The following is the National Council of Churches statement on Disability adopted some ten years ago. I'll be attending the 2008 conference at Hope College / Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI on September 20, hosted by Friendship Ministries, (to which I've just been selected to the board of directors.) Interestingly enough, the NCC (to which the Assemblies of God does not belong) is addressing this area, but the NEA, while attempting to in the past, no longer makes an effort.
Movies like Tropic Thunder and it's excessive use of the R-word, re-iterate why the church must be advancing in this area. While boycotts at this level do not really make an impact, the national attention and conversation that was ever so briefly raised was a valuable part of the overall conversation.
The problem is that once a statement is done, actions often cease. My hope is that in this new decade more change will happen and persons with disabilities will be made a greater part of society.
NCC Policy Statement"Disabilities, the Body of Christ and the Wholeness of Society"
Adopted by the NCC's General Assembly on November 11, 1998
"Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many." (1 Corinthians 12:14)
One in five Americans lives with an impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities. Virtually everyone will live with a disability at some time in life. Concepts of justice for people with disabilities have evolved beyond paternalism toward the ideals of full participation and inclusion in all aspects of life. Disability rights and self advocacy movements have emerged.
At the national level, landmark laws such as the Rehabilitation Act, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) seek to assure the same rights to people with disabilities that are guaranteed to all other people in our society.
The religious community also has taken a number of initiatives. Beginning in 1958 and as recently as 1995, the NCCC has affirmed its belief in the dignity and worth of all people, including those of us with disabilities. Most NCCC member communions have issued statements calling for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of church life. In spite of these efforts, attitudinal, communication, and architectural barriers remain. The church has served as a point of entry for many marginalized individuals into the mainstream of society. Now the time has come for the NCC to reaffirm and broaden its commitment to people with disabilities.
This policy statement rests upon four theological principles.
1. All people are created in the image of God
"Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image..." (Genesis 1:26) God creates all human beings in the divine image or likeness. This image is not a measureable characteristic or set of characteristics. God's image is reflected uniquely in each person.
2. All people are called by God
"For we are what (God) has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life." (Ephesians 2:10) God calls all human beings to express the divine image through their unique characteristics. Each person's characteristics, including disabilities, are inseparable and valuable features of the unique, indivisible person.
3. All people have special gifts
"Now there are varieties of gifts but the same spirit..." (1 Corinthians 12:4) God supplies all human beings with the unique gifts needed to obey the divine call. The gifts God has given to each person are needed by all other people, and no one is dispensable or unnecessary.
4. All people are invited to participate in God's ministry
"To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." 1 Corinthians 12:7 God invites all human beings to rely on and participate in the ministry of the church. God continually empowers each member of the Body of Christ to reflect the divine image in ways that will serve and benefit the church and the broader community.
In the light of these theological principles, it is the witness of the NCCC that all human beings, including those among us with disabilities, are entitled to rights in church and society. A life of dignity and respect includes such rights as access to education, health care, useful work, recreation, as well as the right to friendship, spiritual nurture, freedom and self-expression. The rights of each person, including people with disabilities, are equal to and balanced by the rights of others.
We believe the human community in all its forms is accountable to God to protect these civil and human rights. God requires the church to give spiritual and moral leadership to society in protecting these rights. The church must exercise its leadership by its public preaching and teaching but even more by its example as an inclusive community of faith, using the gifts of all its members.
"Now there are varieties of gifts but the same spirit; and varieties of services, but the same Lord..." 1 Corinthians 12:4
NCCC Human Rights: The Fulfillment of Life In The Social Order (Adopted by the General Board, November 17, 1995)
Approved: NCCC General Assembly, November 11, 1998
For additional information:NCC Committee on Disabilitiesc/o Ministries in Christian Education National Council of Churches of Christ475 Riverside Drive, Room 848New York, NY 10115