Archive for the ‘letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi’ Category

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The Service of Women on the Institutions of the Baha’i Faith

August 27, 2018

When I heard the following paper being presented at the 1988 Bahai Studies conference in New Zealand it seemed to me that the phrase by Abdul-Baha “the sun at high noon” meant when the timing is right or when time has passed.
Here is the whole text:
“The House of Justice, however, according to the explicit text of the Law of God, is confined to men; this for a wisdom of the Lord God’s, which will ere long be made manifest as clearly as the sun at high noon.”
Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Haifa: Baha’i World Centre, 1978, pp 79-80

Over the years various Bahais have come up with all sorts of ‘reasons’ as to why women are not allowed to serve as members of the international body of the Bahai Administration (The Universal House of Justice) which fortunately can be easily dismissed as prejudice or ignorance because in most Bahai communities women are not treated with any lesser status than men. I am not suggesting that Bahai communities do not display aspects of sexism but in general I don’t see it being any worse than in the surrounding culture and as each day goes by, less Bahais insist that a women’s place is in the home raising children 🙂

So when someone would ask me about the inequality of not allowing women to serve on the Universal House of Justice (UHJ). I would throw up my hands and say I have no idea but I trust it will work out and that I am a Bahai and a feminist and Bahais do see the importance of gender equality. After hearing the paper, depending on the person’s interest I might add it seems to me to be a historical misunderstanding because Abdul-Baha’s 1902 text cited above refers to the all male membership of the Chicago House of Justice and not to the Universal House of Justice and a decade later Abdul-Baha changed this policy to allow women also to serve.

I now saw the context for this quotation from Abdul-Baha as wisdom because for the Persian man sent to oversee this first election at Abdul-Baha’s request, the idea that women could be members was too much of a strange idea. So “confined to men” meant in the 1902 Tablet, 10 years (from the first tablet in 1902 to the change to allow women to be elected in 1912).

This paper also gives an overview on the development of the Bahai administration which began informally in Iran from about 1878 as well as some context for Baha’u’llah’s use of the word “rijal” which is the word used by Baha’u’llah for the members of a House of Justice.

Sen McGlinn wanted to publish this in a journal of essays, Soundings (see the essays that were published) but the UHJ would not allow this to be published. Then the authors were informed that they were not allowed to circulate this paper. Then in 2007 another letter of the UHJ said that they were unaware of any restrictions on the circulation of this paper. So this could go up on h-net.org where people now had access to this. Below this paper is a bit of discussion on this topic.

Here is the paper! It is also here on h-net.org but I am putting it here so there are two places it can be found. Please bear in mind that this was written in 1988 and so the statistics will be out of date. So far as I know no other Bahais have written on this topic since then. There have been a number of statements from the UHJ stating that the gender of the UHJ will never change.

The Service of Women on the Institutions of the Baha’i Faith
Presented in 1988 at the New Zealand Bahai Studies Association Conference, Christchurch.
Anthony A. Lee, Peggy Caton, Richard Hollinger, Marjan Nirou, Nader Saiedi, Shahin Carrigan, Jackson Armstong-Ingram, and Juan R. I. Cole

From 1844, the year of the founding of the Babi religion, to the present day, women have played important roles in Baha’i history. Babi and Baha’i women have often acted as leaders in the community, holding its highest positions and participating in its most important decisions. In the first days of His Revelation, the Bab Himself appointed Qurratu’l-‘Ayn, Tahirih, as one of His chief disciples – one of the nineteen Letters of the Living who were the first to believe in Him and were entrusted by Him with the mission of spreading His Faith and shepherding its believers. This remarkable woman would soon become one of the most radical and influential of the Bab’s disciples and the leader of the Babis of Karbala. Her vision and achievement have become legend. [1]

In later periods of Baha’i history, women have acted in central roles of leadership within the community. Bahiyyih Khanum, the Greatest Holy Leaf, the sister of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, several times in her lifetime was called upon to act as the de facto head of the Baha’i Faith. When ‘Abdu’l-Baha left the Holy Land to travel to the West, for example, He chose to leave the affairs of the Cause in the hands of His sister. Likewise, immediately after the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha – before Shoghi Effendi, the new Guardian, could arrive in Palestine to assume control of the Faith, the Greatest Holy Leaf assumed leadership. The Baha’is in the Holy Land instinctively turned to her as their guide and protector. And again, during the Guardian’s absences from his duties during the early years of his ministry, he repeatedly entrusted the affairs of the Cause to the Greatest Holy Leaf. [2]

After the passing of Shoghi Effendi, women were once more called upon to serve the Baha’i Faith at its highest levels. The international leadership of the religion fell to the Hands of the Cause, the chief stewards of the Faith who had been appointed by the Guardian during his lifetime. The women Hands served along with the men to guide the Baha’i community through the turbulent years preceding the election of the Universal House of Justice. Once again, Baha’i women demonstrated their capacity to administer the affairs of the Faith at its highest levels.

The Baha’i Principle of Gradualism
Nonetheless, the service of women on the elected institutions of the Baha’i Faith has emerged only gradually. Although a few exceptional Baha’i women have always set the example for their sex, the role of women on Baha’i institutions in the community as a whole has not been comparable to that of men. Traditional notions of inequality, as well as the restrictions of a hostile environment, have caused the participation of women to lag behind.
Even to the present day, the participation of women on National Spiritual Assemblies, Boards of Counsellors, and Auxiliary Boards is not equal to that of men, as the charts show. A long road has yet to be travelled.

Participation of Women in Baha’i Institutions
“The equality of men and women is not, at the present time, universally applied.
In those areas where traditional inequality still hampers its progress we must take the lead in practicing this Baha’i principle. Baha’i women and girls must be encouraged to take part in the social, spiritual and administrative activities of their communities.”

The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 1984.

The following table shows, by continent, the numbers of National Assemblies with the corresponding numbers of women members indicated by the column headings. For example, column 1, line 1, there are 4 Assemblies in Africa with no women members.


(Information provided by the Department of Statistics at the Baha’i World Centre, and reprinted from dialogue, volume 1, no. 3 (Summer/Fall 1986), p 31.)

The gradual emergence of women on the institutions of the Faith should not come as a surprise, however. Virtually all Baha’i laws and practices have gone through a gradual evolution in Baha’i history. The recognition of the principle of the equality of men and women, and its gradual application in the development of Baha’i Administration is no exception.

The principle of progressive revelation, the concept of the gradual emergence of divine purpose, is a universal principle which applies within the dispensation of each Manifestation, as well as between dispensations. Baha’u’llah Himself has explained:
Know of a certainty that in every Dispensation the light of Divine Revelation hath been vouchsafed to men in direct proportion to their spiritual capacity. Consider the sun. How feeble its rays the moment it appeareth above the horizon. How gradually its warmth and potency increase as it approacheth its zenith, enabling meanwhile all created things to adapt themselves to the growing intensity of its light. How steadily it declineth until it reacheth its setting point. Were it all of a sudden to manifest the energies latent within it, it would no doubt cause injury to all created things …

In like manner, if the Sun of Truth were suddenly to reveal, at the earliest stages of its manifestation, the full measure of the potencies which the providence of the Almighty hath bestowed upon it, the earth of human understanding would waste away and be consumed; for men’s hearts would neither sustain the intensity of its revelation, nor be able to mirror forth the radiance of its light. Dismayed and overpowered, they would cease to exist. [3]

The Universal House of Justice has demonstrated how this principle of progressive revelation has applied, and continues to apply, to the implementation of Baha’i law, particularly to the laws of the Kitab-i Aqdas. The Central Figures of the Faith have promulgated these laws only gradually as the condition of the Baha’i community would allow. [4]

Similarly, ‘Abdu’l-Baha recognised that women could not take their rightful place in the affairs of the world all at once. Throughout history women have been deprived of education and opportunity. Therefore, it was impossible that they would be able to immediately play an equal role in Baha’i life. But ‘Abdu’l-Baha has insisted that all distinctions of sex will be erased once women attain proper education and experience. He says:
Woman’s lack of progress and proficiency has been due to her need for equal education and opportunity. Had she been allowed this equality, there is no doubt she would be the counterpart of man in ability and capacity. [5]

In a talk given in New York, ‘Abdu’l-Baha again pinpoints education as the key to women’s equality:
…if woman be fully educated and granted her rights, she will attain the capacity for wonderful accomplishments and prove herself the equal of man. She is the coadjutor of man; his complement and helpmeet. Both are human, both are endowed with potentialities of intelligence and embody the virtues of humanity. In all human powers and functions they are partners and co-equals. At present in spheres of human activity woman does not manifest her natal prerogatives owing to lack of education and opportunity. [6]

In Paris He said:
…the female sex is treated as though inferior, and is not allowed equal rights and privileges. This condition is not due to nature, but to education. In the Divine Creation there is no such distinction. Neither sex is superior to the other in the sight of God. Why then should one sex assert the inferiority of the other…If women received the same educational advantages as those of men, the result would demonstrate the equality of capacity of both for scholarship. [7]

On another occasion he made the same point:
The only difference between them [ie: men and women] now is due to lack of education and training. If woman is given equal opportunity of education, distinction and estimate of inferiority will disappear. [8]

And again:
Therefore, woman must receive the same education as man and all inequality be adjusted. Thus, imbued with the same virtues as man, rising through all the degrees of human attainment, women will become the peers of men, and until this equality is established, true progress and attainment for the human race will not be facilitated. [9]

It was clearly ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s position that lack of education and opportunity had relegated woman to an inferior position in society, and that through education and experience all inequalities of sex would be gradually removed. His own policies and actions concerning the service of women on the institutions of the Faith reflected this belief in gradualism.

