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Is criticism allowed?

May 28, 2015

A number of responses by Bahais on several Facebook groups to my previous blog “Critiquing the Universal House of Justice” indicated that I was doing something wrong by critiquing. Some called this criticism. For arguments sake, I thought, let’s see if criticism is allowed in the Bahai Teachings?

Baha’u’llah’s writings contain many references to the importance of seeking knowledge for oneself such as:
“The incomparable Creator hath created all men from one same substance, and hath exalted their reality above the rest of His creatures. Success or failure, gain or loss, must, therefore, depend upon man’s own exertions. The more he striveth, the greater will be his progress.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 81-82)
And not only that, but: “Knowledge is one of the wondrous gifts of God. It is incumbent upon everyone to acquire it.” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 39)
Abdul-Baha wrote: “Thank thou God that He hath given thee a power for discriminating the reality of things.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 79)
So it seems that being critical, in the sense of thinking or looking into things for oneself, is so important that in Baha’u’llah’s words, a person “must search after the truth to the utmost of his ability and exertion, that God may guide him in the paths of His favour and the ways of His mercy.” (Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 27-28)

So far I have not found any text by Baha’u’llah nor ‘Abdul-Baha that restricts the topics one is allowed to critique, although there is also a stress on the importance of unity and warnings about not using words just for their own sake. To me this means we should question our motive, or at least be open to change, if we find that our motive is not productive. It seems to me that it would be up to each of us to determine what is meant by motive or being productive. For me, obeying an instruction without question, without considering the implications, is not a very productive route to take. I obey road rules because I understand them and because I understand them I can use them, I hope, with wisdom. There might be occasions when I have to break them – to save someone’s life, for example. If I only follow rules without question, I would not be in a position to adjust to a new situation, such as if I should see someone collapsed on the street and quick action is necessary.

So back to the topic. It seems to me there is nothing in Bahai Scripture that states we are not allowed to critique or to criticise, but there is plenty to warn us that we should use wisdom so we do not cause divisions.

To avoid the problem of Bahais mistaking my critique as divisive I wrote in my last blog:
Abdu’l-Baha said that we must obey the Guardian to safeguard the “mighty stronghold,” the Baha’i community. The same could be said of obedience to the House of Justice, which is the Head of the Bahai community today. Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha wanted to avoid the problems other religions had of being torn into schisms, so they emphasized obedience very strongly. It doesn’t mean that Bahais can’t think for themselves.
So I am free to disagree and to critique, but I am not free to go and claim any form of leadership or a new Bahai religion. I am also not interested in any ideas associated with what might be called reform because I see no need for these. My arguments and the ideas I express on my blog here as just a Bahai aim to follow Baha’u’llah’s pleas for each of us to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93)

If I wanted to lobby the Universal House of Justice or wanted to attempt to have any influence on them, I would write a letter directly to the Institution, but I do not. I do not see it as my place and I do not think they should take any notice of what any particular Bahai might say. Their goal, I think, should be on how best to act according to their understandings and in line with the Teachings of Baha’u’llah.
“…the Universal House of Justice is not omniscient; like the Guardian, it 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” Secretariat for the Universal House of Justice, 22 Aug, 1977

In critiquing the first few paragraphs of the 2014, May 9th letter penned by the secretariat of the Universal House of Justice I was looking at what the words seem to mean or imply to me. In doing this, I am not suggesting how I would write this nor am I making any form of an evaluation, only a critique. That’s all. I wouldn’t assume that I would know a better way, and I say this not out of fear but out of principle. Bahais should be free to critique everything including texts written by the Universal House of Justice, knowing that the Universal House of Justice has the authority to have the final word. I am not critiquing their authority. Why would I?

I think it is human nature to speak up when you see something you disagree with and to say nothing when you do agree. Most of my blogs here are written because I am trying to grapple with what I perceive as discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. But another aspect of Baha’u’llah’s teachings is that they focus on the positive and optimistic. Abdul-Baha wrote “…the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age, this glorious century. Of this past ages have been deprived, for this century — the century of light — hath been endowed with unique and unprecedented glory, power and illumination. Hence the miraculous unfolding of a fresh marvel every day.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 31). I am a Bahai because of the positive. My words here are because I believe the Bahai teachings allow for critique and criticism and if I critique something it doesn’t mean that I know better, but if I don’t critique then I will only have myself to blame. Personally I think self-censorship is the worst form of censorship.

If criticism was not allowed then we would end up with a managed democracy, much like how Iran currently operates, where there are elements of free speech, but the parameters for differences of opinion or investigation are controlled by an authority in power who can operate without transparency or accountability.

A statement from the Bahai International Community, a PR department of the Universal House of Justice, sums this up nicely: “Those who wield authority bear a great responsibility to be worthy of public trust. Leaders — including those in government, politics, business, religion, education, the media, the arts and community organizations — must be willing to be held accountable for the manner in which they exercise their authority.” (Baha’i International Community, 1998 Feb 18, Valuing Spirituality in Development)

Also, unlike other religious authorities in the world, the Universal House of Justice may not interpret what the Bahai Teachings are, but at the same it has full freedom to make policy and to change this policy in light of its understandings of the teachings and of current issues. This is another revolutionary aspect of Baha’u’llah’s teachings – an authority which can change its own policy. One reason Bahais get upset at me is that they see the Universal House of Justice’s policies as being set in stone.

“We make these observations not to indulge in criticism of any system, but rather to open up lines of thought, to encourage a re-examination of the bases of modern society, and to engender a perspective for consideration of the distinctive features of the Order of Bahá’u’lláh. What, it could be asked, was the nature of society that gave rise to such characteristics and such philosophies? Where have these taken mankind? Has their employment satisfied the needs and expectations of the human spirit?” (The Universal House of Justice, 1988, Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 6)

Is there any reason why it would be un-Bahai, to take the same approach and ask the same questions of the evolving policy of the Universal House of Justice regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage? It has changed over time, and for the better, as the science and the social understanding of questions has developed. But this blog is looking just at the 2014, May 9th letter penned by the secretariat of the Universal House of Justice and the first step is to clarify for myself just what the Universal House of Justice is saying now.

A comparison with letters from the 1980s would show the development, and could be used as evidence of the flexibility that Shoghi Effendi takes pride in (World of Baha’u’llah, p. 54). That trajectory will continue. Those who reject criticism or critique of any present policy seem to be implicitly supposing that whatever may have changed in the past, the policy is now perfected and the flexibility is at an end — so analysis is futile.

For some Bahais it appears that any form of critique, whatever the topic, is a big no, no. Here are a few responses to my question “Can a Bahai critique texts penned by the Universal House of Justice or the Department of the Secretariat?”

Bahai A: No. We must leave our egos behind and obey the word of God

Bahai B: If I want to come to the point of critiquing Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, or the Universal House of Justice (which is the only authorized elucidator of the Writings), I would simply take my name off the list.

Bahai C: …it depends. If one’s purpose and attitude is to better understand or to bring up an unforeseen consequence, surely so; if one is trying to undermine the institution or to showcase oneself… no.

It is not a Bahai Teaching that letters penned by the Universal House of Justice are “letters from God.” In fact, both Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi were very clear about the separation of spheres between legislation (making rules and policy which the Universal House of Justice does) as separate from Bahai Scripture and Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi’s interpretations of this.

“As Shoghi Effendi explained, “…it is made indubitably clear and evident that the Guardian of the Faith has been made the Interpreter of the Word and that the Universal House of Justice has been invested with the function of legislating on matters not expressly revealed in the teachings.” The Universal House of Justice, 7 Dec, 1969, published in Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963 to 1986

“Shoghi Effendi has given categorical assurances that neither the Guardian nor the Universal House of Justice ‘can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other.’ Therefore, the friends can be sure that the Universal House of Justice will not engage in interpreting the Holy Writings. . . .” The Universal House of Justice, 25 Oct 1984, Messages of the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, p. 645

Bahais are free to their opinions as much as I am to mine, but we do need to be careful if we assert that what we say is a Bahai Teaching. So I am free to critique and still remain a Bahai.

