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Small Group Study - Church and Disability

Small Group Study - Church and Disability

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Published by Joel L. Watts
This is for a class assignment, but I thought it might be useful elsewhere.

For more, see http:.//unsettledchristianity.com
This is for a class assignment, but I thought it might be useful elsewhere.

For more, see http:.//unsettledchristianity.com

More info:

Published by: Joel L. Watts on Nov 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Introduction: What does Scripture teach us about people with disabilities? Is there something more that we can add? This six week study will focus not only on the written word, but will involve a series of exercises that will hopefully bring a new focus upon the idea of personhood.

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Week 1: That I might be good Text: Genesis 1 Before you read: • Think about the words we use to identify things that are not in their place. We use words like “broken” and “good” to theologically describe various attributes of a person. Perhaps they are broken if they are a sinner. Maybe they are good if they have done something that is morally good. Thus, broken becomes our word for “bad” and good our word for “acceptable.” Exercises: • Read Genesis 1. Reflect on what it means to be “good” and thus, “not good.” • Examine the following website: • http://www.disabilityisnatural.com/explore/pfl Application: In the first chapter of Genesis, the first chronological chapter of our bible, we read of the wondrous creation of our world. This is often turned into the idea that when God created the world it was good, this is opposed effects of the Fall.1 Before Adam’s sin, everything was morally “good” and thus, healthy and beautiful — perfect. Certain Christian theologies argue that the Fall (Adam’s sin) has give us disabilities.2 John Walton reminds us that good has another connotation. He writes, “that it was all “good” reflects God’s wisdom and justice.”3 God’s wisdom shows a certain direction in God’s creation. God is very much the methodist here as the Divine follows a certain amount of cadence he methodologically creating a world. Later Christian theologies have suggested that in the Fall, as demonstrated in Genesis 2-3, sin has become such a stain on the human race, we now have death, cancer, sickness, and disability. Paul says in Romans 8.22 that Creation has groaned, struggled, until the time of Jesus. Revelation speaks of a new creation that has come to be. Christian theology also teaches that Jesus undoes the effects of the Fall. Even if you take the Fall as a


For example, see this post by an author with the Answers in Genesis group, equating disease of the various sorts, with evil: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/aid/v7/n1/problem-millions-of-yearsnatural-evil (Accessed 11.29.12) 2 Otieno, Pauline A. “Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Disability: Implications on the Rights of Persons with Disability in Kenya.” Disability Studies Quarterly 29, no. 4 (May 11, 2009). http://dsq-sds.org/ article/view/988.

Victor Harold Matthews et al., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Ge 1:19.

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theologically historical event, is it fair enough now to say that the “good” to our world has now returned? Your assignment this week was to review the people first language. The Snows have melted away many language barriers between the abled and those who are disabled. At the bottom of the simple chart, the Snows have asked that people add new descriptors. How might we come to describe “good,” “broken,” “impure,” and “holiness” in such a way to remove these words from the language of the Fall that has given rise to the idea that people with disabilities are some how in needed of repair? Preparation for Next Week: Text: Deuteronomy 23.1; Leviticus 21.16-24 Before your read: • If God doesn’t make mistakes, then explain those with congenital disabilities. • Watch this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3brRYOh5J8A Exercise: • You are not allowed to pray or speak about God. Your family can continue this, but you are not allowed to be in the same room, even at dinner prayers. • You must remove all bibles and devotional books from your house • For the next week, you are not allow to go near a church. You must drive around churches, but least a block if not more. The next Sunday morning, you are not allowed to enter the sanctuary, but must remain outside behind the closed doors.

