h1

Is homosexuality spiritually condemned?

May 9, 2014

Claiming that someone else's marriage is against your religion is like being angry at someone for eating a doughnut because you're on a diet

“Claiming that someone else’s marriage
is against your religion
is like being angry
at someone for eating
a doughnut because you’re
on a diet”


Recently I was sent a link to a document written in 2007 entitled “Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK.”

My impression of this sermon of certainty was, well, if this author’s biased and
unsubstantiated views were representative of the teachings of the Bahai Faith on this subject, few people (myself included) would be interested in joining such a religion.

The first four sentences say it all: “Between obliviousness and puritanism stand Bahá’ís, who say that homosexuality is wrong, but homosexuals are kindred souls. The Bahá’í Faith is a religion of unity, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh. Remembering this context is essential when saying that the Bahá’í position on homosexuality is spiritual condemnation. As a Bahá’í, I believe that morality is foundational to spiritually healthy individuals and, therefore, to a united society; and this applies to a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality.”

This statement just doesn’t hold water for a Bahai such as myself, because I know that all of the above is based on the author’s own prejudice. What he is saying is that a united society is not possible unless its sexual morality excludes homosexuality. The author claims all sorts of ridiculous notions as if these are based on Bahai teachings.
Admittedly his text is noted as ‘draft 2,’ but the author, Saleem Vaillancourt, clearly thought it important enough to put his essay entitled “Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK” online, and in 2011 there is an interview with him in his capacity at the UK Bahá’í Community’s Office of Public Affairs, so some readers might give his views some weight.
Below is a table with the author’s claims (in green) adjacent to my responses. Decide for yourself if it is a Bahai teaching that homosexuality is spiritually condemned.

…this applies to a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality. ‘Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.’
Page 1.
    1. Sodomy is not homosexuality.
2. Bahaú’llah is condemning three forms of illicit sex-related activities, not homosexuality. (See the context here)
The author assumes that homosexuality is illicit, but the question is, is homosexuality illicit within a marriage?
Bahá’ís consider the condition of homosexuality to be spiritually condemned and reject the act, they would never reject homosexual people.
Page 1.
    “Justice and equity are twin Guardians that watch over men. From them are revealed such blessed and perspicuous words as are the cause of the well-being of the world and the protection of the nations.”
– Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 13

There is nothing in Bahai Scripture that even hints that justice and equality are conditional on being a heterosexual.

We believe that the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the ‘breath of life unto all created things’, that the exhortations and prohibitions of a Bahá’í life comprise the great education and the great enablement, not the great lockdown.

Through obedience to the laws, Bahá’ís work to discipline themselves according to spiritual standards that outstrip average notions of appropriate living, and this discipline allows the individual to respond to grander impulses than physical desires or psychological complexes.

Furthermore, spiritual discipline frees us from our own selves and offers a life fulfilled through clarity of purpose and devoted service to our fellow humans.
Page 1.

    Many of Bahaú’llah’s “Hidden Words” speak of the nature of humanity as being in God’s image.
“Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee. Get thou from it thy radiance and seek none other than Me. For I have created thee rich and have bountifully shed My favor upon thee.”

Baha’u’llah wrote many mystical, metaphysical and philosophical texts and one book of laws. This book was in part a response to questions put to him of how to deal with existing Islamic laws. Significantly Baha’u’llah wrote: “Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. To this beareth witness that which the Pen of Revelation hath revealed. Meditate upon this, O men of insight!” (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 121)

So rather than the Bahai Faith being a religion focussed on a list of laws, it is a religion based on principles, where we are asked to use our insights to understand the laws. Baha’u’llah created the institution of the Universal House of Justice so that the rule-making part (and authority) of the Bahai community, because its rulings are distinct from Bahai Scripture, is able to change what is considered Bahai law (See Abdul-Baha’s Will and Testament).

The authors’ comment ”being freed from our own selves” implies that Bahais are expected to obey rules and not to use their own insights. The House of Justice has not laid down rules on subjects such as homosexuality, instead leaving many matters to individual conscience and the Bahai communities that exist in diverse social settings.
“The Universal House of Justice does not feel that the time has come for it to provide detailed legislation on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues. …

It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. Universal House of Justice to an individual, 5 June 1988.

Marriage itself is considered a divine institution and a ‘fortress of well-being and salvation’ that can shelter a man and woman from loneliness and drift, which can save them from the emotional pains of physical satisfaction in unhealthily transient relationships.

The reality for homosexuals in the Bahá’í Faith, therefore, is the same as unmarried heterosexuals: a spiritual obligation to be chaste. On this most important moral consideration, the Bahá’í Faith effectively does not distinguish between heterosexuality and homosexuality.

We are not our desires or our inclinations; we are more. Human sexuality is celebrated though not indulged:
Pages 1-2.

    “God hath prescribed matrimony unto you.” Baha’u’llah

There is nothing in Baha’u’llah’s writings to suggest that matrimony is not possible for same sex couples.

The author glides from everyone being expected to practise chastity before marriage, to his expecting gays and lesbians never to have the chance of a committed life partnership. These are not the ‘same realities’: the latter is discrimination and oppression.

Bahai Scripture stresses the importance of the spiritual as part of a holistic worldview which, of course, includes our ‘inclinations’ and ‘desires’: “with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom of existence and the essence of all created things.”

Bahá’u’lláh recommends marriage at a young age.
Page 2.
    Baha’u’llah did not recommend marriage at a young age. He changed an Islamic law where girls could be married off as children, to a law where for the male or female the minimum age for marriage was their 15th birthday. Another Bahai law is to follow the law of one’s country so if the minimum age for marriage is higher, this sets the limit.
But sex must be within marriage because it guarantees that intimate relationships are buttressed against the uncertainties of life, with each married couple and family a solid piece of a slowly unifying humanity.

Such is the core and utterly rational reason that the Bahá’í Faith cannot allow homosexuality within this balance of physical love, emotional health, social responsibility, and spiritual growth.

Our desires are innate but our inclinations are another matter.

And so very firmly, the Bahá’í Faith rejects the possibility that sexual relations between homosexuals are a natural or positive influence on either the individuals themselves or their wider society.
Page 2.

    There is nothing in Bahai Scripture stating that marriage is only for heterosexuals. When ‘Abdul-Baha wrote about the rules for marriage as an aspect of the social teachings of the Bahai Faith he refers to a man and woman but he doesn’t state that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. And Baha’u’llah wrote:“Whoso contenteth himself with a single partner from among the maidservants of God, both he and she shall live in tranquillity.”

And the introduction the Universal House of Justice explains:
where Bahá’u’lláh has given a law as between a man and a woman, it applies mutatis mutandis between a woman and a man unless the context makes this impossible.

Note that the author has effectively said that married homosexuals could not have a positive influence on others, and on society. How then can he regard them as ‘kindred souls,’ if they are so innately flawed that they can contribute no good?

Bahá’í do not accept the materialist notion that nature is perfect, but rather, the nature of humans must be improved through spiritual education.
Page 2.
    “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Bahá’u’lláh); children are born with lots of potential and no bad bits, so it is not that human beings must be improved, but that through education and experience we can develop and “(t)he purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, hath been to bring forth the Mystic Gems out of the mine of man”. - Baha’u’llah (See my blog on human nature)
The propagation of the species is the obvious purpose of the sex impulse; a sexuality that obviates procreation defies the social role of sex.