Not only is it not a Bahai Teaching that I cannot critique, but that I should critique the Bahai Writings. If I can critique Baha’u’llah’s writings, then why not texts penned by the Universal House of Justice?

Another Bahai pasted a section from a 1997 letter penned by the secretariat of the Universal House of Justice – “Furthermore, at the very end of the Will and Testament, in warning against the danger of Covenant-breaking, `Abdu’l-Bahá wrote: ‘Beware lest anyone falsely interpret these words, and like unto them that have broken the Covenant after the Day of Ascension (of Bahá’u’lláh) advance a pretext, raise the standard of revolt, wax stubborn, and open wide the door of false interpretation.’ In this context, He continues: ‘To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion or express his particular conviction. All must seek guidance and turn unto the Centre of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error.’” (Secretariat of the Universal House of Justice, 3 June 1997)

Without any further context it appears that Abdul-Baha is saying that our own opinion or expression is not allowed, however what Abdul-Baha was referring to at the end of the Will and Testament was to avoid the schisms and infighting after the death of Baha’u’llah. Abdul-Baha meant that we (Bahais) must accept Shoghi Effendi as Centre of the Cause. Here is more of the text which makes this context clear
“O ye the faithful loved ones of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá! It is incumbent upon you to take the greatest care of Shoghi Effendi, …. he is, after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Guardian of the Cause of God … the beloved of the Lord must obey him and turn unto him. He that obeyeth him not, hath not obeyed God; he that turneth away from him, hath turned away from God and he that denieth him, hath denied the True One. Beware lest anyone falsely interpret these words, and like unto them that have broken the Covenant after the Day of Ascension (of Bahá’u’lláh) advance a pretext, raise the standard of revolt, wax stubborn and open wide the door of false interpretation. To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion or express his particular conviction. All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error”(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 25)

So now we can see that the ‘grievous error’ is to fail in our duty to turn to Shoghi Effendi or not to obey the Universal House of Justice. The grievous error is not that we express our opinion or critique.

Another Bahai posted an excerpt from the same 1997 letter “As you recognize, the authority of the Universal House of Justice is unchallengeable.” But critiquing or even criticism of a letter penned by the secretariat does not challenge the authority of the Universal House of Justice. In fact, because the authority of the Universal of Justice is so solid, so clearly outlined in Bahai Scripture, I think it should be clear that any criticism or critique of any texts has to do with the content at hand and not to do with their authority.

I finish by quoting Udo Schaefer a Bahai scholar: “It is dangerously reductionist — almost a dismemberment of our faith — to portray rational thought and the qualities of the heart, rationality and spirituality as opposites, and to identify critical thinking with an absence of spirituality. There is widespread skepticism — one might almost call it a profound mistrust — within the Bahá’í community, which has been directed at critical thinking. This is a serious prejudice, harmful to the faith.”
Schaefer, Loyalty to the Covenant and Critical Thought, p. 2)

And Abdul-Baha said: “The fourth teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the agreement of religion and science. God has endowed man with intelligence and reason whereby he is required to determine the verity of questions and propositions. If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible, and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation.” (9 June 1912 Talk at Baptist Temple, Broad and Berks Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.180)

I am just a Bahai, and this means that I aim to question, and to seek clarity, and to express my opinions. I do believe that through the clash of differing opinions, sparks of truth illuminate understanding.

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Critiquing the Universal House of Justice

May 22, 2015

Can a Bahai critique texts penned by the Universal House of Justice or the Department of the Secretariat? My answer, “Of course. Critiquing is engagement. We must obey the Universal House of Justice but that doesn’t mean we must be silent if we do not understand their reasoning.”

Abdu’l-Baha said that we must obey the Guardian to safeguard the “mighty stronghold,” the Baha’i community. The same could be said of obedience to the House of Justice, which is the Head of the Bahai community today. Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha wanted to avoid the problems other religions had of being torn into schisms, so they emphasized obedience very strongly. It doesn’t mean that Bahais can’t think for themselves.

So I am free to disagree and to critique, but I am not free to go and claim any form of leadership or a new Bahai religion. I am also not interested in any ideas associated with what might be called reform because I see no need for these. My arguments and the ideas I express on my blog here as just a Bahai aim to follow Baha’u’llah’s pleas for each of us to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93)

And so to the letter, dated 9 May 2014, penned by the secretariat for the Universal House of Justice which I will critique.

A letter, dated 18 May 2015 from the National U.S. Bahai administration has already been widely circulated in diverse online Bahai groups and e-lists. It states:
“A four-page letter from the Universal House of Justice on the subject of homosexuality has recently been receiving wide circulation via the Internet and through personal email lists, and we are increasingly being asked to comment on its authenticity.

The letter—dated May 9, 2014, to an individual believer in response to a personal inquiry—was indeed issued by the Supreme Body through its Department of the Secretariat. We enclose it here for your reference.”

I have inserted section breaks in the letter, and have placed relevant texts in the column on the right as well as any emphasis in the texts.

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

9 May 2014

Transmitted by email: ……U.S.A.

Dear Bahá’í Friend,
Your email letter dated 11 January 2014 has been received by the Universal House of Justice. We have been asked to convey to you the following. You express concern about the challenge Bahá’ís encounter in understanding and upholding the Teachings in the face of powerful social forces influencing public attitudes towards homosexuality.

In this connection, you observe that some Bahá’ís are susceptible to the argument that the Faith must change to keep up with what are perceived to be progressive social values, while some others, despite their firm adherence to the Teachings, are unable to resolve the incongruity between the Bahá’í perspective and attitudes prevailing in the wider society. Your thoughtful analysis of the issues you raise is warmly appreciated.

The contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality, which began in the West and is increasingly promoted in other parts of the world, generally takes the form of a false dichotomy, which compels one to choose between a position that is either affirming or rejecting.

It is understandable that Bahá’ís would be sensitive to acts of prejudice or oppression in any form and to the needs of those who suffer as a result. But to align with either side in the public debate is to accept the premises on which it is based. Moreover, this debate occurs within the context of a rising tide of materialism and consequent reorientation of society, over more than a century, which has among its outcomes a destructive emphasis on sexuality.

Various philosophies and theories have eroded precepts of right and wrong that govern personal behavior. For some, relativism reigns and individuals are to determine their own moral preferences; others dismiss the very conception of personal morality, maintaining that any standard that restrains what is considered a natural impulse is harmful to the individual and ultimately to society.

