Archive for the ‘human nature’ Category

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

August 11, 2017

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

I have added the red parts.

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

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

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

Author’s name is removed

Summer 2007 | page 1 of 5

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

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

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

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

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

page 2 of 5

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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Is homosexuality spiritually condemned?

May 9, 2014

Claiming that someone else's marriage is against your religion is like being angry at someone for eating a doughnut because you're on a diet

“Claiming that someone else’s marriage
is against your religion
is like being angry
at someone for eating
a doughnut because you’re
on a diet”


Recently I was sent a link to a document written in 2007 entitled “Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK.”

My impression of this sermon of certainty was, well, if this author’s biased and
unsubstantiated views were representative of the teachings of the Bahai Faith on this subject, few people (myself included) would be interested in joining such a religion.

The first four sentences say it all: “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’lláh. 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.”

This statement just doesn’t hold water for a Bahai such as myself, because I know that all of the above is based on the author’s own prejudice. What he is saying is that a united society is not possible unless its sexual morality excludes homosexuality. The author claims all sorts of ridiculous notions as if these are based on Bahai teachings.
Admittedly his text is noted as ‘draft 2,’ but the author’s essay entitled “Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK” (you can read it here), has been online since 2007 and in 2011 there was an interview with him in his capacity at the UK Bahá’í Community’s Office of Public Affairs, so some readers might give his views some weight.
Below is a table with the author’s claims (in green) adjacent to my responses. Decide for yourself if it is a Bahai teaching that homosexuality is spiritually condemned.

…this applies to a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality. ‘Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.’
Page 1.
    1. Sodomy is not homosexuality.
2. Bahaú’llah is condemning three forms of illicit sex-related activities, not homosexuality. (See the context here)
The author assumes that homosexuality is illicit, but the question is, is homosexuality illicit within a marriage?
Bahá’ís consider the condition of homosexuality to be spiritually condemned and reject the act, they would never reject homosexual people.
Page 1.
    “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. 13

There is nothing in Bahai Scripture that even hints that justice and equality are conditional on being a heterosexual.

We believe that the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the ‘breath of life unto all created things’, 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.
Page 1.

    Many of Bahaú’llah’s “Hidden Words” speak of the nature of humanity as being in God’s image.
“Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee. Get thou from it thy radiance and seek none other than Me. For I have created thee rich and have bountifully shed My favor upon thee.”

Baha’u’llah wrote many mystical, metaphysical and philosophical texts and one book of laws. This book was in part a response to questions put to him of how to deal with existing Islamic laws. Significantly Baha’u’llah wrote: “Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. To this beareth witness that which the Pen of Revelation hath revealed. Meditate upon this, O men of insight!” (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 121)

So rather than the Bahai Faith being a religion focussed on a list of laws, it is a religion based on principles, where we are asked to use our insights to understand the laws. Baha’u’llah created the institution of the Universal House of Justice so that the rule-making part (and authority) of the Bahai community, because its rulings are distinct from Bahai Scripture, is able to change what is considered Bahai law (See Abdul-Baha’s Will and Testament).

The authors’ comment ”being freed from our own selves” implies that Bahais are expected to obey rules and not to use their own insights. The House of Justice has not laid down rules on subjects such as homosexuality, instead leaving many matters to individual conscience and the Bahai communities that exist in diverse social settings.
“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. Universal House of Justice to an individual, 5 June 1988.

Marriage itself is considered a divine institution and a ‘fortress of well-being and salvation’ 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. Human sexuality is celebrated though not indulged:
Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 1-2.

    “God hath prescribed matrimony unto you.” Baha’u’llah

There is nothing in Baha’u’llah’s writings to suggest that matrimony is not possible for same sex couples.

The author glides from everyone being expected to practise chastity before marriage, to his expecting gays and lesbians never to have the chance of a committed life partnership. These are not the ‘same realities’: the latter is discrimination and oppression.

Bahai Scripture stresses the importance of the spiritual as part of a holistic worldview which, of course, includes our ‘inclinations’ and ‘desires’: “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.”

Bahá’u’lláh recommends marriage at a young age.
Page 2.
    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.

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.

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.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 2.

    There is nothing in Bahai Scripture stating that marriage is only for heterosexuals. 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.”

And the introduction 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.

Note that 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?

Bahá’í do not accept the materialist notion that nature is perfect, but rather, the nature of humans must be improved through spiritual education.
Page 2.
    “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Bahá’u’lláh); children are born with lots of potential and no bad bits, 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 (See my blog on human nature)

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 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.)

Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 2-3.

    Marriage is praised by Baha’u’llah as opposed to a life as an ascetic. “Enter into wedlock, O people, that ye may bring forth one who will make mention of Me amid My servants. This is My bidding unto you; hold fast to it as an assistance to yourselves.”

