Cochlear Implants: A Christian Issue?

As Christians, we have an obligation to examine all aspects of our lives in order to ensure that we honor God daily.  However, not every issue of life falls into neat, easily-evaluated categories.

One such problem is that of cochlear implants.

In essence, a cochlear implant is a surgically-implanted device that doctors thread directly into the cochleas of deaf children/infants in hopes of restoring some auditory abilities.  An external component collects the sound and communicates it to the internal portion.  However, even the most ardent advocates for cochlear implants admit that it is a long, expensive process that does not make deaf children into hearing ones; the follow-up and rehabilitation are often time-consuming and require significant parental and educational assistance.  Implantation surgery carries risks.  As well, certain activities are prohibited (deep scuba diving, sports involving blows to the head, etc).

The Deaf community in the US (and many other countries) presents a rather forceful response: changing a deaf child into a hearing one via surgery harms the child and a culture.  It stigmatizes the child (“you were broken till we fixed you”).  Cochlear implant centers emphasize the use of oral/aural communication over sign language, thus striking at Deaf cultures by actively removing a member of the community.  Implantation philosophies view deafness as a medical condition instead of a cultural one.  Rehabilitation elevates one language (spoken English, for example) over another one (American Sign Language).  Some Deaf leaders in the United States view the impact of cochlear implants large and harmful enough to substantiate claims of child abuse.

(Something that I really can’t put into this post is the degree to which sign language plays a part.  As a deaf friend said after editing my post, “I think you may want to expand a bit on Deaf culture, what it is, how sign language is the absolute integral foundation of the culture, etc so that people might appreciate the erosion on Deaf culture by the increasingly common practice of putting CIs on kids.”  It really isn’t possible to overstate the importance of sign language within the Deaf community and the deep emotional pain experienced when a child is removed from the language community via CI implantation.) 

My wife and I view the issue from a variety of perspectives.  Stacy has been deaf since birth.  I was born with normal hearing, but a quirk of genetics has left me with hearing loss that began in early childhood and continues to worsen as I age.  What’s more, Stacy has a degree (and almost a second) in deaf education.  My background is in communication disorders, with a Master’s in audiology.  If that were not enough, we have worked exclusively with Deaf communities in Gaza, the Czech Republic, Venezuela, Ecuador, and other locations.  We have personal, educational, and vocational points of view.

Cochlear implantation and related issues stir strong feelings, both in us and in the communities in which we live and work.  Stacy and I do not completely agree on the details of the issue, though we eventually draw the same conclusions.  In writing this, I’ve had to set aside as much emotion as I can.  Stacy, in her proof-reading, called me out on the “unemotional and clinical” writing style I’ve used.  My response: “It is deliberately clinical. I can’t get sucked into an emotional approach.”  My statement was immediately followed was an emotion-filled moment of intense fellowship that is beyond the scope of this treatise.


Returning to our initial premise, it would seem that we have an obligation to ask whether or not cochlear implants (CI) have a Christian component.

Perhaps the initial step is to evaluate the appropriateness of altering a physical condition through surgery.  As many Deaf friends have commented, “If God makes a child Deaf, we have no business altering His decisions.”  Weak argument; if we feel comfortable with LASIK, cleft palate repairs, hip replacements, gastric bypass, pacemakers, and surgical remediation of any medical condition, then objecting to this surgical remediation is not something we can logically support.  If people wish to object to cochlear implants – fine.  However, if we’re doing so because it surgically alters something that has naturally occurred to the body, then we’ll need to eliminate all other surgeries that address naturally occurring conditions.  Therefore, objections to the concept of surgical alteration cannot contribute to any sort of Christian prohibition against cochlear implants.

Since we’re already on the topic of divine design, we need to evaluate a sentiment that stems in part from something that came to me from Dr. Robert Hughes  (a great Bible teacher whose scholarship impacts me even today): In considering the question of deafness, we need to keep in mind the more fundamental question of whether full hearing acuity is an aspect of the divinely-designed biological norm.  This is an area of disagreement for my wife and I, and it generates considerable heat.  She says that supporting “full hearing acuity” as part of God’s design for humanity would entail supporting whatever skin color Adam and Eve had as part of “normal,” too.  Their eye color would then become “normal,” as would their handedness, hair color, etc.  I see her point, but draw a line between genetic variations that would have existed even had Adam and Eve never sinned and normal body operations.

(Last time we talked about this, she was stuck her tongue out at me and began to stomp off.  I, being more gracious, turned my back before she got very far in order to communicate that I wasn’t going to watch her walk off and in order to keep her from being able to sign a snarky response.  Maturity for the win!)

If we reject the notion of hearing abilities being the gold standard for humanity, then we can leave our Deaf children without CIs and get on with using sign language. But -if we accept that normal hearing abilities are part of God’s divine design for humanity, we then must question whether we have an obligation to restore hearing to deaf children.

I would say that we do not have such an obligation.  Restoring the world its pre-Fall condition is not for humanity to accomplish; Christ worked to re-establish the direct communion between humanity and God via the cross.  Likewise, God will restore all creation to a perfect state when He chooses.  Therefore, even if we accept that God’s original plan was for humanity to possess a certain amount of hearing, I do not think we can claim that CIs are an obligatory course of Christian action.

What of Jesus’ healing of the deaf man?  I’ve already addressed this particular point here, but I’ll summarize: I do not think Jesus healed a deaf man so much as he restored the man to a position of participation in his local community.  Since Deaf adults today can be more a part of a community than the first-century deaf man in Mark 7, any attempt to argue that Jesus’ miracle implies an obligation for us to remediate (“heal”) deafness would be misguided.  As well, if Jesus’ healing of the Deaf man was to be some sort of norm or pattern of behavior for us, then why would God have claimed responsibility for the creation of the Deaf (Ex. 4) only to have His son reverse the pattern?  No, Jesus’ actions were not intended as an example for us to emulate.

Biblically speaking, I cannot envision a true Christian aspect to the question of CIs.  I do not see a valid claim of obligation to implant, nor of any sort of prohibition to the surgery.  Neither do I find a biblical mandate that we place our respect for other cultures (Deaf culture, in this case) above our divinely-issued parental responsibility to raise our child “properly,” whatever that means.

