Rejecting Social Darwinism
At the church I serve, we have for many years advocated for a “womb to tomb” life ethic. To do justly and love mercy as Micah 6:8 calls for, special attention must be given in the name of Christ to all of humanity’s most vulnerable, overlooked, and at-risk persons. These are the people whom Jesus called “the least of these.” As pundits and politicians add fuel to the fiery debate about which humans have rights and which ones merit consideration to be terminated (the horror!), I want to give attention here to one specific, vulnerable group. I hope you find my arguments and pleas convincing.
There are few things that make me more proud to be the pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville than Christ Pres’s unique emphasis on children with disabilities. Once a year, our children’s staff hosts an amazing summer program for kids with disabilities and their siblings. There is also a monthly expression of this same program called “Special Saturday,” which runs throughout the year. Also weekly, a devoted team of men, women, and students serve as “buddies” to kids with disabilities, accompanying them all morning long to support their parents in freeing them to worship and interact with others.
At a recent benefit for Joni and Friends, a global ministry to people with disabilities founded by a hero of mine, Joni Eareckson Tada, I spoke at length why this precious community is such a significant part of my journey as a follower of Christ and as a human being (That audio is available here if you would like to listen). Some of the reasons I also share here…
First, an emphasis on people with disabilities pulls a community together to participate in something that Jesus is pleased with. Jesus always gave special attention to the weak, the underdog, and the disadvantaged.
Second, it affirms that every person has dignity. As Martin Luther King, Jr. rightly insisted, “there are no gradations in the image of God.”
Third, it reminds us that, sometimes to our surprise, people with disabilities have more to teach us about the kingdom of God than we have to teach them.
King David understood this. After his best friend Jonathan died in battle, his first order to his staff was to bring him someone to whom he could show favor for Jonathan’s sake.
Enters Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s orphaned son who is crippled in both feet.
Rather than saying, “On second thought…” or assuming a retail approach to relationships (a retail approach avoids sacrifice and prioritizes relationships that feel useful professionally, economically, socially, or otherwise), David assures Mephibosheth that his future will be bright. David promises to restore the entire fortune of his predecessor King Saul, also Mephibosheth’s grandfather, to the young man. David then adopts him as his own son, assuring him that he will always have a seat at the king’s table. The full story is in 2 Samuel 9.
Concerning Mephibosheth, David demonstrates what a heart that’s been transformed by the gospel is capable of—an extreme other-orientation. His actions send the message, “My kingliness will not be marked by power-mongering or self-serving. It will be marked by love and sacrifice.” David starts his reign by actively looking for an opportunity to lay down his life for someone who needs him to do this. He is actively looking, in other words, to limit his own options, to shut his own freedoms down, in order to strengthen an orphan who is weak.
Eugene Peterson said that hesed love—the word used to describe the love that David has for both Jonathan and Mephibosheth—sees beneath whatever society designates a person to be (disabled, option limiting, costly, etc.) and instead acts to affirm a God-created identity in the person. In other words, to be human is to carry intrinsic value and dignity.
My friend Gabe Lyons wrote a beautiful essay about his son Cade, who has Down Syndrome. In the essay Gabe points out that over 92% of children in utero with Down Syndrome are aborted. Gabe offers a refreshing, counter-culture perspective from the parents of the other 8%. His essay is a celebration of Cade’s dignity, as well as the remarkable contribution Cade makes in the lives of people around him. He demonstrates an uncanny ability to live in the moment, a remarkable empathy for others, a refreshing boldness, and a commitment to complete honesty.
Gabe, as well as the many parents who grace our church family with the presence of their children who have disabilities, are simply practicing good theology. Because the neighbor love part of the Kingdom of God is, at its core, a resistance movement against social Darwinism. Social Darwinism—”survival of the fittest” in the human community—tells us that it is those who are powerful, privileged, handsome, rich, and wise who command our special attention, while those who are weak, physically or mentally challenged, and poor are ignorable at best, and disposable at worst
But nobody is ignorable. And nobody is disposable. Every person, whether an expert or a person with disabilities, is a carrier of an everlasting soul.
There are no gradations in the image of God.
In terms of gifting, resources, and opportunity, everyone is different. In terms of dignity and value, everyone is the same. As Francis Schaeffer once said, “There are no little people.”
How do we know this? Because of how Jesus chose to take on his humanity. He, the Creator of everything that is, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the Seed who crushed the serpent’s head, the Beginning and the End, himself became weak, disabled, and disposed of.
There was nothing about him that caused us to desire him…he was despised and rejected by men. He came to his own, but his own did not receive him.
He chose that.
Jesus became poor so we could become rich in God. He was orphaned so we could become daughters and sons of God. He was brutally executed so we could live abundantly in his Kingdom. He was made invisible so we could be seen. He became weak so we could become strong. He became crippled in both feet…and in both hands also…so we could walk and not grow weary, so we could run and not grow faint. He became disabled so we could be enabled, and also empowered.
If this isn’t enough to convince you that every person matters…