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A Baha’i’s letter of resignation

April 25, 2016

Letter to the UHJ and NSA of the USA

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2016

To the Universal House of Justice and the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States of America,

Last time I wrote you I was writing to ask permission to travel to Iran in order to pursue my study of Persian and Baha’i history. It was my hope to become a scholar of the Faith. That letter marked, in many ways, the pinnacle of my immersion in the Baha’i community. Growing up, Baha’i children’s classes were held at my house every weekend, and feasts, holy days, firesides, and potlucks joyfully paraded through my home with comforting regularity. I remember crawling out of bed and dangling my legs over the second floor banister to listen surreptitiously to the late night consultations and deliberations of the Local Spiritual Assembly, which included both of my parents. One day I hoped to join their ranks.

My father founded one of the first theater companies in the world to dedicate itself to themes and stories from Baha’i history, and when I was fifteen I began touring with him across the USA, UK, and Canada – enacting plays about the beloved heroes and heroines of the Faith. When I was eighteen I served at the Lotus Temple in New Delhi and later at my university plunged headlong into what could have been subtitled a degree in Baha’i Culture (Persian, Arabic, and Middle Eastern Studies). My marriage vows were Baha’i vows, my daily prayers Baha’i prayers, and my hopes for humanity and myself — those hopes outlined in the sacred writings of the Faith. I write all this, not to brag about my Baha’i pedigree, or to prove a legitimate degree of devotion, but to illustrate how fundamentally rooted I have been in the Faith and to contextualize my profound grief that this is a letter of resignation.

There was a time when the Faith was everything to me and the Baha’i community a family like no other, but for the last ten years I have had difficulty feeling that I belong to it or want to belong to it. There are perhaps several issues at play, but the most fundamental of them has been the official position espoused by the Universal House of Justice on homosexuality. I am a heterosexual woman and I am married to a man, but many of my dearest friends and colleagues belong to the LGBTQ community. You advise that I should consider their sexual orientation to be a kind of “handicap” which they should “pray to overcome”, but I find this position impossible to maintain.

As a child and young adult, I prided myself in belonging to a religion that was not weighed down by outdated social laws, not caught up in untangling and interpreting archaic customs to fit the modern age. In comparison to other religions, the principles of gender and racial equality which the Baha’i Faith upheld often felt revolutionary and refreshingly modern. Even in 1914, Abdu’l- Bahá encouraged the marriage of people of different races in America! It felt good to be ahead of the curve and on the right side of history. But when it comes to the civil rights issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community, Baha’is are so woefully behind the curve, that I have for many years been embarrassed to be associated with the community. Current attempts to legitimize the LGBTQ community, such as legalizing gay marriage, do not only represent “changing trends in popular thought” (which to my ear sounds like characterizing significant changes as a superficial fad) but the emancipation of a community that has existed in human society as long as men and women have existed.

Some years ago, when people asked me about my religious affiliation, I started answering that “I was raised as a Baha’i” instead of saying “I am a Baha’i.” After the birth of my first child a few months ago, I fell into a deep depression in regards to my ambiguous relationship to my own faith community. It grieves me deeply that I will not raise my daughter within the embrace of the Baha’i Faith, which has meant so much to me. But it disturbs me further that she would be raised to believe that to be loyal to Bahá’u’lláh means to categorize a substantial and precious portion of the human race as “self-indulgent”, “shameful”, “aberrant”, “abhorrent”, “immoral”, “disgraceful”, “handicapped”, or “afflicted”. When my daughter was born I plunged into a studious and thorough interrogation of the writings on the subject of homosexuality, hoping I would be able to justify a way to return. When I found your letter – dated 9 May 2014 – I realized instead that I would prefer to officially resign.

My father has pleaded with me in the past to stay — to remain in a state of questioning while maintaining my role in the community. He tells me that the Baha’i community needs ardent seekers to ask difficult questions, or it has no chance of evolving and meeting the needs and ailments of the current age. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” he has said – a metaphor that rings more profoundly in my ears now that I have a baby of my own! But when I read this sentence from your May 9th letter — “It would be a profound contradiction for someone to profess to be a Bahá’í, yet reject, disregard, or contend with aspects of belief or practice He ordained” — it feels as if the Universal House of Justice is calling me a hypocrite rather than encouraging those believers who struggle with aspects of the Faith to persevere. Regardless, I no longer want to live in a constant state of schizophrenia and contradiction. For a long time I maintained that the writings of Bahá’u’lláh are in fact not clear on the issue of homosexuality, and therefore the retrograde attitudes towards homosexuality in the Baha’i community might shift. In regards to the passage often quoted from the Kitab-i-Aqdas …

We shrink for very shame, from treating the subject of boys.

I was under the impression that “the subject of boys” implied the practice of pederasty, and did not extend to homosexuality in general. Why should it, when sex between an adult and a child (boy or girl) is so very different than sex between two consenting adults? The other passage which is often quoted…

Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.

might seem more explicit, but in fact sodomy (if defined as “anal sex”) is anatomically impossible between two women and not strictly a necessity between two men who wish to bring each other to a sexual climax. It feels foolish to delve into the nitty-gritty particulars of the sex act, when it is our immaterial souls that religion should occupy itself with. As you write in your letter dated the 9th of May 2014, it is the role of religion “to cultivate spiritual qualities and virtues – the attributes of the soul which constitute one’s true and abiding identity.” And yet you have involved yourself in tracing clear prohibitions against the sexual acts of people of the same gender in the Baha’i community. So I feel it is important to be equally explicit that sodomy and pederasty are NOT synonymous with homosexuality. Even if this was not your opinion, you would be amiss to say that two women or two men cannot be part of the “the bedrock of the whole structure of human society” which supports and nurtures the next generation because they cannot issue forth children. I’ve witnessed many healthy households headed by same-sex parents. Surrogate motherhood, sperm and egg donation, not to mention adoption, has redefined the family structure in the contemporary world.