The First Baha’i Institutions
Any investigation of the history of the development of the Baha’i Administrative Order will reveal that Baha’i women only gradually took their place beside the men in this area of service – and not without struggle. This has been especially true in the East, where women were most heavily restricted. But lack of education and other cultural circumstances have affected the participation of women on Baha’i institutions all over the world.

The first Hands of the Cause appointed by Baha’u’llah were, for example, all males. ‘Abdu’l-Baha appointed no additional Hands, and it was only during the ministry of Shoghi Effendi that women were appointed to this rank. Even so, it has been only Western Baha’i women who have been found qualified for this distinction.

At later times, when the first Auxiliary Boards to the Hands of the Cause were appointed, and then the first contingents of Boards of Counsellors, women were included. But circumstances dictated that it be mostly Western women who were appointed, and that their numbers were far fewer than those of men. As the above chart shows, that situation remains the same today. This is not due to any policy of discrimination on the part of the institutions of the Faith, but simply due to historical circumstances. As the position of women improves – especially in Asia and Africa – with respect to education and experience, we can expect that the current situation will change in favour of more participation of women.

The House of Justice of Tehran
The struggle for the equal participation of women in Baha’i Administration has been played out most dramatically, however, in the arena of the development of local institutions. The first of these bodies was formed in Tehran, Iran, at the initiative of individual believers.

In 1873, Baha’u’llah revealed the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book, His book of laws. Here He established the institution of the House of Justice (bayt al-‘adl). The Kitab-i-Aqdas states:
The Lord hath ordained that in every city a House of Justice (bayt al-‘adl) be established wherein shall gather counsellors to the number of Baha [i.e., nine], and should it exceed this number it does not matter … It behoveth them to be the trusted ones of the Merciful among men and to regard themselves as the guardians appointed of God for all that dwell on earth. It is incumbent on them to take counsel together and to have regard for the interests of the servants of God, for His sake, even as they regard their own interests, and to choose that which is meet and seemly. [10]

In the same book it is written:
O ye Men of Justice! (rijal al-‘adl) Be ye in the realm of God shepherds unto His sheep and guard them from the ravening wolves that have appeared in disguise, even as ye would guard your own sons. Thus exhorteth you the Counsellor, the Faithful. [11]

There are other references in the Kitab-i-Aqdas to the House of Justice (bayt al-‘adl) or the Place of Justice (maqarr al-‘adl) which define its function and fix some of its revenues. In most cases, these references are not specific but refer to the general concept of a House of Justice rather than a particular institution. The Universal House of Justice has explained:
In the Kitab-i-Aqdas Baha’u’llah ordains both the Universal House of Justice and the Local Houses of Justice. In many of His laws He refers simply to “the House of Justice” leaving open for later decision which level or levels of the whole institution each law would apply to. [12]

Although the Kitab-i-Aqdas was revealed in ‘Akka in 1873, it was withheld for some time by Baha’u’llah before it was distributed to the Baha’is of Iran. [13]

It appears that it was not until 1878 that the Baha’is of Tehran received copies of the book and began to implement some of its laws in their personal lives. Upon reading the Kitab-i Aqdas, Mirza Asadu’llah Isfahani, a prominent Baha’i teacher living in Tehran, was particularly struck by the command of Baha’u’llah that a House of Justice should be established by the Baha’is in every city.

Mirza Asadu’llah is an important figure in Baha’i history: he eventually married the sister of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s wife; he was (as we shall see) one of the earliest Baha’i teachers sent to America by ‘Abdu’l-Baha to instruct the new Western believers and he later accompanied ‘Abdu’l-Baha on his travels in Europe. In any case, in 1878 he was the first to undertake the organization of a local House of Justice in Iran. He took the initiative to invite eight other prominent believers to form a body, responding to the laws of the Kitab-i Aqdas, which they referred to as bayt al-‘adl (House of Justice) or bayt al-a’zam (the Most Great House).

The organization of this first House of Justice was kept a secret, even from the believers. However, it met sporadically in the home of Mirza Asadu’llah for a couple of years. After consulting with this body, the prominent Baha’i men who had been invited to attend its meetings would seek to take action as individual Baha’i teachers that would implement its decisions.

Around 1881, the Tehran House of Justice was reorganized and more members were added. The House adopted a written constitution and pursued its activities with more organization and vigour than before. The constitution mandated, however, that the meetings remain strictly confidential, hidden from the body of the believers.

This constitution also assumes that the members of the House would all be men (aqayan). Naturally, considering the social conditions in Iran at the time, no other arrangement was possible.

Some of the minutes of this early House of Justice survive today. It was a gathering of the older and more prominent Baha’i men of Tehran. Meetings were attended by invitation only, and at times included fourteen members or more. Eventually, this meeting came to be called the Consultative Gathering (majlis-i shur), while the house where the body met was referred to as the House of Justice (bayt al-‘adl).

These meetings sought to assist and protect the Baha’is through consultation on various problems. The House in Tehran sent Baha’i teachers to other cities in Iran to organize Houses of Justice there. Again, the decisions of the House were always carried out by individuals, and the consultations remained secret.

The organization of this body eventually met with some controversy. One important Baha’i teacher, Jamal-i Burujurdi, who later – in the time of ‘Abdu’l-Baha – would become a notorious Covenant-breaker, objected strongly to the organization of a House of Justice in Tehran. Because of these objections, the Baha’is involved on the House appealed to Baha’u’llah for guidance. Baha’u’llah replied with a Tablet in which He approved of the House of Justice and strongly upheld the principle of consultation in the Baha’i Faith. [14]

Early Organisation in America
When the first rudimentary local Baha’i institutions were organized in the United States, their membership was also confined to men. Later, as various forms of Baha’i organization at the local level became more common, men and women served together. But it was the understanding of the Baha’is at the turn of the century that consultative bodies in the Baha’i community should be composed of men. This understanding became firmly institutionalized in the largest Baha’i communities of New York, Chicago, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, and was sanctioned by ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

A scholarly history of the beginnings of Baha’i organization in America has yet to be written. Many of the details of these events have yet to be uncovered. However, it appears that the early American Baha’is were moved to form local councils for the first time in 1900, as a consequence of the defection of Ibrahim Kheiralla from the community. Kheiralla, a Lebanese Christian who had been converted to the Baha’i Faith in Egypt by a Persian Baha’i, ‘Abdu’l-Karim Tihrani, had brought the Baha’i teachings to America and had acted as the head of the Faith in the West until that point. His repudiation of ‘Abdu’l-Baha as the rightful leader of the Faith and chosen successor to his Father caused a temporary rift among the Baha’is.

In the fall of 1899, Edward Getsinger, a leading American Baha’i, appointed five men as a “Board of Counsel” for the Baha’is of northern New Jersey. [15] Isabella Brittingham was made the honorary corresponding secretary, but was not a member of the body. Later, in a letter dated March 21, 1900, Thornton Chase wrote from Chicago:
“We have formed a ‘Board of Council’ with 10 members.”

In this letter, Chase lists the names of nine of these members, all of whom were men. [16]

In June of 1900, however, it appears that the Chicago Board was reorganized. ‘Abdu’l-Karim Tihrani had travelled to America at the request of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and had arrived in Chicago at the end of May. The Baha’is of Chicago immediately asked him to draw up rules and regulations that would govern the affairs of their Board. [17] As a result, the Board of Counsel was expanded to nineteen members, some of whom were women. In a statement to the press the Baha’is indicated that this Board was being organized to replace Ibrahim Kheiralla, whom they repudiated as the leader of the Faith. [18]

Although ‘Abdu’l-Karim remained in Chicago for only a short time, his nineteen-member Board appears to have functioned for about a year. However, on May 15, 1901, a nine-member, all-male House of Justice was elected in Chicago to replace it. This was done at the direction of Mirza Asadu’llah Isfahani, who had been sent to America by ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Writing to the House of Justice in New York that had already been established, the Chicago House wrote:
Recently His Honor, Mirza Assad’Ullah, received a Tablet from the Master, Abdul-Baha, in which He has positively declared to be necessary the establishment here of the House of Justice by election by the believers with order and just dealing. According to this blessed Announcement, our believers have elected those whom they deemed best fitted, and thus The House of Justice was established. [19]

It was Mirza Asadu’llah who instructed the Baha’is of Chicago that the new House of Justice should be composed only of men. He and his company appear to have regarded the nineteen-member Board as illegitimate, possibly because women served as members.

The change to an all-male institution was not accomplished without anguish. Writing years later, Fannie Lesch, who had served on the Board of Counsel, wrote:
We had a Council Board of men and women after Dr. Kheiralla left us…
Mirza Assad’Ullah ignored us, although they were all invited to meet with us, and he established a House of Justice of men only…
[20]

Only days after the election of the Chicago House of Justice, a Ladies’ Auxilliary Board was organized at the suggestion of Mrs. Ella Nash and Mrs. Corinne True. This Board was later to be known as the Women’s Assembly of Teaching. It appears that the Ladies’ Auxilliary was able to maintain control of the funds of the Chicago Baha’i community despite the election of the House of Justice. [21]

Men of Justice
The belief that women were not eligible for service on local Baha’i institutions was based on the language of certain passages of the Kitab-i Aqdas which refer to the House of Justice. Of course, as we have noted above, these passages do not make a distinction between local, national, and international bodies. The institution as a whole is addressed. Baha’u’llah twice uses the Arabic word rijal (gentlemen) to refer to the members of the Houses of Justice. He says:
O ye Men (rijal) of Justice! Be ye in the realm of God shepherds unto His sheep… [22]

And:
We have designated a third of all fines for the Place of Justice (maqarr al-‘adl), and exhort its members (rijal) to show forth perfect equity… [23]

The word rijal (plural; singular is rajul) is exclusively masculine in Arabic. A dictionary would render an English definition of rajul as: man, gentleman; important man, statesman, nobleman. (A related form of the word, rujula or rujuliyya, would be translated as: masculinity; virility.) Since Baha’u’llah addressed the members of the Houses of Justice using this term, it appears that it was universally assumed that only men were eligible for service on such institutions.

