The Culture Wars and the Mind of the Modern Christian

Supreme Court Hears Arguments On California's Prop 8 And Defense Of Marriage ActI was at an ecumenical LGBT meeting several years back.  What we were talking about, I can’t remember, but I remember saying something about the Great Commission found in Matthew 28.  Accross the room from me was a middle aged man from Canada.  I could see him mouth the words “Great Commission” and he had this quizical look.  It was easy to realize that he had no idea what was the Great Commission.

Maybe they do things differently in the Great White North, but I was surprised this man didn’t know something that I considered basic knowledge.

When we think about the culture wars, we don’t really think about what happens when we place something other than Christ at the center.  Warriors are interested in winning the next battle.

The decades long fight over issues like abortion, homosexuality and the role of women have taken their toll on we Christians.  We get so focused on the disagreements, we start to forget why we gather.  We forget that this faith we say we are defending is important. It matters.  It should be making a difference in the lives of the faithful.

I think most of American Christianity has been affected by the culture wars and has left us all the poorer.  A professor at a Catholic university shares her experience:

About five years ago, I taught a course called Christian Beliefs at a Catholic university. During each class period, we would discuss a different topic that connected in some way to the ideas presented in the Nicene Creed. On the first day of class that semester, I gave the students index cards and asked that each fill his/her entire card, front and back, with as many responses to the following question as possible: “What do Christians believe?” I taught that course twice and have not since been assigned to teach another like it, but being the pack rat that I am, I kept those cards and flipped through them last week while planning an activity for my current freshmen. I had almost forgotten just how troubling the responses where…

As I perused these index cards last week, I was taken back to the shock I experienced as a second-year teacher reading the responses my class had provided. A few were easily predictable:

  • “Christians believe in Jesus.”
  • “Christians believe in Jesus as the savior.”
  • “Christians believe that Jesus died for our sins.”
  • “Christians believe that baptism washes away sins.”
  • “Christians believe you need to ask Jesus into your heart to go to heaven.”

But those accounted for such a small percentage of student responses. When asked “What do Christians believe?” almost every student in the class included at least two of the following on his/her list:

  • “Christians believe gay people are going to hell.”

  • “Christians believe gay people are sinners.”

  • “Christians believe gay people are pedophiles and shouldn’t be priests.”

  • “Christians believe that if you’re gay, you can’t have sex.”

  • “Christians believe that you have to choose to be straight if you love God.”

  • “Christians believe abortion is a sin.”

  • “Christians believe abortion is murder.”

  • “Christians believe in protecting unborn babies.”

  • “Christians believe you have to be pro-life.”

  • “Christians believe you have to vote pro-life.”

What saddens me is the reality that a group of young Christians in their late teens and early twenties—most of whom had been Christians their entire lives—were in need of such a basic introduction to their own religion. I see this need emerging again and again in my theology courses, but I’m less surprised by it now after having gained a few years of teaching experience.

Lest you think this is only affecting conservative Christians, “Sara” shares that liberal Christians have the same problem:

With some regularity, I encounter students who identify as liberal Christians but know only about Christian principles of social justice and little to nothing about the theology that undergirds those principles.

The sad truth that I have learned over the years, is that churches are more and more resembling our political zeitgeist instead of trying to be followers of Jesus. We place emphasis on who can or can’t get ordained, who can or can’t get married and so forth than we do on learning about the Trinity. We have fights about the minimum wage, but don’t talk about baptism or evangelism. To echo a recent column by David Brooks, most churches in the US are “streamlined,” a place that places more emphasis on utilitarian things over spiritual ones:

Human nature hasn’t changed much. The surveys still reveal generations driven by curiosity, a desire to have a good family, a good community and good values. But people clearly feel besieged. There is the perception that life is harder. Certainly their parents think it is harder. The result is that you get a group hardened for battle, more focused on the hard utilitarian things and less focused on spiritual or philosophic things; feeling emotionally vulnerable, but also filled with résumé assertiveness. The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.

The life of the church, the questions we have about God, each other and ourselves are pushed aside for the latest news or controversy. Being that I’ve been around the mainline/progressive church, I have seen churches where political issues get upfront and spiritual questions are pushed aside.

I’m not saying that we should not talk about social issues; but we need to be careful that we don’t sacrifice our interior life in the process.