There is nothing in the text to suggest that the purpose of marriage is procreate – only that it is a good thing, which is why elderly or infertile individuals are free to marry.

“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.” – ‘Abdu’l-Baha

The words ‘afflication,’ ‘aberration’ and ‘against nature’ used by the author originate in four letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. It’s an insult to attribute the same views to Baha’u’llah. These words are not Bahai Scripture.

The author – who has said that homosexuals are socially useless – apparently does not see this as a ‘tangible or emotional’ condemnation, and speaks of the praise and encouragement homosexuals will receive in the Bahai community. Providing they do not encounter our author, presumably.

Bahais may lose their voting rights for breaking Bahai laws, and some assemblies have interpreted getting married, to a partner of the same sex, as breaking Bahai law. They have wide discretion: ” … Every case is different, and there is more than one variable consideration to take into account, for example, the circumstances of the individual, the degree to which the good name of the Faith is involved, whether the offence is blatant and flagrant. Over and over again the beloved Guardian urged Assemblies to be extremely patient and forbearing in dealing with the friends. He pointed out on many occasions that removal of administrative rights is the heaviest sanction which Assemblies may impose at the present time. These considerations apply to the types of problems you mention in your letter. In all such cases it is for the Assembly to determine at what point the conduct is blatant and flagrant or is harmful to the name of the Faith. They must determine whether the believer has been given sufficient warning before the imposition of sanctions. …”
Universal House of Justice, 1977

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.
Page 3.
    The author wrote “The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions” while
‘Abdu’l-Baha praises “intellect and wisdom” as “two most luminous lights in either world”

I quote the context below.

“Praise and thanksgiving be unto Providence that out of all the realities in existence He has chosen the reality of man and has honored it with intellect and wisdom, the two most luminous lights in either world. Through the agency of this great endowment, He has in every epoch cast on the mirror of creation new and wonderful configurations.

If we look objectively upon the world of being, it will become apparent that from age to age, the temple of existence has continually been embellished with a fresh grace, and distinguished with an ever-varying splendor, deriving from wisdom and the power of thought.” ‘Abdu’l-Baha

Inside the Bahá’í Faith, the covenantal duty and expectation is obedience to the laws and the institutions. Bahá’ís are expected to strive for understanding 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.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 3-4.

    “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. 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. In this connection, He revealed the following in His Will:

“And 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. Thus for example, the House of Justice enacteth today a certain law and enforceth it, and a hundred years hence, circumstances having profoundly changed and the conditions having altered, another House of Justice will then have power, according to the exigencies of the time, to alter that law. This it can do because that law formeth no part of the divine explicit text. The House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.”

Such is the immutability of His revealed Word. Such is the elasticity which characterizes the functions of His appointed ministers. The first preserves the identity of His Faith, and guards the integrity of His law. The second enables it, even as a living organism, to expand and adapt itself to the needs and requirements of an ever-changing society.” – Shoghi Effendi

The first emanation from God is the bounty of the Kingdom, which emanates and is reflected in the reality of the creatures, like the light which emanates from the sun and is resplendent in creatures; and this bounty, which is the light, is reflected in infinite forms in the reality of all things, and specifies and individualizes itself according to the capacity, the worthiness and the intrinsic value of things.”‘Abdu’l-Baha

Clearly from the quotations above, the author’s ideas (that being liberal or open minded are bad things) run counter to the Bahai Teachings. ‘Abdul-Baha’s two quotations above show that Bahai Scripture does not share the anti-intellectual views of the author. In fact all the above quotations illustrate that the Bahai Teachings value independent thought and insight as well as logic, and celebrate diversity.

I will not even try and guess what the author means by ‘an individualistic definition of sexuality’ but would suggest the Bahai principle of religion being in harmony with science as a useful guide. Any definition of sexuality needs to be scientifically sound. I am not sure that a religious definition of sexuality is even useful. After all we don’t have a religious definition for digestion. Sexual orientation is not an ethical issue.

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.’
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 4.
    This tactic avoids engaging the critique by projecting onto the opponent. No Bahai is expected to sacrifice aspects of their identity; in fact Shoghi Effendi argues for positive discrimination because diversity is so important.

“To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority, is a flagrant violation of the spirit that animates the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.

If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favor of the minority, be it racial or otherwise.” – Shoghi Effendi

“The sixth principle or teaching of Bahá’u’lláh concerns the equality of man and woman. He has declared that in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex.” -‘Abdu’l-Baha

The author doesn’t realise that “no distinction of sex” means that men and women are equal; it is not saying that it is irrelevant to your identity whether you are a man, a woman, a homosexual, a heterosexual, or (more simply) your own unique self.

