For some, helping is a way of life.

Some time ago I heard a blind man speaking on the radio, and pointing up with remarkably good humor the gaffes of the sighted. He told of being invited to a party, for example, and of hearing the hostess ask, “Do the blind like pineapple?”

Contrary to popular fallacy, disabled people are not all deaf, feeble-minded, or approachable only through a third party. Just as important, they are not all dittoes. It has been rightly said that there are no disabled people, only people who happen to have disabilities.

My old professor, D.M. Baillie, used to talk of “man’s egocentric predicament.” At the risk of being misunderstood, I offer some very subjective comments as we near the end of this International Year of the Disabled.

When I was two years old, I developed a serious leg ailment that made amputation a distinct possibility for a time. In the event, I was in hospital for three years, and only toward the end of that period did I learn to walk again, with the aid of crutches. Even now I can recall the sheer thrill of those first few faltering steps made without the nurse’s restraining hand, and the sheer inappropriateness of the scrupulously polished floors that thwarted my best endeavors and in the following days often sent me tumbling down.

I left hospital on crutches, a five-year-old facing a world he had never really known. Given a penny once for candy, I was totally bewildered when the storekeeper gave me change: I didn’t know about halfpennies. Regularly I had to be carried up and down the 56 steps to our single room at the top of a Glasgow tenement.

In time I exchanged the crutches for an iron caliper, and was sent a year late to school. It was a so-called special school, divided into two sections. There was no euphemism about our official description: we were either Physically Deficient (PD) or Mentally Deficient (MD); a few of us were both.

The school van, with a nursing aide in attendance, collected us in the morning for a 9:30 start, and took us home at 3 P.M. We sang a lot in that van for some reason. We sang a lot also in school, especially at lunchtime concerts, where my oft-repeated contribution was a sugary little number called “Smilin’ Through.”

My own pal was Willie Thomson, severely afflicted with cerebral palsy, whose life was spent in a wheelchair. Despite uncontrollably jerking limbs and all but inarticulate speech, Willie bubbled with quiet fun. The only child of elderly parents, he was unusual among us in not coming from a very poor family, and I received twopence a week at his parents’ insistence for pushing him around.

To anticipate a little: some time after he left school, both Willie’s parents died, but he insisted on staying on alone in their retirement cottage in rural Argyll, with some help from a friendly neighbor. One of Willie’s little ingenuities was a pointed piece of metal fixed to the foot that shook less severely, so that he could strike the keys of a typewriter.

He used to type me the most cheerful letters, and often included his own poetry. I watched him once at his machine. Each line would take him about 20 breathjerking minutes. Willie contributed to a magazine that encouraged the physically afflicted. His irrepressible spirit helped sustain his life against all expectations. He would tell me he thanked God for all the blessings in his life.

I lost touch with Willie, and thought he had died. Letters had stopped coming, and my inquiries were fruitless. Then early this year I wrote a piece for an English paper in which I mentioned Willie’s name. This evoked a response from a physician who told me Willie was still very much alive, and in a hospital in western Scotland.

Last month I took a couple of days off and traveled to see him. The little village was not far from the manse in which another physically afflicted Scot had once written his famous hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.” As I wheeled Willie out of the hospital for an outing along the lakeside, the decades fell away, and we were boys again. Where had I been? What had I written? Had I met Billy Graham? Did I still support the same unpredictable soccer team? Willie marveled at how quickly the years had sped, and wistfully but uncomplainingly lamented how little he had to show for them. (How much more could his more active buddy have raised that question.)

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With equal affection in this International Year of the Disabled I recall those who saw me through my crippled years.

I don’t suppose it is much different in other social circumstances, but the love and attention given by the very poor to their handicapped children (sometimes inevitably with no response or recognition) can be almost unbearably moving.

Whether or not it is a religious home seems to be irrelevant. Often the demands on a mother’s time curtail rest, call for infinite patience, and preclude days off. I hope this year has brought to many of us a heightened awareness of and sensitivity to the opportunities of helping the disabled, through helping to ease the burden on their families. We run the risk of intruding less than we think. Those families who bear most complain least. Such is the way of love.