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Week 2: That I might serve God Discussion: • How did you spend your week? Was it difficult being a believer but avoiding all aspects of the worship of God? • What are some other times we have banned people because their appearance from participating in some social, religious, or political rite? Application: It is difficult for the modern believer, as especially those who have the open table of Communion, to understand the social separation those who had some manner of physical oddity experienced in the ancient world. The Levite could not be a priest and the disfigured were banned from God’s Temple. In the passage from Leviticus, the disfigured person was one who had any physical appearance that stood out from the rest of the crowd. What if we were to choose to exclude those with dark hair from acting as clergy? Or if serving the Lord’s Table was limited only to those who were in shape? Count the number of physical defects you see in this passage? According to Haydock, later Rabbis would include up to 140.4 Dig into v.18. Haydock again draws something that should worry us. It was not just a split nose as some translations say, but a nose that was too big or too small!5 In Acts, reportedly written by a physician, we encounter two people who were healed of their blemishes, but only one would be healed physically. In Acts 3.1-27, Peter and John encounter, as most of our translations label him, a “crippled beggar” outside of a gate to the Temple. When the beggar asks for money, Peter and John instead bless with with a healing. The first thing this beggar does is to enter the Temple and praising God. This sign of “praising God” is a Lukan note to the reader that something has just happened that is connected back to the Old Testament.6 Later, in Acts 8, the Apostle Phillip meets a eunuch traveling away from Jerusalem. He would not have been allowed inside the Temple, but knew the Jewish bible well enough to have a copy on his person. Phillip offers him healing as well, but the Eunuch remains a eunuch. What do these healings teach us about the view of physical deformity in the New Testament and what it means to be healed? The beggar had given up, seeking on to

The Rabbins reckon 140 blemishes on which the Sanhedrim had to pass sentence. They also require in the high priest superior beauty, strength, riches, and wisdom —George Leo Haydock, Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary (New York: Edward Dunigan and Brother, 1859), Le 21:17.

George Leo Haydock, Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary (New York: Edward Dunigan and Brother, 1859), Le 21:18.

Doble, Peter. The Paradox of Salvation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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exist, but he was next to the Temple, as close as the could get. The eunuch had not given up but could come as close to God as he was allowed to, by reading Scripture. They were given their healings in the form of bring them closer to God. To do so, the crippled man was given the change to walk into the Temple while the Eunuch was given the chance to help build a new Temple. Preparation for Next Week: Text: Judges 16; 2 Kings 25.7 Before you read: • Does God give us abled-body people disabilities as punishment? • If so, what does it say about those born with the same disability we could at any minute receive? Exercise: • One evening this week, you are to remain completely blind. Find a blindfold that can fit securely so that no light is received • You must carry out your even routine — even cooking. • Try to focus on how you are acting and how your family are acting around you.

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Week 3: That I might see Discussion: • Do you know of someone who has become blind, or otherwise disabled in their life time? • How did your family react to you in this exercise? • How did you react to your little difficulties along the way? • Were you ready to be “fixed” by the end of the evening? Application: The main passage here is Judges 16. The mighty warrior Samson had only a few things he could not do. Mainly, he was limited in telling anyone the secret of his power, but he could not withstand the beauty of Delilah. After Samson was captured by his enemies, his eyes were gouged out. A plain sense reading of this may lead us to suspect that this was because of Samson’s sin. This is what many evangelicals think: It was fitting that Samson was first blinded in his imprisonment. He was attracted to ungodly relationships through his eyes. His failure to restrain this attraction to women brought him into bondage7 The less for us is that the deeper we allow ourselves to be influenced by the glamour and allurement of sin, the more blind we become. This extraordinary story tells us that Samson was spiritually blind long before his eyes were gouged out (Judges 16:21). We must come to recognize and accept the reality that sin can seep deep into in our lives. We must know that sin has a blinding, numbing impact upon us. Otherwise, we find ourselves ensnared by it, just as Samson did.8 Blinding is often the way that our compromise humiliates us his name meant 'Sun', yet he has no light at all any more; and that is a consequence, spiritually, of what happens to us when we compromise on our consecration to God, when we're not the holy Christian that we ought to be.9

7 8 9

http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0716.htm (Accessed 11.29.12) http://www.gotquestions.org/Samson-and-Delilah.html (Accessed 11.29.12) http://www.preachtheword.com/sermon/jdg16.shtml (Accessed 11.29.12)

