If you’re a queer person of faith, or have Christians in your life, then 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture is a must-see film to add to your watchlist. Filmmaker Sharon “Rocky” Roggio fascinatingly breaks down the Biblical texts often used to attack the LGBTQ+ community by digging into a fateful mistranslation back in 1946 that super-charged the culture wars, and shows how it was all based on a misunderstanding.
Until 1946 the word “homosexual” did not appear in the Christian Bible. As a group of male academics worked to create a new, contemporary translation (that would become the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the American Bible), they were faced with two unusual Greek nouns which defied easy interpretation. They decided to combine them into one word…homosexual. But Roggio, and a team of scholars, ask the simple question, what if they made a mistake?
We follow campaigners Kathy Baldock, a straight Christian scholar, and Ed Oxford, a gay man with a Masters of Divinity, who dive into the archives of the translating committee to understand their thinking, and in doing so unearth evidence of a clear mistranslation. Bolstered by the work of other academics who argue the case from cultural and linguistic angles, it’s a compelling case against the “clobber verses” – sections of the Bible used to attack queer communities. From there, Roggio tracks how that poor phrasing fed into subsequent Biblical translations, despite the fact the RSV rephrased it in 1969.
There have been a number of excellent documentaries looking at the conflict between Christianity and queer sexuality over the years like Daniel G. Karslake’s 2007 film For The Bible Tells Me So and Kristine Stolakis’ Pray Away in 2021. What 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture does so well is dig deeper into the core verses used by anti-gay preachers, while blending the academic criticism with the personal emotional impact.
Roggio herself is a Christian lesbian whose father, Sal, is a conservative preacher. Their fraught relationship provides an emotional hook that threads its way through the film. Refreshingly, Sal, who is unwavering in his belief that homosexuality is contrary to God’s plan, is not an aggressive, thumping presence. He provides a sharp dissenting voice to the film’s central thesis, but is never reduced to an angry stereotype. Perhaps this is the most painful part to witness. This is not a man acting out of rage, but a father who can not understand his daughter or bring himself to question his own faith.
Similarly, the life of Ed Oxford, a devout Christian who has wrestled with his place in both Christian and gay circles all his life, is another example of the toll this mistranslation has wrought. Facing battles with depression, self-esteem and struggling to form deep connections with others, Ed reflects on how much these few words have cost him.
I don’t know whether 1946 would convince a conservative Christian to change their mind, but it does arm queer Christians and those with people of faith in their lives with the facts and compelling arguments to use against their critics. For me, the lingering impact has been a sad reminder that the culture wars aren’t based on any rational basis, but come from a mindset that often just refuses to look at anything that disagrees with it.
By Chad Armstrong
1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture receives its Australian Premiere at the 33rd Melbourne Queer Film Festival on Friday, November, 2023 followed by a Q&A with director Sharon “Rocky” Roggio and producer Jena Serbu. MQFF33 runs November 9th-19th. For the full lineup and to purchase tickets head to mqff.com.au.