The Anger You Don’t Understand

gay_s640x427One of the bloggers that I love to read is Rod Dreher.  While we share some similarities politically, we are on different sides of the same-sex marriage issue.  Rod has written a number of posts on what he sees as the coming troubles facing social conservatives as the opinion on gay marriage changes.  I decided to comment on a recent blog post.  One of the things he is bothered by is the meanness on the pro-SSM towards social conservatives.  While I agree that there has been a lot of spiking the ball on our side, I thought Rod needs to understand where some of that anger comes from and it doesn’t come from nowhere.

Before I share the response, I want to add that I do appreciate Rod.  He is one of the most honest people I know striving to honor God in the best way he can.  He has helped me see that not all social conservatives are horrible monsters.  So, while I am offering a bit of pushback here, I don’t do it out of anger.  I just want to him (and others) to understand a little about our side and what might be fueling the anger. 


Part of the issue that needs to be addressed is the bitterness that many in the gay rights community has towards social conservatives. A lot of this comes from the pain we have experienced from people who were religious and yet treated their sisters and brothers with cruelty. One of the things that Ross Douthat shared in his Sunday column is the abuse LGBT folk have suffered in the past. I think it is important for social cons to at least admit that some of this vitriol is a knee-jerk response to some of the things we have faced.

The other issue that is a problem is how social conservatives are viewed by the larger society. When I was coming out in the 90s, the image I saw was Pat Buchanan venting at the 1992 GOP Convention in Houston. The image most gays and allies have of social conservatives is one of hateful people bent on destroying LGBT people. It’s not a true image, but it’s there. My view of social conservatives have changed for two reasons: one I take the call from Jesus to love our enemies seriously. Second, I’ve met many social conservatives and see that they don’t have five heads and eat gay babies. Because American society is so fragmented with like-minded folk clustering together, most gay folk have never encountered a social conservative and see them as complex beings instead of caritactures. And because we don’t know you, hence the hostility.

I don’t know what the answer is. I have used my blog to express that social conservatives are not all monsters, but I have also got pushback from people who write me talking about the pain they have faced and how it makes no sense to show mercy. The negative image of social conservatives is ingrained in many gay people and their allies and that is what keeps them from showing and sense of forgiveness and love. Gay people can and should speak up and maybe even seek out social conservatives and befriend them (somthing I’ve tried to do). But I think the only way this is going to change is when social conservatives themselves reach out and be Christ to gay people. When gay people can see that social conservatives are people, things will change. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but realize that a lot of the anger is warranted. Trust has been broken. LGBT people like myself can and should reach out, but until gays and trust social conservatives such hostility will continue, even if it is not right.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Social Conservatives

Timothy Dalrymple

I happened to look at a sermon I wrote about 7 years ago.  It was during the time I was involved in a new church start.  Reading the sermon, I tend to think it wasn’t my best sermonizing.  The sermon seems a fitting for the current context; it was based on Micah 6:1-8 and focused on same-sex marriage, which is a hot issue here in Minnesota with the upcoming vote on a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage.

What I took from the sermon is how much I’ve changed over the last seven years.  No, I still believe in same sex marriage and I think it’s a mistake to place this amendment in our constitution.  What has changed is my opinion of social conservatives.  I still don’t agree with their views, but I tend to understand those views a lot better, which has led me to be more respectful of the views as well.

What has changed is reading some social conservative writers like Timothy Dalrymple, Rod Dreher and Ross Douthat.  Listening to the viewpoints, I learn that social conservatives are far more complex than I used to believe.  They aren’t the caritacture I had easily painted them into.  While I don’t think banning same sex marriage is going to solve the concerns they have, I do realize that their concerns about the family in modern America make some sense. Here’s a part of a post by Dalrymple on gay marriage from 2011:

Those who oppose same-sex marriage do not see the fight for same-sex marriage as a continuation of the Civil Rights struggle.  The Civil Rights struggle does not even enter their minds when they consider same-sex marriage, because they do not believe that a person has a civil right to marry a person of the same sex with the imprimatur of the state, or that a person has a civil right to adopt one course of action (marrying a person of the same sex) and have it treated legally the same as another course of action (marrying a person of the opposite sex).  In other words, in this view, there is no civil right to marry whomever you please, and “equal protection” does not enter the equation; people in themselves deserve equal protection before the law, but different courses of actioncan and should be treated differently.