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.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 4.
    “Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity. This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination.
How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruits, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and colour! Diversity of hues, form and shape, enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof.” -‘Abdu’l-Baha

The author has claimed that both social unity, and the unity of the Bahai community, are threatened by a morality, or a “selective adherence to [Bahai] laws,” which would accept homosexual relationships and homosexual people on an equal footing. Is it any wonder then, if he also encounters homosexuals who “feel the need to adopt a segregated identity.” He and others like him generate this response through their prejudice, and their vision of a future “genuine unity” that requires the extinction of what they consider immorality. This is not the kind of unity that Baha’u’llah envisioned:
“The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity or dissension.”Baha’u’llah

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Material civilization is like a globe of glass. Divine civilization is the light itself, and the glass without the light is dark – Abdul-Baha

November 27, 2013

Translation by Sen McGlinn, 2013.  Design by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Translation by Sen McGlinn, 2013. Design by Sonja van Kerkhoff

Recently I saw a poster of a globe projecting light with the text in the title above.

There was some discussion about what “divine civilisation” could mean. Some thought it referred to a future civilization as an entity, others discussed what characteristics a “divine civilisation” might have.

So let’s look at what Abdul-Baha wrote and the context for this quotation.

The English text above comes from the book, Foundations of World Unity (pages 28-33) which doesn’t give any indication of a source, however there is a corresponding text in the 1919 Tablet to the Hague in Persian.

And the English translation of this is closer to the Persian text:

“Material civilization is like a lamp-glass. Divine civilization is the lamp itself and the glass without the light is dark”
This text is also in Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, published in 1978.

But now we miss the visual metaphor of a globe. The word globe isn’t in the Persian text. In consultation with Sen who reads Perisian here’s an attempt at both a translation that doesn’t introduce new elements and yet hopefully flows as nicely as the first text:

“Material civilization is like the lantern glass. Divine civilization is like the flame and the glass without the flame is dark.”

Some could argue that all three texts say the same thing and I’d agree the differences are minimal. All three texts refer to the divine (spiritual or spiritualized) as being what gives purpose (or illumination) to the material and all three texts refer to material and divine in the present continuous (not something yet to happen), however personally if quoting an author, I prefer to use text that reflects visual metaphors intended by the author.

Literally in the Persian the text (here at line 9) is: Material civilization is like the glass (In Persian when an article is not indicated it means ‘the’)”. The next phrase (there’s no punctuation in the Persian) “divine civilisation is like the lamp (saraaj)” makes it clear that “glass” is a lantern or glass of a lamp. In turn the first phrase tells us that “lamp” in the second phrase refers to what illuminates and not the physical structure so ‘flame’ is as accurate as the word lamp here.

In the two other translations “a” is used and the translators were most likely thinking of ‘any’ or ‘all’ various lanterns, whereas it seems that Abdul-Baha chose to indicate ‘the’ glass (in Persian it is a choice) and in doing this there’s a reference to the Platonic idea of the universal glass (lantern). I realise this is a slight difference of meaning in English but I found it interesting, and here using ‘a lantern’ or ‘the lantern’ doesn’t affect the flow of the words in English either way.

In Persian there’s a word for light (nur) which Abdul-Baha could have used and didn’t and so that’s the argument for using the word flame here.

Also a flame can be blown out and in a lantern it needs the glass to function, whereas light is more abstract (and hence independent). So there’s a reference to the interrelation between the material and the divine and this could be a reason why Abdul-Baha did not choose the word for light. For me this was a nuance I would have missed in the first translation – the complimentary natures of the material and the spiritual or divine, even though in this metaphor, it is the spirit that is the source of light.

So what is divine civilisation?
The text that immediately follows in the 1919 Tablet to the Hague, answers this in my view: “Divine civilization is like the spirit, and the body gets its life from the spirit, otherwise it becomes a corpse” (Abdul-Baha, http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SAB/sab-228.html)

I’d say divine civilisation refers to the spiritual or spirited – so a society or societies which are characterized by values such as justice, equality, etc.

The Persian word used for civilization is “madaniyyat” which has the meaning as in the phrase, Roman Civilization, meaning aspects of a way of life and the achievements of a people in a period.

