Archive for the ‘gay’ Category

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Policies are not the same as Bahai Teachings

November 8, 2019

“…it is not possible to recognize a same-sex union within the Baha’i community…”

Thanks for your comments Michael, for me as a Bahai, the issue is what is in the Will and Testament of Abdul-Baha (“…Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself. Inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book … it hath power to repeal the same”) and what Shoghi Effendi wrote: “the Guardian of the Faith has been made the Interpreter of the Word and that the Universal House of Justice has been invested with the function of legislating on matters not expressly revealed in the teachings. … Neither can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other. Neither will seek to curtail the specific and undoubted authority with which both have been divinely invested.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 149).

Marriage Equality cartoon, 2012, by Adam Zyglis, USA.

Marriage Equality cartoon, 2012,
by Adam Zyglis, USA.

So for me what matters is what is or is not a Bahai teaching. It is a Bahai teaching that the authority of the Universal House of Justice ( (UHJ) head of the Bahai Faith comprised of 9 elected members) is in the laws it makes and these policies of the UHJ are able to change and that could include the UHJ’s own understandings. I see no point in lobbying the UHJ nor any point in a change in the membership of the UHJ being a solution to gays and lesbians being treated differently.

According to Shoghi Effendi the UHJ cannot interpret Bahai Scripture. They can rule on what their own understanding of what marriage means but they cannot restrict the scope of what marriage is and call this a Bahai teaching. So how I interpret the UHJ writing “Marriage is a union between a man and a woman” (Department of the Secretariat, 5 June 2018) and ” … it is not possible to recognize a same-sex union within the Baha’i community.” (Department of the Secretariat, 5 June 2018) is that this is policy of the UHJ based on their current understandings. One day they could change their understanding or one day they might find evidence in support of this and present it to us.

What this informs me as a Bahai is that UHJ policy must be obeyed but my thinking and understanding – my own interpretations – are influenced by Bahai scripture (penned by Baha’u’llah and the Bab, and elaborated on by Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi). So I need to find a balance between my own understanding that there’s nothing in Bahai Scripture that supports any form of discrimination against gays or lesbians with these statements of the UHJ. This means that I have to think and act for myself. I realise that I am very fortunate because when I joined the Bahai community scholarship was encouraged and so I have decades of exposure to cultures within and outside the Bahai community to not only develop some skills in research but also a wide circle of Bahais who I can consult.

I think the emphasis in Baha’u’llah’s teachings is on a religion that doesn’t have a priest class and so it means developing communities of diversity, meaning we should interpret for ourselves and speak from our own diverse perspectives and use the processes of consultation to come to decisions, when decisions are needed. I know there is a lot of fear in Bahai communities to even discuss the topic of homosexuality let alone issues related to the topic of the authority of the UHJ’s policies in relation to the permanent teachings of Baha’u’llah and I do not see any solution here except in my case to write this blog. In fact I cannot discuss any of these topics in any Bahai community setting because the fear is so much that I could be branded a covenant breaker even though I would have never challenged the authority the UHJ has to rule and make policy without any restrictions. I wish this was a non-issue, so that I don’t need to state that I do not challenge the UHJ’s authority each time I write something.

But if I hear a Bahai say something negative about gays or lesbians I do speak up, saying “that sounds like prejudice” or softer less direct words, if the person seems unaware of the implications of what they had said. That’s often all I say as I just want it to be made clear that there’s an objection, but this is very rare. My impression is that most Bahais see nothing wrong with homosexuality but feel conflicted and so avoid the topic. I understand this approach but it doesn’t help in a society where same sex marriage is legalized and where same sex couples are raising amazing children or where gay or lesbian individuals are now visible as members of society.

The point of the Bahai Administration, as I see it, is to give structure but not to be like a priest class instructing individuals how to think and behave. The UHJ has full authority and freedom to make policy so it can be flexible to changing circumstances and so the Bahai Faith doesn’t split into a million sects.

I see an alternative to the current situation. That local or national communities could both prioritize Shoghi Effendi’s instruction: “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, p. 65) and obey the UHJ’s current policy which denies a married gay or lesbian membership.

They could create a community where unregistered members are overtly equally welcome and involved. If I wasn’t allowed to register but I was told, “I am sorry we are not allowed to register your membership because of your marriage but we want to treat you as equal and will treat you as equal” – I think I would join and I wouldn’t care if I wasn’t allowed to vote or to serve on an LSA if no other member of the community treated me as if I was a problem. No one is challenging the UHJ’s policy and that community has found a way to be welcoming. But such a statement needs to be stated clearly, so a potential member knows that in this community, each time my family experiences any form of discrimination, that there is a structure in place – whether a support person or group or the whole community, where this issue could be brought up as a topic for consultation so I, my partner and children feel safe and welcome, and so the openness becomes a form of protection.

Someone might claim that this approach challenges the authority of the UHJ but I would say, that that person’s idea of the UHJ is that policies are to be treated like of book of rules in the narrowest sense. No one is challenging the UHJ if they reference: “The doors are open for all humanity to enter the Cause of God, irrespective of their present circumstances; this invitation applies to homosexuals as well as to any others…” (Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, 11 September 1995) and “…it is entirely against the spirit of the Faith to regard homosexuals with prejudice or disdain..” (Department of the Secretariat, 12 April 2016) And no one could accuse this community of hyprocrisy if it is stated clearly, this is a solution in line with the current policy of the UHJ.

Perhaps one day the UHJ might view same sex marriage differently, such as: “…should a polygamist become a Baha’i, he would not be required to divorce or separate from any of his spouses; however, he would not be able to enter into a new marriage while still being married to another spouse.” (Department of the Secretariat, 13 April 1999)

Perhaps one day the UHJ might view the qualifications for membership or marriage to be determined by NSAs. When I was on an LSA in Aotearoa | New Zealand in the 1980s, our decision concerning a Soloman Island Bahai who had not had a wedding was influenced by this: “…Common Law Marriage … type of relationship, if contracted before a person has become a Bahá’í may be accepted by the Institutions of the Faith without requiring the person to undo such ties.” (From letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Assembly of Paraguay, November 21, 1967) (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 381)
Since then I have met many Bahais in a long-term relationship, who were not required to marry after they joined the Bahai community. And it seems to me that Abdul-Baha views marriage as culturally bound and being a social teaching, would mean that the definition of Bahai marriage is not something set in stone. In a provisional (provisional translations are not official Bahai translations but are allowed to be used if acknowledged) translation by Sen McGlinn of a 1899 Tablet by Abdul-Baha:
“ … As for the matter of marriage, this falls entirely within the ‘cultural laws.’ [“ahkaam madaniyyih”] Nevertheless, its preconditions are found in the Law of God, and its fundamentals are evident. However those unions between relatives that are not explicitly treated, are referred to the House of Justice, which will give a ruling based on the culture, medical requirements, wisdom, and the capacity of human nature. …
In short, whatever ruling the House of Justice makes in this respect, is the decisive decree, it is God’s sharp sword. No one may transgress that limit. If you consider, it will be apparent how much this rule (that is, referring cultural laws to the House of Justice) is consistent with wisdom. For whenever a difficulty may arise in relation to the local context of an issue, since the House of Justice delivered the previous ruling, the secondary House of Justice can issue a new national ruling on the national case and instance, in the light of local contingencies. …”
(The full translation is on senmcglinn.wordpress.com with some commentary)

