Archive for February, 2014

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The Baha’i Faith is not Anti-Gay – Letter to a dogmatist

February 19, 2014

Dear S,

The text is “We shrink, for very shame, from treating the subject of boys. Fear ye the Merciful, O peoples of the world! Commit not that which is forbidden you in Our Holy Tablet, and be not of those who rove distractedly in the wilderness of their desire.”Baha’u’llah, page 58, Kitab-i-Adqas, 1992 English edition (click to view the source online)

In your comments you confuse pederasty (sex with children) with homosexuality. This is like blaming rape on heterosexuality. I hope you might now see how offensive it is to mix up something as horrific, as shameful as the sexual abuse of children, with someone’s sexual orientation.

My blog here goes into more detail about the context for this text by Baha’u’llah ( … the Arabic term Baha’u’llah used “ghulaam” refers to: slave, page; lad, or servant, and exclusively males. The ‘subject of boys’ is/was the middle eastern practice young boys being treated like a sex slave…) –

You then state: “Read this and know for yourself why flagrantly unrepentant homosexuals are shunned by the majority members of international Baha’i community.”

I as a Bahai find the above statement flagrantly offensive. Such statements bring the Baha’i Faith into disrepute.

I quote you only so that I can respond in the hope that you can be educated and to show the world that Baha’u’llah’s Teachings are not homophobic.

I hope one day more and more Baha’is will speak up to show that they support the Universal House of Justice’s 2010 policy, which is a change from earlier policies to one of urging the Baha’i community to support the rights of all gays and lesbians:

    “Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished.”

Baha’u’llah Gleanings, p. 95.

“…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 – letter to an individual, 27 Oct 2010.

My blog here goes into some detail on how I think L.S.A.s could work in line with this latest policy of the Universal House of Justice: link (Until recently, the Universal House of Justice referred to homosexuality as an aberration or as an illness, but this policy has changed. Since 2010, the policy of the Universal House of Justice asks Baha’i communities to work at removing any discrimination against gays or lesbians, whether they are Baha’is or not).

If you want to understand some background to Baha’u’llah’s text: “Ye are forbidden to commit zenaa’ (fornication), lewaat (sexual perversions) and kheyaanat (infidelity).” [Usually translated as “Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.”] See: https://justabahai.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/a-bahai-view-of-homosexuality-and-gay-rights/#liwaat

Here, I’ve gone to the original Arabic to understand better what Baha’u’llah meant. You might wonder why I did this. Well sodomy doesn’t mean homosexuality. And my motive was to try and understand the Baha’i teaching of equality for all and the current official Baha’i policy –which is that unmarried gays are expected to be celibate. As far I know the Universal House of Justice has not made any policy for same sex marriage. In the 2010 letter they state that the Baha’i community should not take sides on the political question concerning marriage equality.

Admittedly the 2010 policy is a recent change in policy, but it surprises me when Baha’is such as yourself appear ignorant of how prejudiced it is to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

The Baha’i Teaching is not equality for all – except for gays and lesbians – is it? So I started hunting around to find out where these homophobic statements come from and I found that they don’t come from Baha’i Scripture – have another look at the notes section you referred to in the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

You wrote: “Homosexuality is listed as the eighteenth (xviii in Roman numerals) prohibition in the ‘Synopsis and Codification’ of the aforementioned book. Likewise, there is also Note 134 of the same book which is quite lengthy. Read this and know for yourself why flagrantly unrepentant homosexuals are shunned by the majority members of international Baha’i community.”

These notes are written in the third person in reference to Shoghi Effendi, so that means these were penned by the Universal House of Justice’s representative or the research department. They refer to letters written the Guardian’s behalf, not his own writing. I urge you to study the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, which outlines the authority of the Universal House of Justice to make and change its own policy. If you study the Baha’i Covenant you will discover that Baha’i Scripture is only penned by The Bab and Baha’u’llah; and we take anything penned by Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi as authoritative on par with scripture. Letters penned on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf by his secretaries in the 1930s to 1950s, such as the letter on the condemnation of birth control, have a lower status or authority, where they were intended as advice or if it was clear in the letter that they were instructions for the specific person they were addressed to (see: The 1932 Letter Written on Behalf of the Guardian which addresses the status of these letters).

