A show to watch: Best Kept Secret

I did not catch all of this episode, but this looks like a fantastic documentary about autism and the families and school workers who navigate the transitions as children age out of the public school system.

The web site is here. It looks like you can stream the episode if your public television station does not show it.

Here is the description of the show:

At a public school in Newark, N.J., the staff answers the phone by saying, “You’ve reached John F. Kennedy High School, Newark’s best-kept secret.” JFK provides an exceptional environment for students with special-education needs. In Best Kept Secret, Janet Mino, who has taught a class of young men for four years, is on an urgent mission. She races against the clock as graduation approaches for her severely autistic minority students. Once they graduate and leave the security of this nurturing place, their options for living independently will be few. Mino must help them find the means to support themselves before they “age out” of the system.

What does autism tell us about salvation?

My son Luc is on what they call “the autism spectrum.” His social and verbal development are not typical. Although he seems rather bright in many ways, it is difficult to get a full grasp of his cognitive ability through the layers of sensory processing disorders, compulsive behaviors, social withdrawal, and nearly absent speech.

If my son cannot understand what it means to repent, if he cannot grasp the concept of a savior who died for him, if he cannot believe or trust in Jesus Christ or comprehend even the idea of God, can he have salvation? Can he have holiness of heart and life? Can he find mercy at the end of his days?

A father’s heart, of course, says, “Yes.”

The amateur theologian in me wants to understand why that is a valid answer. My daughter the universalist is not troubled by such questions, but I cannot find any way to read the Bible that does not include the notion that the God of mercy and love and also the God of justice and the things we do and the things we worship are important enough to have consequences beyond the days of this life.

And so, I agree with the traditional Methodists saying that all of us need to be saved and all of us can be saved.

For my son Luc, I wonder how that works? Does the Bible help us understand that?

John Wesley’s doctrine of sin – which is often considered deficient by theologians – takes sin to be an intentional breach of a command of God. Under this definition, if Luc cannot comprehend the commands of God well enough to understand their weight, he cannot sin. As such, he would not actually need justification.

Holders of strong views of Original Sin and I’m sure many other sophisticated theologies would point to the serious flaws in such an interpretation. But I do not believe Luc is a clay pot meant for destruction, so I am searching for a theological framework that honors the authority of the biblical witness and does not give people like me a free pass.