Let me start off by saying that having been an atheist, I realize that not all of you will agree with everything I am writing about, but understand that it comes out of a deep love for equality in the Deaf community. Yesterday, I had a conversation for the second time with a Director from the purported Christian organization Family Life. A few years ago, I pleaded with this organization to understand the value of providing professional sign language interpreters for their Weekend to Remember events. When I called yesterday to plead this case again, Carl Boykin who is the Director of Events responded that Family Life’s position on this issue has not changed. He tried to convince me that they understood the Deaf community’s position on this but I quickly informed him that their organization clearly did not understand or it would otherwise advocate to ensure that these events had professional interpreters. I described how the Deaf community has been discriminated against by various Christian and other religious entities for hundreds of years; I explained that many Deaf community members loathe the idea of attending church after being forced to go with their families without an interpreter to clarify the proceedings. I also explained how I realize that technically non-profit religious organizations are not all held to the standard of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but does that mean as Christians we should not rise above this? As Christians, does it take a governmental edict requiring us to love people to follow through? Has not God already commanded this of us in our own Holy Bible? I realize that there may be other ways legally of having interpreters provided (perhaps from the locations these events are being provided at), but why should it come to that? I explained to Mr. Boykin that by not providing professional interpreters, he was saying one of two things to the Deaf community:
- The Deaf community is not important enough to hear Family Life’s message or
- Family Life’s message is not important enough for the Deaf community to hear.
Period. Whether that is the intent behind their actions matters not since this is how the actions are perceived by the community.
He made certain to tell me that even though they do not provide interpreters, they do “other things.” When I asked what these “other things” were, he replied that they let interpreters volunteer their time sometimes at the conferences. I asked if his speakers, stage crew, light and sound crew, and other staff members volunteered their time as well, to which he replied no. Let me first say, that anyone who really knows me knows that I volunteer my interpreting services probably more often than I should, so I am not opposed to volunteering. It should not be expected, though. Interpreters provide a valuable service and it is a lot to ask of someone to give up two to three full work days as a volunteer. Not only this, but there is no quality control standard over most volunteers. Oftentimes this means an uncertified and/or unqualified signer is pulled in to interpret without any knowledge of our Code of Professional Conduct. These paying Deaf patrons want to know when they attend a conference over a sensitive matter such as marriage that they can trust their private matters to not be leaked back to the very small Deaf community. At least with a professional interpreter, they have a better chance of receiving this standard of service. Although volunteer interpreters can also be professional interpreters, oftentimes volunteer equates to unqualified.
Carl also informed me…wait for it, this is the kicker…that Family Life is gracious enough to waive the registration fees for the interpreters. Ummm…huh? I told him that would be the equivalent of the college I teach at waiving tuition fees for me to teach. Do they charge their other staff members registration fees? Of course they do not because the staff members are working. They should be paid, not pay to work. At a $129 per person or $258 per couple (not including hotel stay) registration fee, there is no reason that this organization could not afford to pay for interpreters. I reminded Carl that if they really had faith in God as an organization, they should trust that He will provide for their interpreting funds just as He has provided for many of their other initiatives.
I asked Mr. Boykin this, “If you were on trial in a court in China, do you think it would be sufficient if you were provided a volunteer English interpreter?” The answer is of course not, especially with imprisonment or worse at stake. How much more imperative is it for someone to have clear communication when it come to saving a marriage and to the eternal life and death message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Can you tell me, according to the Christian faith, any message of import above that of salvation? I think not.
Sadly, after all of this, I realized that my time and breath had been wasted because Mr. Boykin’s response was just to say that it was an “unfortunate situation.” I let him know that it was unfortunate because Family Life would no longer have my support, the support of my family, the support of my extended family, nor that of many of my friends. How can I support an organization which so blatantly is discriminating against an entire people group? It pains me to speak ill words of a Christian organization because, having been an atheist until the age of nineteen, I know that these types of incidents are exactly what turn people further away from the Christian faith and misrepresent the whole. Despite that, I think it is important to bring all things to the light to allow people to see and make judgments for themselves. Thanks for listening and perhaps one day this Christian organization and others like it will learn what it means to love.
Interpreter and Professor of Interpreting