Is God’s Love Important Enough for the Deaf to Know, Too?

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.

Leyel Hudson
Interpreter and Professor of Interpreting

About leyelhudson

Professor of Interpreter Training at Lone Star College-CyFair

9 responses to “Is God’s Love Important Enough for the Deaf to Know, Too?”

  1. Amy says:

    Hi Leyel,
    I find this disturbing. How much could it possibly cost to hire an interpreter for a conference? Surely an organization as big as Family Life could swing such a small sacrifice in order to make their programs accessible to this demographic. It seems that if you had more than 2 deaf people attending, their own registration fees would cover the cost of an interpreter. Kudos to you in your struggle to right this wrong.

    PS – Oddly, I did not know that you weren’t a Christian when we were in school together. You learn something new about people every day 🙂

  2. Anna says:


    Thank you for taking the time to write this article. Scotty and I attended a “Weekend to Remember” marriage conference as part of our pre-maritial counseling. We certainly will not be attending any more, nor will this organization continue to receive our financial support after what I just read. In fact, you have just inspired me to question my own church body about providing interpreters for the deaf community in the area. Thanks!

  3. Vic says:

    I’d like to chime in and also thank you for taking the time to write this article, however I have several issues with this article.

    First and foremost, you, as the author are presenting Family Life’s side in your own voice and opinion. Such that you are not even willing to share the actual conversations with this person. Take note with the two assumptions you make:

    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.

    While the first one is seemingly plausible, I have my doubts that an organization that lives off its members would intentionally exclude a group that they do not see as “sinners.” Furthermore, I can assure you that their ego is large enough to believe that everyone needs to hear their God spoken message and need to be saved. This is what they do; this is how they make money.

    With that aside, I do believe it is a disappointment that Family Life is not willing to spend a few hundred dollars to pay for interpreters. However, instead of expressing disappointment in the way that you did, by throwing inane comparisons (Life and Death Interpreting to an optional conference) and also throwing the childish comment of how the organization has now lost the support of many was not a response that reflects strongly on the Deaf community and those associated with it. It reflects a community that is rigid, unwilling to change and highly demanding and those reflections lead to the general feeling that our community is generally stupid and incapable because we expect things handed to us.

    I don’t believe I have ever personally met you, I did notice that you are a professor of interpreter training, which I would like to believe has strong ties to the deaf community. Why, instead of immediately assuming we’ve been wronged, did you not use your connections to enter into discussion with Mr. Boykin on a reasonable acceptable alternative? Such as perhaps finding what’s holding them back, and what they would be willing to do besides free admission for the interpreter.

    Either way, I know I’ve talked too long, but my message simply comes to two points: Let the community make up their mind, and let’s work hard to push away the stereotype instead of expecting things to fall in our laps. If you’re going to fight for equality, we must act equally as well.

  4. Leyel says:

    Hi Vic!
    I definitely respect your point of view and can understand where you are coming from on these issues, so allow me to respond to some of your comments.

    First of all, knowing the word of God (or not knowing) IS a life and death situation…moreso eternal life and death which in my book is a much more serious implication than being in court. I do realize, however, that not all people would agree with me….but I am sure that Family Life does.

    It would be one thing if this was a one time dealing with this organization, but myself and MANY people from the Deaf and interpreting communities from all over the U.S. have been civil in attempting to plead the case of hiring interpreters for at minimum seven to ten years now. My multiple dealings with the organization have mostly been with the same gentleman. At the end of our conversation, I asked if there was anyone above him with whom I could speak to which he responded, “Nope, the buck stops here so to speak.” I then asked what else I could do to make a difference in their stance. He said that I could write a letter to the organization as a whole to let them know my grievance and the grievances of others, to which I have sent a letter. It is only because they have been so unbending over such a long period of time with constant input from many sources that it has finally come to this. I hope you do not think I just flew off the handle after one brief conversation because that was not at all the case. I have entered into multiple conversations with this organizations (as have a multitude of others) in reasonable conversations to no avail.