You write “if such statements are considered by some to be unclear, the unambiguous interpretations provided by Shoghi Effendi constitute a binding exposition of His intent.” I agree that the writings of Shoghi Effendi are less ambiguous than those enshrined within the Kitab-i- Aqdas, but are you not an infallible institution, capable of redefining his interpretations in a more enlightened manner without negating the divine covenant that has linked the series of institutions and individuals shepherding the Baha’i community towards its true potential? Do you not exist, not only to interpret and uphold what has already been written, but so that the Faith does not become calcified and intransigent — so that the Faith continues to be a living, thinking entity, able to adapt and respond to the needs and challenges of the age? As I write this letter, I realize I am writing it more for myself and my own sense of clarity than to enact any kind of response or change. I know a single letter cannot change the culture of a worldwide religion, and yet I would feel cowardly to leave the community without some clear act of protest or an attempt to communicate my grief. I wonder if you realize the emotional pain that you are inflicting upon the ardent believers of your community; radiant souls who want more than anything to be able to call themselves Baha’is.

Perhaps I am too rigid when I insist that this is a letter of resignation. The fact that I have decided that I can not be a part of the Baha’i community without being entirely a part of it, and so I must take myself entirely out of it, might, in itself, express a divisive breed of orthodoxy. Still, after much deliberation, I have concluded that this is the route I want to take.

I hereby relinquish my voting rights, and I ask that you strike me from the rosters.

I have no doubt that I will continue to love and respect the founders of the Faith, and to turn to their writings for guidance. I desperately hope that the official position of the Baha’i community in regards to LGBTQ individuals will change one day. If that day should come in my lifetime, I will be your valiant ensign once more.

Sincerely, Anisa George Philadelphia, PA

This was posted on gaybahai.net and there has been a lot of discussion by Bahais on facebook of the merits or not of this letter. The gay/lesbian Bahai story project is a resource for those interested in social history.
My only dispute with her beautifully expressed letter is that Shoghi Effendi never wrote a word on homosexuality, but many Bahais often mix up the status of these letters penned by secretaries with that of Shoghi Effendi’s own status as official interpreter of Baha’i Scripture. So her views on the status of these letters are similar to what many Bahais say. In the end it boils down to the Universal House of Justice to make a change in their policy, if there is to be any change in the way gay or lesbians are treated by the Bahai community in general. I say in general because there is nothing to stop Bahai communities making it clear in their practice or publicity that they do not discriminate against lesbians or gays. And as individuals we are free (and encouraged) to stand up for the rights of all, inside and outside of the Bahai community. And below a response to Anisa’s letter which shows the current status of the understandings of the Universal House of Justice on the topic of homosexuality. I say current because I have not seen any Bahai scripture that states that marriage can only be between a man and woman. If there was text that showed this I think that by now this would have been made available. Perhaps one day the Universal House of Justice will show us how they come to their current understanding or perhaps they will come to another understanding of Bahai scripture, or perhaps not.

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

12 April 2016

Mrs. Anisa George U.S.A.

Dear Friend,

Your email letter dated 4 February 2016 has been received by the Universal House of Justice and your comments concerning the Bahá’í Teachings and homosexuality have been noted. Your desire to withdraw your membership in the Bahá’í community is, of course, respected, and it is understood that the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, to which your letter was also addressed, has removed your name from its membership roll. We have been asked to comment as follows.

The House of Justice cannot change the Bahá’í Teachings, which are set forth in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and the authorized interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi.

Nevertheless, it wishes to assure you that there is a vast difference between those who accept Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings as the remedy prescribed by the Divine Physician for this age yet acknowledge that they may not grasp the wisdom of certain teachings or struggle in applying them in their personal lives and those who reject, disregard, or contend with them. Indeed, even in cases where believers had a homosexual orientation, Shoghi Effendi encouraged them not to withdraw from the community and to continue to engage in active service, for in one way or another, he explained, we are all tested, and he added that they should receive the encouragement and support of the community. Further, it is entirely against the spirit of the Faith to regard homosexuals with prejudice or disdain.

The House of Justice wishes you well in your efforts to be of service to humanity.

Yours sincerely,

Department of the Secretariat

cc: National Assembly of the United States

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Jake Sasseville’s dilemma

April 19, 2016

still: Milford Sound, Aotearoa, New Zealand, Nov 2015

still: Milford Sound, Aotearoa, New Zealand,
Nov 2015

I have just read Jake’s blog “Baha’i Curious? Religion & Sexuality” who wrote:

“Aside from my parents, the Baha’i Faith has cultivated and shaped who I’ve become in my life, and it is the most consistent community to which I’ve belonged.
That’s why it’s so heart-breaking that I’m considering leaving the Baha’i Faith.”