 
Some Historical
Background to the Tablet to the Hague

In 1915 representatives from 9 European countries and the United States, formed the Central Organization for a Durable Peace in the Netherlands at The Hague. Their constitution was published in newspapers around the world. In Tehran, Iran, it was published in the Iran News and Mr Ahmad Yazdani in consultation with Mr Ibn-i-Asdaq, prepared a paper outlining the Baha’i principles and sent this to the Organization with the suggestion that they seek guidance from Abdu’l-Baha in their goal of establishing permanent global peace. The Organization responded by sending a letter written in 1916 to Abdu’l-Baha via Mr. Yazdani.
“The Tablet to The Hague” is the letter which `Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to the Central Organisation for Durable Peace, dated 17 December 1919 in response to receiving a letter dated in February 11th, 1916. Sima Quddusi in his 2005 abstract mentions that it was delivered to the organization in person by Mr. Yazdani and Mr. Abn-Asdaq in June 1920, however the organisation was dissolved after the June 1919 Peace Treaty of Versailles. Sima Quddusi also refers to later correspondence between the Central Organization for a Durable Peace and Abdul-Baha see: http://irfancolloquia.org/60/quddusi_hague

In the tablet, `Abdu’l-Bahá gives an overview of the Bahá’í principles: a declaration of universal peace, independent investigation of reality; the oneness of humanity; religion must be the cause of fellowship and love; religion must be in conformity with science and reason; the abandonment of religious, racial, political, economic and patriotic prejudices, a universal auxilliary language, equality of women and men, a voluntary sharing of one’s wealth (property), that each individual must be free (emanicipated), that religion is important for teaching morality; material civilization must work with divine civilization; education for all children; justice and rights.

Here are a few excerpts:
“And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is that religious, racial, political, economic and patriotic prejudices destroy the edifice of humanity. As long as these prejudices prevail, the world of humanity will not have rest.”
“If this prejudice and enmity are on account of religion consider that religion should be the cause of fellowship, otherwise it is fruitless.”

“Regarding the economic prejudice, it is apparent that whenever the ties between nations become strengthened and the exchange of commodities accelerated, and any economic principle is established in one country, it will ultimately affect the other countries and universal benefits will result. Then why this prejudice?

As to the political prejudice, the policy of God must be followed and it is indisputable that the policy of God is greater than human policy. We must follow the Divine policy and that applies alike to all individuals. He treats all individuals alike: no distinction is made, and that is the foundation of the Divine Religions.”

“And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is that although material civilization is one of the means for the progress of the world of mankind, yet until it becomes combined with Divine civilization, the desired result, which is the felicity of mankind, will not be attained. Consider! These battleships that reduce a city to ruins within the space of an hour are the result of material civilization; likewise the Krupp guns, the Mauser rifles, dynamite, submarines, torpedo boats, armed aircraft and bombers–all these weapons of war are the malignant fruits of material civilization. Had material civilization been combined with Divine civilization, these fiery weapons would never have been invented. Nay, rather, human energy would have been wholly devoted to useful inventions and would have been concentrated on praiseworthy discoveries. Material civilization is like a lamp-glass. Divine civilization is the lamp itself and the glass without the light is dark. Material civilization is like the body. No matter how infinitely graceful, elegant and beautiful it may be, it is dead. Divine civilization is like the spirit, and the body gets its life from the spirit, otherwise it becomes a corpse. It has thus been made evident that the world of mankind is in need of the breaths of the Holy Spirit. Without the spirit the world of mankind is lifeless, and without this light the world of mankind is in utter darkness. For the world of nature is an animal world.”

The whole tablet is here: http://bahai-library.com/provisionals/lawh.hague.html

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Two views of the Baha’i view on homosexuality

October 18, 2013

Recently in a discussion a Bahai asked what would happen if a Baha’i started a pledge similar to this one where members of the Jewish community pledge at working at ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in their synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities.

In response: a Baha’i wrote:

The official policy of Baha’is toward gays is demeaning…what to do? I mean that first statement in the pledge implies that we see each gay or lesbian as created in the image of the divine. This doesn’t quite go with the image of gays as inherently handicapped and in need of repair to their basic nature. Not that I don’t appreciate your intention…I just don’t see how it all fits together in an intelligible and consistent way

So here are two differing responses to the question
“What is the Baha’i perspective of homosexuality”

Baha’i A: “This is an attempt on my part to give us “the flavor,” of the Baha’i teachings on homosexuality where I have capitalized certain words. The following quotations (shown in brown and inside quotation marks) are selections taken from the BNASAA (Baha’i Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addiction and Abuse) website, under the section “Sexuality”, subsection “Homosexuality” [Last accessed on 18 October 2013]

“Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy, and lechery.”
This reference from Baha’u’llah is offered without any explanation of what the terms translated as “sodomy” and “lechery” mean in the original Arabic, and how they might relate to the subject of homosexuality today, or how they relate to heterosexual activity. The infamous “subject of boys” passage in the Aqdas (Book of Laws), which is also offered under the heading of “homosexuality” clearly refers to pederasty, or pedophilia, an altogether different subject, although the Guardian, according to the Universal House of Justice, is supposed to have interpreted it to apply to all homosexual relationships. There are no references penned from Abdu’l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi specifically regarding homosexuality. The remaining references are pulled from letters written by secretaries on behalf of the Guardian, or from correspondence from the Universal House of Justice or, in the case of the final three quotations, from a paper published on the BNASAA website.