The word rijal, meaning men, is used in the Qur’an and is part of an important passage which establishes the relationship between men and women in Islam (Qur’an 4:34):
Men (rijal) are superior to women (nisa’) on account of the qualities with which God hath gifted the one above the other, and on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them.

However, Baha’u’llah has in His Writings clearly established the principle of the equality of men and women. It is therefore possible that when He used the word rijal He did not intend its normal meaning.

Although rijal is the normal Arabic word for men (as opposed to women), there are passages in the Writings of Baha’u’llah that indicate that He may have used the term in a special sense. Such passages suggest that, in a Baha’i context, the word may be understood to include women. Baha’u’llah has stated that women in His Cause are all to be accorded the same station as men – and He has used the very term rijal to make this point. For example, He writes:
Today the Baha’i women (lit., the leaves of the Holy Tree) must guide the handmaidens of the earth to the Lofty Horizon with the utmost purity and sanctity. Today the handmaidens of God are regarded as gentlemen (rijal). Blessed are they! Blessed are they! [24]

And in another passage:
Today whoever among the handmaidens attains the knowledge of the Desire of the World [i.e., Baha’u’llah] is considered a gentleman (rajul) in the Divine Book. [25]

And in another place:
…many a man (rajul) hath waited expectant for God’s Revelation, and yet when the Light shone forth from the horizon of the world, all but a few turned their faces away from it. Whosoever from amongst the handmaidens hath recognized the Lord of all Names is recorded in the Book as one of those men (rijal) by the Pen of the Most High. [26]

Likewise, ‘Abdu’l-Baha in one of his Tablets has made the same point:
Verily, according to Baha’u’llah, women are judged as gentlemen (rijal). [27]

However, such passages were not raised as an issue at the time, either because the believers were not aware of them, or because they did not find them applicable. Certainly, the American Baha’is had no access to these texts and had to rely on the understandings of the Persian teachers who were sent by ‘Abdu’l-Baha to guide them.

Names and Terminology
In any case, it was the goal of Mirza Asadu’llah to establish a House of Justice among the believers in Chicago, as he indicated to the Baha’is that ‘Abdu’l-Baha had instructed him to do. He had been at the centre of the organization of the first House of Justice in Tehran, and he assumed a similar role in Chicago. At his direction, the Baha’is in Chicago elected nine men by ballot to a new institution. Those elected were: George Lesch, Charles H. Greenleaf, John A. Guilford, Dr. Rufus H. Bartlett, Thornton Chase, Charles Hessler, Arthur S. Agnew, Byron S. Lane and Henry L. Goodall. [28]

At its first meeting, the House of Justice decided to raise the number of its members to twelve. The body appointed three additional Baha’i men to serve. The minutes of the meeting read:
Motion made and seconded that Messrs. Ioas, Pursels and Doney be selected as add’n [additional] members of this Board of Council. Said motion approved by Board. Secretary instructed to notify said members. [29]

This action was taken, no doubt, in accordance with the statement of Baha’u’llah in the Kitab-i Aqdas that the minimum number of members for a House of Justice is nine, “and should it exceed this number it does not matter.” [30]

It is instructive to note that, in its first minutes, the secretary of the House of Justice refers to it as a “Board of Council.” This illustrates the fluidity of terminology that was used for Baha’i meetings and institutions at the time.

Standard terms for the Baha’i institutions did not become fixed and universal until well after the passing of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Today, the elected local and national Baha’i institutions are known as “Spiritual Assemblies,” while the term “House of Justice” is reserved exclusively for the supreme, international institution. In the early years of this century, however, though these same terms were in use among the Baha’is, they were not used in the same ways. ‘Abdu’l-Baha himself confirmed the legitimacy of the election of the first Chicago House of Justice. A Tablet, probably received in September 1901, is addressed from ‘Abdu’l-Baha “To the members of the House of Justice, the servants of the Covenant, the faithful worshippers of the Holy Threshold of the Beauty of El-Abha.”

Two such Tablets addressed to the House of Justice of Chicago are translated in the compilation
Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas. [31]

Shoghi Effendi, writing much later in 1929, has discussed the significance of these Tablets. He says:
That the Spiritual Assemblies of today will be replaced in time by Houses of Justice, and are to all intents and purposes identical and not separate bodies, is abundantly confirmed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself. He has in fact in a Tablet addressed to the members of the first Chicago Spiritual Assembly, the first elected Baha’i body instituted in the United States, referred to them as members of the “House of Justice” for that city, and has thus with His own pen established beyond any doubt the identity of the present Baha’i Spiritual Assemblies with the House of Justice referred to by Baha’u’llah. For reasons which are not difficult to discover, it has been found advisable to bestow upon the elected representatives of Baha’i communities throughout the world the temporary appellation of Spiritual Assemblies, a term which, as the position and aims of the Baha’i Faith are better understood and more fully recognised, will gradually be superseded by the permanent and more appropriate designation of House of Justice. [32]

This “temporary appellation” was assumed at the instruction of ‘Abdu’l-Baha about a year after the election of the Chicago House of Justice. The minutes of the House of Justice for May 10, 1902, read:
Mr/ Greenleaf stated that he was instructed by Mirza Assad Ullah to inform this Body that here after and until otherwise informed it shall be known as the “House of Spirituality,” in accordance with a Tablet recently received from our Master.
Motion made and seconded that the command of Master changing name of this Body as transmitted by Mirza Assad Ullah be entered upon our records.
Approved by House.
Motion made and seconded that a copy (translation) of that portion of tablet setting forth the change as above mentioned be procured and placed on file.
Approved by House.
[33]

Extracts from this Tablet were indeed translated for the House of Justice, now the House of Spirituality. The heading to the translation indicates that the Tablet was received in Chicago by Mirza Assadu’llah on May 3, 1902. One extract reads:
The House of Justice of Chicago should be called “the House of Spirituality” (or the Spiritual House).
In short, no one must hurt the weak ones, there, but must treat them in kindness. Because now is the cycle of kindness and forgiveness to all people.
[34]

In what is apparently a second Tablet on the subject, ‘Abdu’l-Baha explained the reasons for the change. This Tablet was, some time later, translated and published:
The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs. Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection with material matters, and that its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs. This was also instructed (performed) in all Persia. [35]

At the same time, and in the original Tablet received on May 3, ‘Abdu’l-Baha had instructed that the name of the Women’s Assembly of Teaching be changed to the “Spiritual Assembly.” He instructed that “Spiritual Assemblies” should be organized in every place.
However, although the change of name for the House of Justice was effected immediately, the instruction to change the name of the women’s institution was ignored. This is probably because the translation of this command into English was so poor as to render it incomprehensible. [36]

And so we read the following in the minutes of the House of Spirituality three years later (July 29, 1905):

Mr. Windust read portions of the Tablet received from the Master in May, 1902 authorizing change of name of this body from “House of Justice” to “House of Spirituality”; as it also stated in said Tablet that the name of the Women’s “Assembly of Teaching” be changed to “Spiritual Assembly.” It was decided that this matter be spoken of at some future joint meeting [with the women’s group], as it had evidently been overlooked. [37]

As we have seen in the Tablets quoted above, in the first year after the election of the Chicago House of Justice, ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself used various terms to refer to that body. (Of course, we have quoted His Tablets in translation – the translations available to the Baha’is at the time.) These Tablets reflect the use of at least three different designations during this period: House of Justice (bayt al-‘adl) in the earliest Tablets, House of Spirituality (probably, bayt-i rawhani) in one Tablet, and Spiritual Gathering (mahfil-i rawhani) in another.

This last term, mahfil-i rawhani, can also be translated as “Spiritual Assembly.” However, it was usually translated as “House of Spirituality” in the publications and translations made at this time, even though this translation was in error. The Chicago body came to be known as the House of Spirituality from 1902, and so the translators rendered ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s references to it in these words, even if the original Persian did not warrant such a designation. This was because the term “Spiritual Assembly” had no fixed meaning in the early community and could refer to a number of different Baha’i meetings.
‘Abdu’l-Baha had asked, for example, that the term be used for the Ladies’ Auxiliary. It was also used by the Baha’is of this time to refer to any Baha’i community as a whole, some weekly teaching meetings, any consultative body, or any gathering of believers.

Terms used to designate the local administrative body were also fluid in ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s writings. In addition to the three designations above, the following additional names can be found: mahfil-i shur (Assembly of Consultation), mahfil-i shur rawhani (Spiritual Assembly of Consultation), bayt al-‘adl rawhani (Spiritual House of Justice), anjuman (Council), anjuman-i adl (Council of Justice), and marakiz-i ‘adl (Centres of Justice). [38]

The Women’s Struggle
The election of an all-male House of Justice in Chicago was a development to which some of the women in the Baha’i community were never reconciled. It is Corinne True in particular who stands out in the struggle to overturn the exclusion of women from that body. After the election, she immediately helped to organize the Women’s Assembly of Teaching which worked side by side with the House – and not always harmoniously – for over a decade. Beyond this, she appealed directly to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, asking that women be elected to the House of Justice.

