Archive for the ‘Bahai Admin’ Category

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Critiquing the Universal House of Justice

May 22, 2015

Can a Bahai critique texts penned by the Universal House of Justice or the Department of the Secretariat? My answer, “Of course. Critiquing is engagement. We must obey the Universal House of Justice but that doesn’t mean we must be silent if we do not understand their reasoning.”

Abdu’l-Baha said that we must obey the Guardian to safeguard the “mighty stronghold,” the Baha’i community. The same could be said of obedience to the House of Justice, which is the Head of the Bahai community today. Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha wanted to avoid the problems other religions had of being torn into schisms, so they emphasized obedience very strongly. It doesn’t mean that Bahais can’t think for themselves.

So I am free to disagree and to critique, but I am not free to go and claim any form of leadership or a new Bahai religion. I am also not interested in any ideas associated with what might be called reform because I see no need for these. My arguments and the ideas I express on my blog here as just a Bahai aim to follow Baha’u’llah’s pleas for each of us to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93)

And so to the letter, dated 9 May 2014, penned by the secretariat for the Universal House of Justice which I will critique.

A letter, dated 18 May 2015 from the National U.S. Bahai administration has already been widely circulated in diverse online Bahai groups and e-lists. It states:
“A four-page letter from the Universal House of Justice on the subject of homosexuality has recently been receiving wide circulation via the Internet and through personal email lists, and we are increasingly being asked to comment on its authenticity.

The letter—dated May 9, 2014, to an individual believer in response to a personal inquiry—was indeed issued by the Supreme Body through its Department of the Secretariat. We enclose it here for your reference.”

I have inserted section breaks in the letter, and have placed relevant texts in the column on the right as well as any emphasis in the texts.

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

9 May 2014

Transmitted by email: ……U.S.A.

Dear Bahá’í Friend,
Your email letter dated 11 January 2014 has been received by the Universal House of Justice. We have been asked to convey to you the following. You express concern about the challenge Bahá’ís encounter in understanding and upholding the Teachings in the face of powerful social forces influencing public attitudes towards homosexuality.

In this connection, you observe that some Bahá’ís are susceptible to the argument that the Faith must change to keep up with what are perceived to be progressive social values, while some others, despite their firm adherence to the Teachings, are unable to resolve the incongruity between the Bahá’í perspective and attitudes prevailing in the wider society. Your thoughtful analysis of the issues you raise is warmly appreciated.

The contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality, which began in the West and is increasingly promoted in other parts of the world, generally takes the form of a false dichotomy, which compels one to choose between a position that is either affirming or rejecting.

It is understandable that Bahá’ís would be sensitive to acts of prejudice or oppression in any form and to the needs of those who suffer as a result. But to align with either side in the public debate is to accept the premises on which it is based. Moreover, this debate occurs within the context of a rising tide of materialism and consequent reorientation of society, over more than a century, which has among its outcomes a destructive emphasis on sexuality.

Various philosophies and theories have eroded precepts of right and wrong that govern personal behavior. For some, relativism reigns and individuals are to determine their own moral preferences; others dismiss the very conception of personal morality, maintaining that any standard that restrains what is considered a natural impulse is harmful to the individual and ultimately to society.

Self- indulgence, in the guise of expressing one’s true nature, becomes the norm, even the touchstone of healthy living. Consequently, sexuality has become a preoccupation, pervading commerce, media, the arts, and popular culture, influencing disciplines such as medicine, psychology, and education and reducing the human being to an object. It is no longer merely a part of life, but becomes the defining element of a person’s identity.

grey1x1pixels “The Lord hath ordained that in every city a House of Justice be established wherein shall gather counsellors …. It behoveth them to be the trusted ones of the Merciful among men and to regard themselves as the guardians appointed of God for all that dwell on earth. It is incumbent upon them to take counsel together and to have regard for the interests of the servants of God, for His sake, even as they regard their own interests, and to choose that which is meet and seemly. Thus hath the Lord your God commanded you.”
– Baha’u’llah,
The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 29

“Be ye … vanguards of the perfections of humankind; carry forward the various branches of knowledge, be active and progressive in the field of inventions and the arts. Endeavour to rectify the conduct of men, and seek to excel the whole world in moral character.”
– Abdu’l-Baha,
Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 129

“It should also be borne in mind that the machinery of the Cause has been so fashioned, that whatever is deemed necessary to incorporate into it in order to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements, can, according to the provisions made by Bahá’u’lláh, be safely embodied therein.”
– Shoghi Effendi,
The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 22-23

“The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes…”
– Baha’u’llah,
The Hidden Words

“Be thou of the people of hell-fire, but be not a hypocrite.”
– Baha’u’llah,
cited in a compilation on Trustworthiness. Also in Compilation of compilations, Volume 2, page 337

“Justice and equity are twin Guardians that watch over men. From them are revealed such blessed and perspicuous words as are the cause of the well-being of the world and the protection of the nations.”
– Baha’u’llah,
Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 14

“Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”
– Baha’u’llah,
Gleanings, p. 213

“The Bahá’í Faith … enjoins upon its followers the primary duty of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all manner of prejudice and superstition, declares the purpose of religion to be the promotion of amity and concord, proclaims its essential harmony with science, and recognizes it as the foremost agency for the pacification and the orderly progress of human society.”
– Shoghi Effendi,
The Promised Day is Come, p. v

“Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him.”
– Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p. 276

“So Bahá’u’lláh made the utmost efforts to educate [His people] and incite [them] to morality, the acquisition of the sciences and arts of all countries, kindly dealing with all the nations of the earth, desire for the welfare of all peoples, sociability, concord, obedience, submissiveness, instruction of [their] children, production of what is needful for the human race, and inauguration of true happiness for mankind…”
– Abdu’l-Baha,
A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 41, translation: EG Browne

“The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity.”
– Baha’u’llah,
Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 168

The letter above states that “The contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality … generally takes the form of a false dichotomy, which compels one to choose between a position that is either affirming or rejecting.” and they continue: “to align with either side in the public debate is to accept the premises on which it is based.”

As you can read in the quotations on the right, the premise for a Bahai should be justice and equity, and I interpret the false dichotomy as meaning that in the public debate you have people who confuse the right, responsibility and legal protection to marry and raise children with a focus on materialism.

These people then make arguments based on “wrong” ways of living, often focussed on sex or sexual acts to avoid the fact that this is an issue of justice.

It goes something like this “their sex is unnatural therefore it is wrong” “because it is wrong …” when this has nothing to do with sex or materialism. It is about two consenting adults making a commitment to take care of each other, and whether society will accord them equal recognition, as a couple, or not. Is this dichotomy ‘false’ or does it require us, as Bahais, to make a stand for justice?

As a Bahai myself, I think it is important to engage in the debate on justice and be anxiously concerned with the needs of my age. I hate it that gays and lesbians are labelled as being obsessed about sexuality. To me this is as offensive as labelling an African American as being obsessed about race, when all they are doing is being visible. No person should have to hide who they are. There is not a lot diversity if minorities are denied membership or visibility.

The following seems to be objecting to the visibility of a non-heterosexual identity:
“Consequently, sexuality has become a preoccupation, pervading commerce, media, the arts, and popular culture, influencing disciplines such as medicine, psychology, and education and reducing the human being to an object.”

Surely they are not saying that doctors, scientists, and researchers who have shown us that homosexuality is not abnormal, not curable and not a barrier for healthy married relationships, are just obsessed about sexuality? Their research does not make the individual an object, it highlights the prejudices in society.
Abdul-Baha wrote that “And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is, that religion must be in conformity with science and reason” Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 299

I do not think that the Universal House of Justice would be objecting to the science itself but rather have misunderstood it. It seems that they see the scientific findings as an agenda. Their sentence is a harsh statement against decades of scientific research and clinical experience which in my view goes against the Bahai teaching that we honour scientists and that science and religion go hand in hand. I think Baha’u’llah says this better than I can:
“Beware, O My loved ones, lest ye despise the merits of My learned servants whom God hath graciously chosen to be the exponents of His Name ‘the Fashioner’ amidst mankind. Exert your utmost endeavour that ye may develop such crafts and undertakings that everyone, whether young or old, may benefit therefrom. We are quit of those ignorant ones who fondly imagine that Wisdom is to give vent to one’s idle imaginings and to repudiate God, the Lord of all men; even as We hear some of the heedless voicing such assertions today.”
(Baha’u’llah, LAWḤ-I-HIKMAT (Tablet of Wisdom), Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 150/151)

When I see statements such as in this letter, which can be used by Bahais as ammunition to aim hatred or intolerance at others, I am reminded that I am a Bahai because of Bahaú’llah’s Teachings and not because of the Bahai administration, important as it is. Shoghi Effendi expresses the hope that unprejudiced observers of the Bahai Faith may be impressed by “the reasonableness of its claims, the comprehensiveness of its scope, the universality of its program, [and] the flexibility of its institutions…” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 54). Reading this letter, I am not clear that a observer will see the underlying comprehensiveness and universality.