“IMMORALITY of every sort is really forbidden by Baha’u’llah, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being AGAINST NATURE…through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this HANDICAP.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 26 March 1950; Letter from the Universal House of Justice to National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1995 on Bahai-Library; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1223)

‘Baha’u’llah makes provision for the Universal House of Justice to determine, according to the degree of offence, penalties for adultery and sodomy.”
(The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Notes Section, p. 223, authored by the U.H.J, 1992)

“Sex relationships, of any form, outside marriage are not permissible … whoso violates this rule will not only be responsible to God, but will INCUR THE NECESSARY PUNISHMENT FROM SOCIETY.”
(Letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, 5 September 1938; Cited in a Letter from the U.H.J. All National Spiritual Assemblies 6 February 1973, on Bahai-Library; Lights of Guidance, p. 346, #1157 – Here a date for this letter is not given)

“Baha’u’llah has spoken very strongly against this SHAMEFUL SEXUAL ABERRATION, as He has against adultery and immoral conduct in general.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 25 October 1949. Cited in a 1993 compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.)

“The Guardian cannot tell you what the attitude of God would be towards a person who lives a good life in most ways, but not in this way. All he can tell you is that it is forbidden by Baha’u’llah and that ONE SO AFFLICTED SHOULD STRUGGLE AND STRUGGLE AGAIN TO OVERCOME IT.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 26 March 1950. Cited in a 1993 compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.)

“The person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are CONDEMNED BY BAHA’U’LLAH, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary CONSULT DOCTORS, and make every effort 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 Baha’i 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, 20 June 1953 to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada, published in “Messages to Canada” p. 39; cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 4., on Bahai-Library.)

“Homosexuality … IS SPIRITUALLY CONDEMNED … we do not believe that it is a permissible way of life.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

“We must struggle against the EVILS IN SOCIETY by spiritual means, and medical and social ones as well.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

“The thing people need to meet THIS TYPE OF TROUBLE, as well as every other type, is greater spiritual understanding and stability.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

…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.
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 20 August 1955; Lights of Guidance, p. 369, #1230)

“Homosexuality is HIGHLY CONDEMNED…Any individual SO AFFLICTED must, through prayer, and any other means, seek to overcome this HANDICAP.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 6 October 1956)

“…no sexual act can be considered lawful unless performed between lawfully married persons.”
(Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi no date nor further information – cited in Lights of Guidance, pp. 364, #1220)

“…homosexuality is not a condition to which a person should be reconciled, but is a DISTORTION OF HIS OR HER NATURE WHICH SHOULD BE CONTROLLED OR OVERCOME.”
(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, January 12, 1973: cited in Messages from The Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, p. 110-111; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1222)

“If an individual violates the spiritual laws for his own development HE WILL CAUSE INJURY NOT ONLY TO HIMSELF BUT TO THE SOCIETY IN WHICH HE LIVES.”
(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer; excerpts to all National Spiritual Assemblies, February 6, 1973: Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, pp. 105-106. Lights of Guidance, p. 343-344 #1146)

“…Baha’i law restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married.” (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 14 March 1973; Lights of Guidance, pp. 365, #1225

“Thus, it should not be so much a matter of whether a practicing homosexual can be a Bahá’í as whether, having become a Baha’i, the homosexual can OVERCOME HIS PROBLEM.”
(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 14 March 1973; Lights of Guidance, pp. 365, #1225

“While recognizing the divine origin and force of the sex impulse in man…it must be controlled, and Baha’u’llah’s law confines its expression to the marriage relationship. … You can be confident that with the help of doctors, by prayer and meditation, by self-abnegation and by giving as much time as possible to serving the Cause in your community you can eventually succeed in OVERCOMING YOUR PROBLEM.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, January 9, 1977; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368, #1227)

“If you are sincerely intent on OVERCOMING YOUR PROBLEM…The more we occupy ourselves with teaching the Cause and serving our fellow-man in this way, the stronger we become in resisting THAT WHICH IS ABHORRENT TO OUR SPIRITUAL SELVES.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, July 16, 1980; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368, #1228)

“Both you and your Baha’i friend must first recognize that a homosexual relationship SUBVERTS THE PURPOSE OF HUMAN LIFE and that determined effort to overcome the wayward tendencies which promote this practice which, like other sexual vices, IS SO ABHORRENT TO THE CREATOR OF ALL MANKIND…”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, August 23, 1982; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368, #1229)

“…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a “natural” or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as

AN ABERRATION SUBJECT TO TREATMENT…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…have decision in choosing his way of life.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 March 1987. Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 7., on Bahai-Library.

