By / Nov 7

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that roughly 25% of the United States population has a disability. Within Christian thought, theologians such as Amos Yong, John Swinton, and Sarah Barton are elevating disability as a theological focus. Even further, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) has published numerous articles on disability, and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has passed resolutions about the topic. So, what is disability, and how does the Bible lead us to respond to it?   

What is disability?

Within the field of disability studies (a generally secular, interdisciplinary academic discipline), most scholars consistently agree upon three frameworks through which society understands disability and how persons with disabilities function in the world: 

Biological: The biological view of disability contends that disability is a biological dysfunction of  an individual person. To correct the disability if at all possible, medicine is used to repair what does not properly function. 

Social: The social view of disability asserts that disability is a social construct. Eliminating disability would mean constructing society in such a way that each person can fully participate in society without restriction. 

Moral: The moral view perspective of disability articulates disability as a special moral status, either as a punishment for a sin or as a particular blessing from God. Neither is substantiated by scientific or theological view, but belief in this theory is common. 

In considering the validity of each of these frameworks to explain disability, it ought to be noted that most people with disabilities do not use the moral perspective to think about their disability in any meaningful way, as it is largely considered to be pejorative to those with disabilities. Further, the biological and societal framework can explain the same disability in different ways. 

Disability in the Bible 

How does the Bible explain disability? While the Bible never offers its own definition of disability, it provides much to think about regarding the role of disability, particularly as it relates to God and his redemptive work. 

The doctrine of the imago Dei found in Genesis 1 necessarily includes persons with disabilities. A person with a disability, regardless of the type of disability, is equally made in the image of God, bearing the same dignity and possessing the same responsibilities of personhood that all people retain. 

Additionally, as the story of God and his people unfolds throughout Scripture, it cannot be told without the integral role of persons with disabilities: 

  • Jacob/Israel’s limp was a physical disability obtained after wrestling with God (Gen. 32:32).
  • Sampson was blind (Judges 16:21). 
  • Jonathan had a son with physical disabilities (2 Sam. 9:13). 
  • Zachariah was temporarily non-verbal (Luke 1:20). 
  • Even Paul, a stalwart missionary of the faith and Christian writer, not only suffered visual impairment, but regularly referenced his “thorn in the flesh,” an allusion Alan Hisey and James Beck argue is a reference to continued visual impairment.  

This is not to say that the Bible is a monolith regarding God’s response to disability. For example, consider the man with the withered hand in Mark 9. Jesus heals the man, and when the disciples ask why the man was disabled (a cultural question referring to the possibility of physiognomy), Jesus responds by saying it is for the glory of God. If Mark’s story were to be prescriptive of disability in the Bible, then disability could be understood as a form of worship to serve as edification to God. However, not even Jesus responds to disability in the same way in every situation. Conversely, the story of Zaccheaus offers a new texture to the discussion of disability.

As Amos Yong argues based on his study of the language used to describe Zacchaeus, he likely had congenital dwarfism, a permanent physical disability. When Jesus and Zacchaeus meet, Zacchaeus is never physically healed, but this does not stop him from receiving the forgiveness of his wrongdoings and immediately participating in the work of God. The story concludes with Jesus calling Zaccheaus a “son of Abraham,” a culturally significant identifier demonstrating his spiritual lineage as a direct descendant from this father of the faith. 

In light of the complex understanding of disability that the Bible offers, the most fundamental conclusion is that persons with disabilities are made in the image of God and continue to be used by God to bring about his economy on Earth. And as we apply modern understandings of disability to Scripture, light is shed on how one can think about disability and the people of God. This is not to be a summative explanation of all there is to think about disability. However, by studying the Bible from a particular angle, the richness and complexity of the text can be made robust as we pursue in greater depth and clarity of who God is and how he continues to work today.  

3 Christian responses

What then is the proper response to the Bible being full of stories of how persons with disabilities are a necessary part of God’s redemptive work? The following are just three potential responses for Christians seeking to more closely embody the heart of God: 

1. Read: One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the world of disability as constructed in the Bible is to read books written on the topic of disability that consider it from a Christian perspective. Consider books such as Connor Bales’s Counted Worthy, Amy Kenny’s My Body is Not a Prayer Request, or Henri Nouwen’s Adam. Each of these books offers a compelling story of life proximal to disability and reflection on how that speaks to the Kingdom of God. 

2. Participate: Perhaps you live in a community that is resource-rich and can provide the social infrastructure for persons with disabilities to actively participate and be involved in the community (organizations such as L’Arche USA, Camp Barnabas, or Reality Ministries do a great job in this capacity). By becoming involved with such organizations, a common life is created with persons with disabilities, offering a foretaste of the divine economy in that each person is recognized as a full and equal member of the body of Christ.

However, though this is not possible for all persons and churches everywhere, it this does not mean one should fail to work toward participation in the mission of God as it relates to persons with disabilities. A great place to start is with this resource written by Andrew Bertodatti on how churches, regardless of resources and capacity, can better incorporate each person to their community. 

3. Pray: While reading is a noble way to become more informed, educated, and aware, it is not the same as in-person experience. Although not all communities have developed social infrastructure for full inclusion of persons with disabilities, this does not mean there are no persons with disabilities in the community. By praying for not only an awareness of persons with disabilities in your community, but opportunities to become friends, learn from, and be formed by these people also made in the image of God, we avail ourselves for the Holy Spirit to work in profound and transformational ways in our lives. 

By / Jul 13

In 2016, California’s assisted suicide law called the “End of Life Option Act” was passed which allows terminally-ill patients who meet specific criteria to request lethal drugs from their physician to end their life. The law requires patients to receive clearances of mental competency and terminal status from two doctors and undergo a waiting period before acquiring the drugs. The 15-day waiting period was shortened to only 48 hours by a 2021 revision to the law. 

A lawsuit brought by a collection of disability rights groups and two individuals with disabilities alleges that California’s assisted suicide law discriminates against people with disabilities and minorities, who often fail to receive proper diagnosis and medical treatment. The petitioners in the case explain that the law “steers people with terminal disabilities away from necessary mental health care, medical care, and disability supports, and towards death by suicide under the guise of ‘mercy’ and ‘dignity’ in dying.”

What is the case against California’s assisted suicide law about?

Ingrid Tischer was born with muscular dystrophy, which has required her to seek medical attention her entire life. Unfortunately, Tischer contracted pneumonia in 2021, leaving her especially weak. When she requested therapy to regain her strength, the doctor denied her request saying, “Well, I mean, look at you, there’s nothing we can do for you. And you’ve known this is coming for a long time. So why are you surprised?

Tischer is just one victim of what the plaintiffs call “steering,” the effect on disabled and terminal patients who have difficulty receiving the care they need. The result may compel people to seek assisted suicide to reduce their perceived “burden” on their families, doctors, or the healthcare system. While the doctor did not directly recommend assisted suicide to Tischer, his response implied she was untreatable and unworthy of any other assistance.