You are also mistaken about gays and lesbians being shunned by Baha’is. Perhaps in your own community they are shunned — but they are not in many other communities and some Baha’i communities celebrate and support their gay and lesbian members. In fact many Baha’is I’ve encountered in diverse communities around the world tell me they want to support full equal treatment for their gay and lesbian community members but seldom express this because they fear any cause for disunity. However by saying nothing, views such as yours end up being dominant — hence this “justabahai” blog which expresses my points of view as a Bahai.

According to the Universal House of Justice, it is time Baha’is started to stand up for the rights of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and encourage other Baha’is to do the same. More and more, people are doing that in a public forum of support and visibility run by Baha’is: http://gaybahai.net
So on one level I understand how you might think that gays and lesbians are shunned, because you might not hear Baha’is such as myself voice themselves publicly. But we do exist, just as much as the 10% of our brothers and sisters who are gay.

You wrote:
“As a member of an LSA I can tell that the most you would risk is a temporary or permanent loss of voting rights. Temporary if you change your ways to acceptable Baha’i ways and permanent if you are more committed to the homosexual ’cause’ than the Baha’i cause. Only an NSA can take away or restore someone’s voting rights. Someone who has lost their voting rights within a Baha’i community is no longer seen as a “true”, “loyal”, “committed” or “devoted” Baha’i. In other words, they are Baha’is in name only but not in deed.”

Well Baha’u’llah put it very well: “Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.”

Your use of the term “flagrantly unrepentant homosexuals” shows everyone by your words that you are prejudiced against gays and lesbians. On one level I’d say, that doesn’t show the universality of the Baha’i community in a very good light — but more importantly it misrepresents the Baha’i community as a community that discriminates. Discrimination is to make judgments about people because of their identity, in this case (in your words) as “flagrantly unrepentant homosexuals.”

Which is more praiseworthy in the world, and in my view for the Baha’i community, words such as yours, or words that express the Baha’i Teachings of spirituality, acceptance and oneness, and actions that reflect the Baha’i principles of equality, justice, and unity in diversity? (A list of the Bahai Principles is here)

Sorry to come down so hard on you here, but I think it is important that you realize that your words are based on your own prejudice. A Baha’i who has lost their voting rights is no less than any other Baha’i in terms of being a Baha’i. The sanction denies them participation in some Baha’i activities such as attending feasts and being able to vote – the degree of the sanctions on attendance depends on the N.S.A. who usually state what these specific sanctions entail. If a gay and lesbian Baha’i has their voting rights removed because of being a ‘flagrantly unrepentant homosexual,’ well… who is to judge what this even means? This is what a Letter Written on Behalf of the Guardian says about removal of administrative rights:

“Concerning your question as to the status of those individuals whom the Local Assembly or the N.S.A. have considered it necessary to deprive of the voting right and to suspend from local meetings and gatherings; such action which Local and National Assemblies have been empowered to take against such recalcitrant members, however justified and no matter how severe, should under no circumstances be considered as implying the complete expulsion of the individuals affected from the Cause. The suspension of voting and other administrative rights of an individual, always conditional and therefore temporary, can never have such far reaching implications, since it constitutes merely an administrative sanction; whereas his expulsion or ex-communication from the Faith, which can be effected by the Guardian alone in his capacity as the supreme spiritual head of the community, has far-reaching spiritual implications affecting the very soul of that believer. The former, as already stated, is an administrative sanction, whereas the latter is essentially spiritual, involving not only the particular relationship of a believer to his local or National Assembly, but his very spiritual existence in the Cause. It follows, therefore, that a believer can continue calling himself a Bahá’í even though he may cease to be a voting member of the community. But in case he is excluded from the body of the Cause by an act of the Guardian he ceases to be a believer and cannot possibly identify himself even nominally with the Faith.”
(Letter Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, undated, Directives from the Guardian, p. 81 + 82, (click to view the source online). Copyright 1973 by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Hawaiian Islands. Published by the Bahá’í Publishing Trust, India. and which is also in “The Principles of Bahai Administration” (1973 edition)

