Archive for the ‘homophobia’ Category

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Not a Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK

August 11, 2017

Not a position paper on homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahais in the UK

I have added the red parts.

The author of the 2007 “Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK” contacted me about my 2014 blog “Is homosexuality spiritually condemned?” which was a rebuttal of some of the statements in this paper.
It was written in response to a request by a member of the U.K, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais as an experiment. He asked if we could find a solution without asking me to censor my blog because his paper was only a draft, was put online without his permission, and the NSA of the U.K. did not end up using it. However, readers (myself included) easily miss that it is NOT a Position Paper for the Bahai community of the U.K., particularly because later the same author was on the UK Bahá’í community Office of Public Affairs. If this article did express ideas in conflict with the views of the NSA of the Bahais of the U.K., then I would have thought it would have been removed long ago. It has been online for 10 years now and to date it is still online.

I am posting the whole paper here without his name and have changed the link from my 2014 blog to the text placed below. For me it is not so much the biases that might or might not be expressed by Bahais on the topic of homosexuality but in my view silencing (not having a voice) is much worse than statements of bias. Abdul-Baha’s injunction “The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87) is one of many reasons why I think visibility is important. For example with the statement: “the Bahá’í position on homosexuality is spiritual condemnation,” – here we can debate where this idea comes from or why the author might write this? Some of you might agree with this statement and then you can tell me why.

Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK

Author’s name is removed

Summer 2007 | page 1 of 5

Between obliviousness and puritanism stand Bahá’ís, who say that homosexuality is wrong, but homosexuals are kindred souls. The Bahá’í Faith is a religion of unity, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh1 to unify our divided humanity and enable the spiritual fulfillment of its peoples. Remembering this context is essential when saying that the Bahá’í position on homosexuality is spiritual condemnation. As a Bahá’í, I believe that morality is foundational to spiritually healthy individuals and, therefore, to a united society; and this applies to a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality. ‘Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.’2

Yet also, the Bahá’í Faith teaches that unity is incompatible with a judgmental attitude or censorious posturing. Shoghi Effendi3 wrote that Bahá’ís have ‘certainly not yet reached that stage of moral perfection where they are in a position to too harshly scrutinize the private lives of other souls’. The result of these beliefs, therefore, is that whilst Bahá’ís consider the condition of homosexuality to be spiritually condemned and reject the act, they would never reject homosexual people.

We believe that the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the ‘breath of life unto all created things’4, that the exhortations and prohibitions of a Bahá’í life comprise the great education and the great enablement, not the great lockdown. Through obedience to the laws, Bahá’ís work to discipline themselves according to spiritual standards that outstrip average notions of appropriate living, and this discipline allows the individual to respond to grander impulses than physical desires or psychological complexes. Furthermore, spiritual discipline frees us from our own selves and offers a life fulfilled through clarity of purpose and devoted service to our fellow humans.

Chastity is one of the basic laws of spiritual discipline: abstention from sexual relations before marriage, and exclusively marital relations thereafter. Marriage itself is considered a divine institution and a ‘fortress of well-being and salvation’5 that can shelter a man and woman from loneliness and drift, which can save them from the emotional pains of physical satisfaction in unhealthily transient relationships.

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

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Yet our desires exist and the Bahá’í Faith acknowledges their validity and importance. Human sexuality is celebrated though not indulged: Bahá’u’lláh recommends marriage at a young age. But sex must be within marriage because it guarantees that intimate relationships are buttressed against the uncertainties of life, with each married couple and family a solid piece of a slowly unifying humanity.

The social and spiritual value of marriage exceeds the physical, yet the right and proper expression of that physical love ensures the salubrious development of a social and spiritual relationship. These multiple elements of a relationship are intertwined: trust rests on exclusive physical intimacy and unsurpassed emotional openness, while marriage as a social good rests on its spiritual foundation. Sexual relations outside marriage, meanwhile, fosters a sex-centric attitude to love.

We frequently see in today’s society that young people feel compelled to express their love through sex. They do this whilst ignoring the need to investigate the character of a partner; instead they create physical bonds that outpace the spiritual and emotional immaturity of the relationship. The result is grave imbalance: physical bonds are a powerful fire that consumes the detachment needed to truly understand the spiritual and emotional connection between a man and woman.

While the common view in contemporary culture is that ‘if it feels good’ and ‘harms no one’, then ‘do it’, this attitude is ignorant of our spirituality and the ramifications of our behaviour thereon. We are emotional and spiritual beings, even if we ignore it, and acts as intimate and powerful as intercourse have a bearing on our individual development and our consequent contribution to society.

This is the holistic attitude Bahá’ís have towards sex, relationships and society: each builds to the next and a sexual relationship cannot be conducted for its own sake. Physical love is inseparable from an emotionally healthy, socially conscious, and spiritually purposeful life.

Such is the core and utterly rational reason that the Bahá’í Faith cannot allow homosexuality within this balance of physical love, emotional health, social responsibility, and spiritual growth. Our desires are innate but our inclinations are another matter.

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

A central tenet of the Faith is the harmony of science and religion: religion without science is superstition, and science without faith is materialism.

Bahá’í do not accept the materialist notion that nature is perfect, but rather, the nature of humans must be improved through spiritual education.

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

The condition of homosexuality is regarded by Bahá’u’lláh as an ‘affliction’ and an ‘aberration’ which is ‘against nature’.

The starkness of this language makes it transparently clear that not only is the condition wrong but same-sex relationships do not ring true. The language is also

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difficult to bear for non-Bahá’ís and some Bahá’ís alike; the proper consolation is that this condemnation comes from He whom Bahá’ís believe to be the Manifestation of God, and thus speaks with a voice unparalleled and inimitable. His starkness is not available for our own use.

Bahá’ís of whichever sexual orientation are taught acceptance and love by their Faith and its teachings; spiritual condemnation cannot be translated into tangible or emotional condemnation.

This very firm rejection is made with the utmost love for homosexuals.

For proofs of this utmost love, again the fundamental principles provide guidance: people of all kinds deserve only praise and encouragement from other individuals within the Bahá’í community. (Only the institutions have the right to concern themselves with the private affairs of Bahá’ís, a right exercised only when that behaviour manifests itself in a way publicly damaging to the community.)
Further, marriage is recommended but not required and is not the central purpose of life. The trend in certain strata of western societies
– that young people of both genders are educated for longer, develop careers and marry later

– has the beneficial corollary of rearing a larger generation than ever before able to carry an ‘ever-advancing civilisation’6.

The celibacy required of a Bahá’í homosexual does not deny the grandeur of their potentialities and achievements in all other aspects of life. All of this can be a challenge for Bahá’ís living in the West.

Tolerance and plurality are the professed values of a liberal society, and because of the pacific nature of the Bahá’í Faith, often we are perceived to be liberal intellectuals who also believe in God. Not so.

The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions, it was revealed to rewrite human spirituality, morality and society, so we cannot obfuscate the teachings elemental to these goals.

I recall a conversation with a friend some years ago, during which I was questioned about my religious my views on homosexuality, and directly challenged as a bigot.

I was brought up as a Bahá’í, always reminded by my parents’ actions of the importance of exhibiting a sincere and loving acceptance of all the peoples around me, and that Bahá’u’lláh had come to unite not divide humanity.

The accusation of bigotry was surprising and would have been risible had it not been outrageous in its misunderstanding of the charge itself and my own values.

I retired from the discussion and pondered this word, and realised that a ‘bigot’ is someone who cannot tolerate the views of another person.

Bahá’ís tolerate and accept the myriad beliefs held by divers peoples; we do not impose our beliefs on non-Bahá’ís, not for the briefest shiver of a hypocritical instant. Inside the Bahá’í Faith, the covenantal7 duty and expectation is obedience to the laws and the institutions.

Bahá’ís are expected to strive for understanding

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of those laws beyond their grasp; a selective adherence to these laws is unacceptable because it undermines the unity of the entire community.

