Archive for the ‘Homosexuality’ Category

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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 to 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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A Baha’i’s letter of resignation

April 25, 2016

Letter to the UHJ and NSA of the USA

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely, Anisa George Philadelphia, PA

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

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

12 April 2016

Mrs. Anisa George U.S.A.

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Department of the Secretariat

cc: National Assembly of the United States

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Jake Sasseville’s dilemma

April 19, 2016

still: Milford Sound, Aotearoa, New Zealand, Nov 2015

still: Milford Sound, Aotearoa, New Zealand,
Nov 2015

I have just read Jake’s blog “Baha’i Curious? Religion & Sexuality” who wrote:

“Aside from my parents, the Baha’i Faith has cultivated and shaped who I’ve become in my life, and it is the most consistent community to which I’ve belonged.
That’s why it’s so heart-breaking that I’m considering leaving the Baha’i Faith.”

“Many Baha’is have written me over the months since The Jake Sasseville Show went live asking how I’ve reconciled being openly gay and a Baha’i. The truth is, as I receive many kind emails and Facebook posts, I realize I’m quite embarrassed to call myself a Baha’i while being at odds with the core teaching around marriage and sexuality. ”

In my view the Universal House of Justice (head of the Baha’i Faith) policy that there is something wrong with being gay is not a core teaching but is official Baha’i policy. For me core teachings are what is in Bahai scripture, things such as justice and equality. However many Baha’is think that Universal House of Justice policy is the same as a Baha’i teaching. In terms of practice or authority it might seem the same, but the big difference is that any policy made by the Universal House of Justice including what it calls Baha’i scripture can change. “However the Universal House of Justice is not omniscient, and the friends should understand that there is a difference between infallibility and omniscience. Like the Guardian, the House of Justice wants to be provided with facts when called upon to render a decision, and like him it may well change its decision when new facts emerge, or in light of changed conditions at some point in the future.” (Department of the secretariat, 14 June, 1996)

And while I can point out that letters penned by secretaries on behalf of Shoghi Effendi have a lower authority than anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself writing in his role as official interpretator and that the Universal House of Justice policy by its very nature is flexible, it doesn’t change the fact that gays and lesbians are being treated as lesser – as second class citizens in most Baha’i communities. And in any Bahai community where the members decide to actively show that they do not discriminate, all it takes is for some Baha’i from another community to make a complaint and then an ABM or the NSA may take action. In some cases I have been told it has calmed down and in another case an NSA member threatened all the LSA members, saying that they were under investigation. Whether any community or LSA has ever been sanctioned, the threat remains, and that’s the problem. Any form of tolerance or compassion – which could range from allowing gay Bahais to be open about their orientation to accepting a samesex partnership – can be seen by another Baha’i as an example of openly defying what in their mind is Bahai law, and denounced.
And that is the essence of Jake’s dilemma. Any teaching of inequality is prone to misuse, even if not intended. Jake quotes a Baha’i who is a mental health professional: “His statement that some sort of distortion in my development caused me to choose to be gay, and if I don’t accept that, I must be have a political agenda to defend, is likely reflective of how many people view sexuality. It struck me deeply.”

It sounds as if this mental health professional is letting his prejudice get in the way of his professionalism. There is a list of scientific organizations listed on my blog here that show that such a view of homosexuality is not scientific and not healthy.

If you live in any community or associate with people who consider some aspect of your personality as wrong or needing to be overcome, when it clearly is not an illness (see another of my blogs on this), it not only has a negative affect on your spirit, it has a negative affect on those around, even those who think that they are helping you. So in my view the Baha’i community is not only missing out on the creativity of gay and lesbians – missing out on an aspect of the diversity of humanity. Their discriminating also has an affect on the spiritual health of the community.

There are Bahais who tell me that they love gays, have gay colleagues, have gay friends, would do anything to protect their rights, but if they are a Bahai … they have to obey Bahai law.

“What is this?” this I ask, The answer: “to be celibate”

“Isn’t this unfair?” I respond, and then the response varies from a lecture on the evils of homosexuality to kind words about how there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, only that gay sex is wrong, to kinder words about how we can’t understand the laws and that one day it will be clear.