In the first comment on Sen McGlinn’s blog are details of previous translations into English by others as well as more context for the source which can be found: in a collection of hand-copied tablets, in the Iranian National Bahai Archives, volume 59; http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/areprint/ab/G-L/I/inba59/59IBA275.gif (INBA 59), in Ishraq-Khavari’s thematic collection of Bahai Writings, Amr wa Khalq, volume 4, page 299; http://reference.bahai.org/fa/t/c/AK4/ak4-302.html and more recently in Rahiiq-e Makhtum volume 1 pages 222-223, published in 2007, of the same texts originally collected by Ishraq-Khavari.

In a 2010 blog of mine I connected the idea of the UHJ determining what marriage could be (“As for marriage, this falls entirely within the social laws. Nevertheless, the preconditions are found in the Law of God, and its fundamentals are evident.” Abdul-Baha, “Amr wa Khalq” volume 4, pp. 301-2. http://reference.bahai.org/fa/t/c/AK4/ak4-302.html, provisional translation by Sen McGlinn) to Abdul-Baha’s reference in the Will and Testament to “daily transactions” (mu’aamaalat refers to religious law on dealings between individuals as distinct to other types of religious law that relate to the individual’s relationship towards God.) being within the sphere of the House of Justice. So perhaps marriage could be defined by Houses of Justice (NSAs) or that the UHJ can rule what marriage means, which it does currently by stating that it can only be between a man and woman.

I do not think Baha’u’llah’s religion would be watered down if differing social teachings were applied in differing countries.

I view the UHJ as a force for stability: “… this Administrative Order is fundamentally different from anything that any Prophet has previously established … to supplement and apply His legislative ordinances. … and the guarantee against disintegration and schism.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 144)

And in some ways this makes sense to me because how can a worldwide community function with top down rules on things that are nationally and culturally specific, and there’s the possibility that one day the UHJ might decide to change its policy on excluding same sex marriage. Our advantage on the beginnings of the Catholic church is that we can read Bahai Scripture for ourselves and the UHJ encourages this: “The principle of the harmony of science and religion means not only that religious teachings should be studied with the light of reason and evidence as well as of faith and inspiration, but also that everything in this creation, all aspects of human life and knowledge, should be studied in the light of revelation as well as in that of purely rational investigation. In other words, a Bahá’í scholar, when studying a subject, should not lock out of his mind any aspect of truth that is known to him.” (Universal House of Justice, Messages UHJ 1963 to 1986, p. 388/9)

And I end with
“A clear distinction is made in our Faith between authoritative interpretation and the interpretation or understanding that each individual arrives at for himself from his study of its teachings.
While the former is confined to the Guardian, the latter, according to the guidance given to us by the Guardian himself, should by no means be suppressed. In fact such individual interpretation is considered the fruit of man’s rational power and conducive to a better understanding of the teachings, provided that no disputes or arguments arise among the friends and the individual himself understands and makes it clear that his views are merely his own. Individual interpretations continually change as one grows in comprehension of the teachings…”

(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual
believer, May 27, 1966) (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 311-312)

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Be Kind

May 7, 2019

"We will all, verily, abide by the will of God."My favourite quotation is Baha’u’llah’s “My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting.” (Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words)

For me this stresses that our goal in life should be to make the world a nicer, kinder, safer place for all, in any manner available to each of us.

I wish the Bahai community was a kinder place towards our LGBTQ members – kinder so they didn’t have to leave, remain in the closet, or develop toughness to deal with discrimination ranging from slurs to condemnation to threats to exclusion. I wish the Bahai community was a kinder place, period. This might sound extreme to some ears who believe the Bahai community is open to diversity and does not discriminate, so I will explain.

In response to my last blog a number of not quite out of the closet individuals (one no longer wishes to be known as a Bahai) were privately harrassed by Bahais because they commented on a link to my blog which had been circulated on facebook. A lifetime of being told your kind are diseased, immoral, aberrant or shameful contributes to mistrust, distrust, fear, unhappiness or depression and so it doesn’t take much to tip the balance.

Another was told that she should be ashamed for liking my blog because that boy deserved to die. An elderly friend was told that they should be ashamed for liking the reference to my last blog and then she was told that she should be reported on because the UHJ (Universal House of Justice, international head of the Bahai community) condemns homosexuality. As I wrote in my previous blog, the UHJ no longer associates homosexuality with disease, but many Bahais turn to older UHJ policy which did. This elderly friend was so upset he asked me to intervene in some manner.
I decided that the best way to help was to write this blog because the worse possible response to discrimination is silence. Well, denying that there is any discrimination would be even worse.

Yes I have changed the gender. I mismatch most stories on my blog so it is not possible to trace comments to any particular individual but the incidents and the diverse locations are true.

Another Bahai wrote in reference to this same blog that this “sinful behaviour that is forbidden in the faith. The individual identifying as homosexual will always be socially shunned and politically stifled in the Baha’i Faith. This will not change.” Yes a Bahai from a western country wrote this in a closed facebook group in 2019!