The condition of homosexuality is regarded by Bahá’u’lláh as an ‘affliction’ and an ‘aberration’ which is ‘against nature’. The starkness of this language makes it transparently clear that not only is the condition wrong but same-sex relationships do not ring true. The language is also difficult to bear for non-Bahá’ís and some Bahá’ís alike; the proper consolation is that this condemnation comes from He whom Bahá’ís believe to be the Manifestation of God, and thus speaks with a voice unparalleled and inimitable. His starkness is not available for our own use. Bahá’ís of whichever sexual orientation are taught acceptance and love by their Faith and its teachings; spiritual condemnation cannot be translated into tangible or emotional condemnation. This very firm rejection is made with the utmost love for homosexuals. For proofs of this utmost love, again the fundamental principles provide guidance: people of all kinds deserve only praise and encouragement from other individuals within the Bahá’í community. (Only the institutions have the right to concern themselves with the private affairs of Bahá’ís, a right exercised only when that behaviour manifests itself in a way publicly damaging to the community.)

Page 2-3.

    Marriage is praised by Baha’u’llah as opposed to a life as an ascetic. “Enter into wedlock, O people, that ye may bring forth one who will make mention of Me amid My servants. This is My bidding unto you; hold fast to it as an assistance to yourselves.”

There is nothing in the text to suggest that the purpose of marriage is procreate – only that it is a good thing, which is why elderly or infertile individuals are free to marry.

“When, therefore, the people of Baha undertake to marry, the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God.” - ‘Abdu’l-Baha

The words ‘afflication,’ ‘aberration’ and ‘against nature’ used by the author originate in four letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. It’s an insult to attribute the same views to Baha’u’llah. These words are not Bahai Scripture.

The author – who has said that homosexuals are socially useless – apparently does not see this as a ‘tangible or emotional’ condemnation, and speaks of the praise and encouragement homosexuals will receive in the Bahai community. Providing they do not encounter our author, presumably.

Bahais may lose their voting rights for breaking Bahai laws, and some assemblies have interpreted getting married, to a partner of the same sex, as breaking Bahai law. They have wide discretion: ” … Every case is different, and there is more than one variable consideration to take into account, for example, the circumstances of the individual, the degree to which the good name of the Faith is involved, whether the offence is blatant and flagrant. Over and over again the beloved Guardian urged Assemblies to be extremely patient and forbearing in dealing with the friends. He pointed out on many occasions that removal of administrative rights is the heaviest sanction which Assemblies may impose at the present time. These considerations apply to the types of problems you mention in your letter. In all such cases it is for the Assembly to determine at what point the conduct is blatant and flagrant or is harmful to the name of the Faith. They must determine whether the believer has been given sufficient warning before the imposition of sanctions. …”
Universal House of Justice, 1977

Tolerance and plurality are the professed values of a liberal society, and because of the pacific nature of the Bahá’í Faith, often we are perceived to be liberal intellectuals who also believe in God. Not so. The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions, it was revealed to rewrite human spirituality, morality and society, so we cannot obfuscate the teachings elemental to these goals.
Page 3.
    The author wrote “The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions” while
‘Abdu’l-Baha praises “intellect and wisdom” as “two most luminous lights in either world”

I quote the context below.

“Praise and thanksgiving be unto Providence that out of all the realities in existence He has chosen the reality of man and has honored it with intellect and wisdom, the two most luminous lights in either world. Through the agency of this great endowment, He has in every epoch cast on the mirror of creation new and wonderful configurations.

If we look objectively upon the world of being, it will become apparent that from age to age, the temple of existence has continually been embellished with a fresh grace, and distinguished with an ever-varying splendor, deriving from wisdom and the power of thought.” ‘Abdu’l-Baha

Inside the Bahá’í Faith, the covenantal duty and expectation is obedience to the laws and the institutions. Bahá’ís are expected to strive for understanding of those laws beyond their grasp; a selective adherence to these laws is unacceptable because it undermines the unity of the entire community.

But these are standards for Bahá’ís only, and because the Faith finds itself in a context of many different beliefs, it holds that concord and plurality are more important than contention and division. These principles are reflected in the values of any progressive society.

And yet because this current liberal society has convinced itself of the rightness of Enlightenment thinking, which includes a permissive attitude to sex and allows for an individualistic definition of sexuality, dissension therefrom brings denouncement.

My confusion at being called a bigot stemmed from this double standard: that western society was liberal and open-minded, so long as certain issues were agreed upon beforehand.

There was a hypocritical element which Bahá’ís must reject when explaining their position on homosexuality: pluralism and the liberally spread charge of bigotry are incompatible.
Pages 3-4.

    “It should also be borne in mind that the machinery of the Cause has been so fashioned, that whatever is deemed necessary to incorporate into it in order to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements, can, according to the provisions made by Bahá’u’lláh, be safely embodied therein. To this testify the words of Bahá’u’lláh, as recorded in the Eighth Leaf of the exalted Paradise:

“It is incumbent upon the Trustees of the House of Justice to take counsel together regarding those things which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book, and to enforce that which is agreeable to them. God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth, and He, verily, is the Provider, the Omniscient.”

Not only has the House of Justice been invested by Bahá’u’lláh with the authority to legislate whatsoever has not been explicitly and outwardly recorded in His holy Writ, upon it has also been conferred by the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the right and power to abrogate, according to the changes and requirements of the time, whatever has been already enacted and enforced by a preceding House of Justice. In this connection, He revealed the following in His Will:

“And inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same. Thus for example, the House of Justice enacteth today a certain law and enforceth it, and a hundred years hence, circumstances having profoundly changed and the conditions having altered, another House of Justice will then have power, according to the exigencies of the time, to alter that law. This it can do because that law formeth no part of the divine explicit text. The House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.”

Such is the immutability of His revealed Word. Such is the elasticity which characterizes the functions of His appointed ministers. The first preserves the identity of His Faith, and guards the integrity of His law. The second enables it, even as a living organism, to expand and adapt itself to the needs and requirements of an ever-changing society.” - Shoghi Effendi

The first emanation from God is the bounty of the Kingdom, which emanates and is reflected in the reality of the creatures, like the light which emanates from the sun and is resplendent in creatures; and this bounty, which is the light, is reflected in infinite forms in the reality of all things, and specifies and individualizes itself according to the capacity, the worthiness and the intrinsic value of things.”‘Abdu’l-Baha

Clearly from the quotations above, the author’s ideas (that being liberal or open minded are bad things) run counter to the Bahai Teachings. ‘Abdul-Baha’s two quotations above show that Bahai Scripture does not share the anti-intellectual views of the author. In fact all the above quotations illustrate that the Bahai Teachings value independent thought and insight as well as logic, and celebrate diversity.

I will not even try and guess what the author means by ‘an individualistic definition of sexuality’ but would suggest the Bahai principle of religion being in harmony with science as a useful guide. Any definition of sexuality needs to be scientifically sound. I am not sure that a religious definition of sexuality is even useful. After all we don’t have a religious definition for digestion. Sexual orientation is not an ethical issue.

There is a curious paradox here which hinges on the identity aspect of this discussion. If liberal society accepted so sincerely the homosexuality of homosexuals, why then have many homosexuals felt the need to persist in their segregated and specialised gay identity long after their supposed entry into the mainstream? I postulate two answers. Firstly, their sexuality has been dramatically overemphasised in the creation of their self-image, self-worth and social identity – just as is the case with many heterosexuals who see sex as soul. The Bahá’í teachings, meanwhile, state that ‘in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex.’
Page 4.
    This tactic avoids engaging the critique by projecting onto the opponent. No Bahai is expected to sacrifice aspects of their identity; in fact Shoghi Effendi argues for positive discrimination because diversity is so important.

