[Inclusion and Discipleship in the Church in View of the Developmentally Delayed
**]God Hears Us Through Red Headphones
By Lloyd Elwell
On the morning of August 13, 1981, Mary, my wife, gave birth to our youngest son, Sean. In the recovery room, I stood next to Mary’s bed holding her hand with my back to the door. The doctor silently entered the room and while my back was turned to her she simply said, “There is a problem.” Our lives changed, at that moment, in ways we could not imagine. Our emotions plunged, in an instant, from the highs of the joy at the birth of our second son to fear, despair and to the ever-present guilt. My wife, a speech pathologist who works with the developmentally delayed community, was much more prepared for what was to follow. I was a biology major and medical technologist. Although I knew something about genetics and some medical conditions, I was unprepared for the deluge of new medical words and phrases that would follow. I had much to learn.^^1^^
Thankfully, the developmentally delayed have garnered some attention through various laws for the handicapped and other movements such as Special Olympics. Since their handicaps seem to be more involved, more severe and more incapacitating to us, developmentally delayed people, as a group, tend to stand out looking and acting “different,” which frightens some. Their actions and behaviors can be odd or even disturbing. This may interrupt the quiet, stately, solemn atmosphere in church, and at best is met with grudging toleration, or unfortunately at times, with anger and rejection. Nearly all parents of a developmentally delayed child have gotten that call from someone who, hopefully politely, tells them that their child is no longer welcomed. In our case, it was a local scout day camp that Sean and his mother attended together. Too many times, however, it is the church that excludes this population.
Certainly, the parents of a “normal” child have a right to protect their children; we all as parents want to guard our children from perceived bad influences, as I did for my other son. And it can be quite a challenge to include the developmentally delayed due to their sometimes erratic behaviors. However, the church, of all places, should be setting the pace for including the developmentally delayed community, striving to provide accommodations, patience and understanding, as well as forgiveness and love. Developmentally delayed people may seem to be incapable of understanding, but a failure to actively include, embrace and disciple them will be a loss, not only for them, but also for the church, for we humans are all made in the image of God and included in the vicarious humanity of Christ.
In this paper, I will focus closely on the “developmentally delayed,” without endeavoring to cover all the physically, intellectually and emotionally disabling situations extant in the world. In chapter 1, I will a) define what is meant by developmentally delayed, b) look at some of the more common causes, c) include some statistics on its prevalence, and d) provide a short history of how this population has been variously perceived through history.
In chapter 2, I will look at the theology of what I call the a) “objective inclusion” of the developmentally delayed and b) ministry with them. This section will include a survey of the subject of imago dei biblically, historically and theologically. I will discuss how different concepts of imago dei have affected the outlook of the church on disabilities historically and also how modern secular thoughts of personhood have affected Western societies’ outlook. This section will include an exegesis of Luke 14:15-23, Jesus’ parable of the banquet, which I feel best informs this aspect of theological inclusion.
Ministry with the developmentally delayed will then be explored. This group of disabilities is fairly new, due to the fact that “natural mortality was high among children with disabilities.”^^2^^ It is only with the advent of modern medicine that large numbers of these individuals, especially the more severely involved, have been able to long survive. With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, a program, then considered logical and progressive, was ushered in to deal with various social problems by establishing “specialized institutions that were designed specifically to accommodate people who could not meet the daily living demands of their environment.”^^3^^ Sending developmentally delayed people away to asylums or “homes” segregated from common society is, I will argue, not the best for them or for us (the non-marginalized). We will therefore explore developmentally delayed peoples’ needs when it comes to discipling, and offer practical suggestions on how they might be actively included and embraced by the church. Finally, practical aspects will be discussed on the development of an inclusive and embracing church.
In chapter 3, I will develop what I will call the theology of “subjective inclusion” of the developmentally delayed and their ministry to the church. It will include a discussion on the vicarious humanity of Christ as given to us by Incarnational Trinitarian theology and how it applies, drawing from the writings of T. Torrance, M. Volf, H. Nouwen, J. Vanier, J. McSwain and others. This will include a short exegesis of two parables of Luke 15, the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7) and the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31), which I think best informs this theology of “subjective inclusion.”
Whereas before I surveyed possible expressions of the ministry of the church with the developmentally delayed, here I will explore the converse, i.e., positive aspects of the ministry of the developmentally delayed to the church. It may surprise some that the developmentally delayed actually have a ministry to the church! Just as we have gifts, so do they. Just as we may lead, so might they. Just as we have a priestly position, so do they. In fact, it is in their vulnerability that we get insights into what it is to be human, to learn that caring is giving but also receiving. The developmentally delayed can enable us to see Christ’s leadership in them and become aware of this dynamic in all of us. For this reason, the church is uniquely positioned to lead initiatives not only for including the developmentally delayed, and not only for acceptance and embrace, but also for the health of the larger community. I believe the church is God’s vehicle to reveal that we are better together and that we belong to each other, not because of someone’s arbitrary rules of belonging, but because of our shared being in the One in whom we all belong.
My conclusion will draw together both the objective and subjective theology of inclusion and ministry. The developmentally delayed are made in the image of God, just as “the normal” person. Although they may be vulnerable in the world, they are not meant to be merely objects of pity to the church or demeaned to a status of being targeted for practical acts of charity. Rather, by including and building relationships with the developmentally delayed in community, God reveals every human’s inclusion in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. In doing this, God gifts the developmentally delayed and sends them into ministry to us, the “normal,” to lead and teach us about humanity and ourselves.
Descriptive terms have been used for the developmentally delayed throughout history, and many terms have become controversial or been misused. It is hard to imagine today that words such as idiot, moron, feeble-minded, cretin and fool were acceptable labels used to describe the members of this group. Originally, they were simply words describing the developmentally delayed and “often were value neutral.”^^4^^ With extended use, these words became pejoratives, or were used to discriminate and restrict. Only recently, since the early twentieth century, have the developmentally delayed been classified and described scientifically to ascertain any supports needed in learning and daily life and to broaden the understanding of disabilities.^^5^^
The terms developmental disability and intellectual disability are often used interchangeably to describe two separate but overlapping groups of individuals that have certain characteristics in common. Intellectual disability is a common term used worldwide, but other words are also used. In the U.S., “mental retardation” is used, but is losing favor in both the U.S. and the world. This was evidenced in January 2007 when the American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) “changed its name to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD).”^^6^^ The literal meaning for intellectual disability is restrictions (caused by illness, injury or condition) of the human intellect, the ability to think or understand. Developmental disabilities are restrictions (caused by illness, injury or condition) of the human development. There are overlaps: Diminished intellectual capacity may cause the delayed development, or the delayed development may cause the diminished intellectual capacity. These literal meanings are too broad to be adequate definitions for scientific and governmental purposes.
There are many definitions satisfying the terminology and classification needs of various parties used throughout the world. In the U.S., there are definitions of the AAIDD and the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The World Health Organization (WHO) has several definition and classification systems. The most relevant is entitled International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).”^^7^^ ICF’s classification system is far wider than just intellectual disability, but provides a general way to understand disability and a framework within which the intellectual and developmental disabilities can reside. The definition of developmental disability, in many countries, follows the definitions of intellectual disability or the AAIDD definition of mental retardation. In the U.S., “the most influential is that of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act Amendments of 2000 (PL 106-402)”.^^8^^ In it the disability must be severe and chronic, occurring in a child five years or older. It must be caused by mental, physical or combination of disability, with onset before age 22. Continuing indefinitely, it must produce profound limitations in three of seven categories of life skills^^9^^ and indicate a lifelong need for individually planned, special or interdisciplinary supports.
Literal and definitional meanings of disability can change, primarily because of the changing interpretation of abilities. General society and culture dictates what one “should” be able to do. The inability to meet society’s expectations becomes a disability. The disability can be physical, genetic inheritance or chance events prior to or after conception. Poor support, such as lack of opportunity in learning, complex systems (e-banking), inappropriately difficult procedures (letters to the illiterate), lack of resources (housing, money), can all or in combination interfere with a person’s ability to successfully meet the requirements of their living environments. So, if someone has a reduced capacity during childhood, not meeting society’s expected levels, we use the term developmental disability.
With the growing complexity and urbanization of our society, more and more people are finding problems in navigating the demands of daily life. Interestingly, there is a trend of increasing tolerance of people who have “varying skill levels and lifestyle choices,”^^10^^ which has narrowed the definitions, thus making society more inclusive of people with disabilities.
Disability terms are needed to define the community’s needs, for governmental protections, advocacy, and scientific and academic inquiry. There is a danger they may be misused, which can isolate, segregate and even deny human rights. Today the terms intellectual disability and developmental disability are losing popularity, because many disabled people resent being categorized. They see themselves as human beings first, not a disability. When it is necessary to add the term, “people first” terminology is increasingly being used, e.g. Lloyd, a man with a developmental disability. For the purposes of this paper, I will use the definition of the Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act Amendments of 2000 (PL 106-402),” as stated above.
Documentation of disabilities from antiquity is rare for many reasons. Evidence is often destroyed over time. As mentioned before, this group had a high mortality rate. With a lack of status, disabled persons were often denied burial, expelled or killed. The disability might be mild enough to not interfere with functioning in community, and written records originated “only a little more than 5000 years ago.”^^11^^
The oldest written records are from “The clay tablet of Nineveh”^^12^^ written in Chaldean some 4000 years ago, listing 62 deformities. The treatment of those with disabilities ranged widely among the different civilizations. In Egypt, they were considered the result of cosmic conflicts and revered. In Sparta, Athens and early Rome, disabilities were known and minor ones tolerated. If serious enough to interfere with daily living requirements, however, the child was often left exposed to die. The general thoughts on the causes of developmental disability were demon possession, sexual congress with demons or animals, sins of the parents,^^13^^ astrological causes, omens and warnings from the gods and predictions and displeasure of a god.
In Europe during the Middle Ages (A.D. 500 to 1450), disabilities were not thought of in any clear or organized way. The two most common terms were natural fool and idiot. They were applied to anyone failing to meet typical adult responsibilities for a great number of ambiguous and indefinite reasons. The Middle Ages era was typified by four characteristics. First, disability was “primarily viewed from a moral perspective.”^^14^^ Care of the disabled was a moral obligation, and that led to the development of charitable institutions, usually supported by a monastery. Second, the mind and body were not thought of as separate. Therefore, fools may have had good cognitive abilities but a deformed physique such as in dwarfism. If one acted or looked “different” they were classified as a fool. Third, large segments of the community did not have any intellectual expectations put on them. The physical, unskilled labor required was not seriously affected by intellectual impairment, allowing them to live naturally among the population. Finally, it is thought that often people with disabilities banded together, helping each other and sharing resources.^^15^^
With the Industrial Revolution in the West came huge social and personal upheavals as demographics changed and more people moved to towns and cities, trending away from agricultural to industrial occupations. Scientific thought became the basis on looking at how things functioned. Descriptions of disabilities began to appear in printed documents. Instead of a holistic view, the concept that the mind and body were separate opened up the idea that the intellect could be studied scientifically and separately from the body. The Industrial Revolution seemed to poise the human race at the door of unlimited possibilities, but the tremendous influx into towns and cities led to numerous social problems. Those with limited mental capacities, faced by the increasing complexities of life, found life difficult, and they were categorized and cast aside as “different.” Finally, in the face of all this, governments began to address the problems through legislation, especially throughout the English-speaking world.
The Enlightenment’s thought had been that those who were unable to cope with the necessities of life were a “problem.” The insane, poor, orphans, elderly, debtors, and those with disabilities of all sorts, needed to be provided for. The progressive and scientific thought was to separate them and provide for their needs in asylums/institutions. Here their needs, food, education and training could be provided. The early focus of the institutions for those with developmental delay concentrated heavily on education, with the goal of catching them up and returning them to normal classrooms at home. Along with this was a true interest in the disabilities and a desire to understand them. Unfortunately, in the West, the rapid development of science and the advent of Social Darwinism promoted eugenics as a way of curbing the procreation of the “undesirable.” The feeble-minded, it was thought, if kept from procreating, would die out as a group. Forced sterilizations in the English-speaking world lasted into the mid 1900s, and separation of the sexes is still largely practiced today.
