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.