Archive for the ‘Bahai Admin’ Category

h1

The Service of Women on the Institutions of the Baha’i Faith

August 27, 2018

When I heard the following paper being presented at the 1988 Bahai Studies conference in New Zealand it seemed to me that the phrase by Abdul-Baha “the sun at high noon” meant when the timing is right or when time has passed.
Here is the whole text:
“The House of Justice, however, according to the explicit text of the Law of God, is confined to men; this for a wisdom of the Lord God’s, which will ere long be made manifest as clearly as the sun at high noon.”
Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Haifa: Baha’i World Centre, 1978, pp 79-80

Over the years various Bahais have come up with all sorts of ‘reasons’ as to why women are not allowed to serve as members of the international body of the Bahai Administration (The Universal House of Justice) which fortunately can be easily dismissed as prejudice or ignorance because in most Bahai communities women are not treated with any lesser status than men. I am not suggesting that Bahai communities do not display aspects of sexism but in general I don’t see it being any worse than in the surrounding culture and as each day goes by, less Bahais insist that a women’s place is in the home raising children 🙂

So when someone would ask me about the inequality of not allowing women to serve on the Universal House of Justice (UHJ). I would throw up my hands and say I have no idea but I trust it will work out and that I am a Bahai and a feminist and Bahais do see the importance of gender equality. After hearing the paper, depending on the person’s interest I might add it seems to me to be a historical misunderstanding because Abdul-Baha’s 1902 text cited above refers to the all male membership of the Chicago House of Justice and not to the Universal House of Justice and a decade later Abdul-Baha changed this policy to allow women also to serve.

I now saw the context for this quotation from Abdul-Baha as wisdom because for the Persian man sent to oversee this first election at Abdul-Baha’s request, the idea that women could be members was too much of a strange idea. So “confined to men” meant in the 1902 Tablet, 10 years (from the first tablet in 1902 to the change to allow women to be elected in 1912).

This paper also gives an overview on the development of the Bahai administration which began informally in Iran from about 1878 as well as some context for Baha’u’llah’s use of the word “rijal” which is the word used by Baha’u’llah for the members of a House of Justice.

Sen McGlinn wanted to publish this in a journal of essays, Soundings (see the essays that were published) but the UHJ would not allow this to be published. Then the authors were informed that they were not allowed to circulate this paper. Then in 2007 another letter of the UHJ said that they were unaware of any restrictions on the circulation of this paper. So this could go up on h-net.org where people now had access to this. Below this paper is a bit of discussion on this topic.

Here is the paper! It is also here on h-net.org but I am putting it here so there are two places it can be found. Please bear in mind that this was written in 1988 and so the statistics will be out of date. So far as I know no other Bahais have written on this topic since then. There have been a number of statements from the UHJ stating that the gender of the UHJ will never change.

The Service of Women on the Institutions of the Baha’i Faith
Presented in 1988 at the New Zealand Bahai Studies Association Conference, Christchurch.
Anthony A. Lee, Peggy Caton, Richard Hollinger, Marjan Nirou, Nader Saiedi, Shahin Carrigan, Jackson Armstong-Ingram, and Juan R. I. Cole

From 1844, the year of the founding of the Babi religion, to the present day, women have played important roles in Baha’i history. Babi and Baha’i women have often acted as leaders in the community, holding its highest positions and participating in its most important decisions. In the first days of His Revelation, the Bab Himself appointed Qurratu’l-‘Ayn, Tahirih, as one of His chief disciples – one of the nineteen Letters of the Living who were the first to believe in Him and were entrusted by Him with the mission of spreading His Faith and shepherding its believers. This remarkable woman would soon become one of the most radical and influential of the Bab’s disciples and the leader of the Babis of Karbala. Her vision and achievement have become legend. [1]

In later periods of Baha’i history, women have acted in central roles of leadership within the community. Bahiyyih Khanum, the Greatest Holy Leaf, the sister of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, several times in her lifetime was called upon to act as the de facto head of the Baha’i Faith. When ‘Abdu’l-Baha left the Holy Land to travel to the West, for example, He chose to leave the affairs of the Cause in the hands of His sister. Likewise, immediately after the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha – before Shoghi Effendi, the new Guardian, could arrive in Palestine to assume control of the Faith, the Greatest Holy Leaf assumed leadership. The Baha’is in the Holy Land instinctively turned to her as their guide and protector. And again, during the Guardian’s absences from his duties during the early years of his ministry, he repeatedly entrusted the affairs of the Cause to the Greatest Holy Leaf. [2]

After the passing of Shoghi Effendi, women were once more called upon to serve the Baha’i Faith at its highest levels. The international leadership of the religion fell to the Hands of the Cause, the chief stewards of the Faith who had been appointed by the Guardian during his lifetime. The women Hands served along with the men to guide the Baha’i community through the turbulent years preceding the election of the Universal House of Justice. Once again, Baha’i women demonstrated their capacity to administer the affairs of the Faith at its highest levels.

The Baha’i Principle of Gradualism
Nonetheless, the service of women on the elected institutions of the Baha’i Faith has emerged only gradually. Although a few exceptional Baha’i women have always set the example for their sex, the role of women on Baha’i institutions in the community as a whole has not been comparable to that of men. Traditional notions of inequality, as well as the restrictions of a hostile environment, have caused the participation of women to lag behind.
Even to the present day, the participation of women on National Spiritual Assemblies, Boards of Counsellors, and Auxiliary Boards is not equal to that of men, as the charts show. A long road has yet to be travelled.

Participation of Women in Baha’i Institutions
“The equality of men and women is not, at the present time, universally applied.
In those areas where traditional inequality still hampers its progress we must take the lead in practicing this Baha’i principle. Baha’i women and girls must be encouraged to take part in the social, spiritual and administrative activities of their communities.”

The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1984.

The following table shows, by continent, the numbers of National Assemblies with the corresponding numbers of women members indicated by the column headings. For example, column 1, line 1, there are 4 Assemblies in Africa with no women members.


(Information provided by the Department of Statistics at the Baha’i World Centre, and reprinted from dialogue, volume 1, no. 3 (Summer/Fall 1986), p 31.)

The gradual emergence of women on the institutions of the Faith should not come as a surprise, however. Virtually all Baha’i laws and practices have gone through a gradual evolution in Baha’i history. The recognition of the principle of the equality of men and women, and its gradual application in the development of Baha’i Administration is no exception.

The principle of progressive revelation, the concept of the gradual emergence of divine purpose, is a universal principle which applies within the dispensation of each Manifestation, as well as between dispensations. Baha’u’llah Himself has explained:
Know of a certainty that in every Dispensation the light of Divine Revelation hath been vouchsafed to men in direct proportion to their spiritual capacity. Consider the sun. How feeble its rays the moment it appeareth above the horizon. How gradually its warmth and potency increase as it approacheth its zenith, enabling meanwhile all created things to adapt themselves to the growing intensity of its light. How steadily it declineth until it reacheth its setting point. Were it all of a sudden to manifest the energies latent within it, it would no doubt cause injury to all created things …

In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty hath bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste away and be consumed; for men’s hearts would neither sustain the intensity of its revelation, nor be able to mirror forth the radiance of its light. Dismayed and overpowered, they would cease to exist. [3]

The Universal House of Justice has demonstrated how this principle of progressive revelation has applied, and continues to apply, to the implementation of Baha’i law, particularly to the laws of the Kitab-i Aqdas. The Central Figures of the Faith have promulgated these laws only gradually as the condition of the Baha’i community would allow. [4]

Similarly, ‘Abdu’l-Baha recognised that women could not take their rightful place in the affairs of the world all at once. Throughout history women have been deprived of education and opportunity. Therefore, it was impossible that they would be able to immediately play an equal role in Baha’i life. But ‘Abdu’l-Baha has insisted that all distinctions of sex will be erased once women attain proper education and experience. He says:
Woman’s lack of progress and proficiency has been due to her need for equal education and opportunity. Had she been allowed this equality, there is no doubt she would be the counterpart of man in ability and capacity. [5]

In a talk given in New York, ‘Abdu’l-Baha again pinpoints education as the key to women’s equality:
…if woman be fully educated and granted her rights, she will attain the capacity for wonderful accomplishments and prove herself the equal of man. She is the coadjutor of man; his complement and helpmeet. Both are human, both are endowed with potentialities of intelligence and embody the virtues of humanity. In all human powers and functions they are partners and co-equals. At present in spheres of human activity woman does not manifest her natal prerogatives owing to lack of education and opportunity. [6]

In Paris He said:
…the female sex is treated as though inferior, and is not allowed equal rights and privileges. This condition is not due to nature, but to education. In the Divine Creation there is no such distinction. Neither sex is superior to the other in the sight of God. Why then should one sex assert the inferiority of the other…If women received the same educational advantages as those of men, the result would demonstrate the equality of capacity of both for scholarship. [7]

On another occasion he made the same point:
The only difference between them [ie: men and women] now is due to lack of education and training. If woman is given equal opportunity of education, distinction and estimate of inferiority will disappear. [8]

And again:
Therefore, woman must receive the same education as man and all inequality be adjusted. Thus, imbued with the same virtues as man, rising through all the degrees of human attainment, women will become the peers of men, and until this equality is established, true progress and attainment for the human race will not be facilitated. [9]

It was clearly ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s position that lack of education and opportunity had relegated woman to an inferior position in society, and that through education and experience all inequalities of sex would be gradually removed. His own policies and actions concerning the service of women on the institutions of the Faith reflected this belief in gradualism.

