Archive for March, 2014

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A petition against discrimination and response from the Universal House of Justice

March 27, 2014

12 May 2008

Honorable Universal House of Justice,

My name is Sean X and I am a Baha’i residing in xx, California. It is with much humbleness I come to write you this letter regarding a much unfortunate situation.

On April 21, 2008 I heard from a local member of my Baha’i community that my parents X and X resigned from the Local Spiritual Assembly of Riverside California (they were re-elected on Ridvan as well as my sister X) and that my sister X and I were being investigated at the World Centre.

On April 22, 2008 I contacted my Auxiliary Board Member for Protection with my concerns regarding the aforementioned information and to set up a meeting with him and my family. On May 5, 2008 my family and I met with our Auxiliary Board Member for Protection, it was at this meeting we found out that I was under investigation at the World Centre over a petition called “Speak Up Against Baha’i Discrimination Against Homosexuals” that I signed and forwarded to adult Baha’is in my local area (including my Auxiliary Board Member for Protection). My Auxiliary Board Member for Protection was not informed of the source of this very petition and did not know of the Baha’is sites I believed to have found the petition on such as “The Gay Baha’i Website” and Planet Baha’i.

I am truly sorry if my actions have caused any trouble. I signed and forwarded this petition in the emotion of the moment, and in retrospect it was not a good idea. Causing the Faith any harm was not my intention. The facts on the petition site may or may not be true upon further investigation (the anti-gay protest in Uganda and the Baha’i involvement in it) , and working with incomplete information is never a good course of action. The Cause of Baha’u’llah means the world to me , I would be incomplete without it. To see the Faith damaged in any manner due to my actions would leave me heartbroken. In the future when any situation like this occurs,I am positive I will consult with the Institutions and trusted Baha’i friends before taking any similar action. Consultation is the hallmark of a Baha’i life, and I must not forget that. Please forgive my actions.

Your Baha’i Brother,

Sean X

27 July 2008
Transmitted by email: Mr. Sean X,  U.S.A.

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

Your email letter dated 12 May 2008 has been received by the Universal House of Justice, and we have been asked to convey to you the following response.
You state in your letter that you have learned that you and your sister, Miss X, are being investigated at the Bahá’í World Centre as a result of your signing and forwarding a petition titled “Speak Up Against Bahá’í Discrimination Against Homosexuals.”

You may rest assured, however, that no such investigation is being conducted.

With regard to the above-mentioned petition, you may wish to consider the following. According to the Bahá’í Teachings, marriage is a union between a man and a woman and sexual relations are only permissible between a couple who are married to each other. These teachings are set forth in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and in the authoritative statements of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and are not susceptible to change by the House of Justice. However, the Bahá’í community does not seek to impose its values on others. Furthermore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of the Faith.

With respect to the incident in Uganda to which you refer, the Bahá’í representative to the interfaith association was unwittingly drawn into this controversy. Some reports have incorrectly characterized the Bahá’í involvement in the matter. The National Spiritual Assembly of Uganda is taking steps to ensure that such issues are handled appropriately in the future.

The House of Justice appreciates your desire to clarify your feelings on this matter and assures you of its prayers in the Holy Shrines that the Blessed Beauty may guide and sustain you.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat

Sean wrote this letter to the Universal House of Justice after a meeting with the ABM for Protection in his region. An Auxillary Board Member for Protection (ABM) is an individual appointed by a Counsellor (who in turn are appointed by the Universal House of Justice) with a pastoral role, that is to advise and support Bahais in their region. The ABM in turn appoints assistants so Bahais in all local communities have access to help or guidance.

Sean contacted the ABM after hearing the rumour from a Bahai saying that his parents had resigned from their local L.S.A. and that Sean and his sister were close to being declared Covenant Breakers because of forwarding the petition. This Bahai had heard this announced by the assistant for Protection at his Ruhi class as well as publicly at a cluster meeting.
Sean knew this was not true and so contacted the ABM and arranged a meeting with him to discuss how such a rumour could have been spread. Sean insisted that his parents and sister also be present at the meeting because the rumours also concerned them.
At the meeting initiated by Sean, the ABM told Sean and his family, that they were the reason for the lack of growth in the local Bahai communities, adding that Sean and his sister were under investigation by the World Centre and could be declared Covenant Breakers. The ABM said that they couldn’t be Bahais and support gay rights. He also drilled them for names of any gay Bahais who they communicate with and if asked if Sean was in cahoots with Ms Respess, the person who created the petition. Finally they were told they couldn’t remain as members of the Bahai community and were asked to put in writing that they didn’t believe in Baha’u’llah because they didn’t agree with the law that homosexuality was bad. They didn’t sign anything but they were all very upset by the experience. Hence Sean’s letter to the Universal House of Justice.