The other individual plaintiff, Lonnie VanHook, has quadriplegia and requires around-the-clock care. VanHook says he could not get the necessary hours of medical assistance he needed, which left him depressed, even considering assisted suicide. VanHook is a victim of “attendant deficiency diagnosis.” Medical care was the solution to VanHook’s depression, not suicide.

Proponents of California’s assisted suicide law say that safeguards are in place to prevent non-terminal patients, like VanHook, from accessing lethal drugs to end their life. However, some have challenged this notion, citing the 2021 revision to the law that reduced the waiting period from 15 days to 48 hours and the eradication of other protections as leaving more people vulnerable.

The lawsuit claims the End of Life Option Act violates equal protection and due process laws in the 14th Amendment and the anti-discrimination provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. The disability rights groups argue that while the coercion is not explicit, the healthcare system’s shortcomings for people with disabilities can implicitly push them toward choosing assisted suicide. 

What is assisted suicide?

The term “assisted suicide,” or “physician-assisted suicide,” is the act of ending one’s life through prescribed lethal drugs to cease the suffering caused by a terminal illness or incurable disease. 

It was first introduced in the United States in Oregon when the 1997 Right-to-Die law was enacted. Since then, 10 states and the District of Columbia have implemented laws allowing assisted suicide. Canada has also legalized what they call, “Medical Aid in Dying,” or MAID, a superficial term for assisted suicide that dilutes the gravity of the undertaken action.

What is the issue?

Assisted suicide laws create significant life and human dignity issues that reflect our society’s larger disregard for the value of life. Genesis 1 tells us that we were created by God and possess inherent worth. With such a respect for life, we have been commanded, “Thou shalt not murder” (Exo. 20:13). The Hebrew word “ratzah,” translated as “murder” in the passage, includes death caused by carelessness and negligence. While assisted suicide is not direct murder, individuals involved are intentionally assisting in taking a dignified life created by God. 

Doctors are sworn to the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm,” but what greater harm is there to a living patient than to help them end their life? Individuals with disabilities and those experiencing mental health crises should be met with care and compassion—not with encouragement to end their life.

A former lawsuit against the law filed by a coalition of Christian doctors protected them from assisting in the suicide of patients because of their deeply held religious beliefs. While the religious liberty of these doctors should be protected for valuing the lives of their patients, the existence of this law continues to devalue the life and dignity of terminally ill individuals and those with and disabilities.

What happens next in the lawsuit against California’s assisted suicide law?

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Central District Court of California at the end of April and creates a potential avenue for sweeping changes to assisted suicide laws around the country. This challenge would likely spend a long time in the court system because of the appeals process. The ERLC will be closely watching this important case.

Why is this important to Southern Baptists?

As Southern Baptists, we recognize that every person is created in the imago Dei, possessing immeasurable worth and requiring the utmost dignity. This principle applies equally to every person, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, or even quality of health and ability. We are called, as Christians, to advocate for the vulnerable like those who are told they are better off ending their lives than living through severe and terminal health complications.

Proponents of assisted suicide erroneously refer to it as “dying with dignity.” However, they fail to see that preserving the individual’s dignity is best achieved by showing them the value of their life amid their trials. Our circumstances do not dictate our worth; it is etched into every individual through God’s design.

In our efforts to care for the vulnerable, we should work to improve the healthcare system so that it provides ethical means of relieving suffering and dignity to those nearing the end of their lives. This does not mean aiding and abetting thoughts of suicide induced by wanting an end to suffering. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” While persevering through trials can feel like an unendurable challenge, we should come alongside those in their suffering and show them their worth in Christ. 

As pro-life advocates, we commit to promoting all life from conception to natural death. We must advocate for vulnerable individuals who are preyed upon by a society that tells them their lives have no worth. We strive for a day when the dignity of every individual is recognized by a society that embraces a culture of life.

By / Jun 23

Helen Featherstone, in her classic work A Difference in the Family, explains that families affected by disability face all the same challenges that typical families face but with differences of degree. All families are responsible for providing for their children’s physical and mental health, emotional and spiritual well-being, education, safety, growth and enrichment, financial security, material needs, and social relationships—to name a few aspects of care. For parents of children with disabilities, the differences of degree are often significant in many, if not all, of these areas. 

The importance of advocacy for children with disabilities

Ensuring their children’s access to these things and appropriate adaptations in certain arenas often requires intensive advocacy on the part of parents of children with disabilities. Advocacy can be defined as “any action that speaks in favor of, recommends, argues for a cause, supports or defends, or pleads on behalf of others.” The need for unrelenting advocacy can be both daunting and discouraging for families affected by disability. In many cases, it continues not just through childhood but over the course of a person’s lifetime. 

One of my most memorable (but not most stellar) moments of advocacy on behalf of my son Tim—who has Down syndrome—came during his last year of high school. A group was meeting to discuss how to secure employment for Tim when he graduated. In the past, the vast majority of our meetings had been not only civil but collaborative and productive. At one point in this meeting, however, Tim’s job coach jumped out of her chair and pounded her fist on the table with the words, “It’s all about safety!” My response was as sarcastic as it was quick: “I thought it was all about getting a job while doing it as safely as possible! If it’s all about safety, why don’t we just get a cardboard box, a roll of duct tape, and a straw for air, and seal him up inside it?” As any good counselor will tell you: a sarcastic comeback is rooted in anger. 

Navigating advocacy wisely can be a “sticky wicket” for Christian parents. We serve a God of righteousness and justice who says the very foundation of his throne is built on these attributes (Ps. 89:14). At the same time, we encounter a world that too often is indifferent to righteousness or justice on behalf of people who are touched by disability. To make it even more complex, Christian parents—as fallen but redeemed persons made in the image of the Living God—do not always accurately reflect God’s character in our advocacy either. How can our redemption and our representation—by Christ our Advocate—transform the ways in which we engage others in advocating for change?

Becoming like Jesus in our advocacy 

Perhaps the most amazing gift that God gives to Christians is Jesus Christ’s role as our Advocate. By living a perfect life, dying a sacrificial death, rising in victorious power, and standing before the Father’s throne on our behalf (Heb. 9:24), Jesus is truly the Advocate above all advocates. As Norman Clayton’s old hymn “My Hope Is in the Lord” says, 

And now for me He stands
Before the Father’s throne
He shows His wounded hands
And names me as His own.

There is no greater privilege than being blessed by the advocacy of Christ through saving faith. Jesus’ advocacy has several dimensions that we too can reflect through the transforming power of his Spirit in our lives as he conforms us, more and more, to his image. 