But these are standards for Bahá’ís only, and because the Faith finds itself in a context of many different beliefs, it holds that concord and plurality are more important than contention and division. These principles are reflected in the values of any progressive society. And yet because this current liberal society has convinced itself of the rightness of Enlightenment thinking, which includes a permissive attitude to sex and allows for an individualistic definition of sexuality, dissension therefrom brings denouncement. My confusion at being called a bigot stemmed from this double standard: that western society was liberal and open-minded, so long as certain issues were agreed upon beforehand. There was a hypocritical element which Bahá’ís must reject when explaining their position on homosexuality: pluralism and the liberally spread charge of bigotry are incompatible. There is a curious paradox here which hinges on the identity aspect of this discussion. If liberal society accepted so sincerely the homosexuality of homosexuals, why then have many homosexuals felt the need to persist in their segregated and specialised gay identity long after their supposed entry into the mainstream? I postulate two answers. Firstly, their sexuality has been dramatically overemphasised in the creation of their self-image, self-worth and social identity – just as is the case with many heterosexuals who see sex as soul. The Bahá’í teachings, meanwhile, state that ‘in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex’8.

Secondly, immersion in this emphatically gay identity is a reaction to alienation within wider society. This is true in many aspects of life, not just sexuality; for instance, the recent reactions to ‘multiculturalism’ have in turn provoked young Muslims in the West, who are in many cases second or third generation nationals and the descendants of immigrants, to reassert their cultural and religious past by exhibiting religiosity in a form rejected by their parents. The dynamic involved in both examples are vividly drawn and narrowly defined exclusive identities; over-reliance on these is a common reaction to stigmatisation.
This is true also of the assertive, politicised and highly vocal gay identity. The introduction of the Bahá’í understanding of homosexuality – that the condition is aberrant and the act wrong, but censure of homosexuals even worse – resolves this dichotomous identity problem because it drains the bile from public discussion and sentiment about homosexuality. A homosexual person secure in his or her acceptance by society would not feel the need to adopt a segregated identity. This would succeed is more than the avoidance of false dichotomies, it would foster genuine unity, the very purpose of the Bahá’í Faith. This briefly stated position on homosexuality and the Bahá’í Faith is far from complete, and its failures are the failures of the author. It will also be difficult for many to believe.

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Bahá’u’lláh declared that His purpose is the ‘good of the world and the happiness of the nations’9 and Bahá’ís work to deepen their understanding of how the laws and teachings of the Bahá’í Faith further that noble purpose. For many it is a challenging process, and many others encounter the Faith and reject its precepts, but a contemporary religion dedicated to unity and manifestly positive in its grassroots impact must surely be given the chance to prove the power of its principles.

           My (JustaBahai) comments:
“spiritual condemnation”?
This is possibly a paraphrase from: “Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, is spiritually condemned.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, May 21, 1954. Cited in Lights of Guidance, p. 364)

Bahai Scripture are texts by The Bab and Baha’u’llah while anything penned by Abdul-Baha, Baha’u’llah’s son, is given the authority of Bahai Scripture. Shoghi Effendi, Guardian and Head of the Bahai community until 1957, whose authoritative interpretations are part of the texts they interpret, did not pen a single word on the topic of homosexuality. But his secretaries did in five letters. Some Bahais consider the advice in these letters as being akin to Bahai Scripture, while others, such as myself, view these letters as having a lower status for a number of reasons (see: “their words are in no sense the same as his … and their authority less … this fault should be remedied … the words of the Guardian clearly differentiated from those of his secretaries.” (1951), “… 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…” (1932)).
I think it is important to understand that any advice in a letter penned by a secretary should not be used as a source for a Bahai Teaching because Shoghi Effendi wanted these letters to be distinguished from his own writings and because many letters refer to the guidance as advice: (“…it is not binding; you are free to follow it or not as you please” (1944).

So I would say any letter that supports any existing Bahai Teaching could be useful but if a letter conflicts with any Bahai Teaching such as the principle of equality or justice, then the usefulness of that letter was for a particular time and place even if the letter claims it is a Bahai Teaching because a secretary does not have the authority to interpret nor to create a Bahai Teaching.

“a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality”
There is nothing in Bahai Scripture that even hints that morality is conditional on being a heterosexual. Many of Bahaú’llah’s “Hidden Words” speak of the nature of humanity as being in God’s image. Bahaú’llah condemns three forms of illicit sex-related activities, not homosexuality. (See the exact words and context here)

“Bahá’ís consider the condition of homosexuality to be spiritually condemned and reject the act, they would never reject homosexual people.”
I am a Bahai and I do not consider homosexuality to be spiritually condemned and I would say so if I was the only Bahai to state this. What matters is what is in Bahai Scripture and Bahai teachings such as thinking for ourselves (no priests to tell us how to think). So this is my main objection to this paper. This individual presents his ideas as if these are representative. The text quoted above also shows not only an ignorance that gays and lesbians are just as boring and diverse as heterosexuals, but assumes that orientation is some sort of act. How would you act heterosexual? When you are asleep? And this is crux of the prejudice I encounter among many Bahais. They say they don’t reject gays and lesbians but then denigrate them by assuming that any visibility of one’s orientation is about sex. It is no surprise to me that many Bahais only know gay and lesbians superficially. Who would want to associate with anyone who considers them subjected to “psychological complexes”?

Asking a class of individuals to remain alone and chaste for the length of their lives is cruel when another class of individuals are allowed to date, to develop close friendships, even intimacy with another and to marry. I do not believe that Baha’u’llah intended his teachings to divide humanity into two categories: those who are allowed to have intimate companionship and others who are not allowed to develop that side of themselves. It is not the same reality as someone who chooses not to marry. If there is any Bahai Scripture that makes clear that marriage was to exclude same sex couples, I wouldn’t be writing this blog.

The UHJ has the authority to make rulings for the Bahai community not covered in Bahai Scripture. The current UHJ policy (see changes in their policy on allowing gays or lebsians to join here) is that legally married same sex couples are not allowed to join but at the same time “The Universal House of Justice does not feel that the time has come for it to provide detailed legislation on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues. …It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions.” (1988)

I know of a few Bahai communities where they welcome their same sex members on equal terms where partners and children are also welcome. On the other hand, I know of many stories of prejudice towards our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters where they are told they are spiritually condemned for example.

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

“..sex must be within marriage because it guarantees that intimate relationships are buttressed…”
Why are gays and lesbians excluded?

When ‘Abdul-Baha wrote about the rules for marriage as an aspect of the social teachings of the Bahai Faith he refers to a man and woman but he doesn’t state that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. And Baha’u’llah wrote: “Whoso contenteth himself with a single partner from among the maidservants of God, both he and she shall live in tranquillity.”
Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 41

And in the introduction of the Kitab-i-Aqdas the Universal House of Justice explains: “where Bahá’u’lláh has given a law as between a man and a woman, it applies mutatis mutandis between a woman and a man unless the context makes this impossible.” Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 7

If same sex marriage is possible, then the principle of mutatis mutandis as outlined in the Kitab-i-Aqdas would apply.

“Physical love is inseparable from an emotionally healthy, socially conscious, and spiritually purposeful life. Such is the core and utterly rational reason that the Bahá’í Faith cannot allow homosexuality within this balance of physical love, emotional health, social responsibility, and spiritual growth.”

I do not see a rational reason to exclude same-sex partners from being able to have an “emotionally healthy, socially conscious, and spiritually purposeful life.” Abdul-Baha wrote: “When, therefore, the people of Baha undertake to marry, the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God.” Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 117

“the Bahá’í Faith rejects the possibility that sexual relations between homosexuals are a natural or positive influence on either the individuals themselves or their wider society.”
The author has effectively said that married homosexuals could not have a positive influence on others, and on society. How then can he regard them as ‘kindred souls,’ if they are so innately flawed that they can contribute no good?

“A central tenet of the Faith is the harmony of science and religion: religion without science is superstition, and science without faith is materialism.” See my blog: On the psychopathology of homosexuality

“Bahá’í(s) do not accept the materialist notion that nature is perfect, but rather, the nature of humans must be improved through spiritual education.” “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 259); we are born with lots of potential and no sin, so it is not that human beings must be improved, but that through education and experience we can develop and “(t)he purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, hath been to bring forth the Mystic Gems out of the mine of man” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 13). See my blog on human nature.