Most social conservatives see the same-sex marriage movement as a continuation not of the Civil Rights fight, but of the sexual revolution.  The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s established a trajectory of greater freedom of sexual expression, of broadening the field of sexual behaviors that are accepted and celebrated, and of disapproving the judgment of sexual behaviors or identities.  Many social conservatives see the push for same-sex marriage as the next phase in the sexual revolution, the next phase in the deterioration of moral-sexual norms, and the next step toward the dissolution of the basic and God-ordained family structure.  The sexual revolution, they claim, has already done incalculable harm.  They see a direct connection in the past five decades between the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the family, with skyrocketing increases in divorce, out-of-wedlock births, and deadbeat dads — and all the poverty, stagnation and malaise those things bring.

It’s a slippery-slope argument made by people who believe they’re already halfway (if not further) down the slope.  Slippery slope arguments often seem exaggerated, because they invest all the importance of the whole downward path in the very next step.  Every step down a slippery slope only takes us a little way.  But it also creates momentum.  And when you look back, you realize how far you’ve fallen, how much ground you’ve lost.  Nearly 40% of American children are now born to unwed mothers.  And the disintegration of the American family has done the most harm in low-income African-American communities, where there was less stability and social capital to start with.  Over 70% of African-American children are born out of wedlock.  For all the heroic efforts of single mothers, the children of single moms are as a general rule less healthy and less educated, and more likely to enter gangs and engage in criminal activity.

The point is this: American society once built a bulwark around the traditional family structure.  Perhaps in some ways or for some people groups the removal of that bulwark has been liberating, but the conservatives who oppose gay marriage believe that the removal of the bulwark has, on the whole, been absolutely devastating.  The further and further we depart from the family structure God intended, they believe, the more damage we do to our society.

Rod Dreher

Do I agree with everything Dalrymple is saying here? No. But his argument is not one of a loon fortelling doom if two men get hitched.  He is bringing up some important issues: divorce rates, single parent families, the less pleasant effects of the sexual revolution.  What Darlymple along with Dreher and Douthat are talking about is what the see as a breakdown in society, a place where there are atomized individuals instead of communal groups like traditional families.  What social conservatives see is less about some kind of modern-day Sodom than it is the concern of the loss of community and the rise of individualism that is concerned more about personal fulfillment than it is about social cohesion.

No, banning same sex marriage won’t stop what social conservatives see happening.  The changes in society were already under way long before any gay person thought about getting married.  But we do need to ask ourselves how to best shore up families and how to find new ways to knit the frayed fabric of American society. In 2010 journalist Jonathan Rauch, who is gay and supports same-sex marriage, wrote an insightful article about the changing state of families in America and how that has impacted people in “red” and “blue” states.  He explains that some of the opposition is not fueled by homophobia, but something else:

We know that gay marriage is very controversial. But why, exactly?

Well, we know that some people oppose it because they oppose homosexuality, and gay marriage, in their view, would give society’s and the law’s imprimatur to a deviant lifestyle. Those opponents will, on the whole, never change. Fortunately for people like me, their numbers are diminishing with time.

Contrary to what some of my friends in the gay-marriage movement believe, however, homophobia is far from the only reason for opposition. Another group, which I think is at least equally large, feels threatened—less by the normalization of homosexuality than by the abnormalization, so to speak, of the conventionally defined family. “Nothing personal, do what you want,” they tell us, “but leave the definition of family—of marriage—alone!”

I would urge you to read the entire article.  Rauch uses the story of Bristol Palin’s pregnancy in 2008 as an example of the different worldviews regarding sex:

Remember Bristol Palin in 2008? During the presidential campaign, it came out that the Republican vice presidential nominee’s daughter was having a child out of wedlock, but the family announced her betrothal to the father, Levi Johnston.

You might have thought that Bristol’s broken chastity would offend conservatives while evoking support from liberals. In fact, reactions were more the reverse. To Red Americans, Bristol was making her pregnancy okay by marrying the boy. They were kids, to be sure, but they would form a family and grow up, as so many generations before them had done. To Blue Americans, on the other hand, Bristol and Levi had committed a cardinal sin. They had children much too young. This was the height of irresponsibility, and a poor example to set!

