Love and Legalism – a tale of two Baha’i communitiesApril 12, 2016
I was raised a Baha’i, so that is definitely why it took me so long to come out.
Added to that are my many happy experiences in the Baha’i community, which explains why I am still happy to call myself a Baha’i today, living with my same-sex partner and my children.
I was always attracted to women but knew it was a no go.
I married a man because that’s what I was supposed to do.
The LSA became aware of my “lifestyle” years ago because my ex-husband went to the Assembly to complain about me.
They told him to mind his own business, but I didn’t know this until after my meeting with them. I was extremely anxious about meeting with the LSA, and had no idea they would be so incredibly loving and accepting. It seemed clear to me that they were open to learning and desperately did not want me to feel unloved or unaccepted. It is a struggle for them, as they know the laws, but they also know me and I suppose this forced them to open their eyes on this subject. I told the LSA that I refuse to hide or pretend to be something I am not and felt doing so was dishonest and against the Faith. I pointed out that heterosexual Baha’is who are single or dating do not have their chastity questioned, and unless they are in my bedroom have no idea what is going on… That as Baha’is we are encouraged to be loving and the only “law” pertains to chastity. Except the marriage part… They also know that I would like to marry my partner. Not sure I’ll still have my voting rights then though!
And now because I live with my partner, I was offered a meeting to “deepen” on the writings on the subject but I declined. I have read everything, needless to say, being born, raised and currently still a Baha’i. If I didn’t love Baha’u’llah so much I would leave the Faith, and I told the LSA I would leave if they felt I was doing wrong by the Faith. They said absolutely no way should I leave the Faith. Another member of the LSA told me they are still babies with this subject and would like to be enlightened. I thought that was great.
For me, if the LSA had reacted negatively I would have left. We are supposed to love everyone and accept everyone. For me, Bahá’ís who judge or are homophobic are committing a greater sin than me, loving the most incredible human being I’ve ever known. But it is their issue and whatever I do is between me and God, I’m OK with that. If the LSA felt I was harming the Faith I would leave.
It’s very frustrating because I think individuals who don’t have any LGBT friends have bizarre ideas in their heads, and don’t think of us as regular, boring, loving, normal, fellow human beings. I’m not willing to live my life alone when I haven’t been convinced that Baha’u’llah believes this is what I should do.
The fact that my LGBT friends are loving and accepting of everyone, yet many Bahá’ís cannot be, is a contradiction of the Faith and my friends are the ones who are unprejudiced and all loving. I love all diversity in the world and this is just another. So many people miss out on knowing some beautiful human beings by judging what they don’t know.
I think my story is as positive as it can be for this time. I would love to I go to Feast with my partner and be active with her, but until the UHJ changes things I will keep my relationship with the faith at home. There are also some individuals in my local community who have shown in their behaviour that they do not welcome me as a lesbian.
“…homosexuality is not a condition to which a person should be reconciled, but is a distortion of his or her nature which should be controlled or overcome.”
Letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 12 January 1973; cited in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, pp. 110-111; also cited in Lights of Guidance, #1222, published in 1983, p. 365
|“Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and sexual relations are only permissible between husband and wife.”
Department of secretariat letter from the Universal House of Justice,
If the UHJ published a more positive view on this subject, I wouldn’t care what the rest of the community thought. It would be great to enlighten Baha’is unfamiliar with “ordinary” LGBT people. The LSA said I should not let anything keep me from attending the Feast. I feel if the UHJ changed the law there would be no leg for anyone to stand on and they would have to look at their own prejudices. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there are other LGBT people in the community who are not out.
I’ve been to Baha’i functions in the last few years, and a few Feasts, and feel quite close to some members of my LSA and my local community. I do have children that I am raising Baha’i. I live the life, so to speak (in service to others, love and acceptance and celebration of everyone). Unfortunately, my ex-husband is preachy towards my children about the evils of homosexuality. I have to tell them to not judge the Faith by their father and focus on the beautiful, amazing Baha’is we have in our community.
The LSA has encouraged me to go to feast and suggested I go to a cluster that the ex isn’t at. And they have asked what they could do to help support me, if there was anything. They are very loving.
Being able to share this with others gives me goosebumps and makes me smile.
I have been a Baha’i for some 30 years now, and I always tended to keep things pretty clear and honest, but my honesty got me into trouble. I told my daughters about my sexuality on the day I left the marital home and moved in with Granuaile, and I sent a letter to my LSA because I knew my husband had been in touch with them and given his side of the story. Then a member of the LSA, who has been a close friend of the family, asked me to come and see her. First privately, but also as a representative of the LSA. We had a nice chat but then she told me that her main concern with all this was the fact that her 16-year-old son could find out that I am living with a woman! How could people be so cruel? And that from someone I thought of as my friend. Another LSA member told me that I could no longer be a member of the Baha’i community if I was a lesbian. I was devastated. Baha’is who had been close friends stopped speaking to me, and my daughter, also a Baha’i, said that I could not visit her nor the grandchildren.
I have certainly come to realise that if you rock anybody’s boat most people react in some kind of strange way. What are they afraid of? As I told everybody, family and LSA alike, I had to do something for myself and now am happy and asked them to be happy with me. My daughters even said they wanted their fat, smoking mother back. (On this note I have to say that I have lost quite a bit of weight – which I needed to do anyway – and also gave up smoking in the last year – all since I have met my partner.)
The calendar of events, until then a regular e-mail sent to all in the community, stopped being sent to me. I was just dropped as the “old friend” they used to call me. I lived for my community and would have really appreciated a phone call or e-mail occasionally to see how I was – but nothing. It was as if I was dead. My partner’s friends were much more loving and understanding.