Beginning in the early 20th century, intelligence testing provided an all-too-quick litmus test to decide who should be sent to asylums. It was thought that people who failed these intelligence tests were unfortunates unworthy and unable to contribute and were “best housed apart from society.”^^16^^ The prevailing thought was that the developmentally delayed would be better off “put away,” that they “belonged” in an institution.
The institutions faced an avalanche of problems. Those with developmental delay, considered unable to progress, were simply warehoused for life. Not only that, these Western institutions became places of unconscionable experimentation.^^17^^ Unable to be cured, stereotypes abounded and reinforced the belief that the residents “belonged” there. Overcrowding caused declining living conditions, even leading to abuse and inhumane treatment, one case of which “resulted in a judgement by the US Supreme Court.”^^18^^ Overcrowding led to overwork of the staff, which led to a change in emphasis from development and living skills to the use and overuse of drugs to simply control the population. By segregating people with disabilities from the general population, the reduced visibility led to a reduced interest and funding. Finally, eugenics failed to cure the “problem.”
As we came into the modern era, community conditions in the West began to change, making it easier and more desirable for people with disabilities to function. There was also an increasing interest in basic human rights. With this there was a general movement, decades long, away from the institutions, led mainly by parents and advocacy groups who lobbied for additional funding to resource and provide community care as an alternative. The concept was of “normalization,” that developmentally delayed people should be provided normal routines and normal life opportunities in the complexity of society because “our sense of what it means to be a person…is socially generated.”^^19^^ This would have a powerful impact on the self-image that is developed “as a reflection of the attitudes and values of those in the broader environment.”^^20^^ Living in community with the rest of society, the developmentally delayed would also be able to contribute to it. Although there was resistance, these concepts of “normalization” are now widely followed throughout the world, and inclusion is much more the norm, with hostility to the developmentally delayed much more of an exception. “Statistics from many sources number Americans with disabilities at over forty million people. This is approximately one in every six citizens.”^^21^^ It is estimated that there are 4.6 million Americans who are developmentally delayed or intellectually disabled.^^22^^ This is over 1%, a not inconsiderable number.
Etiology and Conditions
There are two general classifications of factors that cause developmental delay, genetic and environmental, which can manifest alone or in combination. The human genome project has been instrumental in discovering genetic causes of developmental delay. “Advances in cytogenetics, molecular biology and imaging”^^23^^ have brought about improved understanding of the environmental causes of developmental delay. This has spurred expansion of the related field of bioethical research, since knowing a condition’s cause is basic to prevention, avoiding complications and for strategies of treatment. Parents want to know what is the cause, what can be done to help their child maximize their potential and whether this is preventable. Despite all the advances, the largest etiological factor in the U.S. is still “unknown,”^^24^^ representing 30-50% of those affected. ^^25^^
Therefore, communication among all the professionals and parents is essential for many reasons. First, there are some genetic causes of developmental delay that can be circumvented, such as phenylketonuria (PKU)^^26^^ or congenital hypothyroidism.^^27^^ Second, if the developmental delay is one that is inherited, such as fragile X, the parents have a right to know and be counseled in further family planning. Third, some development delays caused by environmental causes can be prevented, such as child abuse, toxic threats such as drug, alcohol and tobacco^^28^^ use during pregnancy, and folic acid deficiency.^^29^^ Fourth, even if there is no means of prevention, early intervention in specialized education, treatment or behavioral intervention may help the individual develop to his or her greatest potential. Finally, better understanding of the conditions will lead to better treatments, interventions or may even lead to prevention.
These two general factors can be further divided into four subgroups, consisting first of general genetic factors. These are background genes that may put someone at risk to developmental delay but do not directly cause them. For example, there is a higher prevalence of developmental delay in males, which is thought due to the X chromosome, which carries a “large number of genes concerned with mental functions.”^^30^^ Second, general environmental factors can put a person at risk of developmental delay but not necessarily cause it. For example, low socioeconomic status is known to have a higher instance of developmental delay, but it is a broad term. Those with a lower socioeconomic status have less access to education, medical care and healthy food, but being poor is not a predictor in individual cases. Third are specific genetic factors which refer to specific, identifiable genetic or inherited causes. They involve specific chromosomes or have a specific gene that causes it, such as found in Down syndrome or Fragile X. Finally, specific environmental factors include such things as malnutrition, various vitamin or mineral deficiencies, toxic threats, maternal abnormalities in metabolism, infection and premature birth, among others.
There are many causes of developmental delay. Perhaps the best known is Down syndrome. This was first described by John Langdon Down in 1866. It is a specific genetic factor, and in the U.S., it is found in “approximately 1 per 800-1000 live births.”^^31^^ Down Syndrome is not an inherited condition; it is a mutational error in cell division. In 95%^^32^^ of Down Syndrome cases, there is a nondisjunction error causing a trisomy of chromosome 21.^^33^^
Down Syndrome has been shown to be an at-risk factor with increasing maternal age above 40 years of age, but 80% of Down Syndrome children are born to women under 35, probably due to the increased fertility of that younger population. Eighty-five percent are found to be from trisomy in the maternal and 15% being of paternal origin.
Individuals with Down Syndrome vary widely in looks. There are some features that are more common among them, such as short fingers (brachydactyly), epicanthal folds^^34^^ and intellectual disability, to name just a few. The key fact is that there is a wide variation in all of the “common” physical characteristics. Intellectual disability, for example, may range from severe to mild, with many individuals living and functioning nearly entirely on their own. Some live entirely independently with normal intelligence. With the syndrome can come a variety of physical heath challenges, most notably congenital heart disease, which occurs in approximately 56% of cases. Others include gastrointestinal obstructions, ear, nose and throat problems, skin conditions, thyroid abnormalities, diabetes, hematological abnormalities, hypotonia and seizures, to mention just a few. Average life expectancy in the U.S. has “increased from 25 years in 1983 to 49 years in 1997” ^^35^^ and is “significantly higher in Caucasians than in African Americans and people of other races, “presumably the result in inequality of medical care.”^^36^^
The most common inherited developmental delay is fragile X. It is an instable^^37^^ mutation of the FMR1^^38^^ gene on the long arm (q) of the X chromosome. The FMR1 gene is responsible for producing essential brain development proteins, the FMRP.^^39^^ Males are more affected, which is thought to be because they have only one X chromosome. The presence of the second X chromosome in females may suppress the mutation. The full mutation is present in approximately 1 in 4,000 males and 1 in 9,000 females.
The full mutation has physical and developmental effects, but they are so wide and varied that it is impossible to composite a “typical” fragile X individual. The severity varies widely between the categories as well as between the sexes. They generally are healthy but are at a higher risk of medical complications than the unaffected. Most will require special services pertaining to language, hyperactivity, sleep disturbances, behaviors and speech and language development, to name a few. Behaviorally, they are similar to autistic children, requiring routine to prevent outbursts, limitation on loud noise and bright lights that cause distraction and the need to avoid crowding. The effects vary widely in almost all the syndromes between the affected individuals, including their cognitive abilities.
Theology of Objective Inclusion
New Testament scripture tells us that Jesus came on a mission to justify, reconcile and save all of humanity. Long ago the church father Gregory of Nazianzus formulated the two soteriological axioms that 1) God alone can save and 2) that which is “unassumed is not healed”^^40^^ (God must become what he is saving). A mysterious dichotomy comes into play. To save, Jesus must be God, but he must also be human. So, in the words of Paul, “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5) becomes important. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father testified that Jesus was his Son (Matt. 3:17). Jesus is the Creator of everything, including all of humanity, and sustains everything (John 1:3, Col. 1:15-17). As Athanasius argued, the corruption of humanity by the effects of sin was so great that it would require not a restoration but a re-creation. González sums up Athanasius’ thinking well: “Salvation is no lesser than the work of creation. Therefore, the one responsible for our re-creation can be no lesser than the one responsible for our creation.”^^41^^ Athanasius favored the use of homoousios, a Greek word meaning of the same substance, to describe Jesus and the Father. This was opposed by some who preferred the Greek term homoiousios, of a similar substance. The understanding was that the use of “one substance,” homoousius, wasn’t “obliterating the distinction among the three.”^^42^^ By the word homoousios, the Nicene fathers proclaimed that Jesus is fully God.
The New Testament makes it plain that Jesus is also a human being. John states, “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14) but he remained divine. Jesus did not put on a “man-suit,” as if just wearing flesh. He became flesh. “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2). John tells us how he knew: “because we saw him and touched him” (1 John 1:1-2). Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary (Matt. 1:16, John 1:13).^^43^^ He was not born of blood, or any will of the flesh or a “husband, but of God.”^^44^^ Jesus is still fully human, because the incarnation has not ended.
In Christ’s incarnation, we have the perfect union of God and humanity in what is termed the hypostatic union, where the divine and human come together in one person, Jesus the Son of God. He is not a “man in some ideal or abstract sense, but actual historical man.”^^45^^ The incarnated Jesus is not a created intermediary between God and Man but instead “God as man.”^^46^^ To truly apprehend the incarnation, we must realize that it “cannot be understood apart from the reconciling and atoning work of God the Son in both his incarnation and in his life and death and resurrection.”^^47^^ The two requirements of the soteriological axioms are complete in Jesus Christ. His being God guarantees that salvation is God’s work, and his humanity guarantees the coming of God into the depths of our experience and condition in order to heal it.
The atoning work that Jesus did was to justify (Romans 5:18) and reconcile humanity back to God, to mend the relationship broken by our parents Adam and Eve. Since Jesus was the creator and sustainer of the cosmos, we are all included in him and thus “one died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Cor. 5:14). Not only that, when Jesus rose, all rose (1 Cor. 15:22). Jesus died for all (2 Cor. 5:15, Heb. 2:9; 7:25, Rom. 6:10, John 3:16), and reconciled all (Gal. 4:5, Col. 1:15-20) and is the only mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5). Through Jesus all humanity is reconciled to the Father, who loves us, accepts us and forgives us (Eph. 2:4-5). Thus, Jesus substituted himself for us, exchanging his righteousness for our sinfulness and in taking on our humanity included everyone in his life, death and resurrection by grace – no works or merit being involved on our part.
All of creation, including humanity, is included in the Trinitarian relationship that Jesus has with the Father and Holy Spirit. Therefore, all of humanity has been justified, reconciled and forgiven in a general or objective sense. All humanity is included and all have been justified, reconciled and forgiven; all are called to respond from within this grace-full inclusion.
What then can we say about the developmentally delayed—are they included too? Can we affirm equally with all humanity that the developmentally delayed are created in the image of God and therefore redeemed by the God who became man? Why is it that over the centuries, when it comes to matters of faith, Christian people have assumed those with cognitive difficulties “needed to be thought of and treated separately?”^^48^^
A true Christian understanding of personhood is rooted in the imago dei. The theories of the imago dei, according to Beates, fall into three main categories.^^49^^ The functional view is based on what people do or how they function, with the predominate cited function being “dominion.” The substantive view is defined by a specific characteristic or quality generally common to all humankind, with the predominant cited characteristic being “reason.” Finally, the relational view, whose argument is based in “relationship,” is usually described in terms of the relationship between a man and woman.
In Genesis 1:26-27, we first learn that humans are made in the image of God (imago dei), which is simple enough except that “the Genesis account never precisely defines what the image of God is.”^^50^^ If we read further, we find we are made to have dominion, or, as others read it, “Let us make man in our image so that he might rule.”^^51^^ We are made male and female (v. 27), blessed to reproduce and have dominion over the animal kingdom (v. 28). If we limit ourselves to this, then our interpretation of who God is would be based solely on power and domination. It could be argued that our image of God would be to utterly dominate and subdue creation, justifying “exploitation and manipulation of the natural world.”^^52^^ This is an example of the functional view of the imago dei.
