• Ewert, Krista - The Rise and Fall of Disability Language and Rhetoric

    From the Eighteenth to the Twenty-first Century, society cycled through a set of inadequate and even harmful language used to define and characterize persons with disabilities, which created and perpetuated negative stereotypes and assumptions. While dominant frameworks of thought shifted, the language adopted in each century consistently dehumanized, disempowered, and devalued those with both intellectual and physical disabilities. Much of this language has endured to present day leaving persons with disabilities little sense of collective identity or, at best, a scientific or socially-informed identity and society, with a deficiency of vocabulary to describe people of historical difference. Only by reaching for theologically rooted language, will those with disabilities be restored to their full dignity and a fully realized identity in Christ as integral members of God’s Kingdom. This paper explores the insufficient and incongruent set of terms that contemporary society has inherited from its historical forebears and illuminates the need for a more robust, theologically rooted understanding of difference that can inform a new set of language and rhetoric that imbues those with disabilities with dignity and value.

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  • Freiburger, Erik - Not Just Another Brick In The Wall: 3 Questions For Engaging Disability Personally & Across Canada

    In his book ‘Life Worth Living: A Guide to What Matters Most’, Miroslav Volf poses a thought-provoking question: “Do we exist as a limitless forest or a central tree?” This question serves as a metaphor for understanding human nature and agency, exploring the balance between our place in society and our individual autonomy.

    After spending thirty years in a wheelchair due to a spinal cord injury, and viewing life through the lens of disability, I have discovered three profound questions that continually shape my perspective, both personally and across Canada:

    1. What does the concept and language of disability mean to you or to us?
    2. Where can we find dignity in our lives and sense of personhood?
    3. How can we nurture hope for today and the future?

    While I do not claim to be an expert, I aspire to explore these questions on a personal level and through conversations with others. My aim is to deepen our understanding of ourselves and to discover practical ways to address these questions in our lives today.

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  • Funk, Abrahanna - Power, Trauma and Spiritual Abuse: How Disability Ethics can help the Church

    This paper seeks to break down how differing forms of power struggle, trauma and abuse label individuals of difference as outcasts within and outside of the church. Breaking down the segregation of prayer semantics and labelling based on first-glance judgment, the church alienates those Jesus calls us to welcome into the body of Christ with openness and embrace.

    What if the church began to see those alienated within the church as Jesus saw the oppressed of His time? How can we learn from the encounters Jesus has with those overlooked and segregated from their communities due to strict purity as an example of how to welcome those we encounter? How can the church remove stereotyping semantics in sermons, greetings, prayer and interactions with those of the disabled community to see each individual’s uniqueness?

    The church misses out on a massive opportunity by trying to heal everyone when the childlike faith God asks us to seek out can most clearly be demonstrated in those we label incapable, other and not worthy of paying attention to. Through a study in Luke and Acts, this paper seeks to encourage churches through the works of Jesus and His disciples while providing tools and ways the church can reframe services and doctrinal thinking to embrace those of difference into church communities, with acceptance and fellowship, allowing them to use their giftings to teach and inspire others. Everyone is welcome in the body of Christ and has a role to play; the question is whether the church is ready to embrace it.

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  • Harris, Greg - Honour, Perfection, and the Necessity of 'the Weak' in the Body: The Importance of 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 and 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 for the Local Church

    The church where I serve as a pastor is one of the few in our region that provides any ministry with disabled persons in mind. The Thrive ministry has operated for decades, blessing dozens of families and hundreds of individuals in one way or another. This ministry is not (yet) what it could be since it functions largely outside the congregation’s social imaginary as merely a niche ministry. However, according to Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 and 2 Corinthians 12:6-10, the telic flourishing of the local assembly of Christians depends on honouring the marginalized in our midst. In other words, the health of the body is tied – in part – to providing spiritual formation for the often spiritually forgotten. This paper will (a) describe the Thrive ministry as it currently operates, (b) explore a disability theological reading of 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 and 2 Corinthians 12:6-10, before finally (c) providing a vision for how the Thrive ministry could function in the years to come to align more closely with the Apostle Paul’s teaching.

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  • Kim, Lily A. - City on a Hill: Survivors and Caregivers in Post-Holocaust Perspective

    Caregivers in the disability community represented “missing” voices in the church, yet were qualitatively captured in multicultural Canadian context. An understanding of empathy as mercy also revealed the liminal status, economic, and cultural burdens of caregivers. While examining outcomes amid post-Holocaust dialogue, their sense of peace grew from physical or moral disability with intercultural activism. Diverse “bodies” redirected themselves toward spiritual and psychosocial healing, as practical theological findings helped to connect survivors and caregivers, who reimagined life together as a City on a Hill.

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  • Morelli, Michael - Fortifying wine: 1 Timothy 5:23's Prescription for Stomach Problems and Frequent Ailments

    1 Timothy is no stranger to scrutiny, but limited attention has been given to Timothy’s “stomach” and “frequent ailments” mentioned in 5:23. This presentation poses two questions. First, what stomach problems and ailments did Timothy suffer from, and second, what is the significance of the prescription “no longer drink only water, but take a little wine?” I propose Timothy is neither being counselled to avoid performative asceticism because he is guilty of pastoral virtue signalling, nor being told to drink wine solely for medicinal purposes. Rather, I suggest the prescribed consumption of wine in the present for medical reasons prefigures future consumption of wine for celebration at the wedding banquet for the marriage of Jesus and the church (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:14-18; and 1 Corinthians 11:26). In this sense, the suggested present and future consumption of wine with anticipatory temperance interweaves in these passages. It helps fortify Timothy—and others who experience similar challenges—physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally in difficult present and future circumstances for someone who seems to be suffering from a chronically disabling condition inflamed by numerous harmful environmental factors (contaminated water and distressing ministry conditions).

