilient. We know what it is to live with ambiguity and in the midst of paradox, that simplistic answers and certitudes do not sustain us. We have become skilful in areas we never expected to master. We have become accidental experts with skills and expertise to share with the wider community and church.”
A holy and acceptable offering
“While people with disabilities are endowed with gifts, we are also called to be a gift, to give ourselves to God’s service. God wants our whole being, for us to give all of ourselves, to hold nothing back. That includes the disability (the impairment). It is not something of which to be ashamed or to be kept hidden at all cost. For a disabled person, the impairment is one attribute of who he/she is, and is to be included as part of the "holy and acceptable" offering of the self.”
A Church of All and for All—An Interim Statement -- Full text.
Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN) of the World Council of Churches