Disability advocates have been raising concerns about the Federal Government’s proposed religious discrimination laws. I have already addressed this more extensively in response to an ABC news article.
However, the article in The Guardian raises the specific issues of disability, sin, and virtuous living (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/jan/03/coalitions-religious-discrimination-bill-will-erode-rights-of-people-with-disability-advocates-say).
It is unfortunate that such beliefs have developed in the church. This exemplifies, again, how people bring their expectations into the faith rather than in humility and repentance listen to what Jesus actually did and taught.
So, what did Jesus do and teach? Here, I will examine a few passages from the Gospels.
Firstly, in Jesus’ teaching, he completely separates disability from sin. In John 9, Jesus’ disciples see a man who was born blind. So, they asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v. 2). Within the context of the Judaism of the day, this was a perfectly reasonable question to ask. It was a theological discussion point that Rabbis would have with their disciples. Except, Jesus doesn’t find the discussion reasonable at all. Jesus states, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (v. 3).
Jesus does not find the man’s physical state as a reason to accuse the man’s parents or the man himself of being sinful. In Jesus’ mind, that is a totally separate issue. Instead, Jesus says something quite shocking – even more shocking than the suggestion that the man’s blindness was a result of sin. Jesus says that the man was born blind so that the works of God would be displayed in his life. Earlier on Jesus defines the work of God as believing in the One that God has sent (John 6:29).
We may find that objectionable. Why should God make someone blind so that they can come to faith? But why should we demand that God comply with our standards!? Being healed was no guarantee of a better quality of life. While his blindness may have gone by Jesus healing him, the stigma of being blind hadn’t (v. 34). As a man born blind, he at least had a place in his community as a beggar. But as one who believed in Jesus, he had no place in his community. How much easier it would have been to deny his identity and to deny Jesus. Instead, he believed in Jesus. Those around him couldn’t see his faith because they were too fixated with their own standards of how things ought to be. It is a tragedy when the same mistake is repeated in the church today.
In John 5, Jesus meets a man who has been paralysed for 38 years. Jesus asks the man if he wants to be healed (v. 6). What follows, arguably, is one of the biggest whinge-fests in Scripture (v. 7). At the very least, the man is more concerned about doing things his way instead of recognising who Jesus really is. Further evidence of the man’s lack of virtue appears when Jesus tells this man to “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” (v. 14). The “sin” being referred to would seem to be in reference to the denial of Jesus, and the “something worse” is eternal judgment as a result of denying Jesus. This is quite a contrast to the man born blind who openly defended Jesus before the authorities (9:11, 25, 27, 30–33) and came to faith (v. 38). Nonetheless, Jesus healed the man who was paralysed and enabled him to enjoy the ability to walk (5:8–9). Again, it’s a tragedy when those in the church today insist on having their desires met rather than in humility give due recognition to who Jesus is and the grace that he brings.
Other examples of a lack of virtue are from Luke 17:11–19 when Jesus healed ten men with leprosy. Only one returned to thank Jesus – the last one you would expect (vv. 17–18). In Mark 1:40–45, Jesus cleanses another man with leprosy and instructs him to show himself to the priest in accordance with the Jewish practices of the day (v. 44). Instead, the man disobeys Jesus and reports what Jesus did making it difficult for Jesus to enter other towns (v. 45). Virtuous living is clearly not a requirement for healing.
A careful reading of Scripture reveals that Jesus accepted people in the physical state that they were in. Any healing that followed was a testimony to those around them who were preoccupied with their own standards. Perhaps if the church were to understand this much about its Saviour, it wouldn’t need to defend itself against discriminatory beliefs.