Archive for the ‘Bahai principle’ Category

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A Baha’i’s letter of resignation

April 25, 2016

Letter to the UHJ and NSA of the USA

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2016

To the Universal House of Justice and the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States of America,

Last time I wrote you I was writing to ask permission to travel to Iran in order to pursue my study of Persian and Baha’i history. It was my hope to become a scholar of the Faith. That letter marked, in many ways, the pinnacle of my immersion in the Baha’i community. Growing up, Baha’i children’s classes were held at my house every weekend, and feasts, holy days, firesides, and potlucks joyfully paraded through my home with comforting regularity. I remember crawling out of bed and dangling my legs over the second floor banister to listen surreptitiously to the late night consultations and deliberations of the Local Spiritual Assembly, which included both of my parents. One day I hoped to join their ranks.

My father founded one of the first theater companies in the world to dedicate itself to themes and stories from Baha’i history, and when I was fifteen I began touring with him across the USA, UK, and Canada – enacting plays about the beloved heroes and heroines of the Faith. When I was eighteen I served at the Lotus Temple in New Delhi and later at my university plunged headlong into what could have been subtitled a degree in Baha’i Culture (Persian, Arabic, and Middle Eastern Studies). My marriage vows were Baha’i vows, my daily prayers Baha’i prayers, and my hopes for humanity and myself — those hopes outlined in the sacred writings of the Faith. I write all this, not to brag about my Baha’i pedigree, or to prove a legitimate degree of devotion, but to illustrate how fundamentally rooted I have been in the Faith and to contextualize my profound grief that this is a letter of resignation.

There was a time when the Faith was everything to me and the Baha’i community a family like no other, but for the last ten years I have had difficulty feeling that I belong to it or want to belong to it. There are perhaps several issues at play, but the most fundamental of them has been the official position espoused by the Universal House of Justice on homosexuality. I am a heterosexual woman and I am married to a man, but many of my dearest friends and colleagues belong to the LGBTQ community. You advise that I should consider their sexual orientation to be a kind of “handicap” which they should “pray to overcome”, but I find this position impossible to maintain.

As a child and young adult, I prided myself in belonging to a religion that was not weighed down by outdated social laws, not caught up in untangling and interpreting archaic customs to fit the modern age. In comparison to other religions, the principles of gender and racial equality which the Baha’i Faith upheld often felt revolutionary and refreshingly modern. Even in 1914, Abdu’l- Bahá encouraged the marriage of people of different races in America! It felt good to be ahead of the curve and on the right side of history. But when it comes to the civil rights issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community, Baha’is are so woefully behind the curve, that I have for many years been embarrassed to be associated with the community. Current attempts to legitimize the LGBTQ community, such as legalizing gay marriage, do not only represent “changing trends in popular thought” (which to my ear sounds like characterizing significant changes as a superficial fad) but the emancipation of a community that has existed in human society as long as men and women have existed.

Some years ago, when people asked me about my religious affiliation, I started answering that “I was raised as a Baha’i” instead of saying “I am a Baha’i.” After the birth of my first child a few months ago, I fell into a deep depression in regards to my ambiguous relationship to my own faith community. It grieves me deeply that I will not raise my daughter within the embrace of the Baha’i Faith, which has meant so much to me. But it disturbs me further that she would be raised to believe that to be loyal to Bahá’u’lláh means to categorize a substantial and precious portion of the human race as “self-indulgent”, “shameful”, “aberrant”, “abhorrent”, “immoral”, “disgraceful”, “handicapped”, or “afflicted”. When my daughter was born I plunged into a studious and thorough interrogation of the writings on the subject of homosexuality, hoping I would be able to justify a way to return. When I found your letter – dated 9 May 2014 – I realized instead that I would prefer to officially resign.

My father has pleaded with me in the past to stay — to remain in a state of questioning while maintaining my role in the community. He tells me that the Baha’i community needs ardent seekers to ask difficult questions, or it has no chance of evolving and meeting the needs and ailments of the current age. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” he has said – a metaphor that rings more profoundly in my ears now that I have a baby of my own! But when I read this sentence from your May 9th letter — “It would be a profound contradiction for someone to profess to be a Bahá’í, yet reject, disregard, or contend with aspects of belief or practice He ordained” — it feels as if the Universal House of Justice is calling me a hypocrite rather than encouraging those believers who struggle with aspects of the Faith to persevere. Regardless, I no longer want to live in a constant state of schizophrenia and contradiction. For a long time I maintained that the writings of Bahá’u’lláh are in fact not clear on the issue of homosexuality, and therefore the retrograde attitudes towards homosexuality in the Baha’i community might shift. In regards to the passage often quoted from the Kitab-i-Aqdas …

We shrink for very shame, from treating the subject of boys.

I was under the impression that “the subject of boys” implied the practice of pederasty, and did not extend to homosexuality in general. Why should it, when sex between an adult and a child (boy or girl) is so very different than sex between two consenting adults? The other passage which is often quoted…

Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.

might seem more explicit, but in fact sodomy (if defined as “anal sex”) is anatomically impossible between two women and not strictly a necessity between two men who wish to bring each other to a sexual climax. It feels foolish to delve into the nitty-gritty particulars of the sex act, when it is our immaterial souls that religion should occupy itself with. As you write in your letter dated the 9th of May 2014, it is the role of religion “to cultivate spiritual qualities and virtues – the attributes of the soul which constitute one’s true and abiding identity.” And yet you have involved yourself in tracing clear prohibitions against the sexual acts of people of the same gender in the Baha’i community. So I feel it is important to be equally explicit that sodomy and pederasty are NOT synonymous with homosexuality. Even if this was not your opinion, you would be amiss to say that two women or two men cannot be part of the “the bedrock of the whole structure of human society” which supports and nurtures the next generation because they cannot issue forth children. I’ve witnessed many healthy households headed by same-sex parents. Surrogate motherhood, sperm and egg donation, not to mention adoption, has redefined the family structure in the contemporary world.

You write “if such statements are considered by some to be unclear, the unambiguous interpretations provided by Shoghi Effendi constitute a binding exposition of His intent.” I agree that the writings of Shoghi Effendi are less ambiguous than those enshrined within the Kitab-i- Aqdas, but are you not an infallible institution, capable of redefining his interpretations in a more enlightened manner without negating the divine covenant that has linked the series of institutions and individuals shepherding the Baha’i community towards its true potential? Do you not exist, not only to interpret and uphold what has already been written, but so that the Faith does not become calcified and intransigent — so that the Faith continues to be a living, thinking entity, able to adapt and respond to the needs and challenges of the age? As I write this letter, I realize I am writing it more for myself and my own sense of clarity than to enact any kind of response or change. I know a single letter cannot change the culture of a worldwide religion, and yet I would feel cowardly to leave the community without some clear act of protest or an attempt to communicate my grief. I wonder if you realize the emotional pain that you are inflicting upon the ardent believers of your community; radiant souls who want more than anything to be able to call themselves Baha’is.

Perhaps I am too rigid when I insist that this is a letter of resignation. The fact that I have decided that I can not be a part of the Baha’i community without being entirely a part of it, and so I must take myself entirely out of it, might, in itself, express a divisive breed of orthodoxy. Still, after much deliberation, I have concluded that this is the route I want to take.

I hereby relinquish my voting rights, and I ask that you strike me from the rosters.

I have no doubt that I will continue to love and respect the founders of the Faith, and to turn to their writings for guidance. I desperately hope that the official position of the Baha’i community in regards to LGBTQ individuals will change one day. If that day should come in my lifetime, I will be your valiant ensign once more.

Sincerely, Anisa George Philadelphia, PA

This was posted on gaybahai.net and there has been a lot of discussion by Bahais on facebook of the merits or not of this letter. The gay/lesbian Bahai story project is a resource for those interested in social history.
My only dispute with her beautifully expressed letter is that Shoghi Effendi never wrote a word on homosexuality, but many Bahais often mix up the status of these letters penned by secretaries with that of Shoghi Effendi’s own status as official interpreter of Baha’i Scripture. So her views on the status of these letters are similar to what many Bahais say. In the end it boils down to the Universal House of Justice to make a change in their policy, if there is to be any change in the way gay or lesbians are treated by the Bahai community in general. I say in general because there is nothing to stop Bahai communities making it clear in their practice or publicity that they do not discriminate against lesbians or gays. And as individuals we are free (and encouraged) to stand up for the rights of all, inside and outside of the Bahai community. And below a response to Anisa’s letter which shows the current status of the understandings of the Universal House of Justice on the topic of homosexuality. I say current because I have not seen any Bahai scripture that states that marriage can only be between a man and woman. If there was text that showed this I think that by now this would have been made available. Perhaps one day the Universal House of Justice will show us how they come to their current understanding or perhaps they will come to another understanding of Bahai scripture, or perhaps not.

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

12 April 2016

Mrs. Anisa George U.S.A.

Dear Friend,

Your email letter dated 4 February 2016 has been received by the Universal House of Justice and your comments concerning the Bahá’í Teachings and homosexuality have been noted. Your desire to withdraw your membership in the Bahá’í community is, of course, respected, and it is understood that the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, to which your letter was also addressed, has removed your name from its membership roll. We have been asked to comment as follows.

The House of Justice cannot change the Bahá’í Teachings, which are set forth in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and the authorized interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi.

Nevertheless, it wishes to assure you that there is a vast difference between those who accept Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings as the remedy prescribed by the Divine Physician for this age yet acknowledge that they may not grasp the wisdom of certain teachings or struggle in applying them in their personal lives and those who reject, disregard, or contend with them. Indeed, even in cases where believers had a homosexual orientation, Shoghi Effendi encouraged them not to withdraw from the community and to continue to engage in active service, for in one way or another, he explained, we are all tested, and he added that they should receive the encouragement and support of the community. Further, it is entirely against the spirit of the Faith to regard homosexuals with prejudice or disdain.

The House of Justice wishes you well in your efforts to be of service to humanity.

Yours sincerely,

Department of the Secretariat

cc: National Assembly of the United States

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Love and Legalism – a tale of two Baha’i communities

April 12, 2016
A Bahai with his family

One of these is a Bahai. Would his family be welcome in your Bahai community?

