In 1959, when David was a 21-year-old seminary student in Canada, he wrote a letter to Dr. Luther Weigle, the head of the translation team for the newly published Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible.
Ed Oxford and I went to the RSV and Weigle Collections in the Yale Archives in September 2017 to search over 60K pieces of paper for answers. No one had ever gone through the full RSV/Weigle archives before. Knowing how important and impacting the translated word had become, this lack of academic study into the archives in itself shocked us. It was there that we found David’s letter and a series of exchanges and responses from Dr. Weigle written in 1959.
Through the most amazing series of events (with the hard work of a friend, Tina Wood) we found David almost 11 months after our visit to the Yale Archives. It seemed an overwhelming challenge because he had written the letter under his first and middle names only, using a PO Box in another city as the return address.
What a gift his letter, written almost six decades ago, is for historical purposes. It resulted in an exchange giving us an important piece of hard evidence we needed to challenge the decades of Bible mistranslations that came after the RSV.
We never even imagined the man behind the letter was still alive! What a blessing and a bonus it has been to discover him and then to find him to be such smart, witty, kind, sweet. and pastoral man. It is the stuff great documentaries (hint, hint) are made of!
Ed and I will be working diligently over the next several months writing “A Sacred Weapon” which addresses the question we went to the Yale Archives to begin to investigate: as we knew better about human sexuality, did we do better with Bible translations?
The research process has been fascinating and compelling. Traditionalists have long contended that taking a negative view of gay people, and particularly, gay people of faith is a ‘historical” stance. No.
This relatively new “theology” partially arose from the RSV mistranslation done without malice and in ignorance of the normal spectrum of sexual orientation that we now understand far better. Such a claim surely cannot be made of many modern translations. As information grew about human sexuality, some modern translations teams have refused to revisit original assumptions. They have, in fact, chosen to fully ignore what is known by medical and professional health care experts about sexual orientation in they considerations while translating words that have so deeply affected the lives of others.
I will be updating the progress in monthly newsletters. I hope you’ll follow along on this illuminating journey.