“You mention recent research which indicates that there may be a genetic basis for homosexuality; you accept the Baha’i 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.”
Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 11., Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated, 16 March 1992. on Bahai-Library.

“Some people nowadays maintain that homosexuality is not an abnormality…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.”
Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 11., Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated, 16 March 1992. on Bahai-Library.

“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 BAHA’U’LLAH…SHOWS THAT SUCH A RELATIONSHIP IS NOT A PERMISSIBLE OR BENEFICIAL SOLUTION TO A HOMOSEXUAL’S CONDITION.”
(Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 12., Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated, 16 March 1992. on Bahai-Library.

“Human beings need not only assistance in defining acceptable behavior of one person towards another, but also guidance which will help them to refrain from doing that which is SPIRITUALLY DAMAGING TO THEMSELVES.”
(Letter from the Universal House of Justice to National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1995 on Bahai-Library)

“Whether DEFICIENCIES are inborn or acquired, our purpose in this life is to overcome them…”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 September 1993. This letter is cited in full by Bill Collins on on the e-list soc.religion.bahai, 31 Aug 1994)

“You state that “homosexuals cannot be altered into heterosexuality, all such trials have failed and homosexuals remain so until the day they die.” THIS IS A STATEMENT WHICH IS STILL OPEN TO DISPUTE, AND WHICH BAHA’IS SHOULD QUESTION.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 September 1993. ibid)

“Baha’i Assemblies can testify to the number of Baha’is who, although having had homosexual orientations, have been able to lead normally happy married lives and raise families.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 September 1993. ibid)

“The condition of being sexually attracted to some object other than to a mature member of the opposite sex, A CONDITION OF WHICH HOMOSEXUALITY IS BUT ONE MANIFESTATION, is regarded by the Faith as a DISTORTION OF TRUE HUMAN NATURE, as a PROBLEM TO BE OVERCOME, no matter what specific physical or psychological condition may be the immediate cause. Any Baha’i who suffers from

such a DISABILITY…should be helped to control and overcome it.”
(Letter from the Universal House of Justice to National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1995 on Bahai-Library.

“…homosexual intercourse by a Baha’i is AN OFFENCE AGAINST THE LAW OF GOD and is STRONGLY CONDEMNED. Strict laws of sexual behaviour are important, we believe, not merely for the individual, but also for society in general…we certainly do not fully understand their long-term implication; THESE WILL BECOME APPARENT AS SOCIETY EVOLVES. Baha’is believe that the LOVE OF GOD IS EVIDENT IN ALL HIS LAWS, NO MATTER HOW SEVERE SOME OF THEM MAY APPEAR TO BE.”
(U.H.J., 17 September 1993. This letter is cited in full by Bill Collins on the e-list soc.religion.bahai, 31 Aug 1994)

“…while science may find that a predisposition to homosexuality is caused by genetic aberration, and in that sense may be considered “natural”, IT DOES NOT FOLLOW THAT IT IS “NATURAL” FOR SOME PEOPLE TO BE HOMOSEXUAL …The statistics which indicate that homosexuality is incurable are undoubtedly distorted by the fact that many of those who overcome the problem never speak about it in public, and others solve their problems without even consulting professional counselors. Furthermore, contrary evidence may will exist but may be overlooked by scientific reporting that is, for one reason or another, biased.”
(Letter from the U.H.J. to the N.S.A. of the U.S., published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1993, On Bahai-Library)

“…the Baha’i Faith STRONGLY CONDEMNS all blatant acts of immorality, and it includes among them the expression of sexual love between individuals of the same sex.”
(U.H.J., Letter to an individual, 11 September 1995. The letter is cited in full on 6 Feb 1996 on the Talisman e-list)

“The view that homosexuality is a condition that is not amenable to change is to be questioned by Baha’is.”
(U.H.J., 11 September 1995. ibid)

“…the standard which they are called upon to uphold is the Baha’i standard. A flagrant violation of this standard DISGRACES THE BAHA’I COMMUNITY IN ITS OWN EYES even if the surrounding society finds the transgression tolerable.”
(U.H.J., 11 September 1995. ibid)

…if persons involved in homosexual relationships express an interest in the Faith, they should not be instructed by Bahá’í institutions to separate so that they may enrol in the Bahá’í community, for this action by any institution may conflict with civil law. The Bahá’í position should be patiently explained to such persons, who should also be given to understand that although in their hearts they may accept Bahá’u’lláh, 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

Bahai B wrote: If I want to know the Bahai position, I look to Baha’u’llah. Then to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, etc for clarification of what Baha’u’llah says. I don’t start with the House and work “backwards” for clarification. For me, that seems to lead to confusion and tends to relegate Baha’u’llah to the footnotes, where he possibly doesn’t deserve to be.