“Many Baha’is have written me over the months since The Jake Sasseville Show went live asking how I’ve reconciled being openly gay and a Baha’i. The truth is, as I receive many kind emails and Facebook posts, I realize I’m quite embarrassed to call myself a Baha’i while being at odds with the core teaching around marriage and sexuality. ”

In my view the Universal House of Justice (head of the Baha’i Faith) policy that there is something wrong with being gay is not a core teaching but is official Baha’i policy. For me core teachings are what is in Bahai scripture, things such as justice and equality. However many Baha’is think that Universal House of Justice policy is the same as a Baha’i teaching. In terms of practice or authority it might seem the same, but the big difference is that any policy made by the Universal House of Justice including what it calls Baha’i scripture can change. “However the Universal House of Justice is not omniscient, and the friends should understand that there is a difference between infallibility and omniscience. Like the Guardian, the House of Justice wants to be provided with facts when called upon to render a decision, and like him it may well change its decision when new facts emerge, or in light of changed conditions at some point in the future.” (Department of the secretariat, 14 June, 1996)

And while I can point out that letters penned by secretaries on behalf of Shoghi Effendi have a lower authority than anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself writing in his role as official interpretator and that the Universal House of Justice policy by its very nature is flexible, it doesn’t change the fact that gays and lesbians are being treated as lesser – as second class citizens in most Baha’i communities. And in any Bahai community where the members decide to actively show that they do not discriminate, all it takes is for some Baha’i from another community to make a complaint and then an ABM or the NSA may take action. In some cases I have been told it has calmed down and in another case an NSA member threatened all the LSA members, saying that they were under investigation. Whether any community or LSA has ever been sanctioned, the threat remains, and that’s the problem. Any form of tolerance or compassion – which could range from allowing gay Bahais to be open about their orientation to accepting a samesex partnership – can be seen by another Baha’i as an example of openly defying what in their mind is Bahai law, and denounced.
And that is the essence of Jake’s dilemma. Any teaching of inequality is prone to misuse, even if not intended. Jake quotes a Baha’i who is a mental health professional: “His statement that some sort of distortion in my development caused me to choose to be gay, and if I don’t accept that, I must be have a political agenda to defend, is likely reflective of how many people view sexuality. It struck me deeply.”

It sounds as if this mental health professional is letting his prejudice get in the way of his professionalism. There is a list of scientific organizations listed on my blog here that show that such a view of homosexuality is not scientific and not healthy.

If you live in any community or associate with people who consider some aspect of your personality as wrong or needing to be overcome, when it clearly is not an illness (see another of my blogs on this), it not only has a negative affect on your spirit, it has a negative affect on those around, even those who think that they are helping you. So in my view the Baha’i community is not only missing out on the creativity of gay and lesbians – missing out on an aspect of the diversity of humanity. Their discriminating also has an affect on the spiritual health of the community.

There are Bahais who tell me that they love gays, have gay colleagues, have gay friends, would do anything to protect their rights, but if they are a Bahai … they have to obey Bahai law.

“What is this?” this I ask, The answer: “to be celibate”

“Isn’t this unfair?” I respond, and then the response varies from a lecture on the evils of homosexuality to kind words about how there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, only that gay sex is wrong, to kinder words about how we can’t understand the laws and that one day it will be clear.

What does this tell me? It tells me that when something doesn’t have a clear reason, we try to justify it.

Ok, Ok, I know for some there is a clear reason, “Homosexuality is wrong, an over focus on sex, all religions damn homosexuality …” but to my ears that’s prejudice not a reason.

When anything doesn’t have a clear reason, and it goes against the principles of equlity and justice, then in order to cope with this, people have to:

a: look the other way and pretend the problem isn’t there
b: create a rational in their heads which ranges from minor prejudice to more
c: ignore others who might say awful things about gays because of (b).

So I hope you can see now why for me this is not an issue that is just for our GLBT brothers and sisters but it is a vital issue for all Baha’is. Gender equality is no less important for men than it is for women and so too with equality for those who are not straight.

It is clear from Jake’s blog this is not about him not following any Baha’i law, but about being part of a religious community where the official policy is that homosexuality is treated as a problem and anyone in a same-sex marriage is given less rights than someone in a polygmous marriage. The issue is discrimination and prejudice. He wrote:

“The laws evolved as humanity did and as the Faith spread to become the second fastest growing Religion in the world. It would appear as though some laws like those dealing with bigamy evolved while others, like those concerning homosexuality, did not. Those are the contradictions with which I’m wrestling.
I’m not suggesting that laws should be changed or that I know the answer. I do know that my heart is aching. I spent 24 painful years in the closet and I cannot go back in the closet for Baha’u’llah or anyone else. Yet, I feel this strong attraction and love for the core tenets of the Baha’i Faith.”

Jake’s dilemma here is not to do with his future (not being able to marry with the possibility to raise children) but to do with today. How can he be a Bahai and a gay who is not only not in the closet but he is forthright and open? And why shouldn’t he be forthright? When this topic cannot be discussed, that’s a level of exclusion.

Milford Sound, Aotearoa | New Zealand, Nov 2015

Milford Sound, Aotearoa | New Zealand, Nov 2015

Being gay or lesbian is like being a mountain in today’s society. Because of prejudice you are very visible. How would the world be if we perceived mountains as abnormal and needing to be flattened, or at least left off the map? How would such an attitude affect our own thinking, our own lifestyle and our own diversity. Just thinking that the world would be a better place without mountains, without doing anything to flatten them, also affects our pysche. The thing is someone else’s difference does not make our own sexuality any less, in fact, I would argue that exposure to diversity enables us to understand ourselves better.