The First Baha’i Institutions
Any investigation of the history of the development of the Baha’i Administrative Order will reveal that Baha’i women only gradually took their place beside the men in this area of service – and not without struggle. This has been especially true in the East, where women were most heavily restricted. But lack of education and other cultural circumstances have affected the participation of women on Baha’i institutions all over the world.

The first Hands of the Cause appointed by Baha’u’llah were, for example, all males. ‘Abdu’l-Baha appointed no additional Hands, and it was only during the ministry of Shoghi Effendi that women were appointed to this rank. Even so, it has been only Western Baha’i women who have been found qualified for this distinction.

At later times, when the first Auxiliary Boards to the Hands of the Cause were appointed, and then the first contingents of Boards of Counsellors, women were included. But circumstances dictated that it be mostly Western women who were appointed, and that their numbers were far fewer than those of men. As the above chart shows, that situation remains the same today. This is not due to any policy of discrimination on the part of the institutions of the Faith, but simply due to historical circumstances. As the position of women improves – especially in Asia and Africa – with respect to education and experience, we can expect that the current situation will change in favour of more participation of women.

The House of Justice of Tehran
The struggle for the equal participation of women in Baha’i Administration has been played out most dramatically, however, in the arena of the development of local institutions. The first of these bodies was formed in Tehran, Iran, at the initiative of individual believers.

In 1873, Baha’u’llah revealed the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book, His book of laws. Here He established the institution of the House of Justice (bayt al-‘adl). The Kitab-i-Aqdas states:
The Lord hath ordained that in every city a House of Justice (bayt al-‘adl) be established wherein shall gather counsellors to the number of Baha [i.e., nine], and should it exceed this number it does not matter … 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 on 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. [10]

In the same book it is written:
O ye Men of Justice! (rijal al-‘adl) Be ye in the realm of God shepherds unto His sheep and guard them from the ravening wolves that have appeared in disguise, even as ye would guard your own sons. Thus exhorteth you the Counsellor, the Faithful. [11]

There are other references in the Kitab-i-Aqdas to the House of Justice (bayt al-‘adl) or the Place of Justice (maqarr al-‘adl) which define its function and fix some of its revenues. In most cases, these references are not specific but refer to the general concept of a House of Justice rather than a particular institution. The Universal House of Justice has explained:
In the Kitab-i-Aqdas Baha’u’llah ordains both the Universal House of Justice and the Local Houses of Justice. In many of His laws He refers simply to “the House of Justice” leaving open for later decision which level or levels of the whole institution each law would apply to. [12]

Although the Kitab-i-Aqdas was revealed in ‘Akka in 1873, it was withheld for some time by Baha’u’llah before it was distributed to the Baha’is of Iran. [13]

It appears that it was not until 1878 that the Baha’is of Tehran received copies of the book and began to implement some of its laws in their personal lives. Upon reading the Kitab-i Aqdas, Mirza Asadu’llah Isfahani, a prominent Baha’i teacher living in Tehran, was particularly struck by the command of Baha’u’llah that a House of Justice should be established by the Baha’is in every city.

Mirza Asadu’llah is an important figure in Baha’i history: he eventually married the sister of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s wife; he was (as we shall see) one of the earliest Baha’i teachers sent to America by ‘Abdu’l-Baha to instruct the new Western believers and he later accompanied ‘Abdu’l-Baha on his travels in Europe. In any case, in 1878 he was the first to undertake the organization of a local House of Justice in Iran. He took the initiative to invite eight other prominent believers to form a body, responding to the laws of the Kitab-i Aqdas, which they referred to as bayt al-‘adl (House of Justice) or bayt al-a’zam (the Most Great House).

The organization of this first House of Justice was kept a secret, even from the believers. However, it met sporadically in the home of Mirza Asadu’llah for a couple of years. After consulting with this body, the prominent Baha’i men who had been invited to attend its meetings would seek to take action as individual Baha’i teachers that would implement its decisions.

Around 1881, the Tehran House of Justice was reorganized and more members were added. The House adopted a written constitution and pursued its activities with more organization and vigour than before. The constitution mandated, however, that the meetings remain strictly confidential, hidden from the body of the believers.

This constitution also assumes that the members of the House would all be men (aqayan). Naturally, considering the social conditions in Iran at the time, no other arrangement was possible.

Some of the minutes of this early House of Justice survive today. It was a gathering of the older and more prominent Baha’i men of Tehran. Meetings were attended by invitation only, and at times included fourteen members or more. Eventually, this meeting came to be called the Consultative Gathering (majlis-i shur), while the house where the body met was referred to as the House of Justice (bayt al-‘adl).

These meetings sought to assist and protect the Baha’is through consultation on various problems. The House in Tehran sent Baha’i teachers to other cities in Iran to organize Houses of Justice there. Again, the decisions of the House were always carried out by individuals, and the consultations remained secret.

The organization of this body eventually met with some controversy. One important Baha’i teacher, Jamal-i Burujurdi, who later – in the time of ‘Abdu’l-Baha – would become a notorious Covenant-breaker, objected strongly to the organization of a House of Justice in Tehran. Because of these objections, the Baha’is involved on the House appealed to Baha’u’llah for guidance. Baha’u’llah replied with a Tablet in which He approved of the House of Justice and strongly upheld the principle of consultation in the Baha’i Faith. [14]

Early Organisation in America
When the first rudimentary local Baha’i institutions were organized in the United States, their membership was also confined to men. Later, as various forms of Baha’i organization at the local level became more common, men and women served together. But it was the understanding of the Baha’is at the turn of the century that consultative bodies in the Baha’i community should be composed of men. This understanding became firmly institutionalized in the largest Baha’i communities of New York, Chicago, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, and was sanctioned by ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

A scholarly history of the beginnings of Baha’i organization in America has yet to be written. Many of the details of these events have yet to be uncovered. However, it appears that the early American Baha’is were moved to form local councils for the first time in 1900, as a consequence of the defection of Ibrahim Kheiralla from the community. Kheiralla, a Lebanese Christian who had been converted to the Baha’i Faith in Egypt by a Persian Baha’i, ‘Abdu’l-Karim Tihrani, had brought the Baha’i teachings to America and had acted as the head of the Faith in the West until that point. His repudiation of ‘Abdu’l-Baha as the rightful leader of the Faith and chosen successor to his Father caused a temporary rift among the Baha’is.

In the fall of 1899, Edward Getsinger, a leading American Baha’i, appointed five men as a “Board of Counsel” for the Baha’is of northern New Jersey. [15] Isabella Brittingham was made the honorary corresponding secretary, but was not a member of the body. Later, in a letter dated March 21, 1900, Thornton Chase wrote from Chicago:
“We have formed a ‘Board of Council’ with 10 members.”

In this letter, Chase lists the names of nine of these members, all of whom were men. [16]

In June of 1900, however, it appears that the Chicago Board was reorganized. ‘Abdu’l-Karim Tihrani had travelled to America at the request of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and had arrived in Chicago at the end of May. The Baha’is of Chicago immediately asked him to draw up rules and regulations that would govern the affairs of their Board. [17] As a result, the Board of Counsel was expanded to nineteen members, some of whom were women. In a statement to the press the Baha’is indicated that this Board was being organized to replace Ibrahim Kheiralla, whom they repudiated as the leader of the Faith. [18]

Although ‘Abdu’l-Karim remained in Chicago for only a short time, his nineteen-member Board appears to have functioned for about a year. However, on May 15, 1901, a nine-member, all-male House of Justice was elected in Chicago to replace it. This was done at the direction of Mirza Asadu’llah Isfahani, who had been sent to America by ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Writing to the House of Justice in New York that had already been established, the Chicago House wrote:
Recently His Honor, Mirza Assad’Ullah, received a Tablet from the Master, Abdul-Baha, in which He has positively declared to be necessary the establishment here of the House of Justice by election by the believers with order and just dealing. According to this blessed Announcement, our believers have elected those whom they deemed best fitted, and thus The House of Justice was established. [19]

It was Mirza Asadu’llah who instructed the Baha’is of Chicago that the new House of Justice should be composed only of men. He and his company appear to have regarded the nineteen-member Board as illegitimate, possibly because women served as members.

