When I am Among Friends, I am Least Disabled: A Theological Examination of the Significance of Friendship for the Inclusion of Physically Disabled People in Baptist Church Communities

  • Martin Hobgen

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis argues that intentional, mutual and particular friendship can be a significant way of enabling the participatory inclusion of physically disabled people in Baptist church communities. Starting with critical reflections on the experiences of the author and other disabled people, this thesis identifies experiences of exclusion and inclusion within Baptist church communities, other church traditions and society in general. Three key factors that shape the understanding of disability and relationships between disabled and non-disabled people are explored. Firstly, language and metaphor relating to disability can create barriers to inclusion by emphasising differences between disabled and non-disabled people. Secondly, historic sociological understandings of disability, commonly referred to as the Individual/Medical Model of Disability, have led to the exclusion of disabled people from society and therefore churches. The development of Social Models of Disability in the late twentieth century addressed many of the issues, and significantly increased the inclusion of disabled people, but did not address the real impact of the embodiment of disabled people and the significance of interpersonal relationships. Thirdly, some aspects of historical theological understandings, which relate disability to sin or assume the requirement of physical healing, are identified. These have led to the dominance of a pastoral care approach towards disabled people that restricts participatory inclusion. A range of contemporary theological approaches to disability are surveyed. They address many of the assumptions that have led to exclusion. They do not, however, fully address the significance that relationships in general, and friendship in particular, can play in the inclusion of disabled people in Baptist church communities. I draw on a 'relational' understanding of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, which focuses on two central concepts: 'persons as relation' and 'participation'. I use these concepts as a theological foundation for the development of covenant friendships within and beyond Baptist church communities. The first shifts the discussion about the personhood of disabled people away from individual characteristics, with the emphasis put on relationships between disabled and non-disabled people. The second brings disabled people into full participation within the church and world in covenant relationship with God. Finally, this thesis proposes that engaging with the theological approaches to disability previously identified, intentional, mutual and particular friendships between disabled and non-disabled people can foster participatory inclusion. It shows that these can enrich the contemporary theological understandings of disability. Building on the Trinitarian theology of Paul Fiddes, which shapes a contemporary Baptist covenant ecclesiology, it concludes that such friendships are an appropriate way of understanding both covenant relationships and face-to-face relationships. This has the potential to effectively foster the participatory inclusion of disabled people in Baptist church communities.
Date of Award31 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester


  • Disability
  • Disability Theology
  • Theology of Disability
  • Sociology of Disability
  • Language of Disability
  • Ecclesiology
  • Covenant
  • Baptist
  • Participation
  • Friendship
  • Exclusion
  • Inclusion
  • Disabled People
  • Physical Disability
  • Relational Trinity

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