First, Jesus’s advocacy is fueled by love. The same love that compelled Christ to redeem sinners leads him to name us as his own before the Father. True advocacy is rooted in love. That’s not hard for parents to grasp, as our love for our children motivates us as well. What is harder to grasp is that true advocacy engages all parties in loving ways. It loves the stubborn teacher. It loves the resistant administrator. It loves the condescending extracurricular activity leader. Once grasped, this principle is even harder to put into action. May Christ’s love for us fuel us with overflowing love for our children and for those with whom we must work on their behalf.

Second, Jesus’s advocacy is sacrificial. In order to successfully advocate on our behalf, Jesus had to pay with his very life. Advocacy always costs the advocate something. And the need for advocacy will never completely go away in this lifetime because we live in a world that is wracked by the effects of the fall. That doesn’t mean progress will not happen. It means perfection cannot happen. Expect advocacy to be hard. Parents of children with disabilities have an Advocate who fully understands the cost. 

Third, Jesus’s advocacy is unrelenting. Jesus is an Advocate. It is who he is. It is in his divine DNA. When love is hard, when sacrifice is costly, parents can remember that Jesus’ advocacy will sustain us into eternity. So, rather than resisting the role of advocacy on behalf of children with disabilities—or worse, becoming bitter about the obstacles in their pathway—parents can embrace advocacy as part of God’s calling on their lives. In the words of the author of Hebrews, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1–2). To follow in the footsteps of Christ our unrelenting Advocate is not just a difficulty to endure but a privilege to embrace. 

May a renewed understanding of the blessings of Christ’s advocacy on behalf of the Christian parents of children with disabilities bring much-needed encouragement. As we stand up for these precious children and seek to meet their needs, may we display a picture of what a loving, sacrificial, and unrelenting Savior we have.

By / May 21

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss Dr. Moore resignation from the ERLC along with his move to Christianity Today, views on masks guidance, the latest on Israel and Hamas, Texas signing a six-week abortion ban, and SCOTUS taking up Mississippi case. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jordan Wootten with “How do we make sense of modern culture? An interview with Carl Trueman about The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,” Ethan and Michaela Holsteen with “The importance of the church when dealing with disability and grief: How one family leaned into community after their child’s diagnosis with Cri du chat Syndrome,” and Jared Kennedy with “3 subtle sins to warn your kids about: Any why it matters when wrestling with sexual temptation.”

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Russell Moore to Join Christianity Today to Lead New Public Theology Project
  2. Onward.
  3. Mask guidance
  4. Latest on Israel and Hamas
  5. Texas governor signs into law bill banning abortions at six weeks
  6. SCOTUS takes up MS case

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  • Every person has dignity and potential. But did you know that nearly 1 in 3 American adults has a criminal record? To learn more and sign up for the virtual Second Chance month visit prisonfellowship.org/secondchances.
By / May 20

The Indispensable Podcast, hosted by Ethan and Michaela Holsteen, is a ministry of the Louisville Regional Baptist Association (LRBA). In the podcast’s second episode, Ethan and Michaela sat down with Robert and Hollie Brookman to hear about their family’s experience regarding the challenges and blessings of navigating special needs and the church. 

The LRBA was kind enough to allow the ERLC to transcribe a portion of that episode below. You can listen to season one of the podcast on their website or Apple Podcasts. Season two will be released soon. 

It’s exciting to be able to highlight a story about one local church’s ministry to a special needs family and also to celebrate how a local association of churches is working toward disability awareness.


Introduction: (00:00)
Grief can be isolating. When we go through loss, we often want to shrink back to put up walls and pull ourselves away from others. However, what we most often need is others around us, helping us to look up from our current situation to see how God is at work and be reminded of what is true, not ignoring the pain, but learning how to walk the path of suffering well while in Christian community.

Ethan Holsteen: (00:40)
In this episode, we had the privilege of sitting down with Robert and Hollie Brookman in their home to talk about their experiences wrestling with an unexpected diagnosis and realizing the value and necessity of the church community.

Michaela Holsteen: (01:04)
Robert and Hollie Brookman have three children. And at the time of this recording, Hannah was 3 1/2, Clara was 18 months, and they had another baby on the way. Hannah has Cri du Chat Syndrome. It’s also called 5p- (Five P Minus), and it’s a rare genetic disorder. According to the Five P Minus Society website, only 50 to 60 babies are born with this syndrome in the United States every year. Can you tell us a little bit more about Cri du Chat? What does that look like?

Hollie Brookman: (01:41)
Yes. So it is a rare genetic condition where she is missing a portion of her fifth chromosome. And really all that means is that it causes some developmental delays, and can cause some health problems too. It is a spectrum disorder. So it’s all over the map. One person with Cri du Chat may or may not have any of the same characteristics or qualities as the next person with Cri du Chat, but it does result in some developmental delays, both physical and cognitive, and for Hannah right now at 3 ½ , it looks like not being able to walk on her own without holding onto something and not being able to communicate verbally right now.

Michaela Holsteen: (02:45)
After Ethan and I heard a little bit more about Hannah’s disability, Hollie and Robert described the season of life before Hannah was born. Early on in pregnancy, physicians told Hollie and Robert that Hannah was developing slowly. At around 15 weeks, the doctors referred them to a high-risk clinic, thinking that Hannah might have had Down syndrome. However, after some noninvasive testing, Hollie and Robert received the news that Hannah likely had 5P-.

Robert Brookman: (03:14)
Results came back, and we got the phone call from the genetic counselor saying, “We think it’s Five P Minus. Our first reaction was to immediately go online and look up everything we could about that. She told us not to, but right off the bat we found a lot of resources from the Five P Minus Society, which is the national support society for families

So, we felt like we were going to wait to follow up with a lot of that stuff until the diagnosis was actually confirmed. But I mean, overall, our first reaction was, I don’t know how you would describe it, but . . . 

Hollie Brookman: (03:59)
Well, the testing that we did was not conclusive testing. I think that’s kind of important for that to be established that it was a screening, and they really couldn’t, say, give us a percentage of how likely it was going to be, but only that it was very possible. And so our reaction was, “Well, let’s just not tell anyone until we know for sure.” It would have been the day that she was born when we would have figured it out. So we had several months where our first reaction was that we’re just going to keep this to ourselves. And we’re not going to tell anyone outside of maybe our parents and siblings. We were just holding onto this on our own and not really sharing it with anyone or trying to reach out or anything like that. And we lasted, how long do you think we lasted?

Robert Brookman: (04:54)
We got that phone call on a Friday, and we said, “You know what, we’re not going to tell anybody; we’re going to keep this to ourselves until we get conclusive results. We’re just going to operate as if that phone call hadn’t happened. And, um, that lasted for a day and a half. I remember on that Friday, we did not want to be alone. We called pretty much everybody in our community group to see if we could go out to dinner with somebody just to get out of our house and stop thinking about it. But you can’t stop thinking about . . .

