Disability Studies and Missiology - An Approach


Eberhard Werner

Disability Studies and Missiology – An Approximated Discourse

werner [at] forschungsinstitut.net


Disability Studies and Missiology – An Approximated Discourse. 1

Abstract 1

1. Disability Studies - History. 2

1.1 Difficult Beginnings. 2

1.2 Ethnographies and Films - Public Perception of disabled Persons. 3

1.3 Perception - Models and Constructs of Disability Studies. 4

2. Social Challenges - Saints or Demons. 4

2.1 Behavioral strategies - discourses of conscience. 5

2.2 Conflict potentials - perception as "objects". 6

2.3 Social Conscience Control – Together and for each other 7

2.4 Disability Studies between the Fronts. 7

3.  Theology, Missiology and Disability Studies. 8

3.1 Vanier - Sharing the worlds of life. 8

3.2 Eiesland, Beates, Yong - Weakness as divine Imperative. 9

3.3 Biblical Reports - An inclusivist Missiology. 9

4. Disability Studies and Missiology - Review and Outlook. 12



Disability Studies is a scientific branch that has emerged since the sixties of the last century. Basic was the movement of people with mental and physical limitations to liberate them from paternalism and dependence during this period. This branch is broadly networking in many disciplines. Theology in particular has received exegetical, hermeneutical and practical theological impulses from people with and without impairment from disability studies in the last thirty years. Unfortunately, intercultural theology and missiology have given little attention to the subject. The close attachment of missiology to theology will no longer be able to suppress the impulses there. Rather, in the area of hermeneutical foundations, church building and interreligious discourse, the question of inclusion, participation and integration of all social groups in the religious community of the followers of Christ is important. The people with disabilities themselves and the people who care for them should have their say. The global church partially and theoretically fulfills the mandate of inclusion, but lacks the courage to involve people actively with disabilities or to appreciate their historical and current importance. This article provides an overview and outlook.

1. Disability Studies - History

Disability Studies originated during the liberation movements of the sixties of the last century. These include the so-called student revolutions, the feminist movement, the homosexual and lesbian movement, the environmental movement and many others. At the same time, social changes have affected the perception of previously neglected groups of people, e.g. people with mental or physical impairment. The rebellion of the people with disabilities was directed at social tutelage. In particular were criticized, home and group accommodation, forced sterilization and exclusion from the public due to structural obstacles. The underlying paternalism, due to social prejudices, did not leave the tutors any room to get involved in the discussion that affects them. Their being different was described by the key words inability, as for example on self-sufficiency or for service provision, and dependency named as social nest polluters, social beneficiaries or social parasites. This inevitably led to the deprivation of human dignity and the humiliating designation as "(stupid) cripples", "spastic" or "lunatic".

1.1 Difficult Beginnings

The modern liberation movement of people with disabilities began in the US. Before, state run care organizations, often part of Church initiatives (diaconal activity), were responsible for rehabilitation and care centers.

In addition to the legal right to structural access and usable restrooms, the modern movement demanded self-determined assistance in daily life. The right to participate in scientific and political discourse went hand in hand with such strains. The background to the recognition of these demands came from the military interventions of the fifties and sixties (Vietnam, Korea), which claimed their victims and generated an army of people with physical and mental impairment. The close coupling of military and politics in the USA led to extensive legal regulations, which guaranteed these war casualties access to education, public facilities and a self-determined life by assistance legally formulated in the most recently: Americans with Disability Acts from 1990. In contrast to this, in Europe, the war invalids of the First and Second World Wars had generated the establishment of state welfare homes and thus an unwanted outsourcing from society. In addition, there was the organization of private institutions, which certainly unconsciously promoted the upbringing, accommodation and thus outsourcing of people with disabilities in “special education”, in German called Sonderpädagogik (special eduction), institutions beginning in Kindergarten then moving to schools and care homes.

In the 1970s, in the UK, the main resistance was against residential that is closed care. In Germany, the “cripple movement”, founded in the 1970s in Bremen by Horst Frehe and Franz Christoph in the year 1977, and most famous in Frankfurt by Ernst Klee and Gusti Steiner with a tram blockade in 1981 has turned to the public with some success. Their main activities were in the time span of 1970-1981. We still looked at social outsourcing and paternalism that were fought by this movement. The Frankfurt movement had received the most attention because of its open, sometimes radical protest. 5.000 people with disabilities demonstrated in Frankfurt on May 8th 1980 against a judgment of the Frankfurt Regional Court of February 25th 1980, according to which the "presence of a group of disabled people is an affront to the enjoyment of vacation of non-disabled" that lead to claims for damages. Countless actions on public transport, access to public buildings and private facilities led to the public recognition of structural and intellectual hurdles in society.

