Ken Connor, Center for a Just Society
“Theological courage calls the inner-man to ignore his buckling knees and take theologically driven stances that, while potentially controversial, are righteous in nature.” So write Owen Strachan and Andrew Walker in a recent article discussing Hobby Lobby’s stance against Obamacare’s onerous trampling of religious liberty.
The idea of martyrdom, be it physical, social, or financial, is a strange concept to the American mind. The word conjures images of ancient inquisitions, tyrannical princes, and subjugated peoples. In the modern context, we hear stories of brave souls standing up for liberty in the face of Communist regimes in North Korea and China or fundamentalist rulers in Iran and Pakistan. We certainly don’t think of a big box retailer nestled in the heart of the suburban American landscape.
Americans are living in an age, however, where the actions of government increasingly come into conflict with Christian values. As issues like abortion and gay marriage continue to insert themselves into the cultural milieu, Christians and other traditional-minded Americans – including those of other religious faiths – find themselves marginalized and even demonized. The moral authority increasingly rests with those who control the narrative: big government, Hollywood, and the mainstream media. In the world of Barack Obama, George Clooney, Bob Schieffer and those like them, it is the folks at Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign who are on the right side of history. There is a war on for the soul of America, and the growing perception is that it’s the Christian remnant who are wearing the black hats.
In the face of this reality, the language of martyrdom is once again becoming relevant. Modern examples of those who are being persecuted by the state or popular culture for their fidelity to their faith include the owners of Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby. Both entities have been blacklisted by the reigning “moral authorities.” Both have paid the price for espousing their faith in the public square. Right now the price may just be public opprobrium, or in Hobby Lobby’s case, fines. But as we allow government to burgeon, the price will undoubtedly get higher. As Strachan and Walker point out, look what happened in Nazi Germany. National Socialism grew and grew and gradually took control over every area of life. The church was timid and even complicit in the growth of oppressive statism and the persecution of “undesirables,” and soon there was little resistance from the wider culture. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and leaders of the Confessing Church were some of the only ones brave enough to say “no,” and ultimately paid the price of resistance with their lives.
In America today, our culture is quickly crumbling as traditional institutions are weakened and hollowed out from within. We need people of courage and conviction to speak truth to power. People who will challenge the prevailing orthodoxy and speak with a clear voice of resistance. People who will show the rest of society that there is another and better way. In short, we need the church.
So the question to Christians across the country is: Are we willing to speak up? Are we willing to resist, willing to speak truth to power? Will we refuse to render to Caesar that which is God’s, or will we roll over and let government steamroll all we hold dear? Resist the urge to dismiss such questions as paranoid hyperbole. That mistake has been made before. Let us learn a lesson from history and prepare ourselves to stand as defenders of the faith in the face of an antagonistic and increasingly authoritarian cultural and governmental regime.
Ken Connor is an attorney and co-author of Sinful Silence: When Christians Neglect Their Civic Duty. He is also chairman of the Center for a Just Society.
1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Rom 12 1-2 esv
3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
(Col 3 3-10 esv)
Kenny Hinson (1953-1995)
“Call Me Gone”
Call me a dreamer
Cause I call it mine
Heaven, but I don’t care
And call me crazy
Cause I’m homesick for it
Yet I have never been there
Call me a stranger
Cause that’s all I am, I know I don’t belong
Call me anything but when He calls me
Call me gone
Call me gone, I’ll be leavin
Call me gone, you’ll be grievin’
If you’re left here without Jesus to call on
Call me gone, no more heartache
Call me gone, and all that it takes
As for me to hear Him call me then call me gone
(This verse is to be spoken)
You know I’ve been called an awful lot of things in my lifetime
And to be honest smart wasn’t always one of them
But thank God I was smart enough one day to call Jesus Christ the Lord of my life
And it was then I called it quits to a whole lot of sinnin
But it’s because of that commitment that a lot of people laugh at me and call me foolish
Aw.. but let em go ahead and laugh…
That don’t bother me at all, cause any fool can see,
but the shape she’s in that this ole worlds gonna fall,
But just as long as I know Jesus, I’ve got nothing to fear
And when the role is called up yonder,
Don’t you call on me cause I ain’t gonna be here!
A few weeks ago, my 6-year-old daughter, Elle, drew all over her forehead with a marker. As her class was walking down the school hallway, the vice principal pulled her out of line and, pointing to her forehead, asked her, “What’s all this?” Elle looked at him for a moment, then stuck her finger in his belly and said, “What’s all this?” As Mr. Pratt, the vice principal, told us this story later that day, he walked off muttering about his need to go home and do some crunches that night.
Elle has autism. She always says what she thinks. If you don’t want to know how she really feels about something, you’d be better off not asking. To say Elle makes life more interesting would be putting it mildly.
