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“We will all, verily, abide by the will of God.”

December 31, 2010

"We will all, verily, abide by the will of God." 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]

The list underneath the title: Homosexuality in the book, Lights of Guidance

Homosexuality title in Lights of Guidance

[This link goes to where this screenshot was taken from]

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.

13 comments

  1. Thank you for your courage. Keeping the conversation going is important. With the ‘Plan’ to be inclusive and build community, walking the walk of equality is the best teacher.


  2. I believe that Baha’u’llah has elevated the virtue of chastity to a new level, in which all people, at all times, are required to relate to each other on a spiritual rather than physical level; that indeed, we are spiritual beings inhabiting a physical body. Your viewpoint seems to contain the essential belief that we are physical beings, primarily physical beings. I’ve known numerous Baha’is who were very strongly physically oriented. In both cases, heterosexuals and homosexuals had equal difficulty in aligning themselves with His Teachings. I am not certain how emphasis on virtue could be construed as inequality


    • Robert, thank you for your response.

      No I am not suggesting for a moment that an emphasis or promotion of virtue is a promotion of inequality.

      There’s nothing spiritual about inequality.

      I am arguing for equality for everyone.

      Marriage is about committment and is just as virtuous as celibacy. Marriage, in my view, is not just a means for satisfying carnal lust.


  3. Thank you so much Sonja for lending such a thoughtful and reasoned article. Your research on behave of GLBT Baha’is is extremely well done, and gives hope to those of us who are persecuted by the Administrative Order for loving someone of the same gender.

    I am deeply sorry and ashamed at how the Baha’is are enabling homophobia and exclusion from their communities. It is as shocking as it is disappointing. You give those of us who are gay hope with your voice of support for the covenant and the central figures.

    Thank you ever so much for your support and bravery!


  4. D wrote: “Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I’ve long been under the impression that the great majority of Baha’is, including the Universal House of Justice itself, consider the letters of the secretaries of the Guardian to be scripture. I find this to be a peculiar situation, for it appears to grant infallibility to individuals that don’t even appear to be identifiable.”

    I cannot speak for the views of the Universal House of Justice, and that they refer to such letters when they make statements does not mean that they treat these letters as if they are scripture.

    However, I think you are correct. I am also under the impression that quite a number of Bahais treat letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as if it is scripture, on the topic of homosexuality or when they wish to impose their own views on others.
    For example, as a newly wed in the 80s I was told that I should be having children instead of wasting my time studying by a Bahai. He then produced a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as proof that we should not be using contraception. Of course, I knew from my own experience as being the eldest of 9 children from a Catholic family that most Bahais in my community must be using some form of contraception and this was being ignored. So something didn’t make sense about treating these letters as if they were scripture.


  5. We made sure to recite the Baha’i vows when we were married by the state of California, and I was kicked out for doing so:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=57392452535880122&hl=en#


  6. MARRIAGE SHOULD BE SACRED FOR ALL AMERICANS.
    ALL of America’s best experts on family, mental health and children agree that America would benefit if same-sex couples could have civil marriage.
    The National Library of Medicine scientific research publications all confirm that sexual orientation is natural, biologically induced in the first trimester of pregnancy, morally neutral, immutable, neither contagious nor learned, bearing no relation to an individual’s ability to form deep and lasting relationships, to parent children, to work or to contribute to society.
    Sexual orientation is similar to left-handedness: biological, unchangeable, innocent. We used to think left-handed was evil (Latin for left is “sinister”), and force lefties to use only their right hand, even though they never really changed. Research reveals variable hormonal levels in pregnancy permanently affect a child’s neural circuitry for sexual orientation and gender identity: a little more testosterone in fetal girls’ brains from an adrenal condition can cause <50% to be lesbian, 10% to be transgender. Sharing the womb with a boy co-twin (amniotic fluid has some of his testosterone) causes <15% of girl co-twins to be lesbian. These girls also have the bone structure and physical coordination of boys, so they are good in sports, thus the stereotype.

    Less testosterone for boys' brains from mother's blocking antibody from having many older brothers causes <15% of boys to be gay. These boys can have the physiology/verbal skills like girls, and excel in language and visual arts, thus the stereotype. All innocent.

    From the American Psychological Association: homosexuality is normal; homosexual relationships are normal.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association have endorsed civil marriage for same-sex couples because marriage strengthens mental and physical health and longevity of couples, and provides greater legal and financial security for children, parents and seniors.

    The American Anthropological Association confirms that keeping marriage for heterosexuals only is detrimental to our culture and heritage, and not essential for the preservation of our societal order.

    America’s premier child/mental health associations endorse marriage equality. There is no further reason to discriminate, except ignorance or bigotry. SO WHY WOULD ANYONE FIGHT THIS??????

    Think of what you would want for yourself or your your family. Why would anyone take a stand that goes against the policies of America's child, family and mental health experts?



