Laidlaw Disability Working Group Theological Framework (May 2012)
In service of our vision of a world shaped by love compelled and informed by the gospel, Laidlaw College’s mission is to equip students and scholars to renew their communities with a faith as intelligent as it is courageous.
Laidlaw College needs to engage the experience of disability as one of the ways it pursues its vision and mission. This is because one in five people throughout the world experience some sort of disability, and therefore most people are touched by disability either because of their own impairment or the impairment of those they love.
Understanding people with disabilities begins with a realisation that their essential identity is their humanness not their disability. Theologically this means that people with disabilities are made in the image of the triune God – three persons in relationship – in the same way as the rest of humanity. They, like those without disabilities, are to be understood as an integration of body, soul and spirit. These distinctions are seen as referring to different aspects of humanity, but none of them should be absolutised. As the Bible does not dichotomise body and soul, nor should we. Therefore what impairs the body should concern us, just as what impairs the soul or spirit concerns us.
The whole biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation shows that humans are made for relationship with God, each other and creation. It is sin that distorted these relationships and it is ultimately an act of God’s love that restores them. Love is the defining quality of God, not rationality or any other faculty. Therefore, as image bearers, love is the defining quality of what it means to be human. This love flows, first, from God to us and secondly, from us to God, others, and the rest of creation. We reveal our humanity in the receiving and giving of love. Sin has distorted but not destroyed our ability to give and receive love. Our humanity is distorted but not lost. Realising this biblical vision for humanity, to receive and give love, cannot only be measured when life is perceived to be easy but also in the crucible of pain and suffering which we all experience.
Laidlaw College needs to be schooled in the gospel that meets people in their pain and offers the hope of transformation. We want all to be equipped to love and engage people in their society where they hurt the most. Though we all suffer, the suffering experienced by those with disabilities is compounded by societal barriers and in some cases impairment.
Theologically, two grounds for solidarity with people with disabilities are initially evident: firstly, that despite the fact we are all different, we are all the good creation of God.
Secondly, we are all ‘broken’ in every aspect of our being, though the way we exhibit our brokenness differs from person to person. So we can all sit beside one another, with or without a disability, as good, however broken, equals.
However, finally, our solidarity arises from the solidarity we share in Jesus Christ. In the incarnation of Christ, God has assumed and embraced our humanity, entering into our depths and brokenness in order to recreate the image of God in humanity. Humanity, in all its diversity, is now bound up in Jesus Christ, the second Adam. In Jesus Christ those who identify as disabled, and those who do not, are equally embraced.
Thus, whether we identify as disabled or not, God in Christ has made a way for our full restoration. But in his providence, God has chosen not to give us the full experience of that restoration today. Rather, by our participation in Jesus Christ, we experience a foretaste of it ‘now’, while we eagerly anticipate the restoration of what is ‘not yet’ restored.
Given the diversity of brokenness in humanity, we recognise that all of us need God’s healing. We trust that God continues Jesus’ healing work in our lives through the Holy Spirit, whether we have a disability or not, even though we know that this side of eternity it is only ever partial. We confidently anticipate full healing when Christ returns.
In the ‘in between time’, we live in Christ. We live to love. Part of loving is to see, treasure, and encourage the humanity in other people. Sometimes, all of us are unable to give love or struggle to give it in ways that others can recognise.
At times, impairment disrupts this expression of love between people with disabilities and those around them. This disruption can have a combination of causes, both ‘moral’ causes – regardless of whether we identify as disabled or not – and ‘natural’ causes – the nature of the impairment itself (e.g. a behavioural disability). Regardless of the cause, by receiving love we share the gift of being human with those who give love.
Love ensures that those who are ‘excluded’, including the poor, the sick, and people with disabilities, are included in God’s community. It is love that encourages the formerly ‘excluded’ to be accountable to, and share in the responsibilities within, their communities according to their abilities.
If we are to successfully engage the experience of disability as a genuine way of pursuing our vision and mission, Laidlaw College needs to recognise an anthropology that all people, with or without disability, are equals in the kingdom of God. This equality, on the one hand should encourage Laidlaw to include all people with disabilities within their community (students, faculty, staff and visitors), including in positions of College leadership. And on the other hand, this equality should also encourage people with disabilities to be proactive to ensure that they themselves, live inclusively with others in the community.
Laidlaw College’s policies, planning, procedures, teaching material, support services, facilities, rights and responsibilities, culture and community activities are to be founded on this vision of inclusiveness.