In the United States today, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that 1 out of every 88 kids has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASDs include “classic” autism, Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder. In lay terms, it includes kids you may simply find to be somewhat quirky or odd, ranging to kids who have serious social disorders. That 1 in 88 number is 78 percent higher than it was only one decade ago. There’s fierce debate as to whether autism is occurring more frequently now than it did in the past or if it’s simply being diagnosed more accurately. Regardless, it results in a sizable segment of children today—and then, of course, there are many other special needs besides those within the autism spectrum.
So what, if any, obligations do Christians have to those with special needs? And what can we do to help?
To answer the first question, the central story of Christianity is of the strong helping the weak. A great, all-powerful God was willing to live amongst the flawed, imperfect people whom He loved in order to lift them up. Jesus chose to surround Himself with people who were not the academic or social cream of the crop. People who were “not good enough” were always welcome to Him. If we choose to ignore those who seem to be broken in some way, we quickly become the servant who, being forgiven a great debt, refused to show mercy for a small one.
Perhaps we look at the fact that when Jesus encountered somebody who was mute or exhibiting drastic behavior, He always ends up casting a demon out of that person and we wonder whether people with mental issues today have a physical issue (like a chemical imbalance or neurological disorder) or if Satan has a hand in it somehow.
I don’t know whether mental disorders are caused by the Devil, genetic devolution stemming from the fall of man, manmade chemicals and materials, or gamma rays from the planet Omicron Persei 8. What I do believe is we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus; we must do whatever we can in order to help people in need—which includes those with special needs.
Here are some thoughts that can help prepare you to bring hope and encouragement to people who are fighting to connect with a world that can seem foreign and alien at times.
Isolation leads to depression
Because those with special needs frequently struggle with communication or the ability to interact socially, they can feel isolated, and this isolation can lead to depression. One of the more famous champions of autism, Temple Grandin, has said, “I would not be here now if I did not have anti-depressants.”
Make an effort to interact with people who seem to be different at church, in your workplace or in your neighborhood. People with special needs have frequently been kept apart from the majority of their peers, put in separate classes, treated differently. Church, in particular, affords a chance to stand equally before a God who created us all. Being willing to accept people who don’t necessarily “behave appropriately” all of the time opens us to the possibility of making connections with people who desperately need them.
Kids and teens are the most vulnerable
Special needs adults frequently have the ability to lead lives of varying independence, thanks to coping mechanisms they are able to put in place. They generally know their limits and put together a routine that allows them to process what life sends their way.
Kids and teens don’t have the life experience to manage what’s coming at them in the same capacity adults do. Special needs kids also frequently have trouble with communication, which compounds any issues they may have. I’ll never forget my daughter at 4 years old trying to talk to my wife and me but being unable to and simply breaking down and sobbing.
The first rule of interacting with special needs kids is to start by interacting with their parents. The parents can help you ensure you’re interacting with their child in a positive, meaningful way. Shouting a greeting and hugging a special needs kid could be a disaster. Many kids with an ASD have sensory issues (that is, trouble processing outside stimulus), so shouting would actually hurt their ears; many also have an aversion to physical touch, so a hug would upset them; and many have anxiety problems, so a stranger approaching them would put them in a great deal of fear. You could set a child off for the rest of the day despite your best intentions. Let the parents tell you what their child is and is not capable of handling. Take your cues from them.
Refuse to be condescending
Not everything a specials needs person does should be commended, just as we don’t commend everything done by a person without special needs.
Somebody who has trouble with verbal ticks (making sounds when you’re supposed to be quiet) or needs to handle sensory issues perhaps by getting up and walking around at an unusual time or using a handheld stress ball—or in the case of a kid, needing to be squeezed or play with toys—should not need to be glared at or thought less of in a group setting for being somewhat disruptive. But if somebody begins to cross over from acting out of their disability to acting out of disregard for others, it’s OK to address it.
For instance, if somebody with special needs brings a tambourine to church and plays it loudly out of time in the congregation, we do not need to say, “Bless his heart, let’s just encourage him as he praises!” Instead, we should invite them to the band practices or maybe offer to give lessons, asking that the tambourine playing doesn’t occur in the midst of a service until the music leader gives the OK. In some areas, giving a person with special needs the same standard as everybody else is the highest form of respect. We must know the difference.
Obviously, special needs vary from person to person. It wouldn’t be possible to write a comprehensive guide even on how to interact with only those who have an ASD. However, it is my hope we all see the need to make the effort. Interacting with people who need more grace and patience than others doesn’t only lift them up; it lifts us up as well. The compassion we learn by interacting with people who have special needs, the strength we see in them by refusing to let the world crush them despite their disadvantages, the ability to see the divine imprint even in a “broken” vessel—this deepens and strengthens our faith. And as we stretch out our hands to those who are weaker than us, I believe we can and will receive the same treatment from the One who is greater than us all.
In addition to being the youth minister at Christ’s Community Worship Center in Columbia, Md., Thomas Christianson is an adjunct professor of religious studies and philosophy at Stevenson University. He has a master’s degree in practical theology from Regent University and blogs at www.thomaschristianson.com.
John 1:15-17 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.