Let me first start out by saying that I am NOT anti-God. I grew up going to church and Christian school, which I know doesn’t really mean much, but I was a youth pastor for a few years.
I stopped going to church completely for many years because I got sick of the pettiness and BS that goes on inside most churches. I mean, why can’t we just be there for God, right?
A year ago I moved to southwestern Missouri that I refer to as the tip of the Bible Belt and found a church that I was moderately comfortable at but not totally. Six weeks, ago when my college-aged daughter moved here, I looked for a church that had a college/young adults group since the one I was intermittently attending didn’t have one.
I found another one that I was a little more comfortable at, but I still wasn’t thrilled with the stares I got when I walked in with my autism service dog, Tye. More than one person asked if I was training him and when I said no that he was my autism service dog, I noticed that the conversations ended quickly—ended by the other parties.
I thought that was strange as Christians are supposed to love all people, but I guess autistics with service dogs make many uncomfortable in the House of the Lord. Who would have figured, right?
Since my daughter found a small group to attend for people her age I decided to do the same. I checked on the availability of groups and found one I was interested in. I inquired about the time and place of the next gathering and made it abundantly clear that I had a service dog that would be attending with me. I asked them to clear it with the hosts since it was at a house and was told someone would get back with me.
A few hours later my phone rang and I was told that we would both be welcome at the gathering and they were excited to have us. I would soon be reminded that Christians are human and don’t always tell the truth.
I was having a major panic attack, as I got ready for the gathering, as autistics aren’t big on social ones, especially ones where they know absolutely no one. I somehow managed to fight my way through the attack, found the house and rang the doorbell.
A man who appeared to be in his late thirties answered the door and asked if he could help me. I introduced myself and said that someone from the church had called to inform them that I was coming to check out the group and that I would be bringing my service dog.
He moved ever so slightly so that he was now completely blocking the entrance to the door and he politely told me that he had no idea who I was, what I was talking about and that he didn’t allow pets in his home.
“Tye isn’t a pet,” I explained to him. “He’s an autism service dog and it’s my understanding that you were informed about this and that you had given the OK for Tye to be here.”
It turns out that none of my statements were correct and I was told that I was not welcome in his home with, “that animal.” I politely asked if someone in the home was allergic to dogs or if there were other animals that may be affected by my dog’s presence.
He told me no, that he didn’t allow pets in his home. After explaining a second time that Tye isn’t a pet, the man told me that the group was starting and that I would need to leave. And without another word he closed the door and left me standing on the porch, bewildered and feeling like a complete loser. I know I’m not a loser, but that’s how it felt for a while.
The experience reminded me that just like the rest of society, Christians have the ability to be completely hurtful a-holes. Here I was, having a huge panic attack just for even coming to the event and the attack got turned up about ten times as I made my way back to the car and drove home in silence before climbing into bed and crying because once again I had put trust in people of the church and once again I got kicked hard in the nuts.
As I drove home and curled up in a ball in my bed I wondered if the others in the house had a clue about what had just had transpired at the door and what their reactions had been or would have been if they had found out? That’s one question I’ll never get the answer to.
This isn’t a “God bashing post”. As I’ve told people over the years, “Me & Him have always been cool, I just don’t dig some of his reps down here on earth.”
To be fair, they’re human and humans do dumb things at times, so I should give them a break of some kind. Tye is there to medically assist me, just like a wheelchair. Had I been in a wheelchair would I have been shown the street? Doubtful, but still, unknown.
Look, we (and by “we” I mean those with conditions requiring special assistance) feel awkward enough as it is on a daily basis as we live our lives outside the comfort and safety of our homes. We don’t need others making us feel bad, or to be honest, guilty, for having that special assistance and wanting to lead a normal life.
Please remember that though we may be different than you in some way, we’re still people with feelings and chances are those feelings have been repeatedly hurt, intentionally or not, by people we counted on to stand on our side.
Am I saying that everyone should let a service dog into their home? Absolutely not. In the instance described above, what would have made me happy would have been for me to have been told ahead of time that the owner of the house wasn’t comfortable with animals in his home, so I could make my own decision about attending rather than standing on a porch and having a door closed on me.
Let’s think about the feelings of others whether they’re considered to be normal or someone with a disability or some kind of special need. And c’mon, face it. Is anyone truly “normal?”
Speaking of churches and those with special needs please join me next week as I lead the Thursday night ConvoCast for the Men’s Mental Health Social Interest Group. My guest will be my friend and colleague, Shelli Allen author of a book about how churches can meet the needs of families with special needs and why it’s an important topic.
Most churches don’t know how to handle children with special needs and each week, families across America are asked to leave churches because of this. Please put this on your calendar.
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Photo credit: the author