Abdul-Baha’s words remind me that, whatever our orientation or sexuality, we are all united – born from the same God. “In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of The Divine Plan, p. 102)

My next blog will continue with the rest of the 9 May 2015 letter.

For me Bahau’llah’s teachings are forward thinking and positive and I am a Bahai because these teachings make sense to me, so I end with Shoghi Effendi’s summary of the purpose of Bahaú’llah’s teachings:
“`Abdu’l-Bahá expounded, with brilliant simplicity, with persuasiveness and force, and for the first time in His ministry, those basic and distinguishing principles of His Father’s Faith, which together with the laws and ordinances revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bed-rock of God’s latest Revelation to mankind. The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind — these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys. The exposition of these vitalizing truths of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, which He characterized as the “spirit of the age,”
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 281)

That society and the Bahai community must forever refuse to recognize married couples of the same sex as worthy members and as couples is not an essential element of the Bahai teachings, as I understand them. Even those who feel that way, must admit that it is a secondary matter, on which there is room for flexibility. My hope is for something more than mere grudging acceptance. I hope to see an open embrace that demonstrates the universality of our programme and the flexibility of our institutions.
 
 
A copy of the 9 May 2014 letter is on Sen McGlinn’s blog.

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Two views of the Baha’i view on homosexuality

October 18, 2013

Recently in a discussion a Bahai asked what would happen if a Baha’i started a pledge similar to this one where members of the Jewish community pledge at working at ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in their synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities.

In response: a Baha’i wrote:

The official policy of Baha’is toward gays is demeaning…what to do? I mean that first statement in the pledge implies that we see each gay or lesbian as created in the image of the divine. This doesn’t quite go with the image of gays as inherently handicapped and in need of repair to their basic nature. Not that I don’t appreciate your intention…I just don’t see how it all fits together in an intelligible and consistent way

So here are two differing responses to the question
“What is the Baha’i perspective of homosexuality”

Baha’i A: “This is an attempt on my part to give us “the flavor,” of the Baha’i teachings on homosexuality where I have capitalized certain words. The following quotations (shown in brown and inside quotation marks) are selections taken from the BNASAA (Baha’i Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addiction and Abuse) website, under the section “Sexuality”, subsection “Homosexuality” [Last accessed on 18 October 2013]

“Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy, and lechery.”
This reference from Baha’u’llah is offered without any explanation of what the terms translated as “sodomy” and “lechery” mean in the original Arabic, and how they might relate to the subject of homosexuality today, or how they relate to heterosexual activity. The infamous “subject of boys” passage in the Aqdas (Book of Laws), which is also offered under the heading of “homosexuality” clearly refers to pederasty, or pedophilia, an altogether different subject, although the Guardian, according to the Universal House of Justice, is supposed to have interpreted it to apply to all homosexual relationships. There are no references penned from Abdu’l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi specifically regarding homosexuality. The remaining references are pulled from letters written by secretaries on behalf of the Guardian, or from correspondence from the Universal House of Justice or, in the case of the final three quotations, from a paper published on the BNASAA website.


“IMMORALITY of every sort is really forbidden by Baha’u’llah, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being AGAINST NATURE…through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this HANDICAP.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 26 March 1950; Letter from the Universal House of Justice to National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1995 on Bahai-Library; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1223)

‘Baha’u’llah makes provision for the Universal House of Justice to determine, according to the degree of offence, penalties for adultery and sodomy.”
(The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Notes Section, p. 223, authored by the U.H.J, 1992)

“Sex relationships, of any form, outside marriage are not permissible … whoso violates this rule will not only be responsible to God, but will INCUR THE NECESSARY PUNISHMENT FROM SOCIETY.”
(Letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, 5 September 1938; Cited in a Letter from the U.H.J. All National Spiritual Assemblies 6 February 1973, on Bahai-Library; Lights of Guidance, p. 346, #1157 – Here a date for this letter is not given)

“Baha’u’llah has spoken very strongly against this SHAMEFUL SEXUAL ABERRATION, as He has against adultery and immoral conduct in general.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 25 October 1949. Cited in a 1993 compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.)

“The Guardian cannot tell you what the attitude of God would be towards a person who lives a good life in most ways, but not in this way. All he can tell you is that it is forbidden by Baha’u’llah and that ONE SO AFFLICTED SHOULD STRUGGLE AND STRUGGLE AGAIN TO OVERCOME IT.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 26 March 1950. Cited in a 1993 compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.)

“The person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are CONDEMNED BY BAHA’U’LLAH, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary CONSULT DOCTORS, and make every effort to OVERCOME THIS AFFLICTION, which is CORRUPTIVE FOR HIM AND BAD FOR THE CAUSE. If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his VOTING RIGHTS TAKEN AWAY. The Guardian does not think, however, that a Baha’i body should take it upon itself to denounce him to the Authorities unless his conduct borders on INSANITY.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 20 June 1953 to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada, published in “Messages to Canada” p. 39; cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 4., on Bahai-Library.)

“Homosexuality … IS SPIRITUALLY CONDEMNED … we do not believe that it is a permissible way of life.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

“We must struggle against the EVILS IN SOCIETY by spiritual means, and medical and social ones as well.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

“The thing people need to meet THIS TYPE OF TROUBLE, as well as every other type, is greater spiritual understanding and stability.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

…any friends who are FLAGRANTLY IMMORAL should be assisted, and, if possible, restrained. If their activities overstep all bounds and become a matter of PUBLIC SCANDAL, then the Assembly can consider depriving them of their voting rights.
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 20 August 1955; Lights of Guidance, p. 369, #1230)

“Homosexuality is HIGHLY CONDEMNED…Any individual SO AFFLICTED must, through prayer, and any other means, seek to overcome this HANDICAP.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 6 October 1956)

“…no sexual act can be considered lawful unless performed between lawfully married persons.”
(Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi no date nor further information – cited in Lights of Guidance, pp. 364, #1220)

“…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.”
(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, January 12, 1973: cited in Messages from The Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, p. 110-111; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1222)

“If an individual violates the spiritual laws for his own development HE WILL CAUSE INJURY NOT ONLY TO HIMSELF BUT TO THE SOCIETY IN WHICH HE LIVES.”
(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer; excerpts to all National Spiritual Assemblies, February 6, 1973: Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, pp. 105-106. Lights of Guidance, p. 343-344 #1146)

“…Baha’i law restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married.” (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 14 March 1973; Lights of Guidance, pp. 365, #1225

“Thus, it should not be so much a matter of whether a practicing homosexual can be a Bahá’í as whether, having become a Baha’i, the homosexual can OVERCOME HIS PROBLEM.”
(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 14 March 1973; Lights of Guidance, pp. 365, #1225

“While recognizing the divine origin and force of the sex impulse in man…it must be controlled, and Baha’u’llah’s law confines its expression to the marriage relationship. … You can be confident that with the help of doctors, by prayer and meditation, by self-abnegation and by giving as much time as possible to serving the Cause in your community you can eventually succeed in OVERCOMING YOUR PROBLEM.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, January 9, 1977; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368, #1227)

“If you are sincerely intent on OVERCOMING YOUR PROBLEM…The more we occupy ourselves with teaching the Cause and serving our fellow-man in this way, the stronger we become in resisting THAT WHICH IS ABHORRENT TO OUR SPIRITUAL SELVES.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, July 16, 1980; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368, #1228)

“Both you and your Baha’i friend must first recognize that a homosexual relationship SUBVERTS THE PURPOSE OF HUMAN LIFE and that determined effort to overcome the wayward tendencies which promote this practice which, like other sexual vices, IS SO ABHORRENT TO THE CREATOR OF ALL MANKIND…”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, August 23, 1982; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368, #1229)

“…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a “natural” or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as

AN ABERRATION SUBJECT TO TREATMENT…To the question of ALTERATION OF HOMOSEXUAL BENTS, much study must be given, and doubtless IN THE FUTURE CLEAR PRINCIPLES OF PREVENTION AND TREATMENT WILL EMERGE. As for those now afflicted, a homosexual does not decide to be a PROBLEM HUMAN, but he does…have decision in choosing his way of life.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 March 1987. Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 7., on Bahai-Library.