The change to an all-male institution was not accomplished without anguish. Writing years later, Fannie Lesch, who had served on the Board of Counsel, wrote:
We had a Council Board of men and women after Dr. Kheiralla left us…
Mirza Assad’Ullah ignored us, although they were all invited to meet with us, and he established a House of Justice of men only…
[20]

Only days after the election of the Chicago House of Justice, a Ladies’ Auxilliary Board was organized at the suggestion of Mrs. Ella Nash and Mrs. Corinne True. This Board was later to be known as the Women’s Assembly of Teaching. It appears that the Ladies’ Auxilliary was able to maintain control of the funds of the Chicago Baha’i community despite the election of the House of Justice. [21]

Men of Justice
The belief that women were not eligible for service on local Baha’i institutions was based on the language of certain passages of the Kitab-i Aqdas which refer to the House of Justice. Of course, as we have noted above, these passages do not make a distinction between local, national, and international bodies. The institution as a whole is addressed. Baha’u’llah twice uses the Arabic word rijal (gentlemen) to refer to the members of the Houses of Justice. He says:
O ye Men (rijal) of Justice! Be ye in the realm of God shepherds unto His sheep… [22]

And:
We have designated a third of all fines for the Place of Justice (maqarr al-‘adl), and exhort its members (rijal) to show forth perfect equity… [23]

The word rijal (plural; singular is rajul) is exclusively masculine in Arabic. A dictionary would render an English definition of rajul as: man, gentleman; important man, statesman, nobleman. (A related form of the word, rujula or rujuliyya, would be translated as: masculinity; virility.) Since Baha’u’llah addressed the members of the Houses of Justice using this term, it appears that it was universally assumed that only men were eligible for service on such institutions.

The word rijal, meaning men, is used in the Qur’an and is part of an important passage which establishes the relationship between men and women in Islam (Qur’an 4:34):
Men (rijal) are superior to women (nisa’) on account of the qualities with which God hath gifted the one above the other, and on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them.

However, Baha’u’llah has in His Writings clearly established the principle of the equality of men and women. It is therefore possible that when He used the word rijal He did not intend its normal meaning.

Although rijal is the normal Arabic word for men (as opposed to women), there are passages in the Writings of Baha’u’llah that indicate that He may have used the term in a special sense. Such passages suggest that, in a Baha’i context, the word may be understood to include women. Baha’u’llah has stated that women in His Cause are all to be accorded the same station as men – and He has used the very term rijal to make this point. For example, He writes:
Today the Baha’i women (lit., the leaves of the Holy Tree) must guide the handmaidens of the earth to the Lofty Horizon with the utmost purity and sanctity. Today the handmaidens of God are regarded as gentlemen (rijal). Blessed are they! Blessed are they! [24]

And in another passage:
Today whoever among the handmaidens attains the knowledge of the Desire of the World [i.e., Baha’u’llah] is considered a gentleman (rajul) in the Divine Book. [25]

And in another place:
…many a man (rajul) hath waited expectant for God’s Revelation, and yet when the Light shone forth from the horizon of the world, all but a few turned their faces away from it. Whosoever from amongst the handmaidens hath recognized the Lord of all Names is recorded in the Book as one of those men (rijal) by the Pen of the Most High. [26]

Likewise, ‘Abdu’l-Baha in one of his Tablets has made the same point:
Verily, according to Baha’u’llah, women are judged as gentlemen (rijal). [27]

However, such passages were not raised as an issue at the time, either because the believers were not aware of them, or because they did not find them applicable. Certainly, the American Baha’is had no access to these texts and had to rely on the understandings of the Persian teachers who were sent by ‘Abdu’l-Baha to guide them.

Names and Terminology
In any case, it was the goal of Mirza Asadu’llah to establish a House of Justice among the believers in Chicago, as he indicated to the Baha’is that ‘Abdu’l-Baha had instructed him to do. He had been at the centre of the organization of the first House of Justice in Tehran, and he assumed a similar role in Chicago. At his direction, the Baha’is in Chicago elected nine men by ballot to a new institution. Those elected were: George Lesch, Charles H. Greenleaf, John A. Guilford, Dr. Rufus H. Bartlett, Thornton Chase, Charles Hessler, Arthur S. Agnew, Byron S. Lane and Henry L. Goodall. [28]

At its first meeting, the House of Justice decided to raise the number of its members to twelve. The body appointed three additional Baha’i men to serve. The minutes of the meeting read:
Motion made and seconded that Messrs. Ioas, Pursels and Doney be selected as add’n [additional] members of this Board of Council. Said motion approved by Board. Secretary instructed to notify said members. [29]

This action was taken, no doubt, in accordance with the statement of Baha’u’llah in the Kitab-i Aqdas that the minimum number of members for a House of Justice is nine, “and should it exceed this number it does not matter.” [30]

It is instructive to note that, in its first minutes, the secretary of the House of Justice refers to it as a “Board of Council.” This illustrates the fluidity of terminology that was used for Baha’i meetings and institutions at the time.

Standard terms for the Baha’i institutions did not become fixed and universal until well after the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Today, the elected local and national Baha’i institutions are known as “Spiritual Assemblies,” while the term “House of Justice” is reserved exclusively for the supreme, international institution. In the early years of this century, however, though these same terms were in use among the Baha’is, they were not used in the same ways. ‘Abdu’l-Baha himself confirmed the legitimacy of the election of the first Chicago House of Justice. A Tablet, probably received in September 1901, is addressed from ‘Abdu’l-Baha “To the members of the House of Justice, the servants of the Covenant, the faithful worshippers of the Holy Threshold of the Beauty of El-Abha.”

Two such Tablets addressed to the House of Justice of Chicago are translated in the compilation
Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas. [31]

Shoghi Effendi, writing much later in 1929, has discussed the significance of these Tablets. He says:
That the Spiritual Assemblies of today will be replaced in time by Houses of Justice, and are to all intents and purposes identical and not separate bodies, is abundantly confirmed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself. He has in fact in a Tablet addressed to the members of the first Chicago Spiritual Assembly, the first elected Baha’i body instituted in the United States, referred to them as members of the “House of Justice” for that city, and has thus with His own pen established beyond any doubt the identity of the present Baha’i Spiritual Assemblies with the House of Justice referred to by Baha’u’llah. For reasons which are not difficult to discover, it has been found advisable to bestow upon the elected representatives of Baha’i communities throughout the world the temporary appellation of Spiritual Assemblies, a term which, as the position and aims of the Baha’i Faith are better understood and more fully recognised, will gradually be superseded by the permanent and more appropriate designation of House of Justice. [32]

This “temporary appellation” was assumed at the instruction of ‘Abdu’l-Baha about a year after the election of the Chicago House of Justice. The minutes of the House of Justice for May 10, 1902, read:
Mr/ Greenleaf stated that he was instructed by Mirza Assad Ullah to inform this Body that here after and until otherwise informed it shall be known as the “House of Spirituality,” in accordance with a Tablet recently received from our Master.
Motion made and seconded that the command of Master changing name of this Body as transmitted by Mirza Assad Ullah be entered upon our records.
Approved by House.
Motion made and seconded that a copy (translation) of that portion of tablet setting forth the change as above mentioned be procured and placed on file.
Approved by House.
[33]

Extracts from this Tablet were indeed translated for the House of Justice, now the House of Spirituality. The heading to the translation indicates that the Tablet was received in Chicago by Mirza Assadu’llah on May 3, 1902. One extract reads:
The House of Justice of Chicago should be called “the House of Spirituality” (or the Spiritual House).
In short, no one must hurt the weak ones, there, but must treat them in kindness. Because now is the cycle of kindness and forgiveness to all people.
[34]

In what is apparently a second Tablet on the subject, ‘Abdu’l-Baha explained the reasons for the change. This Tablet was, some time later, translated and published:
The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs. Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection with material matters, and that its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs. This was also instructed (performed) in all Persia. [35]

At the same time, and in the original Tablet received on May 3, ‘Abdu’l-Baha had instructed that the name of the Women’s Assembly of Teaching be changed to the “Spiritual Assembly.” He instructed that “Spiritual Assemblies” should be organized in every place.
However, although the change of name for the House of Justice was effected immediately, the instruction to change the name of the women’s institution was ignored. This is probably because the translation of this command into English was so poor as to render it incomprehensible. [36]

And so we read the following in the minutes of the House of Spirituality three years later (July 29, 1905):

Mr. Windust read portions of the Tablet received from the Master in May, 1902 authorizing change of name of this body from “House of Justice” to “House of Spirituality”; as it also stated in said Tablet that the name of the Women’s “Assembly of Teaching” be changed to “Spiritual Assembly.” It was decided that this matter be spoken of at some future joint meeting [with the women’s group], as it had evidently been overlooked. [37]

As we have seen in the Tablets quoted above, in the first year after the election of the Chicago House of Justice, ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself used various terms to refer to that body. (Of course, we have quoted His Tablets in translation – the translations available to the Baha’is at the time.) These Tablets reflect the use of at least three different designations during this period: House of Justice (bayt al-‘adl) in the earliest Tablets, House of Spirituality (probably, bayt-i rawhani) in one Tablet, and Spiritual Gathering (mahfil-i rawhani) in another.