Abby’s story:
I was raised a Baha’i, so that is definitely why it took me so long to come out.

Added to that are my many happy experiences in the Baha’i community, which explains why I am still happy to call myself a Baha’i today, living with my same-sex partner and my children.

I was always attracted to women but knew it was a no go.

I married a man because that’s what I was supposed to do.

The LSA became aware of my “lifestyle” years ago because my ex-husband went to the Assembly to complain about me.

They told him to mind his own business, but I didn’t know this until after my meeting with them. I was extremely anxious about meeting with the LSA, and had no idea they would be so incredibly loving and accepting. It seemed clear to me that they were open to learning and desperately did not want me to feel unloved or unaccepted. It is a struggle for them, as they know the laws, but they also know me and I suppose this forced them to open their eyes on this subject. I told the LSA that I refuse to hide or pretend to be something I am not and felt doing so was dishonest and against the Faith. I pointed out that heterosexual Baha’is who are single or dating do not have their chastity questioned, and unless they are in my bedroom have no idea what is going on… That as Baha’is we are encouraged to be loving and the only “law” pertains to chastity. Except the marriage part… They also know that I would like to marry my partner. Not sure I’ll still have my voting rights then though!

And now because I live with my partner, I was offered a meeting to “deepen” on the writings on the subject but I declined. I have read everything, needless to say, being born, raised and currently still a Baha’i. If I didn’t love Baha’u’llah so much I would leave the Faith, and I told the LSA I would leave if they felt I was doing wrong by the Faith. They said absolutely no way should I leave the Faith. Another member of the LSA told me they are still babies with this subject and would like to be enlightened. I thought that was great.

For me, if the LSA had reacted negatively I would have left. We are supposed to love everyone and accept everyone. For me, Bahá’ís who judge or are homophobic are committing a greater sin than me, loving the most incredible human being I’ve ever known. But it is their issue and whatever I do is between me and God, I’m OK with that. If the LSA felt I was harming the Faith I would leave.

It’s very frustrating because I think individuals who don’t have any LGBT friends have bizarre ideas in their heads, and don’t think of us as regular, boring, loving, normal, fellow human beings. I’m not willing to live my life alone when I haven’t been convinced that Baha’u’llah believes this is what I should do.

The fact that my LGBT friends are loving and accepting of everyone, yet many Bahá’ís cannot be, is a contradiction of the Faith and my friends are the ones who are unprejudiced and all loving. I love all diversity in the world and this is just another. So many people miss out on knowing some beautiful human beings by judging what they don’t know.
I think my story is as positive as it can be for this time. I would love to I go to Feast with my partner and be active with her, but until the UHJ changes things I will keep my relationship with the faith at home. There are also some individuals in my local community who have shown in their behaviour that they do not welcome me as a lesbian.

“…homosexuality is not a condition to which a person should be reconciled, but is a distortion of his or her nature which should be controlled or overcome.”

Letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 12 January 1973; cited in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, pp. 110-111; also cited in Lights of Guidance, #1222, published in 1983, p. 365

“Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and sexual relations are only permissible between husband and wife.”

Department of secretariat letter from the Universal House of Justice,
9 May 2014
The The full letter is here

If the UHJ published a more positive view on this subject, I wouldn’t care what the rest of the community thought. It would be great to enlighten Baha’is unfamiliar with “ordinary” LGBT people. The LSA said I should not let anything keep me from attending the Feast. I feel if the UHJ changed the law there would be no leg for anyone to stand on and they would have to look at their own prejudices. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there are other LGBT people in the community who are not out.

I’ve been to Baha’i functions in the last few years, and a few Feasts, and feel quite close to some members of my LSA and my local community. I do have children that I am raising Baha’i. I live the life, so to speak (in service to others, love and acceptance and celebration of everyone). Unfortunately, my ex-husband is preachy towards my children about the evils of homosexuality. I have to tell them to not judge the Faith by their father and focus on the beautiful, amazing Baha’is we have in our community.

The LSA has encouraged me to go to feast and suggested I go to a cluster that the ex isn’t at. And they have asked what they could do to help support me, if there was anything. They are very loving.

Being able to share this with others gives me goosebumps and makes me smile.

Julia’s story:
I have been a Baha’i for some 30 years now, and I always tended to keep things pretty clear and honest, but my honesty got me into trouble. I told my daughters about my sexuality on the day I left the marital home and moved in with Granuaile, and I sent a letter to my LSA because I knew my husband had been in touch with them and given his side of the story. Then a member of the LSA, who has been a close friend of the family, asked me to come and see her. First privately, but also as a representative of the LSA. We had a nice chat but then she told me that her main concern with all this was the fact that her 16-year-old son could find out that I am living with a woman! How could people be so cruel? And that from someone I thought of as my friend. Another LSA member told me that I could no longer be a member of the Baha’i community if I was a lesbian. I was devastated. Baha’is who had been close friends stopped speaking to me, and my daughter, also a Baha’i, said that I could not visit her nor the grandchildren.

I have certainly come to realise that if you rock anybody’s boat most people react in some kind of strange way. What are they afraid of? As I told everybody, family and LSA alike, I had to do something for myself and now am happy and asked them to be happy with me. My daughters even said they wanted their fat, smoking mother back. (On this note I have to say that I have lost quite a bit of weight – which I needed to do anyway – and also gave up smoking in the last year – all since I have met my partner.)

The calendar of events, until then a regular e-mail sent to all in the community, stopped being sent to me. I was just dropped as the “old friend” they used to call me. I lived for my community and would have really appreciated a phone call or e-mail occasionally to see how I was – but nothing. It was as if I was dead. My partner’s friends were much more loving and understanding.

Then months later, the NSA asked a member of the pastoral care committee to contact me to find out what was going on. I had a lovely long chat with her on the phone. I tried to explain what my innermost thoughts about the Faith were, and that nobody had the right to tell me that I could or could not have these thoughts – I will always be a Baha’i in my heart – even if the NSA was threatening to take away my administrative rights. I was sent a letter from the NSA a few weeks later which stated: “You should be aware that if you do not take steps to align your life with the standards set out in the Holy Writings then the National Assembly will be left with no other option but to seriously consider removing your administrative rights. This is something that the Assembly very much wishes to avoid and it therefore lovingly invites you to reconsider your position; in this regard, it warmly offers you an opportunity to discuss your situation with a representative of the National Assembly whom you trust.”

Almost a year after this all began an LSA member phoned me saying that he had a “heavy heart” as he hadn’t spoken to me and he was a close friend as well as a fellow Baha’i. Then he said that his heavy heart was because he wanted to tell me where I had gone wrong because he was concerned about the well-being of my soul. I asked him why he was not concerned about me in the last year when I could really have done with a bit of friendly support.

At about the same time I had a friendly chat with an NSA member, and then a few weeks later I received a call from a local Baha’i reminding me that the NSA was going to meet in the next couple of days and had my case on the agenda, and wanted a response from me. So I sent a letter stating that I still believed in Baha’u’llah but could not go back to a life that felt dishonest to me, and that I was not going to leave the only person who is a support for me. In reply to that the NSA wrote a letter removing my administrative rights.

So there we have it – I am no longer a Baha’i in good standing.

I cannot contact the UHJ myself.

I cannot attend feasts, etc.

On the upside – the NSA wanted to know what happened in my 30 years of marriage because I hinted that it was not a happy time for me. I have very mixed feelings about being a “second class Baha’i” and have to think long and hard as to what I want to do now.

What was once a loving and caring community has turned into the total opposite and it seems they feel that, by sticking their heads in the sand, the “problem” will go away – or the NSA will deal with it. Somebody once said to look at the LSA/NSA as loving parents – well I cannot see any love anywhere – on the contrary.

These two stories show how two LSAs (Local Spiritual Assemblies) in differing western countries treated a lesbian member of their community in similar situations. Pope Francis recently made some statements on the topic of same sex marriage, about this never being possible within the Catholic Church. This is similar to the Universal House of Justice’s own statements, however there’s one big difference. In the same statement Pope Francis talks of pastors engaging in a careful process of “discernment” with regard to individual cases and helping people reach decisions in conscience about the fashion in which the law applies to their circumstances. The blog “Pope Francis lets the world in on the Church’s best-kept secret” by John L. Allen Jr. explains it like this: “Yes, the Church has laws, and it takes them very seriously. But even more than law it has flesh-and-blood people, and it takes their circumstances and struggles seriously too.
At one stage, Pope Francis writes that the divorced and remarried can find themselves in situations ‘which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications, leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.’”
(8 April 2016)

Instead of a pastoral service or priests, the Baha’i community has the elected Local Spiritual Assembly (LSA). In the stories above we saw that one LSA chose compassion and aimed to see the picture from the point of the individual, and some even saw it as an opportunity to learn. The other LSA appears to have used Baha’i law like a stick with stern counseling which the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) later reinforced with punitive action. I found the letter which stated that her voting rights were removed from that NSA particularly shocking because of these words “The principle reason for doing [this] is because such an arrangement is publicly in breach of Baha’i law and therefore your administrative rights are removed to protect the good name of the Faith.” If public impressions are the real issue, the fact is that in most western countries, religious examples of tolerance and compassion on such issues bring good publicity, not shame. They also noted that she is not allowed to host “devotional meetings nor any of the core activities related to the Plan” nor host Holy Days, teach children’s classes and a long list of other exclusions. Non-Baha’is are not excluded as much as this. I will work on a separate blog about what Shoghi Effendi wrote concerning the use and purpose of the removal of administrative rights, as it is clear to me that here it is being used to discriminate and exclude. At the same time, an NSA is free to be as harsh as they wish in the way they choose to apply Baha’i law, but the purpose of my blog will be to show that Baha’i law can be used like “choice wine,” to quote Baha’u’llah – using law with discernment without breaking any of the Baha’i principles.