Robert Brookman: (05:59)
So, I led our family down a very bad path. I know that for a fact. That first day we found out about this thing, it was like, “We we’re just going to . . . I told you, “We’re not going to tell anybody about this. We’re going to hold onto this. We’re not going to talk to anybody about it until we find out.” That was totally the wrong thing to do. Like just totally backward. Then we felt, “We need to tell somebody. We can’t hold on to this. Like we’re already crumbling under it, and it’s been 36 hours.”

Robert Brookman: (06:30)
It finally just hit us that if we are in a community group with a church that keeps saying that community is meant to be a support and to help carry the load and bear a lot of those burdens, and yet we’re not willing to let community do what it’s supposed to do because we’re just going to hang on to this out of our own pride and out of our own, you know . . . It’s our first kid, what do you expect? You just kind of go into it with rose-colored glasses thinking everything’s going to be fine, because that’s most people’s deal. You don’t really ever think, “Oh, the first one’s going to have a genetic disorder.” So, yeah, we made it probably a day and a half before the first people we told, who were our parents.

Robert Brookman: (07:16)
It was something to finally start to unload that. And then, you know, Sunday, obviously, we met with our community group and it was just like, this is going to be difficult to even just tell people this, because of fighting a lot of those feelings of pride and of worry and anxiety and all of it. But you know, people surprise you with how they react to stuff and you think, Oh, well, I’m so focused on how I don’t want to share this that I’ve totally lost sight of how everyone else is going to react in an encouraging way. And that’s all that we received — just encouragement time and time again.

Hollie Brookman: (08:19)
It was several months of ups and downs of emotions. And I was so thankful that we did share with our community group, because I had a lot of women in our group who were pouring into me and pointing me to the truth and reminding me that God is still good in this and that he still has a plan for her life and that it’s to glorify him no matter what she looks like, no matter her genetic makeup, no matter if she can walk or talk. And it was just so important for me to be able to hear that, to hear something that was true rather than what a lot of people’s first reaction is when you tell them something like this: “Oh, well maybe, maybe the test is wrong or, well, maybe she’ll outgrow it, or maybe . . . or, man, that’s really stinks. You do not deserve to have this happen to you.”

Hollie Brookman: (09:15)
And so it was really good that we did share it, because there were people that we trusted who were wise that could be praying for us and could point us to biblical truth throughout those months when we just didn’t know what was going to happen, but we were still processing and mourning what we thought our child was going to be coming to terms with — what God was giving us — which in the end it was still good even though it didn’t necessarily feel good at the time.

… 

Michaela Holsteen: (12:11)
So what were some specific Scriptures or biblical truths that you were clinging to during that season?

Robert Brookman: (12:17)
The one passage that I constantly go back to, that I read very early on during the pregnancy after we found out about 5P- was John 9. It’s Jesus and the disciples walking along, and they come upon a man that was born blind. So, the disciples at the beginning of the chapter lean over and they’re like, “Hey, do you know who sinned, this man or his parents, to make him born blind?” And Jesus’s reaction is, “That’s not the point. The point is not that someone did something that caused this. The point is that God’s strength and power and plan would be shown through this person’s life because he was born blind.” And then, you know, the chapter continues on, but that first five or so verses of that chapter where that interaction happens, there’s so much you can pull from that.

Robert Brookman: (13:10)
I mean, the fact that it’s not the Pharisees that are asking this question, it’s the disciples. It’s the people that you would expect to have the right answer and to know what to say in that moment who are the guys that end up asking just a really ridiculous question. And the fact that Jesus says that the point is not something happened because of something they did. You know, I think some people have the idea that special needs or things that happen like that are born out of some kind of circumstance whether that’s spiritual or otherwise. I don’t think that has anything to do with it. God has predestined people to be born differently than us. And so you know, for us, that was a really huge piece of Scripture. It was just saying that Hannah was going to be born the way she was not because of anything that we did, not because of sin in our lives that caused God’s wrath to come down on us in the form of this special needs child. Instead, it was all about the fact that God wanted this to be a part of our family’s future. And there was a plan behind it all. 

… 

Hollie Brookman: (15:03)
Yeah, it definitely shifted our focus from being internal to asking, “What is the purpose of this?” Ultimately, it’s to glorify God somehow. We might not see it now. We might not be able to conjure up some reason why God would put this in our lives, but it’s to bring him glory. And we’re going to understand that someday. I don’t know when, but we will understand it someday. What helped me in the transition from mourning the idea of what my child, my first child, was going to be like and wrestling with those emotions that come with that but not wanting those emotions to take over and make me feel like I didn’t deserve this and that God was not being good and that God was punishing me for whatever reason was: I kept being pointed to this story that comes out of Mark 9, where there’s a boy with an unclean spirit and the disciples bring this father and the boy to Jesus because the disciples have been unable to cast the spirit out.

Hollie Brookman: (16:05)
And so the man says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” And then Jesus said to him, “If I can? All things are possible for one who believes!” And immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” And that was something that I had to cry out to the Lord about often when I was in tears and a complete mess —j ust in those spirals of emotions. And at the same time, knowing God is still in control and God is still good, but there’s parts of me that didn’t believe that in those moments. And so just crying that out over and over again was something that I did as we were working through this. And that stuck out to me. And that’s something that a wise woman that I had talked to about what was going on had pointed me to from the beginning. And it’s just something that I clung to throughout the whole season of our life, where we didn’t know what was happening.

Ethan Holsteen: (17:08)
After much anticipation and a challenging delivery, Hannah was born. Her diagnosis was quickly confirmed for Robert and Hollie when they heard their newborn daughter’s unique cat-like cry which is characteristic of Cri du Chat syndrome. Further genetic testing made the diagnosis official. However, instead of feeling the anguish of anxiety upon confirmation of Hannah’s diagnosis, by God’s grace, they felt peace as well as the excitement and joy of finally meeting their daughter.

Michaela Holsteen: (17:39)
Three years later, Robert and Hollie have welcomed another little girl into their family and are awaiting the arrival of a third. Their life is not what they originally expected, but the joy and hope that they have in the faithfulness of Christ is evident. Their days now are filled with lots of laughs, spilled oatmeal, trips to multiple therapies, and filling out endless Medicaid waiver forms, yet they wouldn’t change a thing.

Ethan Holsteen: (18:07)
What does church life look like for your family? Some of the positives, some of the challenges.