Then months later, the NSA asked a member of the pastoral care committee to contact me to find out what was going on. I had a lovely long chat with her on the phone. I tried to explain what my innermost thoughts about the Faith were, and that nobody had the right to tell me that I could or could not have these thoughts – I will always be a Baha’i in my heart – even if the NSA was threatening to take away my administrative rights. I was sent a letter from the NSA a few weeks later which stated: “You should be aware that if you do not take steps to align your life with the standards set out in the Holy Writings then the National Assembly will be left with no other option but to seriously consider removing your administrative rights. This is something that the Assembly very much wishes to avoid and it therefore lovingly invites you to reconsider your position; in this regard, it warmly offers you an opportunity to discuss your situation with a representative of the National Assembly whom you trust.”
Almost a year after this all began an LSA member phoned me saying that he had a “heavy heart” as he hadn’t spoken to me and he was a close friend as well as a fellow Baha’i. Then he said that his heavy heart was because he wanted to tell me where I had gone wrong because he was concerned about the well-being of my soul. I asked him why he was not concerned about me in the last year when I could really have done with a bit of friendly support.
At about the same time I had a friendly chat with an NSA member, and then a few weeks later I received a call from a local Baha’i reminding me that the NSA was going to meet in the next couple of days and had my case on the agenda, and wanted a response from me. So I sent a letter stating that I still believed in Baha’u’llah but could not go back to a life that felt dishonest to me, and that I was not going to leave the only person who is a support for me. In reply to that the NSA wrote a letter removing my administrative rights.
So there we have it – I am no longer a Baha’i in good standing.
I cannot contact the UHJ myself.
I cannot attend feasts, etc.
On the upside – the NSA wanted to know what happened in my 30 years of marriage because I hinted that it was not a happy time for me. I have very mixed feelings about being a “second class Baha’i” and have to think long and hard as to what I want to do now.
What was once a loving and caring community has turned into the total opposite and it seems they feel that, by sticking their heads in the sand, the “problem” will go away – or the NSA will deal with it. Somebody once said to look at the LSA/NSA as loving parents – well I cannot see any love anywhere – on the contrary.
These two stories show how two LSAs (Local Spiritual Assemblies) in differing western countries treated a lesbian member of their community in similar situations. Pope Francis recently made some statements on the topic of same sex marriage, about this never being possible within the Catholic Church. This is similar to the Universal House of Justice’s own statements, however there’s one big difference. In the same statement Pope Francis talks of pastors engaging in a careful process of “discernment” with regard to individual cases and helping people reach decisions in conscience about the fashion in which the law applies to their circumstances. The blog “Pope Francis lets the world in on the Church’s best-kept secret” by John L. Allen Jr. explains it like this: “Yes, the Church has laws, and it takes them very seriously. But even more than law it has flesh-and-blood people, and it takes their circumstances and struggles seriously too.
At one stage, Pope Francis writes that the divorced and remarried can find themselves in situations ‘which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications, leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.’” (8 April 2016)
Instead of a pastoral service or priests, the Baha’i community has the elected Local Spiritual Assembly (LSA). In the stories above we saw that one LSA chose compassion and aimed to see the picture from the point of the individual, and some even saw it as an opportunity to learn. The other LSA appears to have used Baha’i law like a stick with stern counseling which the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) later reinforced with punitive action. I found the letter which stated that her voting rights were removed from that NSA particularly shocking because of these words “The principle reason for doing [this] is because such an arrangement is publicly in breach of Baha’i law and therefore your administrative rights are removed to protect the good name of the Faith.” If public impressions are the real issue, the fact is that in most western countries, religious examples of tolerance and compassion on such issues bring good publicity, not shame. They also noted that she is not allowed to host “devotional meetings nor any of the core activities related to the Plan” nor host Holy Days, teach children’s classes and a long list of other exclusions. Non-Baha’is are not excluded as much as this. I will work on a separate blog about what Shoghi Effendi wrote concerning the use and purpose of the removal of administrative rights, as it is clear to me that here it is being used to discriminate and exclude. At the same time, an NSA is free to be as harsh as they wish in the way they choose to apply Baha’i law, but the purpose of my blog will be to show that Baha’i law can be used like “choice wine,” to quote Baha’u’llah – using law with discernment without breaking any of the Baha’i principles.
This matters greatly to me because there’s not only the pain experienced by Julia and the pain I feel in reading her story, but also the problem of those who feel they are doing the right thing by the Baha’i teachings in reporting her to the LSA and the NSA, in excluding her because she is a lesbian, backbiting about her in the community (I’ve omitted this part of her story because it is so awful), not to mention all those others in her community who see this happening and go along with it, either because they think exclusion is right or because they are afraid to say anything.
Which Baha’i community would you want to be a member of? Which type of Baha’i community has a future in today’s world? Baha’is often don’t like me asking such questions because they argue that the Baha’i community shouldn’t be influenced by fads or trends, and that five letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi decades ago are all the guidance we need. I believe that Baha’u’llah’s religion is structured to change with the times, and that it is intended for all peoples – not just those who like things to stay the same or want to exclude people because they represent an aspect of diversity that they are unfamiliar with.
“…the broader issues that are the foundation of the religious law are explicitly stated, but subsidiary matters are left to the House of Justice. The wisdom of this is that time does not stand still: change and transformation are essential attributes and necessities of this world, and of time and place. Therefore the House of Justice implements decisions accordingly.”
Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet on on religious law and the House of Justice, provisional translation.