The risk Aspies face with church fellowship need to be realized and respected by neurotypical Christians. This means accepting the decisions Christian Aspies make in regard to church attendance. Most Christian Aspies never find a church where fellowship is a healthy experience for them.
Typical advice to Aspies is, “Be the best you can be.” This reveals the ignorance of knowing most adult Aspies already are being the best they can be. Sadly, that’s not good enough. What’s also unknown by almost all NTs is how dangerous it can be for Aspies to keep trying to be someone they are not. Tony Attwood knows how important it is for Aspies to be true to who they really are, but Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen does not. If he did, he would not say, “More detailed studies are needed…”
This Asperger Ministry wants to encourage Aspies to be the best they can be. This means embrace being different, accept being out of sync with the rest of the world, and don’t expect most NTs to welcome this approach. What’s the risk of not doing so? Suicidal thoughts are 1,000% more likely in adults with Asperger’s.
If Ryo and Craig did this, they probably would not have committed suicide. Caroline (Ryo’s NT mother) would not have been as motivated to explain about Asperger’s and help people understand how different it is from what most of us are used to; how differently people with Asperger’s see and experience the world. Fran (Craig’s NT mother) might have understood how Craig’s “therapy” fueled his suicidal tendency.
Susan said, “Throughout Craig’s life he made herculean, minute-by-minute efforts to become or at least appear normal.” What maybe no one else knows is that he did this because of being warned by one of his therapists, “Being around someone who accepts you as you are ‘messes up’ your therapy.” Ironically, it was when Craig was with someone who accepted him as he was, who he didn’t feel like a failure with, and who genuinely welcomed his company, he removed himself from that environment because of believing his NT therapist more than his Aspie friend who warned him about trying to be somebody he’s not.
Craig once said, “If I don’t receive the approval in gestures when I’m around others in a social environment, then I feel like a complete failure until I remove myself from that environment.” Who could make him feel more like a failure than his therapists? But yet he kept going back to the therapists. The more he went to the ‘mental health’ environment, the worse he got. Going to church can have this same depressing effect.
Ryo’s mother Caroline said, “Maybe if Ryo experienced [your] Christian faith, he would not have committed suicide.” That’s probably true, but having Christian faith doesn’t necessarily mean church fellowship would have been good for him. Ryo needed to be understood; not judged.
Chris says people with AS tend to get very drained by socializing, since it draws on so much of their mental resources. A 46 yr-old Christian Aspie man says, “We Aspies spend most of our life being judged and misunderstood by NTs.” It’s why Aspie Samantha is at her best in the alcove of solitude.
As for other Aspies…
Jenfrog says all her “heathen” friends at work have always been much more tolerant and accepting of her differences than anyone at three different churches has been. She also says no one has been as hurtful to her in her entire life as church people. She’s darn sure that she won’t be trusting them with personal information, seeking to build relationships, or foolishly giving too much of herself again. She has seen these things happen with many other people, as well.
Rachel says she sees the looks when she stands off by herself—(thou shalt not interact unless thou art commanded to come)—but her interpretation skills can be a little off, so that group of women at church she sees as a minefield might actually want me to come and chat. Seriously? This is making friends? You can’t kid her.
Lynne says to this day [Sep 29, 2009], she has found very few “religious” people who have truly embodied the beliefs they espoused. And, she can honestly say, that many of the worst things that have ever been done to her or to people she cared about, have been done by people who professed to be “religious.”
Brant Hansen, a host on Christian radio, says his Asperger’s syndrome makes him feel like an alien at church. He has grown up in churches and is a Christian. He states, “Feeling out of place at work is one thing. Feeling like an alien at church is a whole other matter. Imagine Mr. Spock at an evangelical Christian tent revival, and you’ll get the idea. And my father is a pastor, so I was in church a lot… It’s true, though, others won’t understand me. I know that. I’m still an alien in the American Christian subculture. Each evening I retreat from it, and I go straight to the Gospels. It’s not out of duty that I read about Jesus; it’s a respite. I long for it, because I’m awash in two strange and baffling cultures, both the irreligious and religious. And I long for someone I can finally understand, and someone who might finally understand me.”
NT Stephanie, when describing her Aspie daughter’s church experience says, “The most common stumbling block is a negative experience with Christians. Aspies usually want to have contact and relationships with others… Many individuals with Asperger’s believe that, since their schools, jobs or peers had rejected them or made fun of them, surely the church will be a place to find solace and understanding. After all, the Bible commands us to love God, to love people and to follow the golden rule. This sounds like a welcome refuge to individuals who are often socially rejected, misunderstood and ostracized. But too many times, Aspies experience the same rejection in the church.”
Rejection may not appear immediately. TheatreAS was blown away on his first day visiting a new church. People were genuinely interested in him, started conversations with him, and he became part of the group. This never happened to him before. His assessment is limited to one worship service. A congregation may be curious about him when he first arrives, but the reality is this interest almost always fades away after judgments are made.
NT Steve says churches are to identify the gifts, strengths, and talents of Aspies; then offer them opportunities to use them serving in the church. He does not say what Aspies are to do when churches will not acknowledge their gifts, strengths, or talents.
A pastor says his congregation watches his teenage Aspie son. Most do not understand him, but have learned how to “take” him now and be very “sympathetic.” Tolerance with sympathy shows no appreciation for gifts, strengths, or talents. Does the Bible say, “Because I am not neurotypical, I am not a part of the body?” The Bible does not say that, but the way congregations fellowship does.