Mrs. True’s letter, which has recently come to light, indicates clearly that the change to an all-male body was the cause of some dispute. She writes to ‘Abdu’l-Baha:
There has existed a difference of opinion in our Assembly [that is, the Chicago community] as to how it should be governed. Every believer desires to carry out the Commands of the Blessed Perfection [Baha’u’llah] but we want to know from our Lord himself [that is, ‘Abdu’l-Baha] what these Commands are, as they are written in Arabic and we do not know Arabic. Will Our Lord write me direct from Acca and not have it go through any Interpretor [sic] in America and thus grant me the Authority to say the Master says thus & so, for he has written it to me…
Many in our Assembly feel that the Governing Board in Chicago should be a mixed Board of both men & women. Woman in America stands so conspicuously for all that is highest & best in every department and for that reason it is contended the affairs should be in the hands of both sexes.
[39]

She was, however, disappointed when the Master would not support her point of view. He confirmed the practice of electing only males to the Baha’i governing board of Chicago, admonishing her to be patient. She appears to have received her reply from ‘Abdu’l-Baha in June of 1902, but refrained from sharing this Tablet with the Chicago House until the fall of that year.

The Tablet is a famous one and reads in part (in modern translation):
Know thou, O handmaid, that in the sight of Baha, women are accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind in His own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men and women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them. Whosoever draweth nearer to God, that one is the most favoured, whether man or woman. How many a handmaid, ardent and devoted, hath, within the sheltering shade of Baha, proved superior to the men, and surpassed the famous of the earth.
The House of Justice, however, according to the explicit text of the Law of God, is confined to men; this for a wisdom of the Lord God’s, which will ere long be made manifest as clearly as the sun at high noon.
As to you, O ye other handmaids who are enamoured of the heavenly fragrances, arrange ye holy gatherings, and found ye Spiritual Assemblies, for these are the basis for spreading the sweet savours of God, exalting His Word, uplifting the lamp of His grace, promulgating His religion and promoting His Teachings, and what bounty is there greater than this?
[40]

Since ‘Abdu’l-Baha had confirmed that women should be excluded from the Chicago House of Justice (later, House of Spirituality), this practice continued for some time, in Chicago and elsewhere. We might assume that the belief that women were to be permanently excluded from local Baha’i executive bodies was widespread, at least amongst the men. Women were to be involved in forming women’s groups, which ‘Abdu’l-Baha had named “Spiritual Assemblies” in one Tablet.

That did not end the issue, of course. It appears that American Baha’i women continued to discuss the possibility of membership on governing boards, with Corinne True being prominent among them. In 1909, Mrs. True received a Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Baha in response to her insistent questioning. It reads, in part:
According to the ordinances of the Faith of God, women are the equals of men in all rights save only that of membership on the Universal House of Justice [bayt al-‘adl ‘umumi], for, as hath been stated in the text of the Book, both the head and the members of the House of Justice are men. However, in all other bodies, such as the Temple Construction Committee, the Teaching Committee, the Spiritual Assembly, and in charitable and scientific associations, women share equally in all rights with men. [41]

This new Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Baha to Corinne True appears to have opened up a nationwide controversy over the rights of women to serve on Baha’i institutions. The use of the term “Universal House of Justice” in this Tablet caused some confusion. Corinne True and others assumed that ‘Abdu’l-Baha intended by this Tablet that women were now to be admitted to membership on local Baha’i bodies, and more particularly to membership on the Chicago House of Spirituality.

Thornton Chase related the controversy which erupted in Chicago in a letter written a few months later (January 19, 1910):
Several years ago, soon after the forming of the “House of Justice” (name afterward changed by Abdul-Baha to House of Spirituality on account of political reasons – as stated by Him – and because also of certain jealousies) Mrs. True wrote to Abdul-Baha and asked if women should not be members of that House. He replied distinctly, that the House should be composed of men only, and told her that there was a wisdom in this. It was a difficult command for her to accept, and ever since (confidentially) there has been in that quarter and in those influenced by her a feeling of antagonism to the House of Spirituality, which has manifested itself in various forms …
… Mrs True received a Tablet, in which it was stated (in reply to her solicitation) that it was right for women to be members of all “Spiritual Gatherings” except the “Universal House of Justice”, and she at once construed this to mean, that women were to be members of the House of Spirituality and the Council Boards, because in some of the Tablets for the House, it had been addressed as the “Spiritual Assembly” or “Spiritual Gathering”. But the House of Spirituality could not so interpret the Master’s meaning…
[42]

The difference of opinion was deep and serious. It took place within a wider context of gender tensions within the American Baha’i community at the time. The Chicago House of Spirituality consulted on the new Tablet to Corinne True at its meetings on August 31, 1909, and September 7, 1909. While it seemed clear to them that the Tablet did not admit women to membership on the House of Spirituality, they decided to write to ‘Abdu’l-Baha for a clarification of His meaning. [43]

It appears that no record of a reply to the House on this point has survived. But, in the event, the practice of excluding women from membership did not change. The men of Chicago assumed that ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s reference to the “Universal House of Justice” intended the local Chicago institution. This is a reasonable assumption, given the lack of fixed terminology at the time.
The word ‘umumi, with which ‘Abdu’l-Baha qualified His reference to the House of Justice in Arabic, means public, general, or universal. Since it was known that Corinne True had asked about women’s service on the Chicago House – which was understood to be a House of Justice, even if designated a House of Spirituality for various reasons – His reply seemed to indicate that only men could serve on the general (or universal) body, while women could serve on all subordinate bodies, such as the Assembly of Teaching, the Philanthropic Association, and so forth. And this is the interpretation of the Tablet that would stand for some years to come.

In May of 1910, Thornton Chase wrote to a believer about this question, which was still being debated:
As to women being members of the House, there is no question at all. ‘Abdul-Baha’s reply to Mrs True years ago, settled that, viz, that the members of the House should be men, and that the time would come when she would see the wisdom of that. This was in direct answer to her question to Him as to this matter. He has never changed that command, and He cannot, because it is the command of Baha’o’llah also, as applied to such bodies of business controllers.
But, in a Tablet to me, ‘Abdu’l-Baha said “The House of Spirituality must encourage the women as much as possible”. There is the whole procedure. “Encourage the women as much as possible”. That is what He does: that is what we should do. Not to be members of the H. of S., but to all good works in the Cause, which they can possibly accomplish. It seems to me that the matter of membership in H. of S. should be simply ignored, not talked about, but if it obtrudes itself too strongly, just get out that Tablet to Mrs. True and the one to me (just mentioned) and offer them as the full and sufficient answer.
[44]

Chase’s views are undoubtedly representative of the understandings of the majority of Baha’is at the time. It was the common understanding that the Chicago House of Spirituality was properly composed of men only, and that ultimately all local Baha’i boards should be similarly composed. This was a position which was repeatedly sustained by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, but which was never fully accepted by some Baha’i women.

In Kenosha, which had had an all-male “Board of Consultation” for some years, the issue of women’s service on the Board became a matter of dispute in 1910, as a result of Corinne True’s 1909 “Universal House of Justice” Tablet. On July 4, 1910, the Kenosha Board wrote to the House of Spirituality in Chicago asking if they had any Tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Baha which instructed that women should be elected to local institutions. They explained that two of the Baha’i ladies in their community had insisted that such Tablets existed. [45]

The reply from the House of Spirituality, dated July 23, 1910, is very instructive. [46] The House was able to find three Tablets from ‘Abdu’l-Baha which had bearing on the subject. One was the 1909 Tablet to Corinne True which had opened the controversy. Two others had been received from ‘Abdu’l-Baha in 1910, in reply to more inquiries.

In a Tablet to Louise Waite (April 20, 1910), ‘Abdu’l-Baha had instructed:
The Spiritual Assemblies which are organized for the sake of teaching the Truth, whether assemblies for men, assemblies for women or mixed assemblies, are all accepted and are conducive to the spreading of the Fragrances of God. This is essential. [47]

‘Abdu’l-Baha goes on to state that the time had not come for the establishment of the House of Justice, and he exhorts the men and the women to produce harmony and conduct their affairs in unity.[48]

In another Tablet directed to the Baha’is of Cincinnati, where the question of women’s participation in local organization had also become an issue, ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote something similar:
It is impossible to organize the House of Justice in these days; it will be formed after the establishment of the Cause of God. Now the Spiritual Assemblies are organized in most of the cities, you must also organize a Spiritual Assembly in Cincinnati. It is permissible to elect the members of the Spiritual Assembly from among the men and women; nay, rather, it is better, so that perfect union may result. [49]

The House of Spirituality concluded from these Tablets that:
…in organizing Spiritual Assemblies of Consultation now, it is deemed advisable by Abdul-Baha to have them composed of both men and women. The wisdom of this will become evident in due time, no doubt. [50]

By this time, Baha’is in different parts of the United States had established a variety of boards and committees as a means of local organization. Women had served on the Washington, D.C., “Working Committee” since its formation in 1907. They had been a part of the Boston “Executive Committee” from its beginning in 1908. Women also acted as officers of communities in places where Baha’is had elected no corporate body. But these were regarded, for the most part, as temporary, ad-hoc organizations not official Baha’i institutions, which were thought to be properly all male.

‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablets recognized all of these local bodies as “Spiritual Assemblies” (or Spiritual Gatherings, mahfil-i rawhani) and by 1910, He was urging that these Assemblies consist of both men and women. The House of Spirituality in Chicago was obviously puzzled by this command, though it expressed confidence that the wisdom of mixed Assemblies would “become evident in due time.”
However, since it knew that the Kenosha Board of Consultation had been established as an all-male body in accordance with earlier instructions from ‘Abdu’l-Baha, the House of Spirituality suggested that the Kenosha Baha’is might wish to take a vote to determine whether a majority of believers would be in favour of a change. [51]

Rather than do this, however, the Kenosha Board of Consultation submitted the question to ‘Abdu’l-Baha. The “supplication” (as they termed it) was signed by all of the men of the Board. It asked if the Board should be dissolved, to be reelected with women as members. The Board members pledged to the Master that if it was His wish they would dissolve, but they stated that their intentions had been pure at the founding of the Board and that it had been established in accordance with a Tablet that had been revealed for the House of Spirituality some years before. [52]

‘Abdu’l-Baha, however, would not support the idea of dissolving the all-male Board.
His reply, received March 4, 1911, explains:
Now Spiritual Assemblies must be organized and that is for teaching the Cause of God. In that city you have a spiritual Assembly of men and you can establish a spiritual Assembly for women. Both Assemblies must be engaged in diffusing the fragrances of God and be occupied with the service of the Kingdom. The above is the best solution for this problem … [53]

As in other Tablets, He stated that conditions for the establishment of the House of Justice did not yet exist, and He urged unity between the men and women of the Baha’i community. And so, through 1911, the status quo that had been established by Mirza Assadu’llah in Chicago in 1901, with the election of the first American House of Justice, held firm.

All-male institutions continued to function in the most important Baha’i communities. These were supplemented by parallel women’s groups. A variety of committees and boards had been established in smaller Baha’i communities that included women as members, but these were regarded by most Baha’is as only informal groups. While ‘Abdu’l-Baha was urging that new “Spiritual Assemblies” include both men and women, He would not sanction the reorganization of the longer-established male bodies. Baha’i women in various parts of the country continued to discuss the need for change.

The Change Comes
It was not until 1912, during the visit of ‘Abdu’l-Baha to America, that a decisive change was finally made. While ‘Abdu’l-Baha was in New York, He sent word to the Baha’is of Chicago that the House of Spirituality should be reorganized and a new election held. He chose Howard MacNutt, a prominent Baha’i from Brooklyn, to travel to Chicago as His personal representative. MacNutt was instructed to hold a new election for a “Spiritual Meeting” (probably mahfil-i rawhani) of the Baha’is of Chicago. For the first time, women were eligible for election to this body.

MacNutt arrived in Chicago on August 8, 1912. At ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s instructions, a feast was held on August 10, at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Lesch, where the entire Chicago Baha’i community was invited to be the guests of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. MacNutt delivered to the community ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s message of unity and love. The election was held the following day on August 11.
The Baha’i magazine, Star of the West, carried this account of that historic election:
On Sunday evening, the 11th, the Chicago Assembly [meaning here, the whole Baha’i community] selected a “Spiritual Meeting” of nine, composed of men and women, whose service – according to the wish of Abdul-Baha – is, first, to promulgate the teachings of the Revelation, and, second, to attend to other matters necessary to the welfare of the assembly. Mr. MacNutt was present and gave an inspiring address. [54]

A long struggle had ended.

Baha’i Institutions in the East
From the time of the dissolution of the Chicago House of Spirituality and its reelection, service on local Baha’i institutions has always remained open to women in America. ‘Abdu’l-Baha had made it perfectly clear that the restrictions placed on women in this regard were intended to be only temporary ones. From that point forward, women were fully integrated into the emerging Baha’i Administration erected in the West.

The same was not true in the East, however. In Iran and in the rest of the Muslim world, social conditions made it impossible for the restriction on women’s participation on local institutions to be lifted for some time. Local and National Spiritual Assemblies in Iran were limited to male membership during the entire period of the ministry of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and for most of the ministry of Shoghi Effendi. Again, the principle of gradualism was at play.

Of course, there were Baha’i women in Iran, as well in the United States, who campaigned for a greater role for women in the Baha’i community. Their concerns were not only with participation on local Houses of Justice, but also with the elimination of other social restrictions, such as the use of the veil in public. In a Tablet to one such woman activist, ‘Abdu’l-Baha urged restraint and recommended a gradual approach:
The establishment of a women’s assemblage (mahfil) for the promotion of knowledge is entirely acceptable, but discussions must be confined to educational matters. It should be done in such a way that differences will, day by day, be entirely wiped out, not that, God forbid, it will end in argumentation between man and women. As in the question of the veil, nothing should be done contrary to wisdom. …
Now the world of women should be a spiritual world, not a political one, so that it will be radiant. The women of other nations are all immersed in political matters. Of what benefit is this, and what fruit doth it yield? To the extent that ye can, ye should busy yourself with spiritual matters which will be conducive to the exaltation of the Word of God and of the diffusion of His fragrances. Your demeanour should lead to harmony amongst all and to coalescence and the good-pleasure of all…
I am endeavouring, with Baha’u’llah’s confirmations and assistance, so to improve the world of the handmaidens [that is, the world of women] that all will be astonished. This progress is intended to be in spirituality, in virtues, in human perfections and in divine knowledge. In America, the cradle of women’s liberation, women are still debarred from political institutions because they squabble. (Also, the Blessed Beauty has said, “O ye Men [rijal] of the House of Justice.”) Ye need to be calm and composed, so that the work will proceed with wisdom, otherwise there will be such chaos that ye will leave everything and run away. “This newly born babe is traversing in one night the path that needeth a hundred years to tread.” In brief, ye should now engage in matters of pure spirituality and not contend with men. ‘Abdu’l-Baha will tactfully take appropriate steps. Be assured. In the end thou wilt thyself exclaim, “This was indeed supreme wisdom!”
[55]

Baha’i women were not admitted to service on the institutions of the Faith in Iran until 1954. But this restriction was understood to be temporary, to be removed as soon as circumstances would permit. As Iranian society allowed a greater role for women in general, and as Baha’i women became more educated and more prepared for administrative service, this restriction was lifted. The Guardian eventually made women’s participation on Baha’i institutions in the East one of the goals of the Ten Year World Crusade (1953-1963). His hopes were rewarded by the signal distinction which some Baha’i women have achieved as administrators on local Assemblies and on the National Assembly of Iran.

The International House of Justice
The only remaining body within the Baha’i Faith whose membership continues to be limited to men is its supreme institution, the Universal House of Justice. First established in 1963, the Universal House of Justice is elected by the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies of the world. Naturally, the electors include many women. But the members of the House of Justice itself, from its inception, have all been male.

Shoghi Effendi anticipated that the Universal House of Justice would be established as an all-male body, even though he passed away before he could see this implemented. He did not comment generally on the subject, and he does not seem to have devoted a great deal of time to the issue. But in answer to questions from individual Baha’is, some letters were written on the Guardian’s behalf by his secretaries which comment on the composition of the yet-to-be-formed House of Justice. For example, his secretary writes:
As regards your question concerning the membership of the Universal House of Justice, there is a Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Baha in which He definitely states that the membership of the Universal House of Justice is confined to men, and that the wisdom of it will be fully revealed and appreciated in the future. In the local, as well as national Houses of Justice, however, women have the full right of membership. It is, however, only to the International House that they cannot be elected. [56]

And in another letter:
As regards the membership of the International House of Justice, ‘Abdu’l-Baha states in a Tablet that it is confined to men, and that the wisdom of it will be revealed as manifest as the sun in the future. [57]

Again:
Regarding your question, the Master said the wisdom of having no women on the International House of Justice, would become manifest in the future. We have no indication other than this… [58]

Again:
People must just accept the fact that women are not eligible to the International House of Justice. As the Master says the wisdom of this will be known in the future, we can only accept, believing it is right… [59]

The remarkable similarity of these letters to individual believers should be noted. In each case, the Guardian directed his secretary to refer to the Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Baha to Corinne True which was written in reply to her petition that women be elected to the Chicago House of Justice. This Tablet explains that the reason for the exclusion of women will become manifest in the future.

Subsequent events demonstrated that ‘Abdu’l-Baha had intended that this exclusion be only temporary – an exclusion that would be followed by the full participation of women on this body.

The exclusion of women from the Universal House of Justice today is observed by the Baha’i community primarily in obedience to these letters of the Guardian. Most Baha’is assume that this exclusion was intended to be a permanent one. However, since this instruction of the Guardian is tied so closely to the meaning of the one Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Baha which promises that the wisdom of the exclusion of women will become manifest in the future, and since it is known that the meaning of the Tablet was that women should be excluded only temporarily from the Chicago House, the assumption that women will be permanently excluded from the current Universal House of Justice may be a faulty one. A temporary exclusion may be intended.

The answer to this question, as with all other questions in the Baha’i community, will have to be worked out over time. The elements of dialogue, struggle, persistence and anguish which are so evident in the history of the gradual participation of women on local Baha’i administrative bodies will, no doubt, all attend the working out of that answer in the future. These elements are all present today.

A Tablet of Assurance
‘Abdu’l-Baha repeatedly assured Baha’i women in His writings that the women of the future would achieve full and complete equality with men. In one of these Tablets He refers to the composition of the House of Justice. The Tablet is dated August 28, 1913, and it appears to have been written to a Baha’i woman in the East. In it, ‘Abdu’l-Baha repeats His promise:

In this Revelation of Baha’u’llah, the women go neck and neck with the men. In no movement will they be left behind. Their rights with men are equal in degree. They will enter all the administrative branches of politics. They will attain in all such a degree as will be considered the very highest station of the world of humanity and will take part in all affairs.

