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Sympathy for gay Bahais is not good enough

June 20, 2012
Detail of a cartoon by Mike Luckovich, click to see the whole cartoon.

Click to view the whole cartoon.

A sympathetic Bahai wrote:
I suppose there is no easy way to reconcile your experience with anything other than what you term homophobic.
I am wondering if ANY Baha’i, short of denouncing the mainstream “official” interpretation, will be able to be seen otherwise – no matter how loving, compassionate, etc. – since the very teachings are what you object to.

It is not a Bahai Teaching to discriminate against LGBT Bahais.

I interpret a 2010 letter from the Universal House of Justice as superceding previous statements from the UHJ.

It states: “…With respect to your question concerning the position Baha’is are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following. The purpose of the Faith of Baha’u’llah is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and 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.” Letter from the Universal House of Justice, 27 October 2010.

(the Full letter is here)

The next part of the letter states 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.”

Then the letter ends with:
“In working for social justice, Baha’is must inevitably distinguish between those dimensions of public issues that are in keeping with the Baha’i Teachings, which they can actively support, and those that are not, which they would neither promote nor necessarily oppose. In connection with issues of concern to homosexuals, the former would be freedom from discrimination and the latter the opportunity for civil marriage. Such distinctions are unavoidable when addressing any social issue. For example, Baha’is actively work for the establishment of world peace but, in the process, do not engage in partisan political activities directed against particular governments.”

So a Bahai could stand up for the rights of a gay couple by arguing that the LSA take a neutral stance, if there was a situation of a married gay wishing to join. Individual Bahais could and most likely will have diverse views on this. It is best if the community would discuss this, but the bottom line, as I understand the guidance from the UHJ, should be that the actions of the community will aim toward a neutral position, or at least a position that does not go against the Bahai Teachings relative to “the organic unity of the entire human race”. (Letter from the UHJ to an individual, 27 October 2010)

This Bahai also wrote: Of course the actions of Baha’is are an issue too, compounding the problem, but, as you say, anything short of ‘we love you, and you and your partner, spouse are welcome here’ will still be considered ‘homophobic.’

My response to the above is: “Of course it is homophobic! If an African American spouse wasn’t welcomed at a Bahai event or in the community because of their skin colour that would be called racism.

So my suggestion is that Bahais need to say that it is rude, and show that such rudeness could be interpreted as homophobic, if the next time a gay is present, their partner is ignored, or their identity as being gay is treated as if this is inappropriate or problematic. These things need to be discussed so Bahais can learn to undo the current trend or tendency which is that Bahais assume gays cannot be visible or proud or out of the closet. How can we celebrate unity in diversity unless we value all, equally.

If someone feels sorry for you, then this implies that you are lesser, worse off, afflicted. And if a person feels sorry for another because they are gay? Well, there’s no other word for it but “homophobia”–the view that being gay is a form of affliction (sometimes referred to as “a test”). So first Bahais have to face the fact that treating a gay person, Bahai or not, differently is discrimination, and then a community has to show by deeds that it is working on removing this discrimination.

Accepting gay couples without discrimination is the tip of the iceberg. If a Bahai community works at this, then the prejudice will ease. Bahais need to discuss these things in order to change the status quo. A turning point would be for Bahais to deepen on what is actual Bahai Scripture and what is not. Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi are used adamantly to denounce gays, but they are ignored when the topic is on the wrongs of birth control.

I realise that for many Bahais it is too much of a leap to think that the idea, ‘being gay is equal to being diseased’ is not based on anything authored by Baha’u’llah, Abdul-Bahai or Shoghi Effendi. (It isn’t, in fact.) So instead I would say focus on the issue of homophobia just as Bahai communities have worked hard and admirably on racism. Work at demonstrating in tangible ways that we accept homosexuality as part of God’s creation.

From Baha’u’llah: “I loved thy creation, hence I created thee.” (There are more examples celebrating human nature in holistic terms here)

So work at making your own Bahai community a place where, if a Bahai says: So it is living openly with a partner and wanting to be an ‘active’ Baha’i that causes the problem,” you or others will see that the real problem is that the community doesn’t “accept” an active Bahai who has a same-sex partner. Removal of voting rights should only be applied if it is an issue of immorality, and since the 2010 UHJ letter states that Bahai communities should remain neutral, I’d say it would make sense for the LSA to follow the law of the state on this, and when in doubt to show tolerance, so Bahai law is applied as a “choice wine” and not like a hammer for exclusion. If the idea of accepting gay Bahais who are married on equal terms with other married couples upsets a Bahai community, or even just one individual in the community, then that is where the root of the problem lies. Work on that. The rest will work itself out once discrimination against homosexuality is treated as a breach of the Bahai principles of equality and justice.

