Monday, December 10, 2012

Welcoming People with Disabilities - Conferences Summer 2013

In 2005, very few Bible colleges or seminaries offered any courses in disability ministry or theology.  Since then, many more cross discipline training opportunities have arisen.  These range from Jeff McNair's MA in Christian Disability Studies (CalBaptist - Riverside), to JAF (Joni and Friends) courses to occasional seminars and lecture series at colleges around the country.

If you would like to reach a substantial population of unchurched people, but just do not know how, there are some great resources coming up for the summer of 2013.

This summer, there will be four multi day conferences to choose from

  • Toronto, Canada; (July 15-19)
  • Lille, France (June 27-29)
  • Auckland, New Zeeland (July 1-3)
  • Shawnee, Kansas (June 10-15)
While each of them will be good, the one in Kansas will have a collaborative approach with sessions taught by faculty of both Central Baptist Theological Seminary and the Developmental Disability Center of the University of Missouri - Kansas City.

For more information, please download this flyer.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Accessibility Icon Project

Perceptions Matter --

With nearly 85% of the disabled population unchurched, what your ministry says before a person even gets in the door is just as important as the ministries inside the building.

The Accessible Icon Project has redesigned the typical lifeless logo into one is which is active and inviting.  Several major churches and Christian colleges have taken the initiative to adopt this as part of their missional approach.  The next time you stencil your parking lot, consider this.  It's just another little thing to intentionally make Christ accessible to everyone.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability

The disability world has been abuzz the last few days as the long awaited UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability makes it to the full floor vote of the US Senate this week.

Nearly two decades after the ADA was passed in the US, this land mark convention establishes a common ground for disability rights across the globe.  Over 100 countries have signed and ratified it.  The US is one of the few that has not yet.

There are obviously several reasons for this.  The first is that a large group in the US have never cared for anything to do with the UN.  That's all-right.  They should continue to voice their opinion.  In fact, both American parties had concerns over the potential American sovereignty issues, so ensured that stipulations were put into place that essentially stripped this convention, like many other UN conventions, of any legal authority in the US.  In essence, it is truly a non-binding policy statement. The second is that many are concerned that the  language used in it will promote an anti-Christian and anti-parent agenda.

The first reason is strictly political.  Nations are valid forms of government, yet have artificially constructed boundaries.  Our democratic republic allows us as a people to exercise our voice in our government.

The second reason is strictly religious.  Our moral compass serves to inform our actions.  Many Christians want to retain their God given right and authority as parental stewards of their children.

It is when these two reasons intersect and become blurred that confusion reigns.  As a conservative, evangelical pastor active in the disability community I understand and sympathize with many of my good friends' opinions but remain puzzled and concerned.

1) All people are created in the image of God.  The UN convention inherently seeks to offer the status to all people.  It is the church's responsibility to awaken that image of God into Christian service, not the United Nations.

2) The convention's strictest language about abortion (a red button issue for many evangelicals like me) actually places limitations on it.  This is not necessarily a pro-abortion or anti-abortion policy statement. It is, however, a pro-life statement.  In fact Article 10 is quoted below:

Article 10 - Right to life

States Parties reaffirm that every human being has the inherent right to life and shall take all necessary measures to ensure its effective enjoyment by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others.

3) At no point does it limit what families or churches can do.  As a governmental policy, it does suggest what the state could do if others abdicated this area -- but leaves that up to local governmental control.  If anything, it's probably shameful to those of us in the church who have abandoned this responsibility.

4) Have you seen many persons with disabilities in church recently?  What about at the local Christian school? A quick survey of these religious organizations leads many to conclude that Christianity does not value persons with disabilities.  Two decades ago, ACSI actively lobbied against the passage of ADA. Now even more good Christian groups are lining up to oppose this policy.  I am concerned that our evangelical  well intended actions may be having drastic long term consequences.