Rauch isn’t a social conservative, but he has listened enough to see that their opposition to same sex marriage is not simply because they are mean.  Move beyond the anti-gay marriage talk and you see that there is fear and not necessarily of gays.  What they are afraid of is the disintergration of family units around them as well as the unintended consquences of the sexual revolution that has impacted them harder and harsher because they don’t have the financial resources to weather the storms of cultural change.

Columnist Rod Dreher is another example of the complexity of socons.  He is glad gays aren’t persecuted, but he lays out some fears he has, namely the fear of being forced to go against their beliefs:

Ross Douthat

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I think it’s progress that gay folks aren’t stigmatized as they once were. I don’t want to live in a culture in which they are persecuted. I am pleased that gay people can live openly, even in my small town, without fear — and if I saw someone being persecuted for being gay, I would speak out against it. In my experience, very few conservatives who have actual experience with gay friends and gay folks in general fear and loathe them, as many did in the past. I know I move personally within a pretty narrow group of religious conservatives, but my guess is that most of us share the Church’s moral teaching on homosexuality (which is within a context of a broader teaching on what human sexuality is for), but we know and like gay people, and don’t feel the visceral hostility towards gays that some on the Right do. I think this is a generational thing, mostly. This, in my estimation, is what it means to be tolerant.

The problem is tolerance is not the goal here; mandatory affirmation is, to the point where individuals and institutions who won’t affirm are to be marginalized and punished. The other day I saw a tweet in which someone said that Ross Douthat, a Catholic who articulately defends the teachings of his Church on human sexuality, ought to be thought of as suffering from a psychological disorder. This is how religious and political disagreement becomes a matter of pathology — not a moral argument to be grappled with, but a disease to be cured. This is where we’re headed. It would be wise for conservative Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others to quit fighting a battle they (we) lost a long time ago, and start figuring out how to defend, constitutionally, our religious and cultural institutions from the coming legal assault. Ironically, if we traditionalists are going to be able to hold our ground, we’re going to have to function as libertarians.

I’ve met good Christians who are some of the nicest and honorable people and have treated me with respect.  The only difference is that they can’t cross that bridge to accept same-sex marriage because they believe their faith says it wrong.  As much as I disagree with them, I don’t want to force them to disavow their belief, either.  But that is their fear.  That leads me to ask questions: how do we treat those who disagree?  How do we handle them with grace and love?  What can we learn from their views on marriage that can be adapted to the new consensus? What authority does Christianity have in regards to sexuality? What are the limits?  What does family mean in this day and age?  How can we help shore up disintergrating families in red states and also in the ghettoes of our inner cities?

This is why in the end I’ve come to respect social conservatives.  Yeah, there are a bunch of folks that are still hateful bigots, but that is not all of them and they do have some valuable things to tell us.  In the spirit of tolerance and love of neighbor, the least I can do is listen.

Some Thoughts on Politics, Partisanship and Christian Witness

As the GOP end their convention in Tampa and the Democrats get ready to gear up in Charlotte next week, I have a few thoughts about Christians and politics:

We really take ourselves way to seriously.  There was a time in my life when I happened to be far more vocal on where I lean politically. I still have a political blog,, but I don’t blog there as much as I used to. Politics is still important and needed, but I tend to think it is not the main thing in life- serving God is. We may make too much about political life in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, but I do think there was something to the fact that politicos would debate the issues of the day with conviction and then meet over a drink or have dinner with someone of the opposing party. Maybe they knew that politics wasn’t the end-all and be-all; maybe they knew that how we treated each other was more important than having the correct belief. I think today we have made politics so serious that we really can’t laugh anymore. Everything is a do-or-die issue. Instead of breaking bread together, we stay in our ideological silos only talking to like-minded folks and deeming the other side as evil. Politics has become the rule by which we determine who is good and who is bad.