“To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority, is a flagrant violation of the spirit that animates the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.

If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favor of the minority, be it racial or otherwise.” - Shoghi Effendi

“The sixth principle or teaching of Bahá’u’lláh concerns the equality of man and woman. He has declared that in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex.” -’Abdu’l-Baha

The author doesn’t realise that “no distinction of sex” means that men and women are equal; it is not saying that it is irrelevant to your identity whether you are a man, a woman, a homosexual, a heterosexual, or (more simply) your own unique self.

The introduction of the Bahá’í understanding of homosexuality – that the condition is aberrant and the act wrong, but censure of homosexuals even worse – resolves this dichotomous identity problem because it drains the bile from public discussion and sentiment about homosexuality. A homosexual person secure in his or her acceptance by society would not feel the need to adopt a segregated identity. This would succeed is more than the avoidance of false dichotomies, it would foster genuine unity, the very purpose of the Bahá’í Faith.
Page 4.
    “Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity. This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination.
How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruits, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and colour! Diversity of hues, form and shape, enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof.” -’Abdu’l-Baha

The author has claimed that both social unity, and the unity of the Bahai community, are threatened by a morality, or a “selective adherence to [Bahai] laws,” which would accept homosexual relationships and homosexual people on an equal footing. Is it any wonder then, if he also encounters homosexuals who “feel the need to adopt a segregated identity.” He and others like him generate this response through their prejudice, and their vision of a future “genuine unity” that requires the extinction of what they consider immorality. This is not the kind of unity that Baha’u’llah envisioned:
“The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity or dissension.” -Baha’u’llah

h1

A petition against discrimination and response from the Universal House of Justice

March 27, 2014

12 May 2008

Honorable Universal House of Justice,

My name is Sean X and I am a Baha’i residing in xx, California. It is with much humbleness I come to write you this letter regarding a much unfortunate situation.

On April 21, 2008 I heard from a local member of my Baha’i community that my parents X and X resigned from the Local Spiritual Assembly of Riverside California (they were re-elected on Ridvan as well as my sister X) and that my sister X and I were being investigated at the World Centre.

On April 22, 2008 I contacted my Auxiliary Board Member for Protection with my concerns regarding the aforementioned information and to set up a meeting with him and my family. On May 5, 2008 my family and I met with our Auxiliary Board Member for Protection, it was at this meeting we found out that I was under investigation at the World Centre over a petition called “Speak Up Against Baha’i Discrimination Against Homosexuals” that I signed and forwarded to adult Baha’is in my local area (including my Auxiliary Board Member for Protection). My Auxiliary Board Member for Protection was not informed of the source of this very petition and did not know of the Baha’is sites I believed to have found the petition on such as “The Gay Baha’i Website” and Planet Baha’i.

I am truly sorry if my actions have caused any trouble. I signed and forwarded this petition in the emotion of the moment, and in retrospect it was not a good idea. Causing the Faith any harm was not my intention. The facts on the petition site may or may not be true upon further investigation (the anti-gay protest in Uganda and the Baha’i involvement in it) , and working with incomplete information is never a good course of action. The Cause of Baha’u’llah means the world to me , I would be incomplete without it. To see the Faith damaged in any manner due to my actions would leave me heartbroken. In the future when any situation like this occurs,I am positive I will consult with the Institutions and trusted Baha’i friends before taking any similar action. Consultation is the hallmark of a Baha’i life, and I must not forget that. Please forgive my actions.

Your Baha’i Brother,

Sean X

27 July 2008
Transmitted by email: Mr. Sean X,  U.S.A.

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

Your email letter dated 12 May 2008 has been received by the Universal House of Justice, and we have been asked to convey to you the following response.
You state in your letter that you have learned that you and your sister, Miss X, are being investigated at the Bahá’í World Centre as a result of your signing and forwarding a petition titled “Speak Up Against Bahá’í Discrimination Against Homosexuals.”

You may rest assured, however, that no such investigation is being conducted.

With regard to the above-mentioned petition, you may wish to consider the following. According to the Bahá’í Teachings, marriage is a union between a man and a woman and sexual relations are only permissible between a couple who are married to each other. These teachings are set forth in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and in the authoritative statements of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and are not susceptible to change by the House of Justice. However, the Bahá’í community does not seek to impose its values on others. Furthermore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of the Faith.

With respect to the incident in Uganda to which you refer, the Bahá’í representative to the interfaith association was unwittingly drawn into this controversy. Some reports have incorrectly characterized the Bahá’í involvement in the matter. The National Spiritual Assembly of Uganda is taking steps to ensure that such issues are handled appropriately in the future.

The House of Justice appreciates your desire to clarify your feelings on this matter and assures you of its prayers in the Holy Shrines that the Blessed Beauty may guide and sustain you.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat

Sean wrote this letter to the Universal House of Justice after a meeting with the ABM for Protection in his region. An Auxillary Board Member for Protection (ABM) is an individual appointed by a Counsellor (who in turn are appointed by the Universal House of Justice) with a pastoral role, that is to advise and support Bahais in their region. The ABM in turn appoints assistants so Bahais in all local communities have access to help or guidance.

Sean contacted the ABM after hearing the rumour from a Bahai saying that his parents had resigned from their local L.S.A. and that Sean and his sister were close to being declared Covenant Breakers because of forwarding the petition. This Bahai had heard this announced by the assistant for Protection at his Ruhi class as well as publicly at a cluster meeting.
Sean knew this was not true and so contacted the ABM and arranged a meeting with him to discuss how such a rumour could have been spread. Sean insisted that his parents and sister also be present at the meeting because the rumours also concerned them.
At the meeting initiated by Sean, the ABM told Sean and his family, that they were the reason for the lack of growth in the local Bahai communities, adding that Sean and his sister were under investigation by the World Centre and could be declared Covenant Breakers. The ABM said that they couldn’t be Bahais and support gay rights. He also drilled them for names of any gay Bahais who they communicate with and if asked if Sean was in cahoots with Ms Respess, the person who created the petition. Finally they were told they couldn’t remain as members of the Bahai community and were asked to put in writing that they didn’t believe in Baha’u’llah because they didn’t agree with the law that homosexuality was bad. They didn’t sign anything but they were all very upset by the experience. Hence Sean’s letter to the Universal House of Justice.

I’m sharing this on my blog to show that individuals, even those in positions where they are appointed, can misuse their position. I want to emphasize the position of the Universal House of Justice so that if any Bahai in the future is asked to leave the Bahai community because they believe in equal rights for  LGBTQ Bahais, they will know that this is view of that individual or appointed representative, and not the policy of the Universal House of Justice.

The authority of the Bahai Institutions is in policy. If the Universal House of Justice had instructed Sean not to sign a petition, and then he had gone ahead and signed it, that would be disobedience not breaking the Bahai covenant. However, what is important to note here is that the Universal House of Justice did not instruct Sean to change his behaviour or actions. Instead, they pointed to their view that Bahai Scripture says that marriage is only between a man and woman, and they left it up to him to be free to express himself as he wishes, which includes the freedom to sign a petition.

The Ugandan interfaith group the Bahá’í representative was a part of, when he was “unwittingly drawn into this controversy,” was called the “Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality” See my blog for a discussion of this and the dilemma of collaborating with interfaith groups which are homophobic.