“You mention recent research which indicates that there may be a genetic basis for homosexuality; you accept the Baha’i view of this matter, but you question the use of such terms as “ABNORMALITY, HANDICAP, AFFLICTION, PROBLEM, ETC.” since they can create misunderstandings. ON THE CONTRARY, THE HOUSE OF JUSTICE FEELS THAT JUST SUCH WORDS CAN BE A GREAT HELP TO THE INDIVIDUALS CONCERNED.”
Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 11., Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated, 16 March 1992. on Bahai-Library.

“Some people nowadays maintain that homosexuality is not an abnormality…The Faith, on the contrary, makes it abundantly clear that HOMOSEXUALITY IS AN ABNORMALITY, is a GREAT PROBLEM for the individual SO AFFLICTED, and that he or she SHOULD STRIVE TO OVERCOME IT. The social implications of such an attitude are very important.”
Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 11., Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated, 16 March 1992. on Bahai-Library.

“One could have concluded that HOMOSEXUALS COULD WELL ESTABLISH STABLE RELATIONSHIPS WITH ONE ANOTHER FOR MUTUAL SUPPORT, similar to the marital relationship of a heterosexual couple who cannot have children. This, indeed, is the conclusion that some churches and governments have come to. BUT BAHA’U’LLAH…SHOWS THAT SUCH A RELATIONSHIP IS NOT A PERMISSIBLE OR BENEFICIAL SOLUTION TO A HOMOSEXUAL’S CONDITION.”
(Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 12., Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated, 16 March 1992. on Bahai-Library.

“Human beings need not only assistance in defining acceptable behavior of one person towards another, but also guidance which will help them to refrain from doing that which is SPIRITUALLY DAMAGING TO THEMSELVES.”
(Letter from the Universal House of Justice to National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1995 on Bahai-Library)

“Whether DEFICIENCIES are inborn or acquired, our purpose in this life is to overcome them…”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 September 1993. This letter is cited in full by Bill Collins on on the e-list soc.religion.bahai, 31 Aug 1994)

“You state that “homosexuals cannot be altered into heterosexuality, all such trials have failed and homosexuals remain so until the day they die.” THIS IS A STATEMENT WHICH IS STILL OPEN TO DISPUTE, AND WHICH BAHA’IS SHOULD QUESTION.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 September 1993. ibid)

“Baha’i Assemblies can testify to the number of Baha’is who, although having had homosexual orientations, have been able to lead normally happy married lives and raise families.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 September 1993. ibid)

“The condition of being sexually attracted to some object other than to a mature member of the opposite sex, A CONDITION OF WHICH HOMOSEXUALITY IS BUT ONE MANIFESTATION, is regarded by the Faith as a DISTORTION OF TRUE HUMAN NATURE, as a PROBLEM TO BE OVERCOME, no matter what specific physical or psychological condition may be the immediate cause. Any Baha’i who suffers from

such a DISABILITY…should be helped to control and overcome it.”
(Letter from the Universal House of Justice to National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1995 on Bahai-Library.

“…homosexual intercourse by a Baha’i is AN OFFENCE AGAINST THE LAW OF GOD and is STRONGLY CONDEMNED. Strict laws of sexual behaviour are important, we believe, not merely for the individual, but also for society in general…we certainly do not fully understand their long-term implication; THESE WILL BECOME APPARENT AS SOCIETY EVOLVES. Baha’is believe that the LOVE OF GOD IS EVIDENT IN ALL HIS LAWS, NO MATTER HOW SEVERE SOME OF THEM MAY APPEAR TO BE.”
(U.H.J., 17 September 1993. This letter is cited in full by Bill Collins on the e-list soc.religion.bahai, 31 Aug 1994)

“…while science may find that a predisposition to homosexuality is caused by genetic aberration, and in that sense may be considered “natural”, IT DOES NOT FOLLOW THAT IT IS “NATURAL” FOR SOME PEOPLE TO BE HOMOSEXUAL …The statistics which indicate that homosexuality is incurable are undoubtedly distorted by the fact that many of those who overcome the problem never speak about it in public, and others solve their problems without even consulting professional counselors. Furthermore, contrary evidence may will exist but may be overlooked by scientific reporting that is, for one reason or another, biased.”
(Letter from the U.H.J. to the N.S.A. of the U.S., published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1993, On Bahai-Library)

“…the Baha’i Faith STRONGLY CONDEMNS all blatant acts of immorality, and it includes among them the expression of sexual love between individuals of the same sex.”
(U.H.J., Letter to an individual, 11 September 1995. The letter is cited in full on 6 Feb 1996 on the Talisman e-list)

“The view that homosexuality is a condition that is not amenable to change is to be questioned by Baha’is.”
(U.H.J., 11 September 1995. ibid)

“…the standard which they are called upon to uphold is the Baha’i standard. A flagrant violation of this standard DISGRACES THE BAHA’I COMMUNITY IN ITS OWN EYES even if the surrounding society finds the transgression tolerable.”
(U.H.J., 11 September 1995. ibid)

…if persons involved in homosexual relationships express an interest in the Faith, they should not be instructed by Bahá’í institutions to separate so that they may enrol in the Bahá’í community, for this action by any institution may conflict with civil law. The Bahá’í position should be patiently explained to such persons, who should also be given to understand that although in their hearts they may accept Bahá’u’lláh, THEY CANNOT JOIN THE BAHA’I COMMUNITY in the current condition of their relationship. They will then be free to draw their own conclusions and act accordingly. Within this context, the question you pose about the possibility of the removal of administrative rights should, therefore, not arise.”
From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual 5 March 1999

Bahai B wrote: If I want to know the Bahai position, I look to Baha’u’llah. Then to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, etc for clarification of what Baha’u’llah says. I don’t start with the House and work “backwards” for clarification. For me, that seems to lead to confusion and tends to relegate Baha’u’llah to the footnotes, where he possibly doesn’t deserve to be.

But, if by “Baha’i position” you mean the current dominant and generally-seen-as-authoritative view then, yes, you pretty much have to look at what the House is saying and quoting. And, yes, “the official policy of Baha’is toward gays is in itself demeaning”.

But the House could stop quoting Shoghi Effendi’s secretaries, particularly where they appear to describe [the] homosexuality [of their time] in demeaning ways. When I’m trying to understand “the Bahai position” (second, deprecated, definition), I look at what the House has stopped quoting and what it’s stopped saying. That’s a generally a reliable guide to changes of position.

At the moment, the House has started talking more about the human and civil rights of homosexuals but — as you observe — it hasn’t stopped quoting Shoghi Effendi’s secretaries, who describe homosexuality as a “problem”, “sickness”, etc. So, not much change. At least, not where it counts.

Bahai A: Thanks for the clarification. Baha’i law on this issue hasn’t changed – homosexual behavior is still a punishable offense among Baha’is. Would you remind me what Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha give us in the way of clarification on the issue of homosexuality? I know about letters written on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf, of course, and that he signed off on such letters. And I certainly accept that the views of homosexuality in those letters represented the time in which they were written, and for the Faith to have openly accepted gays at that time would no doubt have put the Faith in a questionable light, so no problem there – I get it. But the House, despite its discussion of human and civil rights for gays, and its decrying prejudice toward them, seems to feel that they cannot go beyond the mindset that was represented in such letters, and thus can never get beyond the portrayal of gays as having an “affliction”. I’m sure that they can find a way around this…despite their saying they can’t. Until then, homosexuality is still criminalized in Baha’i law – it is a “shameful aberration” and most Baha’is will agree that this is Baha’i belief, and that Baha’is are not to display any prejudice toward gays, despite their apparent affliction, and are to come to their aid if their civil rights are being abused. It’s an interesting predicament, isn’t it? Progress is being made, in that homosexuality can now be discussed in Baha’i communities, and mean/ugly behavior toward gays is not to be tolerated but, as someone else said, religion still trumps science here.

