By Elizabeth Ruelle
I was raised Christian, specifically Roman Catholic, but I never really fit in with the religion. While I come from a typical middle-class, white, American family, I am also a socially liberal bisexual female. By the time I had come of age in high school, being bisexual and socially liberal was less radical than it may have been in prior years. I had occasionally experienced a twinge of animosity from members of the Religious Right, but my own liberal upbringing shielded me from any real understanding of LGBTQ discrimination or the effects of bibliolatry until my senior year of high school.
That year, I had a crush on a girl named Ashley. Although she was confident, intelligent and independent, Ashley was nervous to date someone of the same gender because her father was a very conservative pastor. Her home life had been one of those in which the authoritarian father figure had taken on a larger-than-life role. He made rules and his word was law, based, tellingly, on words equally important in their home, the bible. So, just as Leviticus wrote, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22), Ashley’s father defended that statement with a fervor. In fact, as time went by, both his sense of righteousness and his abusive tendencies grew.
Ashley was also a firm believer; she just happened to believe in a kinder, more understanding God. She had expressed how upset she was that her father could not be happy for her. The bible passages condemning gays conflicted with her belief in a gentle, all-knowing God. She did not understand how such a God could ever disapprove of love, no matter who it is between. After our third date, Ashley’s father caught her coming home. He flipped out as he always had over anything she did that wasn’t in line with his views.
This time her father was not only physically, but also emotionally abusive, laying into Ashley about her sexuality and declaring that he would send her to a “Pray the Gay Away” religious boarding school. Ashley had previously expressed worry over being uprooted because she would no longer be home to look after her sister, who had been talking about her own bisexuality. She thought if she were being punished this harshly, it was only a matter of time until her little sister would be too.
That night, Ashley spoke to no one and went to her room. The next morning, she was found in her bed with her wrists slit. She had left three notes behind — one to her mother, one to her sister, and one to me. She wrote of feeling stuck in an impossible predicament and of her love for God. She felt that the bible is not meant to be interpreted directly or read as an instructional manual. She believed that God would understand her choice.
Losing Ashley drastically changed my relationship with religion. I became aware of how literally people would read the bible, and how necessary the separation of church and state is. Creating social policy and especially law based on the bible is particularly dangerous. Individual’s rights and freedoms cannot be protected by such a contradictory text.
The stories in the bible were woven together by multiple editors. The gospels, appearing years after the Old Testament, recount the same story in four different ways. Other gospels never made the cut. Which stories are essential and which apocryphal are still debatable. The bible was written in Hebrew and Aramaic, translated first into Greek, then Latin, before finally appearing in the vernacular, which now counts 3,312 languages. It would be absurd to form policy based on such an unstable document. For every law based on Corinthians 6:9-10 or Leviticus 18:22, the story of Jonathan and David would challenge it: “The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1) and “Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women (2 Samuel 1:26).”
Elizabeth, 28, from Troy, Mich., attends the College of Creative Studies where she is seeking a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in
fibers and fashion accessories design. She is just returning to school after taking years off because of a serious illness that led her to become paralyzed. She writes, “After a gauntlet of intense surgery, the caring guidance of health professionals at every level, and immense amounts of occupational and physical therapy, I am literally learning to live my life over again. Along with regaining stability in my health, I finally have the courage to go back to school.”