Rest ye assured. Do ye not look upon the present conditions; in the not far distant future the world of women will become all-refulgent and all-glorious, For his Holiness Baha’u’llah hath willed it so! At the time of the elections the right to vote is the inalienable right of women, and the entrance of women into all human departments is an irrefutable and incontravertible question. No soul can retard or prevent it…

As regards the constitution of the House of Justice, Baha’u’llah addresses the men. He says: “O ye men of the House of Justice!” But when its members are to be elected, the right which belongs to women, so far as their voting and their voice is concerned, is indisputable. When the women attain to the ultimate degree of progress, then, according to the exigency of the time and place and their great capacity, they shall obtain extraordinary privileges. Be ye confident on these accounts. His Holiness Baha’u’llah has greatly strengthened the cause of women, and the rights and privileges of women is one of the greatest principles of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. Rest ye assured! [60] (Final emphasis added.)


Notes

1. Nabil-i A’zam, The Dawn-Breakers, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1932, pp 80-81, 270-71.

2. See, for example, Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1969, pp 39-42 and 57-58; Baha’i Administration, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1928, pp 25-26.


3. The Universal House of Justice, A Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book of Baha’u’llah, Haifa: Baha’i World Centre, 1973, p 5.


4. Ibid., pp 3-7.


5. ‘Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1922-25 (1982), pp 136-37.


6. Ibid., pp 136-37.


7. ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1912, p 161.


8. Promulgation, p 174.


9. Ibid., p 375.


10. Synopsis, p 13.


11. Ibid., p 16.


12. Ibid., p 57.


13. Ibid., pp 5-6.


14. All information in this section concerning the first House of Justice of Tehran is based on Ruhu’llah Mihrabkhani, Mahafil-i shur dar ‘ahd-i Jamal-i Aqdas-i Abha, (Assemblies of consultation at the time of Baha’u’llah) in Payam-i Baha’i, nos. 28 and 29, pp 9-11 and pp 8-9 respectively.


15. Minutes of the North Hudson, N.J., Board of Counsel, National Baha’i Archives, Wilmette, Ill.


16. Chase to Blake, 21/3/00, Chase Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


17. Regulations relating to the Chicago Board of Council (Abdel Karim Effendi), Albert Windust Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


18. Kenosha Evening News, 29/6//00, p 1.


19. House of Justice in Chicago to House of Justice in New York 23/5/01, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


20. Fannie Lesch, “Dr. C. I. Thatcher, Chicago, Illinois”, (an obituary), Albert Windust Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


21. Minutes of the House of Justice (Chicago), 26/1/02 and 28/6/01. House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


22. Marzieh Gail and Fadil-i Mazandarani (trans.), typescript translation of the Kitab-i Aqdas.


23. Ibid.


24. Quoted in Ahmad Yazdani, Mabadiy-i Ruhani, Tehran: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 104 Badi’, p 109.


25. Ibid


26. Women: Extracts from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice, comp. by The Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, Thornhill, Ont.: Baha’i Canada Publications, 1986, #7, p 3.


27. Quoted in Ahmad Yazdani, Maqam va Huquq-i Zan dar Diyanat-i Baha’i, vol. 1, Tehran: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 107 Badi’.


28. Minutes of the House of Spirituality, 24/5/01, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


29. Ibid., 20/5/01.


30. Synopsis, p 13.


31. Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas, Chicago: Baha’i Publishing Society, 1909, vol 1, p 3.


32. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha’u’llah, Wilmette, Ill.: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1938, p 6.


33. Minutes of 10/5/02, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


34. Extract from the Tablet of the Master, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, to Mirza AssadUllah, received in Chicago on the 3rd of May, 1902. House of Spirituality Papers. National Baha’i Archives.


35. Tablets of Abdul Baha Abbas, p 6.


36. The translation reads “We named the assemblies of teaching in Chicago the Spiritual Assemblies; you should organize spiritual assemblies in every place”; ( extract from the Tablet from the Master, se note 35 above).


37. Minutes, 29/7/05, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


38. See various published Tablets and public talks of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, including: Kitab-i baday ‘u’l-athar, Bombay, 1921, vol.1, pp 65, 119, 120, 251; and


39. True to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, 25/2/02, Document 11137, International Baha’i Archives, Haifa, Israel.


40. Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Haifa: Baha’i World Centre, 1978, pp 79-80.


41. ‘Abdu’l-Baha to Corinne True, 24/7/09, microfilm, National Baha’i Archives. [JustaBahai addition:] The original translation by Ameen Fareed was made on July
29, 1909. There is a later translation of this tablet in The Baha’i Faith in America, Volume
Two, by Rob Stockman, page 323 made by the Baha’i World Centre for the book.


42. Chase to Remey, 19/1/10, Chase Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


43. Minutes, 31/8/09 and 7/9/09, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


44. Chase to Scheffler, 10/5/10, Chase papers, National Baha’i Archives.


45. Bahai Assembly of Kenosha to House of Spirituality, 4/7/10, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


46. House of Spirituality (Albert R. Windust, LIbrarian) to Board of Consultation, Kenosha, Wis., 23/7/10, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


47. Ibid.


48. Ibid.


49. Ibid.


50. Ibid.


51. Ibid.


52. Ibid. Kenosha Assembly to Albert Windust, 16/5/11, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


53. Ibid. ‘Abdu’l-Baha to the members of the Spiritual Assembly and Mr. Bernard M. Jacobsen, Kenosha, Wis., 4/5/11, House of Spirituality Papers, National Baha’i Archives.


54. Ibid. Star of the West, vol. 3, no. 10 (August 20, 1912) p 16. See also, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s instructions to Howard MacNutt, August 6, 1912, microfilm collection, National Baha’i Archives.


55. Ibid. Women, #11, pp 6-7.


56. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated July 28, 1936, Baha’i News, No. 105 (February 1937) p 2.


57. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated December 14, 1940, quoted in Dawn of a New Day (New Delhi: Baha’i Publishing Trust, n.d.) p 86.


58. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated September 17, 1952, Baha’i News, No 267 (May 1953) p 10.


59. Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated July 15, 1947, quoted in “Extracts on Membership of the Universal House of Justice” (an unpublished compilation of the Universal House of Justice).

60. Quoted in Paris Talks (London: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1912) pp 182-83.

Editor’s Note: This paper was written in Los Angeles in 1988; many of the authors were young academics and intellectuals associated with dialogue Magazine. It was presented at an Association for Baha’i Studies conference in New Zealand the same year and was immediately suppressed by the Baha’i authorities, and its authors were forbidden to circulate it in any way.

Mirrored (with the addition on footnote 41) from http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/docs/vol3/wmnuhj.htm

This is the 2007 letter:

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT
18 October 2007

Transmitted by email:
Mr. Romane Takkenberg
Australia

Dear Bahá’í Friend,
Your email message of 23 September 2007 has been received by the Universal House of Justice, which has asked us to respond as follows.

The document to which you refer, prepared by Mr. Anthony A. Lee and others, was circulated informally in the United States in the latter part of the 1980s and attracted some attention from those who studied it because of its statements about the possible future participation of women in the membership of the House of Justice.

TIt was then presented at a Bahá’í Studies conference in New Zealand, at which time it was brought to the attention of the House of Justice.

On 31 May 1988, the House of Justice wrote to the National Spiritual Assembly of New Zealand clarifying the issues raised in that paper. A copy of this letter is enclosed for your information.

The House of Justice is not aware of any attempt to restrict the circulation of the paper. However, it might reasonably be expected that it would not be accepted for publication in a reputable Bahá’í journal or as part of a compilation of papers in view of the clarification provided in the aforementioned letter of 31 May.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat




Some have argued that because Abdul-Baha changed the name (intended to be a temporary measure) in 1902 from House of Justice to a term without the word Justice in it, that this means that one day when the name Baha’u’llah gave them, House of Justice, is returned, then women will no longer be able to serve on them. However in 1912 when Abdul-Baha allowed women to be elected to the local House of Justice this meant in affect that he was interpreting Baha’ullah’s reference to ‘rijal’ as applying to women as well.

So where did the idea come from that women could not serve on the UHJ? The only source I can find for this are in the 4 letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi (1936, 1940, 1947, 1952) referred to in the paper above and all these letters seem to refer to Abdul-Baha’s 1902 Tablet because of their wording. My guess is, that the secretary was unaware that the context for Abdul-Baha’s 1902, 1909, and 1911 tablets were the all male membership of Local Spiritual Assemblies. The 1909 reference to ‘Universal’ seems to me to distnguish the administrative committee from the teaching and other committees women were members of referred to in the second part of the same tablet. The 1910 tablet addressed to the Bahais of Cincinnati encourages them to elect both men and women to a committee called the “Spiritual Assembly” where the context shows that this was not the ‘general local Assembly’, while a 1911 tablet informs the Bahais of Kenosha not to disband their all male “Board of Consultation”. Labels for the various local committees were fluid (explaining why the 1910 Cincinnati “Spiritual Assembly” was not the same as the ‘general’ or ‘universal’ administrative body) and that explains to me why Abdul-Baha used term ‘Universal’ to distinguish the various local committees from the main local administrative committee (known today as the Local Spiritual Assembly) which until 1912 could only have male members on them.


I have no idea if the UHj might ever decide that women will be allowed to be members but it seems as clear as the noon day sun to me that in 1912 Abdul-Baha either changed his interpretation of the word ‘rijal’ or saw that this was the time for implementing gender equality within the Bahai administration when he asked to have the Chicago Assembly disband its all male membership and then elect from the women and men in the community. And if Shoghi Effendi did not have the authority to dictate the membership of the UHJ, then surely any letters written on his behalf would have a lesser authority to do so:
“… the Guardian … He is debarred from laying down independently the constitution [of the Universal House of Justice] that must govern … and from exercising his influence in a manner that would encroach upon the liberty of those whose sacred right is to elect the body of his collaborators.” World Order of Baha’u’llah, p 150

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Do Indigenous Prophets Count?

