Voices on Able Theology

 

Artwork from Fuller Seminary student Bea Rios

“The work Cruciformity [above] was birthed from visual studies of the various renditions of the crucifixion of Christ. In my own journey with a congenital neuromuscular disease, the term ‘I am crucified with Christ’ is more than a theological confession, it is more of a literal identification with my crucified Lord.  The fragility and bodily vulnerability of Jesus on the cross brings comfort to my spirit in knowing that in some mysterious way, my body is participating in the death and life of Christ.  In the words of Saul of Tarsus, ‘We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.’”

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+ Inspired by cruciform theology, artist Bea Rios [MAT student] uses her background in studio art and her love of photography to engage her own experience with disability, giving voice to people often overlooked by society.

“When people with severe mental illness or certain types of developmental disabilities are part of a worship gathering, it is quite likely that at some point they may speak or shout or make noise during a time in the service where those actions are deemed inappropriate. In those moments, they are often compelled to silence either by direct order or harsh glances from those around them. When their silence is not possible, they are often either internally or externally compelled to leave Portrait of Fuller Seminary staff and adjunct faculty Bethan Foxthe gathering. This resultant exclusion from the community is severely out of step with the healing narratives of Jesus, whose actions resulted in honor and inclusion for people with disabilities who were unwilling or unable to follow the behavioral standards of the time. An ethic of healing in the way of Jesus is a call to hold the inclusion of a person with disabilities above standards of socially appropriate behavior. If there comes a point where members of a church are asked to dismiss either a person with disabilities or their social standards, then if they seek to follow in the way of Jesus, it should always be the code of behavior and never the person with disabilities that is dismissed.

Contemporary American culture, to which its churches are anything but impervious, tends to value independence, prestige, good looks, wealth, intellect, and efficiency. These values do not create a welcoming environment for people with disabilities. People with developmental disabilities, in particular, are often dependent on others for their daily living in many ways. So, in order to form a community of healing—accessible not only in its architecture of building but in its architecture of values—there needs to be a radical subversion of the dominant social paradigm.

Followers of Jesus are invited to shift their healing focus beyond the bodies and minds of the people with disabilities in their midst, and onto healing the larger Body of Christ. Then it can become a place where everyone with differing abilities and disabilities can worship, love, and serve together as growing disciples of Jesus. In order to heal in the way of Jesus, it is the ways in which the people of God sometimes offer healing that need correction. Let us go and do likewise, following the one who offers healing in a way that truly does heal.”

Bethany Fox [PhD ’14] is the director of Student Services and an adjunct professor at Fuller. She is one of the founding leaders of the Able Theology student group, and the quote comes from her article “Beyond the Broken Body: An Ethic of Healing in the Way of Jesus,” published in the Journal of the Christian Institute on Disability.

 

“My vision for Fuller is that it becomes a place where students with disabilities are welcome and belong, a place where students with disabilities thrive instead of having a high dropout rate, and a place where students with disabilities can get their needs met without needing to navigate a black hole with invisible authorities. I have a similar vision for people with disabilities in our society at large.”

Esther S. Lee [’14] was a founding leader of the Able Theology student group at Fuller.

 

“All students should recognize that developing a theology of disability is not something that just a select group of students do, but instead, thinking about and wrestling with disability in the light of Scripture is something that every Christian leader ought to do. We at Fuller need to do a much better job of integrating disability into our theological curriculum.”

Than Veltman [SIS PhD student], coleader of the Able Theology student group, from “Making a Welcoming and Inclusive Place for People With Disabilities,” a panel held on the Pasadena campus.

 

Disability-payton

“It is too easy in our gnosticism to relegate Christian solutions to the realm of the inner subjective experiences of the self or the soul, and to ignore the embodied realities of disability and what might be done to minimize these limitations. We easily relegate the needed transformation to realms of the immaterial at the expense of the acknowledgement of our own dependent animality and the implications of this for what we might be able to imagine and to do for those who suffer disability.”

+ Warren Brown, director of the Travis Research Institute (TRI) and professor of psychology, from his article “Physicalism, Suffering, and Disability,” Journal of Psychology & Christianity. TRI is currently partnering with Caltech to research L’Arche communities in the project “Love, Compassion, and Care: Virtue Science and Exemplarity in Real Life,” and a joint panel will present their findings in October 2015.

“I believe God calls us to any disability ministry to heal, transform, and grow the body of Christ. We are so disabled. The real disability is not in our friends with disabilities. We tend not to recognize our own, because we can see theirs so vividly. The simplicity of kids who can’t walk or talk impacts everybody. What a message to us that it’s not about doing, it’s about being. I’ve really seen how incredibly disabled I am in terms of addiction to performance, achievement, and people’s opinions. If a nonverbal kid was talking to me, he’d say, “What the heck are you worried about? God loves you! Just be.”

+ When Nick Palermo [MAT ’00] saw that young people with disabilities were not receiving the relational support they needed, he founded Young Life Capernaum, in 1996. The quote comes from Young Life’s Relationships Magazine.

“How can we be a place of support and encouragement? How can we incorporate the gifts and wisdom of the special needs community into our churches? How can your church welcome families, children, teens, and adults with special needs?”

+ Fuller Arizona reflected on these questions at “Is There Room at the Table?” a conference on theology, ministry, and disability.

Fuller faculty member Amos Yong teaching at Fuller Arizona“How powerfully will the love of God be manifest to the world when it sees the church not only seeking to care for these who are the most vulnerable in their midst, but actually valuing how such people contribute to shaping the very nature of the church as an inclusive and hospitable community? At this point, ministry to people with profound disabilities becomes a means of ministering the love of God with them in an otherwise inhospitable world. The result is a renewed church, one that is inclusive of the lives and gifts of those who have previously been the most extremely marginalized members of the human community. But beyond this, when the church stands in solidarity with such people, it fundamentally alters its own self-understanding and identity in light of the weakness and foolishness of the cross of Christ.”

Amos Yong, the director of the Center for Missiological Research and professor of theology and mission, from his book The Bible, Disability, and the Church. Dr. Yong spoke at a recent Fuller Arizona conference on disability. [Photo by Fully Alive Photography]

 

Ryan and Jen Showalter

“God called us to Fuller. What? What about Jen’s health? What about leaving our jobs and finding new doctors? If God called us, would he provide for us? What about leaving our family and friends? In January, we will celebrate eight years of marriage, and in two weeks it will have been seven years of battling epilepsy. You can see that the questions have not ended. The journey continues. It’s had its ups and its downs, but here at Fuller we have found new friends, new support networks. And so one step at a time, we keep pressing on—believing, hoping, awaiting. You see, the life of faith is a journey, not a destination. And there is this tension. We have a taste of the presence of God, and we still have this longing for more.”

+ Ryan Showalter [MAICS ’14], from a reflection at All-Seminary Chapel in which Ryan and his wife, Jen (pictured at right), shared their experience with epilepsy. Last year they led a team at the Rose Bowl for the Walk to End Epilepsy.

Further Reading

Disability in the Christian Tradition
Brian Brock and John Swinton (Eerdmans, 2012)

The Bible, Disability, and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God
Amos Yong (Eerdmans, 2011)

Theology and Down Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity
Amos Yong (Baylor University Press, 2007)

 

Available Class

Disability and Mission with Amos Yong