1.2 Ethnographies and Films - Public Perception of disabled Persons

Due to their networking in the social sciences, psychology, theology and the natural sciences, disability studies have contributed many ethnographies, life stories and life worlds by people with disabilities. In particular, the following works had great impact on scientific and social level:

  • The ecumenical-theological reflection of Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz on Partners in life: The handicapped and the Church (1979) of the WCC (World Council of Churches; Faith and Order 89).
  • In North America by Ablon, Joan 1984. Socially Critical Study of Short Stature Little People in America: The Social Dimensions of Dwarfism. New York: Praeger.
  • The Feminist Study on Women with Disabilities by Asch, Adrienne & Fine, Michelle 1988. Introduction: Beyond Pedestals, in Fine, Michelle & Asch, Adrienne (eds.): Women with Disabilities: Essays in Psychology, Culture and Politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • The ethnography of a researcher affected by congenital deformities by Frank, Gelya 2000. Venus on Wheels: Two Decades of Dialogue on Disability, Biography, and Being Female in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Probably the most significant theological-hermeneutical treatise on the "disabled God" by Eiesland, Nancy L. 1994. The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. Nashville: Abingdon.
  • Famous personalities wrote biographically, such as Christopher Reeve, who was tetraplegic due to a riding accident (Superman actor in 1978 and 1980), Reeve, Christopher 1998. Still me. New York: Ballantine Books. Others became famous for their biographies, such as Joni Eareckson-Tada, who was also tetraplegic paralyzed due to a swimming accident. Eareckson-Tada, Joni 1976. Joni - An Unforgettable Story. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
  • Films like Rain Man (Dustin Hofmann 1988; Autism), My Left Food (Daniel Day-Lewis 1989; Athetose), I am Sam (Sean Penn 2001; mental impairment), Mozart and the Whale (Josh Hartnett 2005; mental impairment) and many others brought physical and mental impairment to the public, but were played by non-disabled actors, which those affected rightly criticize given their life realities.
  • Few but authentic films, such as about deaf people Beyond the Silence (Sylvia Testud 1996), the coach of a Paralympic team known for his shortened arms, My way to Olympia (Niko von Glasow 2013), or the well-known film on Down Syndrome Me too (Pablo Pineda 2009) managed to address a small but interested audience.

These examples, given in excerpts, describe the interlocking of the different living environments of people with and without impairment, as illustrated in Disability Studies. In summary, we find three approaches as to how disabled persons dealt with (object orientation) and how they expressed themselves (subject presentation):

  • State-public supply principle: includes efforts by society to care for people with disabilities through home and care facilities.
  • Private, non-governmental approaches that organized special needs on integration, participation and inclusion.
  • Self-help: Self-organized, sometimes radical groups of people with disabilities who provoked political demands for self-sufficiency.

Only the latter movement ultimately leads to a society in which people share the public living space with and without restrictions, because it no longer makes any difference between them and is adapted to everyone represented in the basic idea of inclusion and full social participation.

1.3 Perception - Models and Constructs of Disability Studies

One of the merits of Disability Studies is the highlighting of ideological conceptions about disability. This enables a differentiated spectrum of perceptions. The so-called “medical model” is the construct usually encountered. It forms the usual perception and is based on the premise of rehabilitation, that is, the return to "normality", stigmatizing the disability and describing it as disturbing. This can also be found in biblical reporting, by e.g. claiming disabled people for begging or call them “the miserable blind”. The Middle Latin term rehabilitatio "restoration" concisely expresses the objective of this approach. The second approach is found in the “social model”, which is favored in England and describes disability as a social construct. It is still defining a social community as “being different” (otherness) and thereby stigmatizes it. In contrast to this, the “cultural model” is favored in the USA, which evaluates disabled people alongside as part of a culture other cultural groups (women, people of different colors, sexual orientation). Society complements each other to a whole. “Inclusion” is the complementary consequence of this view (e.g. Eiesland 1994:58-60).

So much for the historical development of the liberation movement of people with physical and mental limitations from tutelage and paternalism, from which disability studies crystallized. Which social challenges and thus areas of work do Disability Studies face?

2. Social Challenges - Saints or Demons

The multi-layered, complex and closely linked social challenges, where people with and without disabilities come together and work together can only be understood, if psychological-physical processes are also taken into account. From there on those encounter strategies develop, which in ethnographies so impressively emphasize the stigmatization and the "being different" of people with disabilities.

The appearance of people with physical and mental limitations causes discomfort, insecurity and fear in their fellow human beings (including those affected themselves). As in the case of dysmelia (congenital malformation), this can lead to openly pronounced excitement, sudden turning away or, in extreme cases, shock (Cloerkes 1985, Chapter 15: 2).[1] In contrast, there are (temporary) diseases. The other person treats them with compassion, consolation and understanding with regard to their own impermanence and susceptibility to diseases.

