An Open Letter to BRF – Messy Church September 2016
UPDATE – BRF responded quickly and very positively to this letter. We are delighted by their response and look forward to future opportunities to work together to present a better depiction of leprosy to Messy Churches across the country.
Can I start by saying that I think the idea behind Messy Church is great – creating family friendly expressions of church to introduce families to the church and the gospel. While local implementations can have very different styles, and different levels of effectiveness, the intention is one to be very warmly welcomed and widely encouraged.
I understand that your regular magazine and other resources provide a framework of lessons and activities that give a structure to the year for Messy Churches across the country.
Your lesson plan for September was centred on Jesus healing the ten men with leprosy from Luke chapter 17. We hadn’t known this was coming but were surprised and delighted to be invited to participate in several Messy Churches across Scotland to talk about how people affected by leprosy are treated and healed today. It is always a joy for me and my colleagues to be able to share our story of defeating leprosy and transforming lives with young and old.
In preparation for my first such visit I was shown a copy of your magazine and the proposed activities and I have to say I was horrified at the depiction of leprosy in some of the activities and the demeaning and discriminatory language used throughout.
Firstly, leprosy does not cause boil-like sores as you describe, “horribly pus-coloured” or otherwise!
Even the defiling skin disease of Leviticus 13 (the leadership of one Messy Church had a detailed discussion of this among themselves), often translated as leprosy, or taken to include leprosy in a wider grouping of diseases, does not describe the symptoms like this.
It is hugely damaging to our cause, and to the prospects of people affected by leprosy everywhere, for churches and others to still teach such a wrong depiction of their symptoms and their lives.
Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, the repeated use of the word “leper” is deeply saddening. It has not been the correct medical term for someone affected by leprosy for nearly 70 years. It is synonymous with “outcast” and “pariah” and its continued use reinforces the stigmatisation and discrimination facing people affected by leprosy around the world today. It robs people of their dignity and humanity and, we believe, should have no place in today’s world – especially in the church.
I am certain that it was never your intention to depict people affected by leprosy so wrongly or to use or promote discriminatory language. I hope and pray that the next time your lesson plan comes round to depicting someone affected by leprosy (perhaps, Naaman or Simon or the man with leprosy in Matthew 8) you will depict them more accurately and without reinforcing further stigma.
I, or my colleagues in The Leprosy Mission in any of the countries where we operate, would be more than happy to advise or support any resource writer, or any Messy Church, to give a truer and more positive depiction of leprosy.
I hope I haven’t offended, that was not my intention. I pray that you, and Messy Churches everywhere will be blessed in all you do and continue to have a positive impact for Jesus in many different communities.