So back to Jake’s dilemma. Well of course he should follow his heart and I hope he remains a Bahai and like a beautiful mountain, continues being open and sharing his love for humanity. (Jake Sasseville, a talk show host is also editor-in-chief of ProfoundlyHuman.com) At the same time, you have to choose who to associate with, for your own spiritual health. Baha’u’llah wrote “Beware! Walk not with the ungodly and seek not fellowship with him, for such companionship turneth the radiance of the heart into infernal fire.” (The Hidden Words) and if being called a Baha’i or being in the company of Baha’is means that Jake’s wholeness is under strain, then for his own health he should leave.

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Love and Legalism – a tale of two Baha’i communities

April 12, 2016
A Bahai with his family

One of these is a Bahai. Would his family be welcome in your Bahai community?

Abby’s story:
I was raised a Baha’i, so that is definitely why it took me so long to come out.

Added to that are my many happy experiences in the Baha’i community, which explains why I am still happy to call myself a Baha’i today, living with my same-sex partner and my children.

I was always attracted to women but knew it was a no go.

I married a man because that’s what I was supposed to do.

The LSA became aware of my “lifestyle” years ago because my ex-husband went to the Assembly to complain about me.

They told him to mind his own business, but I didn’t know this until after my meeting with them. I was extremely anxious about meeting with the LSA, and had no idea they would be so incredibly loving and accepting. It seemed clear to me that they were open to learning and desperately did not want me to feel unloved or unaccepted. It is a struggle for them, as they know the laws, but they also know me and I suppose this forced them to open their eyes on this subject. I told the LSA that I refuse to hide or pretend to be something I am not and felt doing so was dishonest and against the Faith. I pointed out that heterosexual Baha’is who are single or dating do not have their chastity questioned, and unless they are in my bedroom have no idea what is going on… That as Baha’is we are encouraged to be loving and the only “law” pertains to chastity. Except the marriage part… They also know that I would like to marry my partner. Not sure I’ll still have my voting rights then though!

And now because I live with my partner, I was offered a meeting to “deepen” on the writings on the subject but I declined. I have read everything, needless to say, being born, raised and currently still a Baha’i. If I didn’t love Baha’u’llah so much I would leave the Faith, and I told the LSA I would leave if they felt I was doing wrong by the Faith. They said absolutely no way should I leave the Faith. Another member of the LSA told me they are still babies with this subject and would like to be enlightened. I thought that was great.

For me, if the LSA had reacted negatively I would have left. We are supposed to love everyone and accept everyone. For me, Bahá’ís who judge or are homophobic are committing a greater sin than me, loving the most incredible human being I’ve ever known. But it is their issue and whatever I do is between me and God, I’m OK with that. If the LSA felt I was harming the Faith I would leave.

It’s very frustrating because I think individuals who don’t have any LGBT friends have bizarre ideas in their heads, and don’t think of us as regular, boring, loving, normal, fellow human beings. I’m not willing to live my life alone when I haven’t been convinced that Baha’u’llah believes this is what I should do.

The fact that my LGBT friends are loving and accepting of everyone, yet many Bahá’ís cannot be, is a contradiction of the Faith and my friends are the ones who are unprejudiced and all loving. I love all diversity in the world and this is just another. So many people miss out on knowing some beautiful human beings by judging what they don’t know.
I think my story is as positive as it can be for this time. I would love to I go to Feast with my partner and be active with her, but until the UHJ changes things I will keep my relationship with the faith at home. There are also some individuals in my local community who have shown in their behaviour that they do not welcome me as a lesbian.

“…homosexuality is not a condition to which a person should be reconciled, but is a distortion of his or her nature which should be controlled or overcome.”

Letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 12 January 1973; cited in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, pp. 110-111; also cited in Lights of Guidance, #1222, published in 1983, p. 365

“Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and sexual relations are only permissible between husband and wife.”

Department of secretariat letter from the Universal House of Justice,
9 May 2014
The The full letter is here

If the UHJ published a more positive view on this subject, I wouldn’t care what the rest of the community thought. It would be great to enlighten Baha’is unfamiliar with “ordinary” LGBT people. The LSA said I should not let anything keep me from attending the Feast. I feel if the UHJ changed the law there would be no leg for anyone to stand on and they would have to look at their own prejudices. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there are other LGBT people in the community who are not out.

I’ve been to Baha’i functions in the last few years, and a few Feasts, and feel quite close to some members of my LSA and my local community. I do have children that I am raising Baha’i. I live the life, so to speak (in service to others, love and acceptance and celebration of everyone). Unfortunately, my ex-husband is preachy towards my children about the evils of homosexuality. I have to tell them to not judge the Faith by their father and focus on the beautiful, amazing Baha’is we have in our community.

The LSA has encouraged me to go to feast and suggested I go to a cluster that the ex isn’t at. And they have asked what they could do to help support me, if there was anything. They are very loving.

Being able to share this with others gives me goosebumps and makes me smile.

Julia’s story:
I have been a Baha’i for some 30 years now, and I always tended to keep things pretty clear and honest, but my honesty got me into trouble. I told my daughters about my sexuality on the day I left the marital home and moved in with Granuaile, and I sent a letter to my LSA because I knew my husband had been in touch with them and given his side of the story. Then a member of the LSA, who has been a close friend of the family, asked me to come and see her. First privately, but also as a representative of the LSA. We had a nice chat but then she told me that her main concern with all this was the fact that her 16-year-old son could find out that I am living with a woman! How could people be so cruel? And that from someone I thought of as my friend. Another LSA member told me that I could no longer be a member of the Baha’i community if I was a lesbian. I was devastated. Baha’is who had been close friends stopped speaking to me, and my daughter, also a Baha’i, said that I could not visit her nor the grandchildren.

