Who Are You Calling Stupid?

Several times over the last two or three years, individuals with disabilities have confided in me that sometimes people in the church will call them “stupid.” This certainly couldn’t be happening at a Seventh-day Adventist institution. But alas, it is true.

Last summer I was walking past the James White Library on the campus of Andrews University and noticed a van-load of people standing and waiting for the last person to get out. One person was in a wheelchair, several were rather unkempt, and one was stooped over with a blank stare on his face. Apparently they had come from an institution that cares for adults with physical and mental disabilities. They were on a day-trip to the library.

I wondered, in an institution such as where they live, what will be the proportion that God will be able to take to heaven? Since God only holds individuals accountable for what they are able to know and understand, I tend to think that a rather high percentage of individuals with disabilities will be saved.

Then I wondered about our Seventh-day Adventist institutions; what percentage of individuals with no disabilities will be saved? I have a feeling that maybe the percentage that will be saved from our institutions will be less—maybe much less—than from those with disabilities; especially if calling people “stupid” becomes the norm, and when the genetic difference is often attributable to a few proteins getting mixed up in the DNA transcription process!

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of the ‘brightest and best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?” —1 Corinthians 1:26-28 (The Message)

The question we have to ask is: Who really has the disability? Who has been given the mental capabilities to choose God and work for Him, and yet, often lets those opportunities pass by? Who really is stupid?

Dennis Hollingsead works in the Office of Development at Andrews University. This is an edited version that first appeared in the Pioneer Memorial Church bulletin on October 26, 2013. It is reprinted here with permission.

Image: James Williams / Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8645

Thank-you, Dennis. Having had a family member with intellectual and developmental disabilities, i know firsthand how much stigma there can be. I’ve also been in the Library here; the people you saw may have been there to help with some cleaning. They come in every week to clean a part of the Library, often the lunch room.

With “handicapped” persons we generally fail to take advantage and exploit the GIFTS they DO HAVE. We generally see they are not like us – a whole person – and fail to acknowledge what is working well.
Persons with a mental capacity of of a 4 or 5 year old can appreciate love. Over time can mimic
some of the Adult persons in their environment. they can learn a simple relationship to worship.
Learn to sing gospel songs. Learn a simple prayer. Can love God in their way.
Persons with aphasia from a stroke or head injury still have brain function. Just takes time to help them find ways to use what is there.
Autistic persons just need assistance.
Other handicap conditions can sometimes be circuvented so they can participate.


Absolutely! And many with disabilities are also Savants with talents and memory that most of us “normal” people cannot even begin to compare with or understand. When we finally discover these gifts, they can do astounding things if we will encourage them and get out of their way.

Savant syndrome is a condition in which someone with significant mental disabilities demonstrates certain abilities far in excess of average. The skills at which savants excel are generally related to memory. This may include rapid calculation, artistic ability, map making, or musical ability. Usually just one special skill is present.
Those with the condition generally have a neurodevelopmental disorder such as autism spectrum disorder or a brain injury. About half of cases are associated with autism and may be known as “autistic savants”. While the condition usually becomes apparent in childhood, some cases may develop later in life. It is not recognized as a mental disorder within the DSM-5.
The condition is rare. One estimate is that it affects about one in a million people. Cases of female savants are even less common than those of males. The first medical account of the condition was in 1783. Among those with autism between 1 in 10 to 200 have savant syndrome to some degree. It is estimated that there are fewer than a hundred savants with extraordinary skills currently living. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savant_syndrome