There are, though, questions that parents have to be able to answer about their deaf child, concepts that they must consider if they are to be fair godly parents who have their children’s best interests at heart.

– What is the best communication method that will come closest to ensuring that my deaf child will be a full participant in family life?  The question is not, “What would be easiest for me, or for the rest of the family?”  This is actually one of the most fundamental issues.  Too many families choose what is easiest for the hearing family members and fail to consider what is actually the best way for the entire family, deaf child included.

– Is a CI a way to remediate hearing loss, or is it simply my way of denying the reality: my child is deaf?  If the CI is a way of avoiding the issue by making the child as hearing as possible, then there are some emotional issues that parents need to address before pulling the trigger on this decision.

– Will I do whatever is necessary to include my child in every single aspect of my life – church, finances, emotional decisions, dinner table discussions, sexuality, morality, theology, politics, jokes, pranks, Christmas – if he has a CI?  Knowing all the work it will take?  If not, will I do what is necessary if I pursue sign language instead of CI?

–  What will be the best long-term option (education, friends, work, money) for my child?  The question, again, is not, “What will work for now?” nor “What do I really wish would work best?”

And so on, and on, and on.

As you can see, there is nothing specifically Christian about the approach.  Our Christian worldview should drive us to fair decisions that take into account the needs of the child first and the entire family (including the child) second, but a non-Christian worldview would likely come up with the same questions.  Tragically, in my experience Christian parents are only marginally better at making decisions that consider the needs of the deaf child within the family.



  1. Dave Miller says

    For me (and perhaps for many) this is strange – a lot to digest. Most of us would view (insensitively, perhaps) the loss of hearing as a problem to be overcome rather than a culture to be honored.

    Very interesting.

  2. SVMuschany says

    Bringing up the issue of a child born deaf and how they should be treated is similar to children who are born with Autism, or DS, or any number of other genetic disorders. If using medical science to make a deaf child hear is against “Gods created will”, then so too is trying to find a “cure” for Autism, or DS, or ect.

    But the issue with “God’s created will” brings up a different problem in that it assumes that God is happy with our fallen state in which our bodies have been flawed and corrupted by the Fall of Adam. This is the way we are, many of us are born with these disorders, and it is not a sign of our sin. Or our parents sin. But it is a sign of the fallen nature of our humanity. To say it is wrong to “fix that” because of “God’s will” is to assume that God is happy with our fallen nature. Our sinful bodies are something that he allows just as he allows our fallen sin nature.

    That said, just because our bodies are corrupted, does not mean that we should always jump to fix it. Remember, our efforts, as noble as they might be, still bear the traces of corruption. We cannot make ourselves “perfect”, even we as believers. It is something only God can do, and only HE can make our bodies perfect, something that will happen in the end times. Thus we cannot assume that giving a deaf child hearing, or curing MS or Autism is the “right thing” just as even simple organ transplants may not be the “right thing”.

    Here is a story of my grandma (this occurred in the 90’s). In her mid 50’s, she started to have kidney failure. It got to the point she had to be on dialysis 3-4 times a week. She was able to receive a kidney transplant. However because of the anti-rejection medications she took, doctors were not able to notice the cancer that had began to grow elsewhere in her body until it was too late. Was trying to “fix” the kidneys the right thing to do? Can fallen, flawed, men really “fix” fallen, flawed bodies? I honestly don’t know the answer.

    I suffer from Neurofibromatosis Type 1. Compared to other genetic disorders it is relatively tame. But it has/does present me with issues living that “normal” people don’t have. If they were to find a cure/fix today, would I take it? I don’t know. Would I give it to my future unborn child to ensure they do not have the same problems that I did? I don’t know. If I can’t make such a decision for myself or for my own child, how could i begin to tell someone else that a cochlear implant is right or wrong for them and their situation? I believe that ultimately these decisions must remain between a person, their family, and God. And whether we agree or disagree with their decisions, as Christians we should be supportive and respectful of those decisions.

    Is there a line between fixes like these or say sex change operations because a person feels they were a female trapped in a mans body? I believe there is. Where that line is however, is far far far beyond my pay grade. As I think it is for everyone else on a web forum like this (no offense folks).

  3. Greg Harvey says

    I recommend the theatrical production of “Children of a Lesser God” by Mark Medoff (not the movie, which doesn’t as clearly address the subject) because it very clearly asks the question whether hearing people view deaf people as being inferior and whether restoration of hearing for a deaf person is specifically designed to reduce inferiority. The title of the play (and the movie) specifically address the philosophical question that is raised.

    To the extent that as believers our theology is that through belief people are reformed from inferiority to superiority, the same issue often arises in church settings both in how we look at believers and how we look at sinners. And, just to be honest, I was thinking of the same thing as I responded at length in the thread about the man who had undergone “gender reassignment” surgery to become a (physical) transsexual.

    All of our efforts to change ourselves to be what we conceive we ought to be are essentially doomed to failure except one: putting faith in Jesus Christ to be our Lord/Boss and Savior/Deliverer. The temptation for believers is to make efforts to accelerate sanctification once we put faith in Jesus.

    The instinct is noble and to the extent that we can address honestly continuing sin and appropriate the freedom we have in Christ Jesus to make the willful decision to not sin, that does result in less self-destruction. But the idea that we can create a “perfect me” is impossible and unattainable and filled with self-destruction. It’s also childish and immature and arrogant…but I’m just repeating myself.

    Therefore: the inclination that a deaf person is better off if he or she can be coerced into being a hearing person seems to me to be very close to arrogance. What exactly is wrong with a child or young person or adult or senior who can’t “hear”? We can’t rely simply on the deprivation of sensory input or processing to determine their defectiveness. And yet to some extent it is similar to the disqualifying blemish or broken bone qualification of the OT for sacrificial animals and for priests. It isn’t precisely disfavor from God–some things we human beings perceive as “disabilities” come with surprising “abilities” attached to them–as much as it is a symbolic picture of wholeness that is in some way “incomplete” at least from a human perspective.