This last term, mahfil-i rawhani, can also be translated as “Spiritual Assembly.” However, it was usually translated as “House of Spirituality” in the publications and translations made at this time, even though this translation was in error. The Chicago body came to be known as the House of Spirituality from 1902, and so the translators rendered ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s references to it in these words, even if the original Persian did not warrant such a designation. This was because the term “Spiritual Assembly” had no fixed meaning in the early community and could refer to a number of different Baha’i meetings.
‘Abdu’l-Baha had asked, for example, that the term be used for the Ladies’ Auxiliary. It was also used by the Baha’is of this time to refer to any Baha’i community as a whole, some weekly teaching meetings, any consultative body, or any gathering of believers.

Terms used to designate the local administrative body were also fluid in ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s writings. In addition to the three designations above, the following additional names can be found: mahfil-i shur (Assembly of Consultation), mahfil-i shur rawhani (Spiritual Assembly of Consultation), bayt al-‘adl rawhani (Spiritual House of Justice), anjuman (Council), anjuman-i adl (Council of Justice), and marakiz-i ‘adl (Centres of Justice). [38]

The Women’s Struggle
The election of an all-male House of Justice in Chicago was a development to which some of the women in the Baha’i community were never reconciled. It is Corinne True in particular who stands out in the struggle to overturn the exclusion of women from that body. After the election, she immediately helped to organize the Women’s Assembly of Teaching which worked side by side with the House – and not always harmoniously – for over a decade. Beyond this, she appealed directly to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, asking that women be elected to the House of Justice.

Mrs. True’s letter, which has recently come to light, indicates clearly that the change to an all-male body was the cause of some dispute. She writes to ‘Abdu’l-Baha:
There has existed a difference of opinion in our Assembly [that is, the Chicago community] as to how it should be governed. Every believer desires to carry out the Commands of the Blessed Perfection [Baha’u’llah] but we want to know from our Lord himself [that is, ‘Abdu’l-Baha] what these Commands are, as they are written in Arabic and we do not know Arabic. Will Our Lord write me direct from Acca and not have it go through any Interpretor [sic] in America and thus grant me the Authority to say the Master says thus & so, for he has written it to me…
Many in our Assembly feel that the Governing Board in Chicago should be a mixed Board of both men & women. Woman in America stands so conspicuously for all that is highest & best in every department and for that reason it is contended the affairs should be in the hands of both sexes.
[39]

She was, however, disappointed when the Master would not support her point of view. He confirmed the practice of electing only males to the Baha’i governing board of Chicago, admonishing her to be patient. She appears to have received her reply from ‘Abdu’l-Baha in June of 1902, but refrained from sharing this Tablet with the Chicago House until the fall of that year.

The Tablet is a famous one and reads in part (in modern translation):
Know thou, O handmaid, that in the sight of Baha, women are accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind in His own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men and women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them. Whosoever draweth nearer to God, that one is the most favoured, whether man or woman. How many a handmaid, ardent and devoted, hath, within the sheltering shade of Baha, proved superior to the men, and surpassed the famous of the earth.
The House of Justice, however, according to the explicit text of the Law of God, is confined to men; this for a wisdom of the Lord God’s, which will ere long be made manifest as clearly as the sun at high noon.
As to you, O ye other handmaids who are enamoured of the heavenly fragrances, arrange ye holy gatherings, and found ye Spiritual Assemblies, for these are the basis for spreading the sweet savours of God, exalting His Word, uplifting the lamp of His grace, promulgating His religion and promoting His Teachings, and what bounty is there greater than this?
[40]

Since ‘Abdu’l-Baha had confirmed that women should be excluded from the Chicago House of Justice (later, House of Spirituality), this practice continued for some time, in Chicago and elsewhere. We might assume that the belief that women were to be permanently excluded from local Baha’i executive bodies was widespread, at least amongst the men. Women were to be involved in forming women’s groups, which ‘Abdu’l-Baha had named “Spiritual Assemblies” in one Tablet.

That did not end the issue, of course. It appears that American Baha’i women continued to discuss the possibility of membership on governing boards, with Corinne True being prominent among them. In 1909, Mrs. True received a Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Baha in response to her insistent questioning. It reads, in part:
According to the ordinances of the Faith of God, women are the equals of men in all rights save only that of membership on the Universal House of Justice [bayt al-‘adl ‘umumi], for, as hath been stated in the text of the Book, both the head and the members of the House of Justice are men. However, in all other bodies, such as the Temple Construction Committee, the Teaching Committee, the Spiritual Assembly, and in charitable and scientific associations, women share equally in all rights with men. [41]

This new Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Baha to Corinne True appears to have opened up a nationwide controversy over the rights of women to serve on Baha’i institutions. The use of the term “Universal House of Justice” in this Tablet caused some confusion. Corinne True and others assumed that ‘Abdu’l-Baha intended by this Tablet that women were now to be admitted to membership on local Baha’i bodies, and more particularly to membership on the Chicago House of Spirituality.

Thornton Chase related the controversy which erupted in Chicago in a letter written a few months later (January 19, 1910):
Several years ago, soon after the forming of the “House of Justice” (name afterward changed by Abdul-Baha to House of Spirituality on account of political reasons – as stated by Him – and because also of certain jealousies) Mrs. True wrote to Abdul-Baha and asked if women should not be members of that House. He replied distinctly, that the House should be composed of men only, and told her that there was a wisdom in this. It was a difficult command for her to accept, and ever since (confidentially) there has been in that quarter and in those influenced by her a feeling of antagonism to the House of Spirituality, which has manifested itself in various forms …
… Mrs True received a Tablet, in which it was stated (in reply to her solicitation) that it was right for women to be members of all “Spiritual Gatherings” except the “Universal House of Justice”, and she at once construed this to mean, that women were to be members of the House of Spirituality and the Council Boards, because in some of the Tablets for the House, it had been addressed as the “Spiritual Assembly” or “Spiritual Gathering”. But the House of Spirituality could not so interpret the Master’s meaning…
[42]

The difference of opinion was deep and serious. It took place within a wider context of gender tensions within the American Baha’i community at the time. The Chicago House of Spirituality consulted on the new Tablet to Corinne True at its meetings on August 31, 1909, and September 7, 1909. While it seemed clear to them that the Tablet did not admit women to membership on the House of Spirituality, they decided to write to ‘Abdu’l-Baha for a clarification of His meaning. [43]

It appears that no record of a reply to the House on this point has survived. But, in the event, the practice of excluding women from membership did not change. The men of Chicago assumed that ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the “Universal House of Justice” intended the local Chicago institution. This is a reasonable assumption, given the lack of fixed terminology at the time.
The word ‘umumi, with which ‘Abdu’l-Baha qualified His reference to the House of Justice in Arabic, means public, general, or universal. Since it was known that Corinne True had asked about women’s service on the Chicago House – which was understood to be a House of Justice, even if designated a House of Spirituality for various reasons – His reply seemed to indicate that only men could serve on the general (or universal) body, while women could serve on all subordinate bodies, such as the Assembly of Teaching, the Philanthropic Association, and so forth. And this is the interpretation of the Tablet that would stand for some years to come.

In May of 1910, Thornton Chase wrote to a believer about this question, which was still being debated:
As to women being members of the House, there is no question at all. ‘Abdul-Baha’s reply to Mrs True years ago, settled that, viz, that the members of the House should be men, and that the time would come when she would see the wisdom of that. This was in direct answer to her question to Him as to this matter. He has never changed that command, and He cannot, because it is the command of Baha’o’llah also, as applied to such bodies of business controllers.
But, in a Tablet to me, ‘Abdu’l-Baha said “The House of Spirituality must encourage the women as much as possible”. There is the whole procedure. “Encourage the women as much as possible”. That is what He does: that is what we should do. Not to be members of the H. of S., but to all good works in the Cause, which they can possibly accomplish. It seems to me that the matter of membership in H. of S. should be simply ignored, not talked about, but if it obtrudes itself too strongly, just get out that Tablet to Mrs. True and the one to me (just mentioned) and offer them as the full and sufficient answer.
[44]

Chase’s views are undoubtedly representative of the understandings of the majority of Baha’is at the time. It was the common understanding that the Chicago House of Spirituality was properly composed of men only, and that ultimately all local Baha’i boards should be similarly composed. This was a position which was repeatedly sustained by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, but which was never fully accepted by some Baha’i women.