Self- indulgence, in the guise of expressing one’s true nature, becomes the norm, even the touchstone of healthy living. Consequently, sexuality has become a preoccupation, pervading commerce, media, the arts, and popular culture, influencing disciplines such as medicine, psychology, and education and reducing the human being to an object. It is no longer merely a part of life, but becomes the defining element of a person’s identity.

grey1x1pixels “The Lord hath ordained that in every city a House of Justice be established wherein shall gather counsellors …. It behoveth them to be the trusted ones of the Merciful among men and to regard themselves as the guardians appointed of God for all that dwell on earth. It is incumbent upon them to take counsel together and to have regard for the interests of the servants of God, for His sake, even as they regard their own interests, and to choose that which is meet and seemly. Thus hath the Lord your God commanded you.”
– Baha’u’llah,
The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 29

“Be ye … vanguards of the perfections of humankind; carry forward the various branches of knowledge, be active and progressive in the field of inventions and the arts. Endeavour to rectify the conduct of men, and seek to excel the whole world in moral character.”
– Abdu’l-Baha,
Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 129

“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.”
– Shoghi Effendi,
The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 22-23

“The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes…”
– Baha’u’llah,
The Hidden Words

“Be thou of the people of hell-fire, but be not a hypocrite.”
– Baha’u’llah,
cited in a compilation on Trustworthiness. Also in Compilation of compilations, Volume 2, page 337

“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. 14

“Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”
– Baha’u’llah,
Gleanings, p. 213

“The Bahá’í Faith … enjoins upon its followers the primary duty of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all manner of prejudice and superstition, declares the purpose of religion to be the promotion of amity and concord, proclaims its essential harmony with science, and recognizes it as the foremost agency for the pacification and the orderly progress of human society.”
– Shoghi Effendi,
The Promised Day is Come, p. v

“Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him.”
– Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p. 276

“So Bahá’u’lláh made the utmost efforts to educate [His people] and incite [them] to morality, the acquisition of the sciences and arts of all countries, kindly dealing with all the nations of the earth, desire for the welfare of all peoples, sociability, concord, obedience, submissiveness, instruction of [their] children, production of what is needful for the human race, and inauguration of true happiness for mankind…”
– Abdu’l-Baha,
A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 41, translation: EG Browne

“The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity.”
– Baha’u’llah,
Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 168

The letter above states that “The contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality … generally takes the form of a false dichotomy, which compels one to choose between a position that is either affirming or rejecting.” and they continue: “to align with either side in the public debate is to accept the premises on which it is based.”

As you can read in the quotations on the right, the premise for a Bahai should be justice and equity, and I interpret the false dichotomy as meaning that in the public debate you have people who confuse the right, responsibility and legal protection to marry and raise children with a focus on materialism.

These people then make arguments based on “wrong” ways of living, often focussed on sex or sexual acts to avoid the fact that this is an issue of justice.

It goes something like this “their sex is unnatural therefore it is wrong” “because it is wrong …” when this has nothing to do with sex or materialism. It is about two consenting adults making a commitment to take care of each other, and whether society will accord them equal recognition, as a couple, or not. Is this dichotomy ‘false’ or does it require us, as Bahais, to make a stand for justice?

As a Bahai myself, I think it is important to engage in the debate on justice and be anxiously concerned with the needs of my age. I hate it that gays and lesbians are labelled as being obsessed about sexuality. To me this is as offensive as labelling an African American as being obsessed about race, when all they are doing is being visible. No person should have to hide who they are. There is not a lot diversity if minorities are denied membership or visibility.

The following seems to be objecting to the visibility of a non-heterosexual identity:
“Consequently, sexuality has become a preoccupation, pervading commerce, media, the arts, and popular culture, influencing disciplines such as medicine, psychology, and education and reducing the human being to an object.”

Surely they are not saying that doctors, scientists, and researchers who have shown us that homosexuality is not abnormal, not curable and not a barrier for healthy married relationships, are just obsessed about sexuality? Their research does not make the individual an object, it highlights the prejudices in society.
Abdul-Baha wrote that “And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is, that religion must be in conformity with science and reason” Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 299

I do not think that the Universal House of Justice would be objecting to the science itself but rather have misunderstood it. It seems that they see the scientific findings as an agenda. Their sentence is a harsh statement against decades of scientific research and clinical experience which in my view goes against the Bahai teaching that we honour scientists and that science and religion go hand in hand. I think Baha’u’llah says this better than I can:
“Beware, O My loved ones, lest ye despise the merits of My learned servants whom God hath graciously chosen to be the exponents of His Name ‘the Fashioner’ amidst mankind. Exert your utmost endeavour that ye may develop such crafts and undertakings that everyone, whether young or old, may benefit therefrom. We are quit of those ignorant ones who fondly imagine that Wisdom is to give vent to one’s idle imaginings and to repudiate God, the Lord of all men; even as We hear some of the heedless voicing such assertions today.”
(Baha’u’llah, LAWḤ-I-HIKMAT (Tablet of Wisdom), Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 150/151)

When I see statements such as in this letter, which can be used by Bahais as ammunition to aim hatred or intolerance at others, I am reminded that I am a Bahai because of Bahaú’llah’s Teachings and not because of the Bahai administration, important as it is. Shoghi Effendi expresses the hope that unprejudiced observers of the Bahai Faith may be impressed by “the reasonableness of its claims, the comprehensiveness of its scope, the universality of its program, [and] the flexibility of its institutions…” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 54). Reading this letter, I am not clear that a observer will see the underlying comprehensiveness and universality.

Abdul-Baha’s words remind me that, whatever our orientation or sexuality, we are all united – born from the same God. “In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of The Divine Plan, p. 102)

My next blog will continue with the rest of the 9 May 2015 letter.

For me Bahau’llah’s teachings are forward thinking and positive and I am a Bahai because these teachings make sense to me, so I end with Shoghi Effendi’s summary of the purpose of Bahaú’llah’s teachings:
“`Abdu’l-Bahá expounded, with brilliant simplicity, with persuasiveness and force, and for the first time in His ministry, those basic and distinguishing principles of His Father’s Faith, which together with the laws and ordinances revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bed-rock of God’s latest Revelation to mankind. The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind — these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys. The exposition of these vitalizing truths of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, which He characterized as the “spirit of the age,”
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 281)

That society and the Bahai community must forever refuse to recognize married couples of the same sex as worthy members and as couples is not an essential element of the Bahai teachings, as I understand them. Even those who feel that way, must admit that it is a secondary matter, on which there is room for flexibility. My hope is for something more than mere grudging acceptance. I hope to see an open embrace that demonstrates the universality of our programme and the flexibility of our institutions.
 
 
A copy of the 9 May 2014 letter is on Sen McGlinn’s blog.

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My Turn To Come Out

January 7, 2015

Originally posted on My Migraine Family:

The news of Leelah Alcorn’s suicide has, of course, hit my family hard. And while I wrote a post, erm, a year and a half ago, about being a person of deep faith – in which I only mentioned the name of my religious persuasion in the tags – , this is not something I discuss publicly.

In large part, I do not discuss this publicly because I have had an internal struggle in which I was not sure my transgender child had a place in my faith. And if she did not have a place, that meant it no longer had a place for me. And that was an intensely painful struggle for me.

I am a Bahá’í. And while you may go ahead and google it, you will find little information of value on the internet concerning transgender folk. And frankly, this post is directed at those…

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Leserbrief eines schwulen Bahá’ís an die Zeit Online

December 5, 2014

Originally posted on "Ich würde es genauso wieder machen" (Sophie Scholl):

Kürzlich erschien in der Rubrik “Wer’s glaubt” der Zeit Online ein Leserartikel unter dem Titel “Wie eine Perversion menschlicher Natur“, geschrieben von einem schwulen Bahá’í unter dem Pseudonym Lukas Jung. Da ich aus eigener Erfahrung weiß, dass solche Leserbriefe häufig stark nachbearbeitet und sozusagen medienkonformer gemacht werden um mehr Aufmerksamkeit anzuziehen, fragte ich nach dem Original und möchte dieses zur Ergänzung und Richtigstellung des bereits erschienenen und veränderten Artikels veröffentlichen.

Lukas Jung schrieb das Folgende:

Einheit in Vielfalt. Wissenschaft und Religion stehen in Harmonie zueinander. Vorurteile müssen überwunden werden. Selbstständige Suche nach Wahrheit. All das sind Aussagen, die die grundlegenden Prinzipien der Bahá’í-Religion beschreiben. Und es sind Schlagwörter, mit denen Bahá’í gerne ihre Religion erklären. Es waren jene Schlagwörter, die mich dazu gebracht haben, diese Weltanschauung näher zu unter-suchen. Doch wie steht das in Verhältnis zu meinem Schwulsein?