I will admit that I haven’t visited BNASAA website for a while, to see if all this stuff about homosexuality is still up there – if it is still there, then I assume it represents Baha’i thought as coming from the House – surely they would not allow such prejudiced-seeming and negative material to remain on a public website which represents Baha’is on this issue, unless it represented their current views. If this material is removed by instruction of the House, there would be some question as to whether it represented the House’s current view, and I would immediately cease to circulate this material.

Bahai B wrote: You wrote: “Baha’i law on this issue hasn’t changed – homosexual behavior is still a punishable offense among Baha’is….”
My understanding is that the Aqdas discusses illicit forms of sexual conduct (zina and liwat) and it discusses marriage.

There are many forms of both homosexual and heterosexual behaviour that fall into the category of illicit sexual conduct. On the other hand, same-sex marriage seems to be in a category of its own. Is it “illicit sex”, is it “another form of marriage”, or is it something new that isn’t in the book?

I lean towards options two and three. I can’t see where homosexual behaviour has been made a punishable offence — at least no more than that all forms of heterosexual behaviour (except one) are a punishable offence.
“…Would you remind me what Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha give us in the way of clarification on the issue of homosexuality?”

Baha’u’llah said little if anything about homosexuality. And not much about liwat. Modern-day homosexuality in general, and same-sex marriage in particular, effectively didn’t exist in their time and place — so there’s nothing said about that. But they did say a lot about unity, amity, harmony, diversity, tolerance, a sin-covering eye, about religion being in line with science and about an unfolding revelation. Maybe it’s important that we don’t lose sight of those other things they said?”

Bahai A: “You are absolutely right – thank you. The problem with sexual behavior, of course, is that sex outside of marriage, whether hetero- or homosexual, is strictly forbidden, and of course same-sex marriage is forbidden, thus far, for Baha’is. Thus, heterosexual Baha’is have a way to express their sexuality, and strictly homosexual Baha’is do not, without risking sanctions. Even if they marry outside of the Faith, if they are fortunate to live in an area where such marriage is now legal, they are not yet, so far as I know, accepted as a same-sex couple in the Faith – though I realize this might change, and I hope it does. And I appreciate your emphasis on the positive – I just don’t want to gloss over any injustice that might exist. I do think it helps to discuss these things, to let Baha’is know that they can discuss them and can allow themselves to grow in their understanding of homosexuality. I have been allowed to grow in my understanding, and I would like for others to have the same chance. ”

Baha’i B: You wrote: “And I appreciate your emphasis on the positive – I just don’t want to gloss over any injustice that might exist.”
I didn’t realise that I was emphasising the positive. I thought I was emphasising the source. Back to the pledge.

Yes, a really strong pledge that reframes the issues in terms of the most important Bahai provisions could certainly be created. I’m sure it will take both persuasion and encouragement to deal with the ignorance and fear surrounding the signing of a pledge. I don’t normally get excited about pledges and petitions, but this one sounds interesting.

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“A gay Baha’i writes to the Universal House of Justice”

October 1, 2013

In response to “A mother writes to the Universal House of Justice” I was sent the following:

15 October 2008

To The Universal House of Justice


Dear Sirs,

I would like a clear and final decision on how openly gay couples and individuals would be treated in the Bahai community. Would we have our voting rights removed for openly stating that we are gay and living with a partner? Or would we be fully accepted with voting rights and all?

I understand the difficult decision that you must face. On the one hand you feel that you must follow the admonitions written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, on the other there is tremendous damage being done to gays inside the Bahai community. I am just one of those individuals who suffered as a gay youth in the Bahai community.

I have a solution that may be worth investigating. Baha’u’llah extols his followers to seek professional medical help when they have an illness. For this reason, no Bahai would ever lose his voting rights for drinking a medicine with alcohol that is prescribed by a doctor, correct? Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi also state that homosexuality is a disorder- one that may need the help of competent physicians. Then in the exact same way, if a homosexual has consulted a competent physician (all of whom do NOT recommend that a homosexual try to overcome his sexuality) and is now living a happy spiritual life- he should be FULLY accepted by the Bahai community. To remove this individual’s voting rights or make him hide his sexuality in order to function in the community would be an incredible injustice and the height of hypocrisy.

I hope to hear an unambigious reply from your office. For now, I have decided to remain inactive, but with the hopes that your leadership will bring the Bahai community to not only greater acceptance of gay families, but encourage the Bahahi community to evolve into a haven for such families and individuals. I will leave you with an incredible link to a book that I hope you will read. I just pray that the religion of my forefathers will act differently from those in this book: www.crisisbook.org

PP

 

Letter from the Universal House of Justice
10 December 2008

Transmitted by email

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

     The Universal House of Justice has received your email letter of 15 October 2008, and we have been asked to convey to you the following.

     Your comments about your experience in the Bahá’í community have been noted. We are to assure you that to regard homosexuals with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of the Teachings.

     With regard to your suggestion that Bahá’ís be allowed to live with a partner in a homosexual lifestyle without losing their voting rights if a physician were to recommend this course of action, the Bahá’í writings unambiguously affirm that 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. Therefore, it cannot adopt your suggestion.

     The doors are open for all of humanity to enter the Bahá’í community, irrespective of their present circumstances. Associated with this invitation is the expectation that all those who accept Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation of God will make a sincere and persistent effort to modify those aspects of their conduct which are not in conformity with His Law. For some, this may involve a prolonged personal struggle. However, it would be a profound contradiction for someone to profess the intention to be a Bahá’í, yet consciously reject, disregard or contend with aspects of belief or practice ordained by Bahá’u’lláh.

 

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

Department of the Secretariat

His response to the letter above to which there has been no response.

December 2008

First thank you for your response. But I have to say I’m disappointed in your response, yet it is what I expected. You will allow people to consume alcohol if prescribed by a doctor (something specifically forbidden by Baha’u’llah). But, you disregard a prescription by a doctor to allow a homosexual to find stability and peace in a healthy/intimate relationship. You condemn gay families (not Baha’u’llah; I’ve yet to see a specific quote from Him in regards to adult consenting gay relationships) but you still believe that this is not prejudice. What then is prejudice? You have pre-judged the relationship of two same sex adults and their children as not worthy of fully participating in Bahai community life.

I am still a Bahai (albeit not active) and I always will be. I believe that justice is the most important thing before God’s eyes, not blind adherence to what was written by the secretaries of Shoghi Effendi to individual believers years ago.

I pray for the Bahai youth being brought up, like I was, to regard their sexuality as a disorder to overcome. You say that the Faith stands against any type of prejudice against homosexuals, yet the Bahai community by insisting that gay couples are not fully welcome in the community, you are discriminating. Your views only feed Bahais in other countries to continue to discriminate not only inside the Bahai community, but outside as well. Did you know for instance in 2003, the Guyana NSA wrote to the government against a proposed non-discrimination law that would protect gays/lesbians as well as others in society. And of course the recent protests in Uganda againsts gays where the Bahais were involved. Such actions by local Bahais, the trauma felt by Bahai youth (some whom I’m sure have committed suicide since they couldn’t “overcome”) and the loss of activity of thousands of good Bahais fall squarely on your shoulders because of the rigidness of your views.
Good day.

Note: a few minor typos were corrected,
and below are links to blogs I’ve written on topics that are mentioned above.
Uganda protests against gays + the Bahai involvement with the Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality
Statement by the N.S.A. of Guyana
Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi on the topic of homosexuality

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“A mother writes to the Universal House of Justice”

September 30, 2013

I was recently sent the following:

11 March 2011

“To The Universal House of Justice


I am having trouble accepting the Baha’i teachings on homosexuality and would appreciate further guidance. My son is gay which means that I am forced to explore this issue in greater depth and the test has become more real. I wrote a while ago about this issue to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i’s of the United Kingdom. They sent me a letter written by the Universal House of Justice dated October 1995 and also a paper from the Baha’i International Community on the same subject. Although this reading helped to clarify my vision to a certain extent I still feel as though I am not fully able to understand or condone the Baha’i stance on this subject. I know that God is all-knowing and my knowledge is limited so out of humility I should just accept what I do not understand as being true but I still feel rebellious.

