Thursday, March 19, 2009

LDS Church Creates Disabilities Website To Ensure Greater Understanding Of And A More Rewarding Experience For Disabled Mormons

Hat tip to Terrie Bittner for giving me the idea for this post.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that all people who come to earth are covered by the Atonement. Consequently, they seek to include people with disabilities in their outreach and amalgamation. To facilitate understanding of the challenges faced by disabled Mormons and to promote a more rewarding religious experience for them, they have created a special website dealing with disability issues.

As Latter-day Saints, we are commissioned to go out and preach the Gospel unto every creature. The word "every" means exactly what it says; this means those with disabilities also have a right to hear the Gospel and to accept it, within the limits of their capacities. A previous First Presidency statement posted on the Disabilities website sets forth the policy:

First Presidency Statement

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is working to provide easier access to its buildings and facilities for people with disabilities. We also are seeking more creative ways of providing religious training for those with physical, mental and emotional impairments. But there is an even greater need to reduce the barriers imposed by a lack of understanding and acceptance of those who have disabilities.

"We urge leaders, teachers, neighbors, friends and families to:

Help increase awareness and understanding of disabilities.
Accept those with disabilities as children of God and help them to feel respected, loved and understood.

Provide opportunities for members with disabilities to learn about the Savior and pattern their lives after Him.

Assist in the successful Church participation of people with disabilities and the appreciation of their unique gifts.

Provide meaningful opportunities for members with disabilities to serve, teach and lead others.

"It is our opportunity and our responsibility to follow the example of Jesus in loving our neighbors, and that includes those with disabilities" (Church News, Apr. 29, 1989, 7).

The LDS Church classifies disabilities into ten different categories. Most interestingly, they discriminate between Intellectual Disabilities and Learning Disabilities. This distinction is important; while the former implies limited intellect, the latter simply implies the inability to use and manifest resident intellect. A person with a learning disability may have a high IQ.

Folklore about how people acquired disabilities abounds within the ranks of Latter-day Saints. Many believe that people may have deliberately chosen their disabilities during their mortality planning process before the foundation of this world as a means to achieve faster eternal progression. The premise is that the more you suffer in mortality, the greater will be your eternal reward. To assure a truly independent and spontaneous mortal experience, memories of that choice are rendered inaccessible after one is born.

This thinking is expressed by Duane Crowther in the 1997 edition of his book, "Life Everlasting". On pp 101-2, Crowther documents the out-of-body (OBE) experience of a man named DeLynn. In 37 years of living, DeLynn had suffered as much as the average person does in 87 years. He had been plagued by a wide variety of ailments, most notably cystic fibrosis. During his OBE experience, he found out that he had chosen his disease and the amount of pain he would suffer before the foundation of the world. He was transported in time back to the occasion when he made his choice. He observed himself in a classroom environment. Here's a short excerpt about his experience:

"He [the instructor in front of the classroom] was instructing us about things we had to know in order to come to earth and get our bodies. Then he said, and I'll never forget this: You can learn lessons one of two ways. You can move through life slowly and have certain experiences, or there are ways that you can learn the lessons very quickly through pain and disease. He wrote on the board the words 'Cystic Fibrosis', and he turned and asked for volunteers. I was a volunteer; I saw me raise my hand and offer to take the challenge. The instructor looked at me and agreed to accept me"

Unfortunately, this book is not available online, but the immediate aftermath of this experience is significant. For this we turn to "Echoes From Eternity", page 126. The experience changed his whole attitude towards his disease. He now viewed it as his "mentor". At the end of the OBE, DeLynn was actually given a choice of remaining in heaven permanently, or returning to earth. Incredibly, he chose to return to earth, even though he was told he risked losing everything he had gained in eternal status and would suffer even greater pain if he returned. Three times he was asked if he was sure he wanted to return to earth - and three times he said Yes.

Un-freaking-believable. This modified my own attitude towards the disabled; I no longer curse handicapped drivers for slowing me down in traffic.

While OBEs and their companion Near-Death Experiences are not necessarily supported by official scripture, they are not rebutted by scripture, so they can be legitimately taken into consideration. I may research this a bit more for a future post, though. But the general idea is that we should be more solicitous towards the disabled, since they may have actually had the courage to choose the disability as a means of showing greater faith on earth and to make faster eternal progress.

Bottom line - the homeless cripple you abuse today may be YOUR boss in the next world.

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