In Kenosha, which had had an all-male “Board of Consultation” for some years, the issue of women’s service on the Board became a matter of dispute in 1910, as a result of Corinne True’s 1909 “Universal House of Justice” Tablet. On July 4, 1910, the Kenosha Board wrote to the House of Spirituality in Chicago asking if they had any Tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Baha which instructed that women should be elected to local institutions. They explained that two of the Baha’i ladies in their community had insisted that such Tablets existed. [45]

The reply from the House of Spirituality, dated July 23, 1910, is very instructive. [46] The House was able to find three Tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Baha which had bearing on the subject. One was the 1909 Tablet to Corinne True which had opened the controversy. Two others had been received from ‘Abdu’l-Baha in 1910, in reply to more inquiries.

In a Tablet to Louise Waite (April 20, 1910), ‘Abdu’l-Baha had instructed:
The Spiritual Assemblies which are organized for the sake of teaching the Truth, whether assemblies for men, assemblies for women or mixed assemblies, are all accepted and are conducive to the spreading of the Fragrances of God. This is essential. [47]

‘Abdu’l-Baha goes on to state that the time had not come for the establishment of the House of Justice, and he exhorts the men and the women to produce harmony and conduct their affairs in unity.[48]

In another Tablet directed to the Baha’is of Cincinnati, where the question of women’s participation in local organization had also become an issue, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote something similar:
It is impossible to organize the House of Justice in these days; it will be formed after the establishment of the Cause of God. Now the Spiritual Assemblies are organized in most of the cities, you must also organize a Spiritual Assembly in Cincinnati. It is permissible to elect the members of the Spiritual Assembly from among the men and women; nay, rather, it is better, so that perfect union may result. [49]

The House of Spirituality concluded from these Tablets that:
…in organizing Spiritual Assemblies of Consultation now, it is deemed advisable by Abdul-Baha to have them composed of both men and women. The wisdom of this will become evident in due time, no doubt. [50]

By this time, Baha’is in different parts of the United States had established a variety of boards and committees as a means of local organization. Women had served on the Washington, D.C., “Working Committee” since its formation in 1907. They had been a part of the Boston “Executive Committee” from its beginning in 1908. Women also acted as officers of communities in places where Baha’is had elected no corporate body. But these were regarded, for the most part, as temporary, ad-hoc organizations not official Baha’i institutions, which were thought to be properly all male.

‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablets recognized all of these local bodies as “Spiritual Assemblies” (or Spiritual Gatherings, mahfil-i rawhani) and by 1910, He was urging that these Assemblies consist of both men and women. The House of Spirituality in Chicago was obviously puzzled by this command, though it expressed confidence that the wisdom of mixed Assemblies would “become evident in due time.”
However, since it knew that the Kenosha Board of Consultation had been established as an all-male body in accordance with earlier instructions from ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the House of Spirituality suggested that the Kenosha Baha’is might wish to take a vote to determine whether a majority of believers would be in favour of a change. [51]

Rather than do this, however, the Kenosha Board of Consultation submitted the question to ‘Abdu’l-Baha. The “supplication” (as they termed it) was signed by all of the men of the Board. It asked if the Board should be dissolved, to be reelected with women as members. The Board members pledged to the Master that if it was His wish they would dissolve, but they stated that their intentions had been pure at the founding of the Board and that it had been established in accordance with a Tablet that had been revealed for the House of Spirituality some years before. [52]

‘Abdu’l-Baha, however, would not support the idea of dissolving the all-male Board.
His reply, received March 4, 1911, explains:
Now Spiritual Assemblies must be organized and that is for teaching the Cause of God. In that city you have a spiritual Assembly of men and you can establish a spiritual Assembly for women. Both Assemblies must be engaged in diffusing the fragrances of God and be occupied with the service of the Kingdom. The above is the best solution for this problem … [53]

As in other Tablets, He stated that conditions for the establishment of the House of Justice did not yet exist, and He urged unity between the men and women of the Baha’i community. And so, through 1911, the status quo that had been established by Mirza Assadu’llah in Chicago in 1901, with the election of the first American House of Justice, held firm.

All-male institutions continued to function in the most important Baha’i communities. These were supplemented by parallel women’s groups. A variety of committees and boards had been established in smaller Baha’i communities that included women as members, but these were regarded by most Baha’is as only informal groups. While ‘Abdu’l-Baha was urging that new “Spiritual Assemblies” include both men and women, He would not sanction the reorganization of the longer-established male bodies. Baha’i women in various parts of the country continued to discuss the need for change.

The Change Comes
It was not until 1912, during the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Baha to America, that a decisive change was finally made. While ‘Abdu’l-Baha was in New York, He sent word to the Baha’is of Chicago that the House of Spirituality should be reorganized and a new election held. He chose Howard MacNutt, a prominent Baha’i from Brooklyn, to travel to Chicago as His personal representative. MacNutt was instructed to hold a new election for a “Spiritual Meeting” (probably mahfil-i rawhani) of the Baha’is of Chicago. For the first time, women were eligible for election to this body.

MacNutt arrived in Chicago on August 8, 1912. At ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s instructions, a feast was held on August 10, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Lesch, where the entire Chicago Baha’i community was invited to be the guests of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. MacNutt delivered to the community ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s message of unity and love. The election was held the following day on August 11.
The Baha’i magazine, Star of the West, carried this account of that historic election:
On Sunday evening, the 11th, the Chicago Assembly [meaning here, the whole Baha’i community] selected a “Spiritual Meeting” of nine, composed of men and women, whose service – according to the wish of Abdul-Baha – is, first, to promulgate the teachings of the Revelation, and, second, to attend to other matters necessary to the welfare of the assembly. Mr. MacNutt was present and gave an inspiring address. [54]

A long struggle had ended.

Baha’i Institutions in the East
From the time of the dissolution of the Chicago House of Spirituality and its reelection, service on local Baha’i institutions has always remained open to women in America. ‘Abdu’l-Baha had made it perfectly clear that the restrictions placed on women in this regard were intended to be only temporary ones. From that point forward, women were fully integrated into the emerging Baha’i Administration erected in the West.

The same was not true in the East, however. In Iran and in the rest of the Muslim world, social conditions made it impossible for the restriction on women’s participation on local institutions to be lifted for some time. Local and National Spiritual Assemblies in Iran were limited to male membership during the entire period of the ministry of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and for most of the ministry of Shoghi Effendi. Again, the principle of gradualism was at play.

Of course, there were Baha’i women in Iran, as well in the United States, who campaigned for a greater role for women in the Baha’i community. Their concerns were not only with participation on local Houses of Justice, but also with the elimination of other social restrictions, such as the use of the veil in public. In a Tablet to one such woman activist, ‘Abdu’l-Baha urged restraint and recommended a gradual approach:
The establishment of a women’s assemblage (mahfil) for the promotion of knowledge is entirely acceptable, but discussions must be confined to educational matters. It should be done in such a way that differences will, day by day, be entirely wiped out, not that, God forbid, it will end in argumentation between man and women. As in the question of the veil, nothing should be done contrary to wisdom. …
Now the world of women should be a spiritual world, not a political one, so that it will be radiant. The women of other nations are all immersed in political matters. Of what benefit is this, and what fruit doth it yield? To the extent that ye can, ye should busy yourself with spiritual matters which will be conducive to the exaltation of the Word of God and of the diffusion of His fragrances. Your demeanour should lead to harmony amongst all and to coalescence and the good-pleasure of all…
I am endeavouring, with Baha’u’llah’s confirmations and assistance, so to improve the world of the handmaidens [that is, the world of women] that all will be astonished. This progress is intended to be in spirituality, in virtues, in human perfections and in divine knowledge. In America, the cradle of women’s liberation, women are still debarred from political institutions because they squabble. (Also, the Blessed Beauty has said, “O ye Men [rijal] of the House of Justice.”) Ye need to be calm and composed, so that the work will proceed with wisdom, otherwise there will be such chaos that ye will leave everything and run away. “This newly born babe is traversing in one night the path that needeth a hundred years to tread.” In brief, ye should now engage in matters of pure spirituality and not contend with men. ‘Abdu’l-Baha will tactfully take appropriate steps. Be assured. In the end thou wilt thyself exclaim, “This was indeed supreme wisdom!”
[55]

Baha’i women were not admitted to service on the institutions of the Faith in Iran until 1954. But this restriction was understood to be temporary, to be removed as soon as circumstances would permit. As Iranian society allowed a greater role for women in general, and as Baha’i women became more educated and more prepared for administrative service, this restriction was lifted. The Guardian eventually made women’s participation on Baha’i institutions in the East one of the goals of the Ten Year World Crusade (1953-1963). His hopes were rewarded by the signal distinction which some Baha’i women have achieved as administrators on local Assemblies and on the National Assembly of Iran.