Another gay Bahai thinking it was now safe for him to make it known that he was gay to his local community, contacted me, heartbroken because he was told he couldn’t be a Bahai any more by an ABM (an Assistant Board Member is appointed with a pastoral function in the Bahai community: some Bahais treat them more as authorities than as advisors). He left, later rejoined, left again. It saddens me that he feels that his lifetime of being a Bahai was no longer possible because now he couldn’t pretend he was not gay and now couldn’t even face the slurs or negative comments about homosexuality he used to be able to tolerate. He knew that that ABM had no right to say what he did, but it hurt him to the core and broke his faith in a future that would get better. Like many other gays and lesbians who have communicated with me, he couldn’t find the words to defend himself.
Some of these LGBTQ Bahais mention that they are celibate, which is none of my business, but they tell me anyway. I say this to illustrate the discrimination is against homosexuality, not about sexual practice, which many Bahais would say is no-one’s business. But those Bahais who say one’s private life is no-one’s business might also say, Bahais shouldn’t discuss homosexuality. For me the issue isn’t about the private life of any individual but about developing and maintaining an atmosphere of tolerance. No Bahai should have to live in the closet or keep their private life separate from the Bahai community to protect themselves from a complaint being made about them. One Bahai offered his home to a member of his LSA (a Local Spiritual Assembly is a group of 9 who run the Bahai community at a local level) who needed a place to stay. Then she made a complaint to the LSA which removed him from all Bahai committees and told him that he wasn’t allowed to mix with any other single Bahais. This individual was a professional teacher. He rang me, upset, because these were his childhood friends he was told he was not allowed to see on threat of having his voting rights removed. He had told no one of his sexual orientation but felt he couldn’t lie to his LSA when accused of being a homosexual.

A young European Bahai after declaring, knew of the discrimination and could handle this, seeing it as a residue of the prejudices in society in general, but when her LSA told her she could no longer give Bahai children’s classes this was the last straw. Her profession was also as a teacher and now that action by that LSA made her feel like a second class citizen. Unfortunately such actions often go unnoticed. Other members, noticing that she has left or resigned might think it is not their business to pry. Any individual who might have made that complaint to the LSA – after all she had been giving these classes for some years – would have felt justified by the LSA’s action. It could even have been the case that within the LSA some members might have argued for tolerance but that they were outvoted. However what matters in the end is the action of discrimination. Even if this was just one example (and I have many more), this matters. That community now has no gay or lesbian members and the next person to declare or the next youth to come out is likely to be treated in the same manner unless the discrimination is addressed. If that community had discussed homosexuality before that wo-man had joined that community, perhaps they could have been kinder? Perhaps the person who made the complaint didn’t realise that this would cause so much pain? Perhaps that Bahai thought it was impossible to be gay and a Bahai? Perhaps if that gay individual knew that gays and lesbians were not allowed to give children’s classes in that community, then they might not have been so hurt? Perhaps the community might have had time to discuss the pros and cons of having a gay or a lesbian Bahai conduct children’s classes? I have many stories of lesbians and gays being removed from Bahai committees because it became known that they were gay or lesbian. And those most hurt were ones who had kept their sexuality private, so it only took one Bahai to be intolerant, one Bahai to make a complaint.

A part of the reason that there is so much unaddressed discrimination against any hint of LGBQT visibility is that Bahais tend to look the other way when someone says something offensive about gays, or worse Bahais say there is no discrimination because they do not hear about it. They do not hear it because they do not have any LGBTQ friends who would trust them enough to say anything. These same individuals do not notice that there are no out of the closet LGBTQ Bahais in their Bahai community either. Absence. Silence. What’s missing here? I have been told that it doesn’t matter because homosexuality shouldn’t exist.

Just think, decades of being part of a loving community, perhaps growing up identifying with a worldwide community aimed at unity in diversity and then being told, as another friend was recently told ‘Baha’u’llah forbids your kind’ – in other words, you do not belong. This is harsh. Especially harsh to a young person who might not even be sure what their sexuality is. But not just young people either. A middle-aged woman asked me if she really wasn’t allowed to be a Bahai any more and a few months later her NSA (The National Spiritual Assembly runs the Bahai community at a national level) removed her voting rights without even meeting with her. Of the 40 of more instances of discrimination, I know of only two LSAs who treated their LGBTQ members with kindness. One is referred to in this blog “Love and Legalism – a tale of two Bahai communities” and the other LSA was informed by an NSA member that they were under investigation because some members of that LSA attended a same sex wedding by a Bahai from another community.
Another Bahai told me that she had attended her son’s wedding even though she knew Bahais were not allowed to do this but she didn’t have the heart not to. She was referring to this: “…about believers attending weddings of Bahá’ís who are marrying contrary to Bahá’í law, and we have been asked to convey to you the following. “If it is known beforehand that a believer is violating such laws, it would be inappropriate for the friends to attend the ceremony.” From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of New Zealand, November 11, 1974: Australian Bahá’í Bulletin, No. 243, September 1975, p. 4 and in Lights of Guidance (1983).

Yet another Bahai told me that she knowingly attended her daughter’s non-Bahai wedding saying to me that she was discrete and that’s what Bahais should do. I do not agree. I think all parents should be free to attend their children’s weddings whether their children are Bahais or not. I would imagine that in 99% of all cases, no Bahai would dream of making a complaint. But it only takes one Bahai to complain and that’s the problem. Perhaps a future UHJ will make new policy stating that family members may attend their children’s weddings even if the children are gay or lesbian.

There is a strong tendency for Bahais to sit on the fence about anything out of a fear of showing disunity. There is only disunity if individuals with widely differing views accuse the other view, perspective or interpretation of being wrong. A minority voice is not a sign of disunity. Abdul-Baha clearly expected it to be a Bahai community norm for individual Bahais to have differing views when he wrote of “every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions. If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87) and Shoghi Effendi quoted this same text in the book, Bahai Administration (p.21)

So it seems to me that it is a core Bahai teaching that diversity of opinion is essential to what I view as a holistic community life. But the discrimination against homosexuality is so strong that I, as an individual have never brought this up as a topic at any Bahai gathering. Even when it has come up privately with Bahais, they bombard me with words, like Shoghi Effendi said, the UHJ says with words like, forbidden, wrong, immoral … so all I can squeeze out is, wouldn’t be better to be tolerant so it doesn’t look like prejudice? Because those ears are not open to the idea that a gay or lesbian has a right to exist. Of course not all Bahais who see homosexuality as part of a slippery slope are that intolerant, and I’ve had some insightful conversations with Bahais who view same sex marriage as wrong. Some of these Bahais wouldn’t make a complaint about anyone and would, I believe, be kind. So for me it isn’t a question of convincing Bahais there is nothing wrong with homosexuality but of creating a community where a gay or lesbian Bahai would feel they were treated with dignity and be free from a phone call or email telling them that they cannot attend any Bahai event aimed for their own age group or that they have to overcome their homosexuality.
A year ago a newly declared Bahai was shown the door at a deepening and two others had to leave with him because he had the car. These two were confused by what happened and when he said that it was because that Bahai knew he was gay, their response was that while they had sympathy for him, it was his own fault. It transpired that it was his fault for not knowing the ‘gay position’ before declaring. They had never had a gay declare in their community before. He has since resigned, so that community can go back to its idea of unity.