    With that said: as a hearing person, I wouldn’t think twice to help a child of mine via cochlear implants to have any form of hearing that is accessible to him or her. But I would be attempting this to improve quality of life. And my attempt to do so might be vain: my wife’s paternal grandfather prefers to turn up his television to the loudest setting rather than wear his hearing aid for instance. I can only imagine that his reason for doing so is some kind of personal sense of comfort v. discomfort (which I don’t judge since I don’t have to wear a hearing aid.)

    That said: this series of “pragmatic theology” issues is fascinating. I still feel that each of these issues has a sense of “manufacturedness”. But each also deals deeply with our own sense of “personhood” and our sense of acceptance by God the way we perceive we “are”. This particular issue actually reverses the “polarity” of the previous two articles in the sense that both of those men desperately sought some kind of change: the first seeks divorce from an unfaithful wife and the second chose gender reassignment surgery. This is almost the opposite: does it make sense to reject a potential improvement in the name of trusting God’s provision with respect to our lives (including a lack of provision of something everyone else has)?

    This is just a tiny baby step away from whether Christians should have insurance or accept medical intervention for diseases and physical conditions in general. We Americans have been generally socialized to view medicine as a social good. But at least one Christian cult–“Christian Science”–rejects medicine as “good”. (Now I’ll note that I don’t believe they are either “Christian” or “Scientists”, but that’s a discussion for another time.)

    Our society generally rejects the view that parents can make life-ending decisions regarding providing medical treatment for young children and judges step in from time to time to remove children from the custody of parents that are pursuing a course of denying what seems to be–from a common sense perspective–helpful medical treatment. One has to wonder how a secular judge would weigh into this conversation?

    The closest I came in a google search to an example of a parent refusing to give a child a cochlear implants and the surrounding ethics was this article from Practical Ethics from the University of Oxford. I thought the title was a little too provocative, but it showed a balance of viewpoints within the article.

    • Jeremy Parks says

      I have Deaf friends with a Deaf child. An audiologist refused to serve them because they would not comply with all of his recommendations for amplification (hearing aids, CI, etc), speech therapy, cessation of sign language in communicating with the child, educational placement, etc.

      Never mind the number of degrees this couple had. Never mind the experience in working with vocational rehabilitation groups. Never mind their intelligence and ability to discuss the matter. The audiologist’s attitude was, “I know best, and you do not. Do what I say, or get out.” Wasn’t off in some foreign land – this was the American South.

      Travel around and you’ll hear phrases like, “He’s really smart – Deaf and knows how to talk.”

      Visit enough hearing churches and you’ll find pastors who would gladly allow a Spanish or Korean speaking congregation to use the extra meeting room upstairs for their own worship services, but would never in a thousand years permit the Deaf group to have their own services in sign language.

      So, yeah, I think there is ample anecdotal evidence that many, many, many hearing groups view the Deaf as sub-something, not quite up to par with the rest of us.

      • Chris Roberts says

        Can you think of one church that has denied deaf groups while accepting others?

        As for the parents, their attitude strikes me as strange. Disability is a consequence of the fall, a byproduct of sin (not our personal sin, but sin nonetheless). It’s not about being inferior or superior in any way but about overcoming malfunctioning body parts. For parents to deny those things is bizarre at best.

        • Jeremy Parks says

          Yes, I can think of churches that have accepted one language group associated with an ethnic identity and denied a Deaf group that uses a different language. Didn’t take me long at all.

          As for the parents – I think one of us is missing something. What is it about the parents’ decisions that strikes you as strange? I’m not following you. Help, please.

          • Chris Roberts says

            Deafness is a disability. Sure, cultures can form around disabilities, but we call them disabilities for a reason: something in the body is not working the way it is supposed to. That causes some degree of limitation.

            I’m deaf in my left ear. I’ve been that way since birth. I get nothing from that ear except the occasional unpleasant vibration. This is far from complete deafness since my right ear still works fine, but even with just one ear out I know how often I am put in awkward, inconvenient, and difficult situations due to being unable to hear from one side. I know the difficulties are much greater for those with total deafness. If we have the means to address that disability, let’s do it!

            I don’t get parents who would choose cultural identity over functional improvements. I don’t want to overstate the analogy, but this is in some ways akin to people who oppose evangelism because of cultural contamination: it doesn’t matter if their current condition is problematic, let’s preserve their culture! But deafness is a disability, it does create hardship, it is a consequence of the fall, and if we have the means to improve a child’s ability to hear, I am not inclined to think favorably of a parent who withholds those means from their children.

          • says

            I’d like to point out something: I know of no other disability, as you’ve termed it, in the entire world that forms what sociologists term “culture.” Deafness is the only one. Birds of a feather may flock together, but only in the Deaf world do these birds form their own culture.

            The reason for this uniqueness lies in the language: Deaf culture exists in places where sign language has developed. Anywhere you have a people who share a unique language, you’re going to have the potential for a unique culture. The reason for the culture’s existence is all but irrelevant; what matters is that it is real.

            Consider some of the tribal groups in Suriname. They are genetically (essentially) African; west African, to be exact. They are descendants of slaves who were brought to the New World and escaped in large numbers to the South American jungle. It matters not that they are really transplanted Africans who have developed a culture that is the result of their cultural origins mixing with their new social milieu. What matters is that the culture exists. Period.

            Deaf adults share a rich culture that they would not give up for all the whiskey in Ireland. Naturally, they want their children to be a part of that culture. They want their kids to have the same values and views of the world. In other words, Deaf adults have a reasonable hope that their families will, in some fashion, function in a manner that makes cultural sense to the parents.

            Getting us back to the original question, though: Is there a Christian aspect? I’d say there is not. Even if someone says, “CI is the best way and therefore parents have a responsibility to do what is best!” I could counter with an entire world of Deaf people who can intelligently cry, “No! CIs scar and stigmatize and fall short of the mark! The best option is sign language!”

          • Chris Roberts says

            Reminds me of Christian comedian Brad Stine remarking with astonishment the time he was chastised for daring to assert that a knife, fork, and spoon work better than chopsticks regardless of the cultural ties chopsticks may hold.