Sometime in 2009 or 2010 the Bahai World Centre instructed a Counsellor to meet with the Ugandan NSA to educate the Ugandan Bahai community about the harm this involvement was doing to the Bahai community. This I heard from a gay Bahai who was in Uganda in mid 2010. I have not heard any official announcements on this apart from what is mentioned in the 2008 letter quoted above:
“The National Spiritual Assembly of Uganda is taking steps to ensure that such issues are handled appropriately in the future”

and in a 2010 letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual:

“In 2007 an interfaith association consisting largely of Christian denominations began to take an active role in opposition to homosexuality in Uganda. In a single incident, a Bahá’í representative to the association was unwittingly drawn into this controversy; this involved providing an explanation of the Bahá’í teachings on homosexuality. The National Spiritual Assembly of Uganda took immediate action, and the Bahá’í community subsequently has had no part in such matters.
… With regard to the idea that the House of Justice dispatched a Counsellor to Uganda to educate the community, this is also not accurate. There is, however, a resident Counsellor in Uganda who helped to resolve initial misunderstandings at the time.”

(Letter to Brent Poirier, 22 Dec 2010.)

I assume the Counsellor’s actions were in response to the 2007 reports in newspapers in Uganda and around the world (see my blog which lists and summarizes these) which associated the Bahai community with the anti-gay protest.

Bahais are encouraged not to get involved in partisan politics, but Bahais do engage in activities in defense of human rights. I hope that Bahais do not look the other way when it comes to support for equal rights to members of the Ugandan gay and lesbian community now that the government has enacted the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014 (See the wikipedia entry)

The 27 Oct 2010 letter from the Universal House of Justice encourages members of the Bahai community to stand up for the rights of homosexuals.

“The purpose of the Faith of Baha’u’llah is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.”

Sean and his sister removed their names from the petition in an attempt to smooth things over for the ABM however I, as one of 300 odd Bahais who have signed the petition “Speak Up Against Bahá’í Discrimination Against Homosexuals,” didn’t think for a minute that signing such a petition would be problematic for any Bahai community. As I see it, each of us is encouraged to be responsible for our own actions.

“Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 213

h1

Society and the individual – a Bahai view

March 24, 2014

Recently I came across this Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi:
“The Bahá’í conception of social life is essentially based on the subordination of the individual will to that of society. It neither suppresses the individual nor does it exalt him to the point of making him an anti-social creature, a menace to society. As in everything, it follows the ‘golden mean’. The only way that society can function is for the minority to follow the will of the majority.”
Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 21 November, 1935. Printed in 1973 in Directives from the Guardian.

This made me sit up because it is the individual, not the collective, that is “created in the image of God,” (See Genesis 1:27 or Some Answered Questions, pp. 195-197) and because the protection and priority given to minorities is characteristic of the form of democracy intended for a Bahai society. And that the spiritual priority of the individual, over all the structures that are created by and consist of various individuals, underlies many other Bahai teachings. For example:

Independent search after truth: “the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself.”Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143 (click to view the source online)

No “original sin”: “Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth.”Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 189 (click to view the source online)

The law is a means to an end, not an end in itself: “The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilization, is human happiness; and human happiness consists only in drawing closer to the Threshold of Almighty God, and in securing the peace and well-being of every individual” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 60 (click to view the source online)

While the priority of the individual is a strong principle, we also have the principle of majority rule in decision-making, when consultation has failed to form a consensus and the group needs to make a decision:
“unquestionably accepted by the entire body of the believers, not necessarily because they represent the voice of truth or the will of Bahá’u’lláh, but for the supreme purpose of maintaining unity and harmony in the Community. Besides, the acceptance of majority vote is the only effective and practical way of settling deadlocks in elections. No other solution is indeed possible.” From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, July 10, 1939 (Published in Lights of Guidance in 1983)

“There is only one principle on which to conduct the work of an Assembly, and that is the supremacy of the will of the majority. The majority decisions must be courageously adopted and carried out by the Assembly, quite regardless of the opinionated adherence to their own views which any minority may cling to.” From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, November 20, 1941 (Published in Lights of Guidance, 1983)

But against this, there is the Bahai principle of positive discrimination:
“Since the Guardian’s instruction on this point is unequivocal where it is obvious that one of the persons involved represents a minority, that person should be accorded the priority without question. Where there is doubt further balloting will allow every voter present to participate.

“With reference to the provision in Article V of the National By-laws governing the situation where two or more members have received the same highest number of votes, if one of those members represents a minority that individual should be given priority as if selected by lot.” Universal House of Justice addressed to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, January 25, 1967. (Published in Lights of Guidance, 1983)

You might notice that all the quotations concerning majority rule are from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, which the Universal House of Justice may take into consideration when it makes its own rulings, in line with Bahai Scripture, concerning Bahai policy. The role of the Bahai administration is to rule on new situations as much as to give structure to the worldwide Bahai community. So it could be that in some situations an LSA decides it is best to listen to the views from a minority in their midst, or to minority views and then to act accordingly, and this would not contradict Bahai teachings because Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi do not form part of unchangeable Bahai Scripture.

Back to the initial phrase on this blog “to follow the will of the majority.” This implies that we cannot have a huge diversity of lifestyles or ways of perceiving the world. As Bahais we obey the authority of the institutions but that doesn’t mean we are not free to think or to take action. However this directive “to follow the will of the majority” refers to society in general and not the Bahai administration, and so implies that a ‘majority rules’ attitude is how Baha’is are expected to behave. The subordination of the individual will to that of society is akin to how communism evolved. Individuals were subordinate to the state and so the importance of individual conscience, responsibility and action was forgotten or suppressed. Baha’u’llah in contrast wrote: “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 346 (click to view the source)) – It is not the society or any group that is the supreme talisman.

Rather than treating the individual as subordinate to larger social groups, the Bahai teachings, as I see them, regard the individual as the root, and larger groups, from the family upwards, as the branches and fruit. 
The Persian notes of a talk given by Abdu’l-Baha say “a family is composed of individuals, and a nation likewise is formed of individual persons.” (Khitabát-i-`Abdu´l-Bahá, Reprint Hofheim; Bahá´í-Verlag [1984] p. 402. This translation here is by Sen McGlinn). So the freedom and development of the individual is the condition for the progress of the family, the nation and the world, and their first duty is to foster the freedom and development of the individual. Shoghi Effendi wrote:
“The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 203)
It is the individual, not the collective, that is “created in the image of God.” The spiritual priority of the individual over all the structures that are created by and consist of various individuals is illustrated in many places in the Bahai writings. Some of these have been quoted above. I will close with two more:

The third candle is unity in freedom which will surely come to pass.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 32)

So the unity that Abdul’-Baha refers to above implies that each of us exercises individual spiritual responsibility.

“Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration.”
- Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 213

 
Further reading: Sen McGlinn’s 2010 blog, Evolving to individualism which explains two different ways in which the Enlightenment and its fruits in Western societies can be viewed, in relation to the goal of building a Bahai society.

h1

The Baha’i Faith is not Anti-Gay – Letter to a dogmatist

February 19, 2014

Dear S,

The text is “We shrink, for very shame, from treating the subject of boys. Fear ye the Merciful, O peoples of the world! Commit not that which is forbidden you in Our Holy Tablet, and be not of those who rove distractedly in the wilderness of their desire.”Baha’u’llah, page 58, Kitab-i-Adqas, 1992 English edition (click to view the source online)

In your comments you confuse pederasty (sex with children) with homosexuality. This is like blaming rape on heterosexuality. I hope you might now see how offensive it is to mix up something as horrific, as shameful as the sexual abuse of children, with someone’s sexual orientation.

