Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Voices and Visions from the Margins on Mission and Unity: A Disability-Informed Reading of the Pauline Metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Voices and Visions from the Margins on Mission and Unity: A Disability-Informed Reading of the Pauline Metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ

Article excerpt

Abstract Disability studies from a missional perspective in the Indian context are rare. Mission and unity cannot be "talked" about without the active inclusion of those in the margins; rather, they are the subject of mission and unity of the church which, in Pauline language, is the body of Christ. With the help of a disability-informed reading of the Pauline metaphor of church as the body of Christ, an attempt is made to understand the integral constituent of this "body" and its mission and unity. Our deliberations on the metaphor of body make it amply clear that "weaker" members are indispensable for the mission and unity of the church. They are the paradigm for the manifestation of God. Mission and unity of the church depend on the inclusion and equal participation of the margins--the disabled.

Introduction

Mission and unity are the inherent character of the church. However, historically this approach to mission and unity has been undertaken often from the centre, not from the periphery or the margins. Interestingly the biblical mandate for mission and unity comes from the voices and visions of those who are in the margins. Who is in the margins? In this paper we agree with Ranjit Guha and Homi Bhabha's definition of subalterns. They are of the "inferior rank". They include all those who are suppressed, oppressed, marginalized, pushed-out, neglected, left-out, rejected, considered not-capable or not-normal, because of their social, financial or physical status. People with disability are one such neglected voice from the margins. The paper tries to highlight the potential barriers faced by the disabled both in the religious structures and in scripture and metaphors. It also suggests certain theological possibilities in which disability is not simply a consumer of tradition but rather a constructive dement that offers new options for theological refection on mission and unity from the margins.

Why margins?

Felix Wilfred opines that the whole biblical revelation points to the fact that God is someone who journeys to the margins, and is to be found at the periphery (Ex. 3). Anyone who wishes to encounter God will have to migrate to the periphery. (1) Margin is where God encounters people. It is the space of God-visitation. It is where relationships are built.

The Judeo-Christian God speaks the language of diversity. And the language of the margin is that of diversity. The language of the centre is the language of power--a legitimizing power, a manipulative power. God is not a partner to a programme of unity where differences are folded away. A conventional ableist marginalizes people with disabilities because they are not "able to", they are not "normal", they are "different". Mission means "a special assignment given to an individual/group of people". Who are involved in the missio Dei? Only the "abled"? Wilfred retorts that, to such a programme of mission and unity, God is not the partner. God partners with those who are in the margins. There is a preferential option for those who are in the margins in the missio Dei.

Voices and visions of the margins: the disabled

This paper is written from the perspective of the Indian context; therefore, it is important that we define what disability is in such a context. Various definitions are available. For our purpose we point out a few of these.

Helander gave the simplest and perhaps the initial definition of a disabled person. "A person who in his/her society is regarded as disabled, because of a difference in appearances and/or behaviour." (2) In most instances, a disabled person has functional limitations and/or activity restrictions. A "functional limitation" disability may be defined as "specific reductions in bodily functions that are described at the level of the person" while "activity restriction" disability may be defined as "specific reductions in daily activities that are described at the level of the person". …

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