            I can understand parents wanting to preserve culture, but to do so at the expense of a child’s ability to function, that’s the part I don’t get. Sign language, whatever its cultural connections, is not of greater value than the ability to hear, particularly since far more goes into hearing than simply the ability to communicate. Using myself once again as an example, because I’m deaf in my left ear I have to be a little more careful than others when evaluating whether or not something is headed my direction since I am not able to determine which direction a sound is coming from. This is obviously a much greater problem for the person who cannot hear at all.

          • says

            Stigmatize? Why would anyone do that?

            I can see hearing parents with a deaf child going the CI route. I know of deaf parents with hearing children raising them in the deaf culture. But no one culture in general is better than any other one, except for the gospel.

            So I think there’s a larger issue here. I’m a Christian. That means that the culture of the cross supersedes any other culture I come in contact with, including the ones I was raised in (which are largely gone anyway). I have tried to raise my kids to have the same sensibilities. If they grow up and leave to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming the gospel in remote parts of the world I couldn’t be happier. I’d miss any grandkids they produce, but the Kingdom of Heaven is something far greater than me and I want them to follow God even if it means that my grandkids never know the particular culture their grandparents come from. I hope to share with them the culture of the cross, and that’s all that matters.

            There’s something far greater than whether a kid grows up in a hearing culture or a deaf culture. If there is anything Christian about this, that’s it.

    • Jeremy Parks says

      I find it fascinating that you feel these are contrived.

      All three examples are completely accurate and real-world. I know the divorce guy personally – drinks my coffee every Wednesday and Friday evening. The sex change person is not a buddy of mine, but we share mutual friends who are conflicted over what the proper answer should be. As for cochlear implants…

      The CI debate is an extremely divisive one in the medical community and Deaf world. I can go on YouTube and find Deaf adults expounding on the evils of CI from countries around the world, doing so in a rich variety of sign languages that stand to be greatly influenced by high numbers of implants.

      • Greg Harvey says

        I’m not saying the stories are made up. It’s just that sense that–again a close comparison is watching reality shows on TV–that we’re looking through a viewport framed too completely (from a narrative perspective I guess) by the specific problem.

  4. says

    I don’t know if I would be comfortable or financially able to provide CI were i to have had a child born deaf. That said there are a few observations I have:

    Deafness entails a high level of functional loss. Most of us have physical shortcomings of one sort or another. Most of these shortcomings are of a low-level sort. That is, we can function relatively normally. But even those of us who only have relatively low-level functional loss will have relatively high-level functional loss in our later years. I’ve developed arthritis, for example, in my thumbs and toes. I use plates in my shoes to help me walk normally to prevent back problems. I expect this will all continue to worsen as I get older.

    Fortunately, we have made tremendous strides in Western culture to provide some support for people with high-level functional loss to get along and even provide for themselves to some degree. (Needless to say, this was not the case in ancient Israel.) CI is one medical option to help people who are deaf that fits in with this pattern of helping people.

    That said, I’m reminded of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda in John 5. Although the man was there, in all the years he was there, he never managed to get in the pool as though the pool would actually heal him. Mostly he just complained. Too many of us, and perhaps I’ve done this myself before, wear our ailments as a badge of pride. It’s easy to get caught up in it because it sure seems like if anyone is entitled to have a beef, it’s the one who suffers from _________. And that [blank] back there could be filled in with about anything. It’s especially comforting to have a group of people who suffer the same way you do so that you can feel like you belong. I know of a group of young women who would meet and complain about their husbands. Instead of encouraging each other to strive to be good wives in spite of their rocky marriages, they encouraged each other to get rid of the losers they were married to. They are all divorced now. You have to be careful in the support communities you form that you don’t support yourselves out of the community at large because your smaller community has been forged out of pride.

    We know that God shines through our weakness. Perhaps he does so by accomplishing through us what we cannot on our own. But he also does so by working in the way we handle our weakness. If we are able to medically help ourselves and demonstrate the God is a God of healing, wonderful! If we demonstrate the joy of God in the midst of our weakness (Think of Joni Erickson Tada.), wonderful! If we take our weakness and use it to minister to others in such a way that brings glory to God, wonderful! So it’s not a matter of whether we avail ourselves of our proverbial “pool of Bethesda” or not, but that we trust Christ whether we continue to suffer joyfully or are able to find some medical means to assuage the effects of our ailment.

    So, whether you take your deaf child to get a CI or not, do it to the glory of God and teach him or her to have the same attitude.

  5. Christiane says

    most of us don’t have a point of reference with which to understand the CI dilemma . . . but most parents want to do what is best for their children if possible, although knowing ‘what is best’ is often more complicated than it first appears to be

    this topic is a sensitive one, and special to those whose own experience it touches . . . but I can’t see all parents whose children are born with anomalies having to follow one pattern ethically, no . . . each child, each situation, each set of parents must be considered separately with respect to what is best for that child . . .

    no ‘cookie-cutter’ solutions, I think

  6. says


    I really appreciate this article. I will admit, as Dave already has, that this entire post came across as very foreign to me. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

    A few years back, I had the opportunity to work with a Certified Deaf Interpreter in a complex work-related matter, and I wish that I was aware of these cultural issues at that time, because I really would have loved to have heard his take on some of these things. (I’m not sure if CDI is a universal title or just something unique to my field. The gentleman was a deaf-born interpreter who was an expert at communicating with deaf individuals who used non-standard signs. In our situation, we needed him as a relay interpreter, to facilitate communication between the deaf individuals on one end and the sign language interpreter on our end.) Even in your brief thoughts here, I realize that I never really grasped the complexity of the situation.

    • says

      Yes, CDIs are growing.

      As the field of interpreting expands, the professionals in that field realize that sometimes they are overmatched. The Deaf individual for whom they are interpreting uses non-standard signs, or has immigrated from another country and is using a sign mix. Bringing in someone who has gone through certification testing for linguistic flexibility and understanding is often the way to go.

      When my wife and I lived in a small town in the Appalachians, a court clerk contacted us about a case involving a rural deaf woman who signed in a way that the court interpreter could not understand. My wife went to court in order to help the deaf woman and the interpreter understand one another.