March 27, 2018

Recently in response to the article, Recognizing and Respecting the Sacred Lakota Traditions by Christopher Buck + Kevin Locke on the BahaiTeachings blog a Baha’i objected to the idea that White Buffalo Calf Woman could be a Prophet of God for the Lakota in line with the Baha’i teaching that God has sent many prophets of God throughout time and to differing peoples.

One of the objections that this Baha’i made was that he said that there were only 9 existing religions and hence only 9 messengers of God were therefore possible. This Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi supports this: “The number nine which in itself is the number of perfection is considered by the Bahá’ís as sacred because it is symbolic of the perfection of the Bahá’í Revelation which constitutes the ninth in the line of existing religions, the latest and fullest Revelation which mankind has ever known. The eighth is the religion of the Báb, and the remaining seven are: Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the religion of the Sabeans. These religions are not the only true religions that have appeared in the world, but are the only ones still existing. There have always been divine Prophets and Messengers, to many of whom the Qur’án refers. But the only ones existing are those mentioned above.”
(From letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, July 28, 1936: Bahá’í News, No. 105, February 1937, p. 2, Lights of Guidance, p. 414)

We could argue that the secretary who penned this letter in 1936 didn’t know of the existence of the Lakota people or that the secretary thought that the Lakota didn’t have an existing belief system or we could argue that this letter was intended as advice to the addressee (see: “when he gives advice” (1944)). “(S)ometimes one statement is exactly the right for one type of mind and wrong thing another.” (see the letter below) Perhaps if we saw the question that was asked, the intention might be clearer.

There is a later letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which also states that there are only 9 religions and hence only 9 Prophets of God possible: “First, regarding the significance of the number nine; its importance as a symbol used so often in various connections by the believers lies in three facts: first, it symbolizes the nine great world religions of which we have any definite historical knowledge, including the Bábí and Bahá’í Revelations; second, it represents the number of perfection, being the highest single number; third, it is the numerical value of the word ‘Baha'”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, July 9, 1939, Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 414.)

And there is also a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which states the number nine refers to the numerical meaning of the word Baha “…In telling people of the 9 religions of the world, that is, existing religions, we should not give this as the reason the Temple has 9 sides. This may have been an idea of the architect, and a very pleasing idea, which can be mentioned in passing, but the Temple has 9 sides because of the association of 9 with perfection, unity and ‘Baha’.

“The Guardian feels that with intellectuals and students of religion the question of exactly which are the existing religions is controversial, and it would be better to avoid it. He does not want the friends to be rigid in these matters, but use their judgement and tact, sometimes one statement is exactly the right for one type of mind and wrong thing another.

“Strictly speaking the 5-pointed star is the symbol of our Faith, as used by the Báb and explained by Him. But the Guardian does not feel it is wise or necessary to complicate our explanations of the Temple by adding this.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, October 28, 1949, Lights of Guidance, p. 415)

I have pasted the 1949 letter in the same formatting as can be found in the 1983 book of compilations, Lights of Guidance. This letter is also in the book, Directives from the Guardian but there the dating of letters is not clear whereas in Lights of Guidance it is clear and so I would assume that the editor made the spacing for a reason – to show that the gaps were in the original letter or that the excerpts come from parts of a longer letter.

So what do I do as a Bahai? I go to the Bahai Scripture and see what is written there. I didn’t find any number for how many prophets of God there have been. Here is Baha’u’llah: “A divine Manifestation Who hath extolled and magnified the one true God, exalted be His glory, Who hath borne witness to His knowledge and confessed that His Essence is sanctified above all things and exalted beyond every comparison — such a Manifestation hath been called at various times a worshipper of the sun or a fire-worshipper. How numerous are those sublime Manifestations and Revealers of the Divine of Whose stations the people remain wholly unaware, of Whose grace they are utterly deprived, nay, God forbid, Whom they curse and revile!”
(Baha’u’llah, Tabernacle_of_Unity)

I found not only the word “numerous” but also the idea that all these messengers have equal importance.
“…all the Prophets and Messengers of God as one soul and one body, as one light and one spirit, in such wise that the first among them would be last and the last would be first. For they have all arisen to proclaim His Cause and have established the laws of divine wisdom. They are, one and all, the Manifestations of His Self, the Repositories of His might, the Treasuries of His Revelation, the Dawning-Places of His splendour and the Daysprings of His light. Through them are manifested the signs of sanctity in the realities of all things and the tokens of oneness in the essences of all beings. Through them are revealed the elements of glorification in the heavenly realities and the exponents of praise in the eternal essences. From them hath all creation proceeded and unto them shall return all that hath been mentioned. And since in their inmost Beings they are the same Luminaries and the self-same Mysteries, thou shouldst view their outward conditions in the same light, that thou mayest recognize them all as one Being, nay, find them united in their words, speech, and utterance.”
(Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 34-35)

So we have one letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which states “the question of exactly which are the existing religions is controversial, and it would be better to avoid it. … sometimes one statement is exactly the right for one type of mind and wrong thing another.” (October 28, 1949) and we have two other letters which state that there are only 9 existing religions.

Because these letters have a lesser authority, I am not thrown into confusion about which letter is correct. If the idea that there are only 9 religions is only expressed in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and nowhere else in Bahai Scripture, then that is not enough of an argument as far as I am concerned to make this a Bahai Teaching. A letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi cannot create a Bahai Teaching because Shoghi Effendi assigned a lesser authority to these letters than his own authority as official interpreter (See my blog Does a letter from a secretary create a Bahai Teaching?). Bahais can and do interpret Baha’u’llah’s words more or less inclusively. Personally I think interpreting what Baha’u’llah writes more inclusively makes more sense because this approach is endorsed by other Bahai Writings that stress unity in diversity as a teaching for the world and not just parts of the world.

If the Universal House of Justice were to state that Bahai communities were only allowed to accept 9 religions, then this would be policy they have the authority to make, and Bahai communities would have to obey this but the Universal House of Justice cannot tell us, individually, how to interpret the word “numerous” Baha’u’llah uses. The Universal House of Justice has the authority to make policy based on their own understanding of Baha’u’llah’s Texts as well as any other texts that are relevant to the policy they are making. If it were to be found, for example that there was no finite number stated by Baha’u’llah, then a later Universal House of Justice is free to make differing policy based on differing understanding or because this new policy is the best policy of the conditions of the times. This is all hypothetical because as far as I know there is no policy from the Universal House of Justice making any sort of statement on the number of world religions. There is a 1996 letter from the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice responding to a request to make a statement that Prophets of God appeared in the Americas: “The Bahá’í Teachings do not explicitly confirm, nor do they rule out, the possibility that Messengers of God have appeared in the Americas.”
(Excerpt from a Memorandum from the Research Department addressed to the Universal House of Justice dated 16 May 1996)

So if there is nothing in Bahai Scripture to state that there are a finite number of religions then the next thing would be to look and see how the Manifestations of God are spoken of, to see whether White Buffalo Calf Woman could possibly be counted as one of these “numerous … Revealers of the Divine”

“… consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship, to proclaim that which the Speaker on Sinai hath set forth and to observe fairness in all matters. They that are endued with sincerity and faithfulness should associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations. Blessed are such as hold fast to the cord of kindliness and tender mercy and are free from animosity and hatred.” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 35-36)

I found a number of texts that express “all religions” or all beliefs but none that limit where these prophets come from. However this Bahai made the argument that all prophets of God could only originate in countries “from the Orient,” which is based on unauthentic text attributed to Abdul-Baha and I will look at that in my next blog.

 

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Does this mean that one may not express critical thought?

March 19, 2018

Freedom of Speech cartoon found on a blog possibly by a Russian cartoonist. The initials are AZ.

Cartoon found on this blog,
possibly by a Russian cartoonist
by the name of Azim or AZ where I have
changed the texts.

Recently in a discussion a Baha’i wrote:
“We as Baha’is I believe should look at each quote and prescribe it to ourselves. This is one I take very much to heart”.
“To accept the Cause without the administration is like to accept the teachings without acknowledging the divine station of Bahá’u’lláh. To be a Bahá’í is to accept the Cause in its entirety. To take exception to one basic principle is to deny the authority and sovereignty of Bahá’u’lláh, and therefore is to deny the Cause. The administration is the social order of Bahá’u’lláh. Without it all the principles of the Cause will remain abortive. To take exception to this, therefore, is to take exception to the fabric that Bahá’u’lláh has prescribed; it is to disobey His law.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, May 30, 1930: Bahá’í News, No. 43, August 1930, p. 3)

This Baha’i was using this quotation to imply that “to exception to” meant that no one is allowed to disagree with any policy of the head of the Bahai Administration, The Universal House of Justice. I then looked for the context to this letter because I think Baha’is are free to express their personal opinions on the topic of equality for the LGBTQ community or same sex marriage. This was the context for the sharing of that quotation.

It is my view that one of the most basic of the Bahá’í principles is that each individual has the right and duty to seek out the truth which means the individual’s right to free expression, but I also believe that the context for how one expresses one’s views is just as important and sometimes silence might be better than causing pain or suffering. That is how I interpret Baha’u’llah’s text: “Say: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 143)

Sometimes silence is best and sometimes speaking up is best. So are there rules for Bahais in relation to freedom of speech?

