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A blog of the Evangelical Lutheran Liturgy

Sex and the Catechism

by Larry Beane

In our recent discussions regarding CPH and its copyright on the now-standard 1986 synodical translation of Luther's Small Catechism, one of the arguments in favor of retaining the current status quo of CPH retaining intellectual property rights and copyright protection is to prevent alteration.

I wonder if I violated the copyright provision by doing just that.

Years ago, I would lead the children at a Lutheran school (note: this exceeds the congregational use in CPH's disclaimer) in reciting the catechism using the CPH 1986 translation in the morning assembly.  I decided to change the translation of the sixth commandment to get rid of the word "sexually."  It just struck me as unnecessary (and to be blunt, disturbing) to have the children - including pre-kindergarten little ones - use the word "sexually" in their recitation - especially to the distracting giggles of the older kids.  I would have preferred the older wording of "chaste" - which is, I think, a better translation from the original languages than "sexually pure" - an opinion expressed by the late Rev. Prof. Kurt Marquart.  But rather than add words, I simply omitted the word "sexually" from our group recitation, opting for just a "pure and decent life."

Did I break copyright law?  Is this something CPH seeks to avoid?  Does unity take precedence over modesty and propriety for young children?  Would it have been acceptable to use the older "chaste" wording for the sixth commandment while retaining the rest of the translation?  Or is that the kind of alteration that would be unacceptable to CPH?

Maybe we could have some guidance about what we are permitted and not permitted to do under this arrangement.  I certainly see a great advantage to a common lexicon of catechesis, but by the same token, I also see a great advantage to using our own translations or older translations in the public domain in the absence of an "open source" approach to the text of the Small Catechism.