Bahai Scripture stresses the importance of the spiritual as part of a holistic worldview: “with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom of existence and the essence of all created things.”
Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, #29

“a sexuality that obviates procreation defies the social role of sex.”
This argument implies that infertile couples or the elderly are not allowed to have a Baha’i marriage, apart from the fact that same sex couples are raising children.

“The condition of homosexuality is regarded by Bahá’u’lláh as an ‘affliction’ and an ‘aberration’ which is ‘against nature’.”
The words: affliction, aberration and against nature are penned in letters written by secretaries. Baha’u’llah’s only reference to sexuality is in relation to being asked about illicit forms of sexual practise and his comment of shame, concerning the middle eastern practise of sex with children. His phrase “ghelmaan” makes it clear this is about minors who were sex-slaves (See: “A Bahá’í View of Homosexuality … ?“). Baha’u’llah does not mention homosexuality. I find it shameful that a Bahai attributes these words to Baha’u’llah.

“ …and thus speaks with a voice unparalleled and inimitable. His starkness is not available for our own use.” But these words were not penned by Baha’u’llah? Words in a letter penned by a secretary writing on behalf of Shoghi Effendi do not equal Baha’u’llah’s words. I find it shameful that a Bahai associates his own prejudices with Baha’u’llah. Nothing penned by Baha’u’llah mentions homosexuality. Pederasty (sex with a minor) is not homosexuality and Baha’u’llah’s use of the word “boy sex slave” (“ghelmaan”) makes this very clear.

“Only the institutions have the right to concern themselves with the private affairs of Bahá’ís, a right exercised only when that behaviour manifests itself in a way publicly damaging to the community”
In a country or state where homosexuality is not discriminated against, which is more publicly damaging? Removing voting rights because someone has complained behind an individual’s back about their suspicions? Or being a community where gays and lesbians are not picked on. Being a community where gays and lesbians are not afraid to invite a friend over for dinner, or to hug someone or to hold their hand? Being a community where individual’s private lives are not delved into, whatever their orientation. Being a community were gay and lesbians are not afraid to be out of the closet. What sort of image is publicly damaging to the community? Demonstrations of tolerance or flexibility or Bahais who write that it is a Bahai Teaching the homosexuality is spiritually condemned?

“… a challenge for Bahá’ís living in the West. Tolerance and plurality are the professed values of a liberal society, and because of the pacific nature of the Bahá’í Faith, often we are perceived to be liberal intellectuals who also believe in God. Not so. The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions, it was revealed to rewrite human spirituality, morality and society, so we cannot obfuscate the teachings elemental to these goals.”
The point here: the Bahai Teachings of equality and justice. Tolerance and plurality are also Bahai Teachings. The principle of unity in diversity isn’t anti-intellectual and it isn’t anti-liberal either. The principle of unity in diversity is inclusive. The way I interpret the Bahai Teaching of progressive revelation is that each messenger of God builds on the revelations of earlier messengers, not that each religious tradition is rewritten. There is no logical connection between the author’s anti-intellectual statements and his own idea of the Bahai principle of progressive revelation. By ‘rewrite’ does he think that each new religion has to obliterate all of spirituality, morality and society? Abdul-Baha doesn’t appear to have such a negative view of western tolerance and pluralism: “Did not these new systems and procedures, these progressive enterprises, contribute to the advancement of those countries? Were the people of Europe harmed by the adoption of such measures? Or did they rather by these means reach the highest degree of material development? Is it not true that for centuries, the people of Persia have lived as we see them living today, carrying out the pattern of the past? Have any discernible benefits resulted, has any progress been made? …
Let us consider this justly and without bias: let us ask ourselves which one of these basic principles
[such as justice, tolerance and equal rights] and sound, well-established procedures would fail to satisfy our present needs, or would be incompatible with Persia’s best political interests or injurious to the general welfare of her people. Would the extension of education, the development of useful arts and sciences, the promotion of industry and technology, be harmful things? For such endeavor lifts the individual within the mass and raises him out of the depths of ignorance to the highest reaches of knowledge and human excellence. Would the setting up of just legislation, in accord with the Divine laws which guarantee the happiness of society and protect the rights of all mankind and are an impregnable proof against assault — would such laws, insuring the integrity of the members of society and their equality before the law, inhibit their prosperity and success?” (Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 13)

“… I was questioned about my religious beliefs, my views on homosexuality, and directly challenged as a bigot.”
The word, ‘bigot’ is often used for someone who suffers from ignorance of their own prejudice. I think it would be more honest if the author said that he didn’t believe gays and lesbians can be treated with equality and justice. As another Baha’i, I do not agree that this is a Baha’i Teaching but if he said this then one could have a debate or discussion. I find it more disturbing when a Baha’i states it isn’t discrimination and then they treat a class of people as if there is something wrong with them, remove their voting rights, call them spiritually condemned, their orientation immoral, or misattribute the Bahai writings in support of their own prejudice.
“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. 12)
I see no indication that justice and equality are conditional on being a heterosexual. Baha’u’llah also wrote: “Be thou of the people of hell-fire, but be not a hypocrite.” (Compilations, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 337. Source in Persian)
I think the author has missed the point in writing “we do not impose our beliefs on non-Bahá’ís, not for the briefest shiver of a hypocritical instant” because it is about the Bahai principle of justice for everyone not just those who are not Bahais.

“If liberal society accepted so sincerely the homosexuality of homosexuals, why then have many homosexuals felt the need to persist in their segregated and specialised gay identity long after their supposed entry into the mainstream? I postulate two answers. Firstly, their sexuality has been dramatically overemphasised in the creation of their self-image, self-worth and social identity – just as is the case with many heterosexuals who see sex as soul.”
It seems to me that the author thinks gay or lesbian visibility is a form of segregation. Identity that is not mainstream is diversity in practice. Would the world really be a better place if we all must hide our distinctive cultural characteristics? Abdul-Baha’s oft-mentioned metaphor of the value of diverse flowers in the garden of humanity comes to mind. It isn’t about sex but about being welcome to express our diverse mannerisms, ways of thinking creatively and of solving problems. It is clear to me that there is a stark absence of gay and lesbian perspectives within the Bahai community. Perhaps like a community where there are only members of one race or one class of people, these people do not notice the lack of diversity because their experience is limited to a group of people who are just like they are.

“If in a garden the flowers and fragrant herbs, the blossoms and fruits, the leaves, branches and trees are of one kind, of one form, of one colour and one arrangement, there is no beauty or sweetness, but when there is variety in the world of oneness, they will appear and be displayed in the most perfect glory, beauty, exaltation and perfection. Today nothing but the power of the Word of God which encompasses the realities of things can bring the thoughts, the minds, the hearts and the spirits under the shade of one Tree.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet to the Hague, p. 12)

Footnotes:
1 Bahá’u’lláh was born in 1817 as Mirza Husayn Ali, a nobleman of Persia. In 1863, whilst exiled to Iraq because of his belief in the Babi religion established in 1844, Bahá’u’lláh declared Himself to the be the Messenger of God for humanity today, and established a religion that has since spread to over 200 countries with over 6 million followers: the Bahá’í Faith.
2 Bahá’u’lláh, Compilation of Compilations vol 1 p. 57, translated from a Tablet in Arabic.
3 Shoghi Effendi was appointed the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith in 1921, following the passing of his grandfather ‘Abdul’Bahá, the Son of Bahá’u’lláh. Shoghi Effendi’s appointment was announced in the Will and Testament of ‘Abdul’Bahá, Himself appointed the sole successor to Bahá’u’lláh in His Will and Testament.
4 Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings CLV.
5 Bahá’u’lláh, from a Tablet.
6 Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings CIX
7 Bahá’ís live their lives within the Covenant, an institution revealed by Bahá’u’lláh designed to firstly to assure humanity of God’s everlasting love; and secondly, to bind Bahá’ís to submit to the proper succession of leadership of the community, obey the institutions and obey the laws of God.
8 Abdul-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 108
9 Bahá’u’lláh, The Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh

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“The Baha’is lose another gay”

September 16, 2013

Any gay or lesbian individual who identifies as a Baha’i is a saint as far as I am concerned and I am blessed to have so many friends who are saints. Any gay or lesbian who chooses to leave the Bahai Faith is almost a saint for trying, because there’s so much prejudice. Just today I was reminded of this when a Bahai wrote “homosexuality is condemned” on an open forum. Yes folks it is September 2013 and Bahai’s still write such words in public (just use google if you don’t believe me) without blinking it seems. When other Bahais do not take them to task for expressing such prejudice, these Baha’is repeat such hateful things. Just have a look at some of the comments on my blog if you don’t want to stomach what a google search will turn up.