This matters greatly to me because there’s not only the pain experienced by Julia and the pain I feel in reading her story, but also the problem of those who feel they are doing the right thing by the Baha’i teachings in reporting her to the LSA and the NSA, in excluding her because she is a lesbian, backbiting about her in the community (I’ve omitted this part of her story because it is so awful), not to mention all those others in her community who see this happening and go along with it, either because they think exclusion is right or because they are afraid to say anything.

Which Baha’i community would you want to be a member of? Which type of Baha’i community has a future in today’s world? Baha’is often don’t like me asking such questions because they argue that the Baha’i community shouldn’t be influenced by fads or trends, and that five letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi decades ago are all the guidance we need. I believe that Baha’u’llah’s religion is structured to change with the times, and that it is intended for all peoples – not just those who like things to stay the same or want to exclude people because they represent an aspect of diversity that they are unfamiliar with.

“…the broader issues that are the foundation of the religious law are explicitly stated, but subsidiary matters are left to the House of Justice. The wisdom of this is that time does not stand still: change and transformation are essential attributes and necessities of this world, and of time and place. Therefore the House of Justice implements decisions accordingly.”
Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet on on religious law and the House of Justice, provisional translation.

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Does a letter from a secretary create a Bahai Teaching?

July 18, 2015

“Unity of doctrine is maintained by the existence of the authentic texts of Scripture and the voluminous interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, together with the absolute prohibition against anyone propounding “authoritative” or “inspired” interpretations or usurping the function of Guardian. Unity of administration is assured by the authority of the Universal House of Justice.” Universal House of Justice, to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Netherlands, March 9, 1965: Wellspring of Guidance, pp. 52-53

Imagine the very idea of adding more text and calling this a Bahai Teaching? Well when it comes to the topic of homosexuality, this is what some Bahais do. A man who calls himself Dr Johnson, who often comments on my blog, seems to also think that it is a “Bahai Teaching” that masturbation is a bad thing. And so…

I have published Dr Johnson’s comments (link to his comments) because there might be a few Bahais that share these views as to what is a Bahai Teaching. Most of these comments focus on adultery or cheating on one’s spouse, which has nothing to do with a committed same-sex marriage, but the point I wish to make is the he treats texts from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as if these are Bahai Teachings and goes so far as to put Shoghi Effendi’s name underneath these.

In the future I will not allow any future comment on my blog where you (Dr Johnson) claim that something is a Bahai Teaching unless you provide a clear quotation from Bahai Scripture (link to what is Bahai Scripture). Expressing your views of the Bahai Teachings as your own personal point of view is fine. You have repeatedly ignored my request to distinguish between the lesser authority of a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and what you call a Bahai Teaching and so I assume you are consciously doing this.

I am sure that you are aware of the following letter but here it is again: “I wish to call your attention to certain things in “Principles of Bahá’í Administration” which has just reached the Guardian; although the material is good, he feels that the complete lack of quotation marks is very misleading. His own words, the words of his various secretaries, even the Words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself, are all lumped together as one text.

This is not only not reverent in the case of Bahá’u’lláh’s Words, but misleading. Although the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions and these messages are authoritative, their words are in no sense the same as his, their style certainly not the same, and their authority less, for they use their own terms and not his exact words in conveying his messages.

He feels that in any future edition this fault should be remedied, any quotations from Bahá’u’lláh or the Master plainly attributed to them, and the words of the Guardian clearly differentiated from those of his secretaries.”

Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 260

There are more letters expressing a similar view (link) – that a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi does not share the same authority as anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself. And only the Guardian (Shoghi Effendi) was authorized by Abdul-Baha in his Will and Testament to make authorized interpretations of Bahai Scripture. Outside of this it is up to each of us to apply the Bahai Teachings as we think they should be applied and each of us is free to express our own interpretations as personal understandings. Added to this is the authority of the Universal House of Justice to make policy about the practice (social teachings) of the Bahai community. Their 2014 letter makes it clear that a same-sex married couple is not welcome to join the Bahai community let alone able to marry after they join the community. Although whether or not this policy is intended to override the Bahai teaching that the law of the land is to be respected and obeyed by Bahais is not clear to me. However this is Bahai policy not a Bahai Teaching. See my May blog (link) where I critique the first part of this letter by the Universal House of Justice.

So then I ask you and other Bahais who do likewise, why refer to these letters as if these are Bahai Teachings when we have plenty of scripture by Baha’u’llah as well the interpretations by Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi? It seems not only irreverent but actually wrong to place more emphasis on what is in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi than on what is in Bahai Scripture. And to the point, if there is a contradiction between what is expressed in a letter and what is penned by Baha’u’llah, Adbul-Baha or Shoghi Effendi, then as a Bahai, I choose the later because the principles of justice and equality are more important than anything else.

The Book Lights of Guidance is not a source for Bahai Scripture and if you cannot see this, read my 2014 blog + screenshot here. If you wish to quote from this book and call this a Bahai Teaching, then find the original source in Bahai Scripture.

Here is another blog of mine (link) showing as much of the original context for the 5 letters that mention homosexuality (out of thousands that do not) as I can. Where the letters are shown in full it is very clear to me that the intent of these letters was advice or current policy or to share information but certainly never ever to be confused with the status of Bahai Scripture or a Bahai Teaching.

I will take just one example from something you wrote, Dr Johnson, to show you how in my view it goes against the Teachings of Baha’u’llah to add in letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as a source for a Bahai Teaching.

You wrote: “When we realize that Bahá’u’lláh says adultery retards the progress of the soul in the after life … “ This text is a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and I critique this phrase in my September 2013 blog here because there is no source to be found to back up what the secretary wrote. I state that there is no source because if there was one it would be accessible and I am sure that I would have found it by now having access to texts in Persian or Arabic as well as English. The only way I would not have access is if there was a text at the World Centre where I do not have access. I do not think that this is likely since the only source to be found is in a letter penned by a secretary in English in 1949. In the comments underneath my September 2013 blog I refer to a text by Baha’u’llah that refers to punishments related to adultery and you made a comment there yourself lower down. So I assume you either forgot, ignored, or didn’t care that what the secretary wrote is not backed up by Bahai Scripture.

However Baha’u’llah did write “Be thou of the people of hell-fire, but be not a hypocrite.” (Cited in a compilation on Trustworthiness. Also in Compilation of compilations, Volume 2, page 337) which brings me to my next point.

The Bahai Teachings are: equality for all, justice for all, the principle of the independent investigation of truth and so on. See my blog which lists the major Bahai teachings. One of the Bahai Teachings is the distinction between social teachings which change over time, and Bahai teachings which do not change. I would agree with you that many Bahais currently think that a same-sex marriage between two Bahais is not possible and this social teaching is reinforced by the current policy of the Universal House of Justice which has the authority to make such policy. However what Bahais think or do is not the same as what is a Bahai Teaching. Only Baha’u’llah, Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi can state what is a Bahai Teaching. No one else can add in new teachings.

Finally, do you really think it is a Bahai Teaching that masturbation is a bad thing? You do not state this clearly in your comments, so that is why I am asking. If you wish to follow what is written in letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi personally as if these words have the same authority as Bahai Scripture, all good, but on my blog, I will not allow any more of your comments if you continue to confuse the distinctions between what is a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and what is a Bahai Teaching.

I end with a quotation from the Universal House of Justice in relation to the book Lights of Guidance and note their emphasis on thinking for oneself and applying the Bahai Teachings as principles rather than taking the hellfire and damnation approach.

“The Universal House of Justice does not feel that the time has come for it to provide detailed legislation on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues. The principles pertaining to these issues are available in the book “Lights of Guidance” and elsewhere. In studying these principles, it should be noted that in most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done. It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. In the Bahá’í Faith moderation, which is so strongly upheld by Bahá’u’lláh, is applied here also. Provision is made for supplementary legislation by the Universal House of Justice — legislation which it can itself abrogate and amend as conditions change. There is also a clear pattern already established in the Sacred Scriptures, in the interpretations made by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and in the decisions so far made by the Universal House of Justice, whereby an area of the application of the laws is intentionally left to the conscience of each individual believer.

This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity, and one aspect of this is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action in areas which are left open by the law of God.

It should also be noted that it is neither possible nor desirable for the Universal House of Justice to set forth a set of rules covering every situation. Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain this objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented towards service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.”
The Universal House of Justice, 1988 June 2005, `Detailed Legislation on Moral Issues´

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What does Baha’i Scripture say about homosexuality?

November 11, 2014

Nothing. For Baha’is, Baha’i Scripture is everything penned by The Bab and Baha’u’llah, and the interpretations by Baha’u’llah’s son ‘Abdul-Baha, and where Shoghi Effendi (‘Abdul-Baha’s grandson) wrote in his capacity as official interpreter of Baha’i Scripture. It is a source of pride for many Baha’is to be able to state that we have authoritative scripture. That is to have access to the actual texts (or accurate translations of texts) as the sources for Baha’i Scripture.
“Unity of doctrine is maintained by the existence of the authentic texts of Scripture and the voluminous interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, together with the absolute prohibition against anyone propounding “authoritative” or “inspired” interpretations or usurping the function of Guardian. Unity of administration is assured by the authority of the Universal House of Justice.”
Universal House of Justice, to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Netherlands, March 9, 1965: Wellspring of Guidance, pp. 52-53

The only mention of homosexuality in authoritative Bahai text (not Scripture) is in five letters written by secretaries on behalf of Shoghi Effendi penned between 1949 and 1955.
The authority of these letters is unclear. It seems clear that they were intended as advice for the addressee but the authority of this advice is not clear:
“The exact status which Shoghi Effendi has intended the friends to give to those communications he sends to individual believers is explained in the following statement written through his secretary to the National Assembly on November 16, 1932:
“As regards Shoghi Effendi’s letters to the individual Bahá’ís, he is always very careful not to contradict himself. He has also said that whenever he has something of importance to say, he invariably communicates it to the National Spiritual Assembly or in his general letters. His personal letters to individual friends are only for their personal benefit and even though he does not want to forbid their publication, he does not wish them to be used too much by the Bahá’í News. Only letters with special significance should be published there.”

