Prejudice and Discrimination

The Bible

It is difficult to agree on what the Bible says about disability. People with disabilities don't want sympathy or pity, they want to be able to have the same opportunities that other people have, and do not want to be singled out or treated differently. The biggest barriers seem to be the way that people treat you or see you.

In Biblical times, people with disabilities were rarely fully-functioning members of society. Jesus' response to disability was often to be 'filled with pity', and then he healed them:

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. "I am willing," he said. "Be healed!"

Mark 1:41

This seems to support what is often called the 'medical' model of disability, where someone with a disability 'has something wrong with them' and 'needs help'.

The Old Testament appears to discriminate against those with disabilities, saying that they cannot join the priesthood:

For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.

Leviticus 21:17-20

However, there are other ways of interpreting the Biblical message:

Inclusion is right at the heart of the Christian Gospel, for the good news of Jesus is open to all of humanity. This is at no other point clearer in the New Testament than on the day of Pentecost described in Acts 2:1-11. On that day, Jews from all over the known world had gathered in Jerusalem and many of them spoke different languages. Through the Holy Spirit, despite the differences of those gathered, each one was able to learn about ‘God’s deeds of power’ (v.11) in the language they used. The good news was not for an elite few, but was freely accessible to everyone using a medium they were capable of understanding.

Christian people believe today that the Holy Spirit continues to be alongside humanity as the presence of God with us, our advocate and guide. Because of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in the world today, the good news of Jesus Christ continues to be accessible to all. Not everyone will understand even a part of the good news presented to them because they have limited abilities, but none of us understand it all for all of us are limited human beings. People with severe learning difficulties or severe communication impairments may not understand anything at all, but we should not underestimate the Spirit's ability to engage with every human being – as they are – and to make known to them the love of Christ for love is something to be experienced and not understood. Some more able-bodied people may be used as instruments by which that love is conveyed, but that can also be true the other way around.

Disabled people together with all other human beings reflect the image of their Creator God. They do not distort that image any more than anyone else simply because their bodies or minds do not conform to what society has defined as ‘normal’. Acknowledging this reality can serve as a reminder that disabled people should be treated as full and not lesser human beings. Each person, in their uniqueness, deserves the respect and love that would be shown to anyone or anything that bears the mark of the Creator.

Wayne Morris, Church Action on Disability

The words of Jesus seem to sum up a positive view on disability:

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10

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