The Old Testament only informs us of God’s image in elementary ways. In the New Testament Gospels, Jesus repeatedly healed lepers, the blind and deaf. In Luke 5:17-26 he heals a paralyzed man. So central was it to Jesus’ ministry that in Luke 7:18-23, Jesus answers the question sent to him by John the Baptist through two of his disciples, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (v. 18) by saying that the primary indication he “was the Messiah was his ministry to the physically disabled and the social weak and alienated.”^^53^^ What we see in the Gospels and Acts is God’s kingdom breaking forth in unexpected and new ways. While “Jesus never fully explained his focus on the lame, blind, crippled and poor,”^^54^^ he allowed what he did to speak for itself.
The apostles, especially Paul, begin to flesh out the image of God, and we learn through the revelation of Jesus Christ, the “man of sorrows,” that the gospel contains a thread of brokenness and weakness. In Romans 8, Paul speaks of all creation groaning and awaiting our adoption (vv. 22-23). Here he intimates the brokenness both spiritually and physically of all and therefore everyone’s need of spiritual and physical redemption. In 1 Cor. 1:20-31, he explains that God chooses the foolish, weak and lowly to humble the wise, strong and self-assured, indicating we have nothing to boast about. In other words, it isn’t by human standards of success that God judges. In 1 Cor. 12:12-27, Paul uses the body metaphor to speak about the covenant community, the body of Christ. Here he indicates that the weaker and less honorable parts are not superfluous but are indispensable. This implies that the weak, in the world’s eyes, should be included as integral members of the church.
In 2 Cor. 3-5, Paul makes several points beginning in chapter 3 that first, humans, both individually and corporately, are being transformed into Christ’s likeness. Second, chapter 4 uses the metaphor of “jars of clay,” simple fragile vessels for his use. Implied here is that although we may be weak, fragile, chipped and cracked vessels, we are his and used by him. This is not because of how we look, but because the gospel is contained within us. The container does not get glory; the contents are what are important. Third, chapter 4 ends with Paul saying, although he is wasting away outwardly, he is being renewed inwardly. We are all getting older, and with age often comes disability, to the point where some use the term “temporarily able-bodied.”^^55^^ Finally, in chapter 5, Paul declares his desire to receive his glorified body. In this earthly body, we groan, and it is a reminder that, although we might suffer in disabilities and weakness, this is not our true body or this world our home. To expend our energies on comfort and pleasure of this world gets us nowhere in the next. In 2 Cor. 12:7-10 Paul makes it personal, speaking about his own disability and how God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul encourages them to be Christ-like in their treatment and relationships within the community. He puts them in remembrance that Jesus was God and yet humbled himself to become a man.
The Johannine letters and the other general epistles echo Paul, positing that we will be like him in our resurrected state, no longer plagued by physical and spiritual brokenness. In Revelation, we see that all tears will be wiped away, with no more death, weeping, mourning or pain. The thread throughout the Bible culminates here; our hope is assured in victory, redemption and restoration. This informs us that in the midst of pain, suffering and even disability, we can have hope; we have a future.
In the Patristic period, up until Aquinas (1225-1274), most Christian writers took the substantive view, thinking of the imago dei as the ability to reason. Irenaeus (A.D. 115-200), Clement (150-215), Athanasius (296-373) and others believed that there was a difference between image (tselem) and likeness (demut) found in Gen 1:26. They understood tselem as our rational nature and it was not lost in the fall. Our demut was our moral similarity to God, which was “lost in the fall and regained in the process of redemption and sanctification.”^^56^^ Roman Catholic thought developed a similar approach, using imago dei (image) and similitudo dei (similitude). The image referred to a functional and structural image damaged but not lost in the fall. The similitude referred to the moral righteousness that was lost at the fall and only partially regained through sanctification and regeneration. Today we understand them as simply “poetic synonyms rather than different terms.”^^57^^
Augustine (354-430) believed that humankind had to be a reflection of the Trinitarian God. He proposed that humanity’s faculty of memory, understanding and loving make up the three aspects in the human being. All three are expressions of rationality. He was followed by Boethius (480-524), who codified “the focus of man’s personhood as located in his rationality”^^58^^ in his work Consolation of Philosophy, the standard for some thousand years.
Medieval Church thought in the West was spearheaded by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Two areas of his thought are most germane. First, he believed that existence and goodness are the same thing. In nonexistence there is nothing that can attain perfection; in existence, at least, there is something that approaches perfection. When applied to the developmentally delayed, though, the disabled, although existing, cannot “actualize its human potential because their potentiality does not exist…or exists only marginally.”^^59^^ The second point was that he regarded “rationality as the essence of our being made in God’s image.”^^60^^ Therefore his conclusion was that those who lack reason “should not be given the Eucharist,”^^61^^ a belief persisting today.
People with mental retardation or other developmental disabilities frequently are refused access to sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church usually because they have not reached the “age of reason.”^^62^^
Reformation thought also went along this line. Martin Luther (1483-1546), upon meeting a twelve-year-old retarded boy, said he was “merely a lump of flesh without a soul”^^63^^ and recommended he be killed! Further, he called disabled infants “changelings,”^^64^^ created by the devil with no soul or the devil’s soul. John Calvin (1509-1564) also thought that the “image is located in the immaterial aspects of humanity, specifically the soul.”^^65^^
In the modern era, Karl Barth (1886-1968) rejected the traditional substantive view that the imago dei is linked to rationality. He stressed the relational view, that the image of God has to do with “the relational functioning of man.”^^66^^ Barth stressed the image of God as relational by using the image of the relationship between a man and woman (or, I think, one could substitute any human relationship, friends, siblings etc.).
In my opinion the relational argument is the strongest, especially in view of the Trinity. As stated earlier, Jesus as creator drew all humanity into himself and brought justification and forgiveness to all, with both of those words “all” meaning all. The developmentally delayed are born of a mother and are made of the same “substance” that all human beings are, that is, they are homoousios to the human “kind.” No other creature was declared by God to have been made in his image and therefore the developmentally delayed are humans and ontologically included in the image of God and included in objective salvation, just as the “normal” are.
I also see another scriptural indication that relationship is a key to our understanding of the imago dei found in the post-resurrection interaction between the two disciples and Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). Jesus presented himself bodily, walking in the dominion of humankind with the disciples, and he reasoned with them about all that the scripture said about him. I have no idea what God’s physical look is, but I know that Jesus, who is God the Son, has nail-pierced hands and a wounded side (John 20:27), a marred image. God is rational, but it was not the great Bible study that he gave on the road that opened their eyes to him. They did not recognize him until he “broke bread” (vv. 30-31, 35) with them. We could take that as the simple act of hospitality or a metaphor for the Eucharist, but in either case they represent fellowship and communion, which is relationship.
I believe it is our ontological inclusion in a relationship with Jesus Christ, the creator and sustainer of the cosmos, that is the essence of our imago dei—just as our salvation is not about us—it is about Jesus and what he did. By being drawn up into Jesus our creator, our image is not about us – it is about him. We are in him and he is in us, as he is in the Father (John 17:21). Therefore, a malfunctioning physical body or disfigured one, as Jesus has, or a disabled intellect cannot disqualify one from the image of God and the objective salvation gifted to all of humanity.
Exegesis of Luke 14:15-24—Parable of the Banquet
I find that Jesus, in his Parable of the Banquet, sums up this theme of the inclusiveness of God. The main theme of Luke is “God’s end-times salvation predicted by the prophets has arrived through the coming of Jesus the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and this salvation is now going forth to the whole world” (emphasis mine).^^67^^ In the portion of the Gospel here, the journey to Jerusalem, Jesus has initiated “a new way to follow God.”^^68^^
Jesus is invited to a Pharisee’s house for a Sabbath dinner. It is a hostile environment—Luke tells us he is being “carefully watched” (14:1). Jesus’ patience has recently been tested on the subject of healing on the Sabbath, evidenced in the previous chapter and his humiliating of the Pharisees by healing the crippled woman (13:17). He takes the offensive when presented with the stunning appearance of a man with “dropsy” (14:2). This is stunning because the disease was regarded as a punishment for sin, and this would have compromised the cleanliness of the Pharisee’s table. The Pharisees attempted to adhere to the laws of tithing and “rules of ritual purity outside of the Temple where they were not mandatory.”^^69^^ Therefore, the man with dropsy would not have been allowed anywhere near a Pharisee’s table, unless perhaps, there was a malevolent purpose, an attempt to trap Jesus. Not only does Jesus openly heal him, but he then teaches a parable about opening the table to the disenfranchised, turning the Pharisees’ world of social status and “relationship of balanced reciprocity”^^70^^ upside down.
Perhaps because of the tension of the moment, a man declares an old and religious-sounding phrase in verse 15b, reminiscent of Isa. 25:6, saying, “Blessed [“supremely blessed”^^71^^] is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” With this, Jesus begins a second parable. He tells the story of a man who is preparing, or in the process of preparing, a banquet. He has invited a large number of people to this great (megas)^^72^^ banquet (v. 16). The use of megas indicates not just a sumptuous banquet or formal feast, but ultimately implying an important one, amplifying the stakes of the meaning of reciprocity and therefore the status quo. Once it is prepared, he sends his servant, a common practice (see Esther 5:8 and 6:14) to the guests to call them to table, much like today a butler might announce, “Dinner is served” (v. 17). To his surprise, the guests begin to give excuses for not coming, giving almost an air of conspiracy.
The first two guests use economic excuses. The first has bought land and must go to see it (v. 18). Whether it is because he needs to see it to finalize the deal, which means he has not really bought it yet, or he is a fool and has bought land sight unseen, is irrelevant. Since the feast is late in the day, there would be little time to go into the country to look at it anyway, and the piece of property would have been there the next day. The second uses an even flimsier excuse, relating that he has bought five yoke of oxen and now must prove them or test them (v. 19). Again, there would be precious little time left in the day to prove five yoke of oxen, not to mention that only a fool would buy oxen that he hadn’t proved first. The final one doesn’t even ask to be excused —he tells the man “I can’t come”—a far less polite way to excuse oneself (v. 20). It seems he has just been married. Levitical law did exempt a newly married man from having to go to war in the first year (Deut. 24:5) but it did not exempt him from social manners. Given the grandness of the feast, I am sure that the host would easily have included the wife and even other friends and guests of the couple. These are not reasons; they are contrived excuses, a not-too-subtle insult to the host.
After this is reported to the man, he becomes angry and tells the servant to go into the streets and alleys and gather up the poor, crippled, blind and lame (v. 21). These are the common words for disabilities and must have astounded his listeners. These were the marginalized, the untouchables of society. Jesus mentions just these four groups here, but he need not mention every handicapping situation or every socio-economic situation. These are the examples. He means everyone no matter what their situation is.
The servant soon returns, announcing that they have complied but there is still room (v. 22). So, the host sends the servant into the countryside, to the surrounding roads and country lanes, what we might call the boonies today. He is to seek out everyone they can find and bring them in (v. 23). Beates believes “a strong grammatical case can be made that when Jesus said ‘people’ he meant more of the poor, crippled, blind and lame who lived outside the city and were not as easily found or seen.”^^73^^ Here the NIV uses “make” them come in. I do not imagine he means by force, but by invitation and argument to compel or constrain or convince them to attend. The man wants his house full that is, filled completely.
Finally, Jesus declares that those who had been invited and did not attend would not “get a taste of my banquet” (v. 24). This is self-evident, that if they didn’t come, they would not eat of it, but Jesus is ramping up its meaning here, letting us know there is a deeper meaning than just invitations to a dinner. Many believe that this parable is an analogy. The invited that refused are the Jews who rejected Jesus; those in the streets are Judea/Samaria and those in the countryside are the gentiles. It is a foreshadowing of Acts 1:8, that the gospel will be witnessed by the disciples starting in “Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends to the earth.”