Published in the US Bahai Newsletter, No. 71, February 1933, pp. 1-2

However it is clear that Shoghi Effendi did not wish the status of these letters penned by secretaries to be confused with the authority of his own writing nor that of Bahai Scripture.
“I wish to call your attention to certain things in “Principles of Bahá’í Administration” which has just reached the Guardian; although the material is good, he feels that the complete lack of quotation marks is very misleading. His own words, the words of his various secretaries, even the Words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself, are all lumped together as one text. This is not only not reverent in the case of Bahá’u’lláh’s Words, but misleading. Although the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions and these messages are authoritative, their words are in no sense the same as his, their style certainly not the same, and their authority less, for they use their own terms and not his exact words in conveying his messages. He feels that in any future edition this fault should be remedied, any quotations from Bahá’u’lláh or the Master plainly attributed to them, and the words of the Guardian clearly differentiated from those of his secretaries.”
Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 25 February 1951 in The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 260)

However if you do a search on the internet you will find Bahais stating that it is a Bahai Teaching that homosexuality is forbidden and many Bahais have told me that Baha’u’llah forbids homosexuality. If Baha’u’llah had written on the topic of homosexuality we would have access to this by now. I think it is a stroke of genius by Shoghi Effendi to have secretaries pen these letters so there can be no confusion with anything he penned himself. Shoghi Effendi also stated that not everything he penned [footnote 1] is to be considered as authoritative on a par with Bahai Scripture, but given that he did not write on the topic of homosexuality there’s no need here to discuss what should be considered part of the canon of Bahai Scripture.
So if homosexuality is not mentioned in Bahai Scripture why do so many Bahais think it is? Prejudice against homosexuality has been around for a long time so that’s one reason. Another is that in 1983 the compilation book “Lights of Guidance” was published. It is a valuable source of quotations however, unfortunately, the author doesn’t make distinctions between what is Bahai Scripture and what isn’t, and she presents the Bahai Teachings as list of rules. If this book is used as a way to locate sources, all good and fine. I use it myself in this manner. But if it is used as a book of rules… well see screenshot below.

Screenshot from a page in the 1983 book,
Lights of Guidance, edited by Helen Hornsby.

Detail of one of the index pages in Lights of Guidance

Below I have noted the sources
1221. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 1954
1222. Jan 12, 1973 letter from the Universal House of Justice.
1223. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 1950
1224. refers to Baha’ullah’s reference to ‘boys’ (paederestry) + the notes added by the Universal House of Justice
1225. March 14, 1973 letter from the Universal House of Justice.
1226 + 1227. January 9, 1977 letter from the Universal House of Justice.
1228. July 16, 1980 letter from the Universal House of Justice.
1229. July 16, 1982 letter from the Universal House of Justice.
1230. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 1955

Link to this index page on the Bahai Library

You will note only 3 of the sources refer to letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and all the others refer to policy of the Universal House of Justice. Since 2010 the Universal House of Justice no longer refers to homosexuality as a condition that needs curing or to be overcome and instead urges the Bahais to stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians. Therefore, I will only focus on the letters written behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

In the Bahai Faith we have two sources of authority. One is Bahai Scripture and the other is the authority of the Bahai Administration, headed by the 9-member Universal House of Justice.
‘Abdul-Baha made it clear that the Universal House of Justice was free to make and change its own policy and that in fact this flexibility to change policy is important. “(S)ubsidiary laws are left to the House of Justice. The wisdom of this is that the times never remain the same, for change is a necessary quality and an essential attribute of this world, and of time and place.”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Rahíq-i-Makhtúm” vol. I, pp. 302-4; “Bahá’í News” 426 (September 1966), p. 2; cited in “Wellspring of Guidance” pp. 84-6 [footnote 2]

There is also a 4th letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in the same book. These 4 letters have been repeated so often that it seems as if there are more, so I thought it was time to have these letters listed together with as much context as I can find for easy reference. There is a 5th letter too but I’ll come to this.

In the column on the right is the context for the 1953 letter which is below. I have inserted white spaces between each point so it is easier to read. The original flows as one text.

Clearly the tone of the whole letter is one of giving information and advice and not that of setting down Bahai law and definitely not a letter that could or should be confused with the status of Bahai Scripture.

There is a world of difference in meaning between how the text is presented on the right and how it is presented in the book Lights of Guidance which I have copied below. In the book, the editor has added the title.

“185. Homosexual Acts Condemned by Bahá’u’lláh”

“Regarding the question you asked him about one of the believers who seems to be flagrantly a homosexual–although to a certain extent we must be forbearing in the matter of people’s moral conduct because of the terrible deterioration in society in general, this does not mean that we can put up indefinitely with conduct which is disgracing the Cause. This person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are condemned by Bahá’u’lláh, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make efforts 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 Bahá’í 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 to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada: Messages to Canada, p. 39)

Haifa, Israel,
June 20, 1953.

National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada.

Your letters … have been received by the beloved Guardian, and he has instructed me to answer you on his behalf.
He regrets very much the delay in answering your letters. Unfortunately he has had to delay in replying to all national bodies during the last year, because of the pressure of work here, which has steadily increased during this Holy Year.

ACQUISITION OF NATIONAL HEADQUARTERS AND SHRINE
The purchase of your national headquarters, he feels, was an important milestone in the history of the Faith in Canada, and he hopes that it will be put to good use, during the coming years, by your Assembly. To this institution you will soon be adding the Maxwell Home+E18 in Montreal, which should be viewed in the nature of a national shrine, because of its association with the beloved Master, during His visit to Montreal. He sees no objection to having one room in the house being used as a little museum associated with Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell.
He was most happy to hear that all of your goals were achieved. This augurs well for the future of your activities, especially during the Ten Year

Plan just launched. He wishes through your body to thank all the pioneers, teachers and Bahá’ís who helped achieve this great victory. They have every reason to feel proud of themselves, and grateful to Bahá’u’lláh. Undoubtedly His divine assistance, combined with their determination and faith, enabled them to fulfill their objectives.

He was very happy to know that Charlottetown not only achieved Assembly status, but that the believers there are mostly self-supporting, as this is a sound basis for the expansion of the work in any place, especially in such a difficult one.
The Bahá’í Exhibit held at the Canadian National Exhibition was an excellent means of obtaining publicity. He hopes that advantage will be taken of similar opportunities in the future.

He urges your assembly to press for recognition of the Bahá’í marriage in Ontario, and, gradually, where the Cause is strong enough, in other Provinces.
Regarding the question you asked him about one of the believers who seems to be flagrantly a homosexual–although to a certain extent we must be forbearing in the matter of people’s moral conduct because of the terrible deterioration in society in general, this does not mean that we can put up indefinitely with conduct which is disgracing the Cause. This person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are condemned by Bahá’u’lláh, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make efforts 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 Bahá’í body should take it upon itself to denounce him to the Authorities unless his conduct borders on insanity.
The Guardian attaches the greatest importance, during this opening year of the Ten Year Campaign, to settling the virgin areas with pioneers. He has informed, or is informing, the other National Assemblies that there is no reason why believers from one country should not fill the goals in other countries. In other words, Canada should receive foreign pioneers for her goals, who would operate under her jurisdiction; likewise, Canadians could go forth and pioneer in other countries’ goal territories if the way opened for them to do so. Naturally, they must feel their first responsibility should be toward the Canadian part of the Plan, as they are Canadians, but sometimes health, business openings or family connections might take people into other goal countries.

He realizes that the objectives in the far north are perhaps the hardest. On the other hand, the harder the task, the more glorious the victory.
You may be sure that he is praying for your success, and, what is more, he is confident that this young, virile Canadian Community can and will succeed in carrying out its share of the World Spiritual Crusade, so vast and challenging, upon which we are now launched.

With warmest Bahá’í love,
R. RABBANI.

Below is the context for the letter which was given the title “1223. Through Advice, Help of Doctors, and Prayer, Can Overcome This Handicap ” in Lights of Guidance.

Mar 1950 letter with response

The letter was written by an American who was serving as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly at the time the letter was written.

Do note that below the letter penned by the secretary, Ruhiyyih Khanum, Shoghi Effendi’s own note is a note of encouragement while making no reference to the content of the letter itself.

In Lights of Guidance the excerpt from following letter, shown below in full, was given the title: “1221. Acts of Immorality” by Helen Hornsby. Read the letter yourself and see that such a title is an accurate reflection of the tone of this letter.

21 May 1954
To an individual believer
Dear Bahá’í Sister:
Your letter of April 19th has been received by the beloved Guardian, and he has instructed me to answer you on his behalf.
He is very happy to have this opportunity of welcoming you personally into the service of our Faith; and hopes that, both in your professional career as a social worker, and in your life as a Bahá’í, you will be able to help many needy and troubled souls.
Amongst the many other evils afflicting society in this spiritual low water mark in history, is the question of immorality, and overemphasis of sex. Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, is spiritually condemned. This does not mean that people so afflicted must not be helped and advised and sympathized with. It does mean that we do not believe it is a permissible way of life; which, alas, is all too often the accepted attitude nowadays.
We must struggle against the evils in society by spiritual means, and medical and social ones as well. We must be tolerant but uncompromising, understanding but immovable in our point of view.
The thing people need to meet this type of trouble, as well as every other type, is greater spiritual understanding and stability; and of course we Bahá’ís believe that ultimately this can only be given to mankind through the Teachings of the Manifestation of God for this Day.
He will pray that you may be successful in your services to mankind as a Bahá’í.
With kind regards,
R. Rabbani
[From the Guardian:]
Assuring you of my loving prayers for your success and spiritual advancement,
Your true brother,
Shoghi

[The above letter is online here]

For the following letter I have only been able to find the excerpt as it is recorded in Lights of Guidance.

“The question of how to deal with homosexuals is a very difficult one. Homosexuality is forbidden in the Bahá’í Faith by Bahá’u’lláh; so, for that matter, are immorality and adultery. If one is going to start imposing heavy sanctions on people who are the victims of this abnormality, however repulsive it may be to others, then it is only fair to impose equally heavy sanctions on any Bahá’ís who step beyond the moral limits defined by Bahá’u’lláh. Obviously at the present time this would create an impossible and ridiculous situation.
He feels, therefore, that, through loving advice, through repeated warnings, 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. However, he does not advise this course of action and feels that it should only be resorted to in very flagrant cases.”
From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, August 20, 1955; cited in Lights of Guidance, #1230, p. 367-368.

