Flexibility in Bahai Law in relation to homosexualityMay 19, 2010
The following is a response to a thread on the Bahai Planet forum called “AIDS Faith conference” where the intitial poster was curious to know if there had been any Bahai statements on AIDS and the loss of life due to this. The discussion quickly turned to the rights and wrongs of homosexuality. I stepped later on in the discussion and the following is one of my posts.
I’m posting it here because although the forum is open and you can read material as a guest, I wanted a place where I could make links to some of the material here. I’ve changed the individual’s name to SS.
What Sonja posted on this discussion thread on 3rd May 2010
SS wrote: “With all due respect this is just a red herring. You conveniently left out that the House of Justice cannot make any changes in the teachings of any of its predecessors. The teachings on homosexuality are pretty clear.”
Abdu’l-Baha wrote they can change what previous Houses of Justice have decided:
“It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.
Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself. Inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same.
Thus for example, the House of Justice enacteth today a certain law and enforceth it, and a hundred years hence, circumstances having profoundly changed and the conditions having altered, another House of Justice will then have power, according to the exigencies of the time, to alter that law.
This it can do because these laws form no part of the divine explicit Text. The House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.”
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 20)
In this passage in the Will and Testament, “daily transactions” or mu’aamaalat (the term Abdul-Baha uses here) is a category used in Islamic law, variously translated as social transactions, interractions between people, mutual dealings, mundane matters. It includes:
* Financial transactions
* Laws of inheritance
* Marriage, divorce, and child care
* Foods and drinks (including ritual slaughtering and hunting)
* Penal punishments
* Warfare and peace
* Judicial matters (including witnesses and forms of evidence)
Abdu’l-Baha also wrote a tablet about the wisdom of assigning such matters to the Universal House of Justice, rather than having them laid down in scripture, which is printed in “Amr wa Khalq” volume 4, from page 298. http://reference.bahai.org/fa/t/c/AK4/ak4-302.html
On pages 301-2 Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
(provisional translation from Persian by Sen McGlinn)
“As for marriage, this falls entirely within the social laws. Nevertheless, the preconditions are found in the Law of God, and its fundamentals are evident. The union of relatives, however, is not explicitly treated, and is referred to the House of Justice, which will give a ruling in accordance with social customs and medical requirements, wisdom, and suitability for human nature. According to social and medical principles, and nature, there is no doubt that, in marriage, distance is nearer than nearness.
In this light, consider the Christian religious law. Although marriage to relatives is in reality permitted, since there is no explicit impediment in the Text, the early Christian councils entirely forbade marriages between relatives, to the seventh degree, and today this is enforced in all the Christian churches, since this is purely a social question.
In short, whatever ruling the House of Justice makes on this question, that is in truth the decisive decree, it is God’s sharp sword. No one may deviate from it. If you consider, it will be apparent how much this rule (that is, referring social laws to the House of Justice) is consistent with wisdom. For whenever a difficulty may arise and a local decision is required, at that point, since the House of Justice delivered the previous ruling, the secondary House of Justice, can issue a new national ruling on a national case and topic, in the light of local imperatives. To entirely avoid any risks, the rulings that the House of Justice has made, it can also abrogate.”
If by: “predecessors”, you mean the Bahai Scripture cannot be changed, I agree.
Bahai scripture is what is penned by Baha’u’llah, interpreted and elaborated on by Abdul-Baha, and then when Shoghi Effendi wrote himself as interpretator of the writings of Baha’u’llah + Abdul-Baha. The Bab’s Writings are important but are not strictly Bahai Scripture. None of these writings (as far as I know) include anything about homosexuality, let alone about the question of whether married homosexuals can be accepted in the Bahai community.
I am sorry, if it sounds as if I am beating a drum here, but I repeat this only because your response indicates that you didn’t notice in my earlier post how I showed that letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi are not part of Bahai Scripture. I am not suggesting that they are not relevant nor that they are not important for Bahais, because they are not part of Bahai Scripture. I’m saying that they have another role. I can back up my statements here with many more examples and I hope what is below is sufficient to show you what I mean. If you disagree, please show me how the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi can be part of Bahai Scripture.
However if we did take the letters written by the Guardian’s secretaries to be equivalent to authoritative interpretations Bahai Scripture, how would we deal with the secretary’s letter that states that “this is the day which will not be followed by the night” (a prophecy of Baha’u’llah, in “The Summons of the Lord of Hosts”, p. 34) as meaning that it refers to a never-ending line of Guardians.
“The Guardians are the evidence…” The full letter is here >>
(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, November 25, 1948: Bahai News, No. 232, p. 8, June 1950) also in Directives from the Guardian, p. 34)
Or how could we deal with letter from a secretary written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, which states “He (the Guardian) does not feel that the friends should make a practice of saying grace or of teaching it to children. This is not part of the Bahai Faith, but a Christian practice,…” – when in fact it is ordained by Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha said grace himself and gave us a number of prayers to use for the purpose (and Shoghi Effendi also said grace himself, at least sometimes)
This letter (27 September 1947) is quoted in full near the bottom of this page.