I think that the parable of the Great Banquet also conveys another meaning. Jesus, in the first parable, plainly explains how the rich should throw a banquet. In the second parable, if we take the man’s religious-sounding statement in verse 15b as the starting point, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God,” then we might say the man is putting forward a theological statement of salvation. Jesus’ parable expands on it, enlarges it and fleshes it out as to its real meaning. Essentially the man says the right thing, even if he has no real knowledge of what it means. The whole game is about to change. Jesus put a face on this man’s religious statement. This is how Jesus will do his great banquet eschatologically. It will be filled with those who “cannot repay” (v. 14). None of us can repay him for our salvation. It will be filled with the poor, crippled, lame and blind (vv. 14, 21, and 23)—in other words, the broken. This is a category in which we are all included.
So, Jesus is preparing his table for all, and Jesus has sent out messengers to invite all to his table, for there is plenty of room at his table and he wants his banquet hall filled. The developmentally delayed are ontologically humans made in the image of God and objectively, they are forgiven and reconciled to God. Therefore, we as the church have been commissioned, by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to make disciples of all people (Matt. 28:18-20), and that includes the developmentally delayed. We see that God is inclusive, and although we may marginalize some people, he does not. There are no second-class citizens; his invitation is to the developmentally delayed as well. It does not matter that they do not reason as we do, just as it does not matter that the blind cannot see or the crippled walk. It does not matter that they behave differently, just as it does not matter that the poor have nothing or the lame limp. They are the blood-bought adopted children of the living God, just as we are, and therefore they are our brothers and sisters. It is our duty to reach out to them to include and disciple them.
Ministry With the Developmentally Delayed
In church one day Sean asked his mother, “How can God hear my prayers when everyone else was praying too?” She replied, “God uses headphones.” My son is an audiophile and is rarely without his MP3 player. Apparently not theologically satisfied with that answer, he asked, “What color are they?” My wife answered, “Red,” the color of the set he was currently using. She said his eyes brightened and he replied, “Oh, I see.”
Sean grew up in the suburbs and knows little about stables and mangers and seemed to be having a struggle in understanding the birth narrative. In our discussions of the narrative, he asked what an inn was. In explaining it, we used the word hotel. Sean knows what a hotel is, and in further questioning us, found out the manger was located in the barn with the donkey Mary rode on. He came up with the connection to a parking garage. So, to him, Jesus was born in the parking garage at the hotel.
To minister to any group, we need to know something about the group and about ourselves. The developmentally delayed, like most groups, are often painted with a broad brush. People make assumptions about them and their “condition” that may or may not be true. These are often from simple misunderstandings, causing fear, which then leads to avoidance or even prejudice.
Probably the most striking belief is that the developmentally delayed are suffering. That is, their abnormal condition is causing them to have a poor “quality of life.” To comprehend this, we must unpack the meaning of normal, abnormal and suffering.
A system of reciprocity regulates the interactions in our communities. Certain attributes are considered desirable, appropriate and commonplace. In a sort of economic exchange, by “providing” these attributes, the individual gains acceptance and welcome and the designation of being worthy to belong. Conversely, if their attributes are considered undesirable, unacceptable or not commonplace, the individual is rejected. This system of reciprocity regulates the community’s conventions and designates what are acceptable or unacceptable attributes, thus the declaration of worthy or unworthy and belonging or not belonging.
Those who are abnormal, “incapable of participating in the conventions put down by a prevailing economy of exchange,”^^74^^ introduce disorder and throw into question the prevailing acceptable attributes. To the reciprocity system, this abnormality does not belong and it activates a perceived need in the community to preserve its boundaries and reaffirm its orientation as “good.” The aim is to “secure and fortify communal stability.”^^75^^ With this the community, in insecurity, seeks to protect itself from the “other,” now considered “bad,” who threatens its status quo. In reaction against this perceived threat, says Jean Vanier, “we build walls around our group and cultivate our certitudes.”^^76^^
The concept that those with intellectual disabilities suffer in their conditions, or have a poor quality of life, stems from the modern age and the medical model. Since the Industrial Revolution, in modern medicine, we have been able to effectively treat or eliminate many diseases, such as leprosy, smallpox and measles. Here the patients did suffer, sometimes fatally, but they were illnesses, not conditions. The medical model treats any abnormality as a diagnosis and seeks treatment demanding that it be undone. When this model is applied to the developmentally disabled, their disability becomes a social liability, needing treatment or management, “a body gone wrong,”^^77^^ and they are “reduced to a function of disabilities.”^^78^^ In our age, this has led to beliefs that those with Fragile X (50 IQ), for instance, are somehow suffering and unhappy because they do not think rationally like “normal” people. Normal people, in their rationality, may then come to embrace the idea that it is somehow kinder to exclude “abnormal” people from society.
There is more than one way to exclude. A group can be excluded by “elimination,” such as the eugenicists and Nazis tried to do with the developmentally delayed. It can be excluded by “domination” or “assimilation,” such as the institutions and medical models have tried to do. “Abandonment”^^79^^ is another tactic to exclude, which has been consistent throughout most of human history. One could say that the developmentally disabled suffer as all human beings suffer, but, more often than not, suffering for them is in the context that they “suffer our society or suffer our difference.”^^80^^ Suffering is more often caused by the prejudice and exclusionary restrictions than by the effects of their conditions. Unfortunately, this way of thinking has also invaded the church, as Amy Laura Hall laments.
Writing academic prose about disability is potentially a self-defeating effort. Put plainly, for every supposedly excellent essay I publish, I shore up the legitimacy of an institution that excludes individuals bearing genetic marks for which the majority of women in my denomination choose to abort.^^81^^
Another misconception is that the developmentally delayed do not think and cannot learn. Within the community there is a wide variation in their abilities to learn, just as there is in the “normal” community. The developmentally delayed can learn and think and reason, just not always as the typical person does. The examples in italics at the beginning of this section are personal examples from my son. The first, providing the subtitle of this paper, highlights that they do not think as we think. Things that make connections with them do not necessarily connect with us and vice versa. In the first case, Sean could not quite understand how God could hear his prayer in the midst of everyone else praying (something I have had people of normal intelligence ask me in discipleship class). As an audiophile, he knows what earphones do, and still didn’t quite get it. Then, he asked what color they were. When told red, he replied, “Oh, I see.” What difference the color made is beyond me, but it resonated with him.
Is this phenomenon of learning in an apparently irrational way unique to those with intellectual disabilities? Certainly not. I could point out numerous times I have made connections that don’t seem very rational. For example, I was once in a group learning session and the moderator gave us a problem. She put a cord tied in a loop making a circle on the ground that was about a foot across and said we all had to put both feet in it together. Some tried compacting the group by hugging others and various other things. The uselessness became apparent and suddenly a picture of the Eiffel Tower flashed in my mind. So I sat down and put my heels in the circle and soon everyone had their feet in it; the puzzle was solved. What the Eiffel Tower had to do with anything is beyond me, but at that moment it resonated with me. Not all information is received rationally. Maybe I am crazy but, nonetheless, it happened to me.
The second story about Sean shows that the developmentally delayed can learn and apply one idea to another. It was a simple matter of Sean not having experience with the original elements. Once the concept was put in a framework of his experience, he made the connection. It is irrelevant whether you call the place a stable or a parking garage. The essential elements of the story are still intact and the gospel is not diluted. It is understood in a framework of the person’s relevant experience. A biblical example is what Paul tried to do in his appearance at the Areopagus in Acts 17:16-21, by calling on mutual points of connection with the Greek philosophers.
A third area of misconception has to do with behaviors that fall outside of what is considered normal. There are three causes of the behaviors. First, it is a part of the pattern of behavior for a specific type of disorder. An example would be the hyperactivity and aggressiveness often found in Fragile X, but is not unique to that condition. The second cause is brain damage from traumatic brain injury, accidents, abuse, toxic agents and hypoxia. Here an example might be transient global amnesia.^^82^^ Last are causes that are related to mental and physical health, such as neurological disorders and mental health disorders. Epilepsy is an example of a neurological disorder, and schizophrenia of a mental health disorder.
These abnormal behaviors are further broken down into two main categories: self-injurious and self-stimulation. Self-injurious behaviors are tragic and refer to any behavior that causes damage to tissue, like bruises or wounds, and includes head banging, biting, excessive rubbing or scratching. These behaviors are more common in several disorders and their purpose is unknown. Control of the behaviors may involve the need for psychotropic drugs, behavioral or group therapy, restraint and in severe cases, psychosurgery or deep brain stimulation.
Self-stimulation or stereotypic behaviors, by far the most common, are repetitive behaviors that seem to have no function or goal, involve one or more of the senses and are categorized according to the sense: visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, taste and smell.^^83^^ Although they seem to be of no value, they excite the nervous system, providing pleasure, or they can have a calming effect, soothing the individual. For example, a developmentally delayed individual might be in a crowd and feeling stressed. Arm flapping calms them, or they may be anticipating something at a birthday party and flap their arms because it stimulates them and provides pleasure.
These behaviors can cause distraction in the individual, interfering with learning, and in social settings upset people around them. Stereotypic behaviors tend to set the developmentally delayed apart, are usually obvious and seem odd to the “normal” population. They are rarely more than just harmless distractions. With early intervention, stereotypic behaviors can be reduced by providing acceptable alternatives, such as giving them something to chew on; some drugs have also been found to help.
So, we have a perfect storm of beliefs in regards to how the developmentally delayed are perceived: the abnormal suffer, they lack normal reasoning and they exhibit visible odd behaviors that offend this sense of “normalcy,” all leading to the various forms of exclusion. Misguided Theology
Thomas Reynolds, in his book Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality, asserts that in doing ministry with the developmentally delayed, we must avoid two misguided forms of theology. The first denigrates disability. This is the consideration of it as some sort of “blemish or stigma signifying a divine punishment or forsakenness.”^^84^^ The thought is that disability comes as a result of sin. Although the Bible seems to confirm this in some places, “Jesus disconfirms the traditional connection between sin-punishment-blemish.”^^85^^ Christ’s real focus in healing wasn’t about sin or disability, but “to confirm the Christological identity of Jesus.”^^86^^
For Reynolds, another form of denigrating disability is the idea “of not having enough faith.”^^87^^ Thinking this way, the “disability marks the moral culpability and spiritual imperfection of people”^^88^^ because the assumption is that obedience leads to wholeness. Both of these are unsound theology. By assuming this way of thinking, the person with the disability is faulted and the next step is to make the entire person imperfect, a being morally corrupt or without faith. It assumes God wants to eliminate all suffering and imperfection on earth and, if one is not whole, something is blocking God’s healing. The disabled are responsible for their own condition. This hearkens to the thinking of Martin Luther, that disabilities result from demonic forces. Jesus did sometimes equate faith with healing, but he never reversed it and “equated healing with saving faith.”^^89^^
The second misguided form of theology, says Reynolds, is the trivialization of disability. This is “treating disability in romanticized terms – that is, as a means for non-disabled persons to demonstrate their charity.”^^90^^ Trivialization can be done in several ways. Those with disabilities can be characterized as “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40, 45), the poor helpless beggars needing grace. This form of thinking reduces them to valueless individuals with little or nothing to offer. Their sole purpose is to become the objects for Christians to practice their Christian charity on, so that love and generosity can be cultivated in the non-disabled. In reality, pity becomes the operative word and the individual is objectified and demeaned, with their sole role being to receive. The disabled and their advocates “find this hideously infantilizing,”^^91^^ and inclusion in the community can be, at best, with only low expectations and, more commonly, the disabled being considered incapable of contributing in any meaningful way.
Another way of trivialization is to somehow make disability “special.” This way of thinking represents the disability as a moral object lesson but idealizes the disability, imputing it with biases of the non-disabled. An example would be to treat disabilities as an example of dependence, the idea that we must be dependent on Christ as they are on others. This reduces them to individuals with no history or identity, playing only a role to ennoble the non-disabled. While vulnerability is shared by humanity and an important route to building solidarity between the disabled and non-disabled, romanticizing disability as a means for the non-disabled to learn moral lessons trivializes their disabilities.