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Indeed, we may think the same thing but this was a common practice in the time that would have happened even if Samson had been a Saint.10 Blinding is a punishment for losing to your enemy, not a side affect of sin. How might the Church responded to the person blinded or otherwise disabled after birth, as by an accident? Would you assume that the person was sinful and needed to be blinded by God in order to “see?” Preparation for Next Week: Text: Isaiah 54.6; 1 Thess. 2.13-16; 5.14 Before you read: • Think about the times you tried to learn something new that was far beyond what you had ever learned before. What was your struggles? • Does the Gospel need to be preached to those with cognitive disabilities? Exercise: • Watch these videos: • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wA3FUiqfEE • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYZlqwsMC2Y Read these articles: • • “Disabled Christianity: The Bible and People with Severe Intellectual Impairments.” Disabled Christianity, January 25, 2012. http:// disabledchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/01/bible-and-people-with-severe.html. • “Is the Gospel ‘Closed’ to the Mentally Disabled?” Christian Post, n.d. http:// www.christianpost.com/news/is-the-gospel-closed-to-the-mentallydisabled-67069/. • “Should We Teach the Bible to Those with Severe Cognitive Disabilities?” The Works of God, n.d. http://theworksofgod.com/2012/01/10/should-we-teach-thebible-to-those-with-severe-cognitive-disabilities/.


Victor Harold Matthews et al., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Jdg 16:21.

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Week 4: That I might hear Discussion: • What is like to listen to a sermon where you do not understand the words but you know it is important? • The Body of Christ is struggling with what to do in delivering the message to those almost unable to receive it. Is this a waste of time? Application: I use bible software on a daily basis. I started with e-sword, moved to Bibleworks 8, and now I am a big fan of Logos 5. I can hear and comprehend my native tongue, I am learning German, and I have a pretty good grasp on New Testament Greek. At home, I have numerous bible translations, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other books, not to mention the aforementioned bible software programs. In total, I have nearly 6000 volumes of material available to me. If I do not know something, I can find it it. I do not give a second thought about someone presenting to me a message in a way I cannot understand it. After all, I am a native-English speaker, a language most of the world uses. But what about those who even if they use English, hear or receive English as well as you heard the German messages? What if everything about the Gospel was as muddled as having to listen to sermons in foreign languages. In Romans 10.14, Paul commands and commends the hearing of the Gospel: How are they to call on one they have not believed in? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them11 What are we to do then to those who hear but cannot hear? We spend a vast amount of resources on translating Scripture for those without a copy in their language, but how often do we consider translating the Gospel in such a way as to give it to those with a cognitive disability? A larger question remains — does the Gospel have to be preached to those with a cognitive disability? The most charitable view, it seems, is to suggest that it does not. After all, God in his justice would not send someone to hell if they were unable to make a choice? So, then why waste our time?12 Consider this: If the Gospel is to be preached to every creature, to deny, then, the preaching of the Gospel even to those who are


Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible ( (Biblical Studies Press, 2006)), Ro 10:14. 12 Consider this blog post for the opposite view: Hodge, B. C. “Theological Sushi: Are Those Who Have Never Heard Saved Anyway?” Theological Sushi, August 16, 2012. http://theologicalsushi.blogspot.com/ 2012/08/are-those-who-have-never-heard-saved.html.

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likely to never have the ability to accept it is to deny that creature their status before God. The text this week demands the ability to speak the Gospel and to receive the Gospel by the internal hearing. Yet, if the latter ability is absent? Watch these two videos and discuss how they helped you better to understand the intended message of the speaker(s): • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaxhslHpe7k • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kjr1KXtAj8s

Preparation for Next Week: Text: Leviticus 13.43-45; Matthew 8.1-4 Before you read: • Give your loved ones around you a lot of hugs Exercise: • For this entire week, avoid all human contact. You may speak to others, but only if you have to. Avoid shaking their hands, giving hugs, kisses, or any other physical touching. • Do not express love in anyway to another person, even verbally, and do not accept it from anyone. • Do not associate with your friends or loved ones any more than necessary. • When you go shopping or wherever you can, wear a surgical mask. • At the end of the week, find one person to receive a hug from. Only one.