Pastors (and other church leaders) should watch what they say. I’ve been amazed at the venom coming from my fellow pastors this week. No doubt, there will be the same kind of invectives spewed by conservative pastors, but since I don’t live in that world anymore, I focus on what I see within Mainline Protestantism. Yes, pastors can and should share their opinions on the issues of the day.  I’m not arguing that we never say anything that is political, but I am worried about how mean spirited we are to those who are not of the same political party.  In this case, I saw a lot of pastors and other church leaders who are Democrats say some pretty nasty things about Republicans.  Many of those pastor might be patting themselves on the back for their “prophetic” words.  But there are two problems here.  First, bad mouthing someone from another political party is not necessarily prophetic.  Sometimes Christians, liberal and conservative, fool themselves into think what they are saying is line with the prophets of old, when in reality it’s basically a partisan jab.

The second problem is kind of related to this age of social media.  Because we tend to have friends on Facebook or followers on Twitter who share the same viewpoints we do, it’s easy to say something snarky that will impress your like-minded group.  But what if others are looking at your social media page?  What if someone hears you say something partisan and feels they can’t come to your church?  And what about the fact that there are people who go to your church that don’t share the same views you do? Will they feel welcomed?  Will they be less willing to trust you and maybe less willing to trust God?

There is nothing sinful in being a Democrat or a Republican. The minute we start deciding holiness based not on God’s love through Jesus, but on having a “D” or an “R” next to our name is when we distort what it means to be a Christian, and it ultimately hurts the church as a whole.

Fellow Disciple Doug Skinner shares this passage from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount and then adds a few words of his own:

 The primary task of the church is to evangelize and to preach the Gospel.                   

 …If the Christian Church today spends most of her time in denouncing communism (remember it was the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when he wrote), then it seems to me that the main result will be that communists will not be likely to listen to the preaching of the Gospel (insert “Republicans” or “Democrats” depending on your political judgments where he referenced “Communists”). If the church is always denouncing one particular section of society, she is shutting the evangelistic door upon that section.  If we take the New Testament view of these matters then we must believe that the communist has a soul to be saved in exactly the same way as everybody else.  It is my business as a preacher of the Gospel and a representative of the Church to evangelize all kinds and conditions and classes of men and women.  The moment the Church begins to intervene in these political, social and economic matters, therefore, she is hampering and hindering herself in her God-appointed task of evangelism …Let the individual play his or her part  as a citizen, and belong to any political party that he or she may choose.  That is something for the individual to decide.  The Church is not concerned as a Church about these things.  Our business is to preach the Gospel and to bring the message of salvation to all.  And, thank God, Communists (and Republicans, and Democrats) can be converted and can be saved.  The Church is to be concerned about sin in all its manifestations, and sin can be as terrible in a capitalist as in a communist (or in a Republican as in a Democrat); it can be as terrible in a rich man as in a poor man; it can manifest itself in all classes and in all types and in all groups. (135)

 Of course, this entire argument turns on the presupposition that, “the primary task of the church is to evangelize and to preach the Gospel.”  And this, in my opinion, is the real crisis in the church today.  There is simply no need for the church “to evangelize and preach the Gospel” if Jesus Christ is not the Savior and the world does not need saving, and these are the very convictions of historic Christianity that are most directly challenged by the pervasive pluralism and relativism of our day.  Pluralism reduces Jesus Christ to one spiritual teacher among many, not the only name under heaven by which people can be saved (Acts 4:12).  And relativism levels the moral playing field leaving us without clarity about what’s right and what’s wrong, replacing our need for forgiveness with an appeal for more understanding.  And this is where I see pluralism and relativism delivering the church today – the reduction of Jesus Christ to one of the plenary speakers at the Parliament of Religions and the replacement of the Gospel’s message of salvation to a motivational appeal for nice people to be nicer.

It’s my observation that when the church gets out of the salvation business, she invariably finds work in the humanitarian field.   When we quit trying to “fit souls for heaven,” then it is only natural for us to turn our attention to trying to make things better for bodies on earth.  Now, I’m not suggesting here, even for a moment, that Biblical Christianity does not have a humanitarian impulse or that the physical well-being of human beings in this life is not a concern of the Gospel.  What I am saying is that the abandonment of the church’s spiritual mission by Progressive Christians in order to double down on the church’s social mission is as much a distortion of Christianity as the neglect of the church’s social mission by Traditional Christians in their concentration on the church’s spiritual mission alone.

