Adaptation from Disability and the Church by Lamar Hardwick
Adapted from The Introduction, “A Love Letter to the Church from and Autistic Pastor”
I have learned from responses to my autism diagnosis that whenever we eat the proverbial fruit, we lose faith in the very idea that God created humanity to be human and to be free from the burden and weight of trying to assess the value of ourselves and others by our own standards.
The moment we criticize or condemn people for being human is the very moment we send them the message that God is not in control, that God, in fact, did not create them in his image, and that they are incapable of enjoying community with God or the rest of creation.
This is a flawed theology that gives birth to a false faith. We need permission to stop hiding and covering ourselves with figurative fig leaves. Instead we should leave behind the suggestion that we should stand behind shame and stigma because God will be disappointed. I do not believe the fact that I am autistic is an offense to God. I do not believe I should seek to be anything other than human. This is who I am and how God created me.
When humanity first made this grave mistake, it led to the downward spiral of shame, but God’s pursuit of Adam and Eve and all humanity suggests that we need not be ashamed of the bodies we’ve been given by God.
I am still grateful to the church and Christian community that I love so dearly even while I am often grieved at how we subtly suggest that the disability community hide and live in shame. Jesus promised that he would build his church and that there is no force with the power to extinguish the mission of the local church, even the forces of ignorance and exclusion.
To the church, Jesus has entrusted the very keys to his kingdom. We are the gatekeepers of the type of kindness and gentleness that those in the disability community need to experience in order to come out from hiding and to shed the stigma of shame that society has placed on them. We are the plan that Jesus put into place to promote access into his kingdom community. We are responsible for ridding our society of the fruit that forces people to create false images and live in fear of not being included in the community.
Like Paul, I live in a constant state of overwhelming acceptance of God’s grace that is actively working in my life and ministry. Because of the sufficiency of God’s grace, I will continue my devotion to the church that Jesus is building— not because it is not flawed but because I have faith.
I have faith that one day I will not be asked to hide who I am and how God created me.
I have faith that one day the church will examine her practices, principles, and programming and actively look for ways that she can be better at believing the best for all members of the community she serves.
I have faith that one day very soon the church will embrace its call to be gatekeepers to community and that she will swing the doors open wide enough for the disability community to belong to a gathering of people who trust that in their humanity lies the very image of God our Creator.