Book Review: Krauß, Anne 2014. Barrierefreie Theologie: Das Werk Ulrich Bachs vorgestellt und weitergedacht

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Anne Krauß is a Protestant Lutheran pastor and hospital chaplain in Bavaria. She speaks from her own life experience due to an impairment of the sense of hearing when she reflects on the work of Ulrich Bach (1931-2009), an evangelical theologian who had Polio and needed assistance in later days. Bach’s Theology after Hadamar (Neukirchen, 2006), following a theology after Ausschwitz (the Jewish Holocaust), forms the cornerstone of his hermeneutic, liberation ideological approach. Krauß’s study appears in the series Behinderung-Theologie-Kirche, edited by Johannes Eurich (Diakoniewis-senschaftliches Institut Heidelberg) and Andreas Lob-Hüdepohl (Katholische Hochschule für Sozialwesen Berlin).

In the introductory chapter, Krauß describes the subject area of disability studies as it has developed and is currently presented, especially in German-speaking countries. The thematic complexes of illness, health, pain, suffering and the question of social identity within these basic states of human existence outline the range of considerations. Moving away from the question of theodicy, she looks at the legal frameworks that move an inclusive theology. Here, the definitions of the World Health Organization (disability, illness, disease) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006, ratified by Germany in 2009) form the basis of her understanding. Bach himself has published tirelessly on this topic since 1973 until most recently in 2006 (see above). Initially, his focus was on the diaconal part of disability studies, due to his work at the Evangelische Stiftung and the Diakonieanstalt Martineum. Later he interfered in the controversial debate about the so-called “Abortion Paragraph” (§218 StGB abortion). In his time, the preference utilitarianism of the Australian ethical philosopher Singer is also discussed intensively (see Practical Etics 1979). Bach vehemently opposes a rational-utilitarian view, just as he opposes what he considers the unjustified termination of a pregnancy on suspicion of disability, since it advances the isolation and segregation of people with physical or mental impairments.

In the second chapter the hermeneutic basis of a “theology after Hadamar” is discussed. This is done in reference to the extermination of disabled people in the Third Reich. In particular, the systematically planned “racial cleansing” action T4, planned in Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, and executed in Hadamar (Hesse) Grafeneck (Baden-Württemberg), Hartstein (Linz; Austria), Bernburg (Saxony-Anhalt), Sonnenstein (Pirma), and Brandenburg (Saale). From a hermeneutic perspective, Bach lays out a theology of the cross as a divine expression of “weakness” and identification with the weak and those perceived as different (pp. 63-97). His contextual approach borrows from the liberation-theological idealism of those postmodern days (1970-2000) and calls for a reorientation of the church in dealing with people with physical and mental limitations. According to him, every human being without exception is close to God. Evil is not demonstrated in disabled or sick people, but in the rejection of God. Profiling through illness or disability (“God wants to test these people”) contradicts the state of being of an affected person (“I am as I am”). Bach goes radically far here by imputing a “euthanasia mentality” or a “theological social racism” when the theologically significant distinction between healthy and sick people is referred to or held on to. In his opinion, this is the cause of unspeakable, harmful effects. Euthanasia, ableism, a hierarchizing Imago-Dei doctrine, and a Doing-Effecting Relation (Tun-Ergehen Zusammenhang) push people with physical or mental impairments to the sidelines (exclusion instead of inclusion), if not to extinction (euthanasia).

In the third chapter, Krauß discusses Bach’s view of healing and cure. In doing so, Bach contradicts the view of a healing mandate for the church. For him, there is only a preaching mandate. “A church that claims a healing mandate, which it does not have, jeopardizes the preaching mandate it has” (p. 126). Krauß spends a considerable amount of time contradicting Bach on this point. In her view, the longing for healing and a “healed” world is the basis of theology (pp. 134-137). “Without healing there is no salvation,” whereas there is no availability of salvation and one is fishing in the mud, so to speak, when healing is claimed (p. 131). These are the limits of theology and medicine. According to Krauß’ interpretations of Bach, the ideas of salvation that are based on the premises of health, efficiency, perfection (critically Henning Luther p. 144) are to be rejected just as much as a mysticism of suffering (Job’s figure in Schleiermacher; p. 140) or a martyrdom in the shadow of the cross (Barth; p. 141), as it is listed in the theologies of Schleiermacher and Barth as the night and shadow side of creation.

In the fourth chapter Krauß works through Bach’s approach once again. In doing so, she reflects on his attitude according to a “barrier-free theology” (see title). In contrast to the above-mentioned ideal conceptions of human existence, Limitation of existence (Daseins-Einschränkung) and Being-dependent (Angewiesen-Sein) should be emphasized. Both categories reflect the actual normality and interdependence of human beings. Accessible theology in this sense historically-thoughtfully precedes modern ideas of inclusion. Krauß goes further with regard to miracle and healing stories to the Roman Catholic theologian Dorothee Wil-helm (biblical stories speak only of normalization and adaptation; p. 175), Ulrike Metternich (dynamis and not miracle stories; p. 176), Andreas Lob-Hüdepohl (see above miracle stories are relational stories; p. 180), the American theologian Kathy Black (Theology of Interdependence; p. 181). She lists as examples of accessibility theology the approaches of Andrea Bieler/Hans-Martin Gutmann (Theory of the Superfluous; p. 200), Henning Luther (see above diaconal pastoral care as a church paradigm; p. 202), Ulf Liedke (Inclusive Anthropology; p. 204), and Nancy Eiesland (the disabled God; p. 206).

Krauß concludes with a theology of the imperfect, leaving the door open for further approaches to confront the phenomena of segregation, discrimination, and othering of people with physical and mental disabilities. The critical research on the work of Ulrich Bach is a source of struggle, especially in the regional churches, for participation, integration and inclusion of people with disabilities. At the same time, the stimulated and ongoing discourse is a challenge to the actors to approach each other and to represent together the diversity of the body of Christ.


Disability Studies ; Disability and Bible ; Disability and Church ; Hebrew Bible ; disability theology ; hermeneutics ; Hadamar ; theodicy