How Jesus shapes our advocacy for children with disabilities

June 23, 2022

Helen Featherstone, in her classic work A Difference in the Family, explains that families affected by disability face all the same challenges that typical families face but with differences of degree. All families are responsible for providing for their children’s physical and mental health, emotional and spiritual well-being, education, safety, growth and enrichment, financial security, material needs, and social relationships—to name a few aspects of care. For parents of children with disabilities, the differences of degree are often significant in many, if not all, of these areas. 

The importance of advocacy for children with disabilities

Ensuring their children’s access to these things and appropriate adaptations in certain arenas often requires intensive advocacy on the part of parents of children with disabilities. Advocacy can be defined as “any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.” The need for unrelenting advocacy can be both daunting and discouraging for families affected by disability. In many cases, it continues not just through childhood but over the course of a person’s lifetime. 

One of my most memorable (but not most stellar) moments of advocacy on behalf of my son Tim—who has Down syndrome—came during his last year of high school. A group was meeting to discuss how to secure employment for Tim when he graduated. In the past, the vast majority of our meetings had been not only civil but collaborative and productive. At one point in this meeting, however, Tim’s job coach jumped out of her chair and pounded her fist on the table with the words, “It’s all about safety!” My response was as sarcastic as it was quick: “I thought it was all about getting a job while doing it as safely as possible! If it’s all about safety, why don’t we just get a cardboard box, a roll of duct tape, and a straw for air, and seal him up inside it?” As any good counselor will tell you: a sarcastic comeback is rooted in anger. 

Navigating advocacy wisely can be a “sticky wicket” for Christian parents. We serve a God of righteousness and justice who says the very foundation of his throne is built on these attributes (Ps. 89:14). At the same time, we encounter a world that too often is indifferent to righteousness or justice on behalf of people who are touched by disability. To make it even more complex, Christian parents—as fallen but redeemed persons made in the image of the Living God—do not always accurately reflect God’s character in our advocacy either. How can our redemption and our representation—by Christ our Advocate—transform the ways in which we engage others in advocating for change?

Becoming like Jesus in our advocacy 

Perhaps the most amazing gift that God gives to Christians is Jesus Christ’s role as our Advocate. By living a perfect life, dying a sacrificial death, rising in victorious power, and standing before the Father’s throne on our behalf (Heb. 9:24), Jesus is truly the Advocate above all advocates. As Norman Clayton’s old hymn “My Hope Is in the Lord” says, 

And now for me He stands
Before the Father’s throne
He shows His wounded hands
And names me as His own.

There is no greater privilege than being blessed by the advocacy of Christ through saving faith. Jesus’ advocacy has several dimensions that we too can reflect through the transforming power of his Spirit in our lives as he conforms us, more and more, to his image. 

First, Jesus’s advocacy is fueled by love. The same love that compelled Christ to redeem sinners leads him to name us as his own before the Father. True advocacy is rooted in love. That’s not hard for parents to grasp, as our love for our children motivates us as well. What is harder to grasp is that true advocacy engages all parties in loving ways. It loves the stubborn teacher. It loves the resistant administrator. It loves the condescending extracurricular activity leader. Once grasped, this principle is even harder to put into action. May Christ’s love for us fuel us with overflowing love for our children and for those with whom we must work on their behalf.

Second, Jesus’s advocacy is sacrificial. In order to successfully advocate on our behalf, Jesus had to pay with his very life. Advocacy always costs the advocate something. And the need for advocacy will never completely go away in this lifetime because we live in a world that is wracked by the effects of the fall. That doesn’t mean progress will not happen. It means perfection cannot happen. Expect advocacy to be hard. Parents of children with disabilities have an Advocate who fully understands the cost. 

Third, Jesus’s advocacy is unrelenting. Jesus is an Advocate. It is who he is. It is in his divine DNA. When love is hard, when sacrifice is costly, parents can remember that Jesus’ advocacy will sustain us into eternity. So, rather than resisting the role of advocacy on behalf of children with disabilities—or worse, becoming bitter about the obstacles in their pathway—parents can embrace advocacy as part of God’s calling on their lives. In the words of the author of Hebrews, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2). To follow in the footsteps of Christ our unrelenting Advocate is not just a difficulty to endure but a privilege to embrace. 

May a renewed understanding of the blessings of Christ’s advocacy on behalf of the Christian parents of children with disabilities bring much-needed encouragement. As we stand up for these precious children and seek to meet their needs, may we display a picture of what a loving, sacrificial, and unrelenting Savior we have.

Stephanie O. Hubach

Stephanie O. Hubach (MATS, Covenant Theological Seminary) is research fellow in disability ministries at Covenant Theological Seminary and visiting instructor in the seminary's educational ministries program. Previously she served as the director of Mission to North America's Special Needs Ministries. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24