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  • Parish, Corey - Geographies of Disability: Engaging the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    Geographies of Disability explores the lived experiences of disabled people with space, place, and the interpersonal communities they belong to. It engages various disciplines from geography and social studies to investigate relationships between disabled people and their social-physical environments. Geographies of Disability acknowledges the complex relationships among environments and dis/abled minds and bodies, seeking to understand the everyday experiences of marginalized people. This paper outlines current themes in Geographies of Disability while drawing insights from the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer regarding anthropology, community, and embodiment. This paper aims to draw further interactions between current discussions on disability and Christian theology.

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  • Ragan, Ty - Everybody Poops (Dignity in Belonging with the Imago Dei)

    This is a presentation for churches on how to navigate from accessibility (going beyond building codes) to inclusion (a space for everyone) to truly understanding the intersections that go into the Imageo Dei (created image) within the mosaic of the church for authentic belonging. It conceptualizes what needs to happen so dignity can happen in community, how ministry and ministers of the gospel are understood, and the greatest risk we can take in connection to belonging. It is the greatest risk for we risk, knowing that there will come a time when there will be loss and grieving emotions we try to avoid. It all starts with the bathrooms and grows forward from there if we are willing to release our own ableism, regardless of church size to see what universal design in both ministry and buildings can do for crafting the kingdom.

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  • Rempel, Daniel - Called to Witness: Exploring Vocation Among Christians with Intellectual Disabilities

    People with intellectual disabilities—especially those with profound intellectual disabilities—continue to remain shut out from participating in the worshipping lives of church. Part of the reason for this is that many Christians today remain swayed by normate biases which assume such people incapable of having a robust spiritual life. In many places, if such Christians are accepted, they are often accepted on the grounds of exceptional cases, which often result in Christians with intellectual disabilities being treated as, to borrow Harold Wilke’s term, “sickened class citizens.” This paper tries to correct such attitudes by exploring Christian vocation. In it, I will argue that the vocation of a Christian is found in our calling to witness towards the one who calls us. Such a redefinition of vocation as a response to a calling will then lead towards a framework that sees people with intellectual disabilities as “called,” just like any other able-bodied person. However, it will go beyond a mere equality to demonstrate the potency for understanding the Christian vocation of all people when examining this topic through a disability-specific lens.

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  • Simmonds, Tamara - We Are Friends: Narratives of Friendship, Disability Theology, and the Joy of Shared Life

    This paper argues that friendship provides a vital relational construct within which persons living with diverse disabilities and abilities can together experience fruitful engagement, healthy discipleship, and the hope of shared joy. While efforts towards accessibility and inclusion are important first steps, what continues to be lacking in the church is a widespread intentionality to craft a deliberate relationship with disability that can awaken us to involve, value, commit to, and enjoy one another as disciples of Jesus in all our diverse ways of being in the world. What is needed is a model that recognizes our common desire to be chosen, valued, and loved within relationships of trust. The goals of this paper are to better understand the distinct nature of Christian friendship characterized by the hospitable love of Jesus, and to consider how the church participates in God’s active presence in the world as communities of friends that include and are enriched by persons living with disabilities. The first section of the paper explores narratives of friendship from the book of Ruth and John 11 to suggest a biblical understanding of friendship in its ancient context. The second section considers contemporary work in disability theology by Swinton, Reinders, and Young. The final section proposes essential elements for the hopeful practice of Christian friendship.

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  • Terblanche, Landa - The Need for Specialized Education for Health Care Providers in Caring for Individuals with Disabilities

    The history of care given by nurses and other health care providers and their education in the specialization of caring for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities has evolved across time. Many issues and societal attitudes have influenced this care and education but remains an undervalued area for theoretical and clinical teaching.
    Part of this problem is due to the limited knowledge of health care providers regarding the specific conditions, health care management for this population, and available financial options and community support. It is often the case that educational curriculum for all health care disciplines are unable to fit in enough information about the practical experiences with this population. Individuals with intellectual disability have specific health and support needs that require a specialized workforce. This presentation will discuss what has shaped the field in the past and how this might inform the future of this specialty area.

  • Volman, Ben - Parenting a Child with Learning Disabilities

    “It’s not supposed to be this hard.” I recall those words, because it was almost a relief to hear it from an experienced parent with several children. It summed up my feelings after our first few years of parenting just one. I would blame myself or my wife for our sense of exhaustion. Our son was talented, sociable, occasionally articulate, and physically attractive. However, as he grew older, we saw that even the exasperation of his peers was evident. Finally, at the age of six, a child psychologist gave us her verdict: our child would have a lifetime of intellectual challenges ahead. I had always been suspicious of labels, but I was relieved that there was an explanation: our son was “learning disabled.” I would like to briefly share some of the personal and practical challenges of parenting a child with this label, the turning points that allowed us to dispense with the label, and how we slowly found ways of speaking together as a family about ability and unconditional acceptance.

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  • Zumwalt, Shannon - Created Disabled: the Presence and Significance of Intentional Disability in the Creation Account

    How we understand God’s role in and intention for disability directly influences our understanding of people with disabilities and the extent to which the church embraces them as crucial members of the body of Christ. By applying a disability hermeneutic to the creation account, we can gain a more faithful understanding of disability by viewing it as an integral part of God’s good creation. In Genesis 2, the human’s flesh was not healed but simply closed when God took his side. The human can be understood as being intentionally wounded and essentially disabled by God in the creating of the woman. This places the occurrence of disability before the fall, and as a means to create something very good rather than something to be mourned. Disability theology is a relatively new area of study that can be progressed by understanding disability as an intentional feature of God’s good creation.

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