Book Review: Eurich, Johannes & Lob–Hüdepohl, Andreas 2014. Behinderung – Profile inklusiver Theologie, Diakonie und Kirche.

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The ecumenical series Behinderung-Theologie-Kirche, as edited by the Protestant Professor Johannes Eurich (Diakoniewissenschaftliches Institut Heidelberg) and the Roman Catholic Professor Andreas Lob-Hüdepohl (Katholische Hochschule für Sozialwesen Berlin), is currently the most comprehensive on the topic of Disability Studies in the German-speaking world. In 21 contributions, from the fields of special education, pastoral care for the disabled, ethics, diaconia and canon law, the ecclesiastical context of the inclusion of people with physical or mental disabilities is discussed. The starting point will be the publications of the World Council of Churches “Church of All. A preliminary declaration” (2004) and the Catholic bishops of Germany under the motto “unBehindert Leben und Glauben teilen” (2003), which arose around the European Year of People with Disabilities (2003). In the preface, the ecclesiastical-theological guiding idea becomes clear, namely to perceive people with disabilities, who have so far rather been objects to be talked about, now as subjects of their own testimony of faith (p. 9).

Interesting are the various also critical perspectives on inclusion that are taken here, as well as topics that are self-reflective and worth thinking about. These include Catholic canon law oriented toward the physical deficit with regard to the office of ordination or as a minister of the church, the Lord’s Supper as a place of being unbroken, disability and sexuality as a taboo subject, as well as disability and growing old.

Ottmar Fuchs interprets inclusion as a theological guiding category (pp. 12-36). He criticizes the exclusionary black-and-white picture of “fundamentalist” circles and their stigmatization attempts to maintain the fronts (pp. 19, 26). He defines the concept of compassion on two levels. On the one hand, ‘pity’ can be motivated by a natural defensive attitude due to embarrassing emotion, but on the other hand it is also a creative co-suffering that grows and becomes active (p. 22). From this, Fuchs derives his definition of compassion as interrupting compassionate pain, which he considers to be sustainable enough to bridge what is meant as deficient in the disabled person (pp. 26-28). He is critical of the general uncritical approval of inclusion without involving the people concerned themselves (costs, dismantling of state and private sponsors, etc.). A topic that Thomas Günther also takes up (pp. 92-94).

Roman Catholic canon law is criticized by Ottmar Fuchs (pp. 27-28), as well as by Thomas Schüller (pp. 178-186), especially its treatment of disabled theologians, which is reflected in the church. A similarly critical view of the Protestant pastoral ministry law is found in Thomas Jakubowski. It is similar to Catholic Church law, which is based on the patriarchal civil service law based on state welfare and grants a special position to the group of addressees. In such legal constellations, people with disabilities fall through the cracks because of their needs, because they are considered ‘beneficiaries’ or ‘noble disabled people’ for cost reasons, because of their otherness.

The question of suffering or theodicy is discussed by several authors. Johannes von Lüpke looks for points of reference in the ‘poor’ and the ‘needy’. In his opinion, the gospels revolve around this group of people. They tie in with the instructions (Torah) given in the Hebrew Bible for the compensation of social injustice, as symbolized by the ‘poor and widows’. In this sense he can speak of the divinity of disabled persons (p. 37-40). Thomas Günter looks critically at the creation discourse of Genesis. Instead of the ‘good creation’ he finds the immanent divine ‘defense’ and ‘elimination’ of unwanted states as norm. For example, chaos becomes order, darkest night becomes light day, and man is alone as a tragic condition. This post-control of God runs through the Bible and ends alone in the self-limitation of God. It is God Himself who can be found in this readjustment. In it the unbridgeable gap between the human states of being is abolished (p. 75). Manfred Oeming deals with the doing-becoming context (TEZ) of the Holy Scripture. He works out a “short-term retribution” in the interpretation, this shortens truths and looks for culprits. He therefore defines the TEZ as a rule of thumb, which also allows exceptions (p. 116). Markus Schiefer-Ferrari presents on the theology of rupture with regard to the breaking of the bread and the being broken of the body of Christ. In doing so, while rejecting the exegetical finding introduced by John Hull, who had an impairment of the sense of sight, he finds an inclusive approach in the ‘image of the Lord’s Supper’. Here, it is not the communal aspect of the meal, but precisely the diversity of the actors that becomes the reflection and expression of inclusive Christian diversity (p. 142).

There are two contributions on the topic of disability and sexuality. One by Andreas Lob-Hüdepohl (pp. 154-166) and one by Thorsten Hinz and Joachim Walter (pp. 284-286). The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities singles out the sexual sphere as requiring special protection. Assaults on weaker women, especially those who are dependent on care, is nothing new. With regard to people with physical or mental limitations, a special need for protection and also application is demanded. How should an assisted person live sexuality? How can active or passive sexual assistance look like without ending up as prostitution? How can a church that advocated sexual eugenics (sterilization, abortion) during the Third Reich credibly offer assistance in this area (p. 162)?

The other contributions discuss ecclesiastical inclusive models for shaping the church in diversity (Sabine Schäper, Wolfhard Schweiker, Johannes Eurich, Cornelia Coenen-Marx), as well as individual projects (Bettina Kiesbye and Inge Ostertag, Jochen Straub, Kyra Seufert and Gerd Frey-Seufert). Brigitte Huber’s brief reflection on the new church documents mentioned in the opening section above is worth mentioning (pp. 244-247), since their influence on church practice is not yet foreseeable.

It is not entirely clear according to which criteria this compilation took place or which target group was aimed at. Nevertheless, the contributions are indicative of areas of research in disability studies, especially with regard to diakonia as the inner mission of the church. In addition to a wide range of projects, the theological-hermeneutical reappraisal of inclusion as a guiding principle has been helpfully presented.