A petition against discrimination and response from the Universal House of JusticeMarch 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,
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