Filmmaker Sharon “Rocky” Roggio in a scene from 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted a Culture
A new documentary film explores how scholars at Yale included mistranslated language into the 1946 Revised Standard Version Bible, and the damage that mistranslation has done
TAMMYE NASH | Managing Editor
Sharon Roggio grew up with a Christian pastor for a father, but she also grew up knowing that she was different. She knew she was lesbian, and she knew that the Christian religion and it’s Bible condemned her for that.
So when she heard about how the word “homosexual” first came to be used in the Bible because of a glaring mistranslation of the Greek text, Roggio knew she had to get that knowledge to others — to other LGBTQ people like her, traumatized by having been targeted for her religion and to Christians who used that mistranslated text against LGBTQ people in general. Thus was born the documentary film 1946: The Mistranslation
That Shifted a Culture.
This week, Roggio talked to Dallas Voice about her own story and why she felt called to make the documentary.
Dallas Voice: You describe yourself as “a lesbian Christian.” I know a lot of LGBTQ folks who come from religious families and backgrounds have left the church they were brought up in because of the rampant and harmful homophobia in those churches. Some have moved to more progressive religions/churches while some have disavowed religion completely. Why is it important to you to maintain “Christian” as part of your own identity? Sharon Roggio: Well, being raised in a non-denominational Christian household with a pastor father has shaped me and thus continues to hold value in my life. The LGBTQ side of me just happens to be my sexual identity. It took me well over two decades away from the church, my family and God to be able to reconcile my sexuality with my faith, but I feel it is important to maintain both because this is who I am!
I have always been Christian, and I have always been queer. But the patriarchal doctrine I was presented with did not match my reality. Because of my strong sense of self, I never allowed what I was being told, regarding my sexual identity, to dominate as truth.
I always knew that there was much more to the story than I was being told. I never pretended to hide who I was from God, and this unbreakable truth allowed me to live with the dichotomy through my realization that it is our society that creates the division in the Church, and more often than not, the church is the bearer of the divide.
What church, if any, are you involved with now, and what does that church teach regarding LGBTQ people? I actually attend multiple churches! Since starting the movie, I’ve had an amazing opportunity to meet all types of people in all stages of spirituality. I’ve met [everyone from] people who are deconstructing their theology to full-fledged Christians, both affirming and non-affirming, as well as [from] people who never had a faith in God to those who have lost all faith in general.
My work keeps me moving from space to space to expand my understanding of the communities available but also the resources and teachings within that community. A couple years ago, I would church hop in Los Angeles between affirming spaces. But once COVID hit in 2020, I started to expand my experience via Zoom to more churches all over the U.S. and then, eventually, the world.
Most of the churches I attend are affirming, but I do screen the occasionally non-affirming church to stay relevant on what is being discussed. This includes almost weekly visits to my father’s online church service.
The film has given me the opportunity to be a guest in many church communities, and once the film is released, I hope to tour various churches in person with the researchers who are featured in the film, Kathy Baldock and Ed Oxford. Our goal is to have the greatest impact with this life-saving work.
How did you learn about the debate over the translations of these words, “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai,” in the 1946 Revised Standard Version Bible, and why did you feel compelled to make this documentary about that? I was already on an exploration of self-discovery, trying to find affirming theology in the hopes of seeking common ground with my non-affirming parents. While I was living in Los Angeles before attending affirming Christian communities, I started attending a church that presented itself as “all welcoming.” Shortly after becoming a regular attendee, I started to notice the subtle hints that the church was not fully affirming or accepting in an equal status sense of the LGBTQ community.
At the time, I did not know what “fully affirming” was. My curiosity led to me to obtaining the secret church bylaws, which validated my assumptions. I had been lied to, and I felt violated after spending much time in community and relationship at this church. This led me to find affirming spaces.
It was then that I learned about gay Christians! GAY Christians!? Who knew? I was so removed from the church and my own walk that I had no idea that people had been doing this type of work long before me. After I learned about gay Christians, I was introduced to Kathy Baldock, one of the lead researchers in our film. I took a class on homosexuality and the Bible where I learned of the two Greek words, “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.” I eventually went to a live Kathy Baldock conference where I heard of the 1946 mistranslation and the book that Kathy is writing with Ed Oxford about their research, How the Bible Became Anti-Gay: Forging a Sacred Weapon. The book and the movie will expose the series of letters they discovered in the archives of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) at Yale University, but also other modern English translation versions of the Bible that used the RSV as their root text. These three Bible editions in the 1970s ended up adding “homosexual” into multiple passages where it just doesn’t belong.