I find it very difficult to accept that my son is damaging his soul by being true to his God given nature. Would this only be true if he was a Baha’i and acting against the teachings? Please can you help to clarify this for me? Although this is his issue I am put into a situation that brings the conflict between what I personally believe and what the faith tells me to believe into greater clarity. I want him to find someone he can love and share his life with. I find it hard to wish for him to be unhappy and celibate for all of his life, for the sake of his soul, as would be the situation expected of him if he was to become a Baha’i?

Is there any possibility that in the future the Universal House of Justice would consider allowing same sex marriage and thereby making the test of no sex before marriage equal for all people regardless of sexuality? Or will gay people always be made to feel as though they are on the edges of society and that their actions are evil and blameworthy. However much Baha’is may say that they do not judge other human beings there is a danger that the teachings on this subject could cause guilt, repression and estrangement, especially when a homosexual child is born within a Baha’i family that upholds such principals.

I have full faith that a state run on Baha’i principals as we envisage happening in the Golden age of this dispensation would not enforce moral teachings and would leave each individual with equal rights and freedom of speech as well as the freedom to act according to the dictates of their own individual conscience. Despite this what I fear is the psychological self hatred and guilt that can torture a soul when the society around teaches that they have a handicap that needs to be overcome. I struggle to understand why homosexuality is seen as a problem rather than an aspect of self that can be embraced and feel as though such an attitude is a step backwards rather than forwards.

I understand that society has lost its moral bearings and too much emphasis can be put on the sex impulse but unlike drug addiction for example I believe that sexuality is not a compulsion but an essential aspect of an individual’s identity. I do hope that the Baha’i stance on this subject will be explored in greater depth with experts in the field of psychology etc. so that it can be justified and stand up to the scrutiny that will come its way as the faith evolves and its teachings become integrated into the wider society.

I understand that a soul will progress spiritually if it is able to transcend its desires and this is why Baha’u’llah has given this teaching to mankind. I also believe that if an individual is so deeply moved by their love of Baha’u’llah that they receive the inspiration and motivation to overcome their sexual desires the greatness of the test will mean that they are a truly special soul with great capacity. Not all souls however will be called in such a way and the majority will be left with a feeling of self hatred and that they are inherently deficient. I find it impossible to condone such an attitude as I believe that every soul must learn self love for what they are in entirely, without cutting off an essential aspect of themselves. From this psychologically healthy attitude of wholeness and true deep self acceptance may develop the power to move closer in understanding of how a person’s actions can be brought in harmony with the will of God.

Science continues to prove that it is impossible to cure someone of homosexuality; public opinion in the UK continues to move away from prejudice and intolerance in an enlightening direction. By contrast we see countries like Uganda where religion stirs up bigoted hatred and violence against homosexuals. I became a Baha’i because I believe in independent investigation of the truth, the balance of Science and religion and the illumination of prejudice. The Baha’i stance however could be seen to bolster up the bigoted counter progressive attitude we see in countries such as Uganda, an attitude that leads to the cruel persecution of their homosexual citizens. Would you be able to help to alleviate these fears or point me in the direction of Baha’i literature that can serve as an antidote to such religious extremism on this topic such as examples of Baha’is who are actively working against this kind of cruel homophobia?

In the literature that the NSA of the UK sent me on this subject I also read that “What a Baha’i cannot logically do is to represent himself or herself as a faithful follower of Baha’u’llah while denying or even attacking features of the Faith which He Himself has made integral to its nature and purpose.” If this is true then what should I do about the fact that if I am asked about my attitude towards homosexuality I have to deny this feature of the Faith and say that I do not believe it is wrong if expressed within a loving and lasting relationship. Does this mean that I should stop being a Baha’i or is it ok if I am clear that this is only my personal opinion? I do not want to be rebellious but I have been unable so far to change my opinion through the power of faith or will alone. I therefore request that you pray for me to receive further enlightenment on this issue. I would also greatly appreciate any further insights that you could give me on this topic.

Warmest Baha’i Love
RR

13 May 2012

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

With regard to your email message of 5 May 2012 enquiring about the status of your email letter of 11 March 2011, you may be assured that your letter has been received and is under consideration. A reply will be sent in due course.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

Office of Correspondence


 
Letter from the Universal House of Justice
22 April 2013

Transmitted by email

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

     The Universal House of Justice has received your email letters of 11 March 2011 and 5 May 2012 describing your struggle to reconcile the Bahá’í teachings with your own views on homosexuality, which have evolved as you have reflected on your relationship with your son. We have been asked to convey to you the following and in so doing express our regret that, owing to the pressure of work at the Bahá’í World Centre and the time necessary to carefully consider the many facets of your heartfelt questions, our reply has been so long delayed. The House of Justice appreciates the candour with which you have expressed your concerns, and your earnest desire to comprehend aspects of the teachings more fully is warmly acknowledged.

     The understanding about human beings today is heavily influenced by materialistic assumptions. Perspectives of social movements, leaders of thought, and the media are shaped by them. Even the findings of science are interpreted according to such prevalent cultural notions. It is not surprising, then, that there are many ideas about human identity and behaviour in contemporary society commonly accepted as truths that conflict with the Bahá’í teachings. Yet, as Bahá’u’lláh asks every thoughtful soul, “Where shalt thou secure the cord of thy faith and fasten the tie of thine obedience?” His answer, revealed in innumerable passages, is, as you know, unambiguous. “The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind.” “No man, however acute his perception,” He affirms, “can ever hope to reach the heights which the wisdom and understanding of the Divine Physician have attained.” And He counsels not to weigh “the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men”, and in “this most perfect Balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed….” The Manifestation institutes His laws and ordinances in accordance with His intrinsic knowledge of human reality and His intended aims for individual and collective transformation. From a Bahá’í perspective, then, it is the teachings of the Manifestation of God that clarify the essential elements of human identity.

     In contrast to many contemporary conceptions, the Bahá’í teachings maintain that a person must rise above certain material aspects of human nature to develop and manifest inherent spiritual qualities that characterize his or her true self. The Sacred Texts contain laws and exhortations that, in many instances, redirect or restrict behaviours that arise from impulses, tendencies, and desires, whether inborn or acquired. Some of these are physical, while others are emotional or psychological. Yet, whatever their origin, it is through their regulation and control that the higher, spiritual nature is able to predominate and flourish. Those who are not Bahá’ís may have no cause to take into account such considerations. A Bahá’í, however, cannot set aside the implications of these teachings and must endeavour to respond to the best of his or her ability, though it be little by little and day by day. In so doing, all believers face challenges, although the specific type or extent of a test may differ. They act with faith in Bahá’u’lláh’s declaration, “Know assuredly that My commandments are the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures”, and they respond to His call, “Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.”

     You have suggested that homosexuals could be made to feel as though they are “on the edges of society” and “inherently deficient”, which would drive them away from the Faith. Such an outcome would be antithetical to the Bahá’í teachings. It may be reassuring to you to know that Shoghi Effendi has stated, in letters written on his behalf, that a Bahá’í who has a homosexual orientation must strive daily to come closer to the Bahá’í standard and, in this process, should be treated with tolerance and receive help, advice, and sympathy; he also acknowledges that such an inclination can be “a great burden to a conscientious soul” and states that those concerned should “adhere to their Faith, and not withdraw from active service, because of the tests they experience” since, “in one way or another, we are all tested; and this must strengthen us, not weaken us.” Whatever the particular challenge he or she may face, through the recognition of Bahá’u’lláh and steadfast effort to abide by His teachings and to serve humanity, every believer can have a rich and rewarding Bahá’í life.