If a Bahai states This is an impass I cannot see my way around,” then I think that they just don’t care. They don’t care enough to stick their neck out. They don’t care enough about the Bahai Teachings (my apologies if this sounds harsh) because the Bahai Teachings are not homophobic. If it helps, pass on any argument that you see as an “impass” and I’ll show you from the Writings that it isn’t. My blog is an attempt at showing that it is not impossible for a Bahai community to be welcoming to gays, and I know of one out of the closet married gay Bahai whose community accepts him as he is.

Start with believing it is possible for a Bahai community to treat its gay members on equal terms, and take the steps towards making your Bahai community welcoming for people of all persuasions. Start with bringing this up as a topic at feast, or make it a topic for a deepening, so Bahais have time and space to look at the issues. If that is too hard, then work on yourself and deepen in the Bahai Scripture (if that is the issue for you) or start seeing homosexuality as an aspect of diversity and not as an imperfection. Trust me, many gays have contributed to society.

Mark Tobey in 1971. Image is from the Bahai-library.org

Mark Tobey in 1971.
Image is from the Bahai-library.org

Just think: it is Alan Turing‘s 100th birthday next week (the inventor of the Turing machine a precursor to the computer among other inventions. In 2009 the British government issued a formal apology for persecuting him for being a homosexual). What if he had never lived?

And then we have the painter Mark Tobey, a gay Bahai who was clearly welcomed in his community, or else he would not have stayed and he would have kept his sexuality and partner private. He didn’t, which indicates what a special community he was part of. However Mark Tobey is an exception. I wonder if Daniel Orey’s voting rights would be returned to him and if the U.S. Bahai community would ever apologize for the heartache caused by informing him that he would have to divorce in order to participate in Bahai feasts. And sadly I know of many more examples, but Daniel is one of the few willing to let the world see how he has been discriminated against (his voting rights were removed in 2009, a year after he married his partner.
I state these things because if Bahais do not hear of this, they think there is no discrimination. If they do not see any gays in their community they might think, gays are not interested in Baha’u’llah’s Teachings. Instead, the reality is that gays are not welcome! Sympathy is not good enough. We need to work at changing the attitude that there is something wrong with being gay. We need to actively be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.”
“Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.”
(Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words)

4 comments

  1. My understanding is that to become a Baha’i is to make a declaration of intent. Despite 40 years of trying to bring my own life into closer harmony with the lofty ideals of the Baha’i teachings I reckon that I am still full of prejudice and attitudes that others might find distasteful or unacceptable in some way. I am sure I cause offense all the time to others without realizing it and we all probably have such blind spots. Taking part in Baha’i community life has given me a wonderful opportunity to confront my own limitations in this regard as we struggle towards maturity. I have met and been exposed to many different types of people whom I would not ordinarily expect to meet or work closely with and I believe that given the fewness of our numbers this all the more remarkable. The unity we strive for is inclusive and requires both patience, forbearance and forgiveness in addition to the love and fellowship we have a right to expect. As a an ex-communist and hard line socialist I wanted to line all the rich people up and shoot them then as a Baha’i I found myself serving on as assembly with an ex-chairman of the local conservative party who seemed to me to somewhat to the right of Genghis Khan in his politics. It took me years to move from aversion to a passive tolerance then to active engagement and then true love and respect. Years later I humbly washed his body and prayed for his eternal soul as I prepared him for his final journey and read the the eulogy at his funeral.

    Whether male or female I still feel a personal revulsion towards certain kinds of overt sexual behaviour, especially those of a predatory nature and feel angry at attempts to persuade me that all things sexual are natural and wholesome. I realize it is unfashionable to say so, but I regard the normalization of flamboyant and even promiscuous behaviour as damaging to the healthy development of the individual, which in turn, also acts against the emergence of strong trusting relationships between people. My struggle therefore is to reconcile my support for homosexuals who have their civil rights abused with my aversion to certain aspects of some Gay political agendas which, akin to fascism seeks to demonize anyone who disagrees with them. This is another example of the classic liberal paradox which labels all alternative views as homophobic.