But since I am a special educator, disability advocate, parent of a child with Down Syndrome, an evangelical pastor, but not a politician, I will not be contacting my representatives either way.  Instead, I would like to issue this challenge:

Take the UN statement.  Replace any governmental language with church language.  Bring it to your board of elders, your bishop, your presbytery.  Affirm the rights of any person with a disability to worship from the pew, preach from the pulpit, serve communion, be approved as an elder, and function in any of the gifts that the Holy Spirit liberally offers.

If  you are honestly ready to do that, than do NOT vote for this resolution.

[The opinion reflected in this article is solely that of Rev. Marvin J. Miller and is not representative of any of the official positions or opinions of any of the  ministries in which he serves.]

Full Text of UN Convention

UPDATED 4/19/18 to reflect updated url link for Full Text of UN Convention.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Bible, Disability, and the Church


For many years, practical ministry to people with disabilities has continued despite the lack of theologians reflecting on what impact disability has on the church at large.  A brief respite has appeared with the writings of Amos Yong in The Bible, Disability, and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God.  Yong, influenced by growing up in an Assembly of God pastor’s home as the older sibling of a brother with Down Syndrome, has penned five articles which hope to reimagine the church and its relationship alongside people with disabilities. 

This 176 page book, which includes a chapter study guide, is reflective of Yong’s engaging personal speaking style and is targeted to the layperson and local church pastor.  Yong, the J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology at Regent University School of Divinity, revisits the same themes found in his earlier systematic work entitled Theology and Down Syndrome (2008), yet does so in a manner more accessible for most readers.  While a few of the million dollar theological words remain, they are appropriately defined in context and would not hinder the reader from comprehension.

Yong defines his presuppositions early on: people with disabilities are created in the image of God, they are people first, and they are not evil blemishes to be eliminated or fixed into normal.  He posits that most people read their normal experiences into the Biblical narrative, resulting in the social marginalization of people with disabilities; it is only by recognizing the inherent prejudices that the Biblical reader understands how these passages actually indicate God has fully welcomed people with disabilities into full social inclusion and joint ministry.  Yong continues that it is the person (and church structures) without disabilities that must be saved from practicing discrimination.

Yong moves out of his comfort zone of systematic theology into the realm of biblical theology to make his point.  His line of argument extends from the First Testament with Job, Jacob and Mephibosheth into the New Testament with Zacheus, the Ethiopian Eunuch and Paul.  By asserting that people with disabilities are central to the redemptive history gospel accounts, he concludes that they are also fully part of the post-Pentecost church age and must be a vital functioning part of the body of Christ in order for the church to accomplish its mission.

Yong completes his work with a re-examination of resurrection life.  Many normate understandings presume that resurrected beings have no direct links to the disabled bodies of this age and therefore should be fixed on this side of eternity.  Yong rejects this perspective by looking at the resurrected, yet nail scarred body of Christ.  He boldly claims since people marked with disabilities do have a place in God’s new creation even more so should there be a place for them in the church today.

Yong’s positions are a welcome refrain to those within the disability family.  They also cause appropriate discomfort for those persons outside (or even very close) to that community, yet not currently disabled themselves.  Yong has delicately balanced two evangelical strands of tradition – a yearning for liberation and a yearning for wholeness.  His brief comments on the concept of the church as one body with many members reveal excellent points, but a full scale discussion of how the gifts are fully appropriated without discrimination within the body has not yet been fully developed.  It is this resulting tension which reveals much more work can be done. 

This book is a must read for all pastors and those that minister alongside people with disabilities.  It lays an excellent Biblical foundation on why disability ministry should exist within the local church.  With the enclosed study questions, it can easily be adapted into a small group Bible study for those in your church who wish to catch the vision of a disabled-inclusive congregation.

The Bible, Disability, and the Church: A New Vision of thePeople of God.  Amos Yong (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2011). 176 pp. Paperback, $20.00, ISBN: 978-0-8028-6608-0.