  7. Here are the references for my above posting:

    American Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists
    http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/policy_statements/sexual_orientation_gender_identity_and_civil_rights

    American Psychiatric Association
    http://archive.psych.org/edu/other_res/lib_archives/archives/200502.pdf

    American Psychological Association
    http://www.apa.org/about/governance/council/policy/gay-marriage.pdf

    American Academy of Pediatrics
    http://www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/full/118/1/349

    National Association of Social Workers
    http://www.socialworkers.org/diversity/lgb/062804.asp

    American Anthropological Association
    http://www.aaanet.org/issues/policy-advocacy/Statement-on-Marriage-and-the-Family.cfm

    Child Welfare League of America
    http://www.cwla.org/programs/culture/glbtqposition.htm

    North American Council on Adoptable Children
    http://www.nacac.org/policy/lgbtq.html

    American Psychoanalytic Association
    http://www.apsa.org/ABOUTAPSAA/POSITIONSTATEMENTS/MARRIAGERESOLUTION/tabid/470/Default.aspx


  8. D wrote: “A person I respect once told me: “Your will is God’s will.” I just about passed out, as I have always considered God’s will to be something totally distinct from me, and something I had to strive with all my might to reconcile with my own wayward will.

    This mentor then explained to me that God only wants us to be happy and fulfilled and lead the best life possible, and that the Universe (God) always flows towards us the things that we hold most dear in our heart. The only time that God is thwarted in this munificence and bounty (answering prayers, if you will) is if the things I want are in diametrical and logical in opposition. For example, I can’t have my will (God’s will) for a peaceful and serene existence if I also want to get tangled up in a war with my neighbors over property rights. It is a logical and physical impossibility.

    This was a big “aha” moment for me because I see that whatever I want is possible, so long as it doesn’t fly in the face of some other natural law. It is possible for me to be a happy and fulfilled and spiritual homosexual because this is my nature, and it is therefore in accordance with natural law.

    I think this idea sheds an entirely new light on the marriage vow: “We will all, verily, abide by the will of God.” What exactly is the will of God? And how does it relate to the natural world and science? The spiritual teachings of the Faith with regard to unity in diversity, equality, justice (best beloved), agreement of science and religion, all seem to trump any outmoded concepts of what a traditional marriage must look like. Did the Baha’is of Persia at one time arrange marriages? Is this still practiced? If not, why the change? Are there other examples of how the approach to marriage has evolved in the Faith?”


  9. X wrote: “the Kitabi Aqdas Baha’u’llah homosexuality is in the section of “prohibitions”
    http://reference.bahai.org/search?max=10&lang=en&first=1&query=homosexuality
    I don’t know how much clearer it can be…

    Sonja, as per justice; I’m sure that pedophiles feel that it’s very unjust that they’ve not been provided “equality” to pursue sexual/emotional relationships with children…I think the justice Baha’u’llah refers to is justice that He, Himself, has defined with His unerring judgment in the Most Holy Book. How can we, enmeshed as we are in a decaying/decadent society, assume to be objective as to what justice is if we don’t turn to the One that defines it-and has left a pristine Administrative Order, governed by the Universal House of Justice, to address the issues not explicitly described?”


    Those words you link to above: “homosexuality is spiritually condemned” are not Baha’ullah’s words but the words of Ruhiyyah Khanum writing a letter of behalf of Shoghi Effendi (pasted in below), but I realise going back and forth on this with you is not productive as it seems you view anything penned by a secretary as being as set in stone, or perhaps the same the writings of Baha’u’llah.


    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

    reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/MC/mc-205.html?query=homosexuality&action=highlight#gr1

    The point of my blog was to show that there are two aspects in our faith. What is not flexible, penned by Baha’u’llah for example and what is penned by the UHJ which is flexible, and that the authority of the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi do not seem to be clear (see examples here). I realise this is complicated and at times it feels as if I’m sifting around in the mud trying to come to grips with this myself.
    So for me the bottom line is, if it isn’t clear, then perhaps it isn’t set in stone. And the more I look around, the more it seems to me that these letters were not intended to be treated as inflexible Bahai Teachings but as guidance for the addresse. What drives me is the conviction that as a Bahai I shouldn’t have to resort to blind faith if I see a contradiction.

    If I see a contradiction I should look harder, discuss, hear other’s views and from that my belief is that I will come to a better understanding. What guides me is that the Bahai principles are principles that should not need to have ‘if’ and ‘but’ clauses. So it really is equality and it really is justice, not just for some types of people.

    Your example of the pedophile is about behaviour. For the Bahai community chastity is important. If a person runs around abusing other individuals, whether these were heterosexuals or not, that would be the issue at hand. In my discussions I’m talking about married chaste gay Bahais being denied a place in the Bahai community.
    If adults abuse children, that goes against justice and equality for children are not adults. And if these arguments do not show enough distinctions there is the Bahai principle of the harmony of science and religion. So if science shows that pedastry is harmful, and science shows that homosexuality is not harmful to others, there’s another argument Bahais could make about the distinctions between pedophilia and homosexuality aside from my own argument. Baha’u’llah mentions pedophilia in his own pen while there’s no mention of homosexuality.

