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The Church and Disability

Posted by on in General Secretary's Blog
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How would you describe the attitude of your church toward people with disabilities?
In 2006, the United Nations passed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. To date, this convention has attracted some 157 signatories, but only 127 ratifications. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has fared worse than the convention itself, having attracted less than 100 signatories and just about 75 ratifications. For one reason or another, many countries have still not ratified the convention, which came into effect in 2008.
You may recall that, in his report to the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly in July 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put forward several important recommendations. These were intended to ameliorate the unjust situation that exists concerning the inclusion of people with disabilities in the Millennium Development Goals. There was a call for strategies to improve data collection on people with disability and for the equalization of opportunities and support for the disabled. In addition, the need was canvassed for persons with or without disabilities to enjoy equal access to social protection and programs.
Within the Christian community, the question of the church's attitude to people with disability became all the more compelling with the establishment of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN). I regard the publications of EDAN, beginning with its interim statement, "A Church of All and for All" produced in 2003, as required reading for all Christians. But do church leaders take seriously the need to address Christian stewardship responsibility when it comes to the way we treat people with disabilities?
When churches plan to expand their buildings, to what extent do they bear in mind the obligation to make provision for the physically disabled? When funds are low and government regulations do not require certain provisions for persons with disability, do people respond negatively to those who insist that building design and construction must not only provide adequate access to people with disabilities, but the seating arrangements must be organized to reflect the respect we have for them.
Nor do matters of design and construction alone point to the challenge the church faces in dealing with people with disabilities. When we train ushers for the ministry they are to fulfill, do we prepare them to receive people with a range of disabilities? Do we make provision for people with developmental and psychiatric disabilities to receive the Good News and experience the love of God and fellowship with the people of God?
We all need to remember that "disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others," to echo the words of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities.
Churches have a responsibility to show respect for the dignity of all persons, including those with disabilities. They also have an obligation to advocate for these persons who form 10 percent of the world's population. As the EDAN statement states, "It is the role of the church in this new century to face the reality of humanity in the image of a disabled Jesus; the reality of people with disabilities who are rejected and abandoned." Furthermore, "The integration of disabled people within the church gives testimony to God's love as expressed by all His sons and daughters. It can also be an example and an inspiration in those societies in which disabled people suffer from humiliating marginalization."
Christians worship the risen Christ who, before the ascension, displayed impaired hands and feet and side. Surely, we do have an understanding of perfection that enables us to welcome and honor people with disabilities!
May many more churches make room for persons with disabilities and celebrate their gifts.

Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.


  • Guest
    Rev. George William Friday, 29 July 2016

    Now is the time to revive the universal church to step in and serve the disabled and make them fruitful for Jesus. We should give awareness to the local churches to come forward and help the disabled.

  • Guest
    access lifts Monday, 25 March 2013

    thanks for this article i have really enjoyed reading this and i will be returning to find out more in the future about access lifts

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Guest Monday, 06 July 2020