The International House of Justice
The only remaining body within the Baha’i Faith whose membership continues to be limited to men is its supreme institution, the Universal House of Justice. First established in 1963, the Universal House of Justice is elected by the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies of the world. Naturally, the electors include many women. But the members of the House of Justice itself, from its inception, have all been male.

Shoghi Effendi anticipated that the Universal House of Justice would be established as an all-male body, even though he passed away before he could see this implemented. He did not comment generally on the subject, and he does not seem to have devoted a great deal of time to the issue. But in answer to questions from individual Baha’is, some letters were written on the Guardian’s behalf by his secretaries which comment on the composition of the yet-to-be-formed House of Justice. For example, his secretary writes:
As regards your question concerning the membership of the Universal House of Justice, there is a Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Baha in which He definitely states that the membership of the Universal House of Justice is confined to men, and that the wisdom of it will be fully revealed and appreciated in the future. In the local, as well as national Houses of Justice, however, women have the full right of membership. It is, however, only to the International House that they cannot be elected. [56]

And in another letter:
As regards the membership of the International House of Justice, ‘Abdu’l-Baha states in a Tablet that it is confined to men, and that the wisdom of it will be revealed as manifest as the sun in the future. [57]

Again:
Regarding your question, the Master said the wisdom of having no women on the International House of Justice, would become manifest in the future. We have no indication other than this… [58]

Again:
People must just accept the fact that women are not eligible to the International House of Justice. As the Master says the wisdom of this will be known in the future, we can only accept, believing it is right… [59]

The remarkable similarity of these letters to individual believers should be noted. In each case, the Guardian directed his secretary to refer to the Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Baha to Corinne True which was written in reply to her petition that women be elected to the Chicago House of Justice. This Tablet explains that the reason for the exclusion of women will become manifest in the future.

Subsequent events demonstrated that ‘Abdu’l-Baha had intended that this exclusion be only temporary – an exclusion that would be followed by the full participation of women on this body.

The exclusion of women from the Universal House of Justice today is observed by the Baha’i community primarily in obedience to these letters of the Guardian. Most Baha’is assume that this exclusion was intended to be a permanent one. However, since this instruction of the Guardian is tied so closely to the meaning of the one Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Baha which promises that the wisdom of the exclusion of women will become manifest in the future, and since it is known that the meaning of the Tablet was that women should be excluded only temporarily from the Chicago House, the assumption that women will be permanently excluded from the current Universal House of Justice may be a faulty one. A temporary exclusion may be intended.

The answer to this question, as with all other questions in the Baha’i community, will have to be worked out over time. The elements of dialogue, struggle, persistence and anguish which are so evident in the history of the gradual participation of women on local Baha’i administrative bodies will, no doubt, all attend the working out of that answer in the future. These elements are all present today.

A Tablet of Assurance
‘Abdu’l-Baha repeatedly assured Baha’i women in His writings that the women of the future would achieve full and complete equality with men. In one of these Tablets He refers to the composition of the House of Justice. The Tablet is dated August 28, 1913, and it appears to have been written to a Baha’i woman in the East. In it, ‘Abdu’l-Baha repeats His promise:

In this Revelation of Baha’u’llah, the women go neck and neck with the men. In no movement will they be left behind. Their rights with men are equal in degree. They will enter all the administrative branches of politics. They will attain in all such a degree as will be considered the very highest station of the world of humanity and will take part in all affairs.

Rest ye assured. Do ye not look upon the present conditions; in the not far distant future the world of women will become all-refulgent and all-glorious, For his Holiness Baha’u’llah hath willed it so! At the time of the elections the right to vote is the inalienable right of women, and the entrance of women into all human departments is an irrefutable and incontravertible question. No soul can retard or prevent it…

As regards the constitution of the House of Justice, Baha’u’llah addresses the men. He says: “O ye men of the House of Justice!” But when its members are to be elected, the right which belongs to women, so far as their voting and their voice is concerned, is indisputable. When the women attain to the ultimate degree of progress, then, according to the exigency of the time and place and their great capacity, they shall obtain extraordinary privileges. Be ye confident on these accounts. His Holiness Baha’u’llah has greatly strengthened the cause of women, and the rights and privileges of women is one of the greatest principles of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Rest ye assured! [60] (Final emphasis added.)


Notes

1. Nabil-i A’zam, The Dawn-Breakers, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1932, pp 80-81, 270-71.

2. See, for example, Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1969, pp 39-42 and 57-58; Baha’i Administration, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1928, pp 25-26.


3. The Universal House of Justice, A Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book of Baha’u’llah, Haifa: Baha’i World Centre, 1973, p 5.


4. Ibid., pp 3-7.


5. ‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1922-25 (1982), pp 136-37.


6. Ibid., pp 136-37.


7. ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1912, p 161.


8. Promulgation, p 174.


9. Ibid., p 375.


10. Synopsis, p 13.


11. Ibid., p 16.


12. Ibid., p 57.


13. Ibid., pp 5-6.


14. All information in this section concerning the first House of Justice of Tehran is based on Ruhu’llah Mihrabkhani, Mahafil-i shur dar ‘ahd-i Jamal-i Aqdas-i Abha, (Assemblies of consultation at the time of Baha’u’llah) in Payam-i Baha’i, nos. 28 and 29, pp 9-11 and pp 8-9 respectively.


15. Minutes of the North Hudson, N.J., Board of Counsel, National Baha’i Archives, Wilmette, Ill.


16. Chase to Blake, 21/3/00, Chase Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


17. Regulations relating to the Chicago Board of Council (Abdel Karim Effendi), Albert Windust Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


18. Kenosha Evening News, 29/6//00, p 1.


19. House of Justice in Chicago to House of Justice in New York 23/5/01, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


20. Fannie Lesch, “Dr. C. I. Thatcher, Chicago, Illinois”, (an obituary), Albert Windust Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


21. Minutes of the House of Justice (Chicago), 26/1/02 and 28/6/01. House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


22. Marzieh Gail and Fadil-i Mazandarani (trans.), typescript translation of the Kitab-i Aqdas.


23. Ibid.


24. Quoted in Ahmad Yazdani, Mabadiy-i Ruhani, Tehran: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 104 Badi’, p 109.


25. Ibid


26. Women: Extracts from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice, comp. by The Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, Thornhill, Ont.: Baha’i Canada Publications, 1986, #7, p 3.


27. Quoted in Ahmad Yazdani, Maqam va Huquq-i Zan dar Diyanat-i Baha’i, vol. 1, Tehran: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 107 Badi’.


28. Minutes of the House of Spirituality, 24/5/01, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


29. Ibid., 20/5/01.


30. Synopsis, p 13.


31. Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, Chicago: Baha’i Publishing Society, 1909, vol 1, p 3.


32. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha’u’llah, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1938, p 6.


33. Minutes of 10/5/02, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


34. Extract from the Tablet of the Master, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, to Mirza AssadUllah, received in Chicago on the 3rd of May, 1902. House of Spirituality Papers. National Baha’i Archives.


35. Tablets of Abdul Baha Abbas, p 6.


36. The translation reads “We named the assemblies of teaching in Chicago the Spiritual Assemblies; you should organize spiritual assemblies in every place”; ( extract from the Tablet from the Master, se note 35 above).


37. Minutes, 29/7/05, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


38. See various published Tablets and public talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, including: Kitab-i baday ‘u’l-athar, Bombay, 1921, vol.1, pp 65, 119, 120, 251; and


39. True to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, 25/2/02, Document 11137, International Baha’i Archives, Haifa, Israel.


40. Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Haifa: Baha’i World Centre, 1978, pp 79-80.


41. ‘Abdu’l-Baha to Corinne True, 24/7/09, microfilm, National Baha’i Archives. [JustaBahai addition:] The original translation by Ameen Fareed was made on July
29, 1909. There is a later translation of this tablet in The Baha’i Faith in America, Volume
Two, by Rob Stockman, page 323 made by the Baha’i World Centre for the book.


42. Chase to Remey, 19/1/10, Chase Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


43. Minutes, 31/8/09 and 7/9/09, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


44. Chase to Scheffler, 10/5/10, Chase papers, National Baha’i Archives.


45. Bahai Assembly of Kenosha to House of Spirituality, 4/7/10, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


46. House of Spirituality (Albert R. Windust, LIbrarian) to Board of Consultation, Kenosha, Wis., 23/7/10, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


47. Ibid.


48. Ibid.


49. Ibid.


50. Ibid.


51. Ibid.


52. Ibid. Kenosha Assembly to Albert Windust, 16/5/11, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


53. Ibid. ‘Abdu’l-Baha to the members of the Spiritual Assembly and Mr. Bernard M. Jacobsen, Kenosha, Wis., 4/5/11, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


54. Ibid. Star of the West, vol. 3, no. 10 (August 20, 1912) p 16. See also, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s instructions to Howard MacNutt, August 6, 1912, microfilm collection, National Baha’i Archives.