Finally, the third way of trivialization is the treatment of the disabled as “virtuous sufferers” or those with a “special burden.” Here the disability becomes a “vehicle for blessing and a sign of God’s grace.”^^92^^ The submission to the disability yields spiritual attributes like humility, and therefore suffering is redemptive. Although we are all destined to struggle, God did not divinely ordain that hardship and pain is the only satisfactory route of sanctification. In this way of thinking, the developmentally delayed are not included. Instead, they are made to quietly endure the societal barriers put up before them and essentially relegated to the role of second-class citizens. What all of these expressions of theology lead to is to reduce the worth of the individual and neglect the value of inclusive love.
The principal need of the developmentally delayed and their families is to be included. The church (ekklēsia)^^93^^ means assembly, congregation, in other words, community. Christ, in our pericope of the banquet, shows us that he is inclusive and that the church is to go out and make disciples of all people. The developmentally disabled are humans, made in the image of God and are to be included also. They are to be included not in pity, not as some object moral lesson or as virtuous sufferers, and not to teach us the meaning of suffering. What the developmentally delayed need is to become integral and equal parts of the community, to be welcomed, loved and respected. “Community is a place of belonging,”^^94^^ and belonging involves feelings of love, to be considered precious in our own right, to be included, listened to, touched with reverence in the spirit of peace. In this peace is protection and safety that allows one to be open and to grow. This is one of the most basic needs of everyone, located in the love and belonging level, the third level in Maslow’s hierarchy. If this need to belong is not met properly, it will foster the feelings that one is not loveable, and is no good. This, in turn, fosters loneliness, guilt and confusion, which closes one in on oneself.
So far we have shown that the developmentally disabled are objectively saved and included in the image of God. Our pericope has shown us that Jesus is welcoming and inclusive and intends to, eschatologically, include the developmentally delayed. We have also briefly discussed some of the reasons and theologies that have limited or led to outright exclusion rather than inclusion. The question now becomes how we flesh that inclusion out in concrete terms.
Tragically, the inclusion of the developmentally delayed has not been spearheaded by the church. There is what is known as a “participation gap” between the disabled and non-disabled. In national surveys of the National Organization on Disability and Harris Interactive (NOOD&HI), we find this gap in 2000 at 20%, up from 13% in 1986. ^^95^^ In another NOOD&HI survey in 2004, 84% of both the disabled and non-disabled rated “their religious faith to be somewhat important or very important to them.” ^^96^^ Yet, even in congregations that have developmentally delayed participants, surveyed families felt “their children were not accepted or that they did not have the support to participate fully.”^^97^^ Although some congregations do accept and include the developmentally disabled, many more do not.
Initially, as in any ministry, we must understand Andrew Purves’ words: “It is not our ministries that make Christ present; it is the present, living Christ who makes our ministries possible.”^^98^^ Knowing that ministry to the developmentally delayed is what Jesus wants, we must be open to him and the lead of the Holy Spirit for, “union with Christ is a key doctrine for practical theology and the faithful practice of ministry.”^^99^^ “Ministry is a theological act,”^^100^^ for in it God is encountering them and our “job is to identify and bear witness to who Jesus Christ, clothed with his gospel, is for them.”^^101^^ Thus any work with the developmentally delayed, as well as any other ministry, must be christologically based.
The next step is to eliminate physical barriers. Our facilities are the first thing that most people will encounter, so architectural problems will be the first exclusionary barriers. To understand these barriers, we must come to the table with a fresh view and honestly evaluate our facilities. A ramp leaving one step is just as daunting to a wheelchair as a flight of steps. Can the various rooms be navigated and provide the proper features? Even if the sanctuary is fully accessible, are the other areas of shared communal life for fellowship, celebration and classrooms accessible? In some cases, these barriers can be fixed by building a small portable ramp, making signs, installing railings or other hardware; sometimes it might require extensive renovations. Often extensive renovations can be avoided by, for example, reassigning room usage, like moving the classrooms out of the basement. Sometimes cost may be involved, but think of the message that it sends, as to the importance of people with disabilities, because physical barriers marginalize and isolate them.
Probably far more common and debilitating are attitudinal barriers. Many times these are not intentional or subtle but are often deeply entrenched and extremely hurtful. Here access to the community is denied by the community’s rejection of the individual. When invitations to activities are not extended or activities not designed so that those with disabilities can be included, when they are not engaged in greetings or conversation, or are made to look invisible or are ignored, then these are barriers to inclusion. Every parent of a developmentally disabled child has numerous personal examples. Once when our youth group was going on a trip, we asked for Sean to be allowed to come, but we were told, “We aren’t taking him.”
Another barrier is comments or actions that are demeaning or condescending. Again, they often are not overtly meant to be. A good friend once said of my developmentally delayed son, “He must be such a trial.” No, he isn’t a trial. Yes, he has caused me trials, just as my oldest has, but he, himself, is not a trial. He is my son. Or in another case someone told my wife and I that we must be great parents to be entrusted with someone so precious. Believe me, both of us would exchange some of our “great parenting skills” to have Sean normal. These types of sayings are meant to be empathetic, even praiseworthy, but are actually hurtful and non-inclusive.
Sometimes our preaching and teaching messages cause tension between the developmentally delayed and their families. “Teaching and traditions of faith groups have sometimes been mistaken, misunderstood or misapplied,”^^102^^ especially when dealing with faith and healing. For example, Leviticus 21:17-23 has been a stumbling block to more than one disabled person. It bans any priest from serving at the altar with a deformity. The fact is that, although the “deformed priests were forbidden from coming to the altar, they were still able to be priests and partake in other duties and benefits.”^^103^^ The temple and altar were a picture of the heavenly including a perfect God and a perfect High Priest Jesus Christ. The point was not to designate the disabled as unworthy but to show “no one is utterly worthy.”^^104^^
Often, because of observing the service systems within which the developmentally delayed live, people believe that only highly trained professionals with advanced degrees can support them. So they come to feel that welcome should only be extended by those congregations that are equipped. This is like saying only people with a master’s degree can teach the Sunday School Kindergarten. The developmentally delayed are people who need everything we all need, especially love and to be included.
Another attitudinal barrier is that Americans tend to equate cognitive ability with faith, and they think, “Is faith really important to them?” Or, “Can they really understand?” Or, “Would they really get anything out of participating?”^^105^^ This is very prejudicial. The cognitive inability to understand complex theology or doctrine as others do doesn’t negate or diminish faith. A pastor friend of mine with a developmentally delayed brother was asked at his brother’s funeral if he thought his brother had attained enough reason and faith to be saved. My friend’s answer was, “What makes you think we have?”
Other barriers also exist. Communication barriers have to do with sight, sound and language. If a person with developmental delay can’t read, then letters and written communication by-passes them. Other forms of communication must be implemented that transcend words. There are programmatic barriers. Most of us have ways for the congregation to connect outside of the weekly service to grow. To participate in them, a developmentally delayed individual might need added supports, adapted materials or equipment. Or the main need may be for a respite, so mom and dad can attend. Even liturgical barriers exist today, as I showed earlier: the developmentally delayed are often denied baptism and or communion.
All of these separate the normal from the abnormal. When these barriers are encountered, families with developmentally delayed children often to move to another congregation or stop going to church entirely. What we need to do is listen more to the disabled and understand their needs. To do this, we must make a concerted commitment to the developmentally delayed.^^106^^ We must admit our past history of exclusion, realize that all are called and realize it is not enough for us to go along with society but to actively transform it and influence our communities. We need to lead our communities in inclusion and acceptance, not lag behind. In the United States, there are 300,000 places of worship.^^107^^ Imagine if each one made a concerted commitment to reach out and engage the developmentally delayed community and actively include them. Who better than the faith community with its natural supporting relationships, the network of community connections and its history of sponsoring community programs and outreach? All believers are interdependent, and we are incomplete without each other.
I hope I have demonstrated that we are biblically mandated to do ministry with the developmentally delayed. Often we think in terms of doing ministry to them, a one-way affair with them receiving and us giving. Usually it is a small group of people that are involved and the rest of the congregation looks on from outside, never getting involved. Or the thought is that those with developmental disabilities are so “special,” that their needs are so different from the rest of the congregation, that a specialized program is the only way to meet their needs. Neither is correct. That is why I titled this section “Ministry With the Developmentally Delayed.” When we discover that the person sharing our hymnal, worshipping, fellowshipping, learning, praying, and serving with us are developmentally delayed, we learn that relationships (not cognitive abilities) are the heart of community. Yes, sometimes there will be a need for accommodations, adaptations and even forgiveness, but what a testimony it would be to the world if that “line distinction between people with and without disabilities disappeared altogether in communities of faith”^^108^^ and it became just “we” engage in ministry. The important thing is to focus on people, not programs. I am not trying to promote one model or program over another. There is a lot of good information on establishing outreach and welcoming to the community, on inclusion in education and ways to adapt nearly everything to include people with developmental disabilities. Each congregation needs to take a look at its facilities, personnel and interest, and formulate its own plan that works for it.
Finally, we must address one area that is not exclusive to those with developmental disabilities. Besides Sunday, there are another six days in the week. Often the developmentally delayed are in need of supports. I am not speaking about taking over things that their professional service providers do. I am talking about supports within the community of faith. Having a developmentally delayed child is a stressful thing. Dad and Mom need support and help. Offering to watch the developmentally delayed child, while a parent goes to fellowship or prayer, is enormously helpful and appreciated on Sunday. Even more helpful is taking the child some evening so Mom and Dad can go to small groups or just go on a date night. This is called respite, and is one of the most coveted services by parents. Any time the developmentally delayed child is included, cared for or just simply engaged by the members of the faith community is a welcomed delight to the parents. (Frankly, in talking to parents with little children and especially single parents, this is something they need, too.)
Many times, in the early days, I heard my wife lament that at church no one helped her. Some even steered clear of her and Sean, who usually, quite literally, hung on her skirt. No one from church ever gave us a respite time, but we never gave up trying to get him included. When we insisted he be allowed to participate in youth activities, like running a race, I would run it with him. We always came in last, but we didn’t care about competition – we cared about participation, belonging. Slowly over the years, the congregation opened up to him, more and more. Once, when we were at some church event, someone had to make a run to the store to pick up something forgotten. Mary suggested that Sean ride along with the person. The person was nervous but graciously agreed. In those few minutes alone with Sean on the trip to the store, this person came to realize that there was no need to be nervous. Today Sean and he are great friends. In our congregation Sean is accepted and included. The guys in the men’s group had no problem with him accompanying us on a men’s retreat and an Iron Sharpens Iron Conference. He also helps pick up the offering each Sunday and helps out at the food cupboard. Sean also takes communion with the congregation, is a baptized member of it and gives regularly to it. He has many friends who all ask about him if he is absent. Sean is a full participating member of Abundant Grace Church.
Theology of Subjective Inclusion and Exegesis of Luke 15:1-7 Parable of the Lost Sheep and Luke 15:11-31 Parable of the Prodigal Son
God has sought out fallen humans and has justified, forgiven and reconciled everyone made in the image of God. I have shown that this includes the developmentally delayed. The objective aspect of salvation is only part of the story, but what about the subjective aspect of an individual’s salvation? Don’t we play a part? We have all heard about the need to “accept Jesus” or “make a decision for Christ” or the need to say the “sinner’s prayer.” Isn’t there something we have to do? Don’t we have to cooperate with God somehow? This has been an ongoing discussion throughout most of the last two thousand years. What part do we play in our own salvation? Following our pericope of the banquet are two other noteworthy parables.
The first is the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7), which can be thought of as an analogy to God’s commitment to restore his relationship with all humanity, objectively. The second is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31), which can be used as an example of the response or cooperation many feel we must have in our own salvation, subjectively. Are these two parables sending different messages? Is there no way to interpret the objective and subjective emphasis of these passages in a “more congruent way?”^^109^^
In the Parable of the Sheep, it is plain in verses 1 and 2 that the context has to do with Jesus eating with sinners, a violation of the Pharisees’ table fellowship rules. In it Jesus states that the owner of a flock of 100 sheep will leave the 99 and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it, which is a common Greek idiom meaning until he is successful.^^110^^ When he finds the lost sheep he brings it home and rejoices with his friends (v. 6).