To those early teachers of mine I will be eternally grateful. Unlike parents, they had a choice, and they opted to dedicate their lives to us MD’s and PD’s. The first (almost the only) school prize I got was Nelson’s Bumper Book for Boys. I have it still. It is signed “E.S. Semple, Head Teacher.” She was a remarkable little woman who once or twice a year would come to our class, relieve our teacher for half an hour, and tell us simply about Jesus Christ, with tears running down her cheeks when she came to speak of the Savior on the cross.

Elizabeth Semple was the first Christian witness I really knew. She encouraged me in my studies, and when I was 13 she took me to see the principal of a good high school, persuading him to overlook my sketchy qualifications for entrance, and to give me a try. I like to think (my egocentric predicament again?) that I did not let her down.

She and her colleagues, two of them Roman Catholic, were representative of the whole noble army of unmarried ladies who in my early years found true fulfillment in the service of young people who happened to have disabilities. They did not need to have their attention called to it by a special year. To them it was a way of life.

Guest Editorial, by J. D. DOUGLAS

Seventh-day adventists face hard issues that lie at the very foundation of evangelical Christianity. Many have found the gospel and for the first time are rejoicing in its freedom.

The good news of God’s free and abundant grace offered to all who turn in simple faith to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior has proved wonderfully liberating and exhilarating. They have discovered, with believers through the ages, that they no longer stand under the burden of the law. God is not just an avenging judge whom they will one day have to face and give answer for their fives. He has become for them the holy God who never condones sin. But he is also the God who in infinite love became incarnate in Jesus Christ, the God-man, and in him fully met the Law’s demands for perfect righteousness. As the Scripture says: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay; but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:24–28).

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Those who have found this good news have for the first time found peace—with God and with themselves. Once and for all the gospel of God’s grace has delivered them from fear: fear of divine judgment and final condemnation. And the God who delivered them from the dreadful fear of the law of a righteous God has also brought them a new life in Christ and a new joy and a new love for God’s love—now seen as a law of love—love for God and love for their fellow man.

But many things must now be sorted out in the light of this new-found gospel. What shall be Adventists’ attitude toward fellow Adventists who have not yet clearly seen the light of the gospel? What must they do about their loyalty to the denomination in which they were reared and nourished? What role is to be accorded to the writings of Ellen White, whom they have revered as a prophet of God? What status has the Old Testament Law, including the law of the Sabbath, for one who has discovered forgiveness and new life apart from the works of the Law?

Those of us on the outside cannot presume to settle these matters for Adventists in their newly found relationship to the God of all grace. But we can rejoice with them in the joy of Christ. We are praying for divine wisdom for them and for a holy boldness that will cast out all fear. We can assure them that they do not stand alone. And we can challenge them to seize the golden opportunity open to all who have found forgiveness of sins and fife in Christ through the gospel. Perhaps God has raised up a new vision of the gospel of God’s grace within the Seventh-day Adventist churches in these final days of the age. God calls them to be his faithful witness to the gospel in a world without Christ, without God, and therefore, without hope.

Four years ago, a bill, HR 41, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Aimed at all not-for-profit organizations, this piece of legislation was, by most accounts, extremely broad and extensively demanding. The implications for evangelical works of all kinds, especially in the area of fund raising, would have been staggering. Fortunately, it failed to pass.

Also fortunate was the fact that evangelicals in Congress, reportedly led by Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Oreg.), saw the dangerous possibilities threatening evangelical and other worthy causes. Figuratively, they held the specter of HR 41 like a gun to the heads of several leaders in the world of evangelical organizations and demanded action. Many evangelical leaders up until that time had regarded self-regulation of evangelical agency finances as too idealistic a goal and not worth the effort it would require. Though their own standards were scrupulously above question, they were convinced that any group action was unattainable.

We were not privy to the conversations that took place, but we understand the word from Congress tended toward the simple and the brief: self-regulation now or the next bill is likely to pass. Apparently the admonition was sufficient stimulus to move the reluctant. In any case, two of the most respected parachurch leaders, Stanley Mooneyham of World Vision and George Wilson of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, became convinced that action was possible. They called a meeting, and few of the bidden sent regrets.

