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11.05.05 08:03 Age: 7 yrs

Churches neglect, abuse disabled: Kenyan Presbyterian chides ‘healers,'

ATHENS (ENI)— Religious groups that offer "miraculous healing" and denominations that emphasize a "charity approach" are alienating disabled people from churches, an advocate for the disabled said on May 10 during a meeting of global Christian leaders.

 "More often than not, persons with disabilities feel alienated, margin-alized, embarassed, and, in some cases, offended by the treatment meted on them by the church," said the Rev. Samuel Kabue, a Kenyan Presbyterian who coordinates a global advocacy network for disabled people in the church.   

Kabue, who is blind, was addressing the World Council of Churches (WCC)  Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, whose theme is "Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile." 

But some church teachings, doctrine and theology "have made the word ‘healing' an anathema in the ears of persons with disabilities," Kabue said, warning against  "commercial fixes and religious groups which offer miraculous healing in the setting of superficial acceptance and friendship." 

Many churches in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and a growing charismatic movement worldwide, stress faith as an integral part of returning to health, sometimes called "divine healing," organizers of the Athens meeting noted. 

Kabue said "the more liberal theology of traditionally‑known organized churches ... has its share of keeping people with disabilities outside," the "charity approach" being the most negative aspect. Few churches have procedures for initiating "the intellectually disabled into sacraments," he said. 

In many places, attitudes about disabled people have improved in churches over teh past 20 years, noted Kabue, executive secretary of the WCC Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network, based in Nairobi. 

But in some places and churches, "there has recently been a return towards an over‑protection and even disregard of disabled people," he said. "In some places, evangelical churches have manipulated us. Even worse than being ignored, manipulating disabled people becomes the church's new sin."

"Helping becomes an excuse for exclusion," said Kabue, noting a dearth of disabled people attending the Athens meeting.

"No church wanted to consider them in their delegations," he said, "since ... they do not fall in the classification they are familiar with of women, youth and clergy."