The Bible states that God expects His followers to treat those who are less fortunate, disabled or in any way disadvantaged especially well. A verse in the gospel of Matthew makes this command unmistakably clear: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” (Matthew 25:40).
This verse obviously implies that believers are to pay special attention in how they treat someone who would be considered “the least of these.” The chapter in Matthew goes on to explain that in God’s eyes, the way one of “the least of these” is treated is the way He is treated. In other words, a believer cannot turn a blind eye to one in need if he claims to be a follower of God because by ignoring “the least of these”, they are in essence ignoring God.
In today’s society, many argue “the least of these” should be considered children, widows or widowers, orphans and the disabled. It is this last group that is presently being discussed, those who suffer with a disability, in this case a learning disability. According to a recent Christianity Today article, children with ADHD/ADD or autism are the most in need of support. Consequently, one would hope the church would step up and fulfill the command issued in the scripture and see to the needs of these special believers. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening.
It’s worth noting that when it comes to some physical conditions like epilepsy, vision issues, diabetes or asthma, most churches perform admirably. Sanctuaries seem to have no issue being sympathetic to these conditions. However, when it comes to disabilities like those mentioned above that inhibit a child’s ability to interact in a socially normal/acceptable way, some churches fall painfully short. According to three waves of research compiled by the National Survey of Children’s Health, children with autism are nearly twice as likely to be absent from church than children with no health issues. Those with other developmental delays like ADHD/ADD and/or behavioral disorders are also much more likely to never attend a religious service.
“I would like to think that this research could serve as a wake-up call to the religious communities in our nation,” Clemson University researcher Andrew Whitehead said. “In many ways, this population is unseen because they never show up, or when they do, they have a negative experience and never return.”
Whitehead understands personally what parents go through when they have children whose needs are ignored by the church. He has two non-verbal children with autism, and said he understands how difficult it is for parents to take their kids to church.
“We have had a church tell us that there is no way for them to serve our child’s needs and that if we were to attend it would have to be either my wife or I providing him care every Sunday,” he explained. “We’ve also spent over a year not attending because we just didn’t have the strength to try and navigate a new place of worship, try to advocate for our children’s needs, on top of all the other care-work we are involved in throughout the week.”
There is likely no other people group that better fits the description of “the least of these” in the Bible better than those with social or developmental disabilities. While resources are often understandably limited in small congregations, churches as a whole need to do a better job providing care for these special people and their families, no matter what it takes to make that happen. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the church allowed harried parents who fight day and day out to take care of their disabled child the only break they have each week?
Congregations shouldn’t be discouraged if they aren’t currently able to minister to such families. Instead, they should simply be willing to get there. Whitehead says, “Preparation and planning tell these parents (families), ‘We see you, and your child matters to us.’” That is truly ministering to the “least of these.”
~ 1776 Christian