My blog here goes into more detail about the context for this text by Baha’u’llah ( … the Arabic term Baha’u’llah used “ghulaam” refers to: slave, page; lad, or servant, and exclusively males. The ‘subject of boys’ is/was the middle eastern practice young boys being treated like a sex slave…) -

You then state: “Read this and know for yourself why flagrantly unrepentant homosexuals are shunned by the majority members of international Baha’i community.”

I as a Bahai find the above statement flagrantly offensive. Such statements bring the Baha’i Faith into disrepute.

I quote you only so that I can respond in the hope that you can be educated and to show the world that Baha’u’llah’s Teachings are not homophobic.

I hope one day more and more Baha’is will speak up to show that they support the Universal House of Justice’s 2010 policy, which is a change from earlier policies to one of urging the Baha’i community to support the rights of all gays and lesbians:

    “Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished.”

Baha’u’llah Gleanings, p. 95.

“…to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.” Universal House of Justice – letter to an individual, 27 Oct 2010.

My blog here goes into some detail on how I think L.S.A.s could work in line with this latest policy of the Universal House of Justice: link (Until recently, the Universal House of Justice referred to homosexuality as an aberration or as an illness, but this policy has changed. Since 2010, the policy of the Universal House of Justice asks Baha’i communities to work at removing any discrimination against gays or lesbians, whether they are Baha’is or not).

If you want to understand some background to Baha’u’llah’s text: “Ye are forbidden to commit zenaa’ (fornication), lewaat (sexual perversions) and kheyaanat (infidelity).” [Usually translated as "Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery."] See: http://justabahai.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/a-bahai-view-of-homosexuality-and-gay-rights/#liwaat

Here, I’ve gone to the original Arabic to understand better what Baha’u’llah meant. You might wonder why I did this. Well sodomy doesn’t mean homosexuality. And my motive was to try and understand the Baha’i teaching of equality for all and the current official Baha’i policy –which is that unmarried gays are expected to be celibate. As far I know the Universal House of Justice has not made any policy for same sex marriage. In the 2010 letter they state that the Baha’i community should not take sides on the political question concerning marriage equality.

Admittedly the 2010 policy is a recent change in policy, but it surprises me when Baha’is such as yourself appear ignorant of how prejudiced it is to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

The Baha’i Teaching is not equality for all – except for gays and lesbians – is it? So I started hunting around to find out where these homophobic statements come from and I found that they don’t come from Baha’i Scripture – have another look at the notes section you referred to in the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

You wrote: “Homosexuality is listed as the eighteenth (xviii in Roman numerals) prohibition in the ‘Synopsis and Codification’ of the aforementioned book. Likewise, there is also Note 134 of the same book which is quite lengthy. Read this and know for yourself why flagrantly unrepentant homosexuals are shunned by the majority members of international Baha’i community.”

These notes are written in the third person in reference to Shoghi Effendi, so that means these were penned by the Universal House of Justice’s representative or the research department. They refer to letters written the Guardian’s behalf, not his own writing. I urge you to study the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, which outlines the authority of the Universal House of Justice to make and change its own policy. If you study the Baha’i Covenant you will discover that Baha’i Scripture is only penned by The Bab and Baha’u’llah; and we take anything penned by Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi as authoritative on par with scripture. Letters penned on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf by his secretaries in the 1930s to 1950s, such as the letter on the condemnation of birth control, have a lower status or authority, where they were intended as advice or if it was clear in the letter that they were instructions for the specific person they were addressed to (see: The 1932 Letter Written on Behalf of the Guardian which addresses the status of these letters).

You are also mistaken about gays and lesbians being shunned by Baha’is. Perhaps in your own community they are shunned — but they are not in many other communities and some Baha’i communities celebrate and support their gay and lesbian members. In fact many Baha’is I’ve encountered in diverse communities around the world tell me they want to support full equal treatment for their gay and lesbian community members but seldom express this because they fear any cause for disunity. However by saying nothing, views such as yours end up being dominant — hence this “justabahai” blog which expresses my points of view as a Bahai.

According to the Universal House of Justice, it is time Baha’is started to stand up for the rights of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and encourage other Baha’is to do the same. More and more, people are doing that in a public forum of support and visibility run by Baha’is: http://gaybahai.net
So on one level I understand how you might think that gays and lesbians are shunned, because you might not hear Baha’is such as myself voice themselves publicly. But we do exist, just as much as the 10% of our brothers and sisters who are gay.

You wrote:
“As a member of an LSA I can tell that the most you would risk is a temporary or permanent loss of voting rights. Temporary if you change your ways to acceptable Baha’i ways and permanent if you are more committed to the homosexual ’cause’ than the Baha’i cause. Only an NSA can take away or restore someone’s voting rights. Someone who has lost their voting rights within a Baha’i community is no longer seen as a “true”, “loyal”, “committed” or “devoted” Baha’i. In other words, they are Baha’is in name only but not in deed.”

Well Baha’u’llah put it very well: “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.”

Your use of the term “flagrantly unrepentant homosexuals” shows everyone by your words that you are prejudiced against gays and lesbians. On one level I’d say, that doesn’t show the universality of the Baha’i community in a very good light — but more importantly it misrepresents the Baha’i community as a community that discriminates. Discrimination is to make judgments about people because of their identity, in this case (in your words) as “flagrantly unrepentant homosexuals.”

Which is more praiseworthy in the world, and in my view for the Baha’i community, words such as yours, or words that express the Baha’i Teachings of spirituality, acceptance and oneness, and actions that reflect the Baha’i principles of equality, justice, and unity in diversity? (A list of the Bahai Principles is here)

Sorry to come down so hard on you here, but I think it is important that you realize that your words are based on your own prejudice. A Baha’i who has lost their voting rights is no less than any other Baha’i in terms of being a Baha’i. The sanction denies them participation in some Baha’i activities such as attending feasts and being able to vote – the degree of the sanctions on attendance depends on the N.S.A. who usually state what these specific sanctions entail. If a gay and lesbian Baha’i has their voting rights removed because of being a ‘flagrantly unrepentant homosexual,’ well… who is to judge what this even means? This is what a Letter Written on Behalf of the Guardian says about removal of administrative rights:

“Concerning your question as to the status of those individuals whom the Local Assembly or the N.S.A. have considered it necessary to deprive of the voting right and to suspend from local meetings and gatherings; such action which Local and National Assemblies have been empowered to take against such recalcitrant members, however justified and no matter how severe, should under no circumstances be considered as implying the complete expulsion of the individuals affected from the Cause. The suspension of voting and other administrative rights of an individual, always conditional and therefore temporary, can never have such far reaching implications, since it constitutes merely an administrative sanction; whereas his expulsion or ex-communication from the Faith, which can be effected by the Guardian alone in his capacity as the supreme spiritual head of the community, has far-reaching spiritual implications affecting the very soul of that believer. The former, as already stated, is an administrative sanction, whereas the latter is essentially spiritual, involving not only the particular relationship of a believer to his local or National Assembly, but his very spiritual existence in the Cause. It follows, therefore, that a believer can continue calling himself a Bahá’í even though he may cease to be a voting member of the community. But in case he is excluded from the body of the Cause by an act of the Guardian he ceases to be a believer and cannot possibly identify himself even nominally with the Faith.”
(Letter Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, undated, Directives from the Guardian, p. 81 + 82, (click to view the source online). Copyright 1973 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Hawaiian Islands. Published by the Bahá’í Publishing Trust, India. and which is also in “The Principles of Bahai Administration” (1973 edition)

