The Universal Message of Big Tent Judaism

While Big Tent Judaism was designed for Jewish communal institutions, its message is universal. The idea of creating an opening and welcoming environment is one that transcends Judaism – it can be applied to any religion seeking to grow and strengthen their community. That’s why we were disheartened to read about a church in Minnesota that filed a restraining order against the parents of a 13-year-old autistic boy in order to keep the boy out of church.

The church claims the boy, who stands at 6 feet and over 200 pounds, is unruly and out of control, and it’s for the safety of the parishioners that the boy be kept out of church. But the boy’s parents say the claims are exaggerated, and that his autism, while sometimes difficult to manage, does not put the other churchgoers in any danger. They are upset the issue has been turned into a criminal matter.

Since we are not involved in the matter, it would be futile for us to say who is right and who is wrong. What concerns us is the message this might send to others who care for family members with disabilities. Religion shouldn’t discriminate or shut out anyone who might find comfort in its tenets, and we hope the boy and his family ultimately find a parish where they will feel welcome.

1 Comment

  1. What a disheartening situation! It breaks my heart to hear it… but unfortunately, it’s all too common.

    I work with individuals with developmental disabilities… and I spend far too much time advocating for them to be able to worship a Higher Power as they see fit. It’s always the same excuses “they’re too noisy” or “they’re disruptive” or worse “they frighten children.” I often ask myself what happened to tolerance and acceptance and “judge not.”

    Last summer, I was advocating for an older client who wanted to go to church to “holler and sing and play tambourine.” Her staff was very defensive about the whole matter, “She can’t do that in a Catholic church.” The client wasn’t Catholic. For some reason, no one wanted to take her back to the church she grew up in — where she could hoot and holler and shake her tabourine to her heart’s content. They wanted to take her to THEIR church (where she would be seated in a sealed room with other parishoners in wheelchairs), not to where she wanted to go.

    I’m sorry to say that she died without ever making it to church that last time.

    Right? Wrong? My two cents worth: wrong. If organized religion is not truly about loving kindness and acceptance of every soul who longs for G-d, what are we doing here? Religion shouldn’t be about reinforcing and validating our prejudices and fear and bigotry. Religion should make us more broad-minded, not more narrow in our thinking. Regardless of which path you claim to follow, there’s probably an admonition to love your neighbor, or to love the stranger.

    Excluding people with different abilities is unfair to everyone. When we exclude them, we shut ourselves off from the richness of their experiences and all the lessons that they have to teach us about ourselves.

    Working with people with disabilities has shown me the true meaning of what it means to be made in the image of G-d…

    I am so sorry to hear that a church, a house or worship, saw fit to take a family to court in order to validate its discriminatory policies. What a shame. I can only hope that its clergy and administration see the error of their ways and reach out to the family and others like it… and most of all, that the family finds a place of worship that is warm and welcoming and loving.

    Comment by Lori Ellison — June 2, 2008 @ 10:57 pm

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