In religious, including Christian circles, which transfer ancient biblical content to today, the close connection between suffering, sin and obsession, plays a role. As a cause, Christians or religious people assume or suspect a weakness or lack of faith. This despite Jesus' clarification that sin - even across generations - should not be understood as a cause of physical or mental impairment (John 9:2-3). However, theologically Jesus checkmates the question as he sets sin and the eye in relation (e.g. Mt 5:29; Mk 9:47) and interprets the narrative from Joh 9 metaphorically by challenging the Pharisees that they see but are in sin (John 9:42).

These theological assumptions add to the general fear of personal encounter with disabled persons that already exists and can lead to a so-called power encounter as a struggle of evil and good powers on the psychological level. In it, people with physical or mental impairment are rated as objects to the inherent demonic violence. Exorcism, demonic accusations and thus denial of brotherly and neighborly love are the consequences. Logically, non-disabled people evaluate this differently, as they only assume well-intentioned assistance to these “divine” processes.

2.1 Behavioral strategies - discourses of conscience

When confronted with disabled people, behavioral strategies that are culturally different break up. In the individualistic North European-North American area, where the conscience is more oriented towards justice and guilt, a rather introverted “avoidance strategy” prevails. Either any encounter is avoided or non-disabled people force themselves to get a grip on themselves so as not to give space to their curiosity, their displeasure or their helplessness. The conscience in these individualist societies is in conflict with the spontaneous reaction, which the otherness of disabled people generate. In future encounters, such stressful situations are avoided. The individual’s conscience excludes those who are “different” through long-term ignorance. This leads to the isolation of disabled persons (Cloerkes, Chapter 16: 1). In contrast, in more honor and shame-oriented and collective societies one finds a “confrontation strategy”. People with physical and mental disabilities are met by laughing at them, by physical confrontation, such as circling around them or more or less touch them “friendly (patting, pinching, pushing). Here, too, the disabled person is isolated, because after the short-term confrontation any behavior has subsided, the object becomes uninteresting or on long term, it is frustrated by the “special treatment”. The collective conscience excludes those who are “different” by emphasizing its limitations. Non-disabled people react in accordance with their collective responsibility in such a way that they express group membership, while at the same time marking the demarcation line. The behavioral patterns shown here, regardless of which conscience orientation, show the long-term strategies that transfer responsibility for the discomfort, rejection or overreaction on to the people with physical or mental impairment.

In all cases, the overriding group conscience forms the yardstick for the generated repression strategies. The stigmatizing behavioral patterns include all kinds of human awkward­ness by aggressive or resignation reactions or by paternalism that is shown in mothering or pity instead of co-suffering. The most typical statements and experiences, such as those listed in the above ethnographies are:

  • Overriding the person with restrictions by addressing the accompanying person to questions or comments about the disabled person such as ignoring by e.g. “What's his name?” “How old is s/he?” “That s/he can do this (on her own)!”
  • Taking away responsibility in situations that are “perceived as difficult” without asking. Typical hereby is the joke of the grandma that is waiting for somebody and brought across the street without wanting to change street. This includes ignoring ones will, by e.g. opening doors without asking, suddenly pushing wheelchairs from behind or reaching under arms of blind people, as well as senseless gesturing and loud talking for the deaf.
  • Suspicious restraint and staring at how a person with limitations deals with an everyday thing out of curiosity or a prejudice of one’s inability.
  • Loud pitying in public space like "You poor"; "God stands by you", indiscreet addressing by strangers or the ignorant first question without anyone even knowing the person "What did you do?", “What happened to you?”

These few examples illustrate what generates the fear of encounter and insecurity in people with physical or mental impairment.

2.2 Conflict potentials - perception as "objects"

What do these strategies of repression do in people with disabilities? How do they affect these people in their daily life strategies? On the one hand, they lead to withdrawal from public life due to multiple disappointments. This isolation is not only physically relevant, but above all psychologically. People with disabilities perceive themselves as an object, with which something is done (Klee 1981:179-180).[2] This includes, among other things, the observation and assessment by non-disabled people in new therapeutic approaches, in rehabilitation or after interventions, thus constantly being observed in public. Obvious reaction of non-disabled are “Mama, what has the woman got?”, “Let me help you?”, or the lack of understanding when help is refused such as “(What is wrong with you) I just asked.”, “Why not, you cannot do it?”, "Do you really need no help?" The denial of a person’s human dignity lies in the degradation to an object. People with physical or mental impairment partially take on this view, in that they excessively assume the role of victim as an object and accept financial and nursing care as a given. These processes happen unconsciously and since there are no alternatives, or only those with a considerable effort, the person resigns himself to the situation. In this self-surrender, however, the person makes itself even more dependent and serves the prejudices of the non-disabled as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Several stages describe discriminatory ableism:

  • Being ignored in everyday life like waiting behind a high counter: “Oh, I didn't see you at all” or pushing past disabled people in queues,
  • State / public tutelage in everyday life by “but s/he can't do that” or “s/he is too stupid for that”,
  • From all sides openly shown rejection, especially in the public debate, by statements such as “away with those, as was done before” (playing with euthanasia of the Third Reich), “you have already earned your punishment”, “you are all social beneficiary” or “cripples and lunatics are not welcome”.