What does this tell me? It tells me that when something doesn’t have a clear reason, we try to justify it.

Ok, Ok, I know for some there is a clear reason, “Homosexuality is wrong, an over focus on sex, all religions damn homosexuality …” but to my ears that’s prejudice not a reason.

When anything doesn’t have a clear reason, and it goes against the principles of equlity and justice, then in order to cope with this, people have to:

a: look the other way and pretend the problem isn’t there
b: create a rational in their heads which ranges from minor prejudice to more
c: ignore others who might say awful things about gays because of (b).

So I hope you can see now why for me this is not an issue that is just for our GLBT brothers and sisters but it is a vital issue for all Baha’is. Gender equality is no less important for men than it is for women and so too with equality for those who are not straight.

It is clear from Jake’s blog this is not about him not following any Baha’i law, but about being part of a religious community where the official policy is that homosexuality is treated as a problem and anyone in a same-sex marriage is given less rights than someone in a polygmous marriage. The issue is discrimination and prejudice. He wrote:

“The laws evolved as humanity did and as the Faith spread to become the second fastest growing Religion in the world. It would appear as though some laws like those dealing with bigamy evolved while others, like those concerning homosexuality, did not. Those are the contradictions with which I’m wrestling.
I’m not suggesting that laws should be changed or that I know the answer. I do know that my heart is aching. I spent 24 painful years in the closet and I cannot go back in the closet for Baha’u’llah or anyone else. Yet, I feel this strong attraction and love for the core tenets of the Baha’i Faith.”

Jake’s dilemma here is not to do with his future (not being able to marry with the possibility to raise children) but to do with today. How can he be a Bahai and a gay who is not only not in the closet but he is forthright and open? And why shouldn’t he be forthright? When this topic cannot be discussed, that’s a level of exclusion.

Milford Sound, Aotearoa | New Zealand, Nov 2015

Milford Sound, Aotearoa | New Zealand, Nov 2015

Being gay or lesbian is like being a mountain in today’s society. Because of prejudice you are very visible. How would the world be if we perceived mountains as abnormal and needing to be flattened, or at least left off the map? How would such an attitude affect our own thinking, our own lifestyle and our own diversity. Just thinking that the world would be a better place without mountains, without doing anything to flatten them, also affects our pysche. The thing is someone else’s difference does not make our own sexuality any less, in fact, I would argue that exposure to diversity enables us to understand ourselves better.

So back to Jake’s dilemma. Well of course he should follow his heart and I hope he remains a Bahai and like a beautiful mountain, continues being open and sharing his love for humanity. (Jake Sasseville, a talk show host is also editor-in-chief of ProfoundlyHuman – Link to the Facebook page) At the same time, you have to choose who to associate with, for your own spiritual health. Baha’u’llah wrote “Beware! Walk not with the ungodly and seek not fellowship with him, for such companionship turneth the radiance of the heart into infernal fire.” (The Hidden Words) and if being called a Baha’i or being in the company of Baha’is means that Jake’s wholeness is under strain, then for his own health he should leave.

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Can a rainbow be partisan?

June 30, 2015
A Rainbow with the Bahai Ringstone symbol designed by Jesse McBride.

A Rainbow with the Bahai Ringstone symbol designed by Jesse Mcbride.

There is a flurry of rainbows on facebook, in celebration of the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision on June 26, 2015, that 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses require states to license same-sex marriages and to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully licensed and performed in other US states.

In a Bahai run group, a Bahai stated that Baha’is publicly supporting gay rights will lead to grave consequences in other countries. It is an argument I have heard many times before, and it holds no water. The fact that our international administration is seated in Israel and that Baha’is believe in a messenger of God after Muhammad are much stronger reasons for any Muslim to be upset at Bahais. We do not hear of Bahais saying, we must stop public statements of belief in Baha’u’llah do we? On the contrary, if Bahais were seen as were a source of comfort or safety, in countries where gays and lesbians are oppressed, that would do wonders for our image as a religion that preaches equality and justice. I am not saying Bahais must be defenders for the oppressed, but it sounds like a good idea to me.

Rainbow flag and the nine pointed star. The star is a symbol often used by Bahais as a metaphoro for unity in diversity. The design is by Jesse Mcbride.