Ich war noch sehr jung und hatte einen…

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Bahais are not united in being against same sex marriage!

November 26, 2014
Lord, why do you pile all these troubles upon us? It is because of the gays, isn't it?

Lord, why do you pile all these troubles upon us? It is because of the gays, isn’t it?
Cartoon by Crowden Satz | Larger view

A friend wrote:
“Yesterday during the celebration of the Day of the Covenant, the issue of homosexuality popped up during a talk citing how America is legalizing marriage for gays, state by state. The person giving the talk said this is wrong and that what keeps the Baha’is united from these negative forces is the power of the Covenant.

It was so hurtful to actually be there and hear someone saying that your very existence is not natural and wrong.

No one knows that I am gay. It wouldn’t be easy to come out to the community. I have seen homophobia in many instances. While he was talking, I just sat there holding up my tears…

So dear reader, if you are a Baha’i and hear any Baha’i speak of homosexuality in any negative manner whatsoever, please heed the words of Baha’u’llah below and speak up, not just for the silent gays in your own community but for the health of your Bahai community because any form of discrimination is just as bad for those engaged in promoting it.

The Universal House of Justice in their 27 Oct 2010 letter (link to this) urges the Bahai community not to take sides on the topic of same sex marriage although individuals are free to express their views as the speaker above did. However, when a Baha’i expresses such views in an authoritative manner, as if they are part of Bahai teachings, then it is a problem when no one speaks up in defense of equality or justice, or even the possibility for a Bahai to have a differing point of view on the topic of marriage. I am speaking up here and hope that Bahais, whether they think homosexuality is good or bad, start to stand up for the rights of others because it is essential that we all work toward eliminating discrimination from the Bahai community.

Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility.
Bahaú’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 346

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. “
Desmond Tutu, clergyman (b. 1931)
 

Note on the Bahai Holy Day, 26 November
Bahai Holy days commemorate events centred on the lives of The Bab, Baha’u’llah (both are considered messangers or prophets by Bahais) and Abdul-Baha. Baha’is wanted to add Abdul-Baha’s birthday as well, and instead Abdul-Baha announced that The Day of the Covenant to commemorate Baha’u’llah’s appointment of His eldest son, Abdu’l-Baha, as the protector of the Covenant of Baha’u’llah. The holiday was originally known as the Jashn-i-A’zam in Persian (The Greatest Festival), because ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was known as the Greatest Branch; in the West, the holy day became known as the Day of the Covenant.

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What does Baha’i Scripture say about homosexuality?

November 11, 2014

Nothing. For Baha’is, Baha’i Scripture is everything penned by The Bab and Baha’u’llah, and the interpretations by Baha’u’llah’s son ‘Abdul-Baha, and where Shoghi Effendi (‘Abdul-Baha’s grandson) wrote in his capacity as official interpreter of Baha’i Scripture. It is a source of pride for many Baha’is to be able to state that we have authoritative scripture. That is to have access to the actual texts (or accurate translations of texts) as the sources for Baha’i Scripture.
“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

The only mention of homosexuality in authoritative Bahai text (not Scripture) is in five letters written by secretaries on behalf of Shoghi Effendi penned between 1949 and 1955.
The authority of these letters is unclear. It seems clear that they were intended as advice for the addressee but the authority of this advice is not clear:
“The exact status which Shoghi Effendi has intended the friends to give to those communications he sends to individual believers is explained in the following statement written through his secretary to the National Assembly on November 16, 1932:
“As regards Shoghi Effendi’s letters to the individual Bahá’ís, he is always very careful not to contradict himself. He has also said that whenever he has something of importance to say, he invariably communicates it to the National Spiritual Assembly or in his general letters. His personal letters to individual friends are only for their personal benefit and even though he does not want to forbid their publication, he does not wish them to be used too much by the Bahá’í News. Only letters with special significance should be published there.”

Published in the US Bahai Newsletter, No. 71, February 1933, pp. 1-2

However it is clear that Shoghi Effendi did not wish the status of these letters penned by secretaries to be confused with the authority of his own writing nor that of Bahai Scripture.
“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 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 25 February 1951 in The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 260)

However if you do a search on the internet you will find Bahais stating that it is a Bahai Teaching that homosexuality is forbidden and many Bahais have told me that Baha’u’llah forbids homosexuality. If Baha’u’llah had written on the topic of homosexuality we would have access to this by now. I think it is a stroke of genius by Shoghi Effendi to have secretaries pen these letters so there can be no confusion with anything he penned himself. Shoghi Effendi also stated that not everything he penned [footnote 1] is to be considered as authoritative on a par with Bahai Scripture, but given that he did not write on the topic of homosexuality there’s no need here to discuss what should be considered part of the canon of Bahai Scripture.
So if homosexuality is not mentioned in Bahai Scripture why do so many Bahais think it is? Prejudice against homosexuality has been around for a long time so that’s one reason. Another is that in 1983 the compilation book “Lights of Guidance” was published. It is a valuable source of quotations however, unfortunately, the author doesn’t make distinctions between what is Bahai Scripture and what isn’t, and she presents the Bahai Teachings as list of rules. If this book is used as a way to locate sources, all good and fine. I use it myself in this manner. But if it is used as a book of rules… well see screenshot below.

Screenshot from a page in the 1983 book,
Lights of Guidance, edited by Helen Hornsby.

Detail of one of the index pages in Lights of Guidance

Below I have noted the sources
1221. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 1954
1222. Jan 12, 1973 letter from the Universal House of Justice.
1223. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 1950
1224. refers to Baha’ullah’s reference to ‘boys’ (paederestry) + the notes added by the Universal House of Justice
1225. March 14, 1973 letter from the Universal House of Justice.
1226 + 1227. January 9, 1977 letter from the Universal House of Justice.
1228. July 16, 1980 letter from the Universal House of Justice.
1229. July 16, 1982 letter from the Universal House of Justice.
1230. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 1955

Link to this index page on the Bahai Library

You will note only 3 of the sources refer to letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and all the others refer to policy of the Universal House of Justice. Since 2010 the Universal House of Justice no longer refers to homosexuality as a condition that needs curing or to be overcome and instead urges the Bahais to stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians. Therefore, I will only focus on the letters written behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

In the Bahai Faith we have two sources of authority. One is Bahai Scripture and the other is the authority of the Bahai Administration, headed by the 9-member Universal House of Justice.
‘Abdul-Baha made it clear that the Universal House of Justice was free to make and change its own policy and that in fact this flexibility to change policy is important. “(S)ubsidiary laws are left to the House of Justice. The wisdom of this is that the times never remain the same, for change is a necessary quality and an essential attribute of this world, and of time and place.”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Rahíq-i-Makhtúm” vol. I, pp. 302-4; “Bahá’í News” 426 (September 1966), p. 2; cited in “Wellspring of Guidance” pp. 84-6 [footnote 2]

There is also a 4th letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in the same book. These 4 letters have been repeated so often that it seems as if there are more, so I thought it was time to have these letters listed together with as much context as I can find for easy reference. There is a 5th letter too but I’ll come to this.

In the column on the right is the context for the 1953 letter which is below. I have inserted white spaces between each point so it is easier to read. The original flows as one text.

Clearly the tone of the whole letter is one of giving information and advice and not that of setting down Bahai law and definitely not a letter that could or should be confused with the status of Bahai Scripture.

There is a world of difference in meaning between how the text is presented on the right and how it is presented in the book Lights of Guidance which I have copied below. In the book, the editor has added the title.