And this is what the Universal House of Justice says:
“Although generally speaking a believer deprived of his voting rights is not restricted except as stated above, the following privileges have been expressly stipulated as not denied: He may attend the observances of the nine Holy Days. He may attend any Bahá’í function open to non-Bahá’ís. He may receive any publication available to non-Bahá’ís. He is free to teach the Faith as every individual believer has been enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh to teach. Association with other believers is not forbidden. He may have the Bahá’í burial service if he or his family requests it, and he may be buried in a Bahá’í cemetery. Bahá’í charity should not be denied him on the ground that he has lost he voting rights. Bahá’í institutions may employ him, but should use discretion as to the type of work he is to perform. He should have access to the spiritual Assembly.”
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 61-62)

If your voice was representative of Baha’i communities or LSA policy (which thankfully I know it is not) I would never go to another Baha’i feast because Baha’u’llah’s principles of equality and justice are too important to me. Please re-read your words above and do some reading of the Baha’i writings to address your prejudice against gays and lesbians.

You wrote:
“From the perspective of the Guardian, people who have lost their voting rights, are to be regarded by the mainstream Baha’i community as being “second-rate” covenant breakers, since they would rather be disobedient and follow their own will than that of God via His mouthpiece, Baha’u’llah. I shall pray you and others who are similarly afflicted. Please do for your own ultimate good, heed these words.”

These are not the words of the Guardian. These are your own ideas. See the words of the Guardian above. The following should give you an indication of the policy of the removal of voting rights:
” … Every case is different, and there is more than one variable consideration to take into account, for example, the circumstances of the individual, the degree to which the good name of the Faith is involved, whether the offence is blatant and flagrant. Over and over again the beloved Guardian urged Assemblies to be extremely patient and forbearing in dealing with the friends. He pointed out on many occasions that removal of administrative rights is the heaviest sanction which Assemblies may impose at the present time. These considerations apply to the types of problems you mention in your letter. In all such cases it is for the Assembly to determine at what point the conduct is blatant and flagrant or is harmful to the name of the Faith. They must determine whether the believer has been given sufficient warning before the imposition of sanctions.

While it can be a severe test to a Bahá’í to see fellow believers violating Bahá’í laws or engaging in conduct inimical to the welfare and best interests of the Faith, there is no fixed rule that a believer must follow when such conduct comes to his notice. A great deal depends upon the seriousness of the offence and upon the relationship which exists between him and the offender.

If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith the believer to whose attention it comes should immediately report it to the Local Spiritual Assembly. Once it is in the hands of the Assembly the believer’s obligation is discharged and he should do no more than pray for the offender and continue to show him friendship and encouragement – unless, of course, the Spiritual Assembly asks him to take specific action.

Sometimes, however, the matter does not seem grave enough to warrant reporting to the Spiritual Assembly, in which case it may be best to ignore it altogether. There are also other things that can be done by the Bahá’í to whose notice such things come. For example he could foster friendly relations with the individual concerned, tactfully drawing him into Bahá’í activities in the hope that, as his knowledge of the teachings and awareness of the Faith deepens, he will spontaneously improve his patterns of conduct. Or perhaps the relationship is such that he can tactfully draw the offender’s attention to the teachings on the subject – but here he must be very careful not to give him the impression of prying into a fellow-believer’s private affairs or of telling him what he must do, which would not only be wrong in itself but might well produce the reverse of the desired reaction.

If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’í’s misconduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or Assistant.

Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offence.”
(Universal House of Justice to an individual, February 20, 1977)

Here are two links to a collection of policies by the Universal House of Justice regarding voting rights:
http://bahai-library.com/compilation_removal_administrative_rights;
bahairesearch.com

Please note that in this compilation there is no mention of the term ‘”second-rate” covenant breaker’ so I guess this is something you have made up and decided to claim that this a practice of “the mainstream Baha’i community.” I hope you take heed from the policy of the Universal House of Justice’s policy above, “If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith …”

How would you feel if I reported you for what I consider blatant prejudice and flagrant misrepresentation which threatens the interests of the Faith? Of course, I have no intention of doing such a thing, because I think it is better to write this to you in the hope that you might realize that whatever personal prejudice you may harbor against homosexuals and as an individual you are free to express, you should no longer make the statements you have made, as if your views represent the Baha’i community.

“Homophobia impacts on all of us.
It diminishes our humanity”

Stephen Fry, 2013

Errata:
In my original blog above I’d used the following:
This is what the Guardian says about removal of administrative rights:

“A person whose administrative rights of membership in the Baha’i community have been removed is a Baha’i at heart if he still recognizes Bahá’u’lláh and believes in His Revelation. Since his spiritual commitment is not in question, his continuing Baha’i life can include worship of God through the prayers of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and observance of the Fast, of the Baha’i Holy Days, and of all the personal and family occasions of the Faith. He has access to the literature of the Faith and, unless specified otherwise by the National Spiritual Assembly, may attend proclamation meetings and Baha’i school sessions that are open to the public. He may subscribe to Brilliant Star and World Order Magazine and other general publications, but he cannot receive The American Bahá’í. He cannot have a Bahá’í marriage or go on pilgrimage.”
(Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration p. 88 (click to view the source online)

But it now seems that this quotation might not be authentic and it appears that it is probably a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and not something penned by Shoghi Effendi, and so I replaced it with another similar quotation. The reason it appears not to be authentic is that the passage doesn’t appear in a hard-copy of the fourth edition, 1976, and there’s no mention of any revision since the first edition in 1950 — although there do seem to have been minor revisions to account for the Universal House of Justice taking over functions formerly held by the Guardian. The American Baha’i did not exist during the lifetime of Shoghi Effendi. The first issue of The American Baha’i was published (Vol. 1, no. 1) in January 1970. Bob Ballenger was the editor and he was the one who came up with the name.
The U.S. Bahai produced magazine, World Order existed at the time of the Guardian, and had been suspended during the Depression. Then it was later restarted.
However the publication “Principles of Baha’i Administration” doesn’t distinguish between Shoghi Effendi’s own writing nor Letters Written on his behalf (See “the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions and these messages are authoritative, their words are in no sense the same as his, their style certainly not the same, and their authority less,…“) nor does it date anything nor give any sources.

There is a reference to the American Bahai Magazine being suspended during Shoghi Effendi’s time, as a 1957 letter on his behalf states:

…As regards the “Herald of the South” magazine, … it is some years since the American Bahá’í Magazine was abandoned for similar reasons, and the Guardian feels that you can do so in Australia, and the funds be used to better advantage, at this time.
(Arohanui – Letters to New Zealand, p. 76, Letter Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, July 19th, 1957)

In the undated text above a typist might have substituted “The American Baha’i” for “The American Baha’i Magazine” or perhaps “Baha’i News.”

The 1973 edition of “Principles of Baha’i Administration” online at http://bahai-library.com; also does not have this quotation.