While sitting in that Kathy and Ed conference in 2018, I heard about the tangible letters discovered at Yale University that confirmed the translation committee had made a mistake in translation, switching the connotation of the verse to condemning a group of people as opposed to a deviant act, and how then they subsequently changed their 1971 edition to “sexual perverts.” And [I heard that] the man who wrote the letters challenging the committee in 1959 is alive and a retired minister of 60 years. THIS is a story!
I was flooded with emotion over my past experience growing up in the church, combined with having the Bible used as a weapon against me, specifically these verses on homosexuality, my understanding of self. With my experience in the film industry and the implications of this mistranslation, I felt compelled to tell the story. Not only is this a fantastic story, but this research can help transform the way we view the Bible, Bible translations and, overall, how we treat one another. I felt it would have been irresponsible of me NOT to make this movie.
Speaking of translations, your documentary is about how words in ancient Greek were mistranslated into English. I haven’t seen the film, but is the original text in Greek, or was it originally translated from Hebrew or Aramaic into Greek? If so, is there any discussion of or investigation into possible mistranslations from the original into Greek? The film will trace the use of words used in these passages and their meanings throughout translation history. The verses in play have been coined the “clobber passages,” because, historically, they have been known to clobber LGBTQ people. In order to know what the original meaning was from the original authors, we have to look at the Hebrew in the Old Testament and the Greek in the New Testament. This also includes the Greek Septuagint, which is the Old Testament Hebrew Bible translated into Greek.
Paul would have used the Septuagint while drafting the New Testament, so it is important to look at these original texts. There is no evidence that there is a mistranslation of these verses from Hebrew to Greek. We also focus on the context, which is where we get the meaning from the authors behind the text.
But, out of the 6,500 languages in the world, the Bible has been translated into approximately 2,500 languages. We will look at other translations throughout time to see how other languages translated these verses. For example, most European languages translated four out of the six clobber passages as “boy molester” and not “homosexual” or “men having sex with men,” which completely changes the meaning of the verse. Is it “man shall not lay with man,” or “man shall not lay with boy”?
There are some who, even if they accept the fact that the original text was mistranslated, will argue that the difference is minor and irrelevant, because “effeminacy” and “sexual pervert” really just mean “homosexual.” Does the film address that argument, and if so, how? How would you, personally, respond? If someone defines “effeminate” or “sexual pervert” as a “homosexual,” then they are pulling from an inaccurate definition that has seeped into our culture, which was created and used in a derogatory way to deliberately to cause stigmatization of a group of people. This abuse of language is not uncommon, and is an important discussion in our film.
For example, to be a malakoi — which later was translated to mean homosexual — really means to be soft, decadent, overfed, a coward, not fitting in with society, lazy or like a woman. It was also used to refer to a male prostitute or someone that has been sexually penetrated. It was a derogatory term used toward a man to imply that they were like a woman, and women were considered property of men and useless in society.
The last thing one would ever want to be called as a man is a woman. This mindset was based on stoicism and other philosophies rooted in patriarchy.
The evolution of language and how it permeates the culture is a major part of our history and crucial to our story. In the film we will also define and look at the word “sodomite.” What are the origins of this word? How was it first defined, and how has it been defined for most of history? And when did the definition shift to target a specific group of people (gay men)? We examine the history of these words because we know words are like weapons when they are abused and misused. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here making this movie!
Does the debate over the translation of these words intersect at all with the debate over the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? I have heard scholars say that story in the Bible has been mistranslated and misunderstood and has nothing to do with homosexuality at all, and that the true sin of the two cities was inhospitality, turning away the stranger at the gate or even meeting them with violence. Is that debate addressed in the documentary? How do you, as a Christian and a lesbian, address that debate? Yes, Sodom and Gomorrah are discussed in the film. It is wild to me that people still associate the sin of Sodom with homosexuality. This is probably the best example of a biblical scapegoat directed at an innocent group of people in all of history.
This story has been misused for too long. The sin of Sodom was lack of hospitality, as stated clearly in the book of Ezekiel, but it’s way deeper than that. The men of Sodom were not sexually attracted to the guests, nor were the men of Sodom and Gomorrah gay! Scripture states that every man in the towns, both young and old came to rape the guests. They wanted to gang rape the men as a form of humiliation, and a show of power and dominance. It was common in ancient cultures to rape your opponents from conquered lands or persons of lower status as a form of humiliation and shaming.
There is a parallel story to Sodom and Gomorrah in Judges 19, where we see the same thing happen with the men of the town demanding to gang rape the male visitors. In both stories women, are offered up to be gang raped instead. The difference is the men in Judges do RAPE the woman to DEATH! This is because women were of lesser importance and of less value than men.
The fact that churches misinterpret homosexuality as the sin of Sodom distracts from the real sin or message of these verses: Don’t use and abuse or gang rape ANYONE; do not use sex for power, dominance and humilation!