It hurts me a lot. It is hurtful to denounce a person’s orientation as being condemned or immoral. And here’s a letter from one of these almost saints.

“My purpose in writing to you today is to inform you that I will be formally leaving the Baha’i Faith very soon. It was a tough decision to make, as I truly do care for the teachings of Baha’u’llah and have applied them with some success in my life. Unfortunately, the issues of being a gay man in a faith that wants nothing to do with such an entity has finally caused me to crack.

To be honest, I was mentally consumed with the idea of having the Faith accept gays and over the course of these many years have seen absolutely no budge in their stance. Through my own eyes, I have seen wonderful gays and lesbians turned away from wanting to learn about the Faith. It finally became too disheartening to see.

In my time as a Baha’i, I have met many gays and lesbians who sought solace from the stressful secular world. They would ask me if the Baha’i Faith would be a possible solution to their stress. In most parts of the world, being gay is a giant weight on one’s shoulders. Adding the burden of being a Baha’i is like adding a million more pounds to that weight. And that was what I would tell them.

Outside the context of the Faith, I will still work with people on ways to connect with God.

I must say that you and others doing a wonderful thing for the Baha’i Faith. In the future, when the Faith finally accepts the notion of homosexuality as a natural component of existence, you should all be recognized as true pioneers, having fought the good fight and helping to make the world a saner, more accepting place. I love you all and I wish you nothing but the best in life.”

your Hispanic American friend

I wish you well my friend! And I hope one day Baha’i communities will start working pro-actively in removing prejudice against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. See my previous blog for some tips.

“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. 12)

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“Gays can’t marry, and that’s not discrimination”

August 16, 2013

I’ve heard this and similar phrases from a Baha’i so often now, I could brush this off as a cliché if it weren’t for the fact that in most Baha’i communities gays are still treated differently. For example, Udo Schaefer in his 2009 book, “Bahá’í Ethics in Light of Scripture: Doctrinal fundamentals, volume 2” writes that “…a homosexual relationship, … by definition transgresses the will of God and is intrinsically immoral,” (page 213) whereas actually morality or immorality depends on what is done, whether the couple is married (of course marriage doesn’t necessarily make a relationship moral), whether there is a breach of trust or other harm to others.

According this author of a book on Bahai Ethics, immorality is treated as a given for a homosexual couple, while I assume, for a heterosexual couple, it is a possibility that can be avoided. The differences might seem like nothing to a straight person, whose identity is never associated with anything called ‘immorality.’ In fact many a Baha’i has said to me that they do not discriminate and to prove this they say “I have gay friends” or “I have employed gays” but “gay Bahais can’t marry.”

If a Bahai says to you, “marriage is only between a man and woman” – and you don’t say anything, then that Bahai assumes, quite reasonably, that you agree that gays do not have the same rights and responsibilities as any other person, and that it is OK for a Bahai to say so as a matter of fact. If you didn’t agree, you would have said something. You would have at least said something about Baha’u’llah’s teachings being for all of humanity and not just for the straights in society.
Even making a plea for compassion would have indicated that you didn’t agree with a blanket statement that excludes a significant minority.

Such blanket statements made express a prejudice, and a position of power in straight dominated society. Saying to someone, ‘you cannot,’ and then saying ‘this is not discrimination’ is worse than saying, ‘well I do see that this is discrmination, but…’

If people hear Bahais saying that gays are diseased or immoral or “deviant” (Schaefer, Ethics, Vol. 2 p. 205) and other Bahais do not challenge this, they will assume that the norm in that Bahai community is that gays are not given to be given the same respect as any one else.

Some say we are members of the Baha’i community first and then gay, black, First Nation, Māori, or women after this. This only applies in so far as these minority groups are not discriminated against in the Bahai community. But where there is in fact discrimination, those discriminated against will naturally say, first of all, I am me, and possibly a member of the Baha’i community after that.

So how can a Baha’i community make the focus more on equality, on the individual irrespective of their orientation?

To start with, remove all negative public mention of homosexuality.

In North America it would mean renaming “BNASAA” (the “Bahá’í Network on Aids, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse” ((www.bnasaa.org. Accessed 11 August 2013.) which lumps homosexuality with illnesses. In doing this they could focus on their target group, those with illness, and their material which only presents homosexuality from a viewpoint of being problematic can be removed.

Since when is sexuality an illness?

Bahais need to stop putting homosexuality into the category of ‘illness’ or ‘disability.’

A proactive position would be for communities to state that individuals of all creeds, races and oriention are treated with equality.

This would inform gays and those opposed to discrimination on principle that this Bahai community is working at removing discrimination against gays.

After all a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi states that “Bahá’ís should certainly not belong to clubs or societies that practice any form of discrimination.” (From a letter of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of South America, April 23, 1957).

Prejudice makes me sick, illustration by www.sonjavank.com/design. Free to use.
 

“Prejudice against homosexuals
is a part of any system
that labels it
an illness”

D.W.

Detail of a cartoon by Mike Luckovich, click to see the whole cartoon.

Click to view the whole cartoon.

Click to read in a pop up window.

Click to read in a pop up window.

What is so sad is that Bahais use the argument ‘gays can’t marry’ as justification for creating otherness whereas it shouldn’t even be part of the discussion to start with.

A legal disability is not a moral disabilty. So if a person is gay, they and their boyfriend or girlfriend should be given the same respect that would be given to a straight Bahai. And a gay person’s identity to be viewed as a valued “[d]iversity of hues, form and shape, [which] enricheth and adorneth the garden and heighteneth the effect thereof.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 291)

"Gay marriage"Gay Bahais are judged in ways that blacks used to be judged. Gay Bahais often hide their sexuality in order “to pass” and so avoid this prejudice. And who could blame them?
Sometimes they criticise those gay Bahais who are more open. A gay Bahai even wrote, when another gay Bahai lost his voting rights, that it was his own fault for being too open.
Dates of repeal of US anti-miscegenation laws by state
But Baha’u’llah wrote, Be thou of the people of hell-fire, but be not a hypocrite.
Cited in a compilation on Trustworthiness. Also in Compilation of compilations, Volume 2, page 337

The parallels with race and racism are close. A mixed marriage was once considered impossible and immoral.

If Bahai communities are going to live up to the U.H.J.’s 2010 request:
“Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. … 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.
(Letter from the U.H.J. to individual, 27 October 2010) they first need to realise that there is prejudice against gays and to deal with it proactively. Looking the other way only keeps the prejudice unchallenged. A minimum would be a policy of “compassion,” if “equality” is too big a step for that community.

A bad example was in June 2013, when the Bahais of Springfield, Missouri, responded to a survey on prejudice and social conduct for the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Citizens’ Task Force. The Bahai community chose not to support adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the city non-discrimination policy. What is unique here is that the results of this survey were published.

I’m sure that the Bahais on that L.S.A., when making those choices to represent the community, thought that by voting for no change, they were being neutral. The other option, which they did not vote for was for more effort to reduce discrimination against homosexuals in regards to work and housing. I will write another blog (when I have better access to the internet) on the details of this case because there are many lessons to be learnt here.

The biggest mistake the L.S.A. made as I see it, was to think that a stance of no change was the same as not discriminating. For someone from a majority point of view where their own lifestyle or values are not under attack or criticism, the status quo often seems neutral. After all, their kids are not laughed at for having different parents or refused housing because of the fear that the neighbours might complain.

There’s plenty in the Bahais writings and teachings to support a stance where Bahais should bend over backwards to help minorities in society. “Be ye the helpers of every victim of oppression, the patrons of the disadvantaged. (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 3)

So what are you doing as an individual to help reduce the discrimination in your Bahai community (and then in society)?

At the next feast, I suggest that some of you play a role as gay Bahais and ask the community for support.

