The Bible, Disability, and the Church: a New Vision of the People of God by Amos Yong
Before I jump right into my first book review, you have to understand who I am as a person and as a Biblical scholar. I am a person with a disability who is the token Christian among my friends with disabilities. When I say “token Christian,” I mean I was the one who always went to church with her family growing up. I was the one who was supposed to know why God allowed us to have disabilities. As a scholar, I look for way to answer those kinds of questions and to expand the definition of healing in order to create a more welcoming atmosphere for individuals with disabilities in the church.
So it seems fitting that my first book review would be Amos Yong’s book, The Bible, Disability, and the Church: a New Vision of the People of God. Yong’s brother suffers from Down syndrome. His parents are pastors. He writes from the point of view of a man who watched his parents question why God gave them an imperfect son. These kinds question often hunt parents of children with disabilities and individuals with disabilities.
Yong introduced me to important terms in the first chapter of the book: normate and ableism. Normate is the standard society lives by based on the needs and abilities of people without disabilities. The normate bias subjects people with disabilities to an unfair standard, not recognizing that their lifestyle is different than that of a normate. Ableism names the discrimination of the normate bias. Yong makes the point to make a distinction between the normate bias and ableism. The normate bias is the unconscious views of society regarding people with disabilities, while “…ableism names the discriminatory attitudes, negative stereotypes, and sociopolitical and economic structures and institutions that function to exclude people with disabilities from full participation in society” (Yong 11). Fortunately, people with disabilities have come a long ways with the Americans with Disabilities Acts of 1970 and 1990 and the Disabilities Education Act.
In the next three chapters Yong carefully analyzes Biblical stories where there is a character with blemishes. I will choose one story from each chapter to show how Yong builds his argument. In chapter two, Yong rereads the story of Jacob, Israel, and the limp (Genesis 32:24-32) with the lens of disabilities. Jacob wrestles with the Lord in the form of a man for a whole night and comes out with only a limp. Yong argues that Jacob’s disability does not make him weaker but gives him the status of an equal with the human/divine man. Furthermore, Jacob is blessed by the man for struggling with humans and with God and having prevailed (Genesis 32:28). This frees the normate bias of the story of Jacob and gives him redemption.
In chapter three, Yong does a rereading of the story of Pentecost where “each one heard them speaking in the native language of each” (Acts 2:6) and “in our own languages we hear them speaking of God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11) (71). Yong argues that first God creates ways for the mute and those who stutter to communicate (Exodus 4:10-12). Second, God inspires people to listen and hear what the other person is saying. Third, God uses our other senses to communicate, such as touching, feeling, and perceiving. This would expand society’s ways of thinking of how individuals communicate with each other.
In chapter four, Yong does a rereading of First Corinthians 13. Yong argues Paul describes an inclusive theology of disabilities. When Paul talks about the “weaker” body parts, Yong urges his readers to see how Paul is describing how the “stronger” protects the “weaker” and how both groups need the other one to function as a whole. Therefore, Yong argues that Paul is addressing the unnecessary stereotypes that society has about the “weaker” by using phrases such as “that seem to be weaker” or “that we think less honorable” (1 Corinthians 12:22-23). Furthermore, Paul sees the “weaker” as the “stronger” with his explanation of the “varieties of gifts but same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11-13). God gives everyone – people with and without disabilities – gifts to further his mission of the good news.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Yong’s retelling of the Biblical stories through the lens of disability hermeneutics. The disabled community finally has a book to engage congregations in the discussion of what it means to be an inclusive community. Yong provides discussion questions for small groups in order to help them find ways to include people with disabilities in worship and other activities, even before they walk through the door. A lot of churches do not think about these issues until someone with a disability shows up. But an unprepared church can actually be a barrier that keeps a disabled person from joining their community.
I do disagree with Yong on one matter. He says that we will not get new bodies in heaven. Although I do like Yong’s thought process that God accepts us as we are in our current state, I argue that we saw Jesus before he went to heaven (so his disciples could recognize him by his piercings) and that we get new bodies in heaven because the Devil and imperfections will not be there. Truth be told, I pray heaven takes away the disadvantages of this world and creates the perfect world God planned for us all along. Yet any argument on heaven is speculation, because we simply do not know.
Yong does an excellent job of articulating the disability hermeneutic and challenges churches to be inclusive communities. Hopefully churches take the time to read and discuss this book.
Recommended for: church small groups and parents of children with disabilities (physical and psychosocial)
Star Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (highly recommended)