Any Bahai community that chooses to reduce the attitudes of discrimination against homosexuality have a tough task but they could start with just talking about how they might treat an individual in their community if they were gay or lesbian. It could be a way to address the more intolerant perspectives within their own community. Bahais thank me privately for my blog adding that they don’t dare say a word because they can’t handle the heat. Many of them are heterosexuals with some standing in the community and I understand and appreciate that they can’t do more. No one should have to step into an unkind space. Bahais regularly make complaints, even about this blog I write. The Universal House of Justice has not asked me to remove this blog and so these complaints are the opinions of Bahais, no matter what they might say behind my back. When I hear of these things it disgusts me but so far, I see it as fear, fear of difference, fear of people not like themselves but there is a bigger issue here than just the topic of homosexuality and that is a fear of the visibility of divergent or minority views within the Bahai community.

So why do I write on a topic that Bahais often tell me is divisive? Writing about homosexuality in relation to the Bahai teachings or community is only divisive if you think there is something wrong with homosexuality or if you think Bahais shouldn’t have differing opinions or perspectives. For me what is so amazing about the Bahai teachings is the often quoted ‘unity in diversity’ – it seems to me that Baha’u’llah intended to create a religious community based on differences – voices – not just one way of thinking or living or behaving. So diversity is not just something to be tolerated but at its essence having diverse views, interpretations or approaches is the means for holistic forms of problem solving. There are many passages in the Bahai Writings in support of the importance of diversity (“When thou doest contemplate the innermost essence of things and the individuality of each, thou wilt behold the signs of they Lord’s mercy…” (Selections. from the Writings of ´Abdu´l-Bahá, p. 41) but also in the manner of how the Bahai community affairs operates where there are elected individuals who consult together and where decisions are intended to be flexible and to evolve. “Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself. 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.” (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 20)

Abdul-Baha states that the authority of the UHJ’s rulings is the same as what is in Bahai Scripture but this does not mean that it is entirely the same, as clearly shown in the second half of the sentence. The UHJ can change its own policies (“repeal the same”). So if a UHJ states today that gays or lesbians may not have the same rights and responsibilities as a heterosexuals, it is possible that a future UHJ might state a different understanding of the Bahai teachings.

So why did I start this blog?

In 2009 a Bahai attempted to silence me in a Bahai discussion group by having me blocked so I couldn’t correct his claim that I was belittling the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. I knew at that moment I had to make my words public so that his rewording and his interpretation of what I wrote could not be used behind my back as if these were my words. What did I write? I wrote that mention of homosexuality is only in these letters. He took the word, “only” and claimed that I was saying these were only letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, as if these had no authority, and had me blocked from the group so I couldn’t respond. Fortunately for two days I could read all the comments agreeing with his words, damning those words I never wrote.

I also decided not to hide who I am because I have been a Bahai for a long time and am in a position to defend myself from slurs such as:
“My impression of your post is you are using Lucas in a dishonest way to give credence to your personal feelings that are in conflict with Baha’u’llah’s teachings.”

I can handle it if a Bahai claims that what I write is in conflict with Baha’u’llah but it certainly helps that I can call on a number of scholars to help me to understand Bahai Scripture in the original languages. It also helps that because my mother tongue is English, I am in the fortunate position of being able to easily read the large amount of Bahai writings in translation. I am also very careful about when to reveal someone’s identity on my blog and when not to.

The point of my blog about Lucas was to open up the question of how can we show that the Bahai community is a safe place for our LGBTQ teens? So the next time someone is down they can go to someone. So they don’t die of an unstated cause alone in their apartment.

One person told me that I should leave the Bahai Faith and stop writing from the viewpoint of a Bahai, because he thought the Bahai Faith would never accept gays or lesbians as equals and so could never deal with the discrimination. I disagreed with him because I do not think the Bahai teachings are flawed. There’s nothing to stop the UHJ ruling one day that the policy on same sex marriage could be treated like: “In general, marriages entered into by parties prior to their enrollment in the Faith are recognized as valid under Bahá’í Law, and in such cases an additional Bahá’í marriage ceremony is not permitted. This applies whether the marriage was established under civil or religious law or under tribal custom.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Panama, September 7, 1981, Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 379). <a hr
ef=”http://bahai-library.com/hornby_lights_guidance_2.html&chapter=2#n1270″>Also in Lights of Guidance.

or perhaps,

“Furthermore, the Faith accepts in certain cases unions which are ‘immoral but accepted’ by the society in which the people live.” (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Peru, June 23, 1969). Cited in Lights of Guidance.
(A link to the index on marriage in Lights of Guidance)

However the current 2018 policy from the UHJ states: “… it is not possible to recognize a same-sex union within the Baha’i community.” (Department of the Secretariat, 5 June 2018)

But I live for today and not some distant future. Today I am here to support those who are discriminated against and I stand for equality for all which I know to my bones is a Bahai teaching without any exceptions. I am also happy to be the person a Bahai might choose to accuse of doing something wrong or the Bahai they make accusations about to others. I have a thick skin and a very fortunate life so I have the confidence to do this. My advice to anyone, whether gay or not, is to find a world where one’s orientation is a non-issue so you can just be. If one of your worlds is the Bahai community then it will be easier to see slurs or threats as discrimination and to ignore them, and there are networks of support (that don’t associate sexuality with alcoholism or drug dependency) for our rainbow members.

I write this blog because gays and lesbians are being told that they are diseased. They ring or text me when they are attacked. I can’t tell them to consult the LSA because half the time it is the LSA or an LSA member or an ABM who has told them that they are diseased, have to isolate themselves from their childhood friends, have to leave their community.
Lucas, the subject of my previous blog, told me that views on homosexuality were expressed with such hostility that he didn’t dare talk to anyone in his community and so he spoke to me – a Bahai half way across the globe. Then again, a few years older in another country and community, he shared what a secretary wrote to him about needing to overcome his homosexuality. I expressed sympathy and suggested he only mix with those who did not see him as a lesser human and told him that it was not a Bahai teaching to discriminate against gays and lesbians. But he needed kindness from Bahais around him and, from what he wrote to me, it seems there was no one. There was no one in his local community who just said, it’s ok. You are just fine as you are, you are part of the diversity of humanity.
I finish with this New Zealand Māori saying:
“He kokonga whare, e kitea;
He kokonga ngakau, e kore e kitea.”

Corners of a house can be seen but corners of the heart cannot be seen.