Ask frank questions of each other, and investigate why a gay Bahai or a gay visitor might not feel welcome. Discuss how you can reframe your language so that any individual who doesn’t fit the framework of married and straight, can feel more comfortable.

If you dare, discuss sexuality. It is not the same as sex and has nothing to do with a misuse of power over minors (pederasty), which is what Baha’u’llah described as shameful.

Discuss how you will react when a person who is in a same sex marriage wishes to join. Discuss what the options are for Bahai children who find they are gay and the community be supportive.
cartoon_double_standards

Be clear about what you as a community should not do in these situations.
And keep Baha’u’llah’s teachings in mind – teachings such as :

– the value of the inputs of minorities (“Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity. This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 291, my emphasis),

– and of individuals (Each leaf has its own particular identity … its own individuality as a leaf – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 285)

– being true to yourself (True loss is for him whose days have been spent in utter ignorance of his self.) – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 156,
“Know thou that all men have been created in the nature made by God”Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 149
“The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye” Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 156

– that we are created through love, for love (I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee,) Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words, nr 3., (Love is …the vital bond inherent … in the realities of things. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 27)

– shunning hypocrisy, Say: Honesty, virtue, wisdom and a saintly character redound to the exaltation of man, while dishonesty, imposture, ignorance and hypocrisy lead to his abasement. By My life! Man’s distinction lieth not in ornaments or wealth, but rather in virtuous behaviour and true understanding. Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 57

– and that social and religious laws change. (…things are useful in accordance with the exigencies of the time. Time changes, and when time changes the laws have to change. But remember, these are not of importance; they are the accidentals of religion. ‘Abdul-Baha, From the middle of a talk given at to congregation in the synagogue, the Temple Emanuel, (Emmanu-El) in San Francisco, 1912, in Star of the West Vol. 3, No. 13, p. 3, which corresponds to The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 365. See my blog for more context for this quotation.)

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Is there homophobia in the Baha’i community?

July 30, 2010

Art by Sonja van Kerkhoff

First Lessons in Relativity
an installation
by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Is there homophobia in the Baha’i community? In April this year Korey started a discussion on a Bahai Facebook group called “homophobia”. This is what he posted:


If you are gay or not, you should forward this as a support of your friends and loved ones that are. Love is not defined by color, belief, or gender.


I am the mother that is not allowed to see the children she gave birth to, took care of and raised. The courts say that I do not fulfill the requirements to be a mother now that I live with another woman.

I am the boy that never finished his degree because every day I was called a Faggot.

I am the girl who was kicked out of her house because I confessed to my mother that I was a lesbian.

I am the prostitute working in the streets because no one wants to hire a transsexual.

I am the sister that tightly hugs her gay brother during long nights of fear and crying.

We are the parents that barried their daughter much sooner than they should have.

I am the man who died alone in a hospital because who was my partner for 27 years, was not allowed access to my room.

I am the orphan that wakes up at night due to nightmares, because I was taken from the only home where I was shown love, simply because I have two fathers.

How I would like to be adopted. I am not amongst those who were lucky.

I took my own life only weeks before I would graduate from college. I wouldn’t take it anymore.

We are the couple that the landlord stood up when he found out we wanted to rent a room for two men.

I am the person that never knows which bathroom to use in order not to be sent to the management office.

I am the survivor of domestic abuse that realized that the support system became cold and distant when they found out that my abusive partner was also a woman.

I am the survivor of domestic abuse that doesn’t have a support system to go to because I am a man.

I am the father that was never able to hug his own child because I grew up with fear to show any affect towards other men.

I am the economics teacher who always wanted to be a sports teacher until someone told her that only lesbians do that.

I am the woman who died when the paramedics stopped treating her when they found out I was a transsexual.

I am the person who feels guilty because I think I could be a better person if society didn’t despise me.

I am the man who left his beliefs aside, not because I stopped believing, but because I was rejected as a person.

I am the warrior who keeps serving its own country but without being able to reveal my own lifestyle because in the army, I am not allowed to be gay.

I am the person who has to hide and keep to myself what this world needs the most: love.

I am the young girl who is embarrassed to confess to her friends that she is a lesbian, because they are constantly making fun of them.

I am the young man tied to a pole, brutally beaten and abandoned because two “macho” men wanted to “teach me a lesson.”

On October 7, 1998, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson took Matthew Shepard to a remote area of the East side of Laramie, where they conducted unimaginable acts of hate. Matthew was tide up to a pole, where he was beaten up and abandoned to the awful weather of a cold fall night. Almost eighteen hours later he was found by a cyclist, who initially confused him for a battered doll. Matthew died October 12 at 12:53 am in a hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado.
MURDERED FOR BEING GAY.

IF YOU BELIEVE THAT HOMOPHOBIA IS WRONG, AND IT KEEPS US AWAY FROM BEING A SOCIETY THAT IS JUST AND UNDERSTANDING, FORWARD THIS WITH THE TITLE ‘HOMOPHOBIA’

Below are the comments I posted in this Facebook discussion.

Most of those who posted took a differing position to mine and most are Bahais, so, based on my responses decide for yourself if there is homophobia in the Baha’i community.

In July all of the discussion was removed and I end this blog with some thoughts on this.

Ironically, Korey, a Christian himself told me privately that he posted this as part of the work he is doing with the United Nations Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS. It was not in response to any particular experience he has had with Bahai’s but rather a message he sent out to various religious organizations. My response below is responds to the first person who responded to the texts in colours above.

My 18 May 2010 response

BB wrote “I am tired of the intimidation.
I’m just tired, of being accused of being hateful, because I think Baha’u’llah is right to forbid same sex relations, and because the Baha’i Faith will not permit same sex marriage to its members.
People deserve to live without violence and hatred.”

First I looked for the signs of intimidation and all I could find was Korey’s list of suggestions for tolerance toward peoples of all persuasions. Then realised, well, the only thing you could be responding to was the word “homophobia” because Korey’s list of suggestions for tolerance doesn’t make any specific reference to the Bahai Faith either.

Then you jump in and state: that “Baha’u’llah is right to forbid same sex relations”, when I would have thought you would be aware that this is not true. Baha’u’llah mentions the shame of sex with children. (link to this reference opens in a new window), but you have taken this a step further to exclude gay relationships. Now I see where the word might ‘homophobia’ apply.

As a Bahai you are telling the world there is no place for same sex equality. You might not hate gays but your act of writing this indicates that you see no problem in discriminating against them. I’m sorry if this comes across so bluntly but you began your post by claiming some form of intimidation and state people shouldn’t have to live with hatred. Where’s the line here?
In the various postings after yours, I see no sign of tolerance, no sign of openness. Where is the love towards all of humanity?

BB continued:
“But people also deserve to state their opinions without being shouted down. The Baha’i approach is one of loving education, to realize that the Law of God is what brings us the greatest happiness, and brings to society the greatest tranquility; the Baha’i approach is not one of hatred and violence, so kindly stop associating the prohibition of same-sex sexual relations, with hatred and causing death.”

My response is, please stop associating same-sex orientation with disease or drug addiction or worse with morality.

BB: “…the appalling lack of moral clarity in society today… In my view, most of society who support same-sex marriage, have not done so thoughtfully. It hasn’t been a process of listening carefully and weighing things, it is being cowed by being bludgeoned…”

You state that the debate (I assume on equal rights for homosexuals) is no longer respectful. My response is to start with yourself, don’t assume that I have not thought thoroughly about why I believe homosexuals are a valuable part of the garden of humanity.

Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in the 1950s shouldn’t be an excuse for this attitude. I don’t see Bahais taking much notice of the letter which informs Bahais that they shouldn’t use birth control (see). It seems to me, that most of those who have posted here, think it is OK to discriminate against homosexuals and so then choose to use these letters as if they are Bahai Law (A link to a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi about the differing authority of these letters.).