Or another letter by a secretary which states: “Regarding your question whether there is any special ceremony which the believers should perform when they wish to “name” a baby; the Teachings do not provide for any ceremony whatever on such occasions. We have no “baptismal service” in the Cause, …”, when in fact Abdu’l-Baha has given us a form for the “spiritual baptism” of a newborn child, in Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha pp 149-50.
This letter (December 20th, 1938, Arohanui: Letters from Shoghi Effendi to New Zealand, p.47) can be found here.
Or a letter from a secretary that states “The words Israel, used throughout the Bible, simply refers to the Jewish people, and not to the Chosen ones of this day.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, April 21, 1939; Lights of Guidance, p. 498)
Whereas the Guardian wrote: “Turning to Bah’u’llah and repeating his request, he was honored by a Tablet, in which Israel and his children were identified with the Bab and His followers respectively…” (God Passes By, p. 116)
Or the letter that states:
“In regard to the question as to whether people ought to kill animals for food or not, there is no explicit statement in the Bahai Sacred Scriptures (as far as I know) in favour or against it.” (9 July 1931)
Is this expressing the Guardian’s limited knowledge, or the secretary’s? There are tablets from Abdu’l-Baha [and Baha’u’llah] on this topic. The letter goes on:
“It is certain, however, that if man can live on a purely vegetarian diet and thus avoid killing animals, it would be much preferable….”
If we take this as the Guardian speaking as interpreter, he is offering an interpretion on something which he himself thinks is not in the Writings – and therefore is in the province of the UHJ not the Guardian. Shoghi Effendi wrote in the “Dispensation of Baha’u’llah” that the role of the Guardian is to interprete what is in the Bahai Writings, while the role of the Universal House of Justice is to legislate on all other matters.
Then the next sentence says
“This is, however, a very controversial question and the Bahais are free to express their views on it.”
– so the writer (the secretary in my opinion) does not think this defines Bahai belief. But aren’t the authoritative interpretations of the Guardian supposed to do that?
(The letter is in The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 475)
All this is not to suggest that the Guardian’s letters can be disregarded. That would be just as simplistic as supposing that all these letters are the words of Shoghi Effendi.
Shoghi Effendi himself wanted the Bahais to make a clear distinction between his writings and those written by his secretaries:
“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.” (Unfolding Destiny, p.260 () )
If these letters had doctrinal authority, it would not make much sense to say they had `less authority.’ and I’ve already elaborated on what I mean by this in this thread, but if you missed this you can read it here.
I’ve chosen examples of letters where I would think at least some of you might see that it could be illogical to accept the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as if they were part of Bahai Scripture.
But I think the practice of a Bahai community is also important, and it seems to me that some Bahais treat some letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as these as if they were Bahai Scripture, while ignoring other letters.
The following letter which in the context of 1935 when it was written might not have been such an unusual view, is clearly ignored by most Bahais today, myself included.
For those of you who are not married, think of large Catholic families (who sooner or later must as my parents did after their 9th child, practice some form of contraception given that now children tend to survive birth). Then think of the Bahai families around you. You don’t need to pry into anyone’s private life to realise that if a couple are not having a child every few years throughout their marriage, some form birth control is being used.
“…the Bahai Teachings, when carefully studied imply that such current conceptions like birth control, if not necessarily wrong and immoral in principle, have nevertheless to be discarded as constituting a real danger to the very foundations of our social life.”
(October 14, 1935)
If you wish to treat the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as if this is Bahai Scripture, as an individual you are free to do so, but I hope that I’ve shown that the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi are not part of Bahai Sacred Scripture. And that in examples above, have shown that not all letters are followed by Bahais in practice.
SS wrote: “As for the quote you used. Some how I do not think Shoghi Effendi’s understanding of what is progressive is yours. Combine this with what The Guardian wrote regarding homosexuality it is highly doubtful that he saw this topic in the same way as you do.”
You are referring to letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, not Shoghi Effendi’s own writing. If something I’ve written above is not clear in explaining this, just ask.
SS wrote: “As for equality that too is misguided. No person is denied any privilege or opportunity in the Faith that any other person enjoys. All can marry with in the laws of the Faith or choose not to.”
A gay Bahai friend of mine had two Bahais who were to be witnesses and so he was planning to have a Bahai marriage ceremony, except that his parents refused to give permission. So he went ahead and had only a state marriage instead and his voting rights were taken off him by the NSA of the USA for these reasons: ‘same sex marriage’ and his “support of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle for Bahais” and not because he didn’t have his parents permission.
Two Bahais wanted to marry, but the man’s parents who were Moslims wouldn’t give permission. This couple tried again and again, year after year, living together now, and finally the parents gave permission when their first child was about to be born.
Two Bahais lived together, had a child, and then 2-3 years later parted company.
