Reading disability in the Bible for fullness of life
May 18, 2022
At the 2021 meeting of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Uniting Church minister and theologian Rev Dr Kylie Crabbe presented three Bible Studies exploring the intersections of identity, disability, social exclusion and healing in the Bible. There is now a new resource to help congregations and groups consider these issues together.
Rev Dr Crabbe, who is Senior Research Fellow in the Institute of Religion and Critical Inquiry at Australian Catholic University, worked with Synod Disability Inclusion Advocate Rev Dr Andy Calder to develop the questions that complement the Bible study notes and video recordings.
“I hope these studies might feed further conversation in your own communities, churches, agencies, ministry teams, and homes,” said Kylie. “May they be an opportunity to consider the community we are called to be, the ‘norms’ our biblical interpretations can fall into, and the fullness of life we share together when we all belong.”
Rev Dr Crabbe is currently engaged in a three-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council exploring how disability functions in portraits of key early Christian figures. This research helped to inform the three studies which looked at contemporary ideas about disability and impairment, and diverse Hebrew Bible and New Testament texts.
“The studies draw on some of my recent work on disability and impairment in biblical texts, with particular attention to how our reading from a pandemic context might also shape what we notice in the texts.”
“As we think about ‘returning’ from lockdowns and the other restrictions we have followed as churches and wider communities during this time, what kind of community are we called to be? What does this rebuilding look like? And how does the treatment of impairment and disability in biblical texts guide us in this rebuilding process?”
The Synod meeting theme was ‘Like Leaven in the Loaf,’ a reference to Jesus’ Parable of the Leaven in the gospels of Matthew (13:33) and Luke (13:20-21).
“The studies considered the idea of the ‘leaven in the loaf’ from the perspective of what kind of community we are called to be. What is that call that defines us, that grows—even when it’s a tiny contribution hidden inside an extravagant amount of flour—a call that makes the whole loaf rise?”
“This was an opportunity to reflect on what the biblical text might have to offer us in the struggle to be leaven, to discern how we are called to rebuild after this time, to notice places in scripture that some people find difficult, and to learn how we might share in that difficulty and to read for where the good news is for all of us.”
So why is it important that we look at the Bible through this lens?
“References to disability in the biblical text, such as healing narratives and the use of people with disabilities as metaphors, are extremely important texts to interpret responsibly. People with lived experience of disability have talked of the hurtful ways healing narratives have been used in churches and the effect this has had on them.”
“The way we read these texts is also sharpened by contemporary questions including insights from the Disability Royal Commission and the further work on improving the NDIS, but also more general things like the way the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped our sense of shared vulnerability.”
“There is, I am convinced, good news for everyone in our biblical texts. But we need to read responsibly, and consider: how is the good news of Jesus Christ being communicated through the way I am using this biblical passage? Are there other passages which would be an important corrective to a simplistic reading of this passage?”
“We need to listen to lived experience and consider how our interpretation of these passages might affect people across our community.”
Rev Dr Kylie Crabbe is currently Senior Research Fellow in Biblical and Early Christian Studies in the Institute of Religion and Critical Inquiry at Australian Catholic University, and Associate Lecturer at Pilgrim Theological College, Melbourne. She works in Biblical Studies with particular interests in eschatology, politics and theodicy, and research into disability in early Christian texts.