It is obvious that non-disabled people draw the boundaries of what is perceived as discriminatory differently than people with physical or mental impairment. The fact that people without physical or mental limitations are now critically discussing disabled people and their demanding, aggressive or resignation reactions increases the pressure and shifts the responsibility of discrimination to those who are affected. They become the “scapegoat” for the reactions of the environment, “stamped and collectively or additionally stigmatized, as they deviate from the expectation of being grateful, humble, dependent and powerless” (Sandfort 1990:14; see above)[3]. One example is the initial result of the Corona triage-discussion, when disabled people were collectively pointed out as although belonging to the risk-group are being recommended one of the last to get intensive care (https://www.divi.de/aktuelle-meldungen-intensivmedizin/triage-bei-covid-19-wir-entschei­­den-­nicht-nach-alter-oder-behinderung-intensiv-und-notfallmediziner-aktualisie­ren­-klinisch-ethische-entscheidungsempfehlungen [German] [accessed 2020-11-01]). Only heavy critics by disabled organizations led to skip this prejudice.

2.3 Social Conscience Control – Together and for each other

What is considered politically correct or culturally absorbed is part of the grey zone that allows people with restrictions social reflection. These include the legal options[4] and the control function of the “people's conscience”[5], as a higher authority, as well as the cultural imprint to which one belongs and which one shares with the environment (Cloerkes 1985, Chapter 15: 3). These limitations enable you to assert your own claims. The arbitrariness of the authorities (e.g. recognition of care levels), shifts in social norms (e.g. laissez fair upbringing and the status of children) or the legal and political framework (e.g. shift to the right; departure from European jurisdiction) bring forth extreme effects of insecurity to the framework in which people with disabilities are able to move safely.

At this point, it is important to note that people with physical or mental impairment are well aware that a secure livelihood is only generated, if people with and without disabilities live closely together.[6] Patronage is detrimental to the mutual goal and benefit of inclusion, as those affected are themselves the experts in these matters.[7] The motto propagated here is “Not about us, without us!”

However, it is getting difficult in intercultural encounters, when different orientations of conscience meet, as will be described below.

2.4 Disability Studies between the Fronts

Interestingly, the displacement strategies are based on long-term ideological strategies of action, which are particularly important for missiological theory and practice. Until now, the impression could arise that people with physical and mental limitations were only judged negatively, that is, pejoratively. Following the title of this section, demonization sets in by being punished for the insecurity of the environment. Following this categorization, the religious notion is that a physical or mental restriction represents a divine punishment for misconduct on the part of those affected (e.g. Job 5:17) or their relatives (generational responsibility; e.g. Ex 20:5). It is important to note that this idea was deeply questioned in the New Testament (John 9:2-3), but follows a universal human blame as an attempt to explain disability and as mentioned above is levelled by Jesus other comments. Nevertheless, there is in some places also (high) respect for people with physical or mental limitations. Above all, the perseverance and adherence to the motto of life or faith, the courage to cope with everyday life or the inclusion in the public discourse leads to a kind of “canonization” of disability. Few cultures understood some physical differences as divine signs (e.g. some Zoroastrian beliefs in the Middle East). The underlying process attaches special divine powers to the particular disability and thereby on the person with physical or mental limitations. Sometimes disability is understood as a special closeness to the divine space. Nonetheless such an assumed closeness is generating in non-disabled persons the idea that persons with a physical or mental limitation are following a divine mission. Interestingly such is never meant for all people with physical or mental limitations, or all limitations in general, but different factors must come together. In western contexts, only special life achievements for special conditions will allow such assumptions of divine choosiness (e.g. accidents, mobility impairment).

The already mentioned tetraplegic paralyzed Joni Eareckson-Tada, who has been a pastor in the Christian world, has become particularly well known. With books, films and mouth-painted pictures that encourage people to live given a handicap, she has supported the movement of the disabled away from paternalism since her swimming accident in 1967. The physicist Stephen Hawking, who has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, should also be mentioned here. His theoretical achievements in physics earned him the highest honors. Nonetheless, we must be aware that it is not earthly success, which is essential, but the scoping in daily life with the atrocities of ableism (UK: disablism).