I have certainly come to realise that if you rock anybody’s boat most people react in some kind of strange way. What are they afraid of? As I told everybody, family and LSA alike, I had to do something for myself and now am happy and asked them to be happy with me. My daughters even said they wanted their fat, smoking mother back. (On this note I have to say that I have lost quite a bit of weight – which I needed to do anyway – and also gave up smoking in the last year – all since I have met my partner.)

The calendar of events, until then a regular e-mail sent to all in the community, stopped being sent to me. I was just dropped as the “old friend” they used to call me. I lived for my community and would have really appreciated a phone call or e-mail occasionally to see how I was – but nothing. It was as if I was dead. My partner’s friends were much more loving and understanding.

Then months later, the NSA asked a member of the pastoral care committee to contact me to find out what was going on. I had a lovely long chat with her on the phone. I tried to explain what my innermost thoughts about the Faith were, and that nobody had the right to tell me that I could or could not have these thoughts – I will always be a Baha’i in my heart – even if the NSA was threatening to take away my administrative rights. I was sent a letter from the NSA a few weeks later which stated: “You should be aware that if you do not take steps to align your life with the standards set out in the Holy Writings then the National Assembly will be left with no other option but to seriously consider removing your administrative rights. This is something that the Assembly very much wishes to avoid and it therefore lovingly invites you to reconsider your position; in this regard, it warmly offers you an opportunity to discuss your situation with a representative of the National Assembly whom you trust.”

Almost a year after this all began an LSA member phoned me saying that he had a “heavy heart” as he hadn’t spoken to me and he was a close friend as well as a fellow Baha’i. Then he said that his heavy heart was because he wanted to tell me where I had gone wrong because he was concerned about the well-being of my soul. I asked him why he was not concerned about me in the last year when I could really have done with a bit of friendly support.

At about the same time I had a friendly chat with an NSA member, and then a few weeks later I received a call from a local Baha’i reminding me that the NSA was going to meet in the next couple of days and had my case on the agenda, and wanted a response from me. So I sent a letter stating that I still believed in Baha’u’llah but could not go back to a life that felt dishonest to me, and that I was not going to leave the only person who is a support for me. In reply to that the NSA wrote a letter removing my administrative rights.

So there we have it – I am no longer a Baha’i in good standing.

I cannot contact the UHJ myself.

I cannot attend feasts, etc.

On the upside – the NSA wanted to know what happened in my 30 years of marriage because I hinted that it was not a happy time for me. I have very mixed feelings about being a “second class Baha’i” and have to think long and hard as to what I want to do now.

What was once a loving and caring community has turned into the total opposite and it seems they feel that, by sticking their heads in the sand, the “problem” will go away – or the NSA will deal with it. Somebody once said to look at the LSA/NSA as loving parents – well I cannot see any love anywhere – on the contrary.

These two stories show how two LSAs (Local Spiritual Assemblies) in differing western countries treated a lesbian member of their community in similar situations. Pope Francis recently made some statements on the topic of same sex marriage, about this never being possible within the Catholic Church. This is similar to the Universal House of Justice’s own statements, however there’s one big difference. In the same statement Pope Francis talks of pastors engaging in a careful process of “discernment” with regard to individual cases and helping people reach decisions in conscience about the fashion in which the law applies to their circumstances. The blog “Pope Francis lets the world in on the Church’s best-kept secret” by John L. Allen Jr. explains it like this: “Yes, the Church has laws, and it takes them very seriously. But even more than law it has flesh-and-blood people, and it takes their circumstances and struggles seriously too.
At one stage, Pope Francis writes that the divorced and remarried can find themselves in situations ‘which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications, leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.’”
(8 April 2016)

Instead of a pastoral service or priests, the Baha’i community has the elected Local Spiritual Assembly (LSA). In the stories above we saw that one LSA chose compassion and aimed to see the picture from the point of the individual, and some even saw it as an opportunity to learn. The other LSA appears to have used Baha’i law like a stick with stern counseling which the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) later reinforced with punitive action. I found the letter which stated that her voting rights were removed from that NSA particularly shocking because of these words “The principle reason for doing [this] is because such an arrangement is publicly in breach of Baha’i law and therefore your administrative rights are removed to protect the good name of the Faith.” If public impressions are the real issue, the fact is that in most western countries, religious examples of tolerance and compassion on such issues bring good publicity, not shame. They also noted that she is not allowed to host “devotional meetings nor any of the core activities related to the Plan” nor host Holy Days, teach children’s classes and a long list of other exclusions. Non-Baha’is are not excluded as much as this. I will work on a separate blog about what Shoghi Effendi wrote concerning the use and purpose of the removal of administrative rights, as it is clear to me that here it is being used to discriminate and exclude. At the same time, an NSA is free to be as harsh as they wish in the way they choose to apply Baha’i law, but the purpose of my blog will be to show that Baha’i law can be used like “choice wine,” to quote Baha’u’llah – using law with discernment without breaking any of the Baha’i principles.

