Toni Braxton, the r&b singer, has a book to hock. And she’s hocking it with this inflammatory allegation: her son’s autism is God’s punishment for an abortion she had. At least, that’s what she thought when he was first diagnosed, since then she’s come around to the enlightened point of view many of us blessed to have a child autism have embraced: our kids are different, not less and they are gifts.
Toni clearly says in the article she felt great guilt over the abortion and felt as though God’s wrath would swoop down and dole out a terrible punishment onto her. And when her son was diagnosed she thought, “ah, there it is!” Whether it is abortion or some other sin, many parents of children with autism feel at the time of diagnosis that God has a) punished them or b) turned His back on them. Neither of those things are true. When we choose to sin (and sin is ALWAYS a choice), we punish ourselves as we separate ourselves from God. God does not turn His back on us, we turn our’s on Him. And until we’ve confessed and asked forgiveness? Our backs are still turned away. God is a God of mercy and not wrath. Toni’s punishment was feeling separated from God which manifested itself in the great guilt and fear she experienced after the abortion. Satan’s lies tell us that God can’t forgive whatever we’ve done. That our sin is too big and too much for even God to forgive. And we begin to put human limitations on an unlimited God. God’s capacity for mercy, forgiveness and compassion are incomprehensible to our puny human minds. So we simply refuse to believe it. And when something goes wrong–or more accurately, not according our plans–in our lives whether related directly to the sin or not, we choose to believe God is punishing us. Having read the better part of the Bible, trust me, if God decided to punish us, it wouldn’t be through autism, cancer or any “terrible” thing we have concocted. No, we punish ourselves for our failings.
Surely, Toni’s abortion was a terrible thing even if she didn’t feel remorse because it ended a human life. But now that abortion is being used to sell her memoir. It is this segment that has been released that is getting her all the press attention. And perhaps that is what bothers me most about this entire fiasco. Toni (and her publisher)’s insistence on selling the controversy of both abortion and autism is repulsive in the worst possible way. It denigrates the dignity of two of her children, the one murdered on an abortionists table and the one living his challenges with autism daily. This is not being sold as how Toni came to accept the gift of her son with autism after initially being convinced his diagnosis was a punishment, no, it’s being sold as, “I did a really bad thing (abortion) and then I did an even worse thing (the whole being punished mantra).” The articles spend the better time explaining how Toni was raised a devout Pentecostal Christian who merely had an abortion but if she hadn’t been Christian she wouldn’t have had this wracking guilt over murdering her child to make her life more convenient that then led her to believe her son was a punishment from God-Almighty Himself. Then quickly in the end is thrown in “now-I-think-he’s-just-different” line. There is no lesson in the publicity of this book of “Abby Johnson being redeemed from the bowels of Planned Parenthood to become a champion for the unborn.” There is no lesson in God’s graciousness in being gifted a child with the challenges of autism. Nope, instead these two children are being trotted out as the freak-show to get you to pay your money to see. And Toni Braxton is 100% complicit in this. She is making a buck off murdering one child and making the other out to be an underserved, undue burden. In selling her book, she’s decided to officially undermine the personhood of two of her kids. One of whom had the misfortune to be conceived when it wasn’t convenient for her, the other to be born with a different neurology.
And where does that leave Toni Braxton’s comments in the autism community? Well, for me, personally, she’s done zero help and plenty of harm. As the mother of a child with “severe” or “low-functioning” autism, her identifying a child in her promotion as a punishment is just one more piece of ammunition for the crew saying my child doesn’t deserve her life, let alone any semblance of acceptance. It’s one more notch in the belt of a fellow restaurant goer who gets annoyed that my child makes a sound. It’s one more bullet in the chamber for the crowd screaming, “we can’t have a kid who does THAT in our program.” Toni had the great capacity to do good in her promotions for this book. She had the ability to do what Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men did and shine a light on the high cost of therapies for children with autism. Shawn even went so far as to say, hey, I’m fortunate to be in my position with a child with autism and found a non-profit to help families pay for therapies. But, instead, she chose to sensationalize this whole “punishment narrative” which is going to do no good for changing the hearts and minds of the many ignorant who won’t buy her book and are just hearing the teaser.
I’ve never been one to shy away from the truth of the difficulties of my child with autism. Every day has it’s own difficulties be they large or small. But every day also has it’s blessings and gifts that would not be in my life if not for autism. There are friendships I have made, fans of Shelby’s we’ve gained along the way, and gifts you can’t always see like patience and perseverance we’ve attained in spades at times. And I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life that have wracked me with guilt. But never have I said, “well, God, you did it, you punished me for x by giving me a child with autism.” Or worse, “how God, how could you punish my child for my sins.” Nope. Because it didn’t happen that way. Not to me. And not to Toni Braxton either. And while I’m glad she came around to realizing it wasn’t the case, she’s done herself, her child and autism families worldwide a great disservice by choosing to publicize her struggle in this way for money.
So to summarize: guilt for abortion is it’s own punishment. Autism is not a punishment for abortion or any sin. God doesn’t work like that. And let’s be more careful when putting our feelings out that “it felt like that” doesn’t become continually misinterpreted as “it is that.”