Friday, March 12, 2021

Book Review: The Disabled God - Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability by Nancy L. Eiesland

The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability 
by Nancy L. Eiesland, 140 pages

Finished reading on 3/10/2021 for my seminary class on political and liberation theologies. What follows is an edited version of my summary of the book I wrote for an assignment.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think pretty much everyone should read this: pastors, leaders of all kinds, and really just, everyone.

This book was published in 1994 but it started out as Nancy Eiesland’s Master’s thesis at Candler School of Theology. It seems significant that The Americans with Disabilities Act was just passed in 1990. She also writes out of her own experience of lifelong disability.

Eiesland argues that disabled people are a marginalized, minority group that society and churches have a responsibility to include and not discriminate against. The expectation should not be put on the disabled person to adjust and just have to figure it out for themselves as an individual. Disabled people do not need to be “fixed” and that mentality has been very damaging. Sadly, churches in the United States fought to be excluded from the requirements of The Americans with Disabilities Act so they would not have to bring their buildings up to the new accessibility requirements.

Chapter Three: The Body Politics “offers a social framework for reconceiving disability, incorporating the history of the civil rights struggle.” She examines a shift in the sociology of disability where the person with disabilities becomes the subject instead of the object of inquiry which led to “the emergence of the disability rights movement and continues to offer a theoretical construct for empowerment and liberation” for disabled people.

Chapter Four: Carnal Sins - Disability has never been religiously or theologically neutral. Eiesland talks about three themes that illustrate the theological obstacles encountered by people with disabilities seeking inclusion in Christian communities: 1) sin and disability conflation (blames the disability on the person’s sin and/or lack of faith), 2) virtuous suffering, and 3) segregationist charity. Eiesland spends the rest of this chapter talking about a particular case within the American Lutheran Church where their supposed theology of access for disabled people did not match their policies for ministerial qualification that rejected many disabled people as “categorically unsuitable for ordained ministry” (70).

Chapter Five: The Disabled God - This chapter explores the revolutionary implications of the resurrected Christ as the disabled God as a divine affirmation of the wholeness of “nonconventional bodies” (87). She opens by describing an epiphany where she saw God “in a sip-puff wheelchair,” the kind used mostly by quadriplegics. She writes, “I beheld God as a survivor, unpitying and forthright. [...] This theology of liberation emerged from those conversations, our common labor for justice, and corporate reflection on symbol.”

Chapter Six: Sacramental Bodies: The main focus of this chapter is on the centrality of the Eucharist in the symbolic and actual inclusion of disabled people. In the Eucharist the disabled God. In the resurrected Christ, “the nonconventional body is recognized as sacrament” (116).

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