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Do Handicapped People Go To Hell?

(The author understands that South Park does not, on a whole, promote values consistent with a Christian worldview. However, the author also understands that the Church doesn’t always promote values consistent with a Christian worldview. The point of this piece is to bring to light issues the Church should be addressing, yet allows a show such as South Park to address. This seems incongruous with the role of the Church in our society)

This is the question posed by the creators of South Park eight years ago during the show’s 4th season. Before I get into South Park’s answer, let’s look at what the Church says. The question of how one receives Salvation and subsequently ends up in Heaven or Hell is fraught with debate and speculation. While many strict Protestants will chant faith alone and grace alone few denominations actually maintain that as truth. How would either Catholic or Protestant dogma damn a person with a disability. Let’s look at a few denominational approaches to salvation.

 

-Public Profession of Faith. For any who have been to a Calvary Chapel-esque crusade (e.g. Harvest) you know that the culminating moment of the event is the Altar Call (a practice that did not appear in Christian circles until nearly 1800 years after Christ). During this time attendees are reminded that unless they walk down to the field (or stand up) and audibly say the sinner’s prayer than they have not really accepted Salvation. So this leaves my friends who are non-ambulatory and non-verbal in a bit of an eternal pickle.

-Exhibiting the Gifts of the Spirit. I have briefly attended and known many in the more charismatic veins of the faith that argue for the appearance of tongues as an outward sign of an inward transformation. The argument states that if you have received Salvation then you will outwardly demonstrate this through gifts such as speaking in tongues. Again, my non-verbal friends are excluded from this.

-Public Confession. Either through confession to a cleric or an open confession of sin a person must make a confession prior to receiving forgiveness. This is repeated dogma both in Protestant and Catholic circles and again leaves an individual with limited verbal skills or cognitive awareness in a dangerous predicament.

-Not fully human. If a person with a disability is not fully human then their fate is the same as non-human created things. Most denominations don’t find room for this category in heaven, so again we are left out.

-Age of accountability. Here is the shortcut to heaven. There is an argument that if one hasn’t reached the “age of accountability” then they get an “out of hell free” pass to heaven. Those who would apply this to individuals with cognitive disabilities miss a powerful point. A person with a cognitive disability might be “academically” at a certain age range, but their emotions, experiences and life has progressed to the point they are at. So is the age of accountability based on intellectual functioning or experiential development? Depending on how that is addressed brings up issues of equal dignity and humanity, equal opportunity for salvation and other person-centered issues. I have only skimmed the surface of theological positions or dogmatic beliefs that separate individuals from full participation in the church. Apart from a few rare books, the discussion of the humanity, full participation and full inclusion in the family of God seems to escape most pulpits. Instead clichéd responses or patronizing explanations are provided. What should the Church do? Nearly 20% of the US population has a disability. Three out of Seven families are affected by disability, yet the discussion of ministry, salvation and community are absent from most churches.

 

Let’s go back to the town of South Park for a moment. The children (vulgar, profane, etc) have been told by the priest that they are going to Hell (which is run, interestingly, by a homosexual Satan who is in and out of a relationship with Saddam Hussein). Rightly scared, they begin attending Sunday school. There they are taught about communion (which most have trouble understanding), confession and baptism. The boys take their eight year old understanding and attempt to get into Heaven. That is until one of the boys (Butters) runs up to the other boys full of concern. He tells the other boys that based on the rules they were taught (confession, communion and baptism), their friend Timmy will go to Hell because he can’t confess (Timmy, if you remember, can only says his own name). Ultimately, the boys baptize Timmy themselves, but get little in the way of answers when they approach both the priest and the nun about Timmy (this led to the sequel of this episode to be titled- “Probably”). Unfortunately the real Church does little more to answer this meaningful question. So let’s close with a look at a few ways the boys from South Park are different from the local church.

 
1)      The boys from South Park consider their friends with disabilities as equal members of the community. The local church does not which explains why there is not much coming from seminaries in the way of disability and theology and why disability ministry exists in so few congregations.
 
2)      The boys from South Park see their friends with disabilities as completely human and therefore subject to the same eternal rules as everyone else. The church, in practice, has diminished the humanity of persons with disabilities therefore given them different rules for salvation than their non-disabled peers. If this were not so, then you would see an different urgency to reach and ministry to the single largest unreached people group in America (as many as 85% of people with severe disabilities are unchurched)
 
3)      The boys from South Park are concerned with the soul of their friends with disabilities. The local church . . . well.
 
 
 
Do Handicapped People Go To Hell? (Episode 409, Original airdate July 19, 2000)
Probably (Episode 410, Original airdate July 26, 2000)