Robert Brookman: (18:12)
Yeah, so, our church doesn’t have a ton of special needs individuals in it to begin with. Especially in the kids’ ministry, there’s just not that many kids with special needs. And so, you know, us being the first, as we were looking for that John 9 purpose and asking, “What is the thing that God’s got in store for us as a family? Not only just for Hannah’s life, but for us,” we thought, “Maybe this is part of what God’s wanting us to do — to get our church involved in special needs.” Our whole mentality was leaning into our church family, not away from it. That’s what we did with our community group. I think most people’s first reaction when something hard happens is to lean out. You tend to draw away from church, because of either pride or hurt or feelings of isolation thinking, “I’m the only one dealing with this, so no one else will really understand it.” Our first tendency as people is just to get away from people, but the need is to lean in.

Robert Brookman: (19:58)
And so for us, that meant, “We’re not going to pull out of church or stop serving just because we have this child that’s medically complex, that has a lot more needs. We’re going to make it easy for our church to minister to her. So whether that was educating our leaders; I know we’ve met with our church leaders a bunch of times just to talk about how we as a church can better support special needs individuals. 

Robert Brookman: (20:47)
So we met with them to talk about that stuff. And we met with families that regularly served in Hannah’s classrooms to make sure that. . . . “Hey, I want you to understand that when she’s doing these things, here’s what these things mean.” We put together a book of signs after she had started signing, you know, most people don’t know ASL, “But in case she starts doing something where she needs to communicate with you, we want you to be able to understand what she’s trying to get you to do. And so here’s a little book of what the signs look like.” So for us, it was more about equipping the people that were there to serve us and make it as easy as we could on them so that we could continue to lean in.

… 

Hollie Brookman: (22:59)
People have been super gracious and just really wanting to serve our family in this area. And so that has been really encouraging for us — the way that our community group has come around us and adjusted the way we do things in our community groups so that we can still be involved but also not neglecting the needs of our children. But just that has been really, really encouraging for us, learning what the church body is actually supposed to look like. You know, just in general for me, that has been really helpful. I’ve just learned that, wow, this is what God is talking about when the early church is being formed in Acts and we see them bearing each other’s burdens and helping each other in all these different ways. We’re really experiencing that on a weekly basis.

Michaela Holsteen: (23:57)
Their church’s response could be summed up in two words, understanding and collaboration. First understanding that Hannah’s participation in Sunday school will look different than most and also understanding that she’ll need unique and individualized care when it comes to spiritual formation and discipleship into the future.

Ethan Holsteen: (24:17)
And second, collaboration, not in the form of a support group like Robert and Hollie originally thought but rather church members coming together with pastors to form what Robert described as a spiritual care team, a team of church members working together to help people with disabilities inside their church regarding their individualized needs, inclusion, and spiritual growth.

Ethan Holsteen: (24:41)
What would be one encouragement that you would share with families struggling to find their place in the church with a child with special needs?

… 

Robert Brookman: (25:49)
Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but you’re not a member of a club. You’re a member of a body. You are not meant to go and be a consumer and only be ministered to. The whole point of a church is, yes, you go and learn things and you can be ministered to, but every person in the church serves a different role. You know, some are meant to encourage, some are meant to go, and some are meant to speak. Some are meant to be encouraged and others are meant to be encouragers, but nobody in the church is meant to be an appendix — that part of the body that no one knows what it does. And if you got rid of it, no one would care. As a member of a church, you have a job. And that job is not just, “Oh, well, I serve, I sing on Sunday mornings. Oh, I do this thing.” That job is to be there and be a part of it. And it all comes back to leaning into church and leaning into community versus leaning out. The gut reaction in times of trials and trouble and things like that is to pull away. Emotionally, it’s the first thing you want to do because it protects you. Or at least it feels like it’s going to protect you.

Robert Brookman: (27:18)
We think, “If I pull away, then I don’t have to share the hard stuff. I don’t have to be vulnerable in front of people. I don’t have to have my pride hurt. I don’t have to share my life with anybody. And that all feels really okay in the moment. Then you get down the road a couple of weeks, a couple months, a couple of years. And it’s just like, “Man, why in the world did I pull away from that?” Or worse “Why didn’t they pursue me? Why didn’t they do all this stuff?” And it totally leaves off your responsibility to be a two-way street. Lean in. 

… 

Hollie Brookman: (30:18)
And I think along with that, just being willing to be that awkward person in your community group that starts crying when there’s a bunch of new people there and they have no idea what you’re talking about. But for me, this diagnosis has taught me so much about my own pride before Hannah was born. I didn’t really understand or value the church body or value a community group. And the way that God’s timing worked out is incredible because he got us involved in the community a couple of months before we got pregnant with Hannah, and he just used that whole situation to teach me that everyone is broken and everyone is dealing with something. And he has designed people to need other people, to need the church body and to work together to encourage, and to point one another to truth.

… 

Hollie Brookman: (31:42)
My encouragement to others is just as Robert was saying to lean into it and be willing to experience something that’s uncomfortable for the purpose of experiencing what God intended the church body and community to be. 

Michaela Holsteen: (33:43)
One of the things that I really appreciated about Robert and Hollie was their transparency when it came to their initial reaction to lean away from the community and to work through this on their own. Even in the early stages of finding out that their baby could potentially have a diagnosis and how they very early on realized that they actually needed to press into the community. And they found so much comfort and support, even in surprising ways, ways they didn’t expect it.

Ethan Holsteen: (34:17)
I think once they were in that community and were interacting with the church, the church’s response was what struck me was, “Let’s create a team of people with the parents, with other people from the church to help serve this family well.” And I think that’s a good example that you don’t have to have a special needs ministry, like a formal one, in order to care. Just get with the family and do something.

Michaela Holsteen: (34:45)
Right. And they also talked about using the skill set of members that are already within their church. So if you’re a part of a church, there’s probably going to be nurses there, there might be physical therapists, occupational therapists. There are so many different people that are already members of your church with skills that can be utilized in caring for those with varying needs.

… 

Michaela Holsteen: (36:10)
Thank you for listening to the Indispensable Podcast. For more information about Cri du Chat Syndrome, check out FivePMinus.org.

By / May 3

If you’ve not heard the word “neurodiversity” yet, you might soon — and I trust your life will be richer for it. Neurodiversity identifies people whose brains and bodies process information differently than much of the population. 

The fall of mankind means that we live in a world where our bodies and brains don’t function perfectly. Even though that is the case, the dignity of all humans as image-bearers of our triune God should still be affirmed and celebrated within the body of Christ. So why does it feel like many of us have been waiting too long to hear the church speak to these issues in a meaningful way?

We’ve been trained to see diagnoses like ADHD, autism, dyslexia, or sensory processing disorder as purely deficit-based, measuring people negatively against a set of normal brain functions. But advocacy on the part of neurodiverse people themselves is beginning to flip the script. And fortunately, our society is beginning to see the value of people with neurological variations instead of seeing those people as problems. For Christians, this is welcomed news. We, of all people, should be able to see the beautiful way that God uses us in the midst of our challenges, difficulties, and sufferings.