This matters greatly to me because there’s not only the pain experienced by Julia and the pain I feel in reading her story, but also the problem of those who feel they are doing the right thing by the Baha’i teachings in reporting her to the LSA and the NSA, in excluding her because she is a lesbian, backbiting about her in the community (I’ve omitted this part of her story because it is so awful), not to mention all those others in her community who see this happening and go along with it, either because they think exclusion is right or because they are afraid to say anything.

Which Baha’i community would you want to be a member of? Which type of Baha’i community has a future in today’s world? Baha’is often don’t like me asking such questions because they argue that the Baha’i community shouldn’t be influenced by fads or trends, and that five letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi decades ago are all the guidance we need. I believe that Baha’u’llah’s religion is structured to change with the times, and that it is intended for all peoples – not just those who like things to stay the same or want to exclude people because they represent an aspect of diversity that they are unfamiliar with.

“…the broader issues that are the foundation of the religious law are explicitly stated, but subsidiary matters are left to the House of Justice. The wisdom of this is that time does not stand still: change and transformation are essential attributes and necessities of this world, and of time and place. Therefore the House of Justice implements decisions accordingly.”
Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet on on religious law and the House of Justice, provisional translation.

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Abortion is not absolutely forbidden

August 11, 2015

A Bahai objected to my reference to Barack Obama in my last blog because of President Obama’s support for the choice of abortion to be left up to the individual/s concerned.
I am a Bahai who also thinks that to choose an abortion should be left up to those concerned as there might be life-threatening or serious justification for this and it is not up to me to decide for another.

This is also the current policy of the Universal House of Justice, as far as I know:
“Abortion merely to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden in the Cause. There may, however, be instances in which an abortion would be justified by medical reasons, and legislation on this matter has been left to the Universal House of Justice. At the present time, however, the House of Justice does not intend to legislate on this very delicate issue, and therefore it is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the teachings.”
From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Ireland, March 16, 1983. Quoted in Lights of Guidance, no. 1154. I have no idea who wrote the “letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice” but I assume this is the Research department for the Universal House of Justice or the secretariat for the Universal House of Justice, and if this was incorrect, by now, the Universal House of Justice would have issued a letter to correct this.

A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi states:
“The practice of abortion – which is absolutely criminal as it involves deliberate destruction of human life – is forbidden in the Cause. Regarding ‘mercy killings’..; this is also a matter which the Universal House of Justice will have to legislate upon.”
Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 25 August 1939. Cited in the essay, ‘Interpretation and the Guardianship’ by Ian Semple, published in Lights of Irfan, vol. 6, pages 203-216.

If we had more context for the letter above it might be clearer that what is forbidden refers to using abortion purely as a form of contraception. The word “also” suggests this however, the “also” appears to refer to something else not in the excerpt because the writer would not have “is forbidden in the Cause” and then referred to it being up to the Universal House of Justice. In any case the statements in this letter do not create a Bahai law because the Guardian wrote very clearly in the Dispensation of Baha’u’llah that the Guardian cannot legislate – so if he can’t, it is certain that letters written on his behalf can not either. And because these letters do not share the same authority as anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself, it is clear to me that the Universal House of Justice is perfectly free to make policy that differs from the instructions in this letter.

Then there are two more letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi offering differing advice.

On 13 November 1940: “Regarding the practice of abortion; as no specific reference has been made to the subject in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, it devolves upon the International House of Justice to definitely pronounce upon it. There can be no doubt , however, that this practice, involving as it does the destruction of human life, is to be strongly deprecated.”

On 20 October 1953: “As there is nothing specific in the Bahá’í Writings on the subject of abortion, it will consequently have to be dealt with by the Universal House of Justice, when that Body is formed.”
Cited in the essay, ‘Interpretation and the Guardianship’ by Ian Semple, published in Lights of Irfan, vol. 6, pages 203-216.

And later policy from the Universal House of Justice affirms the 1983 policy of leaving the decision up to the individuals concerned.

“One of the most heinous of sexual offenses is the crime of rape. When a believer is a victim, she is entitled to the loving aid and support of the members of her community, and is free to initiate action against the perpetrator under the law of the land should she wish to do so. If she becomes pregnant as a consequence of this assault, no pressure should be brought upon her by the Bahá’í institutions to marry. As to whether she should continue or terminate the pregnancy, it is left to her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá’í Teachings…”
The Universal House of Justice, Quoted in The American Bahá’í, November 23, 1993, pp. 10-11, taken from http://bahai-library.com/?file=winters_ethics_survey.html

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 … [I]n most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done. 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.”
On behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 5 June 1988
http://bahai-library.com/?file=winters_ethics_survey.html

So it seems to me that any individual can call themselves a Bahai and support ‘a woman’s right to choose.’ I think making abortion illegal would mean that in particular young poor women suffer the most. As it stands in most countries, it is not a case of a woman walking into an office and having an abortion. Such a procedure requires counselling sessions to ensure that for this individual there are no other alternatives and that they are aware of the alternatives. I also think that better education and, for example, better support and adoption possibilities for those who are pregnant, or still in school, in my view are more in tune with the Bahai teachings. Then women are more likely to be empowered with the support for the decision to adopt out their child. Still to date, there’s a lot of stigma around a woman being pregnant out of wedlock and, while I know it is Bahai teaching that sex should only take place within marriage, as far as I am concerned, the Bahai teachings are for all, including unwed pregnant women.

