Why we need to speak up as Christians
I came across this small piece of the Bible shared as an image on my time line by a local Methodist preacher I am connected with on Facebook and it got me thinking again.
'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly, defend the rights of the poor and needy'
Proverbs 31, 8-9
Being the overdriven person that I am that never switches off from work, this jumped out at me in terms of autism (which of course it would). I'm often on the hunt for things like this, small challenges to Christians and church bodies. I find some of the best challenges are not always aggressive or forceful, but from a fresh perspective that takes one back to reflect and think how this may be applicable. There is a time and place for both. I don't like shouting really anyway, it doesn't suit me (as I frequently get told) and certainly not in the church environment.
Back to point in case above, this struck me as very relevant to autism and maybe what we, as Christians, ought to be doing for autistic people and the autism community as a whole, for surely we follow Jesus and what he would be doing, right? I think this is where this verse comes into its own. 'Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves' - this is not just the actual act of speaking, but also those whose views are not considered or listened to. Many of us have heard of the current threats to the NHS and in the States, the petitioning and fighting for Obamacare and Medicaid not to be cut. Those who have to shout so loudly to be heard under any parameter. This includes autistic people, who may be invalidated by family or friends as to how they perceive the world and the potential misalignment this might hold and suffering it may cause, including loneliness, sensory input, feelings of failure and much worse; vulnerability and at worse, abuse; burning out from being a square peg being angrily shoved into a circle hole and splintering everywhere. From this verse, I see that we should be ensuring that the autistic voices get heard, we listen, validate and respect and most of all, that through this we show love. We are only human, we can only do our best. But we must not shirk the responsibility that comes with loving. Love isn't just a feeling, it's shown through actions and choices. My view is that as Christians, we should be advocating for those who society deems as 'difficult' and certainly through my studies and experience I have found that autism has been seen by many outside autism circles as highly undesirable, when in fact when you delve deeper beyond the surface it has been there all along.
The next part, defend the rights of the poor and needy, fits along the same line. This is not to say all autistic people are poor and needy and we need to be looked after, we are not all children and infantilising autism does not really help the longer term view of autism; we need to ensure people get the understanding they need. Part of this will be looking to gain understanding ourselves, not to see autism as 'other' but 'part of the ensemble'. Autistic people are not less than those who are not autistic. We are part of the rich body of God that was created in likeness of God. No one part of God's body is more valuable or less valuable than another. Autistic people have been cast in the light of 'poor' and 'needy' through poor media attention, poor knowledge, poor understanding and empathy with us (including many things which I don't touch on normally, like a cure culture) and constant jumping to the wrong conclusions; a worldly definition in all means of the word. Defending the rights of the poor and needy in this instance means getting the understanding and empathy to make the church body and Christian people, not a judgemental body that casts out those that society has hurt and further hurting them.
It does seem that all paths here lead to love. Easy to say and much more complicated in practice due to our own knowledge and understanding of autism but also the fact that not every church, body of Christians or Christian alone will have the same needs in getting 'geared up'. Love is such a small word for such a wide and large implicating concept. Love sits and reflects on what we should do and gets to work, not leaving promises empty. Love, in this case, gets those who are going to be directly implicated (i.e. autistic people) involved, so that we can really speak up with and alongside them. Love places our preconceptions to the side so that we can learn and 'feel alongside' and listen to those who we aim to help. Love is standing alongside us in the picket line when we need to protest, not in a tokenistic fashion but in a manner that shows solidarity, concern for an improvement in how society is and showing we care. Love is finding out correct information from the source rather than feeding negative media hype. Love is respecting and validating. Love is doing the above and not confining it to ideas.
Some people may say it's not relevant to them. I question this greatly - how can you assume that something is not relevant without exploring it and really knowing the needs of the people in your community? Do we really know the people we make company with? With Baird et al (2006) finding a prevalence rate of 1:100, can we really assume we know no one who may come into contact with autism in some capacity? I strongly believe this is something we all need to know, open our ears to and stop assuming.
Most of all, love is what Jesus would do. He hung around with those whom society rejected and did not reject them, not out of pity but out of fighting for justice. Shouldn't we do this too?