For my latest interview as part of my “One Faith, Many Paths” project, I’m interviewing Lamar Hardwick, an autistic pastor in Lagrange, Georgia at New Community Church. Their website can be reached here: http://www.ncclagrange.com/contact-us
1. What was your childhood like?
My father was in the military so I grew up traveling around the world. We moved every 3 years and sometimes we lived outside the country. I spent a few years living in Germany when I was in elementary school. My father was also a minister, so we grew up going to church every Sunday. As a child, I rarely understood my peers. While I had a few friends, I don’t remember having really strong friendships because we moved so often. I have three siblings, but I was always the quiet one and spent most of my time alone reading books.
2. When were you diagnosed autistic?
I was diagnosed in 2014, when I was 36 years old.
3. What made you decide to become a preacher?
In 2001, after graduating college I began to sense a calling from God to dedicate my life to serving the church. At that time, I was becoming regularly involved in my church and I had a sense of fulfillment in the work that I was doing. It took me nearly a year to understand exactly what my calling was, but by that time I was sure that God had called me to become a preacher.
4. Does being autistic present a challenge in your profession and in interacting in your congregation?
In some ways being autistic does present challenges for me because I have to spend extended amounts of time around larger crowds and it can sometimes become overwhelming to me. Autism can also present a challenge when communicating with people because I often don’t read social cues and body language very well. There have been times when people misinterpret things I say or vice versa. Now that everyone in my church understands me better, they know that the best way to communicate with me is to be direct and to expect me to be direct as well.
5. I’ve often seen autistics who are either disdainful of Christianity or atheist. What reason do you think may cause this?
I think there are many reasons for this and most of the reasons that non-autistics are atheist is the same reasons that many autistics are atheists. I think that most people who are atheist base their beliefs on a negative life experience that they believe cannot be reconciled with the existence of God. Autistics tend to be very literal, so this can even provoke a stronger resistance to the idea of God. The problem with most people who come to the conclusion that God does not exist is that they are basing their rationale on very limited existence as well as a very subjective point of view. Most people don’t believe in God or have a disdain for Christianity because God doesn’t cooperate with them, but lack of cooperation doesn’t necessarily disprove that someone does not exist.
6. What evidence can you give for God’s existence?
As a Christian I always begin with the investigation into the life of Jesus. There are multiple sources that prove the existence of Jesus as well as sources both inside and outside of the Bible that validate the stories in the Gospels including the death and resurrection of Jesus. My conclusion is that if Jesus really did come back to life, he proves his divinity, which makes everything that He says and does extremely important for proving the existence of God.
Only when you arrive at accepting the historical evidence for Jesus can you truly begin to investigate all of the other evidence for the existence of God.
7. What is your favorite biblical passage?
2 Corinthians 12:8-10
8. Who is your favorite biblical figure besides Jesus?
The Apostle Paul.
9. How do you think churches could improve in accommodation for autistics?
I believe it begins with giving autistics a voice in the church. Improving accommodations begins with taking seriously the voices of those the church is seeking to serve. The strength of an organization’s ability to serve on the margins of society is found in the organizations willingness and ability to give them a place of leadership. I would love to see more autistics in position of leadership in the church. Only until that happens can the church truly improve.
10. What would you say to someone who would want to become a priest?
I would say to follow your heart and follow your calling. The life of a pastor or priest is not always an easy one, but I believe that God gives grace and strength for the journey.