But, if by “Baha’i position” you mean the current dominant and generally-seen-as-authoritative view then, yes, you pretty much have to look at what the House is saying and quoting. And, yes, “the official policy of Baha’is toward gays is in itself demeaning”.

But the House could stop quoting Shoghi Effendi’s secretaries, particularly where they appear to describe [the] homosexuality [of their time] in demeaning ways. When I’m trying to understand “the Bahai position” (second, deprecated, definition), I look at what the House has stopped quoting and what it’s stopped saying. That’s a generally a reliable guide to changes of position.

At the moment, the House has started talking more about the human and civil rights of homosexuals but — as you observe — it hasn’t stopped quoting Shoghi Effendi’s secretaries, who describe homosexuality as a “problem”, “sickness”, etc. So, not much change. At least, not where it counts.

Bahai A: Thanks for the clarification. Baha’i law on this issue hasn’t changed – homosexual behavior is still a punishable offense among Baha’is. Would you remind me what Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha give us in the way of clarification on the issue of homosexuality? I know about letters written on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf, of course, and that he signed off on such letters. And I certainly accept that the views of homosexuality in those letters represented the time in which they were written, and for the Faith to have openly accepted gays at that time would no doubt have put the Faith in a questionable light, so no problem there – I get it. But the House, despite its discussion of human and civil rights for gays, and its decrying prejudice toward them, seems to feel that they cannot go beyond the mindset that was represented in such letters, and thus can never get beyond the portrayal of gays as having an “affliction”. I’m sure that they can find a way around this…despite their saying they can’t. Until then, homosexuality is still criminalized in Baha’i law – it is a “shameful aberration” and most Baha’is will agree that this is Baha’i belief, and that Baha’is are not to display any prejudice toward gays, despite their apparent affliction, and are to come to their aid if their civil rights are being abused. It’s an interesting predicament, isn’t it? Progress is being made, in that homosexuality can now be discussed in Baha’i communities, and mean/ugly behavior toward gays is not to be tolerated but, as someone else said, religion still trumps science here.

I will admit that I haven’t visited BNASAA website for a while, to see if all this stuff about homosexuality is still up there – if it is still there, then I assume it represents Baha’i thought as coming from the House – surely they would not allow such prejudiced-seeming and negative material to remain on a public website which represents Baha’is on this issue, unless it represented their current views. If this material is removed by instruction of the House, there would be some question as to whether it represented the House’s current view, and I would immediately cease to circulate this material.

Bahai B wrote: You wrote: “Baha’i law on this issue hasn’t changed – homosexual behavior is still a punishable offense among Baha’is….”
My understanding is that the Aqdas discusses illicit forms of sexual conduct (zina and liwat) and it discusses marriage.

There are many forms of both homosexual and heterosexual behaviour that fall into the category of illicit sexual conduct. On the other hand, same-sex marriage seems to be in a category of its own. Is it “illicit sex”, is it “another form of marriage”, or is it something new that isn’t in the book?

I lean towards options two and three. I can’t see where homosexual behaviour has been made a punishable offence — at least no more than that all forms of heterosexual behaviour (except one) are a punishable offence.
“…Would you remind me what Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha give us in the way of clarification on the issue of homosexuality?”

Baha’u’llah said little if anything about homosexuality. And not much about liwat. Modern-day homosexuality in general, and same-sex marriage in particular, effectively didn’t exist in their time and place — so there’s nothing said about that. But they did say a lot about unity, amity, harmony, diversity, tolerance, a sin-covering eye, about religion being in line with science and about an unfolding revelation. Maybe it’s important that we don’t lose sight of those other things they said?”