Looking for love in unfamiliar places

Author, hip hop artist, Christian, and autism advocate Sho Baraka raps in a verse of Propaganda’s “I Ain’t Got An Answer” and captures the tension of life in a neurodiverse household as a parent of two sons diagnosed with autism:

It’s apparent sometimes I think I’ve failed as a parent. 
And my son having autism is rough.
But maybe he don’t speak cuz words don’t say much.

Maybe he don’t need words to communicate his love.
And sometimes his silence causes me to stumble.
It’s possible he’s a version of me that’s more humble.
And I think my child finds more joy in playin with my phone,Than playin’ on his own.
Will he shed a tear when I’m gone?
I’m wrestling with the shame of an outsider view of me,
Cause life is the spotlight on my own insecurities.
But I know his laugh, it lights up a thousand rooms.
And when he speaks to me it just like a flower blooms.

Baraka has shared publicly about how initially he didn’t want to disclose his boys’ diagnosis, wrestling with the world’s expectations of his boys and of him as a parent. Once he used his platform to share his family’s story, though, he said he received hundreds of notes from others saying he made their family feel represented.

Similarly, in his new book, Disability and the Church, Atlanta pastor Lamar Hardwick recalls a dual reaction when he shared his diagnosis and changed his Facebook page to “The Autism Pastor.” Being honest about his autism with his congregation opened the door for many families who — seeing the label — felt comfortable going to his church because they knew they would be cared for and prayed over, and that their worth would be acknowledged by “having a seat at the table.” While Hardwick says he respects people’s right to disclose or not disclose their diagnosis, he has been hurt by other Christians who indicated it would be better for him as a leader not to identify so freely as someone with autism.

Hardwick knows firsthand that “families and individuals with special needs don’t need us to rush them through the valley. They need us to walk with them slowly and deliberately . . . . Good shepherds go at a pace that works best for their flock.” 

I can attest from my own experience that the pastors who best understand my sister (who is neurodiverse) are the ones who themselves have children with disabilities. The level of patience and kindness they demonstrate is always from a place of knowing. I’ve also seen too often that such empathy is a rare commodity in the church. 

What can you do? 

If families with special needs are the most underrepresented demographic in the church, how can churches reach out to, get to know better, or shepherd neurodiverse families? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Don’t pathologize — Do some research

Neurodiversity is not one-size-fits-all and doesn’t necessarily always come with an official diagnosis. Spend time listening to neurodiverse people and reading some books on the subject.  You may be surprised to find out just how inaccurate and hurtful some ideas you have about ADHD (“That just means he’s hyper all the time”), autism (“Oh, he’s like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, right?”), dyslexia (“She’s just a slow reader”) are — let alone the pain that comes with dismissal (“Those aren’t real problems; it’s all overdiagnosed”). 

If you have a friend who has been diagnosed (or perhaps their child or a relative has), ask if they are comfortable sharing. If so, ask what things they enjoy about themselves and about neurodiversity in everyday life. Read websites from autistic people, people with ADHD, or dyslexia, and you will see that every story is unique.  

Several churches in my hometown of Chattanooga have “buddy programs” or “parents’ night out” to help make care and love for special needs families part of the regular ministry of the church. They want to be known as families who open their arms to serve others who otherwise might be overlooked, and then retain them as valued members. If Christians take the time to think through their social networks (school, neighborhood, workplace, sports leagues, etc.), they might recognize that they actually know several neurodiverse people. Are we seeking out them out for community within the body of Christ, or do we see them as an inconvenience or “high-maintenance” relationships to be avoided?

2. Support and accept them like Jesus would

When I think back to some of the trauma my sister endured in public schools in the early 1990s because of her neurodiversity and other special needs, the church was often one place my family could count on to go and have people support them. Thankfully, my sister’s behavior was not always a barrier for inclusion. Yes, she might talk your ear off about snakes, medical news, or whatever she had just learned about, and her volume might be louder than you anticipated for a conversation, but everyone knew how much she loved coming to spend time with the body of Christ every week. 

To this day, people from the churches my family has been part of still take my sister to run errands or to her various volunteering jobs because she cannot drive. Neighbors ask her to dogsit. She has tutored children at the local elementary school. She longs for a reason to get up in the morning, and Christian community is one of the few places where her dignity is actively being restored.   

3. Advocate for neurodiversity in your church 

If a member of your church is chronically misunderstood because of their behavior, don’t let others ridicule them or make jokes at their expense. If someone has an nontraditional idea or suggestion about ministry and shares it with church leadership, leaders should pause and ask themselves why they are uncomfortable with the out-of-the-box thinking or inconvenience before they say no. 

Neurodiverse people are very aware of power dynamics because too many are used to having their actions misinterpreted by those in authority. Youth leaders need to be especially vigilant and proactive about advocating for inclusion where possible by educating parents and children on issues of disability and acceptance. 

The easiest way to advocate for neurodiversity is to encounter it from an asset-based approach — ask what strengths the person brings to the church body before asking what they may lack.

Three years ago, my husband and I joined a new church to be closer to home. One of the big draws there was the wide range of neurodiversity represented in the congregation. Parents were open about their children and diagnoses, including our pastor’s son. It has been a major encouragement to see our daughter, who is diagnosed with ADHD, feel represented and understood by other parents and peers when she comes to church. This gives me hope that others will see that kind of inclusion as foundational to the church’s mission, and I pray that the Lord will give us his heart for those the world often leaves out.

By / Apr 28

Ten years ago, at my son James’s three-year well visit, I decided to be honest with his pediatrician about the delays we saw and the concerns we had. I wrote this at the time: “He doesn’t talk, but he used to. He doesn’t play with other kids. He doesn’t react when his dad gets home from work. Sometimes, even though he’s in the room, it’s like he’s not really with us.” At that appointment, she checked for skills he should have had at that point. She asked him to draw a circle. He couldn’t. He couldn’t even hold the crayon. She asked him if he was a boy or a girl. He said nothing. She asked me if he could dress himself. He couldn’t, but he did love to undress himself (a problem since he was not even close to being potty trained). At the end of that appointment, she gave me a number to call at the school district to set up an appointment for more testing.

A couple months later, my husband Lee told James to do his “best worst” as we walked into the elementary school where James would go through an official evaluation. Our prayer was that they would get an accurate picture of what he could do and not do. We met with a speech therapist, occupational therapist, and psychologist. After an hour of playing with James and asking us questions, they left the room. When they returned, the psychiatrist sat down with us while the SLP and OT went back to playing with James. She said, “Based on his testing today and our observations, we believe James has autism.”

It’s been 10 years since that diagnosis day. Ten years of therapy, special education, nights with very little sleep, diet changes, trying new medicines, and adjusting our expectations for what life should look like as we parent our 13-year-old son with level 3, profound autism. 

