"[We] didn't do nothing wrong," the pastor, David Hemphill, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper.
"We did what the Book of Matthew said... all we did is ask God to deliver him."
This murder is a terrible consequence of the moral/religious model of disability, which historically fosters viewing disability as a punishment, an evil curse, possession, or a spiritual malady to be fought against. Parents presented with the medical model of disability when their children are given a diagnosis of autism combine that point of view with a predisposition to the already ingrained religious model to perceive any impairment their child has as something needing amelioration. Parents who have already been exposed to years of subliminal ableism within their faith-based community life then look for any means necessary to "heal" or "normalize" their child. Autism becomes an anthropomorphic being that is made the scapegoat for the child's differences and attacked. The imminent danger is, you cannot separate a person's neurology from their brain and physical body. So this approach to disability, particularly in cases of neurodivergent children and adults, can lead to catastrophic ends.
What I have observed in accepting parents and neurodivergent disability rights activists who are also people of faith, is an active effort to educate their religious congregations on the nature of autism. Some go further, demanding acceptance and inclusion in their places of worship and the religious activities of their communities. I think advocates who worship need to go further still. Let's play what if.
What if, at the moment Torrance Cantrell was diagnosed, his mother had been presented with a resource list of faith-based organizations which understood autism and would not only accommodate her child's needs for support but provide them both a place of acceptance and hope. That single resource list might have made her a stronger advocate for her son, rather than a parent who bought into a demonizing disability model which ended in murder. It might have saved Torrance's life.
If the parents and autistic activists are in a religious community which has revised the traditional moral model of disability to embracing neurological diversity, it may be a good idea to speak positively of those organizations so families and adults seeking religious support know there are places out there that are safe and empowering.
Inclusive religious organizations have a tremendous opportunity to educate their congregations to accommodate, support and include disabled members in their lives more fully. Community inclusion is not just tolerance, it is acceptance of differences and celebrating the human spirit.
I applaud autistic disability rights activists and parent allies who speak out and provide templates of what they have done to bring their places of worship to a better understanding of the nature of autism and how to be inclusive of autistic people in worship without harming them in the name of curing them. I think these forward thinking activists' efforts may someday cause a quiet shift in the religious model of disability from a historical tradition of ostracizing, isolating, and breeding catastrophic attempts at exorcism and faith healing to places that breed acceptance and inclusion. I think this is the solution to overcoming this dangerously ableist disability model.
In memory of Torrance Cantrell, gone but not forgotten.