We can remember that historically, Lutherans in the United States have seen themselves as ministers to people who fall between the cracks of society; including orphans, refugees, immigrants, the elderly and the sick. By the early 20th century, many of these ministries were already organized into institutions and social service organizations. There are still more than 300 independent Lutheran health and human service organizations across the country that serve 6 million people, touching the lives of 1 in every 50 people in the U.S. each year.
In the past 17 years, pan-Lutheran church bodies have created statements and teaching documents that insist on a concern for all people with disabilities. For example:
- 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly: Encouraged ELCA congregations to identify a Sunday in October for a special emphasis on disability awareness
- 2003 World Council of Churches published “The Church of All and for All”
- 2004 LCMS Convention: Establish a “Disability Task Force” which has continually created resources for congregations, including assessment tools
- 2010 ELCA social message “People Living with Disabilities” The title of the 2010 ELCA social message, “People Living with Disabilities,” makes a significant point in identifying an emphasis on people who are living with disabilities, rather than categorizing some people as “handicapped” or “disabled.” The message challenges the common mindset that equates self-sufficiency and independence with freedom and humanity, and then often regards or treats people living with disabilities as less fully human than other people, or as objects dependent on charitable care.
The message is grounded in the biblical view of human beings finding freedom in relationships and community. It commits the ELCA to seek full inclusion and equitable participation of all people within the life of society and the church, embracing the whole person — abilities, questions, complexities and all.
“People Living with Disabilities” teaches that God, as creator and sustainer, intends that society regard all people to be of equal worth and take responsibility to make possible participation by all people freely and fully in every aspect of our life together. Through that lens, the message looks at social facts and challenges current policies around employment and poverty, education, family caregiving, the caring professions, disabled veterans and citizenship. It concludes that while progress has been made, much remains for us to do in both church and society to ensure inclusion and justice for people living with disabilities.
(From the ELCA website’s page on the social statement “People Living with Disabilites” which is available in our library, or online.