The purpose of the episode is not merely to introduce an autistic character, but to show how people with differing abilities can become friends. Sesame Street gently demonstrates the patience and empathy that make up the building blocks of any healthy relationship. It deftly navigates the misimpressions neurotypical children might have when they encounter an autistic person for the first time and shows that a little understanding goes a long way toward making a lifelong friend. When Big Bird first encounters Julia, he mistakes her unresponsiveness to him as a personal dismissal. He must learn that she takes her time answering, particularly when she’s deep in concentration on another activity. While he notices that she does things differently, he soon comes to realize that Julia’s way to play can be a lot of fun.
I see it on nearly every church sign, every church mailing; on the inside fold of every bulletin:
All Are Welcome!
Worship at 9 a.m. Sunday, All Are Welcome!
Potluck Dinner at 5 p.m. Saturday, All Are Welcome!
Vacation Bible School 9 a.m. Monday - Friday, All Are Welcome!
As the pastor of a Lutheran congregation outside Chicago, I find myself tagging it on — almost thoughtlessly — to our invitation cards and mailings as well.
It's almost an auto-signature for churches today: “All Are Welcome!”
And the impulse is a good one. For centuries the church has been exclusive rather than inclusive, despite Jesus' desire to the contrary. We have excluded women, African Americans, immigrants, gays and lesbians, people with special needs, senior citizens, singles, 20-somethings — at times the church has been downright discriminatory.
A friend of mine once told me he was desperate to find a church where he could not only worship but perhaps join the choir and get involved with music ministry. He brought his friend, another professional musician, to check out area churches. They found one they liked and were surprised when the minister asked them into his office. Ascertaining that they were both, indeed, gay, the minister said: "Well, you can attend. But just sit in the back row."
Thanks be to God, my friend didn't give up his search or lose his faith. He has since found an affirming congregation and leads incredible music there.
But too many of us have these stories: The congregation that saw single folks as irrelevant. The congregation that scorned Spanish-speaking immigrants. The place that found people with special needs disruptive.
Fortunately, many churches became aware of the way they had been contradicting the primary, freeing message of the Gospel: that all may be one in Christ Jesus, and that there is no longer Gentile or Jew, man or woman, black or white, slave or free, gay or straight, rich or poor ... (from Galatians 3:28).
As a needed corrective to become inclusive rather than exclusive, churches have hit upon a simple formula. It goes something like this: "Let's add ‘ALL ARE WELCOME’ to everything we publish. Let's make WELCOME the center of what we do."
For the better part of the last 30 years, my father has been a social justice activist serving as a leader within his Christian denomination, most specifically in various leadership roles where he could be an advocate for anti-racism education, universal health care, peace with justice in the middle East, and for full inclusion of our LGBTQ family within the body of Christ.
His activism actually dates back further, to the early 1960s when he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Ala. His work in the 1990s and 2000s reflected a great depth of thought and commitment as he educated himself and others like him about the importance of recognition of the role of white heterosexual privilege in society and the need for collective repentance for ignoring structural sin regarding race, gender, class, and sexual preference. He worked to transform institutions that might inhibit the full expression of personhood for all of God’s children.
It is easy to see that over the coming weeks thousands of evangelicals will withdraw their support from World Vision. And Dr. Moore is absolutely right. As this begins to take place, thousands of children will suffer because of the lack of funding from their former sponsors who decided that this theological and political issue was more important than their life. It is a sad day when followers of Jesus Christ will chose to make a theological/political point by withholding funds from children in life-and-death situations.
It is indeed a sad day for evangelicalism. It is sad because we have willingly put on blinders to hide our eyes from the truth of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have chosen to ignore the entire example of his life and the bulk of his teachings and instead pick up our weapons and engage in culture wars instead of working to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, which, by the way, sums up all of the biblical laws. We have chosen to ignore Jesus’ harsh words to the Pharisees who valued doctrinal rightness over the sacrifice of justice that God has always called us to.