The thoroughness of God’s redeeming work in this parable is very objective; there is no subjective response of the sheep required. But does applying the parable in this way make salvation too objective? In the case of the developmentally delayed, they “often cannot operate within the conventional agency criteria unto salvation.”^^111^^ Probably out of misguided compassion, some will then point to this parable. With no response seemingly mentioned, they may use the sheep parable to claim that the developmentally delayed would then somehow get a pass. The developmentally delayed are so broken that God is essentially removing them from the requirement of a response, thus creating an “exception clause,”^^112^^ but in so doing these patronizing attitudes toward the impaired have essentially “dehumanized them.”^^113^^
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the young man squanders his inheritance in a foreign land, gets into a bind because of a famine and decides to return home. While he is “still a long way off” (v. 20), his compassionate father runs to and embraces his son. In this case, the father is considered to be God the Father who bestows his grace on him because of his change of heart, welcoming him back into his home.
The Prodigal parable can be promoted as an example of God and humanity meeting in the middle, of humanity’s cooperation in God’s forgiveness and justification. This interpretation is attractive to those of us who are cognitively able because we can “accept Jesus” or make a “decision for Christ” or say the “sinner’s prayer.” Each parable then can be cited to validate our salvation experience. Unfortunately, these cognitive validations are beyond many of the cognitively disabled.
As we have shown, all humans are made in the image of God and are objectively saved. Christ came in the incarnation as fully human. Thus, his human nature was united with ours. He also came as fully God, satisfying the needs of the soteriological axioms. His mission was to justify, reconcile and save all of humanity. Thus, in the complete and perfect, inseparable union of God and humanity in himself, he is the mediator of that reconciliation, through his substitutionary atonement on the cross. By taking on our sin and guilt, through that sacrifice, he did away with our guilt. Thus, by sanctifying our human nature through himself, Christ redeems us and presents us to the Father.
He did all that precisely as mediator who brought God and man together in himself, thereby actualizing reconciliation and recreating our humanity within the holiness and perfection of his own sinless human life, crucified for our sins and raised again for our justification.^^114^^
This reconciliation is more than just a re-establishment of cordial ties. It means that humanity is “taken up in and through Christ to share in the inner relations of God’s own life and love.”^^115^^ Thus we are in Christ, Christ is in us and we are eternally in communication, sharing the life and love of the Trinity, which has adopted us into the fellowship of the divine life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The union of divine and human is completed in the hypostatic union of Christ, which is “continuously upheld by what is called the ‘consubstantial communion’ within the Holy Trinity,”^^116^^ or the mutual indwelling of the three in one and the one in three. This union is done in such a way that neither the divine nor human natures are diminished or impaired. Not only that, throughout the “vicarious earthly life”^^117^^ of Jesus, the union is not a passive but an active atoning union, keeping Christ from succumbing to the powers of darkness. In this way God and humanity are not separated, and neither are the themes of incarnation and atonement.
Without this atoning union and hypostatic union together, the reconciliation could not have succeeded. The hypostatic union could not have been victorious in the presence of guilt and sin, but neither could the atoning union have succeeded without the penetration of the Incarnation and hypostatic union. This all came about in Jesus Christ, “the mediator, in whom the atoning union and hypostatic union served each other.”^^118^^ All of this was done so that humanity “is not only saved, healed and renewed but lifted up to participate in the very light, life and love of the Holy Trinity.”^^119^^
Those redeemed through the atoning union share his vicarious life by the power of the Holy Spirit and “his incarnational assumption of our humanity into himself is ‘subjectively’ actualised in us through his indwelling Spirit, ‘we in Christ’ and ‘Christ in us.’”^^120^^ This is not some external fantasy but an ontological reality, one in which reconciliation is fulfilled in Christ, fully God and fully human, our mediator.
The work of Christ in reconciliation is not a one-way street, in which God, from some ivory tower, casts down reconciliation. Reconciliation takes two. If only one is involved, then it is, at best, forgiveness. For example; if I hurt someone and apologize but they remain my enemy, then there is no reconciliation. On the other hand, if I hurt someone and they forgive me but I remain their enemy, there is no reconciliation. The problem is that we as human beings cannot make things right with God. This was evident throughout the Old Testament and its covenant. Each time the Israelites strayed, God gave them a way to reconcile, usually through a sacrifice. The problem was that it never lasted. There was no true change of heart. These sacrifices were not complete, as they were waiting for a true redeemer.
Just like those patriarchs of the Old Testament, I am not capable of “accepting Jesus” or “making a decision for Christ” or saying the “sinner’s prayer,” in the sense of doing any of these perfectly enough. As a sinner, I, too, will revert to my “old self” and, essentially, renege on my promise and return to sin. The good news is that Jesus came and lived a perfect, sinless life, fulfilling all righteousness that God wanted of humanity but which we were incapable of performing. In the incarnation, he took on humanity and “is ontologically linked to all humanity, to every single human being.”^^121^^ In this shared humanity and as God and creator, his atoning death fulfilled both the victim and priest role in the mediation of the New Covenant. Since Christ is in us and we are in Christ, Christ ministers “the things of God to man and the things of man to God.”^^122^^ This means that in Jesus, in his full humanity, is the “vicarious way of human response to God promised under the old covenant.”^^123^^
In light of this, let us now look at the two parables again. Is more going in the sheep parable than Jesus simply grabbing an errant and broken sheep and forcing it upon his shoulders? His stated indication of repentance here (v. 7) is puzzling, as the sheep does not repent! Why would Jesus mention repentance, if it wasn’t part of the story? It seems to me, the story’s emphasis is about the shepherd not giving up on the lost one and actively searching for it and, more importantly, finding it. Jesus’ parable was to point to the inclusiveness of God, juxtaposed against the exclusiveness of the Pharisees. Each and every human is as important to God as that one sheep. The emphasis in this parable, then, is the objective salvation and in the going out of God, or Jesus ministering the things of God to humanity. But is there a hidden theme of subjective response even in this parable? Is there a way to see Jesus not only as the one who ministers the things of God to humanity, but also ministers the things of humanity to God? With the help of our other parable, perhaps we will be able to see that Jesus is asking his hearers to focus not on the sheep or the repentance of the sheep but on Jesus himself and his return with the sheep.
As mentioned above, the Prodigal parable at first glance appears to show a measure of repentance and subjective response, if one defines “phrases in the story like ‘came to his senses’ and ‘going back home’ as describing repentance.”^^124^^ But the boy came to his senses after hitting rock bottom and returned home in desperation, all for selfish reasons. I don’t think these are actually a response to the love of his father and a true metanoia. It is hard to pin down exactly when this son truly understood the grace of his father and did repent, believe and accept that grace. We are left to hope that he accepted the love and grace of his father and took his place in the home, in relation to the Father, as a son. The parable gives us no metanoia moment (no adequate subjective closure) for the younger son, or obviously, for the older son.
If we look at the Father in this parable, it is stated that he ran out to meet his wayward son, but only after the son had made most of the journey himself. This does not qualify as an allusion to God continually seeking us out. The self-righteous older brother rejects his wastrel sibling, refusing to forgive and to even join the party. Certainly, if he were a true older brother, he should have been the one seeking out his sibling. Jeff McSwain proposes in his article that there is “an unseen third son,”^^125^^ inhabiting the parable between the lines who, theologically speaking, carries both sons back home. As with the sheep parable, perhaps Jesus is challenging the Pharisees and all of us to repent, to radically change our mind (metanoia) and to see Jesus as the one in whom we all return home.
Jesus is our older brother who by his death, in his atonement for everyone, will “bring many sons and daughters to glory” (Heb. 2:9-10, NIV). Hebrews also tells us that he is the “author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2), and “apart from whom no one has ever had faith.”^^126^^ Even the faithful heroes mentioned in Hebrews had to be participating in Jesus’ faith because his is the only perfect response, “I will be one whose trust reposes in God (Heb. 12:3 Weymouth).”^^127^^ Jesus Christ then, as our high priest, makes “atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17), completing the mediation of the covenant from humanity to God. So, Jesus then completes the subjective aspect of the story. The theme of this story is that Christ was trying to get the Pharisees to understand that he is the true older brother, who sought out his younger brother. He had the love for and desire to reach out to even a wastrel and sinful sibling. The Pharisees represented the self-righteous older brother of the story, who excluded the son who returned. They were not, as God had intended and promised to Abraham, the inclusive mediators and example to the world, so that “through your offspring [seed] all nations on earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). That inclusive mediator was and is Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as the above references and the parables of Luke 15 attest, it is not our response to God that subjectively saves us – it is Jesus’ perfect response, because we are in him and he is in us. Putting it on a personal level, I was incapable of repenting and accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior, perfectly enough. Only Jesus’ response to the Father was adequate. But by grace, and because I am truly in him, Jesus’ response is my response! He has not only “objectively” saved me but “subjectively” saved me; the gift is then fulfilled “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23c). Because even our subjective response in salvation is captained by Jesus from first to last, my imperfect, inadequate responses can only be inconsistent participations in the perfect vicarious response of Jesus Christ for me, so I don’t have to worry “Did I do it right?” His response for me is my most personal, intimate response to God, so that in Christ’s vicarious humanity I am subjectively, individually and personally saved.
How does this then work for the developmentally delayed? I believe it works in the same way. As beings included in the image of God and objectively saved, they are included in that vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ, and that same vicarious way of response is active and real for them also. The Good News for all people is that Jesus’ perfect response to the Father is every person’s perfect response to the Father. We are all accepted by God and adopted by grace into the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. Yes, there is a big difference between the IQ of Sean and say Albert Einstein in response and comprehension of God, but because neither Sean’s nor Albert Einstein’s response to God can be perfect in and of themselves, each needs the vicarious response of Jesus Christ just as much!
Ministry of the Developmentally Delayed
One Sunday Sean was talking to one of the members, explaining what he did at church, his job taking up the offering. Then he asked her what she did and she said, “I don’t do anything.” Sean replied, “You need a job!”
One day, at our summer picnic, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, a huge storm was blowing. Frankly, it looked like the North Sea. In the midst of this, I had a bad attitude and was complaining about the weather. Sean looked at me and said, “It’s not so bad. It’s only water. It’s part of the fun.”
One Sunday, an elder was talking to a member of the congregation and Sean was standing next to him waiting patiently to speak to him. The member was talking about how he didn’t feel close to God. Sean suddenly interrupted and said, “Oh you shouldn’t feel like that. God lives in here [pointing to the member’s chest] and God lives in here too [indicating his own chest].”
If then we are not going to dehumanize the developmentally delayed and grant that they also are included in the vicarious humanity of Jesus, our conclusion must be that they are fully brothers and sisters in our faith community. T.F Torrance says:
Because the Church is formed by One Spirit into One Body with Christ, the participation of the Church in the ministry of Christ is primarily corporate. Thus the ministry of the Church refers primarily to the royal priesthood which pertains to the whole membership of Christ’s body.^^128^^
Again, it is through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ because the entire life of Jesus is available to all of the church. The developmentally delayed also have a part and place in Christ’s ministry and are fully members of the Royal Priesthood.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)
On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him. When Peter had answered yes, Jesus admonished him once to lead his flock and twice to feed them (John 21:15-19). Jesus wasn’t sending Peter on some heroic quest. He was speaking of shepherding, or ministry. The ministry of the church is the ministry of Jesus, who is fully God and fully human, and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). As Christ loves all his flock, the entire flock is commanded, by him, to love one another, and it is by that outpouring of love that society will readily see we are his (John 13:34-35). Ministry then is about love, and we must love the developmentally delayed and they us.
