Monday, May 19, 2008

Banned from Church by Law for Autism

Did you read or see the item in this morning's news about the autistic Minnesota boy who has been banned from church? Adam Race has autism. His family sits on the back pew of the catholic church where they have attended for 12 years. Yesterday AM when Adam's family started to church, the sheriff of their county stopped them and told Adam's mom that if she even stepped one foot inside the church she would be arrested.

Since last Sunday (Mother's Day) the parish priest sought legal advice and obtained an injunction against Adam and his family barring them from attending their church, St. Joseph. Father Daniel Walz sought the restraining order after the family attended Mother's Day services at St. Joseph's. Mrs. Race was actually ticketed for appearing at church on Mother's Day.


There is another church. This one is right here in the South Hills of Pittsburgh - Southminster Presbyterian. They have just completed the lengthy process of confirmation for a daughter in their church who also has autism. Her name is Hannah. She is 16-years-old. Hannah doesn't speak so structuring a confirmation program she could complete so she could join Southminster and be admitted to membership and be allowed to take communion with her family was a challenging process. The staff and members of Southminister are justly proud of their efforts in Hannah's behalf.

Autism is a difficult problem for a family and a church. Autistic children are often so tortured within themselves that they inappropriately express themselves - particularly in tightly controlled social environments such as a worship service. St. Joseph's chose the easy way - just ban the Race family from church. Then the priest and others at St. Joseph can pretend "the problem" named Adam just went away. All in the name of God couched in terms of taking care of the greater good of others who also worship at St. Joseph.

Southminster chose a more challenging path. I recently attended a Saturday seminar at Southminster on autism. It was specifically designed to address the issue of the church in regard to autism. I went to the module on "Welcoming." A number of ideas were floated about how to integrate and welcome children and families effected by autism into the life and worship of the church. Injunctions and tickets and courts and officers of the law were not mentioned even one time!

I'm not the mother of an autistic child, and I can only imagine the pain of loving your child and wanting your child to experience the best of life even through the prism of autism. I have a good friend who has an autistic son who is over 50. I have worshipped with my friend and her husband and son. It was a privilege and a pleasure!

I am the mother of two grown sons. Through the years my sons didn't always behave well in church. I got lots of "well-meaning" advice about what to do and how to do it beginning when my first son was less than a year old. I just had boys with "ants in their pants" but they weren't always still or quiet in church. I just did the best I could.

I imagine Adam's mother would say the same thing. I'm doing the best I can!

Somehow I can't picture Jesus calling in the law in a case like Adam's. We know Jesus met many individuals who struggled with all kinds of issues - some of which made them "socially unacceptable" in the eyes of society in the first century. But, over and over, the Biblical record attests that Jesus stopped, even interrupting what He was doing to give aid and bring healing.

There is the account of one son who even threw himself into fire at times. When his desperate father approached Jesus, Jesus immediately stopped and healed the son. Jesus took time for a specific conversation with the father and then Jesus took the boy by the hand and lifted him up to stand healed in front of the crowd. (Mark 9)

In the South Hills of Pittsburgh another church is beginning. It is A Restoration Church. A Restoration Church is committed to restoring lives through the Gospel. We welcome people from all walks of life, all circumstances - the physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually broken. We offer love, acceptance, forgiveness, hope and love. We know that in truth we are all broken and badly in need of God's loving restoration. God's love, grace and mercy bring radical restoration to us all! That's what we're all about at A Restoration Church. If you know your own brokenness, then we have a place just for you! We all need God's fixing process! I suspect some of God's loving restoration needs to be applied in Minnesota, too!

1 comment:

redtown said...

This isn't a kid just making a few noises. According to the AP story, “Adam struck a child during mass, nearly knocks elderly parishioners over…, spits and sometimes urinates in church and fights when he is being restrained. He also… assaulted a girl by pulling her onto his lap.” When he started two cars in the parking lot, “people could have been injured or killed.”

The church has tried to accommodate, but the behavior has only become more dangerous. It’s not the boy’s fault, but his own parents cannot always control him.

I doubt that even Jesus would condone the enabling of such dangerous and disruptive behavior -- posing great risks to others and self -- in the name of “acceptance”. This is sloppy agape.

Someone can be seriously injured. The pastor has definite moral and legal responsibilities to protect everyone from harm. If some child or elderly person were injured, there would be a major lawsuit. “I was practicing inclusion” would not be a defense for reckless endangerment.

This isn't general discrimination against all handicapped or autistic people. This is a case of a particular individual with dangerously out-of-control behavior. There is such a thing as rational discrimination; Adam will never be allowed to drive either.

In a perfect world, everyone would be welcomed everywhere. But if I had a highly communicable disease, say TB, I’d have no right to mingle in large crowds where I posed a serious threat. And I think Jesus would agree, notwithstanding that he loved everyone.

My right to inclusion ends where your rights to safety begin. Is it unreasonable to ask Adam’s parents to accommodate everyone else’s rights to public safety?