Last week, the Church of England Synod debated a motion concerning the rights and welfare of people with Downs’ Syndrome. We spent a bit of time talking about this as church elders this week. We used as our starting point, Ian Paul’s article here. Now, our elders’ discussion is not going to get the same level of attention, nor are we part of the church of England so what the C of E discuss and decide is in one sense “not our business.” Indeed, whilst Ian was critical of Synod, this was not our primary focus. However, we felt it right to talk about this because:
1. The Church of England through its bishops and Synod do have some influence on public life and policy. Public policy matters for our situation because we have a number of church members who will be directly and indirectly affected by policies relating to start and end of life including those working in the NHS.
2. Seeing how others approach the subject should help us to think carefully about it. Issues we want to think about include
– How do we respond Biblically to questions about our views on disability as well as our views on abortion and euthanasia?
– How do we teach on these matters?
– How do we pastor families going through these issues?
– How do we as a church ensure that we are welcoming and loving to people with a variety of needs?
Here are (in no particular order) some of the things we touched upon. We may return to a few of these in more detail later on.
1. The role and responsibility of the state. Is saying that society/communities/the church have moral responsibilities the same as saying that The State has a responsibility to make those things happen? Who is responsible for ensuring that people with disabilities receive the provision and support they need? Your view on this is likely to be shaped by your political view.
2. We have a responsibility to be clear in our teaching that life starts from conception and so we have a duty of care towards the unborn child.
3. Our teaching needs to be sensitive to the real possibility that we are preaching to/teaching people who may have been through an abortion and carry guilt, shame and deep pain. Our teaching on this subject area needs to be rich in grace.
4. We are also aware that there are couples who because of medical reasons do not have the option of having children. It is helpful in this context to remember that families who do have children are not on their own in bringing their children up, especially where there are additional burdens to carry. They are part of a community. In fact, there may be others who are blessed through being able to share in the care of children.
5. If we believe that we should be welcoming to all, then we need to take this responsibility seriously when people (both children and adults) come with severe disabilities. This means that we put the resources in to supporting all who come. If we are resource stretched then our youth and children’s elder was clear that he would rather look at the scale of the whole activity than say we could not accommodate someone with a disability. Priority is given to ensuring 1-1 support. This means proactively identifying and supporting those with gifts to do this.
6. We have had our prejudices challenged and learnt that God’s ability to love, save and use people is not dependent upon our standards of intellectual or physical capacity. People with disabilities and learning difficulties can be a great blessing to us.
7. Disability is not a barrier to faith in Christ. Nor does it mean that someone cannot be sinful or that children will not be naughty. It is important to think through carefully how we respond to challenging behaviour and sinful behaviour.
8. If we want to help families face these challenges then the greatest thing we can do for them is help them to know what it means to be rooted in Christ and to find a spiritual family in the church.