mother holds smiling toddler with Down syndrome
Honoring the Image of God in People with Disabilities

”I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14

Alyce and Tony approached the stroller of a young mother. Tony peered into the stroller and looked at the baby and exclaimed. “Mom, come look! Isn’t this the cutest baby! Smile, baby!” Alyce smiled and made cooing noises at the baby as well. Then she looked up at the mother and saw tears streaming down her face. The mother said through her tears, “This has never happened before. All everyone ever sees is his disability.” The baby did indeed have a significant disability, but Tony, who has Down syndrome, only saw a beautiful baby.

Every person is made in the image of God, which makes each of us beautiful. Even a profound disability cannot diminish the image of God when we have eyes to see it. None of us has value in God’s sight for what we can accomplish or how well we perform. God loves us because he has made us and we are marked with his image. When we see each individual as made in the image of God, we see the things that are true, noble, pure, lovely and admirable in the person and focus on those things first. We point first to the things that are excellent and praiseworthy in a person.

Yet people with disabilities are often defined by their diagnosis and limitations rather than the unique gifts and talents that God has given them. People see their brokenness rather than what is praiseworthy…. what a person cannot do rather than what they can do….what is marred rather than what is beautiful. This results in people being stigmatized and provided with few opportunities to become all that God intends them to be.

When we see people made in the image of God FIRST, then our posture and attitudes will be different. We will see each person’s unique gifts and perspectives whether or not they live with disabilities. We won’t make assumptions about people, prejudge people, or stereotype people. We will make appropriate adaptations so that each person can fully participate in the life of the church.

Luke 6:45 says, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” When our hearts are full of ignorance, pity and perhaps even prejudice toward people with disabilities, our words and actions will tend to demean them and exclude them from our lives. At best, we may thank God that He didn’t make us like them. However, when our hearts see God’s plans and purposes for all people regardless of their abilities or disabilities, we will be respectful and honor the image of God in them. We won’t use person first language because it is politically correct. We will use person first and respectful language because it reflects the attitudes and beliefs of our heart.

In practical terms, honoring the image of God in people with disabilities means that:

  1. We believe God has good plans for people and a purpose for their lives irrespective of their abilities or disabilities.
  2. We emphasize the unique gifts and talents that people have rather than their disabilities, diagnoses or limitations.
  3. We use person-first and respectful language when referring to and addressing people with disabilities. For information on this, read How We Speak About People with Disabilities Matters: Using Person-First Language.
  4. We speak directly to people with disabilities, not the persons next to them, and we give people with disabilities extra time to move and communicate.
  5. We ask people with disabilities if they need help rather than always assuming that they do.
  6. We educate our congregations in ways to honor the image of God in people with disabilities.
  7. We look to the interests and well-being of people with disabilities in our church and society.

As Christians, let’s honor the image of God in everyone we meet, regardless of their level of ability.

 

© 2017 Dawn Clark. All rights reserved.