“185. Homosexual Acts Condemned by Bahá’u’lláh”

“Regarding the question you asked him about one of the believers who seems to be flagrantly a homosexual–although to a certain extent we must be forbearing in the matter of people’s moral conduct because of the terrible deterioration in society in general, this does not mean that we can put up indefinitely with conduct which is disgracing the Cause. This person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are condemned by Bahá’u’lláh, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make efforts to overcome this affliction, which is corruptive for him and bad for the Cause. If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his voting rights taken away. The Guardian does not think, however, that a Bahá’í body should take it upon itself to denounce him to the Authorities unless his conduct borders on insanity.”

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada: Messages to Canada, p. 39)

Haifa, Israel,
June 20, 1953.

National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada.

Your letters … have been received by the beloved Guardian, and he has instructed me to answer you on his behalf.
He regrets very much the delay in answering your letters. Unfortunately he has had to delay in replying to all national bodies during the last year, because of the pressure of work here, which has steadily increased during this Holy Year.

ACQUISITION OF NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS AND SHRINE
The purchase of your national headquarters, he feels, was an important milestone in the history of the Faith in Canada, and he hopes that it will be put to good use, during the coming years, by your Assembly. To this institution you will soon be adding the Maxwell Home+E18 in Montreal, which should be viewed in the nature of a national shrine, because of its association with the beloved Master, during His visit to Montreal. He sees no objection to having one room in the house being used as a little museum associated with Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell.
He was most happy to hear that all of your goals were achieved. This augurs well for the future of your activities, especially during the Ten Year

Plan just launched. He wishes through your body to thank all the pioneers, teachers and Bahá’ís who helped achieve this great victory. They have every reason to feel proud of themselves, and grateful to Bahá’u’lláh. Undoubtedly His divine assistance, combined with their determination and faith, enabled them to fulfill their objectives.

He was very happy to know that Charlottetown not only achieved Assembly status, but that the believers there are mostly self-supporting, as this is a sound basis for the expansion of the work in any place, especially in such a difficult one.
The Bahá’í Exhibit held at the Canadian National Exhibition was an excellent means of obtaining publicity. He hopes that advantage will be taken of similar opportunities in the future.

He urges your assembly to press for recognition of the Bahá’í marriage in Ontario, and, gradually, where the Cause is strong enough, in other Provinces.
Regarding the question you asked him about one of the believers who seems to be flagrantly a homosexual–although to a certain extent we must be forbearing in the matter of people’s moral conduct because of the terrible deterioration in society in general, this does not mean that we can put up indefinitely with conduct which is disgracing the Cause. This person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are condemned by Bahá’u’lláh, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make efforts to overcome this affliction, which is corruptive for him and bad for the Cause. If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his voting rights taken away. The Guardian does not think, however, that a Bahá’í body should take it upon itself to denounce him to the Authorities unless his conduct borders on insanity.
The Guardian attaches the greatest importance, during this opening year of the Ten Year Campaign, to settling the virgin areas with pioneers. He has informed, or is informing, the other National Assemblies that there is no reason why believers from one country should not fill the goals in other countries. In other words, Canada should receive foreign pioneers for her goals, who would operate under her jurisdiction; likewise, Canadians could go forth and pioneer in other countries’ goal territories if the way opened for them to do so. Naturally, they must feel their first responsibility should be toward the Canadian part of the Plan, as they are Canadians, but sometimes health, business openings or family connections might take people into other goal countries.

He realizes that the objectives in the far north are perhaps the hardest. On the other hand, the harder the task, the more glorious the victory.
You may be sure that he is praying for your success, and, what is more, he is confident that this young, virile Canadian Community can and will succeed in carrying out its share of the World Spiritual Crusade, so vast and challenging, upon which we are now launched.

With warmest Bahá’í love,
R. RABBANI.

Below is the context for the letter which was given the title “1223. Through Advice, Help of Doctors, and Prayer, Can Overcome This Handicap ” in Lights of Guidance.

Mar 1950 letter with response

The letter was written by an American who was serving as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly at the time the letter was written.

Do note that below the letter penned by the secretary, Ruhiyyih Khanum, Shoghi Effendi’s own note is a note of encouragement while making no reference to the content of the letter itself.

In Lights of Guidance the excerpt from following letter, shown below in full, was given the title: “1221. Acts of Immorality” by Helen Hornsby. Read the letter yourself and see that such a title is an accurate reflection of the tone of this letter.

21 May 1954
To an individual believer
Dear Bahá’í Sister:
Your letter of April 19th has been received by the beloved Guardian, and he has instructed me to answer you on his behalf.
He is very happy to have this opportunity of welcoming you personally into the service of our Faith; and hopes that, both in your professional career as a social worker, and in your life as a Bahá’í, you will be able to help many needy and troubled souls.
Amongst the many other evils afflicting society in this spiritual low water mark in history, is the question of immorality, and overemphasis of sex. Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, is spiritually condemned. This does not mean that people so afflicted must not be helped and advised and sympathized with. It does mean that we do not believe it is a permissible way of life; which, alas, is all too often the accepted attitude nowadays.
We must struggle against the evils in society by spiritual means, and medical and social ones as well. We must be tolerant but uncompromising, understanding but immovable in our point of view.
The thing people need to meet this type of trouble, as well as every other type, is greater spiritual understanding and stability; and of course we Bahá’ís believe that ultimately this can only be given to mankind through the Teachings of the Manifestation of God for this Day.
He will pray that you may be successful in your services to mankind as a Bahá’í.
With kind regards,
R. Rabbani
[From the Guardian:]
Assuring you of my loving prayers for your success and spiritual advancement,
Your true brother,
Shoghi

[The above letter is online here]

For the following letter I have only been able to find the excerpt as it is recorded in Lights of Guidance.

“The question of how to deal with homosexuals is a very difficult one. Homosexuality is forbidden in the Bahá’í Faith by Bahá’u’lláh; so, for that matter, are immorality and adultery. If one is going to start imposing heavy sanctions on people who are the victims of this abnormality, however repulsive it may be to others, then it is only fair to impose equally heavy sanctions on any Bahá’ís who step beyond the moral limits defined by Bahá’u’lláh. Obviously at the present time this would create an impossible and ridiculous situation.
He feels, therefore, that, through loving advice, through repeated warnings, any friends who are flagrantly immoral should be assisted, and, if possible, restrained. If their activities overstep all bounds and become a matter of public scandal, then the Assembly can consider depriving them of their voting rights. However, he does not advise this course of action and feels that it should only be resorted to in very flagrant cases.”
From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, August 20, 1955; cited in Lights of Guidance, #1230, p. 367-368.

You might note that the latest letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi on the topic of homosexuality stresses tolerance and to only to take action in exceptional cases. In Lights of Guidance, the title given to this letter, “Homosexuality, Immorality and Adultery Are Forbidden in the Faith” misses what appears to be the main point: tolerance and the possibility of the loss of voting rights in extreme cases where it could or would be a matter of public scandal. Bahais could understandably read the title “Homosexuality, Immorality and Adultery Are Forbidden in the Faith” and interpret the title as a Baha’i law.

If anyone has more context for this letter or any of these letters please let me know. Indicate with the word “private” if you do not wish your response to me to be made public. I will then cut and paste your comment so you can remain anonymous.