  7. says

    Jeremy, I think in the hearing community, it’s misunderstood that there is truly a deaf culture rather than just deaf people in the culture at-large. It comes back to defining the world as we see it vs. allowing people to define the world they live in–it’s far simpler for me to simply see a deaf person trying to get by in my world, rather than acknowledging the right and reality that a separate culture exists.

    I can imagine a church that rejects a “deaf church” because the hearing pastor does not understand why you cannot just add a sign-language interpreter to the existing service. In all honesty, without interacting with you on here about this, that’s very likely the direction I would have gone: why can’t you just interpret what we already do?

    Additionally, I think we miss the difference in truly deaf culture compared to those of us who have hearing loss due to age and/or stupid. (Mine’s both–use hearing protection when you shoot, kids.) I see my hearing loss as a definite bad thing, and will eventually invest in fixing it technologically.

    Another side note–it seems that we’re behind the curve thinking about this one. The TV show Scrubs summed it all up in 23 minutes back in 2007 as they dealt with a kid who was deaf with a father who didn’t want a CI and a mother who did. Father was deaf, mother was not, and the father knew he would lose his son from his world for it.

    Anyway, thought-provoking. I guess this is a spot where perhaps the choices more mirror those of immigrants. Do you stay in the transplanted community of the home culture or go out and adapt to the culture outside? Stay an American in Paris or learn to be French? What do you do with your children? I would certainly argue that this one’s a parent call, not a physician/provider call, but I wonder how long it will be that way? Before we have that decision made for us, like vaccinations or other medical procedures?

  8. says

    My book, “Listening Closely: A Journey to Bilateral Hearing” explores my own experiences with my cochlear implants, covering the benefits of bilateral cochlear implants as well. The title refers to both the hearing sense, but also the spiritual sense – that there is a greater message in this book – the miracle of allowing a deaf person to hear. As an adult who knows what it is like to be totally without sound, and then to have it restored to the degree that cochlear implants do, is nothing short of a miracle of Biblical proportions. My goal in writing this book was to spread the word on just how effective these devices can be. To remain in deaf silence when this incredible technology is now available is to turn one’s back on the miracles of our own time.

    • Jeremy Parks says

      And to choose what is for many a difficult (if not impossible) transition to a world of half-sounds and missed conversations when an entire universe of barrier-free communication exists in the fluidity and beauty of sign language is to turn one’s back on the miracle of the divinely-designed brain’s penchant for linguistic development.

      It all depends on which miracle you find more compelling. I’m glad you’ve found your path, and it is indeed yours. Those who find joy in a community – a culture – of Deaf signers have found theirs.

      • Chris Roberts says

        …while rejecting community with the majority of the population? Is there not some element of pride in that, a desire to be distinct, something other than everyone else, to stand out in some distinct way?

      • says

        This is just not something we’re going to agree on, and that’s OK.

        But let’s point out something significant: the author of the book lost her hearing late in life. Being fit with an implant and learning to use it was far easier than it is for the average deaf infant or child. Far easier. Restoring her hearing was a wonderful thing, but it was exactly that: restoration. Talk to any audiologist and they’ll admit that implanting an adult with postlingual deafness is quite different from implanting a pre-lingual deaf infant.

        I’ve seen too many Deaf kids with implants hit the age of 8 or 12 or 16 without ever having developed the sort of proficiency expected by their parents. They are literally language-less. Their optimal window for language learning, age 0 – 3, is gone and they are more isolated from the world than if they had been allowed to learn sign language.

        And me – my residual hearing is not bad, really. I can function in one-on-one situations quite well. Know how often I find one-on-one situations in this world? Pretty rare. I turn instead to the Deaf community, where my hearing is not a barrier. That’s the best choice in the minds of many people who have considered the issue ad nauseam.

        It’s not a choice of who I’m going to interact with. The options are instead whether I’m going to immerse myself in a world where I can reliably communicate vs a world where I cannot.

        • Chris Roberts says

          You raise a different issue here, one with a more legitimate concern: at what point do implants cease to be all that beneficial. This has also been an issue with various treatments for those born blind: there are a few options out there, but individuals who have been treated don’t know how to process the new data. But this has nothing to do with culture or any such considerations. The potential is there for science to further advance and offer more significant treatment options earlier in life, perhaps someday completely avoiding issues of this sort but still running against those who think participation in deaf culture is more valuable than correcting a serious disability.

    • Jerry Smith says

      I agree, my wife’s Aunt had cochlear implants several years back, & it works pretty good for her. Its not perfect but it helps here very much. I had the privilege of preaching at the church she attends & them marrying her grandson at that church as well. In this church they had some type of thing that plugged into her cochlear implants some way & this made it so she could hear the preach very good. When marring her grandson before we came out into the sanctuary I had the mic on my lapel & it was turned on. Her grandson was standing next to me & he was very nervous. I thought I would tease him a bit hoping it would loosen him up & did so. His grandmother heard everything including his replies to me & was laughing out loud setting out in the sanctuary. Her daughter setting next to her thought her mother had gone off the deep end because not one funny thing was happening out there. She had a blast after the wedding talking to her grandson about the remarks he made to me before the wedding. Of course he wanted to know how she knew about that. Cochlear implants can have its advantage for sure & it surely did that wedding day for that lovely grandmother. I believe that cochlear implants are wonderful & I wish more deaf people could take advantage of them. Hope your book will help many people.

  9. Daniel says

    First of all, I greatly appreciate your writing. Every time I read your articles on here I am reminded of a certain picture of an American missionary standing in the middle of a ring with a bull. Not quite sure why, but that’s the case.

    Secondly, I have hesitated to respond to some of your questioning posts, due to what I refer to as a spiritual separateness. In other words, I firmly believe in the work of God’s Spirit to guide us in the unique circumstances and situations of our lives; I am currently in such a situation. I have sought advice from others – good, spiritual, Godly people – and yet none of them can fully identify with my situation. Therefore I believe we have to be careful with our “convictions” from afar, as God will give wisdom as needed.