Admittedly these points are minors things and typing errors are part and parcel of life, but my goal is to only to refer to texts that can be authenticated. It seems most likely that The American Bahai Magazine might have existed in the time of Shoghi Effendi, and then was suspended and perhaps a typist in the undated text, dropped the word, “Magazine.” If we could find out the dates for the publication of “The American Bahai Magazine” then that would be way to date this text and then perhaps to find a source for this.
Bob Ballenger wrote:
“For the record, as far as I know, the name “The American Baha’i” was never used previously. In the late 1960s, there were enough old timers such as Charlotte Linfoot still working in Wilmette, that I think either I or my boss would have heard if the name had been used previously. Of course, it is possible that there was an “American Baha’i Magazine” published before I came up with the name in the fall of 1969. But, my feeling is that, if there had been a publication with that name, it would have been fairly distant in the past. There was, of course, “Baha’i News,” which was an official publication of the National Baha’i Center but, if memory serves, that had petered out well before I came to Wilmette in the September, 1969. When I was brought on board to start a monthly newspaper, there was some discussion about the name. My boss in Wilmette, Salvatore Pelle (who later moved to Hawaii and served on its NSA for a number of years) wanted to call the publication the “Baha’i Star” or perhaps the “Baha’i Tribune.” I felt those names were a bit too generic and I argued for “The American Baha’i.” I think that title made some folks a bit uneasy because they felt, as a world religion, calling the newspaper “The American Baha’i” sounded too nationalistic. My argument was that this publication was for the American Baha’i community and its title should reflect that.” (personal correspondence with Sonja van Kerkhoff, 20 February 2014)

h1

Baha’is and the LGBTQ Community – Part Two

January 1, 2014

Does Baha’i scripture limit marriage to a union between only one man and one woman?

Not as far as I know. I have found nothing in the Baha’i writings that specifically prohibits same-sex marriage. It’s my personal opinion that the question of how Bahaí communities are to respond to the new phenomenon of same-sex marriage is in the hands of the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected body that administers the global Baha’i community. The Universal House of Justice has yet to make a policy that deals specifically with the question of individuals in legally and socially recognized same-sex marriages. I think it is very likely to be a policy which gives National Spiritual Assemblies a major role because conditions vary so much in terms of social acceptance and the law.
The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah’s book of laws, refers to marriage between men and women. That’s why most Baha’is assume that marriage means only a heterosexual union. But in the same book, it is also assumed that men take journeys while women stay at home. In fact all of the laws are presented in the context of the customs of the 19th century middle east which when this was written.

Because no specific scripture stipulates that only men may take journeys, for example, the Universal House of Justice applies the law of “mutatis mutandis” (Latin for changing what needs to be changed) to the gender-specific laws in the Kitab-i-Aqdas. In other words, all of the Baha’i laws apply equally to men or women unless the context makes this impossible.

Is same-sex-marriage impossible for Baha’is today? There’s no text that stipulates marriage is only between one man and one woman and Baha’u’llah provided ways for the Baha’i Faith to adapt and change over time. Baha’is believe that science and religion agree, and that religion should not conflict with science. That’s why the Universal House of Justice can make new policy and change old policy on any issue not defined in Baha’i Scripture.

The Universal House of Justice can also decide to stipulate whether such rulings apply universally or locally. An example of Baha’i policy being applied differently in line with prevailing social conditions in various cultures, is the changing policy on males and females living as roommates in the same house. Even today in some societies such arrangements would be perceived as scandalous, while other cultures view it as completely acceptable. In the same way, some societies view same-sex couples as just as morally upstanding as any heterosexual couple, and civil and marriage laws are rapidly changing to reflect this.

Given that the current policy of the Universal House of Justice — that marriage can only be between a man and woman — what should local Baha’i communities do if a same-sex couple wants to join the community? Or if a gay Baha’i asks for a Baha’i wedding?

According to Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’i administration should be flexible:

“…whatever is deemed necessary to incorporate into it in order to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements, can, according to the provisions made by Baha’u’llah, be safely embodied therein.”
The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 22.

Shoghi Effendi also wrote:
“Let them proclaim that in whatever country they reside, and however advanced their institutions, or profound their desire to enforce the laws, and apply the principles, enunciated by Baha’u’llah, they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of such laws and the application of such principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments.” The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 65

In the past, the policy of the Universal House of Justice was that gay couples were not allowed to join the Bahai community:
“… if persons involved in homosexual relationships express an interest in the Faith, they should not be instructed by Bahá’í institutions to separate so that they may enroll in the Bahá’í community, for this action by any institution may conflict with civil law. The Bahá’í position should be patiently explained to such persons, who should also be given to understand that although in their hearts they may accept Bahá’u’lláh, they cannot join the Bahá’í community in the current condition of their relationship.” – Universal House of Justice letter to an individual, 5 March 1999.

That policy from Universal House of Justice has been followed by this 2010 policy:
” … to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.” – Universal House of Justice letter to an individual, 27 Oct 2010.

However some Bahai communities might still refuse married gays admittance to the Bahai community. For example the author of the current Wikipedia entry for “Homosexuality and the Baha’i Faith” states: “someone involved in a same-sex marriage or union will be prevented from registering as a Baha’i and joining the community.” (last accessed, 1 January, 2014) When the 1999 policy was written, same-sex marriage didn’t exist. Today it exists in many countries and the principle that Bahai policy must be subordinate to the laws of the land, would be another consideration by Bahai communities.

As a Baha’i, I hope that the tide of marriage equality now sweeping the world will eventually extend to people of every Faith.

h1

Baha’is and the LGBTQ Community – Part One

December 20, 2013

Does Baha’i scripture discriminate against LGBTQ people? No.

In fact, Baha’i scripture not only stresses equality for all, it urges us to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.” – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p. 285. (click to view the source online)

And Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, speaks of prejudices of the past as being no longer valid:

“Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished.”
Gleanings, p. 95.

“According to Baha’u’llah the purpose of religion is to educate and bring unity: God’s purpose in sending His Prophets unto men is twofold. The first is to liberate the children of men from the darkness of ignorance, and guide them to the light of true understanding. The second is to ensure the peace and tranquility of mankind, and provide all the means by which they can be established.” Gleanings, pp. 79-80.

And for Baha’is, unity doesn’t mean sameness — far from it. Abdu’l-Baha wrote: Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity.
This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination.
Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 291.

However, some Baha’is might think their Faith discriminates against LGBTQ people, because they interpret letters written from the 1920s through the 1950s on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, as Baha’i scripture. Four of these letters refer to homosexuality as an illness. These letters of guidance incorporate the medical understandings of the times, presumably appropriate guidance for the recipients of the time.

But for Baha’is, only Baha’i scripture is unchangeable and divinely-inspired. Scripture refers to the original writings of The Bab and Baha’u’llah. Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi interpreted these writings, which Baha’is also consider authoritative and unchangeable. For other questions, the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected head of the Baha’i community, can change and modify Baha’i policies. And because Baha’is believe in the agreement of science and religion, Baha’i policies can and do change as science advances our knowledge and understanding.

Until recently, the Universal House of Justice referred to homosexuality as an aberration or as an illness, but this policy has changed. Since 2010, the policy of the Universal House of Justice asks Baha’i communities to work at removing any discrimination against gays or lesbians, whether they are Baha’is or not.

Every world faith faces this question today, and communities take time to change. So anyone who searches this topic online will still see statements such as this example, in the current Wikipedia entry for “Homosexuality and the Baha’i Faith”: “in authoritative teachings homosexuality is described as a condition that an individual should control and overcome.” (last accessed 20 December, 2013) What the author refers to here is the 1973 policy of the Universal House of Justice. Sooner or later this current, 2010 policy will seep through to more and more people:

…With respect to your question concerning the position Baha’is are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following. The purpose of the Faith of Baha’u’llah is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.”
Universal House of Justice, 27 october 2010.