I found reference to a 5th letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in a 1993 compilation published by the Universal House of Justice, and unfortunately the excerpt is so short so I have no idea of the context. Here is the excerpt: “Bahá’u’lláh has spoken very strongly against this shameful sexual aberration, as He has against adultery and immoral conduct in general. We must try and help the soul to overcome them.” 25 October 1949

In the Kitab-i-Aqdas Baha’u’llah refers to shame – “We shrink, for very shame, from treating of the subject of boys.” Perhaps in the 1949 it was a common assumption among Baha’is to think this referred to homosexuality? It refers to a practice of the time, in parts of the Middle East, for a man to take a younger male as a form of sex slave. The word Baha’u’llah uses can also mean slave. [footnote 3]
However, it seems to me that the reference to adultery and immoral conduct in the excerpt indicates that the secretary who penned this letter is thinking of the quotation by Baha’u’llah where he mentions liwat and not homosexuality. See my blog where I look at the original text by Baha’u’llah

Until 2010, when the Universal House of Justice wrote “to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith,” [Footnote 4] letters from the Universal House of Justice referred to homosexuality as “an aberration subject to treatment” (22 March 1987) or “ “abnormality, handicap, affliction, problem, etc.”… the House of Justice feels that just such words can be a great help to the individuals concerned.” (16 March 1992) [Footnote 5]. Searching on the internet will show that Baha’is still prefer to refer to this earlier policy.
In the same 2010 policy the Universal House of Justice wrote “The Baha’i Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that sexual relations are restricted to a couple who are married to each other. Other passages from the Writings state that the practice of homosexuality is not permitted.”
The Universal House of Justice does not have the authority to interpret Baha’i Scripture, that is to say what the Bahai Scriptures mean, so in my view, the way to read this statement is that this understanding underlies their policy. Their understanding and their policy can change. I am not suggesting that I know whether, or how, the Universal House of Justice may change its policy on Bahai marriage and I see the wisdom in not issuing any statement until Baha’i communities around the world have ceased to associate homosexuality with ideas such as handicap or affliction. But this poses a catch 22 for gay Bahais, unless their local community takes an approach of tolerance or that their local or national assembly provides an exemption should a Bahai choose a civil wedding ceremony because a Bahai one is not possible. It also poses a problem for the local Bahai community if the law of their country considers this discrimination. My next blog will consider the principles that apply if a married same sex couple wish to join the community. For me personally, being part of a community where members appear to believe there is anything wrong with homosexuality is a problem in itself. I believe such displays of discrimination do not fit with the Bahai concept of “unity in diversity,” and this dissonance is what forces me to write on this topic.


Notes

1. In a 1974 letter from the Universal House of Justice, the House refers to two letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the 1944 one (sorry I have no further information about the dating of this letter) states: “The infallibility of the Guardian is confined to matters which are related strictly to the Cause and interpretation of the teachings; he is not an infallible authority on other subjects, such as economics, science, etc. When he feels that a certain thing is essential for the protection of the Cause, even if it is something that affects a person personally, he must be obeyed, but when he gives advice, such as that he gave you in a previous letter about your future, it is not binding; you are free to follow it or not as you please.”
An undated Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, published in 1973, p. 88

The 25 July 1974 Universal House of Justice letter which has a shorter excerpt dates this was being 1944 (Read it online here)
I realise that a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi has a lesser status than anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself. When I find a suitable text penned by Shoghi Effendi I will add it here.

2. In his text, “The World Order of Baha’u’llah” under the heading: ‘A Living Organism,’ Shoghi Effendi explains why it is important that the Universal House of Justice is free to change its own policy.
“…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.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 22-23)

3. See my blog: mainly-about-homosexuality/#paederasty

4. “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

5. Both quotations are from a 1993 compilation by the compiled by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.
“…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a “natural” or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as an aberration subject to treatment, however intractable exclusive homosexuality may now seem to be. To the question of alteration of homosexual bents, much study must be given, and doubtless in the future clear principles of prevention and treatment will emerge. As for those now afflicted, a homosexual does not decide to be a problem human, but he does, as you rightly state, have decision in choosing his way of life, i.e. abstaining from homosexual acts.

Your plea for understanding and of justice extended to homosexuals is well taken in many respects, and the House of Justice assures you of its concern for the large number of persons so afflicted. Your work with the homosexual community is praiseworthy, and it permits you personally to exercise the support which is necessary for these often harassed persons, support which you call for in your essay. Moreover, your interest cannot but be therapeutic, at least for the more superficial elements of the problem; however, definitive therapy of the underlying predisposition, which you consider to be innate but the Teachings do not, may have to await additional investigations. As for the responsibility of Assemblies and of individual Bahá’ís, certainly all are called upon to be understanding, supportive and helpful to any individual who carries the burden of homosexuality.

As a young physician, you may wish to use this quotation, taken from a letter written by the Guardian to an individual believer in March l9S0, as your guidance: “To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap.”
Universal House of Justice or the Research department, to an individual, 22 March 1987

and

“You mention recent research which indicates that there may be a genetic basis for homosexuality; you accept the Bahá’í view of this matter, but you question the use of such terms as “abnormality, handicap, affliction, problem, etc.” since they can create misunderstandings. On the contrary, the House of Justice feels that just such words can be a great help to the individuals concerned. Human beings suffer from many problems, both physical and psychological. Some are the result of the individual’s own behaviour, some are caused by the circumstances in which he grew up, some are congenital. Some human beings are born blind, some suffer from incapacitating accidents or diseases. Such conditions present the individual affected, and those around him, with serious problems, and it is one of the challenges of the human condition that all those concerned should strive to overcome such problems and have understanding and sympathy for the individual so afflicted.

There is a wide range of sexual abnormalities. Some people nowadays maintain that homosexuality is not an abnormality and that homosexuals should be encouraged to establish sexual relations with one or more partners of the same sex. The Faith, on the contrary, makes it abundantly clear that homosexuality is an abnormality, is a great problem for the individual so afflicted, and that he or she should strive to overcome it. The social implications of such an attitude are very important.

The primary purpose of sexual relations is, clearly, to perpetuate the species. The fact that personal pleasure is derived therefrom is one of the bounties of God. The sex act is merely one moment in a long process, from courtship through marriage, the procreation of children, their nursing and rearing, and involves the establishment of a mutually sustaining relationship between two souls which will endure beyond life on this earth.

Some couples are unable to have children, and that, in itself, is an affliction, but this fact does not vitiate all the other bounties of the marital relationship. Some individuals for various reasons are unable to find a spouse, or choose to remain single; they must develop their natures and talents in other ways. One could have concluded that homosexuals could well establish stable relationships with one another for mutual support, similar to the marital relationship of a heterosexual couple who cannot have children. This, indeed, is the conclusion that some churches and governments have come to. But Bahá’u’lláh, having divine knowledge of human nature, shows that such a relationship is not a permissible or beneficial solution to a homosexual’s condition. If a homosexual cannot so overcome his or her condition to the extent of being able to have a heterosexual marriage, he or she must remain single, and abstain from sexual relations. These are the same requirements as for a heterosexual person who does not marry.

This law is no reason for Bahá’ís to consider homosexuals as outcasts. If they are not Bahá’ís there is also no reason to expect them to obey the Bahá’í law in this respect any more than we would expect a non-Baha i to abstain from drinking alcohol.

(16 March 1992)
in the June 5, 1993 compilation by the Research department of the Universal House of Justice, online here.

 

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Is it better to walk away?

August 17, 2014

Click to view this full size on Pinterest

caption: Spirituality is less about ‘doing’ & more about ‘being’ our truest most authentic self everywhere we go.- Emmanuel Dagher.


When a gay friend wrote:
My energy could be better served not fighting for inclusion but by focusing on doing good works. I’m starting to see why many people just give up on God completely and decide that, dogma, worship and religious labels get in the way of working towards creating a better world. A world that doesn’t exclude or hurt people.