     Although they affirm their conviction that Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings reflect God’s purpose for humankind in this Day, Bahá’ís do not seek to impose their values on others. They do not pass judgement on others on the basis of their own moral standards and can never presume to know the standing of any soul in the eyes of God. Rather, the friends are enjoined to show forth unconditional love, to engage in fellowship with all, and to be forbearing, concerned with their own shortcomings and not those of others. They are to have a sin-covering eye, focusing on good qualities and ignoring the bad, and they must eschew backbiting and gossip. As the Bahá’í community continues to grow and develop, increasing its involvement with the wider society, such characteristics will become more pronounced and a hallmark of Bahá’í culture. Given this, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain, the House of Justice has repeatedly emphasized, would be entirely against the spirit of the Faith. In response to your question about the position a Bahá’í would take in relation to supporting the human rights of homosexuals, we have enclosed a copy of a letter dated 27 October 2010 written on behalf of the House of Justice to an individual believer that discusses this topic, and it is hoped the guidance contained therein will allay any concern you may have.

     As to the possibility of same-sex marriage within the Faith, according to the teachings, Bahá’í marriage is a union between a man and a woman. This is set forth in the Writings and is not susceptible to change by the House of Justice.

     You have also asked how you should deal with the conflict you face in being a Bahá’í while struggling to appreciate certain aspects of the teachings, and you wonder whether you should withdraw from the Faith or simply acknowledge that on this point you have a different view. It can be helpful to consider that, on occasion, a believer may discover that a personal understanding differs to some degree from the teachings. How can it be otherwise, when our conceptions are forged in a social milieu that Bahá’u’lláh has come to radically transform? “An exact and thorough comprehension of so vast a system, so sublime a revelation, so sacred a trust,” Shoghi Effendi reminds us, “is for obvious reasons beyond the reach and ken of our finite minds.” A sensible approach is simply to recognize that the human mind is both finite and fallible and that acquiring spiritual insight and greater understanding is a gradual and ever-unfolding process that requires time, continued study, reflection on action, and consultation with others. This perspective is quite different, however, from contending with or attempting to change explicit provisions of the Faith. Humility is required, rather than an insistence that one’s personal views at any given time are correct. Thus, there is no reason why you should feel a need to withdraw from the Bahá’í community. Rather you are encouraged to keep an open mind and acknowledge, like every other Bahá’í, that there are elements of the Revelation that you are striving to understand more fully. This does not prevent you from showing forth unconditional love and support for your son.

     You are assured of the loving prayers of the House of Justice at the Sacred Threshold that you and your son may be the recipients of heavenly blessings and bestowals.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

Department of the Secretariat

 
The 27 Oct 2010 letter which was sent to RR is reproduced below. The relevant parts of this letter were published by the National Spiritual Assembly on January 5th, 2011 which Sen McGlinn has on his blog here

27 October 2010

Transmitted by email: …

Mr. …

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

     Your email message of 10 July 2010, sent to the Office of Public Information at the Bahá’í World Centre, was forwarded to the Universal House of Justice, which was pleased to learn that you have recently become a Bahá’í and that you are studying the Teachings and their relationship to contemporary issues. With respect to your question concerning the position Bahá’ís are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following.

     The purpose of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Bahá’ís 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 Bahá’í 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.

     At the same time, you are no doubt aware of the relevant teachings of the Faith that govern the personal conduct of Bahá’ís. The Bahá’í Writings state 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. Other passages from the Writings state that the practice of homosexuality is not permitted. The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh on personal morality are binding on Bahá’ís, who strive, as best they can, to live up to the high standards He has established.

     In attempting to reconcile what may appear to be conflicting obligations, it is important to understand that the Bahá’í community does not seek to impose its values on others, nor does it pass judgment on others on the basis of its own moral standards. It does not see itself as one among competing social groups and organizations, each vying to establish its particular social agenda. In working for social justice, Bahá’ís must inevitably distinguish between those dimensions of public issues that are in keeping with the Bahá’í 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, Bahá’ís actively work for the establishment of world peace but, in the process, do not engage in partisan political activities directed against particular governments.

     As you continue to reflect on this important matter, it is hoped that you will be able to seek the advice of knowledgeable Bahá’ís and the institutions of the Faith in your area. Rest assured of the loving prayers of the House of Justice in the Holy Shrines on your behalf.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat

cc: National Assembly of …

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Reparative therapy and the things Bahais say

November 30, 2012

A friend posted the following on facebook recently:

Peter Drake, sent me the following email to let me know that he will be appearing on the Dr. Oz show to discuss the harm caused by “reparative therapy” for gay people.

I hope you will be able to watch the program, as it is important for Baha’is to be clear about the dangers of something that is suggested in our literature.

I appeared on the Dr. Oz show, about reparative therapy, which will air nationally on Wednesday, November 28th in the afternoon. Clay Aiken and a host of others were also on the show. This has become an international topic of great importance. California’s recent ban on this form of therapy is being challenged in court very soon, so the debate still rages. It is professional malpractice, and highly dangerous — particularly for youth.

Here is what a British publication has to say this week:
“this September, California became the first state in the nation to outlaw “conversion therapy” – basically, trying to make gay people straight – for children and teenagers. Jerry Brown, the governor, calls ex-gay therapy “quackery”, but it’s actually worse than that. The American Psychological Association, in a 2009 report, found that not only does conversion therapy have no effect on a patient’s sexual orientation, but it can also lead to depression, if not suicide. And while it’s harmful enough for adults, for more vulnerable teenagers the inculcation of inferiority and sinfulness that conversion therapy relies on can have lifelong effects.“
The Guardian, 23 Nov 2012

I hope you find a moment to watch or record this show. You’ll see quite a vehement exchange of opinions, well beyond the usual realm of Dr. Oz’s topics. I applaud him for taking this on, and it was quite an experience to be a part of the show!

 
So how did a few Bahais respond to this?

Well, prejudice against gays by Bahais seems to be alive and well with responses such as:

What is in the Baha’i Writings is the general principle to pray and to consult physicians in matters of health. In this particular instance, “through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer.” It would be wise for us as Baha’is to also reflect on the danger to us of continuing conduct that is in violation of the laws of God.

So this Bahai (lets call him X) thinks being gay is in violation of the laws of God, and so forgive me while I roll around on the floor in a fit of laughter. Ok I’m back now. Yes, that’s right reader, such an idea contradicts the Bahai teaching that we are all born beautiful (“I knew My love for thee: therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image” Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, Arabic nr. 3), born without sin (“Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth”. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 189.), and, in fact, born in the image of God (“chosen Thee to be the manifestation of Mine Own Self”, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 38. See my blog for more examples of this holistic perspective of the human condition.).

But this Bahai was not finished. He continued with paragraph, after paragraph, after paragraph, about how Bahais must obey Baha’u’llah’s laws. Reading it sent shudders down my spine because the approach was just like an old-fashioned fire and brimstone Bible-basher. Baha’u’llah’s words were being used like hammers and not like the “choice wine” (Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 5) Baha’u’llah wrote was the intent for his laws. Wine is a metaphor, of course, because Bahai’s do not drink alcohol, but the metaphor was used because one sips wine and consumes it selectively and chooses to enjoy it.

A law is not very meaningful to anyone if removed from its context, and so the paragraphs, all taken out of context, told me as a reader, this person hates gays so much he uses Baha’u’llah’s text like ammunition and throws it out insinuating that anyone who doesn’t think ‘gays should be cured’ is unwilling to obey Baha’u’llah and therefore is a bad Bahai. All good and fine: Bahais are free to express themselves, prejudices and all, and this was just one person’s response. But I continue with this train of thought because I ran against this idea of ‘obedience’ in relation to a blog by another Bahai who, while he wrote that there is nothing wrong with being gay, added: it is a difficult line to walk as an individual believer to profess equality while also adhering to an infallible faith that prohibits it.

I asked him if this meant that he thought there’s nothing to be done in making the Bahai community more welcoming of gays.

His response (you can read it here) would require another blog, but briefly his argument was that we must obey the Bahai administration even if we disagree with it and that individuals such as himself should make their views public so gay Bahais know who they are and that they have their support.

What he stated is a Bahai Teaching, that for the sake of unity it is best to work together even if the decision is wrong.

