Recruiting the Deaf

Bible and Bible Literature for the Deaf

Brian Moore, a Watch Tower convention news service representative, said in August 2010 that “…the denomination is the first to begin translating the Bible into more than 42 sign languages. Already finished are the books of the Bible from Matthew to Jude. The translations are on DVDs and available to download from the denomination’s website,”[foot]Denton Record Chronicle, August 8, 1010, Convention draws more than 1,000 deaf church members to Denton area, by Lucinda Breeding[/foot]

Another insider reported that the Society has been producing and publishing sign language DVDs containing the books of the Greek Scriptures one at a time for the past ten years or so. In 2010 they released 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. Revelation is the last book to be published and then the entire Greek Scriptures will be finished. Presumably they will then start on the Hebrew Scriptures. Soon Revelation (and thus the Greek Scriptures) will be completed and available.

For those who wish to view the complete New Testament in American Sign Language, there are several complete versions to be found on the Internet.  So, although the Watch Tower may be the first to begin translating the Bible into more than 42 sign languages, others have made great strides and in many respects have passed them up.

The Advantages of Having Sign Language Congregations

As once was done, rather than having signers translate what Witness speakers are saying during typical English Witness congregational meetings, the speakers are signers. This bypasses chances that signers wrongly translate what a speaker is saying. Or that is what sign language signers are told.

Note the following statement quoted from the afore mentioned Norco, California, newspaper, “Many faiths rely primarily on American Sign Language interpretations of spoken services, an approach that Jehovah’s Witnesses has moved away from and which Hairston said doesn’t convey the same meaning. ‘When there’s someone interpreting English, it’s not as clear,’ he said.’”[foot]The Press-Enterprise, July 9, 2010, Olson, David, Hundreds of deaf, hard-of-hearing Jehovah’s Witnesses gather in Norco for annual conference [/foot] This is further borne out by the fact that “…deaf Christians often understand less than 40 percent of an interpreted sermon.”[foot] Christianity Today, January 5, 2011, Do You Hear What I Hear? by Jeremy Weber [/foot]

The hope of the Society was that their unusual religious message interpreted from English for the deaf in sign language would be better understood if directly signed by the speaker. The large screens or monitors set up in strategic locations in Kingdom Halls used for sign language allow attendees anywhere in the Hall see the speaker/presenter’s hand movements, body orientation, and facial expressions not only in the auditorium, but even if in the lobby or other rooms. Of course, these screens would also show an interpreter’s signing   but as pointed out earlier, and will be revisited later, much of the original meaning gets lost in translation.

The growth in the sign language side of things is, like a lot of Witness statistics, somewhat illusory. There are deaf people coming in from the field in a much larger number (as a percentage though not as a total) than English. That said there are sign language congregations of fifty or sixty publishers in which there are five or fewer deaf people.

In one Utah American Sign Language congregation, all those who attend are hearing interpreters except for one deaf person. In this case, most of these Witnesses primarily use their skills to support themselves in paid positions with deaf agencies which local schools, physicians, and courts pay when a deaf translator is needed. However, most Witness interpreters are not professional.  In fact, some that “know” how to sign at the Kingdom Hall do not have training as professional interpreters but pass themselves off as such to a public that doesn’t know any better, and, in many cases, this can lead to problematic situations. Continued on next page…

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