Please, even if you think homosexuality is despicable, for the sake of unity, hold your tongue when it comes to condemning homosexuality. If you don’t want to talk about it, don’t. But don’t go behind a person’s back and make a complaint to an Assembly. Work at making your Bahai community a space where anyone is welcome, in whatever manner that is possible. Just be kind and if you can, “Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy …. a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. … a dew to the soil of the human heart…”
(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 285)
.

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R.I.P. my friend

April 26, 2019

my friend Lucas

My friend Lucas

Lucas (17 years) started communicating with me in 2014 because of our common interest in Esperanto. He was living and studying in Brazil and had declared as a Bahai 3 months earlier through one of his professors who is a Bahai. Upon learning that my main concern in the Bahai community was for the wellbeing of gay and lesbian Bahais, his response was: “Really?? This is new to me.”

We ended our conversation with him saying he was happy that I wrote on this topic and I thanked him for not telling me I was doing something wrong.

Two months later he wrote to me again: “Dear Sonja! Today is the convenant day, and my birthday. I just want to let you know that I’ve been reading your blog, and it makes my heart laugh… Not just for personal reasons (in fact, I am not still sure about my sexuality, and I think I just don’t need to be right now). I’m very happy to know that there are people like you. Just keep going! Don’t loose this marvelous courage! You have my prayers! Alla’u’abha!”

Our conversation in 2014

Our conversation in 2014


I thanked him and didn’t give this another thought because I communicate with a lot of individuals and I lead a pretty busy life.

About 6 months later he joined a secret Bahai gay, lesbian, trans Facebook support group I have been a member of since 2008. He wrote about his sadness at discovering that his local Bahais, including the professor, spoke of homosexuality so negatively that he couldn’t even discuss the topic with them.

He was welcomed into our secret support group by individuals from various backgrounds with a lot of joking and fun exchanged, and he said he was happy to have found this group.

Two years further along, now living in Poland, he wrote that he received an email from the secretary of his local spiritual assembly (LSA).
The 2017 subject heading was: The Baha’i Writings and Homosexuality.
“Dear, Lucas… I just received this message from the Baha’i Writings Service and immediately thought of you. Maybe it can be useful…


“Bahá’í teachings on sexual morality center on marriage and the family as the bedrock of the whole structure of human society and are designed to protect and strengthen that divine institution. Thus Bahá’í Law restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married. Thus, it should not be so much a matter of whether a practicing homosexual can be a Bahá’í as whether, having become a Bahá’í, the homosexual can overcome his problem through knowledge of the teachings and reliance on Bahá’u’lláh.”
The Universal House of Justice
..in a letter to an individual believer. March 14, 1973
(Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 365)

Lucas was very upset even though he knew this letter was sent not from the LSA itself but by the secretary at her own initiative. He wrote:
“The problem is that this experience is killing all my faith day by day. I am still trying to stay “spiritual” “

Now two years later I hear that he was found dead on the floor of his home in Brazil at age 22. The cause of death is not clear.

When I first communicated with Lucas I had no idea that he was gay and it seems that he didn’t either.

The prejudice against gays and lesbians is so wide spread among Bahais, that in order to show I do not share in this prejudice I need to make it clear that I do stand for the rights of gays and lesbians and am a Bahai. For me is strategic – it shows that is possible. In this case, for Lucas who had just become a Bahai, he heard it was possible to be a Bahai and not see anything wrong with homosexuality.
I hope Lucas might have found contact with other gays and lesbians who are Bahais as well as Bahais who did not damn homosexuality, but his 2017 comments show that he was suffering and hurt by the discrimination.

It was wrong of that secretary of the LSA to send Lucas that email, but he knew that if he had brought up this to that LSA he would been given yet more quotations on how homosexuality is wrong. Who would want to face that? I wouldn’t.

Recently, in response to hearing of a case of discrimination against a lesbian by an institution, a Bahai said to me, “she should make a complaint, that’s unreasonable”. He meant well and I understand that complaints about discrimination should be made, but you can only do this if you are in a place of confidence or if you see any sign that the discrimination would be recognized. As for myself, I am not confident that an LSA or an NSA (National Spiritual Assembly, the national level of Bahai administration) would do anything. I know too many stories of discrimination and this is why I write this blog. For my friends who can’t write a letter of complaint after being called diseased or told that they cannot be a Bahai anymore. This blog is also for those Bahais unaware of the discrimination in the hope that they make it known to their gay or lesbian friends that they can come to them for support the next time that person is feeling down.

I am very lucky that I have been a Bahai for many years and in my first few years of being a member of the Bahai community no one said or did anything to indicate to me that there was prejudice against gays or lesbians. I have had close gay friends since I was 17 so if I had known that gays and lesbians were discriminated against I would not have joined.
I didn’t know of any texts that stated “homosexuality is forbidden” until I had been a Bahai for 5 years when a flatmate, a newly declared Bahai, announced this with great enthusiasm. I was shocked. I was shocked this text existed and I was shocked that she was so excited about homosexuality being forbidden. I couldn’t engage with her on this because I was in shock. It felt wrong to my core and it didn’t feel like a teaching of equality and justice. If the topic came up, which it rarely did, then I would say it didn’t feel right to discriminate and I made it clear to the gay xBahais who confronted me (now the 1983 book, Lights of Guidance, was in most communities), telling me that Bahais believe homosexuality is a disease, that I did not share this view.

Decades further and thanks largely to the internet I have been able to learn more about the context for that prohibition listed in the Aqdas. It is based on handwritten notes by Shoghi Effendi and is not Shoghi Effendi’s published authoritative interpretation. This is the Universal House of Justice’s understanding, I assume: the author of the list of prohibitions in the pages after Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i-Aqdas is not clearly stated, but the Universal House of Justice (UHJ) have published the volume in the form that it is in. In any case, the UHJ is not authorized to interpret the writings of Baha’u’llah so this list must have the status of UHJ policy or of the Research Department.
So if a Bahai should say homosexuality is a problem, I will ask how? Many Bahais just say ‘it is a Bahai teaching’ and that’s what makes it so difficult. The prejudice against homosexuality is so widespread. How can a new Bahai find anyone they can talk to? How can a young person even discuss sexuality without the fear of being judged?
That Polish secretary thought she was being helpful but what she did was tell Lucas “the homosexual can overcome his problem” (a 1973 UHJ statement) and her initiative was in response to communications sent by the “Baha’i Writings Service”. How would you feel if a secretary gave you advice about overcoming your ‘problem’ when you know not all Bahais would be sent such advice? When you think most Bahais would agree with this advice, that homosexuality has to be overcome. You would think this because you never hear anything else. That you never hear a Bahai speak up to say, but homosexuality is not bad, not damned, and doesn’t need to be cured.

