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THE FOUNDING OF TWO DEAF CHURCHES: THE INTERPLAY OF DEAF & CHRISTIAN IDENTITIES Leila F. Monaghan The deaf sheep have not been destroyed or scattered. They have gone to greenerpasture. We are still in the Lord's fold (Bill Tipton, 1989).1 Introduction This isthe story of the founding of two churches of the Deaf, the Open Bible Deaf Church inJanuary 1989, and the Victory Baptist Church of the Deaf in the fall of 1989. In any society, but particularly one as complex as the United States, people can have more than one identity. An identity can be seen as a self-conscious association with a particular culture, including its values, practices, and language. In Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture, Carol Padden and Tom Humphries discuss American Deaf culture and the assumptions and values within it (1988; see also Padden 1980). All the leaders and members of the Open Bible Deaf Church (OBDC) and Victory Baptist Church for the Deaf (VBC) strongly identify themselves as Deaf people. They also, however, have firm identities as Christians. To understand why agroup of Deaf deacons, including Bill Tipton and Kaye Peacock, broke off from alarger hearing church to found OBDC, and why the Deaf pastor, Terry Buchholz, whom they had invited to join them from the hearing church later left OBDC to found VBC, we must look at the interplay between the Deaf and Christian identities of the parties concerned. 1 Actual names are used here with permission of those named, who wish this to be a recording of actual history as well as an ethnography of events. 0 1991 by Linstok Press, Inc. See note inside front cover. ISSN 0302-1475 Monaghan When the Open Bible Deaf Church was founded by the Deaf members of a large independent and fundamentalist Baptist Church, it was because these members saw the hearing hierarchy of the church failing to understand and respect Deaf culture. Even while these members were leaving the church over issues of Deaf identity, they were affirming their identity as Christians. The institution they created, OBDC, was an expression of both their religious background (i.e. their commitment to God) and Deaf culture (i.e. their commitment to the Deaf community). Although Reverend Buchholz, the original pastor of OBDC, shared the founding members' commitment to the Deaf community, his views on what it meant to be a Christian differed. The founding of Victory Baptist Church, therefore, reflected the differences between Reverend Buchholz and the majority of the members of OBDC over issues connected with solidarity and the nature of pastoral leadership. The Open Bible Deaf Church is in Lanham, Maryland. Victory Baptist church was first in Seabrook, MD, but is now in Wheaton, MD and has been renamed the Wheaton Baptist Church for the Deaf. Almost all the members of both congregations are deaf, and all parts of the services are signed without voice. I am a hearing person who was studying at Gallaudet University when I attended services at OBDC from February to September 1989 with housemates, including Glen Dor6 and John Freeman, who were members of the congregation. I visited my ex-housemates, Reverend Buchholz, and VBC, on a return trip in September of 1990, and communicated with Glen Dor6, Bill and Carol Tipton, and Kaye and Susan Peacock of OBDC, and Terry Buchholz by TTY and letter in June and July 1991. In the following sections I shall discuss the following issues: 1. events behind the first decision to break away and form OBDC; 2. how individual choices about whether to join the church or not reflected individual identity issues; 3. how there is a history of association between churches and deaf communities; 4. how both "Christian" and "Deaf' cultures were reflected in church service; SLS 73 Deaf &Christian identities 5. how the language used in the church service reflected the high value placed on both the language of the church and of sign language; and 6. the second schism that led to the founding of Victory Baptist Church, and the changes that resulted at the Open Bible Deaf Church. The founding of the Open Bible Deaf Church OBDC was founded in January 1989, after a split from...


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