And this is what the Universal House of Justice says:
“Although generally speaking a believer deprived of his voting rights is not restricted except as stated above, the following privileges have been expressly stipulated as not denied: He may attend the observances of the nine Holy Days. He may attend any Bahá’í function open to non-Bahá’ís. He may receive any publication available to non-Bahá’ís. He is free to teach the Faith as every individual believer has been enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh to teach. Association with other believers is not forbidden. He may have the Bahá’í burial service if he or his family requests it, and he may be buried in a Bahá’í cemetery. Bahá’í charity should not be denied him on the ground that he has lost he voting rights. Bahá’í institutions may employ him, but should use discretion as to the type of work he is to perform. He should have access to the spiritual Assembly.”
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 61-62)

If your voice was representative of Baha’i communities or LSA policy (which thankfully I know it is not) I would never go to another Baha’i feast because Baha’u’llah’s principles of equality and justice are too important to me. Please re-read your words above and do some reading of the Baha’i writings to address your prejudice against gays and lesbians.

You wrote:
“From the perspective of the Guardian, people who have lost their voting rights, are to be regarded by the mainstream Baha’i community as being “second-rate” covenant breakers, since they would rather be disobedient and follow their own will than that of God via His mouthpiece, Baha’u’llah. I shall pray you and others who are similarly afflicted. Please do for your own ultimate good, heed these words.”

These are not the words of the Guardian. These are your own ideas. See the words of the Guardian above. The following should give you an indication of the policy of the removal of voting rights:
” … Every case is different, and there is more than one variable consideration to take into account, for example, the circumstances of the individual, the degree to which the good name of the Faith is involved, whether the offence is blatant and flagrant. Over and over again the beloved Guardian urged Assemblies to be extremely patient and forbearing in dealing with the friends. He pointed out on many occasions that removal of administrative rights is the heaviest sanction which Assemblies may impose at the present time. These considerations apply to the types of problems you mention in your letter. In all such cases it is for the Assembly to determine at what point the conduct is blatant and flagrant or is harmful to the name of the Faith. They must determine whether the believer has been given sufficient warning before the imposition of sanctions.

While it can be a severe test to a Bahá’í to see fellow believers violating Bahá’í laws or engaging in conduct inimical to the welfare and best interests of the Faith, there is no fixed rule that a believer must follow when such conduct comes to his notice. A great deal depends upon the seriousness of the offence and upon the relationship which exists between him and the offender.

If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith the believer to whose attention it comes should immediately report it to the Local Spiritual Assembly. Once it is in the hands of the Assembly the believer’s obligation is discharged and he should do no more than pray for the offender and continue to show him friendship and encouragement – unless, of course, the Spiritual Assembly asks him to take specific action.

Sometimes, however, the matter does not seem grave enough to warrant reporting to the Spiritual Assembly, in which case it may be best to ignore it altogether. There are also other things that can be done by the Bahá’í to whose notice such things come. For example he could foster friendly relations with the individual concerned, tactfully drawing him into Bahá’í activities in the hope that, as his knowledge of the teachings and awareness of the Faith deepens, he will spontaneously improve his patterns of conduct. Or perhaps the relationship is such that he can tactfully draw the offender’s attention to the teachings on the subject – but here he must be very careful not to give him the impression of prying into a fellow-believer’s private affairs or of telling him what he must do, which would not only be wrong in itself but might well produce the reverse of the desired reaction.

If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’í’s misconduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or Assistant.

Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offence.”
(Universal House of Justice to an individual, February 20, 1977)

Here are two links to a collection of policies by the Universal House of Justice regarding voting rights:
http://bahai-library.com/compilation_removal_administrative_rights;
bahairesearch.com

Please note that in this compilation there is no mention of the term ‘”second-rate” covenant breaker’ so I guess this is something you have made up and decided to claim that this a practice of “the mainstream Baha’i community.” I hope you take heed from the policy of the Universal House of Justice’s policy above, “If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith …”

How would you feel if I reported you for what I consider blatant prejudice and flagrant misrepresentation which threatens the interests of the Faith? Of course, I have no intention of doing such a thing, because I think it is better to write this to you in the hope that you might realize that whatever personal prejudice you may harbor against homosexuals and as an individual you are free to express, you should no longer make the statements you have made, as if your views represent the Baha’i community.

