Saturday, October 5, 2013

Stigmatization and the Church

At a church-related conference, I heard a presentation on the matter of stigmatization as it relates to people with disabilities. The primary point of the presentation was that we tend to internalize negative perceptions by others, and thereby allow them to control our self-esteem and consequently our behavior. All true enough….

Nevertheless, when it comes to stigmatization, there is another exceedingly important issue for the church: the need to challenge perceptions and attitudes that result in stigmas. We Christians are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2). This means, in part, that we learn to see the world around us differently.  Specifically with regard to people with disabilities, part of what this means is that we learn to see people as God sees them—not as “disabled” or “able-bodied” or “able-minded,” but as God’s good creation,  in need of Christ’s redemption, with gifts to share in service to the body of Christ.

The church can help to deal with the issue of stigmatization first by teaching people the proper way to view other people. Another way of saying this is to say that we must teach a clear and faithful theological anthropology. Second, we have the capacity and responsibility to introduce people to the Holy Spirit who renews the minds of the faithful. God heals us of sinful ways of viewing and relating to one another. Only in these ways will we ever get at the root causes of stigmatization that causes so much pain in the lives of people with disabilities. 

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