I was reminded of ‘Abdul-Baha who said that if religion is not a cause of love and unity then it better not to have a religion. [footnote 1] Some have suggested to me that it is always better to walk away, that unity is most important. I don’t think Baha’u’llah nor ‘Abdul-Baha intended their teachings to be a mouthpiece for the majority. I think Baha’u’llah was serious when he said that ” [t]he best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice” [Hidden Words] but more importantly I think any community, religious or not, needs to value diversity because of the fresh inputs diverse people bring. If those from minority backgrounds are to have a voice, those from a majority perspective need to make it clear that there is ‘space’ for them in their community. In my view, it isn’t about tolerance or sympathy or looking good, but about developing a community where diversity is valued. Diversity doesn’t just happen, it needs to be worked at just as many Baha’i communities have and do work at racial diversity.

I think most Baha’is care very deeply about the importance of diversity, except, it seems, when it comes to our gay and lesbian brothers. I am often told that there is no such thing as a “LGBTQ” voice because we are all one. We are all equal. I agree with the sentiment but by ‘voice’ I mean a particular perspective on the world and society that is different to a majority voice.

I am a human being first and this means acknowledging others as equals, acknowledging that their differing perspectives are of value, however odd or ‘wrong’ they might seem to me personally.

So the next time there’s a gay or lesbian at a Baha’i event, do your best to treat that individual not as an ‘other’ – because they might not be there next time – threat them as an equal and a welcome element of diversity. And if there are no gays or lesbians in your community, then ask yourself why? What is it about your community that does not show to a 10% minority or so of humanity, that they are welcome?

A Baha’i recently told me that she felt embarrassed to say she was a Baha’i because she didn’t have the words to counter statements such as Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, is spiritually condemned [footnote 2]. Then a work colleague, an out of the closet lesbian, said she had heard that she was a Baha’i and that it sounded like a nice religion and asked her about it. My Baha’i friend kept the conversation brief because she didn’t want her to find out that lesbians and gays are treated differently. For my friend, this is a huge crisis of faith. Personally she sees nothing wrong with homosexuality, but she knows that the public image of the Baha’i community conflates homosexuality with immorality or disease, and she can’t see how she can do anything to change this. I suggested that she could speak about her discomfort in her own Baha’i community. If others in the community share her views, suggest that they state in their publicity something like: “a Bahai teaching is equality for all regardless of their cultural background, race or orientation.” If these Bahais find such a public statement problematic, then host a study class on the topic to find out why and use the opportunity to find ways to present the Baha’i community that work best while still showing the world that this particular Baha’i community is working at reducing discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Like any form of discrimination, the issue affects everyone, not just those who are being oppressed. Looking the other way means doing nothing to address the public perception that the Baha’i community is not coming “to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated” [Universal House of Justice, 27 October, 2010] of those who identify as GLBTQ.

Back to my question: is it better to walk away?

My gay friend continued: I ask myself “why do I have pain and suffering?” Is it because I want there to be a true Faith that makes existence make sense? I desire God and want a religion. In a way, it is selfish. And the result is pain, because the only Faith that makes sense to me, is just like all the other religions: it divides the world into “us” and “them,” even though it claims it doesn’t.
 
Like a child having a tantrum, I am angry and mad and fighting for this not to be so. But the fact of the matter is … it *is* this way. So, I feel the right way is to stop desiring there to be a God or an afterlife or even a religion or Faith that tries to make sense of existence.
 
I want those things because I’m selfish and want inclusion and want some sense of order. If I abandon my desires for these things and accept what is, then I no longer suffer with the pain that comes with the rejection from the Bahai Faith that is caused by being a gay man. And if I stop worrying about an afterlife and the “why” of existence, I can finally live free and at peace.

Is the anger because of attachment? Or injustice? What is more important – passion, involvement or detachment?

As for myself, if I thought the Baha’i Teachings (Link to a blog outlining ‘Abdul-Baha’s eleven principles) endorsed treating gay and lesbian Baha’is differently, I would have leave the Baha’i Faith and in turn, I would be less sure about the existence of God more than ever, as I am one of those Baha’is whose idea of God borders on the agnostic. I am not sure about the existence of God but the Baha’i Writings ring true as does my belief in spirituality.

I would have to leave the Baha’i Faith because if gays and lesbians are treated differently because of their orientation, then it means that the Baha’i principle of equality is meaningless. It is not possible to preach equality and then add, “except for those people”. Baha’is might say things such as “homosexuality is spiritually condemned” but if it is not in Baha’i Scripture, then as far as I am concerned it is not part of the Baha’i Teachings. I realise it is easier for me. I have the confidence to say this.

A friend nailed it by saying: I’ve had to recently acknowledge the fact that deep inside me I feel like I don’t have the right to be happy because I’m gay. God hates us, unless we’re celibate. And it affects my relationships, my self-esteem, and it certainly has played a huge part in my history of enjoying various substances.

“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)

If you are not treated with equality, of course it affects your self-esteem. If you are expected to hide your orientation, of course that creates an imbalance. I think that is why the Baha’i Teachings place such importance on equality, justice, independent investigation, and science and religion being in harmony and why ‘Adbul-Baha wrote: “The divine religions must be the cause of oneness… and the means of unity and love; they must promulgate universal peace, free man from every prejudice, bestow joy and gladness, exercise kindness to all men and do away with every difference and distinction. Just as Bahá’u’lláh addressing the world of humanity saith: ‘O people! Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.'” [Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 28]

We can use reason to overcome prejudice and hopefully make a conscious effort to improve the state of humanity”. [Bahaiteachings.org]

I do not want my religion to be used to hurt another gay or lesbian and I hope for the day when Baha’i communities demonstrate publicly by action that in their community they treat their gay and lesbian members as equals.

‘Abdul-Baha spoke of the diversity of the flowers in the garden of humanity being diverse as a good thing and as a metaphor for the diversity of humanity (being a good thing). I hate it that public statements present as homosexuality being: an aberration subject to treatment or abnormality, handicap, affliction, problem or an abnormality … a great problem for the individual so afflicted … that he or she should strive to overcome it“. (all these quotations are from the Wikipedia “Homosexuality and the Baha’i Faith” page. See footnote two). Where are the examples of Baha’is showing that within the Baha’i community there are those who value the diversity of those who identify as LGBT?

Although the Universal House of Justice’s current 2010 policy states that a “marriage is a union between a man and a woman” I wish that marriage was the only issue here, but it isn’t. Not only are gays and lesbians expected to live solitary lives while others may raise families and enjoy the support and companionship of a life-partner, this distinction is then enlarged by Baha’is to say things such as homosexuality is a transgression or a disease.

Don’t get me started on gender and how many a Baha’i has tried to justify the absence of female Universal House of Justice members as being based on supposed differences in capacity between women and men. I think it is human nature to look for reasons and the tendency to create them when there doesn’t appear to be a reason. But then the danger is, just as in discussions on gender equality, difference is then used as a means to enlarge on the inequality.

The Universal House of Justice letter states that “The Bahá’í Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman” but it doesn’t state the situation of already married gays or lesbians becoming Baha’is or that unmarried gays and lesbians should be treated differently to unmarried straights. The Universal House of Justice does not give a source in Baha’i Scripture (See my blog on this topic), and if there is nothing in Bahai Scripture that restricts marriage to a man and a woman, a later Universal House of Justice is free to take a different approach. It is not clear to me here whether The Universal House of Justice is making a policy on what is a Bahai marriage or telling us what they think is in Baha’i Scripture.

Of course I do see the catch 22 here for those in countries where it would break the law of the land to discriminate against legally married same sex couples. What can Baha’is do? I guess one day the Universal House of Justice is likely to make a policy on same sex marriage, but until they do, I would suggest that any N.S.A. or L.S.A. to view this as a new phenomenon and deal with this in the way that seems closest to the teachings of Baha’u’llah and the latest policy of the Universal House of Justice, while respecting the right of government to define civil marriage.

But I find it horrific that a Baha’i could say that treating a gay or lesbian differently is based on Baha’i Scripture, because it is not true.