Which leads me to my third observation:
We need to be more heavenly-minded. Like Skinner, I don’t think there anything wrong assisting the least of these. Social justice is an important part of our Christian Witness. But I think a problem with Progressive Christians especially is that we have made social justice virtually the only thing in Christian living. When that happens, it comes as no surprise that the lines between witness and partisan politics become blurred. We start to see candidates less as politicians for a political party than as someone who is on a godly mission.

Like Skinner, I am going to vote this November and I will vote on issues that I think are important in creating a just society. But at the end of the day, whether President Obama gets re-elected or Governor Romney wins, what really matters is not who gets elected as much as how we are living as followers of Christ. When we forget that, we hurt our witness to the world.

Conservatives, Aspergers and the New York Times

If folks have been following me, you know that my political viewpoints tend to skew conservative/libertarian.  So, at times I like to read things from conservative writers like Heather MacDonald.  That said, what she wrote recently regarding a New York Times article on two autistic young adults trying to learn to be in a relationship is totally off the mark. I personally thought it was a great piece about these two persons who have communication issues learn to…communicate.  For some reason, Ms. MacDonald could only see it was sloppy writings about sex that didn’t warrant a front page article.  Here’s a little of her venom:


The feminization of journalism reached a new low this week with the New York Times’ front-page story on a sexual relationship between two teenagers with Asperger’s Syndrome. The article began:

The first night they slept entwined on his futon, Jack Robison, 19, who had since childhood thought of himself as “not like the other humans,” regarded Kirsten Lindsmith with undisguised tenderness.

. . .

So far they had only cuddled; Jack, who had dropped out of high school but was acing organic chemistry in continuing education classes, had hopes for something more. Yet when she smiled at him the next morning, her lips seeking his, he turned away.

“I don’t really like kissing,” he said.

Kirsten, 18, a college freshman, drew back. If he knew she was disappointed, he showed no sign.

It gets worse. Next up: the couple’s erotic proclivities, recounted in excruciating detail.

From the beginning, their physical relationship was governed by the peculiar ways their respective brains processed sensory messages. Like many people with autism, each had uncomfortable sensitivities to types of touch or texture, and they came in different combinations.

Jack recoiled when Kirsten tried to give him a back massage, pushing deeply with her palms.

“Pet me,” he said, showing her, his fingers grazing her skin. But Kirsten, who had always hated the feeling of light touch, shrank from his caress.

“Only deep pressure,” she showed him, hugging herself.

He tried to kiss her, but it was hard for her to enjoy it, so obvious was his aversion. To him, kissing felt like what it was, he told her: mashing your face against someone else’s. Neither did he like the sweaty feeling of hand-holding, a sensation that seemed to dominate all others whenever they tried it.

“I’m sorry,” he said helplessly.

They found ways to negotiate sex, none of them perfect. They kept trying.

Inexplicably, the Times fails to give us Jack and Kirsten’s favorite coital positions, or the details of their foreplay; such matters await in another article, no doubt. 

The first thing that’s wrong about this is Ms. MacDonald making this out to be an article about two persons with autism having sex.  That’s not what it’s about.  Where there is talk about sex its pretty brief, but MacDonald acts as if this was some kind of bawdy romance in the middle of the Times.  When I read some of this, I was thinking about how different kinds of touch can bother me.  That doesn’t immediately mean I’m talking about me being naked with my partner.  Persons, with autism have sensory issues and those happen when we are in love and when we are not, when we are clothed and when we are not.

My guess is that Ms. MacDonald doesn’t really care about the intricacies of being an adult with autism.  Reading the rest of her diabtribe, this article is simply the launching point for “what wrong with the world” which in her case is the “feminization of the New York Times.”  Whatever.

The Times is not always my favorite thing to read because it leans too far to the left in my view.  But I also think they can do good stories and this is one of them.  There are a lot of people like Jack and Kirsten, and myself who try to stumble through the complexities of dating on top of being autistic.  That makes dating (and I’m not talking about knocking boots here) a challenge.  Most people know how to “be” in a relationship, but for persons with autism this is not easy.  That’s what this article was trying to show, not what was someone’s favorite coital position.

I can’t say whether or not it was right for the Times to place the article on the front page.  I can say bravo for writing it and publishing it.  I only wish Ms. MacDonald would have spent more time getting to know those of us with autism instead of brushing us off.