I’m sharing this on my blog to show that individuals, even those in positions where they are appointed, can misuse their position. I want to emphasize the position of the Universal House of Justice so that if any Bahai in the future is asked to leave the Bahai community because they believe in equal rights for  LGBTQ Bahais, they will know that this is view of that individual or appointed representative, and not the policy of the Universal House of Justice.

The authority of the Bahai Institutions is in policy. If the Universal House of Justice had instructed Sean not to sign a petition, and then he had gone ahead and signed it, that would be disobedience not breaking the Bahai covenant. However, what is important to note here is that the Universal House of Justice did not instruct Sean to change his behaviour or actions. Instead, they pointed to their view that Bahai Scripture says that marriage is only between a man and woman, and they left it up to him to be free to express himself as he wishes, which includes the freedom to sign a petition.

The Ugandan interfaith group the Bahá’í representative was a part of, when he was “unwittingly drawn into this controversy,” was called the “Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality” See my blog for a discussion of this and the dilemma of collaborating with interfaith groups which are homophobic.

Sometime in 2009 or 2010 the Bahai World Centre instructed a Counsellor to meet with the Ugandan NSA to educate the Ugandan Bahai community about the harm this involvement was doing to the Bahai community. This I heard from a gay Bahai who was in Uganda in mid 2010. I have not heard any official announcements on this apart from what is mentioned in the 2008 letter quoted above:
“The National Spiritual Assembly of Uganda is taking steps to ensure that such issues are handled appropriately in the future”

and in a 2010 letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual:

“In 2007 an interfaith association consisting largely of Christian denominations began to take an active role in opposition to homosexuality in Uganda. In a single incident, a Bahá’í representative to the association was unwittingly drawn into this controversy; this involved providing an explanation of the Bahá’í teachings on homosexuality. The National Spiritual Assembly of Uganda took immediate action, and the Bahá’í community subsequently has had no part in such matters.
… With regard to the idea that the House of Justice dispatched a Counsellor to Uganda to educate the community, this is also not accurate. There is, however, a resident Counsellor in Uganda who helped to resolve initial misunderstandings at the time.”

(Letter to Brent Poirier, 22 Dec 2010.)

I assume the Counsellor’s actions were in response to the 2007 reports in newspapers in Uganda and around the world (see my blog which lists and summarizes these) which associated the Bahai community with the anti-gay protest.

Bahais are encouraged not to get involved in partisan politics, but Bahais do engage in activities in defense of human rights. I hope that Bahais do not look the other way when it comes to support for equal rights to members of the Ugandan gay and lesbian community now that the government has enacted the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014 (See the wikipedia entry)

The 27 Oct 2010 letter from the Universal House of Justice encourages members of the Bahai community to stand up for the rights of homosexuals.

“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.”

Sean and his sister removed their names from the petition in an attempt to smooth things over for the ABM however I, as one of 300 odd Bahais who have signed the petition “Speak Up Against Bahá’í Discrimination Against Homosexuals,” didn’t think for a minute that signing such a petition would be problematic for any Bahai community. As I see it, each of us is encouraged to be responsible for our own actions.

“Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.” Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 213

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Society and the individual – a Bahai view

March 24, 2014

Recently I came across this Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi:
“The Bahá’í conception of social life is essentially based on the subordination of the individual will to that of society. It neither suppresses the individual nor does it exalt him to the point of making him an anti-social creature, a menace to society. As in everything, it follows the ‘golden mean’. The only way that society can function is for the minority to follow the will of the majority.”
Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 21 November, 1935. Printed in 1973 in Directives from the Guardian.

