Just about everyone knows I enjoy watching professional wrestling. It’s an escape like any other form of entertainment, only with a few more bodyslams. A few months ago, as ratings for one program began to tank, one of the legendary acts of professional wrestling made a social media post that stirred up some controversy. The wrestler said, “Folks, we have a problem.”
The act called attention to what was a glaring reality. There was a problem with the show and its presentation. It needed addressing.
Like that professional wrestler, throughout April, you will hear, “Folks, we have a problem,” as it relates to how the church ministers and reaches out to the autism community. Our essays will address the reality for autistic individuals and families in the church. It will also offer ways for the church to equip itself as a loving witness of Christ toward the autism community.
We have to hear that we have a problem when it comes to welcoming the autistic community into the church. It is a real problem. Christians are loving people called to share the love of Christ with all people. Yet, we struggle to love autistic individuals and their families.
This is a passion for me. First, I am a pastor who believes that the church must be a loving witness of Christ for all people. The church is the ongoing witness of Christ in a broken and hurting world. Through its witness of Christ, the church can impact lives and communities with the hope of God’s love.
Second, I am the father of an autistic child. His name is Noah. My family has experienced how the church struggles to embrace the autistic community.
Without a doubt, if I were not a pastor, my family and I would not be in church regularly. This is because of how difficult it is to bring our child to church and the obstacles we face. We have experienced the pain of separation and distance that comes with a lack of awareness or understanding of how our well-meaning words and actions can unintentionally be hurtful. We are not alone. Lamar Hardwick writes how more than 80 percent of individuals with a disability do not feel welcomed in the church.
We are one of them, and I am a pastor.
Folks, we have a problem.
If we are going to move from a problem to a solution, we have to be aware that the problem exists. We cannot go to our tried-and-true defense mechanisms when someone tells the church it does not feel welcome by saying, “We love everyone.” We have to listen and hear why we struggle to reach autistic families. This must happen before we can move to solutions.
So, for the first few days, we will speak hard truths. Some of these truths you have probably heard me share before. Some you probably wish would stay unmentioned. Truth needs expressing, however painful, so the church can move forward toward a goal of inclusion based on education and practical steps.
Thus, the first thing the church needs to do to be more welcoming toward autistic individuals and families is to be aware of the problem.
As we move forward, I firmly believe that this is a problem that Christ is already at work redeeming. I believe what is best about the church can provide the foundations for welcoming and embracing the autistic community.
I do not believe this is an unsolvable problem. However, it is a problem that will only cause more pain if it continues to be ignored and not mentioned.
Folks, we have a problem in reaching autistic individuals and their families. But, we have an opportunity to share the love of Christ in a magnificent way that can change the lives of autistic individuals and families.