As a student in Whitworth's M.A. in theology program, April Ross, '17, has sought answers to complex questions about gender, disability and the image of God. Ross is the first chaplaincy intern at Eastern State Hospital, a psychiatric hospital in Medical Lake, Wash. After graduating from Whitworth this winter, she hopes to serve as a chaplain in a hospital or correctional facility. Here, she discusses her thesis, "Proclaiming Good News to the Poor: Gender and Disability in the Light of the Image of God."
Julie Riddle: What inspired you to explore this subject?
April Ross: In recent years I have wrestled with what it means to be a woman seeking ordination. Not all of my family and friends were supportive of this decision. Additionally, I watched and walked with friends who struggled through mental illness diagnoses, and I saw how others and their churches responded to them. I was not satisfied with many of the answers to what it means to be a woman created in the image of God (versus being a man created in the image of God) and what it means to have a stigmatized disability and be created in the image of God. If Jesus claimed to bring good news to the poor – to those on the margins of society – and Jesus is the image of the invisible God, then how do those facts affect our theology and practices?
Julie Riddle: How is your research relevant to the church today?
April Ross: We don't know how to handle our differences. We split churches, form groups and separate from others because of differences. We categorize and rank differences within the church just like we do in our culture. Good theological understanding of the image of God doesn't allow this. What would the church look like if we truly saw and lived out diversity as a part of God's good creation?
Julie Riddle: What wisdom have you gained through your research?
April Ross: I gained a deep understanding of what it means to be a woman created in the image of God and what it means to live out my identity in daily life. When I get 6 inches from a patient's face and tell them that God loves them, that their life is valuable, and that they have a purpose in this world, I really mean it. My work as a chaplaincy intern pushes against the world's wisdom, assumptions and values. This is only possible because I've walked this long, hard path of knowledge transformed into wisdom.