“We will all, verily, abide by the will of God.”December 31, 2010
This is the Bahai marriage vow. I always loved the sentiment here — that individuals give themselves to God, rather than the promise to obey each other. In 1984 my spouse to be and I recited this at the same time, as it seemed fitting as an expression of equality. Our partnership as two consenting adults.
So roll on a decade or two and the hot discussion in some Bahai circles is the conviction that gays and lesbians cannot do the same, cannot “verily” state their committment as equals. They are not allowed marriage, family and a lifelong committment of partnership. There are some exceptions, some Bahai communities accept their married gay Bahais, however the majority don’t.
A very important Bahai Teaching is equality.
In fact I’d even say that it is probably the most important Bahai Teaching, along with a stress on diversity. The numerous quotations from the Bahai Writings about all the flowers in the garden being of value support this. There’s nothing there about some being more equal than others, being allowed to “verily” commit while others are not.
In other postings I’ve gone more into the status of the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. First trying to see why there is this seeming contradiction with equality in the letters that condemn homosexuality. (By “homosexuality” I mean orientation, being gay or lesbian.)
On one level it is true that these letters are expressions of the values of the times of the 1930-1950s, as guidance for individuals of the times and in a some cases as guidance for an institution, and all these letters have some authority, an authority that is not clearly defined but is something less than Shoghi Effendi’s own. Because this authority is not clear, I think that any issues depending on these letters are a matter for the Universal House of Justice, which gives some flexibility, some possibility for change now or in the future.
As I see it the Bahai Faith has two aspects: Scripture (not flexible nor changeable) and Authority (executed through the Bahai administration which is flexible or changeable) or in other words the carrying out of the day-to-day administration of how that scripture applies to our lives.
Being changeable does not mean that authority is less important than scripture but I would say that scripture should inform or guide the actions taken by Bahai administration and Bahai communities. I suspect that when Bahais get upset at me when I discuss the flexibility in the Bahai Teachings, they think I’m demeaning the value and importance of the Letters Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. That is not my intent. My intent is to see how they might fit – how Shoghi Effendi might have intended them to be used and most importantly how are they used by the Bahai community at large. Are these Letters used as guidance, as inspiration or are they being used like a big stick, used to promote prejudice or intolerance? I hope not.
You might be wondering why I bother, when the authority of these Letters is not the same as the authority of Baha’u’llah’s writings, is not the authority of Abdul-Baha’s writings nor that of Shoghi Effendi when he wrote in his role as official interpretator of Bahai Scripture.
Well many Bahais place great value on these letters. And in 1983 the book “Lights of Guidance” compiled by Helen Hornby came out, and it seems now that many Bahais treat this book as if it is Bahai Scripture. Actually more like a book of rules. And in this book, Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi are placed underneath various sections such as “1221. Acts of Immorality” as if this is Bahai Scripture. So one can hardly blame Bahais for assuming that Letters Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi have the same status as what Baha’u’llah wrote. [See a few of these letters which show that they do not have the same status as Bahai Scripture]
But I have realised that I am possibily approaching the issue of inequality from the wrong direction as it seems that when I argue about the status and authority of the Letters Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Bahais see red and in one case a Bahai responded to me recently writing that anyone treating these letters as if they were not written by Shoghi Effendi was “challenging covenantal authority.”
So it got me to thinking, why did I start down this line of thinking?
The current Bahai practice is that some people are more equal than others. That some individuals may not marry, may not raise children, may not voice themselves openly, should believe that they are diseased or need to keep their orientation secret so that they are treated with respect.
This hurts me deeply. It hurts me deeply that my Faith is allowing individuals to tell other individuals that they are not equal.
They might not use those words. These Bahais might even believe that it is equality afterall — as is often said, you volunteer to be a Bahai, you can leave. This is like saying, well this flower can’t blossom here. This Bahai garden is just for straight voices. I know of course, Bahais celebrate diversity, I see it everywhere. But you can’t celebrate diversity without equality.