Author: Dr. Robert T. Henry
Edited by: Linda Smith
Cover and page design: Pamela Fogle
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Christian Education Ministries Office
National Church Ministries
The Christian and Missionary Alliance
P.O. Box 35000, Colorado Springs, CO 80935,3500
Phone: 719.599.5999 Fax: 719.599.5898
Web site: www.cmalliance.org
Right to Life vs. Sanctity of Life 13
The Cause of Disabilities . 19
Why vs. What 29
People with Disabilities Are Part of God's Purpose and Plan in the World 37
Dr. Robert Henry, author of People with Disabilities: A Biblical Perspective, currently lives with his wife Svea in Ontario, Canada. While officially retired from full-time ministry; Dr. Henry remains actively engaged in preaching ministries and consulting services. During his years of full~time ministry, Bob served The Christian and Missionary Alliance as pastor, missionary, founding director of The Christian and Missionary Alliance of Australia, and vice president for National Church Ministries in the United States. Bob also served as president of World Relief Canada.
In addition to the writing and research skills demonstrated in this work, Bob speaks straight from his heart. Bob was approached because we knew that the words he wrote would come out of the crucible of personal experience. Bob and Svea's beloved daughter, Virginia Jewel, born with Down's syndrome, recently went to be with the Lord at the age of thirty~six.
Dr. Stuart.Lightbody, vice president Canadian Ministries, expresses gratitude for Dr. Henry's life and ministry through the following: "The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada, its pastors, and church leaders hold Bob and his wife Svea in high regard for their perseverance in ministry."
I am deeply grateful for Bob's time and effort in making this work possible. May God use the message of this little book to inform many about the needs and opportunities of ministry to and with disabled people.
Sincere appreciation also is expressed to Linda Smith whose thorough and conscientious effort in editing this work has strengthened and enhanced its message. Linda serves with Vision New England Disabilities Ministries.
Rev. Marvin Parker
Director, Christian Education Ministries
The Christian and Missionary Alliance
I never will forget a paper I wrote as a freshman in college. The professor specifically asked for a ten~page composition. I gave him fifteen. I handed it in, expecting the professor to be impressed by my knowledge of the subject and my ability to handle so aptly the English language. When the graded paper was returned marked "C," I reacted as a typical freshman: rage, hurt feelings, and the opinion that the prof simply did not play fair. Then his statement, carefully written on the cover sheet, jumped out at me. "A lot of words does not necessarily say a lot." I got the point.
As President of Clearer Vision Ministries, Inc., I have read "a lot of words" about ministering to people with disabilities during the past twenty-one years. There have been larger volumes written on the subject, but in my opinion, none have stated things better than this little booklet, People with Disabilities: A Biblical Perspective. Here, based on God's Word, we find a clear understanding and Christian perspective on ministry to and with people having disabilities.
Although brief, this booklet states volumes. If my college professor were to grade it, I believe he would, without hesitation, place an "A" on the cover. It says exactly what needs to be said. As you read with an open mind, I believe you will agree.
Rev. Sam Thompson, president
Clearer Vision Ministries, Inc.
In preparation for writing on this important subject, I have conducted a study in both Testaments, looking at passages which use the following terms to describe disabling/conditions: lame, crippled, maimed, limping, shrivelled, paralyzed, deformed, disfigured, hunchbacked, dwarfed, bent over, blind, deaf, mute (bound, tied, blunted, or "to be silent"), and lunatic. Although emotional and mental disorders are referred to in Deuteronomy 28 and elsewhere, to the best of my understanding no clear reference is made in Scripture to mental retardation or other cognitive impairments. The healing of those affected by seizures is referred to in Matthew 4:24 and 17:15.
I also have reviewed the writings of both liberals and evangelicals, pastoral letters, reports to special conferences, denominational publications, and systematic theology. Those who address this general subject are humane and well-meaning, and many have made significant contributions on the pragmatic level advising the Church as to what her response to the needs of people with disabilities should be. Still, there seems to be a woeful lack of profound biblical thinking expressed in writing on the various issues relating to disabilities.
Among those who have become advocates for people with disabilities, there often are deep-seated feelings or convictions about the needs and concerns of this population. There is even a good measure of agreement across denominational lines about how these issues need to be addressed. However, whenever there is a stab at theological thought or biblical interpretation, hermeneutics falls wounded to the ground, and certain presuppositions, ill-supported with proof, texts that we all would like to believe, are firmly espoused. The problem is that some of these presuppositions are either untrue or represent only a fraction of the whole truth.
On the subject of disabilities we easily fall victim to believing what we want to believe, no matter what God's revelation has to say. Yearning for comfort or longing for explanations, we lift certain texts out of context and cling to them as a shipwrecked sailor clings to a floating log in the open sea. Even as acute suffering can bring us great depth of understanding, so also our despair or doubt-filled minds actually can work in the opposite direction, distorting our vision of the truth.
Before proceeding further, I should make some attempt at defining terms. Hazarding any definition statement is like offering an open invitation, "Can you top this?" Nevertheless, I set forth the following definition of conditions and consequences suffered by persons with disabilities within the life and activity of the church, as devised by the United Methodists.
People whose disability or difference in appearance or behavior creates a problem of mobility, communication, intellectual comprehension, or personal relationships that interferes with their participation or that of their families in the life of the church.1
Henri Bissonnier, a professor at the Center for Special Education at the Catholic Institute in Paris, defines the term handicapped more simply.
"All those whose difficulties are sufficiently severe to set them apart from the normal or ordinary ways of living, learning, and doing things." 2
Following is a summary of how the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 defines disability:
Let us now focus our consideration on some of the most basic theological issues that relate to people with disabilities.