Pastor Matt Baker of the Trinity Christian Academy Cancels Autism Awareness

The day before Easter, Pastor Matt Baker of the Trinity Christian Academy in Lake Worth, Florida, emailed the school community to inform them that he was canceling Autism Awareness Week because “the teachings and actions of my Jesus are fully able to do all that this program intends to achieve and so much more.”

“Anything that teaches our children to have their identity in anything other than Christ is idolatry and demonic,” he declared, as first reported by WPTV.

Baker wanted to make sure there was no room for doubt regarding his edict.

“Let me repeat myself just so I am not quoted out of context: any philosophy, teaching, or program that teaches our precious children that their identity is found in anything other than Christ is idolatry and demonic. Period.”

The pastor was repeatedly using a word that the parent of an autistic kindergartener considers hate speech.

“As a Christian, I consider being called demonic probably the worst thing you can be called,” Andrea Gallik, mother of 6-year-old Miles, told The Daily Beast on Monday.

It was all the more shocking because the school had been so warm and welcoming to her son.

“It just it broke my heart,” Gallik said. “As far as the staff and teachers there, everyone has been so kind and loving.”

Andrea and Miles Gallik

Courtesy of Andrea Gallik

Gallik reported that parents and students and teachers had planned to mark Autism Awareness Week from April 1 to 7 by wearing blue and a puzzle piece symbol.

“But having autism awareness does not mean that we somehow are not good Christians,” she said. “No parent that I know at that school ever said that we were placing it above being Christian.”

Gallik also has a 9-year-old daughter, Hayden, at Trinity. The third grader learned of the cancellation at school and sought to explain it to her brother, whom she calls Bub.

“She sort of explained to him that, ‘You know, Bub, people don’t understand,’” Gallik recounted. “They don’t understand that your brain works differently. And that’s okay. Because we’ll teach them and it’ll be alright.’”

The parents delivered the same message to the boy.

“Miles has sort of just grabbed onto our opinion that it’s okay if they don’t understand, but this is not a bad thing, and you are going to be okay,” Gallik said.

“As a Christian, I consider being called demonic probably the worst thing you can be called.”

— Andrea Gallik

Gallik and other parents had hoped to raise the issue with the pastor at the Parent Teacher Fellowship meeting on Friday.

“We went to the PTF meeting, sort of expecting that he would be there and maybe we could have a face to face conversation,” Gallik said.

Baker did not show. And the head of school announced that discussion was only open to matters that had been on the agenda before the cancellation.

“And we are not to comment on any current situations,” Gallik said.

Other parents at the meeting included Heather McKay, a teacher’s aide whose son, Logan, had a transformative experience during Autism Awareness Day last year—when the girl’s varsity softball team wore blue jerseys emblazoned with the puzzle piece and Logan was made bat boy.

“It was like a big deal for my kid,” McKay recalled, adding that her son “just really struggled with the social aspect of everything.”

The impact of having been included as someone special became clear after the game and off the field.

“It was the first time ever that he actually felt comfortable enough with himself and his diagnosis that he got up in front of his entire class and shared his journey of how he got to where he was and how he was diagnosed, and what it took, all the therapy that we did,” McKay said.

“So last year, it was just one day, but it was huge. And it was important, and everybody felt it.”

So when Baker canceled this year’s event, McKay posted a copy of his email on her Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“I shared pastor Matt Baker’s email on my social media because as a parent of an autistic child, I acted on emotion,” she told The Daily Beast.

“I don’t deny it. However, I did black out the name of the school, I blacked out the name of the church, and I blacked out his name. And my social media does not say where I was employed. And all of my social media was private.”

McKay says she received a text from a school administrator telling her to take the post down. She complied, but texted the school to say she would be taking off Tuesday in personal observance of World Autism Awareness Day “to make sure that my son feels seen and heard and appreciated.”

“They said, totally understand, we totally get it, we’re praying for you, we’ll see you on Wednesday,” McKay recalls.

She got a sense of what was to come when she received a calendar invite on Tuesday for a meeting the next day with the finance department and the head of school. She arrived at the appointed time.

“And they just said, based on my hostile work history, they were terminating me,” she recalled. “I was [no longer] a teacher’s aide, but I am still currently an autism mom.”

Baker did not respond to a request for comment. The Trinity Christian Academy remains a place where two radically different theologies have been voiced in recent days.

One came from Baker, whose email says, “The world, in its rejection and hatred of Christ, often devises programs such as ‘Autism Awareness’ (and cultural figures like the Easter Bunny and Santa Clause, etc.) to get the benefits of His teachings (compassion, kindness, feeling love, and self-worth) without acknowledging Jesus as the ultimate authority and the source of all life.”

The other view came from Miles Gallik, who reported to his mother the other day that he had comforted a little girl in the park who thought she had lost her mommy by instructing her to take deep breaths.

“I said, ‘How do you know to be so kind?’” his mother recalled.

“He said, ‘God told me before I was born.’”

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