    I was a victim of homosexual rape once and it took me a long time to overcome the memory of the experience. Part of my healing was the realization that such abuse is widespread and is more about power relations than actual sex and also that genuine love has the capacity to transcend all physical hurts. I have forgiven my attackers and since then always sought to confront my own prejudice by welcoming “all with the light of oneness” I would say that my faith as a Baha’i had greatly helped in that process teaching me first to be non judgmental and secondly to focus on the spiritual reality of those fellow travelers I am privileged to meet. My life has thus been enriched by countless souls on many different point on the gender spectrum. We are all wayfarers and all that unites us sometimes is our vision of the road ahead and our common humanity. Where we have come from or how we choose to travel this road is not important but we sometimes bring baggage with us which is hard to let go. I believe it is possible to be a true well wisher of all mankind and to be blind to gender without necessarily giving acceptance of all aspects of gay lifestyles and do not believe myself to be a hypocrite for doing so.

    I see many of the issues described in your blog more as struggles in the politics of identity rather than expressions of mere prejudice. Discrimination is obscene and hurtful and it is right that you should bring it to our attention. If my brother is in pain I am in pain. I am happy to actively campaign for the rights and equal respect for all and continue to do so especially for the rights of women, victims of poverty or institutionalized violence and, perhaps a sign of my advancing years, for the elderly and infirm who I believe often suffer most for they are without any advocacy or support. To my brothers and sisters in the gay and transgender communities I say you are not alone in your struggle for love and acceptance. It is my belief that we all consciously or subconsciously seek that sacred union which transcends this earthly plane and despite the baggage that weighs me down I hope to meet you there.


  2. There is a way for Bahai teachings to be seen as not conflicting with the gay rights agenda. Just be sure there is no double standard. A heterosexual couple that is not married should not be living together, or spending the night together. For instance, they shouldn’t be telling their Bahai friends that they went on an 3-day vacation together, because the implication is that they were sharing a hotel room. That is shameful, and the couple taking that vacation should feel that they better not tell their friends in the Bahai community. And if they do tell them, they shouldn’t feel insulted if Bahai friends give a few surprised looks, or even a comment. This is how the notion of SHAME enforces sexual morality. I cannot quote the source, but there is a Bahai writing on SHAME being the best enforcer of moral codes, not laws, and certainly not individual people taking action into their own hands.

    Therefore the objection I’m hearing from gay Bahai’s that they shouldn’t have to feel shame in the presence of other Bahai’s regarding their same-sex relationship is NOT a double-standard. As I have shown, it can apply to heterosexual couples as well.

    The Faith is clear that all sex except for that occurring within the marriage of one man and one woman is shameful in the eyes of God and against the Will of God. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around it, and as a single heterosexual man this is a personal struggle for me in this age of open sexuality.

    The UHJ has repeatedly clarified that homosexual sex is not consistent with the teachings of the Faith. They do have the authority to make such statements, and their word is binding on all Bahai’s. It is not appropriate for each person to look back at the Teachings of Baha’u’llah and try to interpret them in a new way. That’s how Christianity got all messed up. The Bahai “Age of Interpretation” ended in 1957 with the passing of Shoghi Effendi.

    If one simply cannot change their lifestyle to conform to God’s sexual laws, it is better to accept in one’s mind that one is living a wrong lifestyle and making mistakes. This is also true for heterosexual couples engaging in sex prior to marriage or even a committed relationship. In the meantime, be completely accepting of God and of your Faith (whatever your Faith may be). The mindset of accepting God, and accepting that God’s laws are correct for modern society, is pivotal. Actually following God’s laws is also very important, but the mindset is even more important. Avoid at all costs the mindset of giving up on religion and spirituality because one cannot follow the sexual teachings of your Faith. Accept at all times that there should be sexual values and standards for society, no matter how strenuously the entertainment, fashion, advertising, and media industries promote otherwise.


    • Thanks for your comments Eric Martindale,
      you wrote: “The Faith is clear that all sex except for that occurring within the marriage of one man and one woman is shameful in the eyes of God and against the Will of God. Unfortunately, there’s no getting around it, and as a single heterosexual man this is a personal struggle for me in this age of open sexuality.”

      It seems to me that you are mixing up sexual activity with sexuality by your phrase “open sexuality”. Someone being openly gay is not the same as meaning that they are not chaste. I assume you meant ‘sex’ as I cannot imagine how a gay or lesbian person could pose any threat to a ‘single heterosexual man’.