    That being said, I do want to comment on the reality of the deaf culture. From my limited observations I have seen such to be the case. Watching two Deaf people meet is like seeing two Americans run into each other in the Sudan or some other similiar remote place. There is a connection there that can only be realized by those who are a part of that culture.
    My wife has always been intrigued with ASL and at different times in her life has had opportunity to study and communicate with folks through ASL. Several years ago we attended a church that had an active ministry led by a Deaf member who taught ASL. One of their assignments was to teach their spouse/friend enough ASL to allow everyone to communicate together while out at dinner. A friend and I – our wives were taking the class together – decided that we would simply sit beside each other and talk to each other instead of putting in the time to learn how to communicate. To put it bluntly, we missed out.

    Stricly speaking, a Deaf person might be considered, by myself, to have a physical disability. However, with the appropriate amount of effort, anyone can communicate clearly and easily with that individual. If that is the case: to whom does the resonsibility belong? I appreciate your cando in dealing with this issue.

    • Dave Miller says

      “Every time I read your articles on here I am reminded of a certain picture of an American missionary standing in the middle of a ring with a bull. Not quite sure why, but that’s the case.”

      Now that was funny.

    • says

      Where does the responsibility lie? Great question.

      I believe it rests with both communities, hearing and Deaf. I’ve seen Deaf friends retreat into their communities after years of frustration and simply say, “I’m done flexing for you. Your turn. YOU pay for the interpreters. YOU set up the room properly to allow for free communication. YOU do all the accommodating. I’m done bending and twisting and turning in order to communicate.”

      I’ve also see hearing folks – including those who have Deaf family members – simply say, “You need to pay attention. You need to try. You need to know we’re not going to change much for you. You’re one, and we’re many. That places the burden on you, not us.” They might not say it in so many words, but its there.

      Both views, especially within the Christian community, are wrong.

  10. Tarheel says

    What about prosthesis?

    Similar or no?

    A child born without an arm is “given one” later in life….would one argue then that “he was viewed as broken and needed to be fixed” thus being somehow immoral?

    I think I’m with Chris here…serious disability treatment should be utilized, so long as the means and the surgery itself is moral and beneficial.

    • says

      Of course it isn’t immoral. That’s part of the point I’ve made: there is no CHristian component. Regardless of the emotions and convictions, they are personal and not biblically-based. And that’s OK. That’s fine.

      However, you’ve made a mistake by assuming I view my deafness as a serious disability in need of treatment. I know 6 languages and have forgotten 2. I have 2 and half degrees. I’ve friends on 5 continents and have raised three children. I’ve got all the friends I could possibly want.

      What disability?

      • Tarheel says

        It sounds like you certainly worked hard to overcome the limitations that deafness could bring.

        I didn’t mean to offend you…what would you call it if not a disability….I in no way mean that term as an insult…only descriptive.

        • says

          I wasn’t insulted, but disability-based terminology place the conversation on a bad footing. It forces all those involved to view a single (though life-altering) difference through a negative lens no matter how the debaters feel about it.

          A major difference in the debate is how each person views his own hearing loss. My father was a musically-gifted man who taught himself to play the piano by ear and then used that to figure out how to tune a guitar, which he then taught himself how to play. However, his hearing loss started in his 20s, and I recall watching him leaning low over his guitar, attempting to hear it well enough to tune and play. He hates his loss because of what he knows he has lost.

          For those of us who never had it or began losing it early enough to feel as though we never had it, there’s often no sense of loss. Instead, a new world is opened to us, one my father can never and would never access. It’s a great world, and we like it here.

  11. says


    I’d like to contend with your statement: “I know of no other disability… in the entire world that forms what sociologists term “culture.” Deafness is the only one. Birds of a feather may flock together, but only in the Deaf world do these birds form their own culture.

    I think you arbitrarily elevate deaf “culture” over other disability “cultures” on the basis of community size and sign language. There are plenty of strong communities of people and family members of people with specific disabilities who all speak a common language, just not one specifically invented to accommodate a disability, since their disabilities don’t affect speech/hearing.

    Certainly these “cultures” may not be as organized, developed, and independent of the larger culture from which they come as the deaf community is, but they are certainly united in more ways than just the presence of a disability.

    • says

      Call a sociologist and have him define culture. Then, using that definition, evaluate your statements.

      Signing Deaf people have a unique language – grammar, vocabulary, syntax – that follows a different developmental track than the local spoken language. They have learning styles and worldviews that differ from the general hearing population. They have their own jokes, their own values, their own definition of fairness and morality that stems from their values.

      As for your view of language, call a linguist and have him define a language group, and then using that definition evaluate sign language and the “language” spoken by other disability groups.

      To say, for example, that those whose families have members in the autism spectrum difficulties share a “language” is non-sensical. They share a vocabulary, or a vernacular, or common figures of speech. Those things are meaningful to them in every way, and that’s good and right and appropriate. However, their terminologies fall into standard American English. American Sign Language does not. Comparing a vernacular within Language A to an actual Language B is really a non-starter.

      I would never – ever – wish to minimize the difficulties other groups face (blind, autism, physical differences, etc). Neither do I wish to claim that their support systems or groups are inferior to anyone else’s. However, there’s no logical, reasonable, fact-based comparison. A different linguistic group defined by widely-accepting standards for language is not the same as a group that uses their own terminology.

      And as international missionaries and sociologists and anthropologists around the world will affirm, any time you have a group using a different language, they are going to develop a different culture and worldview. It matters not why the language group exists, nor where their language came from. It exists, and therefore so does the people group.

      • says

        Call a sociologist and have him define culture.

        This seems a condescending to me. I haven’t studied how culture is defined by the sociological sciences, so I would appreciate a little more grace and less contempt from you. My only point was that a small community of families who have children with muscular distrophy would be just as effected, if not more than, by the loss of a member because of medical intervention as a larger Deaf culture would by the loss of a member because of CI. Perhaps that may not rise to the level of “culture,” but the impact on the group is no less.

      • says

        Let’s back up a little. I don’t want this to be a testy discussion, so I’ll tread lightly.

        If you’re going to claim that deaf “cultures” and other disability “cultures” are not that different, then as far as I can tell you’re using a definition for culture that is not based on fact. If that bothers you, please know that I don’t mean for it to do so. It’s just a basic reflection of reality.

