What To Not Say When You have Deaf Members In Your Church:
During the Middle Ages, Deaf people were excluded from churches due to the widespread belief that the souls of the Deaf could not find salvation since Deaf people were unable to “hear the Word of God.” Due to this misconception, Deaf people built their churches and formed their congregations. These churches use sign language to provide access to fellowship, worship, and studying the scriptures. While Deaf churches exist, there are still Deaf members who attend a church service with a hearing pastor who delivers the sermon in a spoken language. In addition, the congregation heavily relies on spoken interactions. Those Deaf people can often feel excluded from those types of church services. If you are a pastor or someone who has a Deaf member in your church, here are some words or phrases you should avoid to ensure your Deaf member feels included.
Please refrain from using the phrase “hearing-impaired” in your sermons or your interaction with your church members. Many individuals who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing feel that the term “hearing impaired” implies a deficit or something that is wrong and makes a person less than whole. They prefer the term “Deaf” or “Hard-of-Hearing” because it brings more positivity to their identity.
2. “I’ll pray that God heals you.”
Many people assume that Deaf people want to be “fixed” or “cured.” However, that is not the case. Deaf people belong to a cultural minority, and they use sign language. Sign language is complex and full of rich linguistic features and complex grammatical structures. When a language exists, a culture exists. Deaf people share cultural values, shared traditions, and beliefs. Therefore, Deaf people cherish their identity as Deaf people. In addition, God made Deaf people the way they are. When someone tells a Deaf person that they wish God to heal their hearing, it is an insult. It is not up to men to decide who will be Deaf and who is not. God has that power.
3. “I should learn sign language so I can make my whole sermon accessible in sign language!”
While the Deaf person may appreciate your kind gesture, it’s a lot harder than it seems. It takes around 5-7 years for the average person to become fluent in another language. In addition, American Sign Langauge has grammatical rules and word order that is entirely different from English. If you chose to speak and sign simultaneously, your hearing audience and the deaf audience would both be lost. It is better to bring in a qualified sign language interpreter to interpret your sermons. However, it doesn’t mean you cannot learn some signs from here and there to greet the Deaf members of your church!
4. “You can lip-read the sermon, right?”
According to research, the average Deaf person can only lip-read 30-40% of what is being said on the mouth. Most of one’s speech is performed by sounds produced in one’s throat, which is not visible to the naked eye. It is easier to bring in a qualified sign language interpreter to interpret the sermon. In addition, I’d suggest checking in with your Deaf members regularly to see they are receiving appropriate access from the interpreter.
5. “I know it can be challenging, but God made Deaf people the way they are.”
If you state something like this in your sermon, you are misleading people. Deaf people tend to lead independent lives. They host their own cultural gatherings and traditions. They hold everyday jobs, have families, go to school, etc. If you want to speak about Deaf people in your sermon, I ask you to invite one on stage and allow them to be the face of the Deaf Community for appropriate representation.
Overall, enjoy developing your bond with your Deaf members. Please remember to relax and know you can ask your Deaf members how they would like to be supported. God’s Kingdom is for everyone. I hope you grow spiritually on this journey and draw near the Lord. Take the time to cherish your bond with your Deaf members and worship Him together!