55. Ibid. Women, #11, pp 6-7.


56. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated July 28, 1936, Baha’i News, No. 105 (February 1937) p 2.


57. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated December 14, 1940, quoted in Dawn of a New Day (New Delhi: Baha’i Publishing Trust, n.d.) p 86.


58. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated September 17, 1952, Baha’i News, No 267 (May 1953) p 10.


59. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated July 15, 1947, quoted in “Extracts on Membership of the Universal House of Justice” (an unpublished compilation of the Universal House of Justice).

60. Quoted in Paris Talks (London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1912) pp 182-83.

Editor’s Note: This paper was written in Los Angeles in 1988; many of the authors were young academics and intellectuals associated with dialogue Magazine. It was presented at an Association for Baha’i Studies conference in New Zealand the same year and was immediately suppressed by the Baha’i authorities, and its authors were forbidden to circulate it in any way.

Mirrored (with the addition on footnote 41) from http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/docs/vol3/wmnuhj.htm

This is the 2007 letter:

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT
18 October 2007

Transmitted by email:
Mr. Romane Takkenberg
Australia

Dear Bahá’í Friend,
Your email message of 23 September 2007 has been received by the Universal House of Justice, which has asked us to respond as follows.

The document to which you refer, prepared by Mr. Anthony A. Lee and others, was circulated informally in the United States in the latter part of the 1980s and attracted some attention from those who studied it because of its statements about the possible future participation of women in the membership of the House of Justice.

TIt was then presented at a Bahá’í Studies conference in New Zealand, at which time it was brought to the attention of the House of Justice.

On 31 May 1988, the House of Justice wrote to the National Spiritual Assembly of New Zealand clarifying the issues raised in that paper. A copy of this letter is enclosed for your information.

The House of Justice is not aware of any attempt to restrict the circulation of the paper. However, it might reasonably be expected that it would not be accepted for publication in a reputable Bahá’í journal or as part of a compilation of papers in view of the clarification provided in the aforementioned letter of 31 May.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat




Some have argued that because Abdul-Baha changed the name (intended to be a temporary measure) in 1902 from House of Justice to a term without the word Justice in it, that this means that one day when the name Baha’u’llah gave them, House of Justice, is returned, then women will no longer be able to serve on them. However in 1912 when Abdul-Baha allowed women to be elected to the local House of Justice this meant in affect that he was interpreting Baha’ullah’s reference to ‘rijal’ as applying to women as well.

So where did the idea come from that women could not serve on the UHJ? The only source I can find for this are in the 4 letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi (1936, 1940, 1947, 1952) referred to in the paper above and all these letters seem to refer to Abdul-Baha’s 1902 Tablet because of their wording. My guess is, that the secretary was unaware that the context for Abdul-Baha’s 1902, 1909, and 1911 tablets were the all male membership of Local Spiritual Assemblies. The 1909 reference to ‘Universal’ seems to me to distnguish the administrative committee from the teaching and other committees women were members of referred to in the second part of the same tablet. The 1910 tablet addressed to the Bahais of Cincinnati encourages them to elect both men and women to a committee called the “Spiritual Assembly” where the context shows that this was not the ‘general local Assembly’, while a 1911 tablet informs the Bahais of Kenosha not to disband their all male “Board of Consultation”. Labels for the various local committees were fluid (explaining why the 1910 Cincinnati “Spiritual Assembly” was not the same as the ‘general’ or ‘universal’ administrative body) and that explains to me why Abdul-Baha used term ‘Universal’ to distinguish the various local committees from the main local administrative committee (known today as the Local Spiritual Assembly) which until 1912 could only have male members on them.


I have no idea if the UHj might ever decide that women will be allowed to be members but it seems as clear as the noon day sun to me that in 1912 Abdul-Baha either changed his interpretation of the word ‘rijal’ or saw that this was the time for implementing gender equality within the Bahai administration when he asked to have the Chicago Assembly disband its all male membership and then elect from the women and men in the community. And if Shoghi Effendi did not have the authority to dictate the membership of the UHJ, then surely any letters written on his behalf would have a lesser authority to do so:
“… the Guardian … He is debarred from laying down independently the constitution [of the Universal House of Justice] that must govern … and from exercising his influence in a manner that would encroach upon the liberty of those whose sacred right is to elect the body of his collaborators.” World Order of Baha’u’llah, p 150

Advertisements
h1

Does this mean that one may not express critical thought?

March 19, 2018

Freedom of Speech cartoon found on a blog possibly by a Russian cartoonist. The initials are AZ.

Cartoon found on this blog,
possibly by a Russian cartoonist
by the name of Azim or AZ where I have
changed the texts.

Recently in a discussion a Baha’i wrote:
“We as Baha’is I believe should look at each quote and prescribe it to ourselves. This is one I take very much to heart”.
“To accept the Cause without the administration is like to accept the teachings without acknowledging the divine station of Bahá’u’lláh. To be a Bahá’í is to accept the Cause in its entirety. To take exception to one basic principle is to deny the authority and sovereignty of Bahá’u’lláh, and therefore is to deny the Cause. The administration is the social order of Bahá’u’lláh. Without it all the principles of the Cause will remain abortive. To take exception to this, therefore, is to take exception to the fabric that Bahá’u’lláh has prescribed; it is to disobey His law.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, May 30, 1930: Bahá’í News, No. 43, August 1930, p. 3)

This Baha’i was using this quotation to imply that “to exception to” meant that no one is allowed to disagree with any policy of the head of the Bahai Administration, The Universal House of Justice. I then looked for the context to this letter because I think Baha’is are free to express their personal opinions on the topic of equality for the LGBTQ community or same sex marriage. This was the context for the sharing of that quotation.

It is my view that one of the most basic of the Bahá’í principles is that each individual has the right and duty to seek out the truth which means the individual’s right to free expression, but I also believe that the context for how one expresses one’s views is just as important and sometimes silence might be better than causing pain or suffering. That is how I interpret Baha’u’llah’s text: “Say: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 143)

Sometimes silence is best and sometimes speaking up is best. So are there rules for Bahais in relation to freedom of speech?

Shoghi Effendi wrote:
“At the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. If certain instructions of the Master are today particularly emphasized and scrupulously adhered to, let us be sure that they are but provisional measures designed to guard and protect the Cause in its present state of infancy and growth until the day when this tender and precious plant shall have sufficiently grown to be able to withstand the unwisdom of its friends and the attacks of its enemies.” (Bahai Administration, p. 63)

The second sentence does not refer to limiting the freedom of expression of the individual. It refers to “prepublication literature review” which Abdul-Baha brought in as a temporary measure. This means that Bahais are not allowed to publish any book, paper or article without a committee approving the contents of this. However the UHJ has stated clearly that blogs or websites are free from this as long as the author makes it clear that what they write is just their own understanding.
“In general, at this stage in the development of the World Wide Web, the House of Justice feels that those friends desiring to establish personal homepages on the Internet as a means of promoting the Faith should not be discouraged from doing so. It is hoped that the friends will adopt etiquettes consistent with the principles of the Faith, including clearly indicating what materials constitute their own interpretations. While it is inevitable that some attempts will be found wanting, the House of Justice has not formulated guidelines or policies specifically addressed to Internet sites.” (The Universal House of Justice, 1997 Apr 24, Personal Web Pages Promoting the Faith Approved)

So what does “to take exception to one basic principle” refer to in that letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi? And how might it have been perceived by the readers in 1930?

I found that “to take exception to the fabric that Bahá’u’lláh has prescribed; it is to disobey His law” refers to rejecting the idea of a Bahai administration.

Some background
From 1914 onwards some Baha’is thought that the reference in Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i-Aqdas to Houses of Justice was about a form of parliament and that the Baha’i community was not to have any form of administration. In fact the number of references to the idea that the “Bahai Movement is not an organization…” suggests that it was a common idea among various Bahais of the times (See a circa 1917 publication) as it was attributed to Abdul-Baha via a pilgrim’s note. See Sen McGlinn’s blog (“You can never organize the Bahai Cause”) where he shows more context for this.

