Elections and the Kingdom of God 3

 

Luke 4:18

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

The content of the Good news of the kingdom of God is set out in those 5 statements.

 

And because we are about to vote in the General Elections in 3 weeks’ time, I have been taking one of those statements made by Jesus each week until the Election, so that we can lay what Jesus says against the policies and promises of the political parties vying for power.

 

Remember I am not telling you which party to vote for. That is your right and your right alone, but I want us to think about the policies of the people we are voting for.

 

We have already looked at “Good news to the poor”; and “release to the captives.” Today we look at “opening the eyes of the blind – the physically disinherited.”

 

I want to include all disability in this category, not just physical disability.

 

 

Disability rights are not specifically addressed by legislation in New Zealand. Instead, disability rights are addressed through human rights legislation. Human rights in New Zealand are protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZ BORA) and the Human Rights Act 1993. New Zealand also signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (The Disability Convention) in 2008.

 

According to Stats NZ, (in 2013) 24 percent of the New Zealand population were identified as having a disability. That means 1.1 million people, 20% more than 12 years before (2001).

 

Māori and Pacific people had higher-than-average disability rates. Just over half of all disabled people (53 percent) had more than one type of impairment.

 

All the areas so far discussed over the last 2 weeks are interrelated. Research shows that groups experiencing economic and social disadvantage have more mental health problems than other groups. Poverty, powerlessness, exploitation and discrimination are major causative factors.[1]

 

We also know that poverty and social disadvantage affect physical health, with long term disability consequences.

 

Ask people who have a wheelchair how they are treated and you will find they occupy a different world view than able bodied people – they are treated differently.

 

And even more so if you disclose a mental disability.

 

Tell someone you have broken your leg and you will get visitors with flowers and chocolates. Tell someone you have a mental illness, they will avoid you like the you have the plague.

 

We may have closed the mental institutions like Cherry Farm in the 1980s but are people with disability any better off living in our society now?  The world seems to prefer that people with disability are out of sight, out of mind.

 

Are the policies of the politicians helping those with disability or putting further encumbrances in their way?

 

Yes, we have mandated disability friendly buildings – with ramps and toilets. That is one of the prime reasons for our expensive upgrade.

 

But how easy is it to get work when you have a physical or mental disability?  How easy is it for Tai to get funding to get his vehicle modified so he can drive it without legs?  Who paid for Laurel’s wheelchair lift on her car? Jeff Moyles’ mobility scooter was bought for him by Rotary.

 

Think about the genetic advances that have enabled scientists to identify particular genes including those which cause disability.  My son and his partner, and Jordy and Peihua were both told that the tests on their unborn children showed the child had a disability and that they should have an abortion.  Neither couple did, and both children now born has no disability. Both couples said that even if their child had a disability they would love it the same as an able-bodied child.

 

Science heralds that there will be no people with certain identified disabilities in the near future, because they will identify it in utero and abort them. What does that say to people with that same disability that are alive today? What does it say about their worthiness to life?

 

If we believe that all humans are made in the image of God, then how can we decide which ability or disability is appropriate or not.

 

The Nazis were breeding blue eyed blond-haired Aryans and deciding that people with disability or Jewish or gypsys or gays did not deserve life and were mass exterminated.  Do we want an equivalent society to that here?

 

New Zealand euthanasia legislation on the books to be debated in the new year. NZ already has abortion legislation.  We have talked on these issues in the past.  How long before the choice of life touted in those legislations comes from economic reasons rather than quality of life reasons? Who, in any case, decides what is the appropriate quality of life?

 

What is our response as a church or as followers of Jesus? How do we act in church to show that belief?

 

One disability advocate laments: If your church acts just like a society that sends people with physical, mental or emotional impairments to the side-lines, then it is acting more like the body politic than the body of Christ[2]

 

Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 compares the human body to the body of Christ, and he says that those parts of the body that are the weakest and least presentable are indispensable to the body. In other words, people who are the weakest and least presentable are indispensable to the church.[3]

 

Let’s focus on our response to disability in the church.

 

Overall in churches, there is a lack of perceived understanding that there can be blessings in disability.

 

Is disability seen as something to be fixed or something which is life in adversity. In church, do we have a theology of suffering or a theology of victory?  How does the victorious living gospel work out for someone who will have a disability and reduced capacity all their lives?

 

In a study on mental health and the church that I researched, some people with mental disability commented on the cringe factors at church. One said: “People give me verses like Romans 8:28 (All things work out for good) which does not help. I would rather have people sit quietly beside you and not give you verses. It is annoying.”

 

Jesus called the church to minister to the “least of these” his brethren. Some of the new “least of these” are the people with disability.

 

We face the challenge to open up this place we call church, to re-imagine and reconfigure it, to remodel and reshape our worship, our programs, our education, and our buildings”[4] in relation to the issue of people with disabilities.

 

We, in this congregation, believe in the salvation of the whole person, not just their souls.

 

 

 

We recognise that “Spiritual health is an indispensable aspect of mental health. The two can be separated only on a theoretical basis. In live human beings, spiritual and mental health are inextricably interwoven.”[5]

 

We work with people with disability, not in order that they are changed by us, but that they will have an encounter with God and their lives may be changed.  The change may not be physical or anything to do with removal of their disability but about their ability to cope and live with their disability, to know that they are loved by God and by us.

 

From my research into mental health and the church I came to some conclusions, which I want to share today:

 

These conclusions relate to physical disability as well.

 

The failure to acknowledge and address the issue of disability in the worshipping congregation divides and alienates people with disability from the love of the Body of Christ and opens them up to feelings of otherness, isolation, fear of discovery and judgement and of self-worthlessness.

 

Churches need to actively support key workers in setting up a focused group to empower and encourage people with disability which comes together with the rest of the congregation to worship together.

Churches need to actively encourage discussion on the issues of disability, and provide training and exposure to disability to the general population, so that there can be an openness and breaking down of the fearfulness in sharing the struggles of people in the congregation, in order that support can be given and received freely.

 

Churches need to address the distorted perceptions arising from the charismatic movement which focused on victorious triumphal living, and include in their teaching an understanding of the place in a spiritual journey of sorrow and pain, as evidenced in the life of Christ. 

 

Churches need to balance the post-resurrection victory of Christ with the pre-death suffering experience of Christ in order to obtain a more fully comprehensive understanding of our human relationship with God.

 

I have skewed this talk to being about our response to disability as a church but we need also to think what we want to say to the society in which we live, and to the lawmakers who make the laws which affect people with disability.

 

Do the policies of the parties address the needs of those with disability? Do they build social cohesion, supportive communities, community ownership, unifying disadvantaged groups or people excluded from participating in society?  (Community development mental health model)[6]

 

You decide.

 



[1] www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/O/4A305BD9534765FFCC256CB0010A6

[2] Nancy Eiesland & Don E Saliers Human Disability and the service of God: reassessing religious practice  152

[3] Stanley Hauerwas & Jean Vanier Living gently in a violent world: the prophetic witness of weakness 74

[4] Massachusetts Council of Churches. “The Accessible Church: toward becoming the whole family of God.” 2001. <http://www.masscouncilofchurches.org/docs/accessibility.htm>  (9 March 2009)

[5] David G Benner, Care of Souls 127 

 

[6] MoH paper, appendix 2.