      You state that sex is shameful “against the Will of God” unless it is within marriage between a man and woman and assuming that you are a Bahai as I am, for me one can only make such a statement if this is expressed in Baha’s Scripture. As a Baha’i of course you are free to interpret the Bahai Writings but saying “I think” or in “my view it is the will of God” is different to what you wrote above. Please show me where in Bahai Scripture there is any statement that states that marriage is “of one man and one woman” – I suggest you start with the Kitabi-i-Aqdas. You might be surprised to read this:

      “God hath prescribed matrimony unto you. Beware that ye take not unto yourselves more wives than two. Whoso contenteth himself with a single partner from among the maidservants of God, both he and she shall live in tranquillity. And he who would take into his service a maid may do so with propriety. Such is the ordinance which, in truth and justice, hath been recorded by the Pen of Revelation.”

      Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 63, page 41 in the 1992 edition. http://bahai-library.com/writings/bahaullah/aqdas/ (scroll down to paragraph 63)
      In the introduction of the same book:
      “In general, the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are stated succinctly. An example of this conciseness can be seen in the fact that many are expressed only as they apply to a man, but it is apparent from the Guardian’s writings that, where Bahá’u’lláh has given a law as between a man and a woman, it applies mutatis mutandis between a woman and a man unless the context makes this impossible.”

      http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/KA/ka-2.html#gr17

      So what needs to be asked is, is a same sex marriage impossible?
      In some countries same sex marriage has been not only a legal entity for over a decade but there is even a study indicating that the children of lesbian couples fare better. See: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19014-children-of-lesbian-parents-do-better-than-their-peers.html

      You wrote:
      “The UHJ has repeatedly clarified that homosexual sex is not consistent with the teachings of the Faith. They do have the authority to make such statements, and their word is binding on all Bahai’s. It is not appropriate for each person to look back at the Teachings of Baha’u’llah and try to interpret them in a new way. That’s how Christianity got all messed up. The Bahai “Age of Interpretation” ended in 1957 with the passing of Shoghi Effendi.”

      A response to the above would require a blog explaining the differences between the U.H.J. as legislator and Shoghi Effendi as interpretor and I do not have the time to do this at the moment. Authority is not the same as interpretation. The UHJ has authority to change its own policy. You imply that Bahais are not to read and interpret the Bahai Writings or teachings for themselves. I would say that Bahai’s are encouraged to do this. Abdul-Baha wrote:

      “There have issued, from His mighty Pen, various teachings for the prevention of war, and these have been scattered far and wide.

      The first is the independent investigation of truth; for blind imitation of the past will stunt the mind. But once every soul inquireth into truth, society will be freed from the darkness of continually repeating the past.”
      (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 248)

      And Shoghi Effendi: “Those who participate in such a campaign, whether in an organizing capacity, or as workers to whose care the execution of the task itself has been committed, must, as an essential preliminary to the discharge of their duties, thoroughly familiarize themselves with the various aspects of the history and teachings of their Faith.

      In their efforts to achieve this purpose they must study for themselves, conscientiously and painstakingly, the literature of their Faith, delve into its teachings, assimilate its laws and principles, ponder its admonitions, tenets and purposes, commit to memory certain of its exhortations and prayers, master the essentials of its administration, and keep abreast of its current affairs and latest developments. They must strive to obtain, from sources that are authoritative and unbiased, a sound knowledge of the history and tenets of Islam — the source and background of their Faith — and approach reverently and with a mind purged from preconceived ideas the study of the Qur’án which, apart from the sacred scriptures of the Bábí and Bahá’í Revelations, constitutes the only Book which can be regarded as an absolutely authenticated Repository of the Word of God. They must devote special attention to the investigation of those institutions and circumstances that are directly connected with the origin and birth of their Faith, with the station claimed by its Forerunner, and with the laws revealed by its Author.”
      (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 49)


  3. Thank-you SO very much for your candid, well researched, & well informed talks about this issue of homosexuality & the Baha’i faith it has been a topic on my mind & of varying concern. I’ve been bahai for 19 years. I am bisexual & i have a number of gay friends. Of the two (gay) friends who are bahai & decidedly abstinant, I have an admiration for the choice they have made & there energy that would otherwise have been filtered into a sexual relationship reflects obviously in their life, they are two of the most well read, humble, interesting people in the faith I know. ( one is a woman one is a man) this is not to take away from the points you have made because instill am troubled by the discrimaton, the ‘pity’ if anything I think we shld honor others for their differences are what make them special, gifted, as well, but I also wonder why not could if Simone is really in love they not marry too??? Anyways I just wanted to honor your awesome blogg you’ve made some great points & backed them up ;,) THANKS! Alla’u’abha !



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