3.  Theology, Missiology and Disability Studies

The focus of Disability Studies now falls on the field of missiology and intercultural theology; this is not possible without the extensive work achieved in Disability theology. Until recently the only explicitly missiological study in the context of Disability Studies is from Conner (2015 and 2018).[8] Conner regards Lesslie Newbigin as the first missiologist who, in his article Not whole without the handicapped (1979), already points out that the church or congregation only experiences and reflects the kingdom of God by sharing the living realities of people with and without impairment .[9] Besides all applaud it is to be noted that Newbigin still promotes paternalism, since he classifies people with limitations as “being different”. His focus is on diversity, but at the same time he is talking about the “integration” of disabled persons (“they, them”) into the body, thus taking on an object-perspective.

What should be a meaningful theological basis for disability studies in intercultural theology? Since the 1980s, various researchers in disability studies have dealt with theological questions.

3.1 Vanier - Sharing the worlds of life

The Canadian theologian Jean Vanier became particularly well-known with his ecumenical work L'Arche, founded in France in 1964. The design of living spaces with and by people with mental disabilities and their assistants has since spread to 147 L'Arche communities across 37 countries. Their top priority is that the persons with physical or mental limitations are not victims but teachers to the non-disabled. The physical and mental limits of the L'Arche residents constitute the challenges that are elementary parts of human being and the gap between physical or mental diversity is to be overcome. Overcoming these limits is the task of the non-handicapped in cooperation with the residents. It is Vanier's merit to have pointed out the isolation of people with mental limitations, at the same time he sees and defines them not as objects but as independent subjects, whose living realities are inherently legitimate and approachable (Vanier 2000:20-21, 23).[10] The hermeneutic component of Vanier's work is based on perceiving human weakness, as it is expressed in the otherness of people with limitations, as a reflection of one's own being (:19). In some reflections within disability studies this is equated this with the weakness of God. Therefore, an interpersonal approach by person to person and by person to God is defined based on our weaknesses and limitations. The weakness of God was to approach men on the level of humanity. Divine revelation builds on this condescension and alienation (kenosis) in Jesus of Nazareth. Other theological approaches in the context of disability studies are also based on these foundational ideas.[1]

3.2 Eiesland, Beates, Yong - Weakness as divine Imperative

The already mentioned American theologian Eiesland, who had a congenital bone defect (d. 2009), describes God as a God with limitations who reveals himself in these (1994: 40-46; 89, 94, 104). She explains the theologies and living realities of Diane DeVries and Nancy Mairs. DeVries was born with a congenital shortening of her extremities. She experiences the Christian community as incomprehensible to her handicap, although she describes herself as a follower of Christ (: 33-39). Nancy Mairs developed MS at the age of 29. She described her life in dependence on divine provenance. In particular, she emphasizes her self-experience of complete dependence due to physical and mental changes that she has no control of (1994:40-46).

Beates, too, who comes from the experience as a parent of a daughter with multiple disabilities, emphasizes human weakness and helplessness in the face of all kinds of physical and mental limitations (2012: 47).[11] Weakness, describes the level that God will use to prove his strength (here he quotes Joni Eareckson-Tada who takes up the idea of condescension and kenosis; 2012: 68). He contrasts this with the utilitarianism of the Greco-Roman environment, which, like Plato in The Republic or Xenophobia's Constitution of Sparta, mentions the killing of unpleasant small children (euthanasia) (: 87-88).[12] He emphasizes the recent euthanasian ideas of James Watson (Nobel Prize Winner for Double-DNA Helix) and Peter Singer (Bio-Ethicist at Princeton) on the killing of small children, in case they were not declared “alive” or “viable” (: 104 -105).

Amos Yong speaks out in favor of an inclusive community led by the Holy Spirit, which expansively complements each other in the worlds of people with and without physical or mental restrictions. Their strengths and weaknesses are reflected in the weakness of the cross and lead to an inclusive ecclesiology (2011: 7-8, 89, 95).[13]

3.3 Biblical Reports - An inclusivist Missiology

The biblical reports are examined exegetically, hermeneutically and practical-theologically by Disability Studies down to the smallest mention of persons with restrictions. These begin with the Hebrew Bible and extend into church history via the New Testament. It starts with Eve's ability to give birth (Gen 3:16), moves on to the physical deviations of so-called giants (large body size; six fingers and toes; 2 Samuel 21:20), shows the hip-disability of Jacob in the fight with the a man (Gen 32:25), the particular physical decay of Job (Job and goes to the testimony of King David, who takes care of the paralyzed son of his friend Jonathans Mephi-Boscheth (2 Samuel 9:6). David himself suffers from old age and loses control of his body by cooling off (1 King 1:1). King Hezekiah suddenly experiences a physical limitation, but is healed and got more fifteen years to live (2 King 20:6).

