Wednesday 1 August 2018

Autism, Christianity, LGBTQ. Why it's important. Safeguarding. Caring.

A picture of a heart-shaped hole in a rock, through which a rainbow can be seen, and small bird flying across

There are different beliefs about God and what he thinks of LGBT+ people.  

In the Church of England, it's still a difficult subject for some, though recent research shows that the number who are e.g. against equal marriage has dropped a lot in recent years. (British Religion in Numbers website).

There are huge differences in the answers given by people of different ages. The chart below is from research on attitudes to equal marriage done by Jayne Ozanne's group in 2016.

It shows that below age 34, most CofE people are fine with equal marriage.  But over age 55, a majority are not.  That opposition from the over 55s is dropping, too.  But, of course, in many churches, most people are over age 55.  And most powerful people in churches are over age 55.  So we have a church where it's been difficult and sometimes dangerous to be openly gay in some places, for example. Where it's been acceptable to be called all sorts of unpleasant things, and told to Just Forgive.

What we do know is that when people get to know e.g. a gay or lesbian married couple, living ordinary lives, doing ordinary things like everyone else, as neighbours, work colleagues and friends, they usually can't remember what they were objecting to.

I am one of many people communicating for and with the autistic population.  About 3 in every 100 people are autistic.  About 2 million in the UK, on the best and most recent workings-out e.g. the count of all school age children in Northern Ireland, for example.

And at least 3 out of every 10 autistic people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, queer, asexual, intersex, etc.  In other words, part of the LGBTQ population.  The figure for autistic females is higher, at around half.  So, that's about 600,000 autistic people who are part of the LGBT+ communities, in the UK.

Yes, perhaps half the autistic women in the country are part of the LGBTQ population.  

Autistic people are as likely to be Christians as anyone else.  As likely to be churchgoers, church leaders, musicians, organists, treasurers, youth workers.  No, I'm not joking.  We made it so awful for people, when they disclose they're autistic, that we forced people into hiding.

Now, we have a genuine bit of thinking to do here, as a church.  Why?  Because we know that autistic people are often a vulnerable population, with a suicide rate nine times higher than others.  Dying on average at age 54 after a lifetime of difficulties caused by society.  So many are homeless, having been denied jobs as well.  We know that they are routinely targeted for bullying, ostracism, fraud and every other form of crime. We know that the rates of targeting for sexual assault are sky high, to use a phrase.  3 out of every 10 autistic women are victims of rape, for example.  Some 6 out of 10 are likely to be diagnosable as having trauma conditions, after what's happened to them. 

These aren't 'angry activists' and 'dangerous/toxic people', storming the gates of your church.   Many are understandably fearful of the people around them, for really good reasons.   Most are communicating using a different body language and spoken language method to you, which so often leads to misunderstandings between the two cultures (autistic and non-autistic).  Such good research out in these last couple of years on this.  Try for the links.

If e.g. half of autistic women are part of the LGBTQ communities, struggling to survive, what is our response to those tens of thousands in our parishes?  Is our response to lock the church door in their faces, or bring them in for a good bit of condemnation? Or leave them for the nearest predator in the church to prey on?  To throw a medicalised phrase their way, or perhaps put a fiver in the collection box for some autism charity and hope God approves?

 And is that what God asked us to do? 

Or is that bread and wine for all who want to follow Jesus?  In love?  Is that safe fold, watched by the Good Shepherd, only for some of the flock, or for all who yearn to follow Him?

If wanting a safe church for autistic people leads people to see me as a warrior, that's OK.   But it's not war I bring.  It's fellowship.  And maybe that's the thing some fear the most....because to make our churches a place where all belong takes acknowledgement of fear-of-difference, and that's a hard thing to do.

We are commanded to see everyone as being made in the image of God.

Leave no-one unloved.

Thank you for reading, from this autistic member of the LGBTQ community, who follows Jesus, and always will.