You might note that the latest letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi on the topic of homosexuality stresses tolerance and to only to take action in exceptional cases. In Lights of Guidance, the title given to this letter, “Homosexuality, Immorality and Adultery Are Forbidden in the Faith” misses what appears to be the main point: tolerance and the possibility of the loss of voting rights in extreme cases where it could or would be a matter of public scandal. Bahais could understandably read the title “Homosexuality, Immorality and Adultery Are Forbidden in the Faith” and interpret the title as a Baha’i law.

If anyone has more context for this letter or any of these letters please let me know. Indicate with the word “private” if you do not wish your response to me to be made public. I will then cut and paste your comment so you can remain anonymous.

I found reference to a 5th letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in a 1993 compilation published by the Universal House of Justice, and unfortunately the excerpt is so short so I have no idea of the context. Here is the excerpt: “Bahá’u’lláh has spoken very strongly against this shameful sexual aberration, as He has against adultery and immoral conduct in general. We must try and help the soul to overcome them.” 25 October 1949

In the Kitab-i-Aqdas Baha’u’llah refers to shame – “We shrink, for very shame, from treating of the subject of boys.” Perhaps in the 1949 it was a common assumption among Baha’is to think this referred to homosexuality? It refers to a practice of the time, in parts of the Middle East, for a man to take a younger male as a form of sex slave. The word Baha’u’llah uses can also mean slave. [footnote 3]
However, it seems to me that the reference to adultery and immoral conduct in the excerpt indicates that the secretary who penned this letter is thinking of the quotation by Baha’u’llah where he mentions liwat and not homosexuality. See my blog where I look at the original text by Baha’u’llah

Until 2010, when the Universal House of Justice wrote “to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith,” [Footnote 4] letters from the Universal House of Justice referred to homosexuality as “an aberration subject to treatment” (22 March 1987) or “ “abnormality, handicap, affliction, problem, etc.”… the House of Justice feels that just such words can be a great help to the individuals concerned.” (16 March 1992) [Footnote 5]. Searching on the internet will show that Baha’is still prefer to refer to this earlier policy.
In the same 2010 policy the Universal House of Justice wrote “The Baha’i 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 Universal House of Justice does not have the authority to interpret Baha’i Scripture, that is to say what the Bahai Scriptures mean, so in my view, the way to read this statement is that this understanding underlies their policy. Their understanding and their policy can change. I am not suggesting that I know whether, or how, the Universal House of Justice may change its policy on Bahai marriage and I see the wisdom in not issuing any statement until Baha’i communities around the world have ceased to associate homosexuality with ideas such as handicap or affliction. But this poses a catch 22 for gay Bahais, unless their local community takes an approach of tolerance or that their local or national assembly provides an exemption should a Bahai choose a civil wedding ceremony because a Bahai one is not possible. It also poses a problem for the local Bahai community if the law of their country considers this discrimination. My next blog will consider the principles that apply if a married same sex couple wish to join the community. For me personally, being part of a community where members appear to believe there is anything wrong with homosexuality is a problem in itself. I believe such displays of discrimination do not fit with the Bahai concept of “unity in diversity,” and this dissonance is what forces me to write on this topic.


Notes

1. In a 1974 letter from the Universal House of Justice, the House refers to two letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the 1944 one (sorry I have no further information about the dating of this letter) states: “The infallibility of the Guardian is confined to matters which are related strictly to the Cause and interpretation of the teachings; he is not an infallible authority on other subjects, such as economics, science, etc. When he feels that a certain thing is essential for the protection of the Cause, even if it is something that affects a person personally, he must be obeyed, but when he gives advice, such as that he gave you in a previous letter about your future, it is not binding; you are free to follow it or not as you please.”
An undated Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, published in 1973, p. 88

The 25 July 1974 Universal House of Justice letter which has a shorter excerpt dates this was being 1944 (Read it online here)
I realise that a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi has a lesser status than anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself. When I find a suitable text penned by Shoghi Effendi I will add it here.

2. In his text, “The World Order of Baha’u’llah” under the heading: ‘A Living Organism,’ Shoghi Effendi explains why it is important that the Universal House of Justice is free to change its own policy.
“…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. To this testify the words of Bahá’u’lláh, as recorded in the Eighth Leaf of the exalted Paradise: “It is incumbent upon the Trustees of the House of Justice to take counsel together regarding those things which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book, and to enforce that which is agreeable to them. God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth, and He, verily, is the Provider, the Omniscient.” Not only has the House of Justice been invested by Bahá’u’lláh with the authority to legislate whatsoever has not been explicitly and outwardly recorded in His holy Writ, upon it has also been conferred by the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the right and power to abrogate, according to the changes and requirements of the time, whatever has been already enacted and enforced by a preceding House of Justice.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 22-23)

3. See my blog: mainly-about-homosexuality/#paederasty

4. “Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.” Universal House of Justice, 27 October, 2010

5. Both quotations are from a 1993 compilation by the compiled by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.
“…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a “natural” or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as an aberration subject to treatment, however intractable exclusive homosexuality may now seem to be. 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, as you rightly state, have decision in choosing his way of life, i.e. abstaining from homosexual acts.

Your plea for understanding and of justice extended to homosexuals is well taken in many respects, and the House of Justice assures you of its concern for the large number of persons so afflicted. Your work with the homosexual community is praiseworthy, and it permits you personally to exercise the support which is necessary for these often harassed persons, support which you call for in your essay. Moreover, your interest cannot but be therapeutic, at least for the more superficial elements of the problem; however, definitive therapy of the underlying predisposition, which you consider to be innate but the Teachings do not, may have to await additional investigations. As for the responsibility of Assemblies and of individual Bahá’ís, certainly all are called upon to be understanding, supportive and helpful to any individual who carries the burden of homosexuality.

As a young physician, you may wish to use this quotation, taken from a letter written by the Guardian to an individual believer in March l9S0, as your guidance: “To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap.”
Universal House of Justice or the Research department, to an individual, 22 March 1987

and

“You mention recent research which indicates that there may be a genetic basis for homosexuality; you accept the Bahá’í 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. Human beings suffer from many problems, both physical and psychological. Some are the result of the individual’s own behaviour, some are caused by the circumstances in which he grew up, some are congenital. Some human beings are born blind, some suffer from incapacitating accidents or diseases. Such conditions present the individual affected, and those around him, with serious problems, and it is one of the challenges of the human condition that all those concerned should strive to overcome such problems and have understanding and sympathy for the individual so afflicted.

There is a wide range of sexual abnormalities. Some people nowadays maintain that homosexuality is not an abnormality and that homosexuals should be encouraged to establish sexual relations with one or more partners of the same sex. 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.

The primary purpose of sexual relations is, clearly, to perpetuate the species. The fact that personal pleasure is derived therefrom is one of the bounties of God. The sex act is merely one moment in a long process, from courtship through marriage, the procreation of children, their nursing and rearing, and involves the establishment of a mutually sustaining relationship between two souls which will endure beyond life on this earth.

Some couples are unable to have children, and that, in itself, is an affliction, but this fact does not vitiate all the other bounties of the marital relationship. Some individuals for various reasons are unable to find a spouse, or choose to remain single; they must develop their natures and talents in other ways. 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 Bahá’u’lláh, having divine knowledge of human nature, shows that such a relationship is not a permissible or beneficial solution to a homosexual’s condition. If a homosexual cannot so overcome his or her condition to the extent of being able to have a heterosexual marriage, he or she must remain single, and abstain from sexual relations. These are the same requirements as for a heterosexual person who does not marry.

This law is no reason for Bahá’ís to consider homosexuals as outcasts. If they are not Bahá’ís there is also no reason to expect them to obey the Bahá’í law in this respect any more than we would expect a non-Baha i to abstain from drinking alcohol.

(16 March 1992)
in the June 5, 1993 compilation by the Research department of the Universal House of Justice, online here.

 

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Is it better to walk away?

August 17, 2014

Click to view this full size on Pinterest

caption: Spirituality is less about ‘doing’ & more about ‘being’ our truest most authentic self everywhere we go.- Emmanuel Dagher.


When a gay friend wrote:
My energy could be better served not fighting for inclusion but by focusing on doing good works. I’m starting to see why many people just give up on God completely and decide that, dogma, worship and religious labels get in the way of working towards creating a better world. A world that doesn’t exclude or hurt people.

I was reminded of ‘Abdul-Baha who said that if religion is not a cause of love and unity then it better not to have a religion. [footnote 1] Some have suggested to me that it is always better to walk away, that unity is most important. I don’t think Baha’u’llah nor ‘Abdul-Baha intended their teachings to be a mouthpiece for the majority. I think Baha’u’llah was serious when he said that ” [t]he best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice” [Hidden Words] but more importantly I think any community, religious or not, needs to value diversity because of the fresh inputs diverse people bring. If those from minority backgrounds are to have a voice, those from a majority perspective need to make it clear that there is ‘space’ for them in their community. In my view, it isn’t about tolerance or sympathy or looking good, but about developing a community where diversity is valued. Diversity doesn’t just happen, it needs to be worked at just as many Baha’i communities have and do work at racial diversity.

I think most Baha’is care very deeply about the importance of diversity, except, it seems, when it comes to our gay and lesbian brothers. I am often told that there is no such thing as a “LGBTQ” voice because we are all one. We are all equal. I agree with the sentiment but by ‘voice’ I mean a particular perspective on the world and society that is different to a majority voice.

I am a human being first and this means acknowledging others as equals, acknowledging that their differing perspectives are of value, however odd or ‘wrong’ they might seem to me personally.

So the next time there’s a gay or lesbian at a Baha’i event, do your best to treat that individual not as an ‘other’ – because they might not be there next time – threat them as an equal and a welcome element of diversity. And if there are no gays or lesbians in your community, then ask yourself why? What is it about your community that does not show to a 10% minority or so of humanity, that they are welcome?