The great prophets describe individual cases of healing but also the guidance of God into physical distress. People with physical or mental disabilities appear there. The climax in the prophets is the physical weakness of the servant of God in Isaiah 53. This picture, regardless of whether interpreted on Israel as God's people, in its spiritual orientation or on the Messiah, offers reason to assume a “hermeneutics of weakness”. The followers of the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth rightly interpreted death on the cross in terms of this image (2 Cor 12: 9; 13: 4). The biblically told period following the great prophets is the time of the diaspora and the outgoing Minor Prophets. In this and for this time, the general threats of physical and spiritual decline due to the spiritual distance from God are in the foreground, but no specific examples given.

In the entire Hebrew Bible, based on the Mosaic Law, there is high respect as well as social equality and integration reflected towards the עָנִ֥י וְאֶבְי֑וֹן ani we evjon “poor and miserable” (TWOT 3a and 1652d; e.g. Job 24:14). The fact that people with physical and mental limitations are sublimated, becomes clear due to their marginalization (being different) and the “Otherness” of these social groups (see above). The idea behind is based on the values of a people group. Dealing with these fringe groups reflects the scale of social values. According to the personality of the deity JHWH in the Hebrew Bible, society should be acting inclusively and become inclusive based on the Imago Dei. The value and dignity of the individual should be actively reflected or through actively promoted participation.

Out of Disability Studies a theology of the cross crystallizes by underlying a hermeneutics of weakness (see above). The question of theodicy in Holy Scripture is based on a theology of suffering. Such an attempt interprets the very nature of God in the incarnational depicted gift of oneself in the context of condescension into the sphere of man and kenosis (expression of God) in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The limitations of this hermeneutical approach is twofold for different reasons. On the one hand, the biblical testimony abolishes the overcoming of weakness or disability in healing. Secondly, the supposed weakness actually implies willpower and self-overcoming. The biblical image of healing, demonstrates a proximity to the medical model and the “healing of the world” is sought on the physical side. An immediate transfer from “healing” to “history of healing” is absent. In addition, the image of the cross describes a strong-willed and not at all a weak person. It takes a lot to go such a way up to the end of life. If this image would be considered in its entirety, then persons with limitations could profit from it. They would not be at the mercy of fatalism by paternalism contained in this image, but their "weakness" would be interpreted as the cause of the resistance that is needed to cope with their "being different" in everyday life. In order to project this problem onto an example of everyday practice, the right of independence and self-determination (autonomy) of people with mental and physical disabilities would be brought to the fore, instead of denying it through institutionalization and paternalism. This includes, for example, personal budgets, assistance in everyday life or alternative educational opportunities. The apologetic force behind such an approach is also important for the missiological implementation and theological bridging of this current gap. In the absence of active missiological research, this field remains open for the inclusion of the life-worlds of people with and without restrictions. Directly connected to this, the missiological side of the theological question remains unresolved. In particular, there is no recent solution for the church based on the experience of an individual, as well as of a society, in dealing with and feeling compassion - not pity - and in coming to terms with disability experience.

3.3.1 Practical aspects of disability studies from a missiological perspective

In the field of missiology, various organizations from the areas of inner mission as well as globally oriented Christian works have dealt with the topic of inclusion of people with physical and mental disabilities. In the German-speaking world, the Inner Mission, the Bodelschwinghsche Stiftung Bethel, which emerged out of Pietism and the Revival Movement, the Herrnhuter Diakonie, the Protestant Diakonissen movement, the Catholic Diakonie, as well as smaller local organizations have developed from the Inner Mission. The secular independence movement (e.g. Federal association of the independence of handicapped persons), the Aktion Mensch (in former times Aktion Sorgenkind), the national welfare organizations or the parity federation stand by side for these church-municipal diaconal works as carrier organizations.

The ecclesiastical and parochial deaconry within the framework of the Inner Mission has had a general and lasting influence on the significance and history of the hospital (formerly called epidemic house) and the welfare services (young people, disabled people, women, people of different sexual orientation). It is always in competition with the governmental and state-run organizations shaping the same social areas. The spectrum ranges from common institutions in democratic states, such as semi-state support associations of the Diakonie, to their complete dissolution in communist-socialist environments (Danys 2016:21, 124; e.g. ČSSR). In the latter environment, the focus of church-community diaconal activity is inevitably directed towards the inner-church area, so-called person-to-person diaconal activity. Interestingly, this type of diaconal activity is very much based on a kind of charity, which is understood as compassion. In this process, the person who is cared for becomes an object of care for those who come from the goal of "relieving unreasonable suffering". This ideology is based on the medical model and refers to the emotion of Jesus of Nazareth, who was "moved inwardly" at the sight of suffering people, which is interpreted as an idiom for "having compassion"[14].