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President Obama Says Racism And Homophobia Come From The Same Mindset

August 10, 2015

I am very busy working on a few blogs but in until I have time, I leave you with these inspiring words of Obama Barack:
“You can’t, on the one hand, complain when somebody else does that to you, and then you’re doing it to somebody else,” the president pointed out. “You can’t do it. There’s got to be some consistency to how you think about these issues. And that’s going to be up to young people — because old people get stuck in their ways.”

Read the full article by Jean Ann Esselink here >>

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Does a letter from a secretary create a Bahai Teaching?

July 18, 2015

“Unity of doctrine is maintained by the existence of the authentic texts of Scripture and the voluminous interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, together with the absolute prohibition against anyone propounding “authoritative” or “inspired” interpretations or usurping the function of Guardian. Unity of administration is assured by the authority of the Universal House of Justice.” Universal House of Justice, to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Netherlands, March 9, 1965: Wellspring of Guidance, pp. 52-53

Imagine the very idea of adding more text and calling this a Bahai Teaching? Well when it comes to the topic of homosexuality, this is what some Bahais do. A man who calls himself Dr Johnson, who often comments on my blog, seems to also think that it is a “Bahai Teaching” that masturbation is a bad thing. And so…

I have published Dr Johnson’s comments (link to his comments) because there might be a few Bahais that share these views as to what is a Bahai Teaching. Most of these comments focus on adultery or cheating on one’s spouse, which has nothing to do with a committed same-sex marriage, but the point I wish to make is the he treats texts from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as if these are Bahai Teachings and goes so far as to put Shoghi Effendi’s name underneath these.

In the future I will not allow any future comment on my blog where you (Dr Johnson) claim that something is a Bahai Teaching unless you provide a clear quotation from Bahai Scripture (link to what is Bahai Scripture). Expressing your views of the Bahai Teachings as your own personal point of view is fine. You have repeatedly ignored my request to distinguish between the lesser authority of a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and what you call a Bahai Teaching and so I assume you are consciously doing this.

I am sure that you are aware of the following letter but here it is again: “I wish to call your attention to certain things in “Principles of Bahá’í Administration” which has just reached the Guardian; although the material is good, he feels that the complete lack of quotation marks is very misleading. His own words, the words of his various secretaries, even the Words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself, are all lumped together as one text.

This is not only not reverent in the case of Bahá’u’lláh’s Words, but misleading. Although 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, for they use their own terms and not his exact words in conveying his messages.

He feels that in any future edition this fault should be remedied, any quotations from Bahá’u’lláh or the Master plainly attributed to them, and the words of the Guardian clearly differentiated from those of his secretaries.”

Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 260

There are more letters expressing a similar view (link) – that a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi does not share the same authority as anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself. And only the Guardian (Shoghi Effendi) was authorized by Abdul-Baha in his Will and Testament to make authorized interpretations of Bahai Scripture. Outside of this it is up to each of us to apply the Bahai Teachings as we think they should be applied and each of us is free to express our own interpretations as personal understandings. Added to this is the authority of the Universal House of Justice to make policy about the practice (social teachings) of the Bahai community. Their 2014 letter makes it clear that a same-sex married couple is not welcome to join the Bahai community let alone able to marry after they join the community. Although whether or not this policy is intended to override the Bahai teaching that the law of the land is to be respected and obeyed by Bahais is not clear to me. However this is Bahai policy not a Bahai Teaching. See my May blog (link) where I critique the first part of this letter by the Universal House of Justice.

So then I ask you and other Bahais who do likewise, why refer to these letters as if these are Bahai Teachings when we have plenty of scripture by Baha’u’llah as well the interpretations by Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi? It seems not only irreverent but actually wrong to place more emphasis on what is in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi than on what is in Bahai Scripture. And to the point, if there is a contradiction between what is expressed in a letter and what is penned by Baha’u’llah, Adbul-Baha or Shoghi Effendi, then as a Bahai, I choose the later because the principles of justice and equality are more important than anything else.

The Book Lights of Guidance is not a source for Bahai Scripture and if you cannot see this, read my 2014 blog + screenshot here. If you wish to quote from this book and call this a Bahai Teaching, then find the original source in Bahai Scripture.

Here is another blog of mine (link) showing as much of the original context for the 5 letters that mention homosexuality (out of thousands that do not) as I can. Where the letters are shown in full it is very clear to me that the intent of these letters was advice or current policy or to share information but certainly never ever to be confused with the status of Bahai Scripture or a Bahai Teaching.

I will take just one example from something you wrote, Dr Johnson, to show you how in my view it goes against the Teachings of Baha’u’llah to add in letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as a source for a Bahai Teaching.

You wrote: “When we realize that Bahá’u’lláh says adultery retards the progress of the soul in the after life … “ This text is a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and I critique this phrase in my September 2013 blog here because there is no source to be found to back up what the secretary wrote. I state that there is no source because if there was one it would be accessible and I am sure that I would have found it by now having access to texts in Persian or Arabic as well as English. The only way I would not have access is if there was a text at the World Centre where I do not have access. I do not think that this is likely since the only source to be found is in a letter penned by a secretary in English in 1949. In the comments underneath my September 2013 blog I refer to a text by Baha’u’llah that refers to punishments related to adultery and you made a comment there yourself lower down. So I assume you either forgot, ignored, or didn’t care that what the secretary wrote is not backed up by Bahai Scripture.

However Baha’u’llah did write “Be thou of the people of hell-fire, but be not a hypocrite.” (Cited in a compilation on Trustworthiness. Also in Compilation of compilations, Volume 2, page 337) which brings me to my next point.

