Archive for the ‘Homosexuality’ Category

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Be Kind

May 7, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why did I start this blog?

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

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

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

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

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

or perhaps,

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 26, 2019

my friend Lucas

My friend Lucas

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

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

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

Our conversation in 2014

Our conversation in 2014


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

thetrevorproject.org

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Letter from a gay former Baha’i

August 12, 2017

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?


In 1963 I joined the Faith at 15 in a European country. After 20 years of serving on committees, assemblies, pioneering to goal districts, holding firesides, praying, fasting, teaching and all the rest, I realised that to be forbidden to grow in love with another man was intolerable.

The idea of growing old emotionally alone felt positively dangerous to my mental health. Having accepted my being gay since early adolescence I decided I had to be with other men like myself. I thought then that I could possibly continue to serve and also find mutual love with another guy—just being discrete about it. Love not sex, please note, because Bahai’s always, always, confuse the two.

I met some great guys and quickly realised that these guys were just as normal as me. In fact, they were really attuned to human differences and the complexity of being the “other” in an intolerant society. It was a paradox that, in many ways, they showed more open and honest Bahai characteristics than many in my own local community. Time spent in their company became far more enriching and emotionally rewarding than sitting on an Assembly reading ever more jargon-ridden letters from the Institutions. I had shared the pain with dear friends who were marginalized for their academic research and writing, and who suffered vile abuse from some Bahais, still happening today. I felt the cruelty of the absence of a warm, fulfilling community life with other Baha’is.

Then a truly decent gay Baha’i acquaintance, on one of his sexuality guilt trips, outed me to an ABM as gay. [Note: ABM is a Bahai appointed to counsel Bahai communities at a regional level. Their role is advisory but local communities often accord them greater authority.] This ABM, a doctor working in a hospital which had done ECT on gays, wrote offering me a weekend of therapy which would cure me of these unhealthy and unacceptable urges. I declined, rather impolitely. I regret not being more diplomatic. Now outed, I decided to come out to close friends in the community. My closest friend of many years told me of his shock and how he never wanted to speak with me again and could not bear to even shake my hand. I haven’t seen him since, and still miss him. Another told me he would never leave his son in a room alone with me. Another dear friend could not bear to meet or hear about the man with whom I had fallen in love. On and on it went. I wondered how I could continue to serve on Institutions with these people. It simply was impossible. I chose to become inactive. Assembly members then called my home to tell me I was sick in the head.

I decided to leave the Faith one evening in a restaurant. I was having dinner with a gay friend—a dear, kind, sweet, lovely guy battling cancer, who would have been a credit to any community, may he rest in peace. Into the cafe came a party of Baha’is, including some who had served on an Assembly with me. They sat two tables away, in full view of me, and pointedly ignored me. I sat chatting to my friend and thought, who do I prefer to share my life with? Did I want a life with these Bahai’s, supposedly modelling themselves on the Master, or with truly decent people like my friend? It was a no-brainer. I withdrew. That was 1983.

I have now shared my life for over 34 years with one man, the love of my life. We are married. We created a home, a life and a business together, and I have never much regretted leaving the Bahai community. Whatever excuses people make, however they quote scripture, or the Guardian’s letters, it will never change. The community itself is homophobic from top to bottom. It is beyond change. I saw so many closeted gays in the Baha’i community twisting themselves into knots over their sexuality, living lonely single lives, or in sterile marriages, having kids to prove they are devout and casual sex with strangers as a release. One guy got married and on his honeymoon confessed he was gay. That revelation was followed by a speedy divorce. So much unhappiness dealt out along with heaps of intolerance to gays who could truly show many Baha’is the depth of real human compassion and love. The Faith, devoid and deprived of this segment of humanity, seems so utterly sterile. It hardly deserves a future.

The Baha’i community here is no bigger now than in 1983—it just has more committees and institutional bodies, it is still largely unknown to the public. It has apparently had no impact of any kind of depth on this wider society. It has many fine people trying their best, but on this issue don’t waste your emotional or spiritual energy. It is not worth it. Move on honourably and decently and leave them to their understanding of a prejudice-free world order. Keep your love for aspects of it and its Founders, by all means. I have no bitterness and wish my former friends no ill will at alI. Time will tell if I am wrong. Perhaps after all they will in fact create their frightening new world order, but be assured: gays will never be a fully-accepted people within it. That bet I think I will win.