In the same 2010 policy of the Universal House of Justice, they also state that marriage for Baha’is can only be between a man and woman. Please see my next article for a discussion of this.

h1

Material civilization is like a globe of glass. Divine civilization is the light itself, and the glass without the light is dark – Abdul-Baha

November 27, 2013

Translation by Sen McGlinn, 2013.  Design by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Translation by Sen McGlinn, 2013. Design by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Recently I saw a poster of a globe projecting light with the text in the title above.

There was some discussion about what “divine civilisation” could mean. Some thought it referred to a future civilization as an entity, others discussed what characteristics a “divine civilisation” might have.

So let’s look at what Abdul-Baha wrote and the context for this quotation.

The English text above comes from the book, Foundations of World Unity (pages 28-33) which doesn’t give any indication of a source, however there is a corresponding text in the 1919 Tablet to the Hague in Persian.

And the English translation of this is closer to the Persian text:

“Material civilization is like a lamp-glass. Divine civilization is the lamp itself and the glass without the light is dark”
This text is also in Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, published in 1978.

But now we miss the visual metaphor of a globe. The word globe isn’t in the Persian text. In consultation with Sen who reads Perisian here’s an attempt at both a translation that doesn’t introduce new elements and yet hopefully flows as nicely as the first text:

“Material civilization is like the lantern glass. Divine civilization is like the flame and the glass without the flame is dark.”

Some could argue that all three texts say the same thing and I’d agree the differences are minimal. All three texts refer to the divine (spiritual or spiritualized) as being what gives purpose (or illumination) to the material and all three texts refer to material and divine in the present continuous (not something yet to happen), however personally if quoting an author, I prefer to use text that reflects visual metaphors intended by the author.

Literally in the Persian the text (here at line 9) is: Material civilization is like the glass (In Persian when an article is not indicated it means ‘the’)”. The next phrase (there’s no punctuation in the Persian) “divine civilisation is like the lamp (saraaj)” makes it clear that “glass” is a lantern or glass of a lamp. In turn the first phrase tells us that “lamp” in the second phrase refers to what illuminates and not the physical structure so ‘flame’ is as accurate as the word lamp here.

In the two other translations “a” is used and the translators were most likely thinking of ‘any’ or ‘all’ various lanterns, whereas it seems that Abdul-Baha chose to indicate ‘the’ glass (in Persian it is a choice) and in doing this there’s a reference to the Platonic idea of the universal glass (lantern). I realise this is a slight difference of meaning in English but I found it interesting, and here using ‘a lantern’ or ‘the lantern’ doesn’t affect the flow of the words in English either way.

In Persian there’s a word for light (nur) which Abdul-Baha could have used and didn’t and so that’s the argument for using the word flame here.

Also a flame can be blown out and in a lantern it needs the glass to function, whereas light is more abstract (and hence independent). So there’s a reference to the interrelation between the material and the divine and this could be a reason why Abdul-Baha did not choose the word for light. For me this was a nuance I would have missed in the first translation – the complimentary natures of the material and the spiritual or divine, even though in this metaphor, it is the spirit that is the source of light.

So what is divine civilisation?
The text that immediately follows in the 1919 Tablet to the Hague, answers this in my view: “Divine civilization is like the spirit, and the body gets its life from the spirit, otherwise it becomes a corpse” (Abdul-Baha, http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SAB/sab-228.html)

I’d say divine civilisation refers to the spiritual or spirited – so a society or societies which are characterized by values such as justice, equality, etc.

The Persian word used for civilization is “madaniyyat” which has the meaning as in the phrase, Roman Civilization, meaning aspects of a way of life and the achievements of a people in a period.

 
Some Historical
Background to the Tablet to the Hague

In 1915 representatives from 9 European countries and the United States, formed the Central Organization for a Durable Peace in the Netherlands at The Hague. Their constitution was published in newspapers around the world. In Tehran, Iran, it was published in the Iran News and Mr Ahmad Yazdani in consultation with Mr Ibn-i-Asdaq, prepared a paper outlining the Baha’i principles and sent this to the Organization with the suggestion that they seek guidance from Abdu’l-Baha in their goal of establishing permanent global peace. The Organization responded by sending a letter written in 1916 to Abdu’l-Baha via Mr. Yazdani.
“The Tablet to The Hague” is the letter which `Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to the Central Organisation for Durable Peace, dated 17 December 1919 in response to receiving a letter dated in February 11th, 1916. Sima Quddusi in his 2005 abstract mentions that it was delivered to the organization in person by Mr. Yazdani and Mr. Abn-Asdaq in June 1920, however the organisation was dissolved after the June 1919 Peace Treaty of Versailles. Sima Quddusi also refers to later correspondence between the Central Organization for a Durable Peace and Abdul-Baha see: http://irfancolloquia.org/60/quddusi_hague

In the tablet, `Abdu’l-Bahá gives an overview of the Bahá’í principles: a declaration of universal peace, independent investigation of reality; the oneness of humanity; religion must be the cause of fellowship and love; religion must be in conformity with science and reason; the abandonment of religious, racial, political, economic and patriotic prejudices, a universal auxilliary language, equality of women and men, a voluntary sharing of one’s wealth (property), that each individual must be free (emanicipated), that religion is important for teaching morality; material civilization must work with divine civilization; education for all children; justice and rights.

Here are a few excerpts:
“And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is that religious, racial, political, economic and patriotic prejudices destroy the edifice of humanity. As long as these prejudices prevail, the world of humanity will not have rest.”
“If this prejudice and enmity are on account of religion consider that religion should be the cause of fellowship, otherwise it is fruitless.”

“Regarding the economic prejudice, it is apparent that whenever the ties between nations become strengthened and the exchange of commodities accelerated, and any economic principle is established in one country, it will ultimately affect the other countries and universal benefits will result. Then why this prejudice?

As to the political prejudice, the policy of God must be followed and it is indisputable that the policy of God is greater than human policy. We must follow the Divine policy and that applies alike to all individuals. He treats all individuals alike: no distinction is made, and that is the foundation of the Divine Religions.”

“And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is that although material civilization is one of the means for the progress of the world of mankind, yet until it becomes combined with Divine civilization, the desired result, which is the felicity of mankind, will not be attained. Consider! These battleships that reduce a city to ruins within the space of an hour are the result of material civilization; likewise the Krupp guns, the Mauser rifles, dynamite, submarines, torpedo boats, armed aircraft and bombers–all these weapons of war are the malignant fruits of material civilization. Had material civilization been combined with Divine civilization, these fiery weapons would never have been invented. Nay, rather, human energy would have been wholly devoted to useful inventions and would have been concentrated on praiseworthy discoveries. Material civilization is like a lamp-glass. Divine civilization is the lamp itself and the glass without the light is dark. Material civilization is like the body. No matter how infinitely graceful, elegant and beautiful it may be, it is dead. Divine civilization is like the spirit, and the body gets its life from the spirit, otherwise it becomes a corpse. It has thus been made evident that the world of mankind is in need of the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Without the spirit the world of mankind is lifeless, and without this light the world of mankind is in utter darkness. For the world of nature is an animal world.”

The whole tablet is here: http://bahai-library.com/provisionals/lawh.hague.html

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 41 other followers