When we ignore the true message of the text and target innocent same-sex attracted people, we make it excusable for cisgender men to abuse in our society and not be held accountable. When we are not honest about the context, we see it play out negatively in our reality. Some prime examples would be the #metoo movement, the priest scandals and rape culture in our society. We must be truthful with these texts in order to get a grip on the social issues in our society, and then we can begin to hold the real abusers accountable.
Do you believe that this documentary can have an impact over how churches respond to and teach about LGBTQ people and homosexuality today? Obviously, there are many progressive churches and denominations that have already begun rethinking the relationship between Christianity and LGBTQ people. But how do we reach the more dogmatic and, well, regressive — for lack of a better word — churches and denominations that base so much of their teachings on homophobia and these mistranslated texts? Do you think it is even really possible to reach them and change their minds? I do believe that this documentary will make an impact on how churches respond to and teach about LGBTQ people and homosexuality in the future. Obviously, we will not reach everyone or change everyone’s mind, and that is okay. My goal is to lead us more towards love and inclusion, but most importantly, toward the separation of church and state.
All people, including LGBTQ people, deserve equal protection under the law and human dignity. We cannot let religious ideology play a role in creating laws that discriminate against our community or anyone. I believe we will see enough of a shift of understanding from this work, and other works like it, in the majority of church communities to lead us in that direction. It will not happen overnight and we know there is much more work to be done. But as long as we continue to expand our understanding in an empathetic way towards those with an opposing viewpoint, the more we can engage in this dialogue openly together.
Obviously, Christians who hold onto the “traditional” point of view are our hardest audiences to persuade to watch the film. However, there’s already been a lot of conversation around this documentary from conservatives on their YouYube channels, radio programs and pulpits. Preachers have expressed the importance of their congregants watching this film so they know how to debunk it. That is great news for us!
They are calling us the documentary version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code! They are even linking our website! We will take it. All we need to do is fill the seats, get people to watch this movie. This is not a propaganda film. This is a purely educational, theological, relational approach to a real moment in time. A moment where real men, 22 white men to be specific, sat in a room at Yale University in the ’30s and made a decision. They changed the connotation of a verse from an act that was aggressive, abusive and exploitative and turned the meaning on the backs of a group of people with an orientation, making them the “bad guys.” That decision had real implications, including the creation of anti-gay theology over the last 60 years.
What about LGBTQ folks who have turned their backs on the church because of the homophobia and hatred? What does your film have to say to them? What do you want to say to them? My thought on this is that church PTSD and church trauma are real things. There has been so much damage done, and some of it is irreversible. One of the things that I like to remind myself when I’m dealing with my own trauma or with an opposing point of view or someone coming at me on the attack is to always remain empathetic, with the understanding that our oppressors are victims of bad theology just as much as we are.
For the most part Christians are good people. But fear and misunderstanding can make even good people do crazy things. I would encourage anyone to continue to grow in empathy as well as growing in your own self-worth and acceptance. Watch this film and read Kathy Baldock and Ed Oxford’s book when both are available. PLUS, there are tons of resources, including books, videos and groups available to help you deconstruct toxic theology.
When and where can people see 1946: The Mistranslation that Shifted a Culture? We are currently in post-production for the movie while we are still fundraising to finish. Our goal is to finish by the end of September this year and to begin submitting to film festivals for a 2022 premiere. The only way we can achieve this is to hit our financial goals.
Our fundraising focus is for post-production technical costs which include animation, illustration, color correction, sound design and original music by Grammy-nominated artist Mary Lambert.
We have a GoFundMe where people can contribute now to help us reach our goals.at GoFundMe.com/f/peertopeerfundraiser.
We are also fiscally sponsored by Women Make Movies (WMM) which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Women Make Movies can accept charitable donations on our behalf through our website, 1946themovie.com, that we can then use for the creation of the film, and you can receive your tax deduction.
After we complete the festival circuit showcasing the film, our goal is to distribute this movie worldwide and with translation to multiple languages. We know there is a need for this research to be shared. We know because the audience tells us. In just four months, we’ve grown to 122,000 followers on TikTok and we get thousands of messages from LGBTQ people and our allies from all over the world.
In May, Kathy, Ed and I participated in a Zoom with faith leaders from all over Africa. We want to ensure this research hits communities where people are being murdered and persecuted by the government for being gay. Worldwide distribution is an opportunity to get this important research in every community.
Whether you’re Christian or not this film impacts you. The Bible is the most published book in the world, and Christianity represents one-third of the world’s population, as one of the world’s largest religions. This film is for everyone.
If you want more updates on the release of the film, you can subscribe to our newsletter via a link on our website, 1946themovie.com/subscribe, or follow us on all social media platforms @1946themovie (TT, IG, FB, TW).