Henri Nouwen says, “ministry is a communal and mutual experience.”^^129^^ Just as Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs to proclaim the gospel, we are sent as the body, the church. Jesus does not expect any one person to do it all on their own, and to that point all of us are desperately needed. The body is not just trained professionals doing ministry funded by the flock. The body is led by Jesus’ love, and it does Jesus’ ministry together. We, in the church, must understand that ministry and the developmentally delayed is not about us and them, it is only us.
Jean Vanier, in mentioning Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous speech, dares to hope that everyone, including the able and disabled, “can find a place and reveal their gifts…for a society whose metaphor is not a pyramid but a body, and where each of us is a vital part in the harmony and function of the whole.” ^^130^^ If anyone in our congregation could claim, “I have no gifts,” one would think it would be Sean, but the developmentally delayed do have gifts. Everyone in the church gets a gift: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given” (1 Cor. 12:7a). The developmentally delayed are fully members of the Royal Priesthood and they too, are given gifts. This is because they are given, as Paul emphasizes in verse 11, by the same Holy Spirit. There is no difference, in God’s economy, between the “normal” and the “cognitively disabled,” just like there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. So, the same Spirit who gave me my gifts gave gifts to Sean. More importantly, though, God gave them to both of us for the same reason, “for the common good” (v. 7b).
Paul goes on to explain in the rest of the chapter that all the parts of the body are essential to the full and proper functioning of the body, in the ministry of Christ. Just as the eye has its function and the ear and even “those parts of the body that seem weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” (vv. 22-23). Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums it up well: “Every Christion community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak.”^^131^^ Their ministry is not to simply be the passive recipients of our practice of ministry. They are active ministers to us.
There are groups that have been working in this area. Jean Vanier and the L’Arche communities are a prime example. He started L’Arche communities in 1964,^^132^^ developing communities where the “normal” and the cognitively disabled can live together. Not in a superior versus inferior dependency lifestyle but “live and work together as peers, create inclusive communities of faith and friendship, and transform society through relationships that cross social boundaries.”^^133^^
In the first Sean story at the beginning of this section, Sean is proud of his job at church. In our service, a short offertory is given by a speaker, and then Sean and a varying group of youngsters, ages 5-10, go up front for a prayer and then pick up the offering. Sean can be seen herding them and making sure everything is picked up and as he says, “I teach them.” More importantly, he understands the doctrine that we all need to participate, as he told the member of the congregation. She came to me afterward and told me that Sean had, indeed, convicted her that this was something she needed to do. That very Sunday, she volunteered to help in a ministry. This is one of his gifts, the gift of helps. If there is something that needs to be done, it usually only takes a mention and he will dive in, including spending eight hours with me priming the sanctuary for the final paint job, or working for hours at a fundraiser.
Sean also has a unique gift of engaging people. You would be hard pressed, as a visitor, to not be greeted by him and engaged in a little conversation or encouraged in some way. I think that is why he likes taking up the offering, because he can glad hand up one side of the aisle, picking up the offering and back down the other side to his seat.
Just as Christ told us to pray for God to “send out workers into his harvest field” (Matt. 9:38b), we must not overlook a rich and beautiful resource of the developmentally delayed community. In our church, we can always use people to help. The problem is that we “normal” people tend to think that a job is not “important” enough or is “beneath” us or we “don’t have enough time.” The developmentally delayed are often so “inclusion starved” that any chance to participate is a welcomed honor but, more importantly, many times their gifts and talents are overlooked. Often they are quite gifted in singing, helping, greeting, praying and many other things that we tend to overlook them for. Sometimes all they need is some encouragement and someone open enough to let them try. One must be careful that the job is appropriate, of course, and it may take supervision or adaptation, but seeing their joy at participation is a treat and will be a treat to the congregation. Many times, they will be more reliable in doing their ministry than some of the “normal.”
As we experience ministry with each other, especially when we are ministered to by people who have lived through difficult times, we can experience a wide range of emotion. Sometimes we experience a peace and support; sometimes it is self-confrontation or rediscovery, healing, witness, care, love and sometimes nothing. This is the measure of ministry, not our ability to do. Ministry is beautifully described by Nouwen:
The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.^^134^^
The developmentally delayed are often better at it than we are. The second Sean story above is a prime example. We had worked hard preparing for our summer picnic on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, our major summer outreach. It was supposed to be a beautiful, idyllic day of fellowship and fun. What we got, weather wise, was something akin to a hurricane. I was filled with the importance of myself, disappointed and angry at the weather, on what was supposed to be a beautiful day of outreach at the beach. Sean ministered to me, centering me on what the facts were, not what I saw, but that I needed to be centered on Jesus, not the storm. He was helping me, as Nouwen says, “to hear the voice and so be comforted and consoled.”^^135^^
There is often a complete honesty that the developmentally delayed exhibit that shows they are being led by God. Often, the greatest barrier between God and me is me. I am able. I can do. I can accomplish, and in this attitude and frame of mind, I am the one who is disabled! If Christ could do nothing without the Father, then who am I to think that I can do anything on my own? Sean doesn’t worry about that and he is free to accept the lead of the Holy Spirit. He can care for another without letting himself get in the way. Nouwen, in speaking of Adam, one of his charges at L’Arche, says that “caring…is as much receiving as giving.”^^136^^ In this, he was referring to the giving of the staff to Adam, who was profoundly developmentally delayed. Our caring for another is something that gives back to us, so that our caring bears fruit in our lives also. I have cared for Sean many times, but here we see it go in the other direction, from Sean to me. He cared for me, in my distraught state, bearing fruit in both our lives. In other words, he ministered to me.
Too often we think that in order to understand the gospel, we must have some deep cognitive understanding. We think that faith is somehow tied to our ability to reason. The third example at the beginning of this section is a prime example of how untrue that is. A member was speaking to one of the other elders, indicating that he did not feel close to God. Sean will often come up beside you and listen to what is being said, often without comment, patiently waiting for someone to acknowledge him. In the midst of this, hearing what was said, Sean, led I think by the Holy Spirit, spoke up, telling the man he shouldn’t feel like that. He told him and demonstrated to him, by pointing to the man’s chest, that God lives in there and then pointing to his own chest, reiterating God lives in him also.
Sean has never read Torrance or Barth or Paul, but he has sat through hundreds of sermons and Bible studies. Usually he scribbles in a notebook, using nonsensical script because he can’t write, with a Bible open beside him, which he cannot read. It would seem, to an outsider, that he is not cognitively able to understand such high theology. Yet in discussing the incident later, the elder and I came to the conclusion that we could not have explained it better to the member – and believe me, the impact of the statement on the man made his jaw drop.
Often the developmentally delayed seem to be incapable of understanding, but do not be fooled. Knowledge does not equal understanding, and deep theology does not need great oratory. Paul in speaking to the Corinthians said, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words” (1 Corinthians 2:4a). My wife and I have been amazed, countless times, by Sean’s understanding and application of the gospel message. Is every developmentally delayed person like Sean? No, but then I am not like every normal person. What we need to do, in the case of the developmentally delayed, like we should do with any group that may be different from us, is to look to embrace the similarities and not magnify the differences.
We must also address leadership. Folks typically think, the developmentally delayed could never be leaders. Yet, in these three stories I see leadership from Sean. In the first he led someone to realize that they needed to participate. Interestingly, we had, probably, four or five sermons that mentioned the need to participate and to use one’s gifts, in the preceding months. We also had several strong calls to the congregation on the needs of our ministries for help. It was not the strong logic, passionate entreaties and deep theology expounded on by the leaders and elders that convinced the person they had a need. It was a developmentally delayed young man, in the simplicity of being led by the Spirit of God, in the ministry of Jesus Christ. In the second incident, I was someone who, frankly, knew better. I was an elder with seminary courses and yet Sean led me. He was my role model. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1) and on that stormy day, God led Sean to lead me, to be my role model, as he followed Christ. In the third example, Sean is discipling the person. He led him into a deeper knowledge and understanding of the truth. Wisdom often comes from unexpected events, and here Sean led the person, equipping him with a deeper and more personal understanding of his relationship to Christ.
I am not saying they will lead a Sunday school class, although I cannot think of a reason that some, if properly encouraged and taught, couldn’t actually lead a kindergarten or nursery class. Leadership isn’t about what you do or how many events you can plan. Leadership is about love and, often times, it is just about accompanying, just walking alongside. Nouwen again reminds us, “The great mystery of Jesus’ life is that he fulfilled his mission not in action but in passion.”^^137^^
How important can the developmentally delayed be to a congregation? Well, we have a ministry worker because of Sean, an elder who turned his attitude around because of Sean and a person’s heart touched and encouraged and taught by Sean. These are just three of the many stories that could be told. His presence has not diminished the congregation; rather, the congregation has been enriched and built up by his participation and his ministry to it. He is an important part of the congregation, an integral part, just like everyone else is. This is what the church must embrace, that we need to see them. We need to see them not with some arbitrary standard of normalcy but rather see them for who they are and as they are. Just as we are unique individuals with a mission from God, so are they. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ and are needed by us, in the church, quite as much as they may need us. As Vanier asserts, we must “trust in the sacredness of every human heart.”^^138^^
There was an incident in the life of Karl Barth in which he was discussing with Heinrich Vogel, a noted theologian and friend, the perfection in the kingdom of God. They were trying to explain the transformation. Vogel wanted to speak of it as a complete and perfect re-creation, where all disabilities and pain in this life would be eliminated. Vogel had a badly crippled daughter and, like all of us parents, he wanted his child to be freed from the disability saying, “She will walk!”^^139^^ Barth objected, arguing that Vogel’s comment made it sound like God had made an error that needed fixing. Rather, he argued, wasn’t it better and more powerful to hope, “that something becomes apparent there that at present we cannot understand at all — namely that this life was not futile, because it is not in vain that God has said to it: “I have loved: you!”^^140^^ Barth’s thought, according to one commentator, was that “the final revelation of the truth and meaning of this life will involve a radical re-ordering of prevailing cultural values.”^^141^^ He was saying it was the normal that needed to change, to accept the disabled for who they are, as they are, before focusing on what wholeness looks like in the kingdom. The vicarious humanity of Christ gives the church a theology of subjective inclusion and provides anticipation for how the kingdom might be revealed now, in our midst, by Christ’s leadership through those in our churches with intellectual disabilities.
The developmentally delayed for centuries have been hidden away, classified as different, broken and suffering; often they have been impersonally institutionalized. For years in the United States we have fought for the inclusion of the developmentally delayed, for them simply to be allowed to be present and to participate. With this there has been some success with increasing inclusion in schools, recognition and reduction of pejoratives, group homes in the community, passage of laws and a more open and accepting attitude in general. That, however, is only the beginning. Unfortunately, the traditional perspective—that those with intellectual disabilities are pitiable, broken, useless “others” created only to be objects for good Christian benevolence—is still prevalent.
The gospel, however, as I have attempted to articulate in this thesis, takes us well beyond charitable inclusion. It is the most powerful message in the universe expressing God’s eternal purpose for human personalization. God’s ultimate purpose cannot be deterred by a broken chromosome or an out-of-control body or differently functioning mind. His eternal, perfect message is not about cognitive abilities. His message and purpose is for each person to contribute to the unity of his Body; this includes the developmentally delayed.
Despite our arrogance of normalcy, the developmentally delayed also are made in the image of God, made by him, for his purpose. Yes, they are different. They often do not look as we do, act as we do or think as we do, but that is not what makes them a human created in the image of God. Cognitive abilities or rational thought is not the determinant. What makes them human and made in the image of God is their relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Further, it is through the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ that, just like us, they are accepted by God. It is not about what they can and cannot do, any more than it has to do with the “normal” — it is about who Jesus Christ is and who each of us is in him.
We are silly if we think that we “normal” people can truly comprehend God, that we have the cognitive and rational ability to truly and fully understand our Triune God. An amoeba in the bottom of a farm pond is far closer to comprehending what a human is than we are to comprehending the Triune God. But Jesus Christ shares his knowledge of God with us; in him, all of us may boldly approach the throne of grace.
