This is a story I’ve told often, but it still gives me chills. I believe this is why equality is so important to me.
When I was in junior high school, I met Jeff. Jeff had Down Syndrome, and I vividly remember recognizing the kindness of kids in our Indiana neighborhood for letting him play basketball. Similarly, I thought my dad’s finding a Bible that Jeff could use demonstrated his compassionate nature. It made me feel good that we accepted everyone. The previous pastor, I understood, did not allow Jeff to join the church because he felt that Jeff would not have understood the process. What an ass.
On a Palm Sunday in the mid ‘80s, Jeff came forward in response to Dad’s alter call, as planned. Dad looked him in the eye and asked the question we all knew by heart: Jeff, do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God?
I don’t know what woke me up. Perhaps Jeff said it louder than others. Perhaps he said it with an uncommon confidence. Perhaps he answered in a heart and soul manner than cannot be described with pitch and volume. But when Jeff answered: I do! I woke up.
I woke up to all the condescending, patronizing bullshit that I had directed toward him. His words brought my humiliating arrogance to surface, but simultaneously blew it away. Like impurities subjected to the heat of the crucible, my trivializing the value of another child of God, could not stand heat of Jeff’s faith. When Jeff responded with just as much verve to the second question—And do you accept him as your personal savior—joy filled my soul in a way that it never had before.
Jeff’s Good Confession permanently transformed me. I became a new creation. I could no longer ignore that each of us contains the divine and the capacity to tear the fabric of ordinary existence to make a way for the presence of the Almighty. Thank God for Jeff.