        Groups that center on a single theme (fan clubs, support groups, goth, S&M, etc.) may form what rises to the level of a sub-culture, but never an actual separate cultural entity. They may use slightly different vocabulary or enjoy different things, but they are never a culture by sociological definitions.

        Deaf culture is truly a culture by standard definitions that are widely-accepted by sociologist. As I’ve already listed the basic items that qualify it as such, I won’t belabor the point here.

        Comparing the two is illogical. It requires that we water down a real culture and elevate a sub-culture in order for a comparison to take place.

        As for how any other group would feel should one of their members be cured or healed, I have no idea. I could never predict that with any degree of educated accuracy.

        • says


          I don’t mean to undermine the validity of Deaf culture, so I’ll avoid comparing it to other disability groups. However, perhaps I could ask a few more questions to better understand this subject of Deaf culture and CI’s.

          Is it the case that you and your wife are deaf, but your children can hear? Is there a major difference, from a parent’s perspective and from a Deaf culture perspective, of having a child with CI’s and having a hearing child? If the concern is that a child with CI’s has essentially been torn from the Deaf culture, what does this mean for the hearing children of Deaf parents? Are they excluded from Deaf culture?

          If both parents are hearing and they have CI’s done on their deaf child, is that much different than American parents adopting a child from Russia and raising him or her as American?

          • says

            Yes, the kids can hear fine.

            A hearing Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) is as much a part of the Deaf community as the parents choose to make him. That’s up to Mom and Dad. Our kids know our friends, and they use American Sign Language. As adults they can eventually be, as they choose, immersed in and part of the Deaf community or they can stay on the fringe – conversant but not really a part of the community. Their choice.

            As for the final question – the one about adoption – there are perspectival issues that come into play. For example – one objection to CI is that they perpetuate a pattern of hearing people making choices for the Deaf. There’s an incredibly long, painful history of that. There is no such history of American’s making such choices for Russians. As well, many times implantation is done out of parental rejection of the concept of a deaf child. Few Americans adopt Russians out of a rejection for Russians themselves.

            Does that make sense?

            A Deaf child whose par

  12. Tarheel says

    I’m just looking for an acceptable descriptor.


    I am more comfortable with disability than any of those….

    I’m being sincere….what appropiate terminology should one use?

  13. says


    I realize that being “Deaf” is a very powerful unifying identity for the Deaf community, but I can’t think of anything in the Bible that would argue that deafness is anything other than a disabiling health condition (the Exodus 4 passage you mention also lists being muteness and blindness alongside deafness). I’m not saying that there is no such thing as a Deaf culture–I fully acknowledge that–but I do question whether deafness should not be viewed as a disabling health condition, albeit one that has had major advances in accommodation in the last few centuries (standardized languages, CI, other medical breakthroughs).

    • says

      Reading this over, I think it sounds rather insensitive (clinical) ;-). Do you think that Deaf culture misses something by diminishing or denying deafness as a medical issue/impairment?

      • says

        No. I don’t think I miss out on anything at all by choosing to elevate the cultural aspect over the medical issue. And while it doesn’t bother me personally, an issue of great sensitivity within the Deaf community as a whole is the educational/medical communities insisting on a single view of the matter: medical/impairment.

        I don’t know of any Deaf adults who object to visiting their audiologist or ENT, but a good many complain that they are consistently viewed as being in need of rehabilitation or repair. As well, their objection to being “repaired” often earns them open scorn for their decisions, something most of us doubt any other patient would routinely experience. I’ve heard of medical professionals expressing concern to hearing patients over an unwillingness to follow advice, but only in Deaf circles have I ever heard of a medical professional saying, “Follow my advice completely or leave.”

        A possible Deaf perspective:

        “Just fit me for a hearing aid – or not – and let me go on my way. Don’t preach to me about the beauty of sound or music or birds. I’ve never heard them and I lack the emotional connection you have to those things. Tell you what: you come into my world and see the beauty that we have and I’ll consider jumping through all the hoops in order to enter your world. No? That’s what I thought.”

  14. dean says

    Jeremy, thank you for your work. You have dropped some information on us that is difficult to digest because it destroys our views on certain things. I would assume that most everyone outside of the Deaf culture would see deafness as a disease or handicap and not a culture. Few of “us” would think in terms of Deaf culture. I go one step further to say that many of us are uneasy because we now do not know how to address Deafness. Is it a disease and sickness or not? I am from the deep south and have embraced my culture and have taught my children to do the same. If someone were to call my culture a disease I would be offended. If they were from a Yankee state say like Iowa, I would just consider the source.

    I will add that I have pastored a church that has had an ongoing deaf ministry. I also spent 17 days in Japan helping the IMB. During those 17 days I partnered with a couple who ministered among the deaf of a particular city in Japan. They were incredible soul winners. With this little experience, I would add that the Deaf culture is the most closed and difficult culture I have ever tried to penetrate. After 8 years as pastor of a church with a deaf ministry I still was an outsider to the deaf. I kept up with them through electronic means on the phone. I went to parties, mixers and events I was invited to. I never penetrated that culture. I suspect the Deaf culture is strong and influential. As an outsider, I could never understand preventing my children from hearing in order to enhance and protect my culture. As a brother in Christ, I will recognize my ignorance and limitations and respect any who may chose to do so.

  15. Bill Mac says

    Jeremy: Are hearing children who are born to deaf parents stigmatized at all? What about deaf people who marry hearing people?

    • Bill Mac says

      Followup: Do hearing children of deaf parents usually remain in the community? I would think it would be difficult for them to do so. Do not some deaf parents try to take steps to insure that they have deaf children? (can that be done? maybe I’ve been watching too much TV)

    • Bennett Willis says

      I am tagging onto Bill Mac’s question. I have heard of the issue with CI’s and never been able to understand. The question I have is if the child was born with hearing (to deaf parents) and at a young age had a disease which caused the hearing sense to be lost. How would this impact the issue?

      • says

        General rules, painting with a broad brush…

        1. Hearing kids stay as much a part of the Deaf community as they choose, but it often is a function of the degree of their involvement growing up. Some become interpreters, or teachers of the Deaf. I know of a few CODAs who became pastors in Deaf churches.