“Homophobia impacts on all of us.
It diminishes our humanity”

Stephen Fry, 2013

Errata:
In my original blog above I’d used the following:
This is what the Guardian says about removal of administrative rights:

“A person whose administrative rights of membership in the Baha’i community have been removed is a Baha’i at heart if he still recognizes Bahá’u’lláh and believes in His Revelation. Since his spiritual commitment is not in question, his continuing Baha’i life can include worship of God through the prayers of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and observance of the Fast, of the Baha’i Holy Days, and of all the personal and family occasions of the Faith. He has access to the literature of the Faith and, unless specified otherwise by the National Spiritual Assembly, may attend proclamation meetings and Baha’i school sessions that are open to the public. He may subscribe to Brilliant Star and World Order Magazine and other general publications, but he cannot receive The American Bahá’í. He cannot have a Bahá’í marriage or go on pilgrimage.”
(Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration p. 88 (click to view the source online)

But it now seems that this quotation might not be authentic and it appears that it is probably a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and not something penned by Shoghi Effendi, and so I replaced it with another similar quotation. The reason it appears not to be authentic is that the passage doesn’t appear in a hard-copy of the fourth edition, 1976, and there’s no mention of any revision since the first edition in 1950 — although there do seem to have been minor revisions to account for the Universal House of Justice taking over functions formerly held by the Guardian. The American Baha’i did not exist during the lifetime of Shoghi Effendi. The first issue of The American Baha’i was published (Vol. 1, no. 1) in January 1970. Bob Ballenger was the editor and he was the one who came up with the name.
The U.S. Bahai produced magazine, World Order existed at the time of the Guardian, and had been suspended during the Depression. Then it was later restarted.
However the publication “Principles of Baha’i Administration” doesn’t distinguish between Shoghi Effendi’s own writing nor Letters Written on his behalf (See “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,…“) nor does it date anything nor give any sources.

There is a reference to the American Bahai Magazine being suspended during Shoghi Effendi’s time, as a 1957 letter on his behalf states:

…As regards the “Herald of the South” magazine, … it is some years since the American Bahá’í Magazine was abandoned for similar reasons, and the Guardian feels that you can do so in Australia, and the funds be used to better advantage, at this time.
(Arohanui – Letters to New Zealand, p. 76, Letter Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, July 19th, 1957)

In the undated text above a typist might have substituted “The American Baha’i” for “The American Baha’i Magazine” or perhaps “Baha’i News.”

The 1973 edition of “Principles of Baha’i Administration” online at http://bahai-library.com; also does not have this quotation.

Admittedly these points are minors things and typing errors are part and parcel of life, but my goal is to only to refer to texts that can be authenticated. It seems most likely that The American Bahai Magazine might have existed in the time of Shoghi Effendi, and then was suspended and perhaps a typist in the undated text, dropped the word, “Magazine.” If we could find out the dates for the publication of “The American Bahai Magazine” then that would be way to date this text and then perhaps to find a source for this.
Bob Ballenger wrote:
“For the record, as far as I know, the name “The American Baha’i” was never used previously. In the late 1960s, there were enough old timers such as Charlotte Linfoot still working in Wilmette, that I think either I or my boss would have heard if the name had been used previously. Of course, it is possible that there was an “American Baha’i Magazine” published before I came up with the name in the fall of 1969. But, my feeling is that, if there had been a publication with that name, it would have been fairly distant in the past. There was, of course, “Baha’i News,” which was an official publication of the National Baha’i Center but, if memory serves, that had petered out well before I came to Wilmette in the September, 1969. When I was brought on board to start a monthly newspaper, there was some discussion about the name. My boss in Wilmette, Salvatore Pelle (who later moved to Hawaii and served on its NSA for a number of years) wanted to call the publication the “Baha’i Star” or perhaps the “Baha’i Tribune.” I felt those names were a bit too generic and I argued for “The American Baha’i.” I think that title made some folks a bit uneasy because they felt, as a world religion, calling the newspaper “The American Baha’i” sounded too nationalistic. My argument was that this publication was for the American Baha’i community and its title should reflect that.” (personal correspondence with Sonja van Kerkhoff, 20 February 2014)