The following seems a pretty hateful statement to me:)
BB: “Why would I tell you that behavior is healthy and good for you, when the Manifestation of God says it is not? I won’t lie to you. You may hate what I say, when I repeat the divine laws; but it’s still my job as a Baha’i to vindicate their truth, and to take heat for doing so:”

But, please BB you are lying. Baha’u’llah never wrote this. Never wrote a word that even comes close to this, unless somehow, you think pederasty (sex with children: see source for an elaboration) relates to this. Perhaps in the 1950s Bahais might have made this connection but Baha’u’llah’s Word is not limited by the exigencies of the time (Link to a quotation about flexibility + change in the Will + Testament) and certainly not by my nor your ideas. You mention “popularity” as a false excuse for promoting gay rights, which reminds me of similar arguments made against the suffragettes by those who wanted to keep the status quo.

Here are my reasons for arguing for equality and for trying to see if the current prohibitions on equality for gay couples is something embedded in Baha’i Scripture and therefore not open to change or not.

1. The Bahai Faith is for all of humanity without exceptions or discrimination.

2. The Bahai Faith is able to be flexible and change because that was Baha’u’llah’s intention for having a House of Justice. (see some quotations here)

3. That is it wrong, very wrong, for Baha’i youth to learn at puberty that at best anything other than being straight is a handicap, at worst, this is some sort of ‘disease’ which upsets their family and their friends. If what I write can help stop one Baha’i from committing suicide, then I’m relieved. That’s my main motive for hunting around in the Baha’i Writings to try and see where these ‘homophobic’ ideas Bahais such as yourself state, might come from and see if anything is actually unchangeable Bahai Scripture. I have yet to find a single word.

4. It perpetuates discrimination in society and in my view any form of discrimination creates imbalance for those in and out of the circle that has been created. The Baha’i community is missing out on an aspect of diversity. I notice the absence of the orchids in the garden of humanity.

I realise BB in your advice to Pey to contact the Baha’i Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse group you probably mean well, but it is like rubbing salt onto a wound.
Pey is not ashamed of being gay, doesn’t need counselling, and obviously from his comments, doesn’t need understanding and confidentiality. He doesn’t have to be in the closet and I hope for the day that more Baha’is are able to live out of the closet too. That depends on the Baha’is and their communities.

Another of my responses to BB about a week later

BB thank you for choosing to take the route of using the Writings in your arguments. I appreciate this. However, I am not taking any issue with anything Shoghi Effendi wrote as interpreter of the Bahai Writings.
Not at all.

In your response you don’t seem to see a distinction between what Shoghi Effendi wrote and the 1000’s of Letters written by secretaries on his behalf. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself that mentions the status of these letters.
However here are three letters written on his behalf which give some indication that they are not the same as Bahai Scripture and do not have the same status as anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself:

“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 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the British Isles, 25 February 1951, published in The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 260

What this doesn’t tell us, is whether the ‘authority’ of the letters by secretaries is an extension of the Guardian’s executive authority as head of the Faith — meaning, “this is for the addresse” or of the Guardian’s authority as authorised interpreter of the writings, meaning “they become part of the sacred text.”
What we can say is there is nothing explicit to indicate that a letter by a secretary can share in the Guardian’s unique role as authorised interpreter.
There is also nothing explicit to say that the Guardian’s secretaries do not share the authority of interpretation. However the phrase “their authority less” seems to suggest this, because an exective authority can be greater or less, direct or indirect, can apply to a local or individual situation or to all Bahai communities, but when the Guardian interprets scripture that interpretation becomes part of the scripture concerned.

The following letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi is addressed to a National Assembly which they then published with the following intro:

“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

The context for most letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi have not been made available. To argue that these letters apply to anyone else other than the addresse, you would need to show that they were clearly intended as such. Even then, any letter does not have the same ‘authority’ as Baha’i Scripture which the Universal House of Justice cannot change.

Another letter states the limits of The Guardian’s role as interpreter and makes a distinction between his own writing and a letter written on his behalf:

“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.”


17 October 1944, Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 33-34

Here it seems that letters to individuals were not intended to be binding on that individual, but rather advice for that individual.

If we look at what Shoghi Effendi himself wrote about his role as interpreter we can see he was very clear about the limits of his interpretation:

“From these statements it is made indubitably clear and evident that 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.
The interpretation of the Guardian, functioning within his own sphere, is as authoritative and binding as the enactments of the International House of Justice, whose exclusive right and prerogative is to pronounce upon and deliver the final judgment on such laws and ordinances as Bahá’u’lláh has not expressly revealed. Neither can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other.”

(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 150-51)

The point here is that the arguments you make are all based on what Shoghi Effendi wrote himself and in those cases where Shoghi Effendi was clearly referring to something in the Baha’i writings.

The point I make is what Shoghi Effendi did not write himself, that the Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi have another authority. I am not saying the letters are irrelevant but I am saying that they are not part of unchangeable Bahai Scripture, quoting the 3 letters written on his behalf to support this view.

So to what you wrote:
“However, Shoghi Effendi determined that this implies a prohibition on homosexual relations. Having said so, that’s the Baha’i Teaching.”

In the notes section (Note 134, p. 223 in the 1992 edition) of the Kitab-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book) the Universal House of Justice or the Research department have written
“Shoghi Effendi has interpreted this reference as a prohibition on all homosexual relations.” [More is here]

And then just as you have done above, a Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi is quoted as if this is unchangeable Bahai Scripture.

The notes section of Kitab-i-Adqas are able to be changed because these are penned by the Universal House of Justice or the Research department under their instruction. And so when 6 months after the first publication of the Kitab-i-Adqas, editorial changes were made by the Universal House of Justice (For example major changes to Note 108), this demonstrates clearly that this part of in the Kitab-i-Adqas can be changed.

While it is true that Shoghi Effendi started work on the Kitab-i-Aqdas in his role as official interpreter, he never finished this. I’ve been told that he completed 20 of the 194 sections in the notes [see and I’ve written more on the notes here] but I haven’t found a source for this.

However, I trust the Universal House of Justice. If anything in this book was penned by Shoghi Effendi as official interpreter, then they would have indicated this. The Kitab-i-Aqdas is our book of laws and as lawgiver, the Universal House of Justice, are well able to make and change its own laws.

There is also another way of looking at the status, authority or role of the Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and that is at the texts as evidence themselves. Apart from the fact that there is nothing penned by Shoghi Effendi to indicate that these count as interpretation, and that the opposite seems to me more likely: Shoghi Effendi was exact and clear when he wrote in his role as interpretor, would he leave up to various secretaries to pen what Shoghi Effendi would consider unchangeable Scripture? I doubt it.

So to the texts: There are many letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi that show the limited knowledge of the writer and, in my view, not the limited knowledge of Shoghi Effendi as The Guardian.

“In regard to the question as to whether people ought to kill animals for food or not, there is no explicit statement in the Bahai Sacred Scriptures (as far as I know) in favour or against it.”
(9 July 1931, Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi)

Is this expressing the Guardian’s limited knowledge, or the secretary’s?
There are tablets from Abdu’l-Baha [and Baha’u’llah] on this topic.
Do we assume from this that Shoghi Effendi was inconsistent or made a mistake or forgot, or that it doesn’t matter as these are not Shoghi Effendi’s own words but words of another authority.

There are more examples here

So BB, show me where in Shoghi Effendi’s own words as interpreter of Bahai Scripture, he makes any reference to the issue of homosexuality or sexual orientation.

My response to MDB

MDB wrote: “As Bahais we are to obey the laws of the land in which we live. If the law forbids gays to be married then even if that was not forbidden in the Faith, we could not allow it as it would go against the laws of the land. I realize that i may be wrong. Also, even though gay marriages are not recognized in the Faith, gays are free to marry and the Faith cannot in any way prevent that marriage, it simply will not be recognized.”

Yes, as Bahais we must obey the laws of the country.

“Let them proclaim that in whatever country they reside, and however advanced their institutions, or profound their desire to enforce the laws, and apply the principles, enunciated by Bahá’u’lláh, they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of such laws and the application of such principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments.
Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.”

(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 65-66)

Since some countries recognise homosexual marriages and forbid any discrimination, while other countries make being a homosexual a crime, the Bahai practice will vary from one country to another.

Meaning that in countries where not only gays may marry but it would be against the law of that country to discriminate against them, I would understand Bahai law to mean here that gays who are married and join the Bahai Faith would not be discriminated against. It would also mean that in countries where couples have a civil union (not marriage), just is the practice with heterosexual couples, homosexual civil unions would be recognized. And I can imagine that it would make sense for such rulings to be decided by National Spiritual Assemblies because in some countries, even accepting a civil union between a man and a woman as a valid marriage might appear ‘immoral’ in that culture.

