Author- Dr. Stephanie C. Holmes
The title is quite provocative. This post is a little longer than most, but this topic needs to be discussed. Can ignorance really be harmful or abusive? The answer is yes. Let me start this blog post by saying for any church that is doing their due diligence and trying to be trained and understand families with special needs, this post is not for you. For any church in process of training, gaining resources and knowledge and doing that next right thing, whatever that means for your size church and the families you serve, this post is not for you.
So, who is this for? This is for those who over spiritualize any neurological difference or mental health issue and turn it into a weapon and shame. You may be thinking, oh she must come from a faith tradition that does not believe in healing , deliverance or overcoming. That would not be true. I was raised my entire life and still attend a Pentecostal, full Gospel church that believes that the power of Jesus to do these things is still alive and well in the present age.
So what does she mean?
Let’s start with 2 posts I have seen about Christians about Autism.
On September 23, 2023 the following title came across my news feed.
“Pastor resigns from Stoutland School Board amidst backlash from autism comments during a sermon” by Michael Hoffman.
Let’s pause on 2 things. This person is a pastor and in a sermon said abusive things about autism and he served on a local school board which should be part of making sure all children in that district are adequately served by the local school system. What did he say?
“Well, either the devil has attacked [children with autism], he’s brought this infirmity upon them, he’s got them, or God doesn’t like them that much. My God doesn’t make junk! How about we cast that demon out and then treat the problem?”
He said in the follow up that people got confused by what he was talking about when he referred to junk, so he added “Autism is born from a demonic spirit.’ By junk I meant, autism, that condition, the illness, the neurodivergence.”
A second post, on a post Neurotypical Wife in Neurodiverse Marriage - Prodigal Pieces, she was posting about her marriage and autism in her family system. A lady named Jane publicly posted on her blog/comments the following: “Autism is caused by a spirit and it can be cast out through prayer and fasting (KJV). The NIV leaves out the fasting but that is important. This has been effective with children with autism...I don't know a lot about adults with level 1 aspergers/autism. There is often other unrepentant sin coupled with the autism, so deliverance of commanding the spirit to come out -naming it by name-pornography, lust, and pride, etc works. Most of the spirits were cast out through commanding them by name in Jesus Christ's name. Some, like autism, only come out through prayer and fasting.
Autism is not who the person is and it is stealing, killing (sickness), and destroying the person who has it and those who are affected by it.”
So these are ignorant opinions that do not understand science, neurology and that some brains are in fact different.
Why would this cross the line to religious/spiritual, psychological or emotional abuse?
Why is Dr. Holmes taking this personally?
Let’s look at an excerpt from our book from my daughter Sydney as she struggled with self-acceptance and mental health and believing that being “fearfully and wonderfully made” couldn’t possibly relate to her when some said the same to her or about her having a demonic spirit or needing autism to be “cast out of her.”
Growing up in a Christian home and children’s church, there was a verse that I really struggled with hearing and believing. I grew up being taught that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and God did not make mistakes. I believed this for a while, but this verse became a struggle for me in my middle school years. As a literal and black and white thinker, I would be told, God loves you, and you were made for a purpose. I even sang the song, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Was that true about me? When the words “syndrome” or “condition” or “disorder” are used to describe you and define you, this verse is hard to believe. In fact, most of my childhood and during the middle school years, those around me, from teachers and administrators to church workers, literally did not want me around and often spoke of how quirky or bad of a child I was. I was tolerated and treated like a burden or the “issue.” Then add being on the spectrum. I am told that I was made this way, this was part of my neurological wiring. This didn’t add up. If God made me this way, and I am not a mistake, why do church workers and school leaders and eventually peers not want anything to do with me? Something must be bad or wrong about me; therefore, God is not good, or His Word is not accurate. Both these opposing things could not be true. I would hear the Word of God about being wonderfully made, and the church workers said it…. but how many adults treated me did not parallel these words. My parents and grandparents would say, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made,” and my parents told me they prayed to have me that they wanted me as a daughter. However, the opposing voice in my head was often louder during my middle school years, which began to set up some cognitive dissonance for high school and my walk with Christ. I just wanted to be liked, to belong, to be chosen. During middle school, my peers did not want to hang out with me, and they were literally telling me that everything about me was wrong, from how I dressed, how I talked, what I liked, being a Christian, being too smart, and now, being too good or a goody two shoes. So those verses above did not click or feel real to me.
A Word for Pastors and Christians, Especially Pentecostal/Charismatic Ones: Ignorance is not bliss! Ignorance can cause little ones to stumble! Sydney’s thoughts:
For those who are educators, and especially those who are Christians and church leaders, your words matter and so do your actions. I would have many years of poor mental health and even question whether I should have ever been born, or do I want to continue to live on this earth where people are so mean to those who are different. We who are black and white thinkers are watching that words and actions are in alignment.
May I challenge you to ponder these verses:
John 13:35: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
So, this sounds like a serious thing to God to cause a young child to doubt God, hate themselves, and reject them in a place that is supposed to reflect God’s love. Creating an inclusive church and welcoming church is not just a kind and heroic thing to do if the church has enough funds, it is what is required and biblical. I hope you will turn to the appendices and look through the resources for further training and equipping for welcoming and including children who struggle with the challenges that I once had, to help them feel belonged, that I rarely did at church.
If you want to move from “ignorance” to compassionate care and serving neurodivergent people, marriages and families with love. We have a resource for you as a family on the journey or anyone who is ready to learn and serve this population.
Embracing the Autism Spectrum: Finding Hope & Joy Navigating the Neurodiverse Family Journey. You can find it below, pass it on to pastors and churches to learn more about resources for that next step on learning how to serve neurodivergent people and neurodiverse families well.
Sydney shares her journey and lived experience and how Christian adults and educators shaped her experience both positively and negatively.