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Pro-Life series: Pro-Love and People with Disabilities

When my wife was pregnant with our third daughter, the ultrasound showed a hole in the baby’s heart. We were told there was a high risk the baby will have Down Syndrome. We were stressed out and fearful. We were grieved. We cried and we prayed. Fear of the unknown and the grief that our child might not be “normal” gripped us. But through it all, we relied on God’s strength and grace to carry us through our fears and griefs. We prepared ourselves for the worst. We read pretty much every book from the library on Down Syndrome. We even read a book with our older children to prepare them for a sibling with special needs.

Abortion was never an option for us. We believed God gave us this child and we were to love this life. But we were still afraid.

Our daughter with Down Syndrome is eight years old now, and we have never regretted receiving her into the world. (That's her picture at the top of this post.) Her presence in our lives has enriched us and made us grow. It has not always been easy raising a child with special needs but it was not as difficult as we first imagined. Always, though, there is love. Never a day goes by without my daughter saying she loves me. Wherever I am in the house, whatever it is I am doing, she will find me to kiss me goodnight and say, “I love you Daddy.” And that is what being pro-life means to me: to be pro-love.

The Bible’s notions of life and death differ from our modern materialistic notions. We tend to reduce life to biological functioning and death, and therefore, to its non-functioning. But the Bible sees life and death in relational and covenantal frameworks. As Old Testament Theologian Walter Brueggemann explains, “Life means to be significantly involved in a community of caring, meaning, and action. Death means to be excluded from such action.…Life and death do not have to do, in biblical perspective, simply with the state of the individual person but with the relation between the person and the community which identifies that person and which gives personhood.…life in the Bible means relatedness. Conversely death is to be unrelated.” (Walter Brueggemann, The Bible Makes Sense, p. 109) This is why God warns Adam and Eve that they will “surely die” when they disobeyed him (Genesis 2:17). They died when their relationship to God was broken.

Life, in the Bible, means relatedness. Hence, to be biblically pro-life means we must be pro-relationships, pro-belonging, pro-love. We must not simply stop at preventing biological death. We must promote belonging within a community. I greatly admire the late Mother Teresa when she once made a speech condemning abortion but then turned and said, “If you don’t want the babies, give them to me! I will take them!” It is not enough, biblically speaking, to prevent abortions of unwanted children. We must also do what is in our power to help those children experience love, to know that God wants them.

If being pro-life is pro-love, it is therefore inconsistent to further the pro-life cause through unloving, violent, hateful means. Rhetoric that divides and antagonizes are not consistent with pro-life.

There is no genuine life, biblically speaking, without community, love, belonging, and relationships. In applying this to people with disabilities, it means that Christian communities must embrace them into the community’s very fabric of life. Like everyone else, people with disabilities need to belong; even when belonging is costly. Accommodating people with special needs and helping them to reach their potential can be costly in terms of money but certainly also in terms of time and energy. But fundamentally it costs us our convenience, our “normalcy”, and our defaults. Are we willing to be burdened with caring, with inconveniences, with disruptions to our comfortable routines, with additional monetary costs in building and/or providing special accommodations, with change to how we have always done things, with doing justice? Being consistently pro-life means we must bear these burdens and pay these costs.

To truly love with the Bible’s agape love – unconditional love – is to be willing to suffer personal cost. The Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable demonstrated love to his neighbor at personal cost (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus, himself, showed his love to us at great cost to himself, even to death. Love is costly. But agape love is at the heart of relatedness and, hence, of life. The cost of agape love then is the cost of living. And embracing the love and the lives of people with disabilities, no matter how uncomfortable and costly it might be to a community, enhances life as it increases the giving and receiving of unconditional love.

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