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Health on the margins: How can the Seventh-day Adventist church, with its emphasis on health, authentically proclaim liberty  for people with disabilities? 

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

The subject of disability has only begun to receive attention in the Seventh-day Adventist church in recent years. This thesis sets out to explore how such a health-conscious denomination can create local church environments that are welcoming for people with disabilities. The assumption behind this question is that an emphasis on health will result in a more medically minded membership which in turn can produce (often unconsciously) oppressive attitudes towards people with disabilities.
The body of the research uses Richard Osmer’s four core tasks of practical theology as a method for exploring the research question. As this is one of the first projects to study disability in the Seventh-day Adventist church it was important to begin by hearing the voice of members with disabilities. Consequently, the study is based on empirical research conducted with twelve individuals with physical disabilities and their experiences of church. The emerging themes from the research, which range from incidents of discrimination on the negative side to experiences of belonging on the positive side, are then first explored through the social scientific lenses of sociology and psychology. The theological motifs of the image of God, sin, eschatology and the priestly prohibitions in the Old Testament book of Leviticus are then examined from a theological perspective to illustrate that a more relational hermeneutic can be disability affirming.
The final practical theological task culminates with the suggestion of a seven-step process of change adapted from John Kotter’s organisational change theory. This is suggested as the practical strategy for the Special Needs coordinator to follow in order to bring about the kind of change that will lead a local Seventh-day Adventist congregation to become a place of liberation for people with disabilities.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2019

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