Bahai A: “You are absolutely right – thank you. The problem with sexual behavior, of course, is that sex outside of marriage, whether hetero- or homosexual, is strictly forbidden, and of course same-sex marriage is forbidden, thus far, for Baha’is. Thus, heterosexual Baha’is have a way to express their sexuality, and strictly homosexual Baha’is do not, without risking sanctions. Even if they marry outside of the Faith, if they are fortunate to live in an area where such marriage is now legal, they are not yet, so far as I know, accepted as a same-sex couple in the Faith – though I realize this might change, and I hope it does. And I appreciate your emphasis on the positive – I just don’t want to gloss over any injustice that might exist. I do think it helps to discuss these things, to let Baha’is know that they can discuss them and can allow themselves to grow in their understanding of homosexuality. I have been allowed to grow in my understanding, and I would like for others to have the same chance. ”

Baha’i B: You wrote: “And I appreciate your emphasis on the positive – I just don’t want to gloss over any injustice that might exist.”
I didn’t realise that I was emphasising the positive. I thought I was emphasising the source. Back to the pledge.

Yes, a really strong pledge that reframes the issues in terms of the most important Bahai provisions could certainly be created. I’m sure it will take both persuasion and encouragement to deal with the ignorance and fear surrounding the signing of a pledge. I don’t normally get excited about pledges and petitions, but this one sounds interesting.

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Sarah goes to Church – her “Baha’i on Life” blog

October 10, 2013

“Sarah Goes To Church” is an engaging and insightful blog on her independent investigations into different religions.

So she went along to find out about the Bahais of Webster Groves, Missouri, along with her partner with the dazzling pink hair.
Enjoy the read!

http://sarahgoestochurch.blogspot.nl/2013/10/bahai-on-life.html

And then you’ll see that the bottleneck for her is that Bahai’s need to stop treating homosexuality as a form of ‘abberant’ sexuality.

The community she encountered seemed particularly open. No one said anything nasty about gays and one father expressed support of his transgender son but…

“There was a woman at the service, a gay woman, who talked about how hard it was to be chaste but she knew this life was only but a blip and that her devotion would be rewarded in the next life.”

So gays are expected to live lonely lives and never to have the joys of raising children with a partner. Time and time again we see from history that when one group of people is treated differently it is an imbalance on the majority group as well. Abdul-Baha expresses this beautifully on the topic of gender equality:
“The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible. Not until the world of women becomes equal to the world of men in the acquisition of virtues and perfections, can success and prosperity be attained as they ought to be.”
Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, sec. 227, p. 302

So I would argue that any society which treats homosexuality as not part of the range of what human sexuality is, is out of balance. I’m not talking about sex nor morality, but orientation. See another of my blogs for more on this >

Bahaú’llah’s teachings were for equally and the principle of equally makes no sense if it is just for some people. I’m referring to what Abdul-Baha meant by “spiritual teachings” – Teachings that are eternal, not social teachings which do change, and in particular social teachings which the U.H.J., the head of the Bahai community, may rule on such as defining what marriage is.

Abdul-Baha writes of two kinds of teachings:
“The one is the call of civilization, of the progress of the material world. This pertaineth to the world of phenomena, promoteth the principles of material achievement, and is the trainer for the physical accomplishments of mankind. It compriseth the laws, regulations, arts and sciences through which the world of humanity hath developed; laws and regulations which are the outcome of lofty ideals and the result of sound minds, and which have stepped forth into the arena of existence through the efforts of the wise and cultured in past and subsequent ages. The propagator and executive power of this call is just government.

The other is the soul-stirring call of God, Whose spiritual teachings are safeguards of the everlasting glory, the eternal happiness and illumination of the world of humanity, and cause attributes of mercy to be revealed in the human world and the life beyond.”
Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 283

Currently the U.H.J. states that marriage can be only be between a man and woman but another U.H.J. in the future might have another definition.
What is a shame is that because of their current position, Bahais see this as justification to continue to discriminate against gays. I realise it must be tough if you are a Bahai and you believe the Bahaí Faith doesn’t change or you don’t like gays. But for the sake of the health of religious community that preaches equality for all, a first step for a Bahai community would be to remove any public display or reference to homosexuality that associates it with disease or otherness. And second step is to stop referring to gays as if their identity is tied to whether they are celibate or not. How would you feel if each time you met a Baha’i your identity as a holistic human being was focused on your sexual orientation?

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“The Baha’is lose another gay”

September 16, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

your Hispanic American friend

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

“Justice and equity are twin Guardians that watch over men. From them are revealed such blessed and perspicuous words as are the cause of the well-being of the world and the protection of the nations.”
(Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 12)

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

August 16, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since when is sexuality an illness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

D.W.

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

Click to view the whole cartoon.

Click to read in a pop up window.

Click to read in a pop up window.

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

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

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

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

If Bahai communities are going to live up to the U.H.J.’s 2010 request:
“Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. … a Baha´i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.
(Letter from the U.H.J. to individual, 27 October 2010) they first need to realise that there is prejudice against gays and to deal with it proactively. Looking the other way only keeps the prejudice unchallenged. A minimum would be a policy of “compassion,” if “equality” is too big a step for that community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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