While the earlier objective, namely to allow people with physical or mental disabilities to participate in social life, relied on an object-orientation, the inclusion emphasizes the subject-orientation. "Pity" becomes "compassion". Inclusion describes a reality in which the concerns of people with physical or mental disabilities represent fundamental human needs, since

  • anyone, at any time, can get into this category by accident, misfortune or disaster,
  • the demands of this group of people strengthen the whole of society socially, since they are part of the whole and everyone benefits from the demands they trigger [15].

The rethinking process in this regard has been politically called for since the UN Disability Resolution of 2009 (predecessor in 2006). Critically, it must be noted that church-community structures tend to be conservative and reluctant to meet state demands, and therefore slow to be implemented. While accessibility has been implemented relatively quickly due to demographic change and the high number of church members leaving the church, practical parish, pastoral and deacon ministry remains mostly closed. The reasons lie both in a lack of foresight and, and this is probably more difficult to explain, theological concepts. Here, a perception filtered through biblical glasses is interpreted hermeneutically, namely "healing, being saved, sanctification" is contrasted with "suffering, struggle of faith, evil" (see above). What does this look like in the outer mission or outward mission, or Christian service in the distance? Outward Mission - External Mission: Constructive Changes

As already mentioned, the Christoffel Blindenmission (CBM) has been a prominent feature in the German history of Christian development aid to and with people with physical or mental disabilities. The detailed account by Sabine Thüne, to which reference is made here, shows both the vision and the path of the siblings Ernst Jakob and Hedwig Christoffel and the more recent development of this organization [16].

It must be noted that national efforts of the nations that German development aid for people with physical or mental impairment was aimed should not be underestimated and are not taken into consideration here. Basically one determines an upgrading perception of handicapped persons, here particularly those with visual and hearing impairments in today's Turkey and Iran by the work of for instance the CBM, Such is not measurable in numbers, but only in the public perception. At the latest in the 1950s, the Turkish Republic organized work with and on disabled persons by the state (about 12.29% of the total population [17]). At the Paralympic Games, Turkish top athletes are involved in athletics and goalball (a Paralympic discipline since 1976). Schools for visually impaired children have been known since the foundation of the Turkish Republic, but they are elitist showcase institutions and not nationwide. The lack of a social system precluded such an option in the early decades. With the increasing rapprochement with the European Union since the 1960s, private (religious) initiatives for education for people with physical or mental disabilities in the area and quality for a wide range of disabilities are also improving. In Sivas, Malatya and Mesereh (Thüne 2007:31, 34, 66, 104) Christoffel has emphatically set important impulses for the education of visually and hearing impaired people. Later, he turned his attention to Tabriz and Isfahan (today Iran; 2007:167, 176, 216, 219-220). The Islamic Revolution (1979) completely banned Western aid. Although, the Iranian film "The colors of paradise" (Rang-e khoda "Colours of God"; Majid Majidis, 1999) shows the world of visually impaired people in rural Iran and of the accommodation in the educational institutions for the disabled in the cities, but interprets also the shortcomings.

Christoffel (pedagogue) and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM; 1810) considered education and medical and nursing support as part of spreading the gospel. Diaconal activity quickly became the most labor-intensive and predominant part of the work. The difficulty lay in giving Western values, which were despised in the target areas, a contextualized and relevant meaning to the people. Today this concept would be called transformational impact in missiology. The fact that disabled people were forced into begging, due to a lack of educational and employment opportunities was a fact of life in the West right up to the beginning of the Industrialization. Because of this, still being a reality in the Middle East, persuasion had to be taken from outside.

Christoffel came from a paternalistic approach in accordance with his time and possibilities. But he went one step further than many of his contemporaries. In view of the awareness and experience that he could be forced to leave work at any time, he involved people with physical or mental disabilities in management and leadership tasks at an early stage and taught them independence of thought, action and leadership (2007:350 based on his experience 1908 with a despondent blind person). But he also had a hard time giving up the ultimate leadership into such hands.

Another observation in the field of Christian development aid is the fact that in many learning situations of language and culture, i.e. the first contact with a foreign culture, people with physical or mental disabilities have time and interest to help because of their "being different" and stigmatized that is outside of the community. Often, however, these encounters do not appear in the biography of the development worker at a later date. It is a paradox of the history of Christian development aid that people with physical or mental disabilities cannot or do not want to take the initiative themselves, but let themselves be branded as objects by non-disabled people. The "good news" becomes a spiritual, but not an inclusive message.