This made me sit up because it is the individual, not the collective, that is “created in the image of God,” (See Genesis 1:27 or Some Answered Questions, pp. 195-197) and because the protection and priority given to minorities is characteristic of the form of democracy intended for a Bahai society. And that the spiritual priority of the individual, over all the structures that are created by and consist of various individuals, underlies many other Bahai teachings. For example:

Independent search after truth: “the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself.”Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143 (click to view the source online)

No “original sin”: “Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth.”Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 189 (click to view the source online)

The law is a means to an end, not an end in itself: “The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilization, is human happiness; and human happiness consists only in drawing closer to the Threshold of Almighty God, and in securing the peace and well-being of every individual” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 60 (click to view the source online)

While the priority of the individual is a strong principle, we also have the principle of majority rule in decision-making, when consultation has failed to form a consensus and the group needs to make a decision:
“unquestionably accepted by the entire body of the believers, not necessarily because they represent the voice of truth or the will of Bahá’u’lláh, but for the supreme purpose of maintaining unity and harmony in the Community. Besides, the acceptance of majority vote is the only effective and practical way of settling deadlocks in elections. No other solution is indeed possible.” From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, July 10, 1939 (Published in Lights of Guidance in 1983)

“There is only one principle on which to conduct the work of an Assembly, and that is the supremacy of the will of the majority. The majority decisions must be courageously adopted and carried out by the Assembly, quite regardless of the opinionated adherence to their own views which any minority may cling to.” From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, November 20, 1941 (Published in Lights of Guidance, 1983)

But against this, there is the Bahai principle of positive discrimination:
“Since the Guardian’s instruction on this point is unequivocal where it is obvious that one of the persons involved represents a minority, that person should be accorded the priority without question. Where there is doubt further balloting will allow every voter present to participate.

“With reference to the provision in Article V of the National By-laws governing the situation where two or more members have received the same highest number of votes, if one of those members represents a minority that individual should be given priority as if selected by lot.” Universal House of Justice addressed to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, January 25, 1967. (Published in Lights of Guidance, 1983)

You might notice that all the quotations concerning majority rule are from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, which the Universal House of Justice may take into consideration when it makes its own rulings, in line with Bahai Scripture, concerning Bahai policy. The role of the Bahai administration is to rule on new situations as much as to give structure to the worldwide Bahai community. So it could be that in some situations an LSA decides it is best to listen to the views from a minority in their midst, or to minority views and then to act accordingly, and this would not contradict Bahai teachings because Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi do not form part of unchangeable Bahai Scripture.

Back to the initial phrase on this blog “to follow the will of the majority.” This implies that we cannot have a huge diversity of lifestyles or ways of perceiving the world. As Bahais we obey the authority of the institutions but that doesn’t mean we are not free to think or to take action. However this directive “to follow the will of the majority” refers to society in general and not the Bahai administration, and so implies that a ‘majority rules’ attitude is how Baha’is are expected to behave. The subordination of the individual will to that of society is akin to how communism evolved. Individuals were subordinate to the state and so the importance of individual conscience, responsibility and action was forgotten or suppressed. Baha’u’llah in contrast wrote: “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 346 (click to view the source)) – It is not the society or any group that is the supreme talisman.

Rather than treating the individual as subordinate to larger social groups, the Bahai teachings, as I see them, regard the individual as the root, and larger groups, from the family upwards, as the branches and fruit. 
The Persian notes of a talk given by Abdu’l-Baha say “a family is composed of individuals, and a nation likewise is formed of individual persons.” (Khitabát-i-`Abdu´l-Bahá, Reprint Hofheim; Bahá´í-Verlag [1984] p. 402. This translation here is by Sen McGlinn). So the freedom and development of the individual is the condition for the progress of the family, the nation and the world, and their first duty is to foster the freedom and development of the individual. Shoghi Effendi wrote:
“The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 203)
It is the individual, not the collective, that is “created in the image of God.” The spiritual priority of the individual over all the structures that are created by and consist of various individuals is illustrated in many places in the Bahai writings. Some of these have been quoted above. I will close with two more:

The third candle is unity in freedom which will surely come to pass.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 32)

So the unity that Abdul’-Baha refers to above implies that each of us exercises individual spiritual responsibility.

“Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration.”
Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 213

 
Further reading: Sen McGlinn’s 2010 blog, Evolving to individualism which explains two different ways in which the Enlightenment and its fruits in Western societies can be viewed, in relation to the goal of building a Bahai society.