1946: The Mistranslation that Shifted a Culture
(USA, 92 min.)
Dir. Sharon “Rocky” Roggio
At what moment in history did the Catholic Church transform scripture into a “sacred weapon” to be used against LGBTQ people? Director Sharon “Rocky” Roggio explores the history of homophobia in the church with 1946: The Mistranslation that Shifted a Culture. Roggio uses herself as the starting point to interrogate the complex relationship between queerness and faith. The daughter of a pastor, Roggio tells how she realised she was a lesbian at 16, which prompted her father to cite a handful of Bible verses advising her to escape damnation. Roggio shares how this act of preaching intolerance, rather than love, prompted her to walk away from her family. However, many of the lessons her father taught her fuel her curiosity. How, or why, love can be so selective in the Catholic Church becomes a question she must answer.
Roggio connects with fellow inquisitors, notably Kathy Baldock and Ed Oxford, who pinpoint the moment that everything changed. They look to a 1946 translation that introduced the word “homosexual” to the Bible. Digging and digging, they check Bibles of all languages and editions dating back to rare finds published centuries ago. The film smartly unpacks the meticulousness with which words are chosen when the text is so sacred—and widely published. What Roggio and her collaborators uncover is a Pandora’s Box of a tale.
Roggio also explores how queer people keep the faith. Straightforward verité footage emphasizes the everyday stories of people who simply want to follow their hearts. The film asks some tough questions, especially when the participants look inward and share moments of self-reflection that inspired them to do a little critical reading and soul-searching.
Practice What You Preach
1946 offers a parable of its own, moreover, as it traces the story of two hotly debated Greek words. With a little bit of sleuthing and a little bit of faith, Baldock and Oxford find translation notes that illuminate how the aforementioned interpretive leap was hotly contested. This quest leads them to a man in Canada who cautioned the translation committee to reconsider its interpretation. The film team deciphers his letters and suggest that they’re reading the Bible through a queer lens. In doing so, 1946: A Mistranslation that Shifted a Culture illustrates the value of diverse perspectives and inclusive practices.
Roggio admirably puts this philosophy into practice by affording space to people of diverse faiths, as well as those who remain firm in their conviction that homosexuality is a sin. The film examines the consequences of this mistranslation though engaging conversations with believers and people struggling to reconcile their faith with institutionalised homophobia. Roggio’s father, for example, appears throughout the film. (Her mother, alternatively, doesn’t even figure on camera.)
The pastor’s willingness to participate in his daughter’s project illustrates the conundrum that the doc confronts. He obviously wants to love his daughter and be part of her life. However, he also unwaveringly defends his position and takes the scripture as gospel truth. The turning point that Baldock et al identify is therefore significant. At one moment, the Bible went from advising against acts of sexual deviance to homosexual behaviour, therefore conflating the two. As a study in linguistics, faith, and compassion, the film takes the power of words to heart.