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Week 5: That I might be loved Discussion: • Where you able to make it through the entire week without being touched and without touching? • How did people respond to you while you were wearing the mask? • What did the hug at the end of the week feel like? Application: It does not really matter what ancient leper actually had; what matters is that the person could not be touched by anyway. To add insult to injury, the leper would now only be known by the name of “Unclean, Unclean!” He was removed from his community, exiled, and unloved. He had a sickness that epitomized sinfulness. Today, we had such a disease. In the early 1980’s, the AIDs epidemic began to make waves. Christians took up arms against the “gay disease.” It was incurable, but that was about all that was really known about it. Today, AIDs has become much less a national tragedy; yet, AIDs victims still suffer stereotyping, unfounded fear, and in many cases, exile. Think for a moment how the two passages offered this week were opposed to one another. In Leviticus, the leper was cast out, condemned to be the unclean soul. Yet, Jesus reaches out his hand to touch, to provide comfort, to share something of humanity with the unclean person. Yes, the person was made unclean, but more than that, he was accepted back into the human race. The leper could not see his family, receive hugs, know love once again. The Church does not have the ability to pick and choose who they will touch, heal, love. What we have is a command to follow and to imitate Jesus. How might we as a Church respond in times of crisis to those who society has forsaken? Preparation for Next Week: Text: Luke 5.30-31; 15.3-7 Before you read: • Consider if it is acceptable to have pretended to be blind, untouchable, and delayed in learning Exercise: • Reflect on the last five weeks. Who is “good” and who is “broken?” • Visit this website and see the work of this community: http://www.larcheusa.org/

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Week 6: That I might be healed Discussion: • What did you think about L’Arche? • Who are the found and the lost sheep in Jesus’ parable, especially when it comes to this discussion? Application: In the first passage, Jesus defends his actions of eating with sinners by saying that he did not come to heal the righteous, but the sick. The sinners, he confirms, need a physician. In the second passage, Jesus leaves the sheep who are safe and sound to go and find the one that is lost. We often like to point our fingers at the sinners. Or, perhaps, the Gentiles. But what if, if this situation, we are still the ones who are lost? Christian theology is often times formulated only in times of great need. The great creeds came only because Christians needed to be reminded of the divinity of Christ, or to have it assured that Jesus was not a mere angel. In other words, Christian theology developed to remind wayward Christians that they were in danger of once again becoming the unhealthy. There are many verses throughout the Canon of Scripture and traditions throughout Canonical Theism teaching us to love the unlovable, heal the sick, to not judge, to remember the poor, to care for the weak. Why do you think this is? Rarely does God ever speak to those who are perfect; instead, God will send prophets and others to warn those who are committing deep injustice, who are harming others, who are, regardless of their position in the covenant, are in danger of slipping away. So, why do you think it is God is speaking to us today through Scripture, again, drawing out a theology of personhood and human flourishing? Communities like L’Arche leave behind testimonies of the perfect discovering that they are the ones broken.13 Keep in mind that to admit you are the one God is speaking to — to admit you are the broken one here — does not allow you suggest that you are disabled in anyway. You only pretended to be blind, only gave up touch for a week. To then compare your emotions and status before God to those God has commended to you is to have unlearned this entire lesson. Instead, accept that God is speaking to us in Scripture, to use the broken, to remind us that what is created is good. It is not ours to fix, but ours to take care.

13 Reimer, Kevin S. Living L’Arche: Stories of Compassion, Love, and Disability. Liturgical Press, 2009. Spink, Kathryn. The Miracle the Message the Story: Jean Vanier and L’Arche. Paulist Press, 2006.

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