Rainbow flag and the nine pointed star. The star is a symbol often used by Bahais as a metaphoro for unity in diversity. The design is by Jesse McBride.

Then the administrator of another Bahai-run group objected to the flurry of rainbows, arguing that it was divisive, that the rainbow flag represents an ideology of a special interest group instead of representing the broad global needs that the Baha’i Faith aims to serve – ranging from the equality of men and women, elimination of prejudice to education for all children and the eradication of poverty.

Clearly these Bahais have missed the point of the rainbow flag symbol because a celebration for equality and justice for gay and lesbians is also a celebration of the diversity of humanity. Celebrating this does not reduce the equality and justice available to heterosexuals. The assumption made by these Bahais is that a celebration of gay and lesbian rights is something just for gays and lesbians.. This is like saying gender equality only benefits women, but it’s as clear as the noon day sun that when women have equality, society benefits – men and women benefit, not just women. So the flag is only divisive for those who do not believe in equality and justice for all of humanity.

I finish by quoting a few excerpts written by the SCOTUS judges:
“The history of marriage is one of both continuity and change…. For example, marriage was once viewed as an arrangement by the couple’s parents based on political, religious, and financial concerns; but by the time of the Nation’s founding it was understood to be a voluntary contract between a man and a woman…. As the role and status of women changed, the institution further evolved. Under the centuries-old doctrine of coverture, a married man and woman were treated by the State as a single, male-dominated legal entity…. As women gained legal, political, and property rights, and as society began to understand that women have their own equal dignity, the law of coverture was abandoned….

[T]he Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution… It cannot be denied that this Court’s cases describing the right to marry presumed a relationship involving opposite-sex partners. The Court, like many institutions, has made assumptions defined by the world and time of which it is a part…

The four principles and traditions to be discussed demonstrate that the reasons marriage is fundamental under the Constitution apply with equal force to same-sex couples.

A first premise of the Court’s relevant precedents is that the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy…. A second principle in this Court’s jurisprudence is that the right to marry is fundamental because it supports a two-person union unlike any other in its importance to the committed individuals. … A third basis for protecting the right to marry is that it safeguards children and families and thus draws meaning from related rights of childrearing, procreation, and education…. Fourth and finally, this Court’s cases and the Nation’s traditions make clear that marriage is a keystone of our social order …

Excluding same-sex couples from marriage thus conflicts with a central premise of the right to marry. Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life. The marriage laws at issue here thus harm and humiliate the children of same-sex couples. …

[B]y virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage. This harm results in more than just material burdens. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society….

Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied….

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or indeed essential, whether as a matter of religious conviction or secular belief, may engage those who disagree with their view in an open and searching debate. The Constitution, however, does not permit the State to bar same-sex couples from marriage on the same terms as accorded to couples of the opposite sex.”
-The excerpts above come from religionclause.blogspot.com

See Sen McGlinn’s blog on some implications of SCOTUS in Obergefell for the policies of Bahai institutions.

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Homosexuality – a false dichotomy?

June 7, 2015

” … I feel I can no longer associate with a religion that does not perceive LGBT rights as a true social value,” Rayshel said, adding, “I, as a gay man, find it offensive that my same-sex attraction is primarily summed up to a sex act or a perceived notion that I over-emphasize my sexuality which is seen as destructive and self-indulgent.”
Sean Rayshel in The Bay Area Reporter, 4 June 2015.

Is the Bahai Faith “a religion that does not perceive LGBT rights as a true social value?” At the practical level, that is true except where a Bahai makes it clear that they do not discriminate and that their communities do not discriminate. For the present at least, the Bahai community has something to prove in this respect.
Because of the dominance of the perception of discrimination within the Bahai community, I have to constantly state first that I am for equality for gays and lesbians and only then state that I am a Bahai. Otherwise the person I am speaking to is put off from the beginning. I have so many stories, so many encounters, in which people do a double-take and tell me, “but Bahais don’t like gays” or “Bahais discriminate.” In the Philippines, in the U.K., in New Zealand, in the U.S., in the Netherlands … people have said things such as: “Oh what is the Bahai Faith about, because when I read that you didn’t accept gays, I stopped reading” or “So tell me more – I thought the Bahai Faith was conservative” and “When I read about homosexuality being forbidden I thought it was a fundamentalist church.”