    At the beginning of this discussion you suggested that I should write to the UHJ. As a Bahai I think I should try and work out understandings for myself – this is my interpretation of the Bahai pinciple of independent investigation.
    I don’t think Bahai’s should write to the UHJ for how they should see issues as I interprete this as treating the UHJ as some form of priest class. Also if all Bahai’s did this, they would be flooded with letters, when in my view the Bahai’s are being lazy. I feel that the UHJ has much more important things to do.
    If I run into an area where I’m really stuck, or need some material or if Bahai’s are threatening me, then I would consider it but I’d first search around to see if this material is not already available and would try to consult.
    I realise that some Bahais choose to read ‘homosexuality as spiritually condemned’ as if this is set in stone and so they can justify excluding homosexuals on equal terms. Although I suspect more Bahais find this troublesome, especially if they live in countries where homosexauls are not discriminated against, but feel it is wrong to discuss this. However even if these words had been written by Baha’u’llah as Bahais we may question and discuss these. One of the Bahai months is called Questions, so I’d argue that asking questions is a good thing for Bahais to engage in.
    How else will we ever come to understand?
    So let’s say this was a text written by Baha’ullah, my question would be, when was this written, since homosexuality (same sex partnerships) didn’t exist in his day. What was he referring to? Is this a condemnation of ellicit sexual acts in that case or a condemnation of the orientation? and so on. For me the Bahai Teachings are not a closed book but an ongoing investigation into how we apply these teachings into our lives – holistically – intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. We never stand stll. I am not expecting that other Bahais take my approach in asking questions and so on, but I do think that Bahai’s with differing views to mine shouldn’t jump in and assume that I am wrong for asking questions and or for having a differing point of view to theirs. And besides I learn most from those who have differing views to mine. It forces me to dig deeper. So thanks for your questions.


  10. This may sound a little trivial but I mean it quite seriously. If a set of laws a discrimatory against homosexuals, how do you define homosexuals? There are a wide variety of sexual orientations, many men who engage in sexual activitiy with other men consider themselves heterosexuals fulfilling a desire, many people only like people of the same gender until a point in life where they find themselves attracted to somebody of the opposite gender, these examples are not to suggest that there are not a group of people who will never find the opposite sex attractive, but rather to illustrate the need to ask the question, how do you define homosexual, who are these laws discrinating against?

    There are a growing number of people suggesting that sexual orientation between humans is not black and white and that, similarly with many animal species, all humans may enjoy relations with both genders to a greater or lesser extent, our need to define ourselves as heterosexual or homosexual may be cultural rather than biological.

    I am yet to be convinced that a religion that promotes love, however fine, between all people, same gender or otherwise, and forbids sex outside of a marriage between different genders is discriminating against those who do not feel sexually attracted to the other sex, to me it is basically saying “no sex” to everyone, gay or not, unless you want to be in a particular kind of relationship. It says this is the way sex is to be used according to God, either we agree or disagree, if we agree but do not wish for such a relationship then we focus on the teachings that suggest the greatest unity is in nearness to God and not sexuality.

    With respect to all American organisations saying homosexuality is a normal state of mind, there are many things outlawed by religion that society thinks it is acceptable to both crave and to enjoy, that does not make things spiritually right for us.

    I think the point is well made about the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, I looked at the reference in the Kitab-i-Aqdas mentioned above and looked at the notes in the back where it states that Shoghi Effendi said that this referred to all forms of homosexuality, so perhaps whomever published those notes is the person to ask for this reference.

    Just some thoughts I wanted to share, and that question about the definition.

    Thanks


  11. Terry, how do you define heterosexual? Do you define it by the actions of the reality shows on television where people have sex with multiple partner, or marry each other for ratings on a television show? Or do you define it by a fortress of well-being to raise a family? I take it you believe that the highest good for society is to use sexuality to create the family unit, correct? Guess what? Gays are doing this too- if you could only wrap your head around that. If you put your dogma aside, you would see that without prejudice, but I don’t think you can Terry. So instead you cling to dogma (in this case the secondhand writings of human beings writing on behalf of a Guardian) just as many other religions have clung onto their secondhand writings.. Catholics with dictates from the Pope, Muslims with their hadiths and now Bahais with their letters written on behalf of…it’s all sad dogma that puts the principles of the Faith last- principles such as equality, unity, love, harmony of science and religion, etc.
    So Terry, if you are going to compare ALL homosexuality to terrible things that one craves, then I will do the same to your heterosexuality and your fortresses of well-being. Cheers!


  12. It is not our place to judge. I will support the right of all individuals to be themselves – including marrying the person they love. I will raise my voice in support of gay marriage because it gives all people the same right to choose a legal partner. This is a social law and therefore, subject to change. The only spiritual laws that I can apply are the ones that pertain to me and my behavior, of which, not passing judgement on other people is the first. Thank you for bringing this discussion to light.



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