Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A Church of All and for All: An Interim Statement

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

A Church of All and for All: An Interim Statement

Article excerpt

This statement was prepared for the central committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting 26 August-2 September 2003 in Geneva, by the Ecumenical Disabilities Advocates Network (EDAN) and has been commended to the churches for study, feedback and action.


As the author of the letter to the Ephesians stressed: Christ came to tear down the walls (Eph. 2:14). Whenever we consider the ways in which to respond to issues of disability, we do well to remember the walls that we have set up. All of these walls are so human, yet they contradict Christ's ministry of reconciliation; walls that shut people in or shut people out; walls that prevent people from meeting and talking to others. In days gone by, people with disabilities were actually kept behind walls, inside institutions. Now we are all a part mainstream society. It is estimated that some 600 million people are persons with disabilities. Yet people, especially persons with disabilities, still find themselves isolated. Now there are walls of shame; walls of prejudice; walls of hatred; walls of competition; walls of fear; walls of ignorance; walls of theological prejudice and cultural misunderstanding. The church is called to be an inclusive community, to tear down the walls. This interim statement is an invitation to journey towards making that more of a reality. It has been written by disabled people, parents and others who experience life alongside them in various ways.

Historically, disability has been interpreted as loss, as something that illustrates the human tragedy. The stories in the gospels about how Jesus healed persons with different diseases" and disabilities are traditionally interpreted as acts of liberation, stories of how human beings receive possibilities to live a richer life. From that time, churches have often wrestled with how best to exercise an appropriate ministry for, to and with persons with disabilities.

The ecumenical movement also found itself faced with the necessity of addressing the issue. After the fourth assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1968, the theme "The Unity of the Church and the Renewal of Humankind" emerged as a means of relating issues of church and society. At the assembly and subsequently, the attempt to explore the church as a more inclusive community intensified. A concern to address the inclusion of handicapped people in the church emerged within the Faith and Order Commission, and gathered momentum at the Louvain meeting of the Commission in 1971. This first attempt to address the situation of persons with disabilities was a theological examination of service for the disabled in the light of the compassion of Christ.

In the period which followed, concern with persons with disabilities moved from theological reflection to practical questions of inclusiveness within churches and church communities. But often, this reflection and action in the churches treated "persons with handicaps" and "the differently abled" and "persons with a disability" (all those terms were designed to reflect inclusiveness and each replaced the other) as objects rather than subjects of reflection. The appearance of EDAN (Ecumenical Disabilities Advocates Network), founded at the WCC's 1998 assembly, and its assimilation within the WCC structures in the Justice, Peace and Creation team, has itself come to be a sign of hope in the process of conscientization of Christian churches and institutions, because now persons with disabilities are themselves the subjects or actors of reflection or action. EDAN works in the eight regions of the world and serves as a network of encounter and support as persons with disabilities seek to address the specific issues and challenges in their own contexts.

However, there has been a growing awareness in some churches that persons with disabilities invite the church to explore anew the understanding of the gospel and the nature of the church. …

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