Archive for the ‘Homosexuality’ Category

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A Baha’i’s letter of resignation

April 25, 2016

Letter to the UHJ and NSA of the USA

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely, Anisa George Philadelphia, PA

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

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

12 April 2016

Mrs. Anisa George U.S.A.

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Department of the Secretariat

cc: National Assembly of the United States

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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.com) At the same time, you have to choose who to associate with, for your own spiritual health. Baha’u’llah wrote “Beware! Walk not with the ungodly and seek not fellowship with him, for such companionship turneth the radiance of the heart into infernal fire.” (The Hidden Words) and if being called a Baha’i or being in the company of Baha’is means that Jake’s wholeness is under strain, then for his own health he should leave.

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Can a rainbow be partisan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homosexuality – a false dichotomy?

June 7, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

“The contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality, which began in the West and is increasingly promoted in other parts of the world, generally takes the form of a false dichotomy, which compels one to choose between a position that is either affirming or rejecting. It is understandable that Baha’is would be sensitive to acts of prejudice or oppression in any form and to the needs of those who suffer as a result. But to align with either side in the public debate is to accept the premises on which it is based. Moreover, this debate occurs within the context of a rising tide of materialism and consequent reorientation of society, over more than a century, which has among its outcomes a destructive emphasis on sexuality.” (Department of the Secretariat for the Universal House of Justice, 9 May, 2014. The full letter is here)

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

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

The premise for a Bahai should be justice and equity, and I interpret the false dichotomy as meaning that in the public debate you have people who confuse the rights, responsibilities and legal protections to marry and raise children with a focus on sex. So I ask, if the focus is really on sex why would they wish to marry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Critiquing the Universal House of Justice

May 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

9 May 2014

Transmitted by email: ……U.S.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bahais are not united in being against same sex marriage!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What does Baha’i Scripture say about homosexuality?

November 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detail of one of the index pages in Lights of Guidance

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

Link to this index page on the Bahai Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Regarding the question you asked him about one of the believers who seems to be flagrantly a homosexual–although to a certain extent we must be forbearing in the matter of people’s moral conduct because of the terrible deterioration in society in general, this does not mean that we can put up indefinitely with conduct which is disgracing the Cause. This person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are condemned by Bahá’u’lláh, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make efforts to overcome this affliction, which is corruptive for him and bad for the Cause. If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his voting rights taken away. The Guardian does not think, however, that a Bahá’í body should take it upon itself to denounce him to the Authorities unless his conduct borders on insanity.”

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada: Messages to Canada, p. 39)

Haifa, Israel,
June 20, 1953.

National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada.

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

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

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

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

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

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

With warmest Bahá’í love,
R. RABBANI.

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

Mar 1950 letter with response

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

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

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

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

[The above letter is online here]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

5. Both quotations are from a 1993 compilation by the compiled by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.
“…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a “natural” or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as an aberration subject to treatment, however intractable exclusive homosexuality may now seem to be. To the question of alteration of homosexual bents, much study must be given, and doubtless in the future clear principles of prevention and treatment will emerge. As for those now afflicted, a homosexual does not decide to be a problem human, but he does, as you rightly state, have decision in choosing his way of life, i.e. abstaining from homosexual acts.

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

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

and

“You mention recent research which indicates that there may be a genetic basis for homosexuality; you accept the Bahá’í view of this matter, but you question the use of such terms as “abnormality, handicap, affliction, problem, etc.” since they can create misunderstandings. On the contrary, the House of Justice feels that just such words can be a great help to the individuals concerned. Human beings suffer from many problems, both physical and psychological. Some are the result of the individual’s own behaviour, some are caused by the circumstances in which he grew up, some are congenital. Some human beings are born blind, some suffer from incapacitating accidents or diseases. Such conditions present the individual affected, and those around him, with serious problems, and it is one of the challenges of the human condition that all those concerned should strive to overcome such problems and have understanding and sympathy for the individual so afflicted.

There is a wide range of sexual abnormalities. Some people nowadays maintain that homosexuality is not an abnormality and that homosexuals should be encouraged to establish sexual relations with one or more partners of the same sex. The Faith, on the contrary, makes it abundantly clear that homosexuality is an abnormality, is a great problem for the individual so afflicted, and that he or she should strive to overcome it. The social implications of such an attitude are very important.

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

Some couples are unable to have children, and that, in itself, is an affliction, but this fact does not vitiate all the other bounties of the marital relationship. Some individuals for various reasons are unable to find a spouse, or choose to remain single; they must develop their natures and talents in other ways. One could have concluded that homosexuals could well establish stable relationships with one another for mutual support, similar to the marital relationship of a heterosexual couple who cannot have children. This, indeed, is the conclusion that some churches and governments have come to. But Bahá’u’lláh, having divine knowledge of human nature, shows that such a relationship is not a permissible or beneficial solution to a homosexual’s condition. If a homosexual cannot so overcome his or her condition to the extent of being able to have a heterosexual marriage, he or she must remain single, and abstain from sexual relations. These are the same requirements as for a heterosexual person who does not marry.

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

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