If the UHJ should state that homosexuality is a problem, this is trickier because many Bahais confuse the authority of the UHJ as ruler and maker of Bahai law with Baha’u’llah’s station. The UHJ no longer refers to homosexuality as a problem but these Bahais then just pull out the earlier statements of the UHJ where they state that homosexuality needs to be cured or overcome and since the UHJ has never stated in clear terms, the older policy of damning homosexuality is not current policy, it is hard to argue with Bahais who do this. So I have to point out that even if the UHJ should state that homosexuality is forbidden, this is a policy that they could change later on. It is not Baha’u’llah’s law because Baha’u’llah did not write a word on homosexuality and his teachings stress equality, justice and that Bahais should read Bahai scripture and interpret for themselves.

Like Lucas, it was after I had committed myself to joining the Bahai community that I discovered that the official policy was that homosexuality was considered aberrant in some manner but I only heard this from one Bahai in those first years expressed in almost a whisper – perhaps to gauge my response. There was a sense in this Bahai community that it was no one’s business to pry into people’s private lives, whether they were gay or not. Today I realise I was lucky to have become a Bahai in a community that was outward looking and tolerant of diversity. Then later there was that new Bahai excited because she found support for her prejudice in the book, Lights of Guidance.

Just a day ago a Bahai told me: “our duty is unquestioning obedience and compliance” and he possibly expected me to be silent. My response to him was that that was his opinion because the Universal House of Justice has not told Bahais that they are not allowed to discuss the policy of not recognizing legalized same sex marriage. Over the years I have developed a thick skin to attempts to silence me on this topic. It is not just because I think it goes against the Bahai principle of the independent search for truth but when people are afraid to say what they think, the Bahai community becomes a place of narrowness and not diversity. I think it is a Bahai teaching to be free to discuss and debate. The authority of the Universal House of Justice is to rule not to tell us how to think or interpret the Bahai Writings.

I understood from the tone of that man’s comment that he personally held no negativity towards gays but as a Bahai he had come to a decision that on this topic, there could be no discussion because he either didn’t see a solution or because he confused debate and critique with disobedience. As a Bahai I accept the authority of the Universal House of Justice to make Bahai law and their current policy is that married gays and lesbians are not allowed to join the Bahai community and same sex marriage is not accepted. I don’t understand why but there’s nothing stopping me from discussing this as long as I don’t make the mistake of saying that anything I say is any more than my own personal opinion. And therein lies the problem. That secretary’s opinion was that she thought she should send Lucas that email that stated that homosexuality was a problem to overcome.

And how many Bahais would then stand up and say, that’s discrimination. How many Bahais are willing to say out loud to a new Bahai or a young Bahai, it is possible to be a Bahai and gay – that it is a non-issue? How can we show that the Bahai community is a safe place for our LGBTQ teens?

Normally on my blog I do not reveal anything that might identify a Bahai and I take confidentiality very seriously but by the time Lucas died he was out to his Bahai community as a gay man and it seems wrong to keep his memory as another gay Bahai ‘unknown.’

It upsets me that Lucas is no longer with us and I end this post with mention of the Trevor project (thetrevorproject.org) in case any of you still think negative comments about homosexuality aren’t such a big deal. Words can really wound.



“Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. [1]
LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth. [2]
LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.2 Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth. [2]
Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers. [2]
In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25. [3]
LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. [4]
1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12) seriously considered suicide in the past year. [5] Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. [6]

SOURCES:
[1] CDC, NCIPC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010) {2013 Aug. 1}. Available from:www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars.
[2] CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
[3] James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.
[4] Family Acceptance Project™. (2009). Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. Pediatrics. 123(1), 346-52.
[5] CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
[6] IMPACT. (2010). Mental health disorders, psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. American Journal of Public Health. 100(12), 2426-32.

thetrevorproject.org

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The Authority of the Bahai Administration

May 7, 2017

A Bahai with his family

A Bahai with his family: “Can a Bahai express views or opinions differing from the latest statements of the Universal House of Justice?”


Sorry folks,

There’s been a long silence, but happily it is because I have been busy with many wonderful and diverse projects. When the Orlando massacre hit last June, I had a blog almost ready but then life took over …

Recently I have been given some strife by Bahais who say what I write turns against important principles of the Bahai Faith and the Bahai Administration, so it is time for a blog on what I think is allowed, and what is not allowed when we express our views. Bahais often use the term the Bahai Covenant for this. Those of you who are not Bahais might now understand why a few Bahais have called me a “Covenant Breaker” on this blog. This is because they think that individual Bahais cannot have any views or opinions differing from the latest statements of the Universal House of Justice and because they think that their view is ‘the’ view of the Universal House of Justice.

In light of the Department of the Secretariat of The Universal House of Justice’s statement: “Further, it is entirely against the spirit of the Faith to regard homosexuals with prejudice or disdain.” (12 April 2016), it seems appropriate for me as just a Bahai to write from the point of view of standing up for the rights of gays and lesbians. If another Bahai takes the opposite view, I do not think it appropriate to call names nor state that their view is against the Bahai Teachings. Instead I think it is better to go to the Bahai Writings (“Be as … an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.” Bahaú’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 346) and if possible discuss or debate our differing views since as Abdul-Baha wrote: “freedom of conscience and tranquility of heart and soul … is in all ages the cause of progress in development and ascendancy…” (Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 87)

My belief is that as a world embracing religion the Bahai community should tolerate members with a wide range of life styles and beliefs. And I think that even Bahais whose ideas might not be in tune with Bahai Scripture should express their ideas so others can show them how these ideas are wrong (myself included) or by free discussion or consultation it may become clear what the issue or ideas are about. I learn most from those I initially disagree with and I consider freedom of expression to be an important Bahai Teaching. Because the topic of homosexuality is so taboo within the Bahai community, it is a topic I have never heard discussed during the consultative part of a feast in my 30 years of being a Bahai. Perhaps this explains why this blog is dominated by the topic of homosexuality to date. I have never bought up the topic of homosexuality at any Bahai event. Not out of fear, but because there seems to be no space for this. I hope other Bahai communities might be more open about discussing this topic but I can understand why Bahais prefer to avoid this topic. Having said this, I am far from being in the closet about gay rights and if a Bahai says something that is to my mind anti-gay, I would at least say I didn’t agree with their statement. Often I see from their response that they are usually surprised and so I try to be gentle as it seems to me that they didn’t think any Bahai might have a differing view. I see wisdom in taking baby steps. However, when the topic of Bahai views on homosexuality comes up in my arts-oriented communities, a lively discussion ensues. Many express that they’ve heard Bahais discriminate against gays because they believe it is forbidden. Others go as far as to tell me “Bahais hate gays.” I explain that we have unity in diversity and not all Bahais think being gay is wrong. For me, in fact, standing up for equality and justice for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is at the heart of my identity as a follower of Baha’u’llah. I would hope that the Bahai community never would come to the point where someone such as myself would be shunned by the Bahai administration. Even should that happen, it will not stop me from considering myself a Bahai. That is because I think being a Bahai is following Baha’u’llah’s Teachings and being accepted as a member of any Bahai community is second to this.