The Universal House of Justice wrote:
“As you see, the Baha’i Faith accepts as man and wife couples who prior to becoming Baha’is, have had a valid marriage ceremony, whether this be civil, religious or by tribal custom, even if this has resulted in a polygamous union.
Furthermore, the Faith accepts in certain cases unions which are immoral but accepted by the society in which the people live. In all these cases, because the union is accepted by the Faith, there is no question of a couple’s having a Bahai wedding ceremony subsequently because, as the Guardian says, ‘Bahai marriage is something you perform when you are going to be united for the first time, not long after the union takes place’. If, however, such a couple would like to have a meeting of their friends at which Bahai prayers and readings are said on behalf of their marriage now that they are Bahais, there is no objection to their doing so, although it must be understood that this does not constitute a Bahai marriage ceremony.”

(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Peru, June 23, 1969) (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 380)

There is also the precedent of allowing those who have more than one spouse to remain married after they become Bahais where it is up to the National Spiritual Assembly to decide on this. It seems that the principle here is that in some cultures or countries, a situation where a Bahai had more than one spouse would be acceptable or perceived as being flexible whereas in another country this would be unacceptable.

It seems to me that rules about marriage would fall under what Abdu’l-Bahai refers to as “daily transactions” in the Will and Testament.
In a provisional translation of a tablet Abdu’l-Baha (in “Amr wa Khalq” volume 4) it seems that ‘social laws’ could be intended to be laws to be decided or adjusted by National Spiritual Assemblies.

“As for marriage, this falls entirely within the social laws.
…In short, whatever ruling the House of Justice makes on this question, that is in truth the decisive decree…
…For whenever a difficulty may arise and a local decision is required, at that point, since the House of Justice delivered the previous ruling, the secondary House of Justice, can issue a new national ruling on a national case and topic, in the light of local imperatives. To entirely avoid any risks, the rulings that the House of Justice has made, it can also abrogate.”

More of this quotation is here

I am not stating this is the case, just that this seems to be a possibility. That perhaps in the future in some countries same sex marriage could be recognized in order not to break the law of the country or because the National Spiritual Assembly in some countries has decided on this as a policy.

It is possible that the ‘daily transactions’ aspects of Bahai Law is intended to be this flexible. To be applied differently in different countries. I find this a rather exciting idea. A religion where the religious laws work with the diverse cultures of the world. It’s quite a different idea to how we tend to think of religious law, as something set in stone and something that is uniformly applied. Perhaps this is unity in diversity?

Of course I am not saying this is how Bahai law will be applied, just suggesting that this could be a possibility given the examples of polygamous marriages and the examples where until the 1950s in the middle east only men were allowed to be elected to local and national spiritual assemblies.
[See the bottom of this blog for sources for this.]

My response to WW

WW wrote: “religious law doesn’t have to be mentioned by Baha’u’llah if it was part of the prior religious law…
If there was not a change needed in a prior subject, then it didn’t need to be explained further. Man/Woman marriage and standards of chastity were established back in the Jewish chapter of our Faith. ”

In case you don’t consider what is in the Kitab-i-Aqdas as covering this in relation to marriage, here is a quotation from Shoghi Effendi.

“This Book [the Bayan] at once abrogated the laws and ceremonials enjoined by the Qur’án regarding prayer, fasting, marriage, divorce and inheritance, and upheld, in its integrity, the belief in the prophetic mission of Muhammad…”
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 25)


However I do not agree with your statement that it is a Bahai Teaching to accept all previous religious law unless specifically abrogated. First a four quotations:

“…could the Law of the Old Testament be enforced at this epoch and time? No, in the name of God! it would be impossible and impracticable; therefore, most certainly God abrogated the laws of the Old Testament at the time of Christ.”
(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 94)

“In conclusion of this theme, I feel, it should be stated that the Revelation identified with Bahá’u’lláh abrogates unconditionally all the Dispensations gone before it, upholds uncompromisingly the eternal verities they enshrine, recognizes firmly and absolutely the Divine origin of their Authors, preserves inviolate the sanctity of their authentic Scriptures, disclaims any intention of lowering the status of their Founders or of abating the spiritual ideals they inculcate, clarifies and correlates their functions, reaffirms their common, their unchangeable and fundamental purpose, reconciles their seemingly divergent claims and doctrines, readily and gratefully recognizes their respective contributions to the gradual unfoldment of one Divine Revelation, unhesitatingly acknowledges itself to be but one link in the chain of continually progressive Revelations, supplements their teachings with such laws and ordinances as conform to the imperative needs, and are dictated by the growing receptivity, of a fast evolving and constantly changing society,…”

(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 100)

“The second part of the Religion of God, which refers to the material world, and which comprises fasting, prayer, forms of worship, marriage and divorce, the abolition of slavery, legal processes, transactions, indemnities for murder, violence, theft and injuries — this part of the Law of God, which refers to material things, is modified and altered in each prophetic cycle in accordance with the necessities of the times.”

(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 47)

“Our Exalted Herald — may the life of all else besides Him be offered up for His sake — hath revealed certain laws. However, in the realm of His Revelation these laws were made subject to Our sanction, hence this Wronged One hath put some of them into effect by embodying them in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in different words. Others We set aside.”

(Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 132)

Aside from the references above to all previous laws being abrogated by the presence of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation, for me an important part of the above quotation are the words “Others [meaning other laws] We set aside.”
I read this to mean other laws for the Universal House of Justice to decide on.

If there was a Bahai teaching that stated that all religious law not specifically abrogated by Baha’u’llah would be applicable, then the Universal House of Justice wouldn’t be able to make law on issues not specifically “mentioned in the book” They couldn’t “gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.
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.”
(The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 20, see)

However I do not think it is a Baha’i Teaching otherwise Baha’is would be following these religious laws of the Torah not abogated by Baha’u’llah.

The Torah tells you not to castrate your cat or dog (Lev. 22:24),
to observe the sabbath and to eat matzah on the first night of Passover (Ex. 12:18)
but not after mid-day on the fourteenth of Nissan (Deut. 16:3),
not to work on Rosh Hashanah (Lev. 23:25),
to dwell in booths seven days during Sukkot (Lev. 23:42),
to let the land lie fallow in the Sabbatical year (Ex. 23:11;
Lev. 25:2), never to settle in the land of Egypt (Deut. 17:16),
to make the rapist of a virgin marry her (Deut. 22:28-29),
not to cross-breed cattle of different species (Lev. 19:19),
not to sow grain or herbs in a vineyard (Deut. 22:9),
not to wear garments made of wool and linen mixed together (Deut.
22:11).

And this video clip “West Wood – Biblical Quotes” makes the point of the dangers of religious law being used out of context, brilliantly. Enjoy! For me, it supports the Baha’i Teaching of progressive revelation.

Later responses to WW

WW wrote: “Pederasty… it is a multi-faceted act. By definition, it must include, in the classical view, 1) youth below the age of consent (usually before puberty) and a grown adult 2) is between two males (more modern view also has two females and 3) may include the act of sodomy. If we agree that the act of Pederasty is forbidden, are we assuming it is only one aspect such as the first part which is forbidden or could it be all 3 aspects are forbidden?”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pederasty

And unfortunately part of the culture of the times of Baha’u’llah see this article by Jackson Armstron-Ingram

Comparing adult relationships with pedophilia, is in my view, as inappropriate as suggesting that marriage has a connection with rape. When I am discussing homosexuality I am only discussing adult relationships of equality, nothing else.
And my question in response is, what is so threatening about a couple of the same sex being married and raising children? Primarily homosexuality is about orientation not about sex.

Please show me why you have added points 2 and 3 to a definition that only applies to point 1. If this is just your opinion that’s fine, if this is something you think applies to the Baha’i teachings, then please show me with quotations how you see this. If you read the notes of the Kitab-i-Aqdas you’ll see that the definition is as it is known to the rest of the world, pederasty means sex with children, and I agree with Baha’ullah, it is shameful.

