A mutual friend made sure I say what Darren Wood wrote on FB. Darren is autistic and rightly sees that the Church fails in its mission when it fails to welcome autistics in.
I have a message for the church.
If you know me, you know that I rarely get emotional. I cried a few days ago, the first time in years, and I don’t think I can get through writing this without crying again.
Every tribe; every tongue; every nation. I see the church talking about reaching Latinos, African Americans, international students, remote groups in Asia, Africa, and South America. But what about my tribe? What about the neurodiverse? The church does nothing, nay, worse than nothing. The neurodiverse are being systematically socially excluded.
What makes my heart break? When I hear about the church making my people feel unwanted, unwelcome, betrayed, emotionally abused and manipulated. When I hear about people talk about church members decided not to like them based of a first impression and being unwilling to change. When we’re judged for not participating in fellowship time afterwards. When the structure of service doesn’t work for us and we’re given the stink eye for trying to cope or leaving for certain sessions. When nobody cares enough to get to know us. When we’re told that our “disabilities” are due to a lack of faith. When people tell me that they can’t even step foot in a church building anymore because of the negative flashbacks. It’s horrible.
Now, this problem isn’t exclusive to the church. I can give personal examples of a lot of what I’ve listed above happening outside of the church. But the church is the salt and light of the world. The church is the hands and feet of Jesus. We’re supposed to be better than this. But when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, the church lobbied to be excluded. And won. And it’s not like the church is simply trying a different method. Social exclusion is often the worst at the church. More than half of parents of children with disabilities report that their children have been excluded at church because of the disability. The odds of someone with autism never attending a church service are double that of the general population. The church’s message regarding disability is ableist, overly simplistic, patronizing, and offensive. Often because the disability is seen as caused by sin or a lack of faith.
Another thing I hear from others in the disabled community is that the church sure talks a lot, but never does anything. People see this issue, put together sermons and theological statements, and pat themselves on the back for their ideals, all the while not actually doing anything about the problem. Imagine a father tells his daughter to go clean her room. She comes back saying she can recite his command in Greek and Hebrew, and even invited her friends over to discuss what it would look like to clean her room, but never actually got around to the actual cleaning of the room? do you think that her father would find that acceptable? Why then do we treat our heavenly father this way?
So what can you do? … One of the mottos of the disabled rights movement is “Nothing about us, without us” so look online, on facebook, on meetup, try to find the local neurodiversity, autism society, and similar organisations. Don’t direct projects at us, make sure you’re working with us.
Darren’s call here is one of the reasons I wrote Disability and Inclusive Community. The Church, for all that it does right, needs to hear what Darren is saying. It needs to repent. And it needs to do better.
May we learn to live into what he is calling us to here in these words.