Seminaries exist to turn out leaders for our churches, colleges and seminaries. Those of us interested in disability ministry have a stake in who those seminaries turn out as leaders.
On Tuesday Justin Taylor had a great post quoting John Frame on the problem and the future of theological education and scholarship. The final sentence he quoted was this:
And to do that, they (evangelical colleges and seminaries) may have to cut themselves off from the present-day accreditation system.
One of the commenters pointed out that there are many variables in accreditation:
Most people do not know what the accreditation process is or how it works, but it involves far more than curricula or content. Things like number of students per faculty member, research tools and seminars, and even access for physically handicapped students (emphasis mine) all go into the accreditation process.
That commenter is absolutely right. The Association of Theological Schools has a policy statement that includes guidelines on disability and theological education (pages 29-31). It doesn’t take long to read.
It is a nice, safe, statement. It is also deathly boring, without any specific reference to the Bible, and condescending to local churches. I’ve read almost the same statements prepared by governmental bodies (minus the ‘religious’ language, of course), denominations, and social service agencies.
But my greatest concern is that an accrediting body for seminaries believes that information is sufficient to change people’s hearts and attitudes towards those living with disabilities. ‘Awareness’ and ‘experience’ drive this change according to these guidelines – not the Word of God, deep conviction about sin, or prayer.
I am all for awareness and seminary students being in relationship with those who live with disabilities. A few weeks ago Pastor David Michael and I spoke to the first-year Bethlehem Seminary students, and I focused on the topic of disability and invited their personal engagement with the disability ministry at church.
But awareness and experience with disability did nothing to change my attitude about people with disabilities – my darkest days in terms of attitude about disability were the first years living with my son. You can’t get more aware than that. Nor was I lead out of my bitterness and hardness of heart through awareness. Rather, it was God’s people pursuing my good, frequently using the Word of God, and then God calling me from darkness to light.
So, I pray that Bethlehem College and Seminary finds ways to include disability as part of the students’ learning and experiences. But never at the expense of deepening engagement with and affections for God and his Word. That’s where our real hope for change in attitude and behavior towards those living with disabilities lies for these future leaders of the church.