As I’ve read the 2014 statement from the Universal House of Justice on the topic of homosexuality, it seems to me that even though this letter states that identifying oneself as gay or even discussing sexuality implies “self-indulgence, in the guise of expressing one’s true nature … sexuality has become a preoccupation …” The wording here appears to me to be deliberately ambiguous because of course the Universal House of Justice would know that sexuality is also an inseparable aspect of identity. The Universal House of Justice’s concern here, I think, is with materialism and using sexuality as a guise for immoral behaviour. This is my own interpretation of the association of these words (The 2014 letter is here). I started a more thorough discussion of this letter in this blog here because taken as a whole the letter does associate homosexuality with materialism. So I can see how Bahais might continue to see that there’s something wrong with being gay and why even today many gay Bahais have to remain in the closet from their Bahai community.

The bigger issue is that any legally married same sex couple is not allowed to join the Bahai community. This policy supports the thinking that there is something wrong with being gay and so I understand why those with homophobic views feel their view is the same as the policy of the Universal House of Justice.

So … is it against the Bahai Teachings to stand up for the rights and responsibilities of our gay and lesbian Bahais while the policy of the Universal House of Justice states that same sex marriage is not accepted and those who are already married are not allowed to be enrolled into the Bahai community? (To a footnote on U.H.J. policies on same-sex relationships).

The Authority of the Universal House of Justice

The authority of the Universal House of Justice is that it is both the head of the Bahai community and it makes Bahai Law on topics not already covered in the Bahai Writings, such as same sex marriage. So the Universal House of Justice has the authority to rule that same sex marriage is not accepted and according to the Will and Testament of Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi’s interpretations in The World Order of Baha’u’llah it has the authority to make its ruling without any restrictions whatsoever.

At the same time any policy made by the Universal House of Justice may be changed by a later Universal House of Justice. When I write this, Bahais have been upset at me, thinking that it means I am saying that the Universal House of Justice will change its current policy.

Baha’u’llah was very strong on protecting his religion from splitting off into sects and so the issue today when it comes to being a Covenant Breaker would be whether that person claims that the Universal House of Justice does not have the authority to make rules and policy as set down by Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi.

It is not a Bahai Teaching that the Universal House of Justice may tell Bahais how we must think, interpret the Bahai Writings, discuss or debate. Shoghi Effendi makes this very clear, going even so far to suggest that the Universal House of Justice might pass enactments that “conflict with the meaning and … depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 150) and that these would still be valid rulings.

This gives me a great freedom because as a Bahai I can express any idea, even disagree strongly with someone else’s idea of a Bahai Teaching or a policy of the Universal House of Justice, and yet I would not be undermining the authority of the Universal House of Justice. This is because the Universal House of Justice does not have the authority to interpret Bahai Scripture. It cannot absolutely define what the Bahai Teachings are because the Bahai Teachings are determined by what is in Bahai Scripture. Shoghi Effendi made this very clear in The World Order of Baha’u’llah. This gives the Universal House of Justice a great freedom as well, otherwise it would be obliged to control the thinking of all Bahais for orthodox views and we would have a religion where the elected and appointed Bahai administration acts like a class of priests.

The Universal House of Justice is also not limited in changing their policies by a need to appear as if they are not changing anything. In fact, they have full freedom in making or breaking their own policy and can use any argumentation or none as they wish. However, they cannot add to what is Bahai Scripture. If something is in Bahai Scripture, the Universal House of Justice often points us to the actual text. If the Universal House of Justice does not do this then their understanding of the meaning of something in Bahai Scripture falls into the sphere of policy. Because the Universal House of Justice’s understandings of the Bahai Teachings for its own policy-making fall outside its sphere of authority, we have a religion where interpretation of the Bahai Scripture remains in the hands of each one of us and the Universal House of Justice has the flexibility to adapt its understandings and rulings to a changing world.

Bahais often mix up the Universal House of Justice’s policy as being the same as authoritative interpretations of Bahai Scripture, but I think this is because other religions have had an authoritative head whose every ruling is also a doctrine, and where a priest class is necessary to enforce this orthodoxy.

Freedom of Expression as just a Bahai

Back to my question, can a Bahai share their views of the Bahai Teachings if these are not in line with the current policy of the Universal House of Justice?

The Universal House of Justice has already made policy on this topic specifically in relation to electronic media (blogs, etc)
“In general, at this stage in the development of the World Wide Web, the House of Justice feels that those friends desiring to establish personal homepages on the Internet as a means of promoting the Faith should not be discouraged from doing so.
… While it is inevitable that some attempts will be found wanting, the House of Justice has not formulated guidelines or policies specifically addressed to Internet sites.

With regard to the projects referred to in your email, particularly in the case of a Web site for a local Bahá’í community, the Local Spiritual Assembly may wish to approach the National Spiritual Assembly to see if it has any particular guidance to share. Individual projects, if they contain Bahá’í content, should also be referred to one’s National Spiritual Assembly for possible advice or guidance.” (The Universal House of Justice, 1997 April 24)

and
“In general, the House of Justice has no objection to Bahá’ís’ participating in public, unmoderated discussions about the Faith, whether those discussions take place in person or through some form of electronic communication. … While the institutions of the Faith may, on occasion, find it necessary to offer the friends guidance related to their participation in particular discussions, generally this, too, is a matter left to the individual.”
(The Universal House of Justice, 1997 Oct 27,)

So now you might understand why sometimes my blogs have quite a lot of “in my view” and “my personal opinion,” although it would be obvious from my text that it is just my point of view. I do this also because Baha’u’llah was very clear about not developing any form of priest class so that individuals learn to look at Bahai Scripture for themselves and to act by using Bahai principles. Again, the above is just my interpretation 🙂

I hope you can see now that any Bahai may have a differing view on the topic of same sex marriage and on the current policy of the Universal House of Justice as long as their thinking or views are expressed as an individual interpretation. In fact, I think I am obliged to state here that my view – that there is nothing in Bahai Scripture to support treating gays or lesbians differently – is a minority point of view. I would be challenging the authority of the Universal House of Justice only if I stated that their policy had no authority. As an individual I am free to advocate justice for all on equal terms, as my own interpretation of the teachings of Baha’u’llah. But I am not free to imply that the Universal House of Justice does not have the authority to rule as it wishes. That I have never done nor do I ever intend to. Having said that, critiquing policy, any policy, does not undermine that policy. As I see it, freedom of speech ties closely with the Bahai principles as outlined by Shoghi Effendi here: https://justabahai.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/the-individual/#se.