The text is not authentically Abdul-Baha. Page 4 of the booklet, Some Vital Bahai Teachings by Charles Mason Remey, published circa 1917

NOTE: The text is not authentically Abdul-Baha. Page 4 of the booklet, Some Vital Bahai Teachings by Charles Mason Remey, published circa 1917. See the booklet here


Then in March 1922, in the magazine Star of the West there was a 5 page essay called ‘Baha’i Organization: Its basis in the revealed word,’ written by Louis G. Gregory, Agnes S. Parsons and Mariam Haney at the request of the National Spiritual Assembly to counter this pilgrim’s note.
To paraphrase from Sen McGlinn’s blog: This begins by pointing to a generalised distrust of all organization, as an infringement on liberty and then refers to the Bahai Writings that specify the establishment of Bahai Houses of Justice in every town, and cites briefly a tablet from Abdu’l-Baha on religious law and the House of Justice, (Sen has translated this tablet by Abdul-Baha here).Then it switches to a discussion of the International Court, a different institution, to be organized by the Governments of the world (p 324), before switching back to citing Abdu’l-Baha’s instructions to organize spiritual assemblies. Then it states, “It is known that some misapprehension exists as to the need of organization in the Cause. This has grown out of a widely circulated statement, attributed to Abdul baha, that the Bahai Cause could never be organized. The true statement was, as corrected by Abdul Baha, that the Bahai Cause can never be rigidly organized; it can never be confined to an organization. The context of the statement tells why, namely: “It is the Spirit of the Age, the essence of all the highest ideals of the century.”
At Haifa, Syria, in 1920, the following question was asked Abdul Baha by some American pilgrims:
“It is misleading, is it not, to say that the Bahai Cause cannot be organized?”
Abdul Baha replied: “How is it possible that there should be no organization?
Even in a household if there is not organization there will be hopeless confusion. Then what about the world? What is meant is that organization is not rigid! In ancient times it was rigid. In the Torah all the political affairs were rigidly fixed, but in this Cause they were not. In this Cause there is political freedom i.e., in each time the House of Justice is free to decide in accordance with what is deemed expedient. This is a brief explanation of the matter.” (Star of the West, Volume 13, no. 12, March, 1923, p. 325)

After the death of Abdu’l-Baha in 1921, Ruth White, an American Bahai who also challenged the authenticity of Abdul-Baha’s Will appointing Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the Bahai Faith, produced a pamphlet called, The “Bahai Organisation, the enemy of the Bahai Religion,” where on page 5 she wrote of a recollection from 9 years earlier, “when I visited Abdul Baha at Haifa, Palestine, in 1920. … one day when he very opportunely spoke of certain conditions existing in America among the Bahais, I mentioned to him that I had never belonged to the Bahai organization (Spiritual Assemblies). His face beamed with happiness as he replied:
Good, very good. The organization that the Bahais have among themselves has nothing to do with the teachings of Baha’ollah. The teachings of Baha’o’llah are universal and cannot be confined to a sect.
The same thought runs through all the writings of Baha’o’llah and of Abdul Baha. It is expressed in many different ways, ranging from the above, and the following unequivocal statement: “The Bahai Religion is not an organization. You can never organize the Bahai Cause,” to the less obvious way of saying the same thing. For instance, Abdul Baha says that it will be impossible to create any schism in the Bahai Religion. The Bahais have interpreted this as meaning that two Bahai organizations cannot be formed when, as a matter of fact, both Baha’o’llah and Abdul Baha show that no organization can be formed” (on h-net.org)

In February 1929, a month after Ruth White’s pamphlet was published, Shoghi Effendi wrote to the members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States and Canada stating:
“It should be remembered by every follower of the Cause that the system of Bahá’í administration is not an innovation imposed arbitrarily upon the Bahá’ís of the world since the Master’s passing, but derives its authority from the Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Bahá, is specifically prescribed in unnumbered Tablets, and rests in some of its essential features upon the explicit provisions of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. It thus unifies and correlates the principles separately laid down by Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá, and is indissolubly bound with the essential verities of the Faith. To dissociate the administrative principles of the Cause from the purely spiritual and humanitarian teachings would be tantamount to a mutilation of the body of the Cause [emphasis added), a separation that can only result in the disintegration of its component parts, and the extinction of the Faith itself.” (World Order of Baha’u’llah by Shoghi Effendi)

So the similarity of the words in the 1930 letter by the secretary to the 1929 text above indicates that in context “one basic principle” in the 1930 letter refers to the existence of a Bahai Administration and not freedom of speech regarding policies of the day. Perhaps there is more context to this 1930 letter that one day someone else can provide.

I read the text “To take exception to this, therefore, is to take exception to the fabric that Bahá’u’lláh has prescribed; it is to disobey His law.” in the way Shoghi Effendi wrote “To dissociate the administrative principles of the Cause from the purely spiritual and humanitarian teachings would be tantamount to a mutilation of the body of the Cause …” Not that this means Bahais may only express their own interpretations of the Bahai Writings if these are in agreement with the policies of the Baha’i Administration.

It would be a different story if the Universal House of Justice stated that it was a Bahai law that Bahais were not allowed to express their own views, understandings or perspectives or if the Universal House of Justice announced that Bahais were not allowed to discuss the topic of homosexuality. They have not. So individual Bahais cannot then imply it is disobedience to “His law” if Bahais do interpret the Writings for themselves or express their own views or even discuss the topic of homosexuality. It isn’t a closed case nor a taboo subject.

A lesson I learnt from looking at Ruth White was that she was both the victim of her own misunderstanding and stuck with an idea of the Bahai community as static – as she first experienced and understood it during the lifetime of Abdul-Baha. The establishment of the House of Justice is clear in the Bahai writings and the development of an international tribunal is also clear. But a footnote in the 1908 English translation of Some Answered Questions asserted that these were the same thing. If the House of Justice was just another word for the supreme tribunal, which was to be elected by the nations and solve political questions, then you can see how she might think that there was no provision in the Writings for an administration of a Bahai community by Bahai institutions. Then there was the widely circulated pilgrim’s note saying “you cannot organize the Bahai movement…” So perhaps because Shoghi Effendi was working on the establishment of the Bahai Administration, something that she saw as false, made her assume that the Will and Testament was a fake – an idea she pursued in the face of all evidence. [See Sen’s 2009 blog, “Mitchell’s mistake”]

So as I see it we always need to be open to the idea that our own interpretation of the Bahai Teachings might be wrong and we need to remain open to change if evidence shows new information or to keep the Bahai Administration “in the forefront of all progressive movements.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 22)

That’s why, sometimes, I hammer on about only authentic Scripture, being what counts, not what a Bahai or even 99% of Bahais might say to me. Perhaps somewhere there is a text penned by Baha’u’llah that does restrict marriage to only be possible between a man and a woman? I will keep writing that it is my belief that there is nothing in Bahai Scripture that supports discrimination against lesbians or gays until someone shows me some evidence. Even if I should be wrong – on the topic of freedom of expression the Universal House of Justice – wrote:
“Because the Most Great Peace is the object of our longing, a primary effort of the Bahá’í community is to reduce the incidence of conflict and contention, which are categorically forbidden in the Most Holy Book. Does this mean that one may not express critical thought? Absolutely not. How can there be the candor called for in consultation if there is no critical thought? How is the individual to exercise his responsibilities to the Cause, if he is not allowed the freedom to express his views? Has Shoghi Effendi not stated that “at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views”?
(Addressed to the NSA of the USA, 29 Dec., 1988)

So while some Bahais might think that no Bahai is allowed to express any view, or write anything that is not in agreement with the policies of the Universal House of Justice, such as their current policy which does not allow gays or lesbians to marry in countries where this is legal, I think that the Universal House of Justice does allow individuals such as myself to express their views. I certainly do understand that raising this topic at a Bahai event might not be appropriate but a Bahai such as myself may express my views on my own blog where it is clear that my views are just my own.

Another Bahai wrote in that same discussion:
Abdul-Baha last will and testament: “To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion or express his particular conviction. All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error”

This isn’t the first time this selectively cut quotation has been presented to me. Without any further context it appears that Abdul-Baha is saying that our own opinion or expression is not allowed, however what Abdul-Baha was referring to at the end of the Will and Testament was to avoid the schisms and infighting after the death of Baha’u’llah. Abdul-Baha meant that we (Bahais) must accept Shoghi Effendi as Centre of the Cause.

“O ye the faithful loved ones of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá! It is incumbent upon you to take the greatest care of Shoghi Effendi, the twig that hath branched from and the fruit given forth by the two hallowed and Divine Lote-Trees, that no dust of despondency and sorrow may stain his radiant nature, that day by day he may wax greater in happiness, in joy and spirituality, and may grow to become even as a fruitful tree.
For he is, after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the guardian of the Cause of God, the Afnán, the Hands (pillars) of the Cause and the beloved of the Lord must obey him and turn unto him. He that obeyeth him not, hath not obeyed God; he that turneth away from him, hath turned away from God and he that denieth him, hath denied the True One. Beware lest anyone falsely interpret these words, and like unto them that have broken the Covenant after the Day of Ascension (of Bahá’u’lláh) advance a pretext, raise the standard of revolt, wax stubborn and open wide the door of false interpretation. To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion or express his particular convictions. All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error.”
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 25)

I elaborate on this in my 2015 blog “Is Criticism Allowed” here.

So back to the beginning, the above and the first quotation assert the importance of the authority of the Universal House but when you see the context of each, this authority doesn’t infringe on the duty of each of us to express our views, hopefully with wisdom and tact.

h1

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.

h1

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.

h1

“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

h1

“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 …

h1

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.