A Baha’i recently told me that she felt embarrassed to say she was a Baha’i because she didn’t have the words to counter statements such as Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, is spiritually condemned [footnote 2]. Then a work colleague, an out of the closet lesbian, said she had heard that she was a Baha’i and that it sounded like a nice religion and asked her about it. My Baha’i friend kept the conversation brief because she didn’t want her to find out that lesbians and gays are treated differently. For my friend, this is a huge crisis of faith. Personally she sees nothing wrong with homosexuality, but she knows that the public image of the Baha’i community conflates homosexuality with immorality or disease, and she can’t see how she can do anything to change this. I suggested that she could speak about her discomfort in her own Baha’i community. If others in the community share her views, suggest that they state in their publicity something like: “a Bahai teaching is equality for all regardless of their cultural background, race or orientation.” If these Bahais find such a public statement problematic, then host a study class on the topic to find out why and use the opportunity to find ways to present the Baha’i community that work best while still showing the world that this particular Baha’i community is working at reducing discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Like any form of discrimination, the issue affects everyone, not just those who are being oppressed. Looking the other way means doing nothing to address the public perception that the Baha’i community is not coming “to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated” [Universal House of Justice, 27 October, 2010] of those who identify as GLBTQ.

Back to my question: is it better to walk away?

My gay friend continued: I ask myself “why do I have pain and suffering?” Is it because I want there to be a true Faith that makes existence make sense? I desire God and want a religion. In a way, it is selfish. And the result is pain, because the only Faith that makes sense to me, is just like all the other religions: it divides the world into “us” and “them,” even though it claims it doesn’t.
 
Like a child having a tantrum, I am angry and mad and fighting for this not to be so. But the fact of the matter is … it *is* this way. So, I feel the right way is to stop desiring there to be a God or an afterlife or even a religion or Faith that tries to make sense of existence.
 
I want those things because I’m selfish and want inclusion and want some sense of order. If I abandon my desires for these things and accept what is, then I no longer suffer with the pain that comes with the rejection from the Bahai Faith that is caused by being a gay man. And if I stop worrying about an afterlife and the “why” of existence, I can finally live free and at peace.

Is the anger because of attachment? Or injustice? What is more important – passion, involvement or detachment?

As for myself, if I thought the Baha’i Teachings (Link to a blog outlining ‘Abdul-Baha’s eleven principles) endorsed treating gay and lesbian Baha’is differently, I would have leave the Baha’i Faith and in turn, I would be less sure about the existence of God more than ever, as I am one of those Baha’is whose idea of God borders on the agnostic. I am not sure about the existence of God but the Baha’i Writings ring true as does my belief in spirituality.

I would have to leave the Baha’i Faith because if gays and lesbians are treated differently because of their orientation, then it means that the Baha’i principle of equality is meaningless. It is not possible to preach equality and then add, “except for those people”. Baha’is might say things such as “homosexuality is spiritually condemned” but if it is not in Baha’i Scripture, then as far as I am concerned it is not part of the Baha’i Teachings. I realise it is easier for me. I have the confidence to say this.

A friend nailed it by saying: I’ve had to recently acknowledge the fact that deep inside me I feel like I don’t have the right to be happy because I’m gay. God hates us, unless we’re celibate. And it affects my relationships, my self-esteem, and it certainly has played a huge part in my history of enjoying various substances.

“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)

If you are not treated with equality, of course it affects your self-esteem. If you are expected to hide your orientation, of course that creates an imbalance. I think that is why the Baha’i Teachings place such importance on equality, justice, independent investigation, and science and religion being in harmony and why ‘Adbul-Baha wrote: “The divine religions must be the cause of oneness… and the means of unity and love; they must promulgate universal peace, free man from every prejudice, bestow joy and gladness, exercise kindness to all men and do away with every difference and distinction. Just as Bahá’u’lláh addressing the world of humanity saith: ‘O people! Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.'” [Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 28]

We can use reason to overcome prejudice and hopefully make a conscious effort to improve the state of humanity”. [Bahaiteachings.org]

I do not want my religion to be used to hurt another gay or lesbian and I hope for the day when Baha’i communities demonstrate publicly by action that in their community they treat their gay and lesbian members as equals.

‘Abdul-Baha spoke of the diversity of the flowers in the garden of humanity being diverse as a good thing and as a metaphor for the diversity of humanity (being a good thing). I hate it that public statements present as homosexuality being: an aberration subject to treatment or abnormality, handicap, affliction, problem or an abnormality … a great problem for the individual so afflicted … that he or she should strive to overcome it“. (all these quotations are from the Wikipedia “Homosexuality and the Baha’i Faith” page. See footnote two). Where are the examples of Baha’is showing that within the Baha’i community there are those who value the diversity of those who identify as LGBT?

Although the Universal House of Justice’s current 2010 policy states that a “marriage is a union between a man and a woman” I wish that marriage was the only issue here, but it isn’t. Not only are gays and lesbians expected to live solitary lives while others may raise families and enjoy the support and companionship of a life-partner, this distinction is then enlarged by Baha’is to say things such as homosexuality is a transgression or a disease.

Don’t get me started on gender and how many a Baha’i has tried to justify the absence of female Universal House of Justice members as being based on supposed differences in capacity between women and men. I think it is human nature to look for reasons and the tendency to create them when there doesn’t appear to be a reason. But then the danger is, just as in discussions on gender equality, difference is then used as a means to enlarge on the inequality.

The Universal House of Justice letter states that “The Bahá’í Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman” but it doesn’t state the situation of already married gays or lesbians becoming Baha’is or that unmarried gays and lesbians should be treated differently to unmarried straights. The Universal House of Justice does not give a source in Baha’i Scripture (See my blog on this topic), and if there is nothing in Bahai Scripture that restricts marriage to a man and a woman, a later Universal House of Justice is free to take a different approach. It is not clear to me here whether The Universal House of Justice is making a policy on what is a Bahai marriage or telling us what they think is in Baha’i Scripture.

Of course I do see the catch 22 here for those in countries where it would break the law of the land to discriminate against legally married same sex couples. What can Baha’is do? I guess one day the Universal House of Justice is likely to make a policy on same sex marriage, but until they do, I would suggest that any N.S.A. or L.S.A. to view this as a new phenomenon and deal with this in the way that seems closest to the teachings of Baha’u’llah and the latest policy of the Universal House of Justice, while respecting the right of government to define civil marriage.

But I find it horrific that a Baha’i could say that treating a gay or lesbian differently is based on Baha’i Scripture, because it is not true.

In light of such attitudes, I don’t blame this gay friend for writing: it is religion and my desire to be a part of it and my desire to be loved by the Creator. If the Creator doesn’t love me, what is the point of trying to love the Creator? These are thoughts I usually hold down but I don’t see the usefulness (anymore) in pretending these feelings aren’t there. I’m sure I’m not alone. And I’m sharing with you to process and discuss”.

The very idea that some people are less worthy because of their nature, their race, or orientation is repulsive to me. I can’t match this idea with anything in the Bahai Writings, however another of my gay friends wrote: Lately I have been heavy on fighting for inclusion, perhaps to the exclusion of good works. But it may be time for a recalibration…. As regards your comments about desire producing pain, I have found that detachment from religion and people (even the most well intentioned) helps me maintain my sanity and my faith.
 
My view of humanity is much more melancholic than it used to be as a result. But I find that this detachment combined with a regular prayer/meditation practice works for me. When I get particularly depressed by people I turn to the prayers and writings of ‘Abdul-Baha for comfort.

So why should gays and lesbians have to suffer? What justification is there for prejudice against gays and lesbians to continue in the Baha’i community?

My friend Daniel who runs the blog “Revolked”: wrote in response to having his voting rights removed in 2009 by the American Baha’i community for being legally married in California: The Buddhist sangha really helped me… there was something about total inclusion mixed with a semi-Baha’i administration (all volunteer committee of 12 who coordinate the whole shabang), and 40 minutes of silence… with a short (very firesideesque) talk after… that helped me heal.
 
I felt listened to, and I am talking about listened to by Baha’u’llah/Buddha for the first time…
 
I needed (still do) help with dealing about my anger related to organized religion, how the Baha’is treated me, and my overall distaste for any organized spiritual anything…
 
It really helped … sitting every Sunday with really nice, good, smart people who don’t push, nor judge … other folks will find other ways to heal.
 
But I have come to realize that at least for me, Baha’i doesn’t work. It’s a nice idea, and I desperately love and accept Baha’u’llah… but the community … they reject people like me

This is the first case I know of in which a legal same-sex marriage was the reason for applying a Baha’i administrative sanction. I hope it is the only case and that one day that Daniel receives a letter of apology, because it is a Baha’i principle to follow the laws of one’s country. Shoghi Effendi was very firm about this when he wrote “they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of [Baha’i] laws and the application of [Baha’i] principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah) To me, this principle implies that the assemblies – local as much as national – must do their best to avoid any actions or statements that might be misconstrued as a rejection of the rights of government and the legitimacy of civil laws.

As far as I know this applies as long as a Baha’i law or teaching is not transgressed and even then, such as in the case of apartheid in South Africa, Baha’is were encouraged not to confront the law of the land. As far as I know the Universal House of Justice has not made a ruling on same sex marriage, only statements concerning homosexuality outside of marriage and the statement that a Baha’i marriage “is a union between a man and a woman”. So I assume that until the Universal House of Justice makes a ruling on same-sex marriage it is up to local or national Bahai communities to decide what is best in light of the Baha’i principles for those who are already Baha’is as much as for married couples who choose to join the community.

Some days I think the fight is worth it because I hope my actions help Baha’is to be more tolerant and for Baha’i from diverse perspectives to feel equally welcome. I am selfish about this. I want the Baha’i community to be more inclusive. Other days, I think it is better to be more involved in the art world (I am an artist) because it is so diverse and energizing. Perhaps in the end I can do more as an artist to help my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters than trying to work for tolerance and openness within the Bahai community. Who knows? It’s odd though, each time when I think this might be my last blog on the topic of gay rights, it feels as if Baha’u’llah is pushing me – as if this can’t be the last word.