The Bahai Teachings are: equality for all, justice for all, the principle of the independent investigation of truth and so on. See my blog which lists the major Bahai teachings. One of the Bahai Teachings is the distinction between social teachings which change over time, and Bahai teachings which do not change. I would agree with you that many Bahais currently think that a same-sex marriage between two Bahais is not possible and this social teaching is reinforced by the current policy of the Universal House of Justice which has the authority to make such policy. However what Bahais think or do is not the same as what is a Bahai Teaching. Only Baha’u’llah, Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi can state what is a Bahai Teaching. No one else can add in new teachings.

Finally, do you really think it is a Bahai Teaching that masturbation is a bad thing? You do not state this clearly in your comments, so that is why I am asking. If you wish to follow what is written in letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi personally as if these words have the same authority as Bahai Scripture, all good, but on my blog, I will not allow any more of your comments if you continue to confuse the distinctions between what is a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and what is a Bahai Teaching.

I end with a quotation from the Universal House of Justice in relation to the book Lights of Guidance and note their emphasis on thinking for oneself and applying the Bahai Teachings as principles rather than taking the hellfire and damnation approach.

“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. The principles pertaining to these issues are available in the book “Lights of Guidance” and elsewhere. In studying these principles, it should be noted that in most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done. 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. In the Bahá’í Faith moderation, which is so strongly upheld by Bahá’u’lláh, is applied here also. Provision is made for supplementary legislation by the Universal House of Justice — legislation which it can itself abrogate and amend as conditions change. There is also a clear pattern already established in the Sacred Scriptures, in the interpretations made by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and in the decisions so far made by the Universal House of Justice, whereby an area of the application of the laws is intentionally left to the conscience of each individual believer.

This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity, and one aspect of this is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action in areas which are left open by the law of God.

It should also be noted that it is neither possible nor desirable for the Universal House of Justice to set forth a set of rules covering every situation. Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain this objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented towards service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.”
The Universal House of Justice, 1988 June 2005, `Detailed Legislation on Moral Issues´

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Can a rainbow be partisan?

June 30, 2015
A Rainbow with the Bahai Ringstone symbol designed by Jesse McBride.

A Rainbow with the Bahai Ringstone symbol designed by Jesse Mcbride.

There is a flurry of rainbows on facebook, in celebration of the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision on June 26, 2015, that 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses require states to license same-sex marriages and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully licensed and performed in other US states.

In a Bahai run group, a Bahai stated that Baha’is publicly supporting gay rights will lead to grave consequences in other countries. It is an argument I have heard many times before, and it holds no water. The fact that our international administration is seated in Israel and that Baha’is believe in a messenger of God after Muhammad are much stronger reasons for any Muslim to be upset at Bahais. We do not hear of Bahais saying, we must stop public statements of belief in Baha’u’llah do we? On the contrary, if Bahais were seen as were a source of comfort or safety, in countries where gays and lesbians are oppressed, that would do wonders for our image as a religion that preaches equality and justice. I am not saying Bahais must be defenders for the oppressed, but it sounds like a good idea to me.

Rainbow flag and the nine pointed star. The star is a symbol often used by Bahais as a metaphoro for unity in diversity. The design is by Jesse Mcbride.

Rainbow flag and the nine pointed star. The star is a symbol often used by Bahais as a metaphoro for unity in diversity. The design is by Jesse McBride.

Then the administrator of another Bahai-run group objected to the flurry of rainbows, arguing that it was divisive, that the rainbow flag represents an ideology of a special interest group instead of representing the broad global needs that the Baha’i Faith aims to serve – ranging from the equality of men and women, elimination of prejudice to education for all children and the eradication of poverty.

Clearly these Bahais have missed the point of the rainbow flag symbol because a celebration for equality and justice for gay and lesbians is also a celebration of the diversity of humanity. Celebrating this does not reduce the equality and justice available to heterosexuals. The assumption made by these Bahais is that a celebration of gay and lesbian rights is something just for gays and lesbians.. This is like saying gender equality only benefits women, but it’s as clear as the noon day sun that when women have equality, society benefits – men and women benefit, not just women. So the flag is only divisive for those who do not believe in equality and justice for all of humanity.

I finish by quoting a few excerpts written by the SCOTUS judges:
“The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change…. For example, marriage was once viewed as an arrangement by the couple’s parents based on political, religious, and financial concerns; but by the time of the Nation’s founding it was understood to be a voluntary contract between a man and a woman…. As the role and status of women changed, the institution further evolved. Under the centuries-old doctrine of coverture, a married man and woman were treated by the State as a single, male-dominated legal entity…. As women gained legal, political, and property rights, and as society began to understand that women have their own equal dignity, the law of coverture was abandoned….

[T]he Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution… It cannot be denied that this Court’s cases describing the right to marry presumed a relationship involving opposite-sex partners. The Court, like many institutions, has made assumptions defined by the world and time of which it is a part…

The four principles and traditions to be discussed demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.

A first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy…. A second principle in this Court’s jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals. … A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education…. Fourth and finally, this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order …

Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples. …

[B]y virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage. This harm results in more than just material burdens. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society….

Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied….

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.”
-The excerpts above come from religionclause.blogspot.com

See Sen McGlinn’s blog on some implications of SCOTUS in Obergefell for the policies of Bahai institutions.

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