Freedom of speech does not mean that one should be free to demean or belittle or use one’s words to harm another. The intent of my critique is to understand an institution’s or an individual’s thinking. I do not understand any policy that discriminates against gays or lesbians but I certainly accept the authority of the Universal House of Justice, and so I have no interest in petitioning them either. For me, it would be wrong to write a letter to the Universal House of Justice because I don’t want to waste their time when I am sure that they are aware of all the issues I might raise. However, my main objection to writing a letter is that I think Baha’u’llah intended his religion to be one where Bahai’s turn to Scripture and work out their own interpretations in line with current conditions and society. The Universal House of Justice can then focus on policy and acting as the head of the Bahai community, and not on answering letters penned by individuals. If I was stuck with a question where I thought the answer might lie in some text I didn’t have any access to, then that might be a reason for writing a letter to the research department. However, I am very blessed. Almost on a weekly basis Bahais send me material, many asking if I would share this on my blog. This is the main aim for my blog: To share information and my own thinking about various topics, so that people can read and make up their own minds about what is or is not a Bahai Teaching.

Footnote
Universal House of Justice policy on accepting enrollments
The doors are open for all humanity to enter the Cause of God, irrespective of their present circumstances; this invitation applies to homosexuals as well as to any others who are engaged in practices contrary to the Bahá’í teachings. … If a homosexual cannot 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.” From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, 11 September 1995, cited in Udo Schaefer, Baha’i Ethics in Light of Scripture, Vol. 2, by Udo Schaefer, p. 214)

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

Legal same-sex marriage was only possible from 2001 onwards and as far as I know there are no later letters from the Universal House of Justice that clearly state that same-sex couples are allowed to enroll. And this 1999 letter makes it clear that the exclusion would be extended to marriage: “Your understanding is correct that should a polygamist become a Baha’i, he would not be required to divorce or separate from any of his spouses; however, he would not be able to enter into a new marriage while still being married to another spouse.
With regard to the second case, in general, when a person who wishes to join the Faith is known to have a problem such as drinking, homosexuality, drug abuse, adultery, etc., he or she should be told in a patient and loving way of the Baha’i teachings on these matters. In particular, if persons involved in homosexual relationships express an interest in the faith, … they cannot join the Baha’i community in the current condition of their relationship.” (Department of the Secretariat, 13 April 1999, on gaybahai.net), and statements such as “Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and sexual relations are only permissible between husband and wife.” (9 April 2014) imply that same-sex couples are not welcome. If anyone has any other policy from the Universal House of Justice on the topic of same-sex marriage please share this with me. I can copy and paste material so you can remain completely anonymous.

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Critiquing the Universal House of Justice

May 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

9 May 2014

Transmitted by email: ……U.S.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bahais are not united in being against same sex marriage!

November 26, 2014
Lord, why do you pile all these troubles upon us? It is because of the gays, isn't it?

Lord, why do you pile all these troubles upon us? It is because of the gays, isn’t it?
Cartoon by Crowden Satz | Larger view

A friend wrote:
“Yesterday during the celebration of the Day of the Covenant, the issue of homosexuality popped up during a talk citing how America is legalizing marriage for gays, state by state. The person giving the talk said this is wrong and that what keeps the Baha’is united from these negative forces is the power of the Covenant.

It was so hurtful to actually be there and hear someone saying that your very existence is not natural and wrong.

No one knows that I am gay. It wouldn’t be easy to come out to the community. I have seen homophobia in many instances. While he was talking, I just sat there holding up my tears…

So dear reader, if you are a Baha’i and hear any Baha’i speak of homosexuality in any negative manner whatsoever, please heed the words of Baha’u’llah below and speak up, not just for the silent gays in your own community but for the health of your Bahai community because any form of discrimination is just as bad for those engaged in promoting it.

The Universal House of Justice in their 27 Oct 2010 letter (link to this) urges the Bahai community not to take sides on the topic of same sex marriage although individuals are free to express their views as the speaker above did. However, when a Baha’i expresses such views in an authoritative manner, as if they are part of Bahai teachings, then it is a problem when no one speaks up in defense of equality or justice, or even the possibility for a Bahai to have a differing point of view on the topic of marriage. I am speaking up here and hope that Bahais, whether they think homosexuality is good or bad, start to stand up for the rights of others because it is essential that we all work toward eliminating discrimination from the Bahai community.

Be generous in prosperity, and thankful in adversity. Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbor, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face. Be a treasure to the poor, an admonisher to the rich, an answerer of the cry of the needy, a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge. Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men. Be as a lamp unto them that walk in darkness, a joy to the sorrowful, a sea for the thirsty, a haven for the distressed, an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression. Let integrity and uprightness distinguish all thine acts. Be a home for the stranger, a balm to the suffering, a tower of strength for the fugitive. Be eyes to the blind, and a guiding light unto the feet of the erring. Be an ornament to the countenance of truth, a crown to the brow of fidelity, a pillar of the temple of righteousness, a breath of life to the body of mankind, an ensign of the hosts of justice, a luminary above the horizon of virtue, a dew to the soil of the human heart, an ark on the ocean of knowledge, a sun in the heaven of bounty, a gem on the diadem of wisdom, a shining light in the firmament of thy generation, a fruit upon the tree of humility.
Bahaú’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 346

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. “
Desmond Tutu, clergyman (b. 1931)
 

Note on the Bahai Holy Day, 26 November
Bahai Holy days commemorate events centred on the lives of The Bab, Baha’u’llah (both are considered messangers or prophets by Bahais) and Abdul-Baha. Baha’is wanted to add Abdul-Baha’s birthday as well, and instead Abdul-Baha announced that The Day of the Covenant to commemorate Baha’u’llah’s appointment of His eldest son, Abdu’l-Baha, as the protector of the Covenant of Baha’u’llah. The holiday was originally known as the Jashn-i-A’zam in Persian (The Greatest Festival), because ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was known as the Greatest Branch; in the West, the holy day became known as the Day of the Covenant.

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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.