What came out of that meeting was the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Chartered in 1979, ECFA is now a mere two years down the track, but they have been a most impressive two years. One hundred eighty-five parachurch and denominational organizations are now members of ECFA; and the day when such a group, of any description, will find it difficult to operate without the sanction of ECFA membership (especially in raising funds) is well within the realm of possibility. And that, after all, is the purpose of an association like ECFA. Its first goal only naturally is that membership (and the right to display the membership seal) becomes essential to anyone raising funds for evangelical purposes. All that remains then in the accomplishment of genuine self-regulation is the rigorous enforcement of meaningful standards of membership for all members. That is precisely what has happened so far.

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It was the prospects for this rigorous enforcement on which skeptics based their doubts two years ago. Granted, enforced morality of this sort naturally works in favor of the establishment, those leading organizations at the center of the community. Abusive fund-raising practices are correspondingly much more common among certain outside or fringe groups. Nevertheless, occasional excesses do exist among the establishment, and the very thought of one group being corrected on any such practices by a group of its peers would surely send jolting chills up and down the spines of regulated and regulator alike.

Moreover, to several of the most truly upright fund raisers, it is the required disclosure of information, not the prospect of losing a favorite fund-raising tactic, that brings those same chills. Such groups are strongly convinced of the right of privacy to their own data (especially financial) both to protect their donors and to preserve their own financial sources. For this reason they are especially fearful of sending full financial reports out to the general public on request, which is an ECFA requirement. As a result, at least two organizations, both known as exemplary fund raisers, and both ECFA members, have been willing to trifle with federal regulations and ECFA requirements rather than disclose certain information to the public.

It is in view of these circumstances, then, that we find the performance of ECFA so inspiring and worthy of comment. From whence has come this remarkable beginning? Primarily, we feel, from one particularly wise action on the part of the ECFA board of directors. With true wisdom, the board composed the very powerful Standards Committee of the ECFA entirely of fund receivers and fund handlers (not fund raisers): accountants, financial officers, lawyers, and so on. Many standards committee members have expertise in fund-raising practices, but none is responsible, directly or remotely, for the raising of funds within the organization employing him. Two particularly valuable members do not even work with member organizations.

It is this specially designed and built-in detachment, as well as the high quality of persons selected by the board, that has led to a courageous and unflinching two-year performance by the standards committee, a performance that has included confrontation—quiet and reasoned, but direct confrontation—with several large and powerful groups (as well as numerous not-so-large and powerful). And we are thankful to note that more than one large and overly protective leader has reacted with genuine humility and submission to his brothers in Christ as they sat with him and dealt with him on matters of impropriety. No doubt, the resultant freedom of information led to some short runs in the flow of funds to some organizations. Yet we feel God is truly honored by the sort of resolve ECFA has carried off thus far. Nevertheless, we remind our brethren within that group that they have only just begun. And the battle for fiscal integrity will not be won without continuous expenditure of blood, sweat, and tears.

To many evangelicals, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) seems more and more to be united against evangelical causes. Although its members are undoubtedly sincere people of great integrity and include many evangelicals, their thinking tends to be in terms of black and white. They fail to recognize any middle ground between complete separation of church and state and government attempts to determine the religion of a free people.

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Yet there is such a middle ground. The American Constitution and the laws of our nation require separation of church and state in the sense that no law may give preference to one religion over another (“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion …” U.S. Constitution, First Amendment). In the past, and certainly in its original formation, our American Constitution’s framers did not intend to rule out government support of religion (see Wendell R. Bird, “Freedom from Establishment …” Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. II).

Over the course of two centuries, however, U.S. courts have gradually shifted in their interpretation of the Constitution to exclude any direct governmental support of religion. What was originally intended as a constitutional bar to the establishment by law of any particular religion has come to mean that the government should not directly support any religious ideas or concerns. The correctness of this constitutional shift, by which our government now forbids the support of religion in general, is highly debatable, and there are evangelicals who both argue for it and against it.