Here’s the text from Abdu’l-Baha: “It is my hope that the friends and the maid-servants of America become united on all subjects and not disagree at all. If they agree upon a subject, even though it be wrong, it is better than to disagree and be in the right, for this difference will produce the demolition of the divine foundation. Though one of the parties may be in the right and they disagree that will be the cause of a thousand wrongs, but if they agree and both parties are in the wrong, as it is in unity the truth will be revealed and the wrong made right.” Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 411

and another,
“The honoured members must with all freedom express their own thoughts, and it is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the thought of another, nay, he must with moderation set forth the truth, and should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority. It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness…” Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 88

So Bahais obey a decision made by an L.S.A. (a Bahai local administrative body) or a Bahai institution acting within its authority, but Abdu’l-Bahá also outlines that policies made by such bodies may, and are meant to, change (“The House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.” See more on my blog). So clearly this teaching doesn’t mean that Bahais cannot disagree or cannot present argumentation or have a discussion about a topic that has been ruled on.

 
So what has been ruled upon and how does this work?

When writing on the topic of homosexuality the Universal House of Justice has tended to refer to letters written by secretaries on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. These letters are not part of Bahai scripture, however the U.H.J.’s role, as head of the Bahai community, is to make policy on areas not covered by Bahai Scripture. This means they are free to refer to what they wish. While their policies which are part of a machinery “to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements” shouldn’t contradict any of the Bahai Teachings, both Shoghi Effendi and Abdu’i-Baha wrote that “another House of Justice will then have power, according to the exigencies of the time, to alter that law. This it can do because that law formeth no part of the divine explicit text.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah by Shoghi Effendi, p. 22-23)

So clearly any reference to do with infallibility of the Universal of Justice is in relation to their role as head of the Bahai Faith and not to do with interpretation or particular policies. That makes sense because otherwise we would have policy after policy building up on top of earlier ones and we would end up with a bureaucratic nightmare as the decades moved on. But we are spared this problem because of this separation between policy and scripture. Only what Shoghi Effendi penned in his own hand is considered interpretation and interwoven with the scripture penned by The Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha.

 
So what is the latest policy on the topic
of homosexuality and is it different to earlier policies?

To my knowledge the Oct 2010 letter from the Universal House of Justice is the most current policy statement on homosexuality, and the first time that there is policy encouraging the Bahai community to take a neutral position in regards to same-sex partnerships and they compare this policy to the current Bahai policy on party politics. That as individuals, Bahais are free to vote and are encouraged to be involved in political systems but not to join or be active members of any political party.

Their letter stresses that as a community Bahais must remain neutral on whether they support or do not support same-sex marriage but they must work at removing all forms of prejudice against gays (“regarding homosexuality and civil rights, … 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.” The whole letter is here).

Now an L.S.A. in an area where same-sex marriage is legal can accept a homosexual marriage as equal to a heterosexual marriage. However the same letter also states that a marriage is between “a man and a
woman”
. So what can an L.S.A. do? I’d say look at the writings and look at the context of the situation. Would it be discrimination to treat a same-sex couple differently? If the answer is yes, then I would say the answer should be clear.

However whenever I bring this up, I’m told this idea is a challenge or that it is not possible. A lesser reason is that this is a new policy that has yet to filter into the Bahai community.

A bigger reason is that Bahais still promote the idea that gays need to be fixed. One example is the existence of the BNASAA program (Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions, and Abuse) whose pages advocate that gays can ‘pray’ their gayness’ away (“Any individual so afflicted must, through prayer, and any other means, seek to overcome this handicap.” is just one of the Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which are quoted as if this is a Bahai Teaching, Accessed 30 November 2012). The fact that this committee is also a committee for AIDS, drug abuse and addiction speaks volumes about how homosexuality is associated with illness.

And if anyone ventures to wikipedia for a Bahai view on homosexuality, the current state of play there is the statement that “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; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1222) and gays are to be “advised and sympathized with.” (Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

So what we have at the moment in the Bahai community and in its public face on this issue is the general attitude that there is something wrong with being gay.

This is in direct conflict with the most recent statement from the Universal House of Justice in its 2010 letter urging Baha’is to work at removing all forms of discrimination. This conflict signals a need for something to change.

Often Bahais have brought up arguments related to morality or the role of sex. Who one loves is not the same thing as celibacy or sexual behaviour. This four minute video summarizes the distinctions between gender, orientation (what reparative therapy attempts to ‘cure’), sex, and behaviour.


Watch this in a separate window if your connection is slow.

There’s no need to confuse morality or behaviour with orientation.

And back to the discussion on facebook, another Bahai wrote: there is an assumption that there is something to fix in the first place.
and another:
In the Baha’i Writings, there is such an assumption. However, I feel it is most respectful to view people as spiritual beings who have the dignity of choosing what they will take in and what they won’t; of defining who they really are; and even if such therapy existed which assisted people to change their sexual orientation, which was not proven harmful, of having the dignity to choose for themselves whether or not to participate.

So most Bahais in that discussion didn’t share the view that gays need to be fixed, but the initial poster (Mr. X) continued with more quotations on law and obedience and asserted the following personal views:

People have to decide whether they’re going to listen to the worldly-wise, and to the gay magazines, and to public opinion — or whether they are going to listen to the Word of God, in their lives. We all make that choice, all day
It is not for us to modify the Cause of God. It is for us to defer to the Will of God, not foolishly strive to change what is written in our texts.

So, forget all those teachings about the independent investigation of truth, Bahais are not to question anything!

Forget about religion needing to be reconciled with science!

Forget about the notion that change is the immutable law of nature – everything changes, and there are mechanisms built into the Bahai Faith to enable it to adapt to changing times!

No, Mr. X believes that everything we understand now is as it will be for the next thousand years. We will just have to ignore any evolutions in human knowledge relating to physical and spiritual reality.

Another response to Mr X’s torrent of quotations was:
And I feel that it would indeed be necessary to destroy such a God, a god who rules by Law alone and not through the whisperings of the Spirit, not through the brightness of the Inner Light. Such a God is, I feel, profoundly wrong and awfully harmful in the real world and ought to be rooted out of our spiritual culture. If I met the Buddha on the road I might not kill him, but if I met God up on the ridge as the last light fell, I would wrestle with him until dawn, just like Jacob did (Genesis 32:24-32), crying ‘Let my people go! Take your wretched book of dumb laws away from us, and leave us be!’

Here is where I stand on this subject: While some Bahais might think being a Bahai is about following rules or laws, I and a number of others see the rules or laws made by Baha’u’llah as ‘choice wine’ – to be tasted, to be applied in tune with the Bahai Teachings and in harmony with ever-evolving scientific knowledge. This is not an excuse or cop out, after all isn’t that the point of Baha’u’llah’s own laws – that religious laws are not static but contextual.

The most important teaching is unity. You can’t have unity when some people are treated differently than others.

However well meant, even feeling sorry for another person because of their difference, is prejudice. Sometimes feeling pity is worse than outright expressions of prejudice because then, at least, the words are expressed, as in the postings by Mr. X above. And then someone like me can make a blog about this.

Science has weighed in on the subject of reparative therapy (see my blog: On the psychopathology of homosexuality) and has judged it to be not only ineffective, but harmful. Bahais are required to uphold the principle of the essential unity of science and religion. It follows, therefore, that Bahai Institutions’ must modify the current public position that homosexuality is an illness which can be cured or is a handicap of some form.

A future installment will be about “what is suggested in Bahai literature about curing gays” but if you can’t wait here are a few links on my blog about a presentation at a Bahai studies conference in 2010, or about Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

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The Universal House of Justice membership and related topics

May 1, 2010
Detail of the "Chronological Membership of the Universal House of Justice" from www.bahairants.com

Detail of a graph at the bottom of Baquia’s blog: Universal House of Justice: Results of By-Election

Bahai Rants” began in December 2004 and I wrote a summary about the Bahai Rants blog here.

In March 2010 Baquia wrote a blog in response to two new members being elected to the Universal House of Justice and noted that both had been previously members of the International Teaching Centre, to which they had been appointed to by the UHJ itself.
B’s statement:
“The most important trend is that we have, since 2008, a membership drawn completely from the ITC – which itself is appointed by the Universal House of Justice. So in essence, there is a closed loop with the UHJ appointing its future candidates”
is supported by a graph showing the history of the membership of the Universal House of Justice, a detail of which is above. The orange sections indicate the individuals who were previously members of the ITC.