There have been many, many days I have echoed the prayer of Habakkuk, “How long, Lord, must I call for help and you do not listen?” (v. 2a, CSB). And although Habakkuk was praying very different prayers from what I pray now, God’s answer to him brings me hope as well: “Look at the nations and observe—be utterly astounded! For I am doing something in your days that you will not believe when you hear about it” (v. 5b). 

Look and observe. 

The progress James has made may not seem like progress to most. But when I really look and observe, I see miracles. Just this week we walked into our church’s sanctuary, James wearing his noise-reducing headphones to block out some of the sensory input, and his anxiety stayed low enough for us to say hi to friends before it was time for him to go to his class (where, because of the disability ministry our church offers, he’s able to hear the gospel message week after week in an environment where he’s comfortable). Every time he answers yes or no, every time he skips out the backdoor to swing independently, every time he practices and practices a new skill like using a spoon or drying off with a towel, I “look and observe” what God is doing in his life.    

Be utterly astounded.

As thankful as we are every time we see him gain a new skill, if James never progresses beyond where he is now, God is still at work. He’s at work not only in James’ life, but in my life, our family, and my ministry to other special-needs families. James teaches me more about God’s love for me than anyone else I’ve known. I love him because he’s my son, not because of anything he accomplishes or goals he meets. God loves me because when he sees me, he sees his Son. Even all my accomplishments fade away when compared to what Christ has done on my behalf. As Paul wrote, “Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil. 3:8b-9a). I am “utterly astounded” by God’s love and care over us day after day. 

When I look ahead 

As we sat in that room at the elementary school 10 years ago, we couldn’t have imagined where we’d be now. Even getting an autism diagnosis only helps so much, because every autistic person is so different. There was no way to know then where we’d be today. But as I look ahead at the decades to come, I take strength from all God has done in the last 10 years. 

A refrain I see in the Old Testament is to remember and tell—remember what God has done and tell others about it—reflecting and reminding, observing and articulating. These practices, over and over again, point me to the hope I have in God through Christ. I know he will give me strength to face our next big challenge because he hasn’t failed us yet. I know he will give me wisdom to make future decisions because he’s been guiding me each day. I know he will provide for James even when I can’t because I’ve seen him do it all along. 

I turn again to Habakkuk as I reflect, and like the woman in Proverbs 31, I can “laugh at the time to come” not because I have everything figured out, but because I don’t have to. I can “take joy” because He is my strength.

. . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength; (Hab. 3:18-19a)

By / Apr 16

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss the death of Prince Phillip, Russia, the shooting of Daunte Wright, the court ruling on Down syndome abortion, current FDA recommendations on the J&J vaccine, and the no-hitter thrown by Chicago pitcher. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Chelsea Patterson Sobolik with “Explainer: What you should know about the debate in Congress about the Born-Alive bill,” Andrew Bertodatti and Lamar Hardwick with “How can churches be more inclusive of disabled person?,” and Jill Waggoner with “How learning about trauma changed my life: Learning from The Body Keeps the Score.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Gary Lancaster for his farewell episode. 

ERLC Content

Culture

  1. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, dead at 99
  2. US sanctions Russia over hacks
  3. Russian troops massing on Ukrainian border
  4. Officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright charged
  5. Court ruling on Down syndrome abortion law praised
  6. FDA recommends pausing J&J vaccine after 6 reported cases of blood clots
  7. White House says J&J pause will not have “significant impact” on vaccination plan
  8. Duke University to require vaccinations for fall semester
  9. No-hitter thrown by Chicago pitcher
  10. Turner’s cheesy HR makes LA 1st to 10 wins

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By / Apr 16

He was a professional skier. During a competition he was favored to win, he lost control on the downslope, plunged 30 feet off course, and rolled like tumbleweed down a hill until a tree trunk broke his fall. When paramedics found him, he denied any pain, but repeated over and over, his voice taut with panic, that he couldn’t move his limbs. 

Days later, he lay in an ICU bed with metal screws and rods fixing his spinal column into place. We’d saved his life, but couldn’t save his spinal cord, and he remained paralyzed from the shoulders down. Hour after hour he stared at the ceiling, and when we examined him each morning, he’d answer “yes” or “no,” but said little else. 

Then one day, his nurse motioned for us to talk with her in private. She looked stricken. “I offered to brush his teeth, and he suddenly burst into tears,” she said. “He says everything he cares about is gone, and that he doesn’t know who he is anymore.” 

I am lost 

Although few experiences are as devastating as quadriplegia, outbursts like that of this young man echo in every hospital hallway. When an accident or sudden illness assails us, our first desperate pleas are for our survival, and when we escape with our lives we gush with gratitude. In time, however, the dust settles. We stare dumbfounded at our strange surroundings and realize that the lives through which we once absentmindedly strolled have disintegrated. The images we took for granted have burned up, and the elements of ourselves we most highly prized crumble into ash. 

In such moments we can lose sight of who we are. Severe injuries that leave us disabled not only impair us physically, but also can threaten our understanding of our identity, value, and dignity. 

I remember the lament of a man who survived a stroke, only to sink into despair when he could no longer provide for his family. 

A woman for whom I cared would moan through the night from searing pain in her dying limbs, but refused amputations because she could not fathom life without the freedom to walk. 

Another woman cried in anguish when an operation cured her thyroid cancer, but forever altered her singing voice. 

Such stories highlight that even when we escape a health catastrophe with our lives, every disaster leaves a mark. Some scars so disfigure us that we no longer recognize ourselves, and like Jeremiah stumbling through the ruins of Jerusalem, we cry out, “I am lost” (Lam. 3:54). 

Called out of the darkness

And yet, when we look with dread upon the pieces of our fractured lives, our worth derives from something far more permanent, far more precious than these scattered fragments. Our worth doesn’t derive from our self-reliance, our talents, or our independence. We can’t earn it via anything our trembling hands accomplish. Rather, our worth springs solely, wholly, beautifully, and immutably from Jesus. His blood, for ours. Our renewal, caught up in his. 

Our true and foremost identity has nothing to do with the vigor of our limbs or the keenness of our eyesight and everything to do with the truth that we are image-bearers of God (Gen. 1:26), loved by God (John 3:16), and made new through Christ (Rev. 21:5).

Consider the words of Peter:

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet. 2:9–10).

In Christ, when God looks upon us, even in our lameness, even when we cannot recognize ourselves, he sees righteousness and holiness, a reflection of his own marvelous light. 

