1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted a Culture is a provocative and profound new documentary that picks apart the notion that the Bible treats homosexuality as a sin.
It’s a rather shocking notion for anyone familiar with modern-day Christian fundamentalism, and especially for anyone who grew up gay and scared in a “devout” household with no tolerance for homosexuality. But the film, which just played the Salem Film Festival as part of a long festival run, has facts on its side.
1946, directed by Sharon “Rocky” Roggio, makes a compelling case that until that year, the Bible never mentioned homosexuality — and that references to it were added out of ignorance, and a poor grasp of some obscure Greek terms.
She profiles Christian scholars who dig through forgotten Yale University archives to show how the mistranslation came about, and to make the case that conservative Christians began to spread the mistranslation in earnest in the 1970s, in order to scapegoat gays and combat their burgeoning liberation movement.
Does the Bible Mention Homosexuality?
Roggio, who also appears in the film, is a lesbian, Christian daughter of an evangelical minister, Sal Roggio, who makes Bible-based arguments that homosexuality is a sin. Throughout the film, she tries to find common ground with him, and to change his beliefs. He, meanwhile, hopes she will renounce lesbianism and become an advocate for gay conversion.
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The film is often heartbreaking — first, because of the thought of how many people may have been maligned, arrested, beaten, blacklisted, or murdered because of some misunderstood Greek.
Why bother arguing, I wondered, with the kind of people who think God sheds a tear every time two guys move in together?
I felt a deep sadness for the subjects of the film who seemed to believe that if they could just make a strong enough factual case, the Christian churches that hurt them might welcome them back.
But by the end of 1946, the film’s commitment to keeping lines of communication open won me over, and impressed me with its grace.
Rocky and Sal Roggio each have some leverage in their decades-long debate: They love each other, and want to stay in one another’s lives. She’ll keep trying to change her dad, and he’ll keep trying to change her, and I don’t think either will succeed. But at least they’ll keep talking.
Is Talking to Anti-Gay Christians a Waste of Time?
Apparently not. The film proves very early on that people can change by introducing us to the hilariously charismatic Kathy Baldock, a Christian conservative who becomes an LGBTQIA+ activist after becoming hiking buddies with a lesbian woman.
She and a gay Christian theologian — Ed Oxford, who has been so ostracized by his fellow Christians that he feels like an outsider everywhere — begin doing a deep dive into a 1946 translation of the Bible that became widely influential — despite what they believe is a mistranslation.
Oxford, a collector of Bibles going back hundreds of years, lays out the argument that none of them contain the word “homosexual.” What the Bible actually condemns, he argues, are people who are lazy, weak, slothful, and predatory. To the 1946 translators, that meant “homosexuality.” But Baldock and Oxford contend that that was their spin, not God’s.
1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted a Culture, played over the weekend at the Salem Film Festival in Salem, Massachusetts and is still available for streaming through April 2.
Main image: Pastor Sal Roggio, whose daughter Sharon “Rocky” Roggio directed 1946: The Mistranslation That Shaped a Culture.