In light of such attitudes, I don’t blame this gay friend for writing: it is religion and my desire to be a part of it and my desire to be loved by the Creator. If the Creator doesn’t love me, what is the point of trying to love the Creator? These are thoughts I usually hold down but I don’t see the usefulness (anymore) in pretending these feelings aren’t there. I’m sure I’m not alone. And I’m sharing with you to process and discuss”.

The very idea that some people are less worthy because of their nature, their race, or orientation is repulsive to me. I can’t match this idea with anything in the Bahai Writings, however another of my gay friends wrote: Lately I have been heavy on fighting for inclusion, perhaps to the exclusion of good works. But it may be time for a recalibration…. As regards your comments about desire producing pain, I have found that detachment from religion and people (even the most well intentioned) helps me maintain my sanity and my faith.
 
My view of humanity is much more melancholic than it used to be as a result. But I find that this detachment combined with a regular prayer/meditation practice works for me. When I get particularly depressed by people I turn to the prayers and writings of ‘Abdul-Baha for comfort.

So why should gays and lesbians have to suffer? What justification is there for prejudice against gays and lesbians to continue in the Baha’i community?

My friend Daniel who runs the blog “Revolked”: wrote in response to having his voting rights removed in 2009 by the American Baha’i community for being legally married in California: The Buddhist sangha really helped me… there was something about total inclusion mixed with a semi-Baha’i administration (all volunteer committee of 12 who coordinate the whole shabang), and 40 minutes of silence… with a short (very firesideesque) talk after… that helped me heal.
 
I felt listened to, and I am talking about listened to by Baha’u’llah/Buddha for the first time…
 
I needed (still do) help with dealing about my anger related to organized religion, how the Baha’is treated me, and my overall distaste for any organized spiritual anything…
 
It really helped … sitting every Sunday with really nice, good, smart people who don’t push, nor judge … other folks will find other ways to heal.
 
But I have come to realize that at least for me, Baha’i doesn’t work. It’s a nice idea, and I desperately love and accept Baha’u’llah… but the community … they reject people like me

This is the first case I know of in which a legal same-sex marriage was the reason for applying a Baha’i administrative sanction. I hope it is the only case and that one day that Daniel receives a letter of apology, because it is a Baha’i principle to follow the laws of one’s country. Shoghi Effendi was very firm about this when he wrote “they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of [Baha’i] laws and the application of [Baha’i] principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah) To me, this principle implies that the assemblies – local as much as national – must do their best to avoid any actions or statements that might be misconstrued as a rejection of the rights of government and the legitimacy of civil laws.

As far as I know this applies as long as a Baha’i law or teaching is not transgressed and even then, such as in the case of apartheid in South Africa, Baha’is were encouraged not to confront the law of the land. As far as I know the Universal House of Justice has not made a ruling on same sex marriage, only statements concerning homosexuality outside of marriage and the statement that a Baha’i marriage “is a union between a man and a woman”. So I assume that until the Universal House of Justice makes a ruling on same-sex marriage it is up to local or national Bahai communities to decide what is best in light of the Baha’i principles for those who are already Baha’is as much as for married couples who choose to join the community.

Some days I think the fight is worth it because I hope my actions help Baha’is to be more tolerant and for Baha’i from diverse perspectives to feel equally welcome. I am selfish about this. I want the Baha’i community to be more inclusive. Other days, I think it is better to be more involved in the art world (I am an artist) because it is so diverse and energizing. Perhaps in the end I can do more as an artist to help my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters than trying to work for tolerance and openness within the Bahai community. Who knows? It’s odd though, each time when I think this might be my last blog on the topic of gay rights, it feels as if Baha’u’llah is pushing me – as if this can’t be the last word.

I dedicate this blog to all my gay and lesbian friends who given me the honour of sharing their voices with me for three decades.

Footnote 1: The passage “If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion.” is often quoted by Baha’is but the source here, Paris Talks, consists of notes made by an interpreter of the talk given in French by a translator, which in turn were translated into English.

An authentic source in Abdul-Baha‘s own wording is: “Third: religion is the foundation of harmony and love, of solidarity and unity. If religion is made the cause of enmity it yields not solidarity but rather troubles, and the absence of religion is better than its existence. The abandonment of religion is preferable to this.” [A provisional translation by Sen McGlinn from notes in Persian that had been checked by Adbul-Baha

Footnote 2: In footnote 8 on the “Bahai Faith and Homosexuality” Wikipedia page (Last accessed 17 August 2014) is the statement Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Baha’u’llah, is spiritually condemned. Admittedly this page is currently dominated by the opinions of two Baha’is (Back in May 2014 I failed to get them to modify their opinions because they were not backed up by the sources they referred to). And so like any Wikipedia page that deals with a sensitive topic, those with the most friends with the skills and time, win. It is a weakness of the Wikipedia system that, like the worst aspects of party politics, majority voices are able to drown out other voices. But just because a system can be misused doesn’t mean it is bad system. I love Wikipedia!

Anyway if most Baha’is believe that somewhere in Baha’i Scripture same-sex marriage is excluded then that is an accurate picture of the state of play in the Baha’i community, regardless of whether it is true or not. Wikipedia is a fabulous resource which is flexible, and one day when the current views are minority views, this page will be changed.
So I hope this explains why quite a few of the statements [as accessed on August 17th, 2014] on this Wikipedia page are inaccurate. I hope the day is sooner rather than later when these inaccuracies are removed. However it is a fight, that for now at least, I have chosen to walk away from. Here is what I am referring to as being inaccurate:
The Bahá’í Faith teaches that the only acceptable form of sexual expression is within marriage, and Baha’i marriage is defined in the religion’s texts as exclusively between one man and one woman (Wikipedia, accessed 17 August 2014)
I had replaced the text: “in the religion’s texts as exclusively” with “in Bahai law as being” because the UHJ creates Bahai law or policy. If there is a religious text stating this, then it needs to be found or shown. All Wikipedia references used by these two Baha’is either led to statements made by the Universal House of Justice or references to marriage as a monogamous relationship between a man and woman [click on p. 147 + ”In the Glory of the Father: The Baha’i Faith and Christianity, p. 100”]. Bahai’s would not call policy made the Universal House of Justice ‘religious texts’ because that would confuse the Universal House of Justice’s authority with that of Baha’i Scripture. Saying that a marriage is between a man and woman is not the same as saying this is exclusive.

By now you might be wondering why I am putting all of this into a footnote here. Well, should a Baha’i feel uncomfortable about the phrase defined in the religion’s texts or anything else in that Wikipedia article, this might help. Opinions expressed as if they are supported by secondary literature when in fact they are not [my major argument with these two] is one thing, but these opinions create the impression that Baha’i Scripture is prejudiced against gays and lesbians, when it is not. It might seem petty, but for me it is an important distinction because Baha’i Scripture cannot be changed while statements by the Universal House of Justice can be changed by a later policy of the Universal House of Justice.
You might say, but, there is much more on that page, such as the assumption that homosexuality is a transgression [accessed 17 August homosexuality over other transgressions in the second paragraph] when in fact current Universal House of Justice policy since 2010 is that “to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith.” Well, I thought I’d just start with the first sentence on the Wikipedia page and see how that went before going any further. Perhaps I should write a blog about the exchanges I had on the ‘talk’ behind the scenes page, because until then I had not realised how easy it was for the views of just two individuals with the skills, to dominate a Wikipedia page. I was used to an academic environment where if a reference is made, then it relates to the statement. These two repeatedly added material where in some cases marriage wasn’t mentioned at all. Admittedly they removed most of these when I pointed this out, but it took a lot of time to look up the books. In the end they won because they just kept deleting my edits. It was not pleasant so I understand perfectly why Baha’is might walk away from that fight as I have.

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