Below are a few of my comments that I posted on Bahai rants. Each post has a link back to its location on Bahai rants, should you wish to read the other responses surrounding this and you can make your response there.
Responses here are moderated, mainly for practical reasons: I couldn’t cope the traffic that the Bahai Rants blog has. Also my purpose on the blog is just to have a reference for my own responses on particular topics. I am not looking at creating a forum or community. So if you wish to be 100% sure your response is aired, then post it on Bahai Rants. Posting it on Bahai Rants means I’m likely to find it there and even better, you would have the bonus of feedback from the diversity of a community.

Sonja’s comment posted on 2 April 2010
So L, I’m one of “the rest of the Bahais” [you refer to] and I’m all for nuance, diversity, open debate, change, and going to the source of the Writings (as much as is possible and in ways which will always involve flexibility and change) till the day I drop.

In a nutshell, what I think we lost with not having the guardianship, is flexibility. Look at Shoghi Effendi’s own writings, how one of his main missions seemed to be to limit and to spread power.
Getting back Baquia’s original blog here, I think one of the problems of the elected becoming more and more, it seems, a consequence of being appointed is a loss of flexibility that comes with new blood and differing views. Locally, what is happening is that now individuals appointed by the NSA or by cluster things or by the Ruhi system, are managing things where previously elected bodies such as the LSAs did this. I haven’t done my homework on this, so it would be good hear from others of their experiences on this change from the elected to the appointed at local community levels.

And finally, when the first UHJ was to be elected, the Hands of the Cause (who had been appointed) informed everyone that they were not eligible for election, thus keeping in the spirit of openenss and new blood. The UHJ could easily announce that members of the ITC cannot be elected onto the UHJ if they wanted to. It could help keep a balance of the appointed and the elected distinctive. A feature I think Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi intended.

Sonja’s comment posted on 4 April 2010
I wrote: “The UHJ could easily announce that members of the ITC cannot be elected onto the UHJ if they wanted to. It could help keep a balance of the appointed and the elected distinctive.
A feature I think Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi intended.”

L wrote: “Interesting idea could you support it?”

My response: The differences between the appointed and elected institutions, and ways they complement each other, have been worked out in many UHJ messages, but they derive ultimately from the fact the Will and Testament refers to both the Guardianship and the Hands (appointed), and the Houses of Justice (elected). That already indicated a complementary relationship with different roles, which Shoghi Effendi then detailed in his World Order letters.
For example:
“It must be also clearly understood by every believer that the institution of Guardianship does not under any circumstances abrogate, or even in the slightest degree detract from, the powers granted to the Universal House of Justice by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and repeatedly and solemnly confirmed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will. It does not constitute in any manner a contradiction to the Will and Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, nor does it nullify any of His revealed instructions. It enhances the prestige of that exalted assembly, stabilizes its supreme position, safeguards its unity, assures the continuity of its labors, without presuming in the slightest to infringe upon the inviolability of its clearly-defined sphere of jurisdiction.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 8 )

“An attempt, I feel, should at the present juncture be made to explain the character and functions of the twin pillars that support this mighty Administrative Structure — the institutions of the Guardianship and of the Universal House of Justice. … these twin institutions of the Administrative Order of Bahá’u’lláh should be regarded as divine in origin, essential in their functions and complementary in their aim and purpose. Their common, their fundamental object is to insure the continuity of that divinely-appointed authority which flows from the Source of our Faith, to safeguard the unity of its followers and to maintain the integrity and flexibility of its teachings. Acting in conjunction with each other these two inseparable institutions administer its affairs, coordinate its activities, promote its interests, execute its laws and defend its subsidiary institutions. Severally, each operates within a clearly defined sphere of jurisdiction; each is equipped with its own attendant institutions — instruments designed for the effective discharge of its particular responsibilities and duties. Each exercises, within the limitations imposed upon it, its powers, its authority, its rights and prerogatives. These are neither contradictory, nor detract in the slightest degree from the position which each of these institutions occupies. Far from being incompatible or mutually destructive, they supplement each other’s authority and functions, and are permanently and fundamentally united in their aims…. ”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 147-8 )


and lots more, see
http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/WOB/wob-40.html


L then wrote: “if the master was against the appointed serving on the UJH why did he make the Guardian (an appointed person) a life time member of the UHJ? it seems that he had no problem with a member of the appointed serving on the UHJ. and none of the experts provided suggest otherwise. Im sorry but no where do they say that the appointed should not be elected to the UHJ in these quotes provided. Could you post some that do please?”

my response: I was explaining the principle of having the elected and the appointed as “twin pillars that support this mighty Administrative Structure” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 8 ) and in support of this principle, I gave the example of how the Hands of Cause chose not to make themselves available for election to the UHJ. I saw their action as meaning, they saw the need for new blood as a good thing. Perhaps they even thought that being appointed and in the public positions each of them had, that unless they did this, they would have been elected to the UHJ?
Of course, I have no idea what their motive was, all I am saying is that they did this and my suggestion is that if the members of the ITC chose to do this, this would help maintain this principle of having the elected and the appointed as complimentary aspects of the Bahai administration.

L: the source for this is:
“The Hands of the Cause in their message of November 4, 1961, referred to the election of the Universal House of Justice in these terms:
“That all male voting members throughout the Bahá’í world are eligible for election to the Universal House of Justice. The Hands do not limit the freedom of the electors. However, as they have been given the explicit duties of guarding over the security and ensuring the propagation of the Faith, they ask the electors of the House of Justice to leave them free at this time to discharge their duties. When that Supreme and Infallible Body has been elected, it will decide on all matters concerning its own membership.”

(Custodians, Ministry of the Custodians, p. 392)

At the moment what is happening at the highest level of the Bahai administration is that individuals are being appointed by the UHJ to the ITC, and then the males of the ITC are being elected to UHJ. The issue is that membership of the UHJ has become a result of the UHJ chosen appointments. Given that membership on the UHJ is a matter of just 9 members, my suggestion is: if the UHJ decided to make ITC members ineligible or if members of the ITC chose to make themselves ineligible, then surely there are plenty of other males perfectly suitable to serve on the UHJ. That’s my suggestion based on the above thinking. I am not suggesting it is bad to have appointed members of the ITC move to the UHJ, but when since 2008 (see Baquia’s graph) ALL NINE members of the UHJ come from the ITC, then it indicates that the electoral process is not bringing in any new blood. Here’s just one of the many quotations in the Bahai writings on the importance of new blood.

“Upon the local Assemblies, whose special function and high privilege is to facilitate the admission of new believers into the community, and thereby stimulate the infusion of fresh blood into its organic institutions,…”

(Shoghi Effendi, January 30, 1938, Messages to America, p. 11)

Sonja’s comment posted on 5 April 2010
in response to:
Surly you must have some excerpt that supports your claim that Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi did not intend for members of the appointed to serve on the UHJ

L: Please read my posts more carefully, I wrote:
“It could help keep a balance of the appointed and the elected distinctive.
A feature I think Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi intended.”

The second sentence refers to the former sentence, a balance. The point of my responses has been to see how the principle of this balance could work better.

re: your idea that the Guardian was intended to be a member of the UHJ:
Abdu’l-Baha wrote in the Will and Testament:
“By this body [the UHJ] all the difficult problems are to be resolved and the Guardian of the Cause of God is its sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that body. Should he not attend in person its deliberations, he must appoint one to represent him.”
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 14)

From this we can see that the Guardian is not eligible for election (he is appointed), and that he is not just a member of the UHJ, since he can appoint someone else to represent him. It is not stated that the Guardian does not have a vote on the UHJ, but this is implied, first because nothing is said about whether the Guardian’s representative would have a vote, and second because that would mean there are ten votes rather than nine, which would be allow for the possibility of a 5-5 split. I’d say that it’s unlikely that Abdu’l-Baha would discard the symbolism of 9, and raise the possibility of a hung vote, by making the UHJ a ten-member body.

Instead it seems, in preserving this principle of the distinctions of the elected and appointed, the Guardian or his representative who could have been a woman, would not be a member of the UHJ but rather that s/he sat at meetings and participated, and most likely did not have a say in the final decisions that would be made.