4. Disability Studies and Missiology - Review and Outlook

The recent history of Disability Studies shows the struggle for liberation from institutionalization, forced sterilization, and denial of education by people with physical or mental disabilities. In the Inner and Outer Mission the model of participation is applied from the motivation of compassion. The step to inclusion is still dreaming in many areas, but the theological foundations have already been laid in the "theology of suffering", the "theology of weakness" and the principles of incarnational condescension into the sphere of man and kenosis (expression of Jesus of Nazareth). Only an interpretation with regard to the significance of people with physical or mental limitations as social indicators will make inclusion a supportive and holistic apporach. Such a hermeneutical direction will include the equalization of the poor, widows, disadvantaged and those who are "different" and will on the long run lead missiologically to the inclusivist shape(s) of the church.

[1] Cloerkes, Günther 1985. Einstellung und Verhalten gegenüber Behinderten – Eine kritische Bestandsaufnahme internationaler Forschung. 3. erw. Aufl. Berlin 1985. Bidok. [Attitudes and Behaviour towards disabled people - A critical review of international research.].

[2] Klee, Ernst 1981. Behinderten-Report II. 2. ergänzte Auflage. Frankfurt am Main. [Disabled-Report].

[3] Sandfort, Lothar 1990. Selbstorganisation Behinderter in den alten Bundes-ländern, in Seifert, Horst (Hg.): „Versorgt“ bis zur Unmündigkeit; eine Dokumentation zur Behindertenbewegung und zum Allgemeinen Behindertenverband in Deutschland eV „Für Selbstbestimmung und Würde“ (ABiD) – Band 3. Berlin. [Self-organisation of disabled Persons in the Old Provinces.].

[4] E.g. lawsuit against insult, the human rights as a basis for being perceived as a human being.

[5] The popular conscience is fed by political, religious and cultural influences and describes the scope of thought and action of a social group. In contrast to the world view or the perception of the world, the People's Conscience is a social group or ethnic group that is capable of acting and mobilizes the forces of its members.

[6] Who should approve, build and pay for the necessary elevators, ramps and aids, if not the non-disabled? However, the approval procedure or the handling of these measures must not be carried out without the people concerned themselves, as they are best placed to determine the requirements.

[7] It is an insanity of history that the Federal Commissioner for the Disabled was himself non-disabled until very recently. Incidentally, this is a practice that continues to be practiced at the state or local level. Imagine a man as a women's representative!

[8] Conner, Benjamin T. 2015. Enabling Witness: Disability in Missiological Perspective. Journal of Disability & Religion 19:1, 15-29. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis.

[9] Newbigin, JE Lesslie 1979. Not whole without the handicapped, in Müller-Fahrenholz, Geiko (ed.): Partners in life: The handicapped and the Church, 17–25. Faith and Order 89. Geneva, Switzerland: WCC Publications. Und Online: URL: https://archive.org/stream/wccfops­2.096/­wcc­fops2.096_djvu.txt [Stand 2020-10-04].

[10] Vanier, Jean 2000. What Have People with Learning Disabilities Taught Me?, in Reinders, Hans S. (ed.): The Paradox of Disability: Responses to Jean Vanier and L'Arche Communities from Theology and the Sciences, 19-24. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

[11] Beates, Michael S. 2012. Disability and the Gospel: How God uses our Brokeness to display his Grace. Wheaton: Crossway.

[12] It is controversial how Plato meant them, but it could not be proven historically that there were societies that categorically practiced such ideas.

[13] Yong, Amos 2011. The Bible, Disability, and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

[14] This literal translation of the verb σπλαγχνίζομαι splangnizomai "have pity" (intestines move; BDAG 6771) contains several translation options. The Elberfelder (1980/ 1993) translates literally, Einheitsübersetzung (1980), Zürcher (2007) and others with "have pity".

[15] At this point it is astonishing that e.g. first aid services and health insurance companies are not committed to barrier-free access, although they have considerable additional work and costs in the rescue/collection of heavyweight, disabled or elderly people from homes that are difficult to access.

[16] Thüne, Sabine 2007. Ernst Jakob Christoffel - Ein Leben im Dienst Jesu: Ernst Jakob Christoffel Gründer der Christlichen Blindenmission im Orient, Der Freundeskreis, Die Mitarbeiter anhand von Briefen, Schriften und Dokumenten im Auftrag der Christoffel-Blindenmission. Nürnberg: VTR. Incidentally, this work also excellently sketches the political history of the German-Turkish partnership since the imperial era from around 1890 onwards. Of interest for this article are the inner attitude as well as the theological justification of these missiological pioneering acts in the Ottoman Empire and, since 1923, the Turkish Republic and Iran.

[17] Online: URL: http://www.turkstat.gov.tr/PreTablo.do?alt_id=1017 [Stand 2020-10-20].



[1] It must be mentioned that after his death in 2019 Jean Vanier was accused of illegal sexual relationships with six non-disabled congregational women (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-51596516 [accessed 2020-11-20]).