        2. Never heard of a Deaf parent attempting to ensure a Deaf offspring.

        3. Just as some hearing parents choose to use CIs for their Deaf kids and some do not, there exists the possibility that Deaf parents would do the same. Audiologically speaking, a child who has learned auditory behavior will react differently to an implant than a deaf infant who has never heard anything at all. In general, the later the hearing loss, the easier the transition. There are two cases on this comment thread of exactly that concept.

        Stacy and I agree – would never implant our baby if it were born deaf. If our children follow in my footsteps and begin gradually losing their hearing, i can help them figure out how to function in a hearing environment while continuing to make sure their sign language skills are sharp. But – that’s us. It is, as others have said, a highly personal issue. There just isn’t a biblical mandate for one position or the other.

        • Jerry Smith says

          I have heard of deaf parents having their child born hearing have the doctor to make them deaf. I know of 4 such cases. Plus on a Christian forum I post on a deaf friend has told me he has known of several sets of parent make their hearing born child deaf.

          Wanting Babies Like Themselves, Some Parents Choose Genetic Defects

          Designing Deaf Babies and the Question of Disability

          Its very sad that any parent would intentionally make their child deaf, there is nothing right about it. And there is nothing right about a doctor making a hearing born child deaf because that’s what the parents want, nor is it right for a doctor helping a deaf husband & wife have a deaf child.

          There is a biblical mandate, let God make the decision, instead of becoming our own god. After all its God who opens or closes the womb.

          Ge 29:31 And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.
          Ge 20:18 For the LORD had fast closed up all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah Abraham’s wife.
          Ge 25:21 And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

          The child the husband & wife has is a gift from God, its past time for Christians to stop being their own God, & place all their trust in the God of the Bible, & stop following this world & its ways.

  16. says

    When Jesus healed all those deaf people as He walked the earth, was He providing them a lesser blessing—denying them the greater blessing by failing to bestow on them the knowledge of sign language? Deafness, like blindness and every other physical failure and corruption of the Eden ideal, is the product of the sin of Adam. “Through one man, sin entered into the world, and death through sin…” The principle of death in the physical creation, which resulted from human sin, permeates the physical nature of all men in varying ways, and deafness is just one more manifestation of that principle of death that corrupts us. This why Jesus healed it everywhere He went, and it is why God in Scripture teaches the analogy of Christ bringing sinners from blindness to seeing His light, from deafness to hearing His truth, and from death to life abundant in Him.

    It is one thing to make the best of a less than ideal condition—and even to form the best culture around a disability that can be formed under the circumstances; but quite another to forget the true nature of the disability—to turn good and bad upside down.

    • says

      I think an aspect of the problem is a determination to have a single view of deafness: disability. I have zero problem admitting that any deviation from the perfect original design is likely a result of sin in the world. But it’s more than that.

      Why does there have to be a single view of the issue? What the either/or insistence? Why can we not say, “This is how I have been made by God and I have no problem with that. I have traded the beauty of sound for the beauty of a language inconceivable by many, a language that is proof of the cognitive flexibility that is also a part of the divine design.”

      As for forming a culture around a disability, I think you’re missing something key: the culture forms around language, not physical condition. You’ve got to keep that in mind in order to understand the issue. If you remove sign language from the Deaf community, the result is simply a birds-of-a-feather gathering.

      Thanks for interacting.

      • Nick Horton says

        I first encountered this issue when speaking to one of my church members who is an interpreter. Her husband has a cochlear implant, however he was born hearing and lost his hearing through his work. She mentioned that the deaf community does not view CI’s favorably for children born deaf. Much the same case as you have made. It was an eye-opening conversation.

        I see no reason to push a CI on someone who does not want one. I won’t look down on them. I may have trouble communicating with the deaf community, but if they choose to stay separate who am I to force them to enter my culture?

        I am content to not try to fix every wrong or consequence of sin. I trust in God’s sovereignty in the things I cannot affect. I do know that when I and my non-hearing brothers enter glory, we will all have the effects of sin removed. Hearing restored, bodies healed, worshiping our King.

      • says


        Should we seek an assortment of different views, or only the Biblical view? You asked:

        Why can we not say, “This is how I have been made by God and I have no problem with that. I have traded the beauty of sound for the beauty of a language inconceivable by many, a language that is proof of the cognitive flexibility that is also a part of the divine design.”

        Why do you set these two as mutually exclusive? I have a hearing friend who is fluent in sign language. You also stated:

        As for forming a culture around a disability, I think you’re missing something key: the culture forms around language, not physical condition.

        This contradicts what you wrote in the above article:

        The Deaf community in the US (and many other countries) presents a rather forceful response: changing a deaf child into a hearing one via surgery harms the child and a culture.

        If the culture is formed around the language and not the physical condition, then surgical reversal of the condition would not harm the culture, since it does not affect the ability to use the language. You also stated:

        As a deaf friend said after editing my post, “I think you may want to expand a bit on Deaf culture, what it is, how sign language is the absolute integral foundation of the culture, etc so that people might appreciate the erosion on Deaf culture by the increasingly common practice of putting CIs on kids.”

        Certainly, any deaf child who signs can continue to sign even after gaining hearing, and any deaf child too young to sign can still learn to sign (in order to communicate with deaf parents, for example) even after gaining hearing—but both of these depend on the will of the child. A CI cannot keep anyone from signing or learning sign language. It seems to me that the only way that cochlear implants can harm the “language-based culture” is by giving children the choice to not use sign language. “Putting CIs on kids” would not erode a language-based culture if the kids continue to use the language; but if the kids do not continue to use the language (or they choose to use it much less), then it is not really the CI that has eroded the culture but the will of the kids. In other words, if getting the CI only reveals what the children would like to do if they had the opportunity, then the argument that CI’s harm the culture is advocating the protection of that culture by denying them that opportunity to choose whether or not to participate in it.

  17. Bill Mac says

    It seems to me that in some ways the deaf community is like the Amish community. To the Amish, modern conveniences are not evil in themselves, but they fear that to adopt such things would damage the community. So to them the benefits of community outweigh the alleged benefits that modern conveniences could provide. That seems to be the approach that the deaf community is taking.