The gay friend I mentioned above has been trying to get acceptance from his parents for over 15 years for his partner, and in Brazil years earlier they had a state marriage. So technically he didn’t need another state marriage but wanted to have it in his state while it was possible.
The heterosexual couples I mentioned above, all people I knew well, were always welcomed at all Bahai events, and because of this atmosphere remained actively involved in the community.
I’m not suggesting that Bahais should have double standards but in the stories above, tolerance was given to the heterosexual couples and not given to the gay couple. I realise this is just a story of 3 couples. So I’ll add one more story:
Shoghi Effendi, at times would go to Switzerland for short breaks and one of his closest friends there was the painter Mark Tobey, who was known in his circles as a homosexual. Whether or not Mark was celibate is not the issue and it is not the issue in regards to discussion of same-sex marriage either.
The issue is a lifestyle where having a partner is being denied. Mark lived for decades with a friend, caring for him as he wrote himself, and was a member of his local spiritual assembly for long periods of time. There is no evidence to suggest that Mark Tobey was ever admonished in any form, let alone any indication that he might lose his voting rights. In fact to the contrary, it seems that he was accepted as a part of his community and from what I know of his exchanges with Shoghi Effendi, Shoghi Effendi valued their friendship. If Shoghi Effendi had such an abhorance of homosexuality, then surely it would be “highly doubtful” that he would maintain this friendship. Particularly when you think this is in the 1930-50s. Shoghi Effendi’s actions don’t indicate any prejudice or intolerance.
SS wrote: “As for this nonsense of the laws of nature??? It is the very laws from God that attempt to enable us to rise above the laws of nature while correctly defining just what is natural and what is not. It is clear just how the Faith see homosexuality. I think the Faith see It is immoral and not part of our natural reality. To my thinking this makes it a perversion of nature.”
Homosexuality is a sexual orientation. Actions are moral or immoral.
Is a heterosexual still a heterosexual if they never have sex? or never marry? Of course they are.
You might be thinking of this statement by the Universal House of Justice:
“…the Baha’i Faith strongly condemns all blatant acts of immorality, and it includes among them the expression of sexual love between individuals of the same sex.” (Printed in The American Baha’i (Qawl 152/November 23, 1995) and to be found here)
It also states: “To regard homosexuals with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of Baha’i Teachings.”
It seems to me, here in the letter the Universal House of Justice is condemning any expression of sexual love while you have taken this a step further to condemn homosexuality. Your logic here doesn’t surprise me. There are many examples in the history of humanity where people have taken things from religion then made that issue into an argument for their own to arguments about what is immoral as a basis for their prejudice.
Some of you wonder why I bother, and in particular bother examining what is in the Bahai Writings.
SS’s statements above are often what I hear from Bahais, they conclude based on the current Bahai policy that homosexuals must remain celibate, that then homosexuals are lesser and from this prejudice rises its ugly head. And worse, not only are gays rejected from the Bahai community but even Bahais such as myself who want to see, “Is there a way for gays not to be rejected?” “Is there a way for a Bahai community to accept a married gay couple into their community?”, are told to go elsewhere or that I shouldn’t speak.
SS wrote: “You may not agree and that is your choice and right. And thank God for our choices and rights. But if you insist on attempting to whine about how unfair the Faith is about this at least be truthful about just what the Faith teaches and how it really works.”
Yes, my perspective is different to yours and I try to back up my statements with quotations from the Bahai Writings as much as I can to try and be “truthful about just what the Faith teaches and how it really works.”. Where are my examples of ‘whining’ in doing this?
SS wrote: “You are always free to start your own version of the Faith that embraces all the current PC stuff about being progressive. But when that happens it does not seem to work out to well.”
It seems from your comments above that you think the Bahai Faith cannot match science with religion. Or that the Faith can’t hold up its head in a world where values such as equality for all dominate. I hope I have misunderstood you here. My view is the the Bahai Faith is not only more than capable to operate in a world where equality dominates but has something to offer that world too.
SS wrote: “Or if you are not a Baha’i you are free not to join the Cause. No one is forcing you or twisting your arm to be a Baha’i. I find it interesting that you insist on trying to twist mine? But that is the nature of being a so called progressive in this culture. One losses oneself to vile accusations while pretending to be tolerant. That my friend is call hypocrisy. Agree or not agree at least the Faith is not hypocritical. And in this day and age that is most distinctive.”
Your comment above, strikes me as like child in the playground who says, ‘you can’t play here, go find some other friends to play with.’
If you don’t like my comments, don’t respond, but don’t say as a Bahai I do not have a right (for me it is an obligation) to investigate the Bahai Writings on this topic to try and to share my findings, as an individual. It would be hypocritical to say, Bahais have the principle of independent investigation, which stops the moment you declare yourself to be a Bahai. At least I know this is certainly not the case for myself. I am inspired and in awe of how studying the Bahai Writings seems to be a never ending process of discovery and development for me.