    I absolutely agree with you that the community should make up their mind on how to proceed with this information which is why I did not ask for a call to arms. I feel as though people will take the information and do with it what they feel is best, whether it in agreement or disagreement with my course of action. Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope to meet you around!

    Oh, and yes our college is extremely active (Lone Star College-CyFair). We had a social last night and we will have a Deaf presenter this Friday at the college. If you would like to see a calendar of events not just for our campus, but the Houston area, you can check in addition to, of course, HoustonDeafNetwork!

    Leyel 🙂

  5. Scott says:

    You are clearly a product of the government-created entitlement mentality. This organization isn’t “denying” anyone anything. They just aren’t going over and above what is required of them to provide something you feel like people should receive. And for that you take them to task?

    Your argument might make perfect sense when you start with a presupposition that it is just a given that interpretation should be provided wherever and whenever at no cost to you. But that’s a faulty assumption.(Even the government is not on your side on this one.) And therefore your entire rant makes no sense. What is an organization like this to do…make available interpreters for any language for anyone who might ask…at the organization’s expense? Just so they don’t risk upsetting anyone and having them question their Christianity? I’m guessing even you would recognize how ridiculous that is. You seem to view interpreters for the deaf as an inalienable right. Interpreters for others, not so much. It all just depends on whose ox is being gored. For crying out loud.

    I suspect Mr. Boykin (whose name you seem to be intent on smearing just because he happens to be the spokesperson for the organization in this case) would do whatever he could to facilitate you having interpreters there short of actually footing the bill, which is all you seem to be concerned about. I applaud Mr. Boykin and FamilyLife for taking a stand and not being bullied by folks like you.

  6. Leyel says:

    Hi Scott!
    Although I can definitely see where you would get the impression that I have a sense of entitlement, I would have to respectfully disagree. I am actual quite conservative in most of my views. Quite to the contrary, I believe there is a difference between needing a foreign language interpreter and needing a sign language interpreter. I am surprised honestly that you are having difficulty with that concept, but I can respect the fact that you do not deal with these populations on a daily basis as I do. There is a huge difference between someone not having access because they speak a different language versus something like deafness which is beyond their control. People of a foreign country can learn to speak another language…Deaf people cannot learn to hear.
    You are one hundred percent right, though, I DO believe they are entitled to equal access. Not something above that, just enough to make the playing field equitable. I am certain that if you were able to put yourself in their shoes with their life experiences and struggles for access in places where the law does defend it, you may have a more sympathetic ear. You have never had to fight to understand what your doctor, your teacher, your family, or most people in your life are trying to say to you. They do. People of a foreign language can usually at least receive this communication in their home country. Where would you suggest the Deaf move to in order to receive fair access? Just a thought.

    Lastly, I am by no means attempting to smear Mr. Boykins name, but if you take it that way, that is up to you obviously. Rather, many people have asked specifically who I contacted there so that they too could call on behalf of this situation.

    I appreciate that you took the time to respond!
    Leyel 🙂

  7. Guest says:

    American Sign Language (ASL) is a recognized language with its own grammar and phrases. To accurately translate communication from verbal English into the visual language of ASL requires a highly skilled professional.

    I find it reprehensible that any group would not provide its Deaf members with qualified professional interpreters. This is excluding them from participating in the church. U.S. Law states that provisions for Deaf (and other groups) should be given to the maximum allowed by law–not minimum. This church is breaking–and even purposely ignoring the intent of the Americans With Disabilities Act. For shame.

    And it isn’t even as if this church could not afford it. To the contrary. I researched Family Life on the Internet. This is a HUGE, well-funded, well-oiled organization. Its organizational chart is 18-pages long! They sell books, music, videos, etc. From what I’ve read, this church is a money-making entity–all without having to pay taxes.

    The very least it could do is provide equal access to ALL of its members (who, by the way, contribute their funds to support this church). Yeah. It’s unethical.

    M. Young

  8. Guest says:

    If interested in writing Family Life, Carl Boykin answers to Eric Platner, Vice President, Event Ministries, Family Life.

    And if you have time, check out the link for Trademarks. It’s an eye-opener.

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