Together, as co-heirs in the Son of God, we need to include and embrace our brothers and sisters with developmental disabilities and their families. Just like us, they need discipling, encouragement and even help. Yes, we must approach this with understanding, and some things must be modified somewhat, so that they fall within their abilities, but nonetheless it is needed. Yes, it is often difficult, as most ministries are. They must nevertheless be welcomed, included and embraced by the church that encourages full participation in all practical ways. Barriers need to be dropped; fear of them needs to be overcome. They must not be judged by our self-soothing ideas of what normal is.
But we must go even further, for the developmentally delayed also have a mission and God has gifted them as he has us. God did not create them for the sole purpose of being the objects of our Christian benevolence or pity. We must allow them their full place to teach us, to join us in the Royal Priesthood, even, perhaps at times, to lead us as blood-bought adopted children of the living God. They must be allowed to grow and be who they are and how they are without condemnation. They must be judged, in paraphrase of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., not by their abilities of cognitive or rational thought but by who they are in their own being. If and when we do that, then we will understand much better what being a human being is all about, and that is a great gift. Moreover, this will be a great boon to the church, which needs those with developmental delay as desperately as it needs any of us. No one is a more valuable part of the Body than another.
This kind of giving and receiving from Christ and each other, regardless of abilities, would be a wonderful witness to a world bent on pigeon-holing and separating itself into ever-smaller factions, becoming less and less able to include. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were exclusionary. They did not see their purpose to reach out. Our Master gave us that command to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:18-20). The developmentally delayed may seem to be incapable of understanding, but a failure to actively include, embrace and disciple them will be a loss, not only for them, but also for the church, for we humans are all made in the image of God and included in the vicarious humanity of Christ.
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Beates, Michael S. Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. New York: Harper & Row, 1954.
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Strauss, Mark L. Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2007.
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Torrance, Thomas F., and Robert T. Walker, ed. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008.
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Vanier, Jean. Community and Growth. New York: Paulist Press, 1989.
Volf, Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1996.
1 I would gain knowledge and some credentials of my own, first leading a cub scout den with a couple of developmentally delayed boys, then follow them to Scouts. When Sean aged out of Boy Scouts, we found an Explorer club made up of all developmentally delayed Scouts.
2 Ivan Brown and Maire E. Percy, A Comprehensive Guide to Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (Baltimore, Md: P.H. Brookes, 2007), 18.
3 Ibid., 24.
4 Ibid., 17.
5 Ibid., 3.
6 Ibid., xxiii.
7 Ibid., 6.
8 Ibid., 7.
9 The categories are self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning, mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent learning, and economic self-sufficiency (ibid., 7).
10 Brown and Percy, A Comprehensive Guide, 8.
11 Ibid., 18.
13 This one is still hanging around. My wife and I were told this by some individuals.
14 Brown and Percy, A Comprehensive Guide, 21.
15 Ibid., 21.
16 Ibid., 27.
17 Ibid., 28.
19 Thomas E. Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality (Grand Rapids, Mich: Brazos Press, 2008), 55.
20 Ibid., 30.
21 Michael S. Beates, Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses Our Brokenness to Display His Grace (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2012), 17.
22 The ARC “Resources” website, revised March 1 2011 (accessed 11/5/16).
23 Brown and Percy, A Comprehensive Guide, 125.
24 Ibid., 129.
25 This doesn’t include iron and iodine deficiency or malnutrition, as often found in the third world (ibid., 129.
26 This is a genetic hereditary disorder in which the amino acid phenylalanine is not metabolized properly due to an enzyme deficiency. Buildup of phenylalanine causes brain damage, resulting in developmental delay. Treatment is a low phenylalanine diet, and if initiated before 3 weeks, results in no effect. If initiated at 3-6 weeks, results are mild developmental delay, and after 6 months there is little benefit of treatment. It is found in 1 in 15,000 live births in the U.S. and is routinely tested for at birth (ibid., 249).
27 Congenital hypothyroidism is an endocrine hormone disorder usually caused by iodine deficiency or of developmental or genetic origin. Treatment involves giving iodine or TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). In North America, in iodine deficient areas, it is found in 1-3000 to 4000 live births, but is the leading cause of developmental delay and intellectual disability worldwide (ibid., 235).
28 Presence of these drugs is toxic to the fetus. Alcohol, for example, is converted to acetaldehyde and is toxic to the fetus. Alcohol also constricts the umbilical vessels, depriving the fetus of oxygen. It is the leading preventable cause of developmental delay and may affect 1% of fetuses (ibid., 223).
29 Folic acid or folate is a water-soluble vitamin found in whole wheat, dark green vegetables, organ meats, beans, and cantaloupe. Lack of the vitamin in pregnancy is a risk factor for neural tube defects, such as spina bifida or anencephaly (missing or reduced brain tissue). The defects show up after just 25-29 days of pregnancy (ibid., 134).
30 Ibid., 130.
31 Ibid., 149.
32 In the other 5 percent, the cause of Down Syndrome has to do with 1) translocation (4%), where a portion of chromosome 21 is attached to another chromosome, 2) a duplication of only some of the genes on chromosome 21 and 3) mosaicism, where the individual has two cell lines, where some have two and some have three chromosomes 21 (ibid., 149).
33 Here chromosome 21 does replicate, thus the gamete has a diploid (2n) chromosome 21. The affected diploid (2n) gamete then fuses with its complementary normal haploid (n) gamete, resulting in a trisomy, or three of chromosome 21 (ibid., 149).
34 The skin fold of the eye that makes them look mongoloid.
35 Brown and Percy, A Comprehensive Guide, 152.
36 Ibid., 152.
37 Most mutations act like normal genes and are stable as they pass from one generation to the next. Fragile X is an instable gene mutation because the size of the mutation can change from one generation to the next, with the numbers of base repeats increasing as it is passed from one generation to the next (ibid., 175.
38 Fragile X Mental Retardation 1 gene.
39 Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein.
40 Thomas F. Torrance, Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008). 201.
41 Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 205.
42 Ibid., 206.
43 While often un-noticed, Torrance contends John 1:13 “is clearly an extended reference to the virgin birth” (Torrance, Incarnation, 90).
45 Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1995), 147.
46 Ibid., 150.
47 Torrance, Incarnation, 85.
48 Brown and Percy, A Comprehensive Guide, 22.
49 Beates, Disability and the Gospel, 97-99.
50 Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion, 178.
51 Beates, Disability and the Gospel, 26.
52 Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion, 179.
53 Beates, Disability and the Gospel, 53.
54 Ibid., 61.
55 Beates, Disability and the Gospel, 65.
56 Ibid., 89.
57 Ibid., 89.
58 Beates, Disability and the Gospel, 89.
59 Ibid., 90.
60 Ibid., 91.
61 Brian Brock and John Swinton, Disability in the Christian Tradition: A Reader (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2012), 117.
62 Herbert Anderson and Edward Foley, Developmental Disabilities and Sacramental Access: New Paradigms for Sacramental Encounters (Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press, 1994), 5.
63 Beates, Disability and the Gospel, 92.
64 Ibid., 92.
66 Ibid., 95.
67 Mark L. Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2007), 260.
68 D.L Bock, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I.H. Marshall; Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 501.
69 Jacob Neusner, Judaism in the Beginning of Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 27.
70 S.S. Bartchy, in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 796.
71 William D. Mounce, Interlinear for the Rest of Us: The Reverse Interlinear for New Testament Word Studies (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006), 856.
72 Ibid., 858.
73 Beates, Disability and the Gospel, 172.
74 Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion, 59.
75 Ibid., 59.
76 Jean Vanier, Becoming Human (Toronto: Anansit Press, 2008), 39.
77 Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion, 37.
78 Ibid., 25.
79 See chapter 2, pages 72-79, in Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon Press, 1996).
80 Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion, 37.
81 Amy Laura Hall, in Brian Brock and John Swinton, Disability in the Christian Tradition, 153. Hall is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke University Divinity School.
82 It is the inability to make new memories.
83 Visual includes staring at lights, repetitive blinking, moving fingers in front of the eyes and flapping of the hands and arms. Auditory includes tapping the ears, snapping fingers and making vocal sounds. Tactile includes rubbing the skin or scratching. Vestibular includes rocking either forward and back or side to side. Taste includes putting parts of the body in the mouth or licking things. Smell includes smelling objects and sniffing people (Brown and Percy, A Comprehensive Guide, 311).
84 Reynolds, Vulnerable Communion, 36.
88 Ibid., 37.
89 Ibid., 38.
91 Ibid., 39.
92 Ibid., 41.
93 Mounce, Interlinear for the Rest of Us, 822.
94 Vanier, Community and Growth, 13.
95 Erik W. Carter, Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities: A Guide for Service Providers, Families, & Congregations (Baltimore, Md: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co., 2007), 7.
96 Ibid., 8.
97 Ibid., 7.
98 Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2007), 53.
99 Ibid., 100.
100 Ibid., 56.
101 Ibid., 57.
102 Carter, Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities, 12.
103 Beates, Disability and the Gospel, 30.
104 Ibid., 31.
105 Carter, Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities, 12.
106 As well as all the disabled.
107 Carter, Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities, 120.
108 Ibid., 35
109 Jeff McSwain, in Trinity and Transformation: J. B. Torrance’s Vision of Worship, Mission, and Society, (ed. Todd Speidell; Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 2016), 176.
110 Archibald T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, no date), 462. [+ https://stnoufer.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/word-pictures-in-the-new-testament.pdf.+
111 Jeff McSwain, in Trinity and Transformation, 176.
112 Ibid., 177.
114 Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ (Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1992), 63.
115 Ibid., 64.
116 Ibid., 65.
118 Ibid., 66.
120 Ibid., 67.
121 Gary Deddo, in Trinity and Transformation, 261.
122 Torrance, Mediation of Christ, 73, emphasis added.
123 Ibid., 76.
124 Jeff McSwain, in Trinity and Transformation, 180.
125 Ibid., 181.
128 Thomas F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood: A Theology of Ordained Ministry (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993), 35.
129 Henri J. M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. (New York: Crossroad, 1989), 57.
130 Vanier, Becoming Human, 123.
131 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 94.
132 Vanier, Community and Growth, xiii.
133 L’Arche USA © Copyright 2017 L’Arche USA accessed 1/30/17.
134 Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, 62.
135 Ibid., 90.
136 Ibid., 59
137 Henri J. M. Nouwen, Adam: God’s Beloved (Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 1997), 84.
138 Vanier, Becoming Human, 123.
139 Donald Wood, in Disability in the Christian Tradition, 392.
140 Ibid., 392; italics in original.
141 Ibid., 393.
In this paper, I will focus closely on the “developmentally delayed,” without endeavoring to cover all the physically, intellectually and emotionally disabling situations extant in the world. In chapter 1, I will a) define what is meant by developmentally delayed, b) look at some of the more common causes, c) include some statistics on its prevalence, and d) provide a short history of how this population has been variously perceived through history. In chapter 2, I will look at the theology of what I call the a) “objective inclusion” of the developmentally delayed and b) ministry with them. This section will include a survey of the subject of imago dei biblically, historically and theologically. I will discuss how different concepts of imago dei have affected the outlook of the church on disabilities historically and also how modern secular thoughts of personhood have affected Western societies’ outlook. This section will include an exegesis of Luke 14:15-23, Jesus’ parable of the banquet, which I feel best informs this aspect of theological inclusion. My conclusion will draw together both the objective and subjective theology of inclusion and ministry. The developmentally delayed are made in the image of God, just as “the normal” person. Although they may be vulnerable in the world, they are not meant to be merely objects of pity to the church or demeaned to a status of being targeted for practical acts of charity. Rather, by including and building relationships with the developmentally delayed in community, God reveals every human’s inclusion in the vicarious humanity of Jesus Christ. In doing this, God gifts the developmentally delayed and sends them into ministry to us, the “normal,” to lead and teach us about humanity and ourselves.