I dedicate this blog to all my gay and lesbian friends who given me the honour of sharing their voices with me for three decades.

Footnote 1: The passage “If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion.” is often quoted by Baha’is but the source here, Paris Talks, consists of notes made by an interpreter of the talk given in French by a translator, which in turn were translated into English.

An authentic source in Abdul-Baha‘s own wording is: “Third: religion is the foundation of harmony and love, of solidarity and unity. If religion is made the cause of enmity it yields not solidarity but rather troubles, and the absence of religion is better than its existence. The abandonment of religion is preferable to this.” [A provisional translation by Sen McGlinn from notes in Persian that had been checked by Adbul-Baha

Footnote 2: In footnote 8 on the “Bahai Faith and Homosexuality” Wikipedia page (Last accessed 17 August 2014) is the statement Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Baha’u’llah, is spiritually condemned. Admittedly this page is currently dominated by the opinions of two Baha’is (Back in May 2014 I failed to get them to modify their opinions because they were not backed up by the sources they referred to). And so like any Wikipedia page that deals with a sensitive topic, those with the most friends with the skills and time, win. It is a weakness of the Wikipedia system that, like the worst aspects of party politics, majority voices are able to drown out other voices. But just because a system can be misused doesn’t mean it is bad system. I love Wikipedia!

Anyway if most Baha’is believe that somewhere in Baha’i Scripture same-sex marriage is excluded then that is an accurate picture of the state of play in the Baha’i community, regardless of whether it is true or not. Wikipedia is a fabulous resource which is flexible, and one day when the current views are minority views, this page will be changed.
So I hope this explains why quite a few of the statements [as accessed on August 17th, 2014] on this Wikipedia page are inaccurate. I hope the day is sooner rather than later when these inaccuracies are removed. However it is a fight, that for now at least, I have chosen to walk away from. Here is what I am referring to as being inaccurate:
The Bahá’í Faith teaches that the only acceptable form of sexual expression is within marriage, and Baha’i marriage is defined in the religion’s texts as exclusively between one man and one woman (Wikipedia, accessed 17 August 2014)
I had replaced the text: “in the religion’s texts as exclusively” with “in Bahai law as being” because the UHJ creates Bahai law or policy. If there is a religious text stating this, then it needs to be found or shown. All Wikipedia references used by these two Baha’is either led to statements made by the Universal House of Justice or references to marriage as a monogamous relationship between a man and woman [click on p. 147 + ”In the Glory of the Father: The Baha’i Faith and Christianity, p. 100”]. Bahai’s would not call policy made the Universal House of Justice ‘religious texts’ because that would confuse the Universal House of Justice’s authority with that of Baha’i Scripture. Saying that a marriage is between a man and woman is not the same as saying this is exclusive.

By now you might be wondering why I am putting all of this into a footnote here. Well, should a Baha’i feel uncomfortable about the phrase defined in the religion’s texts or anything else in that Wikipedia article, this might help. Opinions expressed as if they are supported by secondary literature when in fact they are not [my major argument with these two] is one thing, but these opinions create the impression that Baha’i Scripture is prejudiced against gays and lesbians, when it is not. It might seem petty, but for me it is an important distinction because Baha’i Scripture cannot be changed while statements by the Universal House of Justice can be changed by a later policy of the Universal House of Justice.
You might say, but, there is much more on that page, such as the assumption that homosexuality is a transgression [accessed 17 August homosexuality over other transgressions in the second paragraph] when in fact current Universal House of Justice policy since 2010 is that “to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith.” Well, I thought I’d just start with the first sentence on the Wikipedia page and see how that went before going any further. Perhaps I should write a blog about the exchanges I had on the ‘talk’ behind the scenes page, because until then I had not realised how easy it was for the views of just two individuals with the skills, to dominate a Wikipedia page. I was used to an academic environment where if a reference is made, then it relates to the statement. These two repeatedly added material where in some cases marriage wasn’t mentioned at all. Admittedly they removed most of these when I pointed this out, but it took a lot of time to look up the books. In the end they won because they just kept deleting my edits. It was not pleasant so I understand perfectly why Baha’is might walk away from that fight as I have.

h1

Is homosexuality spiritually condemned?

May 9, 2014

Claiming that someone else's marriage is against your religion is like being angry at someone for eating a doughnut because you're on a diet

“Claiming that someone else’s marriage
is against your religion
is like being angry
at someone for eating
a doughnut because you’re
on a diet”


Recently I was sent a link to a document written in 2007 entitled “Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK.”

My impression of this sermon of certainty was, well, if this author’s biased and
unsubstantiated views were representative of the teachings of the Bahai Faith on this subject, few people (myself included) would be interested in joining such a religion.

The first four sentences say it all: “Between obliviousness and puritanism stand Bahá’ís, who say that homosexuality is wrong, but homosexuals are kindred souls. The Bahá’í Faith is a religion of unity, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh. Remembering this context is essential when saying that the Bahá’í position on homosexuality is spiritual condemnation. As a Bahá’í, I believe that morality is foundational to spiritually healthy individuals and, therefore, to a united society; and this applies to a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality.”

This statement just doesn’t hold water for a Bahai such as myself, because I know that all of the above is based on the author’s own prejudice. What he is saying is that a united society is not possible unless its sexual morality excludes homosexuality. The author claims all sorts of ridiculous notions as if these are based on Bahai teachings.
Admittedly his text is noted as ‘draft 2,’ but the author’s essay entitled “Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK” (you can read it here), has been online since 2007 and in 2011 there was an interview with him in his capacity at the UK Bahá’í Community’s Office of Public Affairs, so some readers might give his views some weight.
Below is a table with the author’s claims (in green) adjacent to my responses. Decide for yourself if it is a Bahai teaching that homosexuality is spiritually condemned.

…this applies to a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality. ‘Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.’
Page 1.
    1. Sodomy is not homosexuality.
2. Bahaú’llah is condemning three forms of illicit sex-related activities, not homosexuality. (See the context here)
The author assumes that homosexuality is illicit, but the question is, is homosexuality illicit within a marriage?
Bahá’ís consider the condition of homosexuality to be spiritually condemned and reject the act, they would never reject homosexual people.
Page 1.
    “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. 13

There is nothing in Bahai Scripture that even hints that justice and equality are conditional on being a heterosexual.

We believe that the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the ‘breath of life unto all created things’, that the exhortations and prohibitions of a Bahá’í life comprise the great education and the great enablement, not the great lockdown.

Through obedience to the laws, Bahá’ís work to discipline themselves according to spiritual standards that outstrip average notions of appropriate living, and this discipline allows the individual to respond to grander impulses than physical desires or psychological complexes.

Furthermore, spiritual discipline frees us from our own selves and offers a life fulfilled through clarity of purpose and devoted service to our fellow humans.
Page 1.

    Many of Bahaú’llah’s “Hidden Words” speak of the nature of humanity as being in God’s image.
“Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee. Get thou from it thy radiance and seek none other than Me. For I have created thee rich and have bountifully shed My favor upon thee.”

Baha’u’llah wrote many mystical, metaphysical and philosophical texts and one book of laws. This book was in part a response to questions put to him of how to deal with existing Islamic laws. Significantly Baha’u’llah wrote: “Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. To this beareth witness that which the Pen of Revelation hath revealed. Meditate upon this, O men of insight!” (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 121)

So rather than the Bahai Faith being a religion focussed on a list of laws, it is a religion based on principles, where we are asked to use our insights to understand the laws. Baha’u’llah created the institution of the Universal House of Justice so that the rule-making part (and authority) of the Bahai community, because its rulings are distinct from Bahai Scripture, is able to change what is considered Bahai law (See Abdul-Baha’s Will and Testament).

The authors’ comment ”being freed from our own selves” implies that Bahais are expected to obey rules and not to use their own insights. The House of Justice has not laid down rules on subjects such as homosexuality, instead leaving many matters to individual conscience and the Bahai communities that exist in diverse social settings.
“The Universal House of Justice does not feel that the time has come for it to provide detailed legislation on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues. …

It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. Universal House of Justice to an individual, 5 June 1988.

Marriage itself is considered a divine institution and a ‘fortress of well-being and salvation’ that can shelter a man and woman from loneliness and drift, which can save them from the emotional pains of physical satisfaction in unhealthily transient relationships.

The reality for homosexuals in the Bahá’í Faith, therefore, is the same as unmarried heterosexuals: a spiritual obligation to be chaste. On this most important moral consideration, the Bahá’í Faith effectively does not distinguish between heterosexuality and homosexuality.

We are not our desires or our inclinations; we are more. Human sexuality is celebrated though not indulged:
Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 1-2.

    “God hath prescribed matrimony unto you.” Baha’u’llah

There is nothing in Baha’u’llah’s writings to suggest that matrimony is not possible for same sex couples.

The author glides from everyone being expected to practise chastity before marriage, to his expecting gays and lesbians never to have the chance of a committed life partnership. These are not the ‘same realities’: the latter is discrimination and oppression.

Bahai Scripture stresses the importance of the spiritual as part of a holistic worldview which, of course, includes our ‘inclinations’ and ‘desires’: “with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom of existence and the essence of all created things.”

Bahá’u’lláh recommends marriage at a young age.
Page 2.
    Baha’u’llah did not recommend marriage at a young age. He changed an Islamic law where girls could be married off as children, to a law where for the male or female the minimum age for marriage was their 15th birthday. Another Bahai law is to follow the law of one’s country so if the minimum age for marriage is higher, this sets the limit.

But sex must be within marriage because it guarantees that intimate relationships are buttressed against the uncertainties of life, with each married couple and family a solid piece of a slowly unifying humanity.

Such is the core and utterly rational reason that the Bahá’í Faith cannot allow homosexuality within this balance of physical love, emotional health, social responsibility, and spiritual growth.

Our desires are innate but our inclinations are another matter.

And so very firmly, the Bahá’í Faith rejects the possibility that sexual relations between homosexuals are a natural or positive influence on either the individuals themselves or their wider society.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 2.

