A friend who is an ordained minister shared this intriguing article, in which a pastor wonders about how to baptize an autistic teenager,
“…one of the requirements we have at our church is that everyone who is being baptized will give a short verbal confession of faith in the baptistry as to his or her faith in Christ and salvation experience. But here’s my problem: We have a severely autistic teenager in our congregation who isn’t comfortable talking very much at all and is certainly not comfortable talking to people who are not his parents. He communicates mostly with his parents via iPad. And so how do we interview him for baptism?”
The theological question parallels a very human question asked by caregivers: how do I balance my acceptance of someone who is “different” with expectations that he/she learn and practice typical behaviors?
In Christian thinking, the baptism balancing act is always “How much do we rely on the grace of God, giving someone eternal life as a gift, and how much on the response of that person, showing that God’s gift has been received?” As you can imagine, that’s been worth centuries of controversy. It is behind the differences between churches that will and won’t baptize infants, for example.
Same goes for care giving. To what extent is a “good job” identified by a loving, supportive environment, or by results in terms of a life showing “normal” skills and achievements? What’s the balance?
In our case, our best results have been over on the love and acceptance side. Even medical professionals have praised us for that contribution to Joey’s life. But he’s definitely lagging in life skills. Some of that is autism; but it is compounded by a very human stubborn streak and dislike for “work” (which Joey seems to define as any task involving more than two steps or about ten seconds.)
Balance is, of course, about giving some weight to both sides of an issue. It means that the reality includes both. But balance is always a state of tension, not perfection. Which to my mind adds just a bit more weight to the need for qualities like acceptance, grace and love.