In more recent years I wondered sometimes how things stood with my former Baha’i community. The internet is a great channel to look at this, and I quickly realised little had changed over the years. Reading your blog and others, I feel a great sense of hope reading so many expressions of positivity by so many people, but also of sadness and exasperation on two broad levels. The first is for those young people who have still have to hide their sexuality within the community and cope with all the negativity about them being somehow deformed human beings. The slightly softer line recently from the UHJ seems so obviously to be a concern for avoiding legal conflicts with civil societies who have accepted equal rights, same sex marriage, etc., rather than any ditching of institutional homophobia. They are in no way unique; this is all too common. Shunning those who have withdrawn now seems accepted practice in this part of the world.

Not far from here is a small, pretty lake with a lovely, tree-covered island. Years ago, a teacher who had been outed to his workmates, family, church and friends as gay rowed himself across the lake, past the swans, to the island where he took a rope and hanged himself from a tree. He had done no wrong, but his future had been taken from him by intolerance and hate. Going past the lake I think of how lonely and awful that he had no one to turn to, and that he may have found hanging less awful than drowning. The kind of prejudice which drove him to act as he did is what I saw and heard in the Baha’i community. Times have changed, thankfully, so that people are more prepared to say “No, I won’t be treated as inferior, mentally or spiritually deformed.” I left without too much regret, though I saw a big chunk of my social world suddenly vanish away. Others may decide to stay and brave it out, and good luck to them. I worry about their long-term mental/spiritual health, but wish them well.

My second source of sadness is to see the Baha’i community continue to deprive itself of all the really positive aspects of so much of gay sensibility. It may be cliched, but the creativity at so many levels, the humour, the empathy and understanding of otherness—of being discriminated against within a larger group—the deep honesty about society, and the genuine tolerance of differences: these are all attributes that the Baha’i community could use. Instead, it deprives itself of so much talent. This year I found myself in that city on the day of the Gay Pride march. It was a very positive and uplifting experience, particularly to see how many young straight couples had brought their toddlers and children to wave rainbow flags and cheer on the marchers. For them it was a fun, carnival-like family day out and they were supporting people they knew. Gays were not shadowy, sad, tortured weirdos, as in Shoghi Effendi’s day. They had names, life stories, families, workmates, a three-dimensional reality—in other words: ordinary people. I wondered what it would be like for Bahai’s to go in there delivering the message to these straight families about how sick these gays were, how this was wrong to God?

Recently the Republic of Ireland, despite opposition from the usual religious groups, had a referendum to allow constitutional change allowing same sex marriage. It passed by a huge majority and was implemented, and lo and behold the sky has not fallen. People have taken it in their stride, though older people like me still find it odd to describe my partner of 34 years as my husband. Where I live we have yet to introduce same-sex marriage. Bahai’s show themselves to be out of step with the wider society which seems sad to me, for all parties. But I comfort myself with Julian of Norwich’s great declaration, “All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”

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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

page 3 of 5

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

page 4 of 5

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.

page 5 of 5

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 Authority of the Bahai Administration

May 7, 2017

A Bahai with his family

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


Sorry folks,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Authority of the Universal House of Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom of Expression as just a Bahai

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote
Universal House of Justice policy on accepting enrollments
The doors are open for all humanity to enter the Cause of God, irrespective of their present circumstances; this invitation applies to homosexuals as well as to any others who are engaged in practices contrary to the Bahá’í teachings. … If a homosexual cannot overcome his or her condition to the extent of being able to have a heterosexual marriage, he or she must remain single, and abstain from sexual relations. These are the same requirements as for a heterosexual person who does not marry.” From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, 11 September 1995, cited in Udo Schaefer, Baha’i Ethics in Light of Scripture, Vol. 2, by Udo Schaefer, p. 214)

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

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

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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.