    There is nothing in Bahai Scripture stating that marriage is only for heterosexuals. When ‘Abdul-Baha wrote about the rules for marriage as an aspect of the social teachings of the Bahai Faith he refers to a man and woman but he doesn’t state that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. And Baha’u’llah wrote:“Whoso contenteth himself with a single partner from among the maidservants of God, both he and she shall live in tranquillity.”

And the introduction the Universal House of Justice explains:
where Bahá’u’lláh has given a law as between a man and a woman, it applies mutatis mutandis between a woman and a man unless the context makes this impossible.

Note that the author has effectively said that married homosexuals could not have a positive influence on others, and on society. How then can he regard them as ‘kindred souls,’ if they are so innately flawed that they can contribute no good?

Bahá’í do not accept the materialist notion that nature is perfect, but rather, the nature of humans must be improved through spiritual education.
Page 2.
    “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Bahá’u’lláh); children are born with lots of potential and no bad bits, so it is not that human beings must be improved, but that through education and experience we can develop and “(t)he purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, hath been to bring forth the Mystic Gems out of the mine of man”. – Baha’u’llah (See my blog on human nature)

The propagation of the species is the obvious purpose of the sex impulse; a sexuality that obviates procreation defies the social role of sex.

The condition of homosexuality is regarded by Bahá’u’lláh as an ‘affliction’ and an ‘aberration’ which is ‘against nature’. The starkness of this language makes it transparently clear that not only is the condition wrong but same-sex relationships do not ring true. The language is also difficult to bear for non-Bahá’ís and some Bahá’ís alike; the proper consolation is that this condemnation comes from He whom Bahá’ís believe to be the Manifestation of God, and thus speaks with a voice unparalleled and inimitable. His starkness is not available for our own use. Bahá’ís of whichever sexual orientation are taught acceptance and love by their Faith and its teachings; spiritual condemnation cannot be translated into tangible or emotional condemnation. This very firm rejection is made with the utmost love for homosexuals. For proofs of this utmost love, again the fundamental principles provide guidance: people of all kinds deserve only praise and encouragement from other individuals within the Bahá’í community. (Only the institutions have the right to concern themselves with the private affairs of Bahá’ís, a right exercised only when that behaviour manifests itself in a way publicly damaging to the community.)

Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 2-3.

    Marriage is praised by Baha’u’llah as opposed to a life as an ascetic. “Enter into wedlock, O people, that ye may bring forth one who will make mention of Me amid My servants. This is My bidding unto you; hold fast to it as an assistance to yourselves.”

There is nothing in the text to suggest that the purpose of marriage is procreate – only that it is a good thing, which is why elderly or infertile individuals are free to marry.

“When, therefore, the people of Baha undertake to marry, the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God.” – ‘Abdu’l-Baha

The words ‘afflication,’ ‘aberration’ and ‘against nature’ used by the author originate in four letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. It’s an insult to attribute the same views to Baha’u’llah. These words are not Bahai Scripture.

The author – who has said that homosexuals are socially useless – apparently does not see this as a ‘tangible or emotional’ condemnation, and speaks of the praise and encouragement homosexuals will receive in the Bahai community. Providing they do not encounter our author, presumably.

Bahais may lose their voting rights for breaking Bahai laws, and some assemblies have interpreted getting married, to a partner of the same sex, as breaking Bahai law. They have wide discretion: ” … Every case is different, and there is more than one variable consideration to take into account, for example, the circumstances of the individual, the degree to which the good name of the Faith is involved, whether the offence is blatant and flagrant. Over and over again the beloved Guardian urged Assemblies to be extremely patient and forbearing in dealing with the friends. He pointed out on many occasions that removal of administrative rights is the heaviest sanction which Assemblies may impose at the present time. These considerations apply to the types of problems you mention in your letter. In all such cases it is for the Assembly to determine at what point the conduct is blatant and flagrant or is harmful to the name of the Faith. They must determine whether the believer has been given sufficient warning before the imposition of sanctions. …”
Universal House of Justice, 1977

Tolerance and plurality are the professed values of a liberal society, and because of the pacific nature of the Bahá’í Faith, often we are perceived to be liberal intellectuals who also believe in God. Not so. The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions, it was revealed to rewrite human spirituality, morality and society, so we cannot obfuscate the teachings elemental to these goals.
Page 3.
    The author wrote “The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions” while
‘Abdu’l-Baha praises “intellect and wisdom” as “two most luminous lights in either world”

I quote the context below.

“Praise and thanksgiving be unto Providence that out of all the realities in existence He has chosen the reality of man and has honored it with intellect and wisdom, the two most luminous lights in either world. Through the agency of this great endowment, He has in every epoch cast on the mirror of creation new and wonderful configurations.

If we look objectively upon the world of being, it will become apparent that from age to age, the temple of existence has continually been embellished with a fresh grace, and distinguished with an ever-varying splendor, deriving from wisdom and the power of thought.” ‘Abdu’l-Baha

Inside the Bahá’í Faith, the covenantal duty and expectation is obedience to the laws and the institutions. Bahá’ís are expected to strive for understanding of those laws beyond their grasp; a selective adherence to these laws is unacceptable because it undermines the unity of the entire community.

But these are standards for Bahá’ís only, and because the Faith finds itself in a context of many different beliefs, it holds that concord and plurality are more important than contention and division. These principles are reflected in the values of any progressive society.

And yet because this current liberal society has convinced itself of the rightness of Enlightenment thinking, which includes a permissive attitude to sex and allows for an individualistic definition of sexuality, dissension therefrom brings denouncement.

My confusion at being called a bigot stemmed from this double standard: that western society was liberal and open-minded, so long as certain issues were agreed upon beforehand.

There was a hypocritical element which Bahá’ís must reject when explaining their position on homosexuality: pluralism and the liberally spread charge of bigotry are incompatible.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 3-4.

    “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. To this testify the words of Bahá’u’lláh, as recorded in the Eighth Leaf of the exalted Paradise:

“It is incumbent upon the Trustees of the House of Justice to take counsel together regarding those things which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book, and to enforce that which is agreeable to them. God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth, and He, verily, is the Provider, the Omniscient.”

Not only has the House of Justice been invested by Bahá’u’lláh with the authority to legislate whatsoever has not been explicitly and outwardly recorded in His holy Writ, upon it has also been conferred by the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the right and power to abrogate, according to the changes and requirements of the time, whatever has been already enacted and enforced by a preceding House of Justice. In this connection, He revealed the following in His Will:

“And inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same. Thus for example, the House of Justice enacteth today a certain law and enforceth it, and a hundred years hence, circumstances having profoundly changed and the conditions having altered, 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 House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.”

Such is the immutability of His revealed Word. Such is the elasticity which characterizes the functions of His appointed ministers. The first preserves the identity of His Faith, and guards the integrity of His law. The second enables it, even as a living organism, to expand and adapt itself to the needs and requirements of an ever-changing society.” – Shoghi Effendi

The first emanation from God is the bounty of the Kingdom, which emanates and is reflected in the reality of the creatures, like the light which emanates from the sun and is resplendent in creatures; and this bounty, which is the light, is reflected in infinite forms in the reality of all things, and specifies and individualizes itself according to the capacity, the worthiness and the intrinsic value of things.”‘Abdu’l-Baha

Clearly from the quotations above, the author’s ideas (that being liberal or open minded are bad things) run counter to the Bahai Teachings. ‘Abdul-Baha’s two quotations above show that Bahai Scripture does not share the anti-intellectual views of the author. In fact all the above quotations illustrate that the Bahai Teachings value independent thought and insight as well as logic, and celebrate diversity.

I will not even try and guess what the author means by ‘an individualistic definition of sexuality’ but would suggest the Bahai principle of religion being in harmony with science as a useful guide. Any definition of sexuality needs to be scientifically sound. I am not sure that a religious definition of sexuality is even useful. After all we don’t have a religious definition for digestion. Sexual orientation is not an ethical issue.

There is a curious paradox here which hinges on the identity aspect of this discussion. If liberal society accepted so sincerely the homosexuality of homosexuals, why then have many homosexuals felt the need to persist in their segregated and specialised gay identity long after their supposed entry into the mainstream? I postulate two answers. Firstly, their sexuality has been dramatically overemphasised in the creation of their self-image, self-worth and social identity – just as is the case with many heterosexuals who see sex as soul. The Bahá’í teachings, meanwhile, state that ‘in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex.’
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 4.
    This tactic avoids engaging the critique by projecting onto the opponent. No Bahai is expected to sacrifice aspects of their identity; in fact Shoghi Effendi argues for positive discrimination because diversity is so important.

“To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority, is a flagrant violation of the spirit that animates the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.

If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favor of the minority, be it racial or otherwise.” – Shoghi Effendi

“The sixth principle or teaching of Bahá’u’lláh concerns the equality of man and woman. He has declared that in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex.” -‘Abdu’l-Baha

The author doesn’t realise that “no distinction of sex” means that men and women are equal; it is not saying that it is irrelevant to your identity whether you are a man, a woman, a homosexual, a heterosexual, or (more simply) your own unique self.

The introduction of the Bahá’í understanding of homosexuality – that the condition is aberrant and the act wrong, but censure of homosexuals even worse – resolves this dichotomous identity problem because it drains the bile from public discussion and sentiment about homosexuality. A homosexual person secure in his or her acceptance by society would not feel the need to adopt a segregated identity. This would succeed is more than the avoidance of false dichotomies, it would foster genuine unity, the very purpose of the Bahá’í Faith.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 4.
    “Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity. This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination.
How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruits, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and colour! Diversity of hues, form and shape, enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof.” -‘Abdu’l-Baha

The author has claimed that both social unity, and the unity of the Bahai community, are threatened by a morality, or a “selective adherence to [Bahai] laws,” which would accept homosexual relationships and homosexual people on an equal footing. Is it any wonder then, if he also encounters homosexuals who “feel the need to adopt a segregated identity.” He and others like him generate this response through their prejudice, and their vision of a future “genuine unity” that requires the extinction of what they consider immorality. This is not the kind of unity that Baha’u’llah envisioned:
“The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity or dissension.”Baha’u’llah

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Society and the individual – a Bahai view

March 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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