Be Opened

Mark 7:

Mark 7:31-37 has long been known as the passage where Jesus heals a deaf man. "Be healed!" has also been the church’s message in its view and treatment of the Deaf community.

How do Deaf people - whose socio-linguistic identity is Deaf (the capital letter is intentional) and who are proud of their language and their culture and do not wish to be hearing - find value in this passage?

The word chosen by the writer of Mark’s gospel does not mean "to heal." Rather than directing the deaf man to "be healed," the Markan Jesus commands "ephphatha" - "be opened." Has the church sufficiently understood the use of this verb in affirming and clarifying its theological directive in regard to the Deaf community?

According to the Claggett Statement - the landmark 1985 document concerning theological issues of the Deaf community and the implications for Christian churches - the answer is clearly no. Written by liberation theologians, Deaf-culture advocates, linguists, pastors, and activists - Deaf and hearing - the Claggett Statement formed a theological basis for the emergent Deaf rights movement. It holds the church accountable for its history of oppression toward Deaf people, charging that the church views Deaf people as handicapped and therefore "intellectually and morally inferior." It asserts that the church actively joined the clamor of the educational and medical establishments of the time, telling Deaf people to "stop being ‘deaf’ and try to be ‘hearing.’" The Claggett Statement (published 20 years ago in Sojourners) embodies the collective pain that the Deaf community experienced at the hands of these establishments, with the most painful belonging to the actions, and inactions, of the church.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2005
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