A child of God

One day, after a horrific accident, you may glance in the mirror and struggle to recognize yourself. You may remind yourself that you are a spouse, a mother, or a father. You may remember that you were a lawyer, a teacher, or a bus driver. But first and foremost, remember that in Christ, you are a child of God. Revisit John’s declaration: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; And so we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Cleave to this truth if the steps you took for granted decades earlier now feel like labor. Revel in itw hen the person you envisioned yourself to be seems a distant memory. When the days unfold before you like a path plunging into the fog, the destination hazy, and the journey bleak, dare to rejoice that all meager, worldly identifiers shrink before who you are in Christ

As a follower of Christ your identity, now and forever, is as one called out of the darkness into his holy light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). By that light, you conform to the image of God’s Son. By that light, God wraps you in his love. And nothing, not illness or death, not halting speech or a crippled limb, can snuff that light out, or enshroud you from its brilliance (Rom. 8:38–39). 

This article was adapted from Glimmers of Grace: A Doctor’s Reflections on Faith, Suffering, and the Goodness of God, Crossway, April 2021.

By / Apr 12

Lamar Hardwick was 36 years old when he discovered he was on the autism spectrum. As a pastor, his diagnosis prompted a journey of considering how the church treats its disabled members. Disability and the Church: A Vision for Diversity and Inclusion is a practical and theological exploration of the church’s responsibilities to the disabled community. Often disabled persons are overlooked, pushed away, or made to feel unwelcome. Hardwick insists that the gospel affirms God’s image in all people and offers practical strategies to build stronger faith communities that better include disabled brothers and sisters. He shared his valuable insights in the interview below. 

Disability and the Church is not only pastoral and theological, it is personal as well. Why did you decide to write it?

In December of 2014, after years of silently struggling with social anxiety, sensory processing challenges, and a host of other challenges, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger’s). I was 36 years old at the time of my diagnosis. Although I had already been in pastoral ministry for several years, my discovery led me to examine the difficult journey that I had into pastoral leadership and many of the ways that autism had apparently impacted my experiences with the church. I realized that among all of the success that I had experienced, there were still significant barriers that I had to overcome. A large part of my calling to serve the church is to help the church understand how it can become more accepting and inclusive of the disability community, a community that is often not represented well in local churches.

What were the circumstances leading up to your autism diagnosis?

Although I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult, I always knew that I was different as a child. I began to understand that there were significant differences between me and other children around the age of 7 or 8 years old. The best description that I can give is that it has always felt like the world was in on an inside joke that I didn’t understand. In 2013 when I was transitioning into a lead pastor role at a church, I hit a proverbial wall. I was really struggling with making the transition socially, and I had begun to hear stories of people reporting having negative interactions with me. 

Until that point, my ministry had primarily been serving the youth and young adults of the church. I like to joke that all teenagers are socially awkward, so socialization wasn’t as much of a struggle for me. Eventually, I had to ask myself the difficult question, “What do people experience when they experience me?” It was a tough question to ask, but I knew that I was missing something, and I needed to find the language to articulate what I had been struggling with my entire life. I would eventually seek help from a professional psychologist who would diagnose me with autism spectrum disorder.

How did your autism diagnosis impact you? How did it impact your ministry?

My autism diagnosis actually provided me with much-needed clarity as well as confidence. For the first time in my life, I understood myself in a way that made sense and that helped relieve me of the pressure to be someone that God did not create me to be. I had spent my entire life trying to be the type of person that everyone thought I should be, which was extremely difficult to maintain. When I was diagnosed, I felt a sense of relief. I finally accepted my humanity and became more confident in God’s plan for my life. I actually spent approximately two years with the therapist that diagnosed me working on unraveling the very complicated history of living so long without a diagnosis. As a result, my ministry actually begin to flourish. As time moved on, I began to gain a greater sense of what God was calling me to do in service to his church. For me, getting a formal diagnosis made my life, ministry, marriage, and parenting much more enjoyable.

You titled your introduction “A Love Letter To The Church From An Autistic Pastor.” What do you hope the church understands after reading your book? 

My prayer is that the church understands the profound love that the disability community has for the local church. The disability community has long been knocking on the church’s doors not just because we need the church, but because we love the church. 

How does the biblical theme of table fellowship speak into conversations about disability and the church?

In Luke 14, Jesus attends a dinner party where a man with a disability is also invited. Upon seeing that the party hosts only invited the man to exploit him and to trap Jesus in a Sabbath day controversy, Jesus heals the man and dismisses him from the dinner party. Jesus later tells a story at the dinner party about how to build a banquet. The banquet, or table fellowship, was an analogy for the kingdom of God. In both his address to the party hosts and in his parable, Jesus prioritizes the disability community as the community that is first invited to the table. In inviting them first, Jesus demonstrates that building his kingdom and his church begins with inviting and including this community that is often pushed out on the margins. Unfortunately, we continually build the banquet (the church) backward because we don’t prioritize the disability community first. 

What advice would you give to individuals with disabilities who would like to serve in the church?

The church has been a difficult place to navigate for disabled persons. I know this struggle well. With that in mind, I believe that persons with disabilities have incredible insight, wisdom, and gifts to offer the church, and I would encourage them to contend for their faith by finding ways to contribute those gifts. As a Christian, belonging to and serving in the church is a part of their birthright, and it is time that we help the church grow by offering our service to the church Jesus is building. It may be challenging to find just the right opportunities and location to serve, but don’t give up. The church needs you. 

How are individuals with disabilities overlooked in conversations about diversity and inclusion? How can the church amend this oversight?

The disability community is actually the largest minority group in the world. Around 20% of the world’s population identifies with some form of disability. To have a robust and honest conversation about diversity, we must turn our eyes to the largest and often marginalized minority group in the world. As the church continues to push the boundaries for becoming more ethnically and racially diverse, we need to zoom out and pay attention to a much broader definition of diversity.  If we can address the issue of disability within the diversity conversation properly, it will empower the church to become much more efficient at addressing issues of racial and ethnic diversity. 

What are ways that the church can advocate for and champion disabled persons?

I often say that you can discern an organization’s commitment to diversity by evaluating who it allows to lead. If the church truly wants to champion people with disabilities, we must become more intentional about placing disabled persons in leadership positions within our churches. Their voices will be crucial in shaping the future of our churches and will assist us with the necessary learning needed to strengthen the church’s commitment to this community. Without the voice of leaders with disabilities in the church, there will always be a void of disabled people in the church. 

What are some unique lessons the church can learn from our disabled brothers and sisters?

One of the primary images of the life of faith found in the New Testament is the image of the ongoing contest between flesh and the spirit. The Apostle Paul writes about it often. In many ways, persons living with disabilities know this contest well. Our bodies often make decisions for us that we do not choose, many times leaving us with only our faith to help us forge forward into a world that is not always accommodating or understanding of the challenges we face daily. In many ways, people with disabilities model the contest between flesh and spirit in very practical, everyday, ordinary ways. Our bodies are in constant competition with our hopes, dreams, and faith in a better, brighter future. In that reality, I believe the church can learn from the disability community about the role of faith in a Christ-follower’s life. 

You can purchase Disability and the Church: A Vision for Diversity and Inclusion here