I explain that I am as much a Bahai as the person who told them that gays cannot join the Bahai Faith. Then they learn that the discrimination is not embedded in our teachings. For me it is not so much whether or not a seeker is put off but two bigger issues: that our gay children are not tormented by impossible demands, and that our community practises the essential Bahai principles of justice and equality.

So I understand why Sean Rayshel withdrew his membership in response to the 2014 letter from the Universal House of Justice. As far as I know, letters from the Universal House of Justice, since 2010 (see 2013 + 2010) on the topic of homosexuality put an emphasis on removing discrimination and on Bahai communities not taking sides on the discussion of same-sex marriage. These letters maintain that marriage is only possible between a man and woman, but there is no negative association with homosexuality made in these letters.

In the 2014 letter the Universal House of Justice calls the discussion on homosexuality a “false dichotomy,” using ambiguous wording — but this letter makes it very easy for Bahais to continue to discriminate against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. My May 9th, blog is a response to the first part of this letter:
The reference to a false dichotomy is here:

“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 Baha’is 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.” (Department of the Secretariat for the Universal House of Justice, 9 May, 2014. The full letter is here)

Perhaps the discussion about same-sex marriage is a Western invention, but I would not assume that non-Western cultures discriminate against homosexuality. (See this link for a discussion of “two spirit” persons, in the context of Native American culture) Is it relevant to know where the discussion about same-sex marriage arose? The vote for women first appeared in the West: the fact that something is a Western invention does not mean that it is not universally a good thing or that it can’t be implemented in the Bahai community. In the Secret of Divine Civilisation, Abdul-Baha demolishes the argument that advances in civilisation are to be rejected just because they come from the West.

The Western phenomenon that is new is the legalization of same-sex marriage. It is possible this is what the Universal House of Justice means by “contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality,” however what I respond to most strongly in the sentences above is that this is followed by the words: “generally take the form of a false dichotomy.”

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 rights, responsibilities and legal protections to marry and raise children with a focus on sex. So I ask, if the focus is really on sex why would they wish to marry?

The letter doesn’t state what this false dichotomy is, so another Bahai can easily use this statement of the Universal House of Justice to argue that Bahais must not identify themselves as gay because that “affirming” visibility is part of a false dichotomy.

It is also possible to interpret this to mean that Bahais must stay away from the topic of homosexuality, or that anyone who discusses the rights of gays or lesbians is part of the false dichotomy. I think it is not wise to attempt to squash any discussion on the rights of gays and lesbians, and this is why I felt compelled to write my May 9th, blog and the second one on criticism and now this blog. If as Bahais we cannot think and express ourselves as individuals, then there is no free will and no principle of the independent investigation of truth.

If the 2014 letter had been addressed to a Bahai Institution then I would have understood this to mean that Bahai Institutions are not to get involved in the discussion of gay rights in keeping with the Bahai principle of not getting involved in party politics. I could see the wisdom of that. However the letter is addressed to an individual so the implication is that in general any discussion on this topic is labelled a false dichotomy. This appears to be undermining the discussion – the discourse.

When I first read the first page of this letter it made me feel ill. So for me there is no choice. Either critique this letter or renounce membership in the community.

I am a Bahai because of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, so I remain a Bahai. And I think I can do more good working from the inside. The Universal House of Justice is perfectly free to make any policy it wishes. That is the authority the Universal House of Justice has. It can change its policies too, and it has.

Shoghi Effendi wrote: “He [the Guardian] cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances.” The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh by Shoghi Effendi, p. 151.

If Shoghi Effendi can allow for the possibility that the Universal House of Justice could “depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances,” surely this means that policies of the Universal House of Justice can be critiqued and even criticized by anyone, because there is no guarantee that what they say reflects the spirit of the Bahai Teachings. These are Shoghi Effendi’s words.

Can someone show me that the 2014 letter cannot be used by Bahais to promote discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters? Even worse, might it not be used as an argument to silence the debate? That would mean denying our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters a voice or visibility by shifting the discussion from justice and equality to a supposed “destructive emphasis on sexuality.”

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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.