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And Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, speaks of prejudices of the past as being no longer valid: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

6 comments

  1. Regrettably, the author has misunderstood the passages from the Universal House of Justice he has cited. The authoritative teachings of the Faith unambiguously prohibit homosexual behavior. The quotes in the writings are many. At the same time, treating people with a homosexual orientation with disdain or prejudice is and always has been considered wrong as well. The writer seems to think the only way not to treat homosexuals with disdain or prejudice is to agree that homosexuality is a good thing. Not so. The writings of the Faith are clearly in disagreement with homosexuality as a behavior, but that view in no wise justifies treating homosexuals with prejudice or oppression. From the point of view of the Baha’i Faith, and the guidance of Universal House of Justice, homosexuality remains a condition to be overcome and, at the same time, one should not treat with disdain any person who has not, as yet, overcome it. Everyone, regardless of whether they are homosexual or heterosexual in their orientation, should be treated with respect, even if and especially if one disagrees with them. This exhortation to treat others with respect, even in the face of disagreements, does not favor homosexuals over other categories. People of every race, religion, social class, gender, nationality or ethnicity alike deserve respect. This policy has never changed in the Faith and since it emanates from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, we can say confidently it never will.


  2. Thank you for your blog. As a former Baha’i who left the Cause because of the realisation that I was gay, it was a very painful, spiritual decision. I still believe in Baha’u’llah and your blog is a very loving one and very sincere. Have you had any response from the UHJ?


    • Thanks for your comments Robert. My main aim with my blog is two fold. Hopefully to help any gay Bahai, and in particular youth raised by Bahais to know they are loved and that the Bahai Teachings are not anti-gay nor homophobic. I personally believe that a LGTBQ orientation can be treated with respect on par with any heterosexual within the Bahai community. I hope my blog does something to help. I don’t understand your question re: “Have you had any response from the UHJ?” – I have not written to them so I wouldn’t expect that they would write to me. Individual Bahais are free to write blogs if this is your question:
      “In general, at this stage in the development of the World Wide Web, the House of Justice feels that those friends desiring to establish personal homepages on the Internet as a means of promoting the Faith should not be discouraged from doing so. It is hoped that the friends will adopt etiquettes consistent with the principles of the Faith, including clearly indicating what materials constitute their own interpretations. While it is inevitable that some attempts will be found wanting, the House of Justice has not formulated guidelines or policies specifically addressed to Internet sites.
      With regard to the projects referred to in your email, particularly in the case of a Web site for a local Bahá’í community, the Local Spiritual Assembly may wish to approach the National Spiritual Assembly to see if it has any particular guidance to share. Individual projects, if they contain Bahá’í content, should also be referred to one’s National Spiritual Assembly for possible advice or guidance.

      (The Universal House of Justice, 24 April, 1997)

      Although technically a blog works differently to a webpage, I think that until the Universal House of Justice produces a new policy that the above would apply. So as a Bahai I am free to write a blog as long as I make it clear that my views here do not represent any particular Bahai community.
      I’d think this would apply regardless of what any individual Baha’i’s view are and I think this is wise. After all, as Bahais when we express our views as part of our individual explorations of the Bahai Teachings, others can disagree and we can debate and discuss things. Then hopefully all concerned learn from the exchanges. Being unified in diversity in my view is the freedom to have differing interpretations of Scripture and to present these as our own individual understandings so if there’s an error someone can point this out and show from Scripture how this might be wrong or right. Or perhaps the two differing perspectives might be equally applicable :) and then it would be up to the context or the current policy of the Universal House of Justice or perhaps it could be possible for Bahais to have a wider range of lifestyles or perspectives than any of us thought was possible.

      My second aim for this blog is personal. It hurts me whenever I see evidence of a Bahai practicing any form of discrimination against a LGBTQ individual. So I hope in some way, that my blog helps to show that: “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.”

      (The Universal House of Justice, 27 October, 2010)


  3. Religious Tolerance Ontario has a great article on this.

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bah.htm

    There are seven articles in that section. Each is very interesting in itself, but the sixth one is of most importance.

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bah4.htm

    The third one is also important.

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bah1.htm

    None of the recommend action were implemented or anything close.

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bah3.htm


  4. Blake, my blog is not the place for allegations and generalizations or what I consider ‘hate’ speech or slurs against the Bahai Faith or any religion in general.



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