But even today, government support of religion is by no means ruled out even by those who interpret the Constitution most rigidly (including, perhaps, most of those in Americans United). Quite to the contrary, the courts have agreed that the government may support a religion or even a particular religion when its aim is not to foster a religion, but to foster by-products of religion.

A further constitutional shift to forbid governmental support of any religion, even indirectly (so as to eliminate the values Christians and other religious people could bring to their nation by means of such support), would be disastrous to the welfare of all American people. Of course, government control naturally follows government support. Many evangelicals (such as many evangelical members of AU), are therefore opposed to all government support because they fear the inevitable control that would follow it.

Here, however, is where the black and white thinking of Americans United breaks down. Few evangelicals are really consistent in opposition to government control of religion. They do not object to the government’s stepping in to control Mormon polygamy. They rarely object to governmental support of chaplains in the armed sevices or in the legislative halls of the House and Senate in Congress. They have objected (and rightly so) when the government has sought to control the message or the religious practices of the chaplains.

By this distinction, an important constitutional principle becomes evident that provides for us a middle way between two extremes: (1) complete separation of church and state with no control, and (2) government support of religion when it is to the advantage of both government and religion that such support be granted with careful restrictions as to the area of control permitted. It is possible to distinguish the sphere of Caesar from the sphere of God and to note where they overlap and where they do not. When a government supports religion indirectly because of certain values it sees as a by-product, it can reserve the right to regulate the area of its own legitimate interests so long as it does not impinge upon the rights of religion.

This very abstract principle is illustrated by an issue of great concern to many evangelicals of our day. Government is interested in securing a literate citizenry. It has a right, therefore, to monitor a religious elementary school to make sure a minimum standard of education is maintained. But it does not have the right to control the specifically religious teaching and practices within the school. In this way it is possible to preserve freedom of religion while allowing for some carefully restricted governmental control. Granted, the interface between the legitimate spheres of government and religion can become highly complicated; the boundary is not always easy to maintain. As with all freedoms, eternal vigilance is the price we must pay for our freedom. But most of the time, it is possible to distinguish what is religion from what is not—to grant government the right to control its legitimate interests and yet to maintain boldly and consistently our freedom of religion.

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A philosopher who spent most of his years in large public universities and is now distinguished chairman of philosophy in a distinguished private liberal arts school [writes]: “As matters stand today, you would do well to locate at an ambitious hard-nosed, well run, intellectually relentless small college and enrol.” This professor has spent most of his professional life on large public campuses. He has published widely. As a senior citizen of the academy he has wrestled with problems that challenge the educator in a notably urban day. For instance: “Ivory tower?” he says, “Ivory tower—I see no way of avoiding this and I see nothing wrong with it. If it is to have a life of its own, a college must place some quarantine on outside pressures. Entering freshmen may complain about this, but it is the privilege of entering freshmen to complain about anything.” (I am quoting.) “Graduating seniors may feel that they have had enough of this, but they quickly shake off any supposedly bad effects. Shutting off the noise of the market place in the vocational demands of the professional schools requires concentration and scholarship, and no one knows this better than the Ph.D.

There is moreover the austerity which contributes, as this professor insists, to “the amenities of civilized living.” This is an unpopular issue on every campus. It lifts the charge of “paternalism,” “narrowness,” or “illiberalism.” There is no chronological list of this line of austerities. Good small colleges provide their corporate existence of austerity to a greater degree than any other single institution. And when they set themselves up as being against habits of gluttony or drunkenness or gambling or hanky-panky, or bad temper or cruelty or physical violence, or stealing or vandalism or dishonesty, they are drawing the attention of their students to modes of salutary self-control.” There is no guarantee that these will give a lasting benefit; but “a protracted firsthand experience of them during crucial years” is bound to contribute favorably to the academic purpose.

“I am not talking about the education of prigs or saints or puritans. My point is that in this matter a well-run small college is in a strong position to underline an important truth in the education of young men and young women; namely, that if a person does not learn to dominate his appetites they will come to dominate him and when they do, he is no longer his own man.”


Reprinted from Perspective, bulletin of the Claremont School of Theology, California.

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