WW wrote: “However, it should be noted that Shoghi Effendi never wrote anything contrary to that statement, even after that letter was written. What does that imply? It means either he didn’t know it was written or he was aware of it and agreed.”

My view is that Shoghi Effendi didn’t write about anything on any of the 100s of topics covered by the letters written on his behalf either because he didn’t consider them Scripture to start with or because he considered the areas they covered as being under the auspices of the Universal House of Justice.

I’ll back up my comments with quotations if you ask me to.
It is all here

WW asked “how would you define sodomy?”

I think the important question is what Baha’u’llah would have meant by the use of the word “liwaat”.

In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Questions and Answers, #49, is the text: “Concerning the penalties for adultery, sodomy, and theft, and the degrees thereof”
Baha’u’llah’s answer: “The determination of the degrees of these penalties rests with the House of Justice.” (The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 121, 1992 edition)

The question asks about:
zinaa’ (= adultery, fornication) and
liwaat (= sodomy, paederasty) and
sariqa (= theft)

Liwaat is the word used meaning both sodomy and paederasty in Arabic and Persian so it will be up to the UHJ to determine whether this includes homosexuality or not.
In the notes (note 134, page 223) the UHJ at the time of the publication wrote that “the subject of boys had the implication of paederasty.” and state that Shoghi Effendi interpreted this as a prohibition on all homosexuals but further down the only source they give is a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. As I read this there is no source penned by Shoghi Effendi in his role as interpretator of the Bahai Writings.
However, unless (or until) a future UHJ makes a differing statement this connection made with homosexuality as a prohibition should be seen as their policy (at least that is the case 18 years ago), but this is not the same as a prohibition on homosexuality being penned by Baha’u’llah which is not subject to change.

Another thought on Question #49: In those times the punishment for those crimes was stipulated in Islamic law and not left up to the judge or ruler. So it seems that in Baha’u’llah’s answer he making the punishment for these things at the discretion of the UHJ.

I think it is likely that Baha’u’llah intended his laws to be used as principles which individuals and institutions could work with.

“Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power”
Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 21

Baha’u’llah states that he doesn’t give just us a code of laws. I would argue that the code of laws he established is the UHJ as legistrator of laws. A UHJ which is flexible and free to change its own laws in a changing world.

And on that note while travelling homeward through the U.K. some months ago was this headline in the papers:
“Anger at Pope’s attack on British equality laws”.

The Pope’s argument being that it was against natural law. Interestingly one commenter wrote: “How can the sexual nature of 6-10% of humans be unnatural? How can something which occurs across the world in practically every culture and has been recorded since history itself began to be recorded be unnatural?
It would make more sense to suggest that mountains are unnatural, as they occur far less commonly than gay people.”

And this leads me to a text in an article by Jackson Armstrong-Ingram:

“Both zina and liwat are sexual relations that take place outside of a context in which the long term rights of both participants are regarded. Unlawful sex is literally unprotected sex — it takes place in relationships that are not associated with social supports and long-term obligations. Lawful sex, as defined in the Aqdas, takes place in marriages, which are relationships embedded in a network of familial support and providing for the mutual development of the partners.”

“The Provisions for Sexuality in the Kitab-i-Aqdas in the Context of Late Nineteenth Century Eastern and Western Sexual Ideologies”

So perhaps it is possible that what Baha’ullah means by the terms, zina and liwaat is any sexual activity that would be considered unnatural or illegal. What is considered unnatural is certainly a cultural question, and so it seems to mean that while Baha’u’llah is clear in the Aqdas about sex with children (paederasty) never ever being ok, he treats question of other areas of “illicit” sex as something the Universal House of Justice would rule on.

This strikes me as prophetic. In his day the idea of homosexual marriage would have been unheard of, and yet, in making other areas of ‘illicit’ something for the Universal House of Justice to rule on, it means they can make and change law on how homosexual partnerships are to be treated.

WW wrote: “I guess the final stance is wanting to take specific words and apply new, modern meanings to them to justify a behavior which was not justified with the prior meanings. “
to which I can respond by saying “I guess the final stance is wanting to take specific words and apply old meanings to them. ”

One either believes Baha’u’llah was a prophet of God with a vision or not.
I’m assuming your use of material from the Koran rather than relating to any of the quotations I referred to from Baha’i Scripture means that these writings are more important to you. That’s fine, but my position is to treat Baha’i Scripture with more importance. We will just have to difer on the issue of sodomy in that case.

Responses to DD + WW

DD thanks for your response.
You refer to the discrimination towards gays by Bahais as allegations. Please take the time to read just a few of these stories before dismissing the suffering of our gay youth >> gaybahai.net/read-stories

Clearly sometimes the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi are ignored such as the one advising Bahais not to use any form of birth control, which I quoted in an earlier post on this discussion.

So if Bahais wish to treat these letters as if they have the same level of authority as Bahai Scripture, despite this not being what Shoghi Effendi wanted, then I’d say do this with all those letters in that case, not just the ones that state the homophobic attitudes of the times.

WW wrote: “doesn’t make the prior Revelation any less worthy, just merely outdated.”
I agree, and so my view is that your Islamic idea of the meaning of ‘liwaat’ is more limited or outdated than how I read what Baha’u’llah could have meant in his use of this in the Kitab-i-Adqas. I say “could” because I think the real issue is that it isn’t so clear what is intended by these ‘illicit’ forms of relations. And because it isn’t clear, I do think this is an issue for the UHJ to rule on. Being an issue for them to rule on, means also that this is an issue that is open to change. And that is about sodomy or liwaat, not homosexuality which is not the same thing. My arguments here are about homosexuality as an orientation. As Bahais if we do not discuss things we can’t really understand them. The UHJ has never ever written that Bahais must not question, must not search the Writings to come to understandings and so on.

WW, I realise that you may mean well by hoping that I am earnest, but I am not questioning your honesty or motives. It would make any discussion between people with differing views more fruitful if Baha’is didn’t do this. I’m making this comment not just because you use this, but because very often Baha’is assume I must be wrong if I state things like ‘I can’t find anything in unchangeable Baha’i Scripture that is anti-gay’ or ‘why are Baha’is so keen to up hold the homophobic 1950s attitudes of the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi while ignoring other 1950s attitudes such as birth control being wrong’ and then usually resort to making some slanderous remark about my motive or even worse telling me that I am disagreeing with the UHJ or that I am breaking the Covenant. What people are really doing is throwing sticks and stones with their words.

And it is only when I’ m discussing homosexuality that this happens.

It really saddens me that Baha’is seem so homophobic. By homophobic I mean, so often it seems to touch some deep unsecurity or fear. Baha’is who are most likely very open and wonderful in other aspects of their thinking or feeling, come out with comments such as those written by others in this discussion where a young gay Bahai’s suicide was dismissed as “no ones fault that [he] did not listen and follow.” when this person had suffered shunning by his religion and family. My question: what is so threatening that people react like this?

I do not believe Baha’ullah ever intended his religion to be so intolerant, so unfeeling for people of diversity. So my challenge to those of you who read this, is face your fears about homosexuality and you just might find there’s nothing to fear. Please make the Baha’i community a kinder place for homosexuals, even if you think homosexuality is wrong.

And here’s a link to an inspiring article by a gay Baha’i whose parents sound amazing.

July 2010: My response to the moderator for removing the discussion

T thanks for putting an explanation of why you deleted the ‘homophobia’ discussion thread and while I appreciate that you had complaints made to you about this thread and then just before you deleted this someone referred to my use of the writings as:
“attacks on the foundations of the Baha’i Faith” and “frontal assaults“, and I would agree when people resort to calling argumentation attacks or assaults this lowers the tone of discussion. However I would suggest that you delete the posts that resort to name-calling or attacking the credibility of other posters and not delete the whole thread. In deleting the whole thread you are censoring this discussion and as much as I know that many Bahais would like the issue of equality for gays to disappear, this is not going to go away.

I am sad that you deleted the minority voices: the gay Bahais who at my encouragement participated thinking here was a Baha’i forum where they would not be silenced. They didn’t expect a particularly gay-friendly environment but at least they could speak. I realise that your intention was not to silence these voices, but this what has happened. Majority voices will always prevail so the real effect is on the silencing of those for whom it took courage to speak.