Shoghi Effendi wrote:
“At the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. If certain instructions of the Master are today particularly emphasized and scrupulously adhered to, let us be sure that they are but provisional measures designed to guard and protect the Cause in its present state of infancy and growth until the day when this tender and precious plant shall have sufficiently grown to be able to withstand the unwisdom of its friends and the attacks of its enemies.” (Bahai Administration, p. 63)

The second sentence does not refer to limiting the freedom of expression of the individual. It refers to “prepublication literature review” which Abdul-Baha brought in as a temporary measure. This means that Bahais are not allowed to publish any book, paper or article without a committee approving the contents of this. However the UHJ has stated clearly that blogs or websites are free from this as long as the author makes it clear that what they write is just their own understanding.
“In general, at this stage in the development of the World Wide Web, the House of Justice feels that those friends desiring to establish personal homepages on the Internet as a means of promoting the Faith should not be discouraged from doing so. It is hoped that the friends will adopt etiquettes consistent with the principles of the Faith, including clearly indicating what materials constitute their own interpretations. While it is inevitable that some attempts will be found wanting, the House of Justice has not formulated guidelines or policies specifically addressed to Internet sites.” (The Universal House of Justice, 1997 Apr 24, Personal Web Pages Promoting the Faith Approved)

So what does “to take exception to one basic principle” refer to in that letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi? And how might it have been perceived by the readers in 1930?

I found that “to take exception to the fabric that Bahá’u’lláh has prescribed; it is to disobey His law” refers to rejecting the idea of a Bahai administration.

Some background
From 1914 onwards some Baha’is thought that the reference in Baha’u’llah’s Kitab-i-Aqdas to Houses of Justice was about a form of parliament and that the Baha’i community was not to have any form of administration. In fact the number of references to the idea that the “Bahai Movement is not an organization…” suggests that it was a common idea among various Bahais of the times (See a circa 1917 publication) as it was attributed to Abdul-Baha via a pilgrim’s note. See Sen McGlinn’s blog (“You can never organize the Bahai Cause”) where he shows more context for this.

The text is not authentically Abdul-Baha. Page 4 of the booklet, Some Vital Bahai Teachings by Charles Mason Remey, published circa 1917

NOTE: The text is not authentically Abdul-Baha. Page 4 of the booklet, Some Vital Bahai Teachings by Charles Mason Remey, published circa 1917. See the booklet here


Then in March 1922, in the magazine Star of the West there was a 5 page essay called ‘Baha’i Organization: Its basis in the revealed word,’ written by Louis G. Gregory, Agnes S. Parsons and Mariam Haney at the request of the National Spiritual Assembly to counter this pilgrim’s note.
To paraphrase from Sen McGlinn’s blog: This begins by pointing to a generalised distrust of all organization, as an infringement on liberty and then refers to the Bahai Writings that specify the establishment of Bahai Houses of Justice in every town, and cites briefly a tablet from Abdu’l-Baha on religious law and the House of Justice, (Sen has translated this tablet by Abdul-Baha here).Then it switches to a discussion of the International Court, a different institution, to be organized by the Governments of the world (p 324), before switching back to citing Abdu’l-Baha’s instructions to organize spiritual assemblies. Then it states, “It is known that some misapprehension exists as to the need of organization in the Cause. This has grown out of a widely circulated statement, attributed to Abdul baha, that the Bahai Cause could never be organized. The true statement was, as corrected by Abdul Baha, that the Bahai Cause can never be rigidly organized; it can never be confined to an organization. The context of the statement tells why, namely: “It is the Spirit of the Age, the essence of all the highest ideals of the century.”
At Haifa, Syria, in 1920, the following question was asked Abdul Baha by some American pilgrims:
“It is misleading, is it not, to say that the Bahai Cause cannot be organized?”
Abdul Baha replied: “How is it possible that there should be no organization?
Even in a household if there is not organization there will be hopeless confusion. Then what about the world? What is meant is that organization is not rigid! In ancient times it was rigid. In the Torah all the political affairs were rigidly fixed, but in this Cause they were not. In this Cause there is political freedom i.e., in each time the House of Justice is free to decide in accordance with what is deemed expedient. This is a brief explanation of the matter.” (Star of the West, Volume 13, no. 12, March, 1923, p. 325)

After the death of Abdu’l-Baha in 1921, Ruth White, an American Bahai who also challenged the authenticity of Abdul-Baha’s Will appointing Shoghi Effendi as the Guardian of the Bahai Faith, produced a pamphlet called, The “Bahai Organisation, the enemy of the Bahai Religion,” where on page 5 she wrote of a recollection from 9 years earlier, “when I visited Abdul Baha at Haifa, Palestine, in 1920. … one day when he very opportunely spoke of certain conditions existing in America among the Bahais, I mentioned to him that I had never belonged to the Bahai organization (Spiritual Assemblies). His face beamed with happiness as he replied:
Good, very good. The organization that the Bahais have among themselves has nothing to do with the teachings of Baha’ollah. The teachings of Baha’o’llah are universal and cannot be confined to a sect.
The same thought runs through all the writings of Baha’o’llah and of Abdul Baha. It is expressed in many different ways, ranging from the above, and the following unequivocal statement: “The Bahai Religion is not an organization. You can never organize the Bahai Cause,” to the less obvious way of saying the same thing. For instance, Abdul Baha says that it will be impossible to create any schism in the Bahai Religion. The Bahais have interpreted this as meaning that two Bahai organizations cannot be formed when, as a matter of fact, both Baha’o’llah and Abdul Baha show that no organization can be formed” (on h-net.org)

In February 1929, a month after Ruth White’s pamphlet was published, Shoghi Effendi wrote to the members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States and Canada stating:
“It should be remembered by every follower of the Cause that the system of Bahá’í administration is not an innovation imposed arbitrarily upon the Bahá’ís of the world since the Master’s passing, but derives its authority from the Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Bahá, is specifically prescribed in unnumbered Tablets, and rests in some of its essential features upon the explicit provisions of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. It thus unifies and correlates the principles separately laid down by Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu’l-Bahá, and is indissolubly bound with the essential verities of the Faith. To dissociate the administrative principles of the Cause from the purely spiritual and humanitarian teachings would be tantamount to a mutilation of the body of the Cause [emphasis added), a separation that can only result in the disintegration of its component parts, and the extinction of the Faith itself.” (World Order of Baha’u’llah by Shoghi Effendi)

So the similarity of the words in the 1930 letter by the secretary to the 1929 text above indicates that in context “one basic principle” in the 1930 letter refers to the existence of a Bahai Administration and not freedom of speech regarding policies of the day. Perhaps there is more context to this 1930 letter that one day someone else can provide.

I read the text “To take exception to this, therefore, is to take exception to the fabric that Bahá’u’lláh has prescribed; it is to disobey His law.” in the way Shoghi Effendi wrote “To dissociate the administrative principles of the Cause from the purely spiritual and humanitarian teachings would be tantamount to a mutilation of the body of the Cause …” Not that this means Bahais may only express their own interpretations of the Bahai Writings if these are in agreement with the policies of the Baha’i Administration.

It would be a different story if the Universal House of Justice stated that it was a Bahai law that Bahais were not allowed to express their own views, understandings or perspectives or if the Universal House of Justice announced that Bahais were not allowed to discuss the topic of homosexuality. They have not. So individual Bahais cannot then imply it is disobedience to “His law” if Bahais do interpret the Writings for themselves or express their own views or even discuss the topic of homosexuality. It isn’t a closed case nor a taboo subject.

A lesson I learnt from looking at Ruth White was that she was both the victim of her own misunderstanding and stuck with an idea of the Bahai community as static – as she first experienced and understood it during the lifetime of Abdul-Baha. The establishment of the House of Justice is clear in the Bahai writings and the development of an international tribunal is also clear. But a footnote in the 1908 English translation of Some Answered Questions asserted that these were the same thing. If the House of Justice was just another word for the supreme tribunal, which was to be elected by the nations and solve political questions, then you can see how she might think that there was no provision in the Writings for an administration of a Bahai community by Bahai institutions. Then there was the widely circulated pilgrim’s note saying “you cannot organize the Bahai movement…” So perhaps because Shoghi Effendi was working on the establishment of the Bahai Administration, something that she saw as false, made her assume that the Will and Testament was a fake – an idea she pursued in the face of all evidence. [See Sen’s 2009 blog, “Mitchell’s mistake”]

So as I see it we always need to be open to the idea that our own interpretation of the Bahai Teachings might be wrong and we need to remain open to change if evidence shows new information or to keep the Bahai Administration “in the forefront of all progressive movements.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 22)

That’s why, sometimes, I hammer on about only authentic Scripture, being what counts, not what a Bahai or even 99% of Bahais might say to me. Perhaps somewhere there is a text penned by Baha’u’llah that does restrict marriage to only be possible between a man and a woman? I will keep writing that it is my belief that there is nothing in Bahai Scripture that supports discrimination against lesbians or gays until someone shows me some evidence. Even if I should be wrong – on the topic of freedom of expression the Universal House of Justice – wrote:
“Because the Most Great Peace is the object of our longing, a primary effort of the Bahá’í community is to reduce the incidence of conflict and contention, which are categorically forbidden in the Most Holy Book. Does this mean that one may not express critical thought? Absolutely not. How can there be the candor called for in consultation if there is no critical thought? How is the individual to exercise his responsibilities to the Cause, if he is not allowed the freedom to express his views? Has Shoghi Effendi not stated that “at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views”?
(Addressed to the NSA of the USA, 29 Dec., 1988)

So while some Bahais might think that no Bahai is allowed to express any view, or write anything that is not in agreement with the policies of the Universal House of Justice, such as their current policy which does not allow gays or lesbians to marry in countries where this is legal, I think that the Universal House of Justice does allow individuals such as myself to express their views. I certainly do understand that raising this topic at a Bahai event might not be appropriate but a Bahai such as myself may express my views on my own blog where it is clear that my views are just my own.

Another Bahai wrote in that same discussion:
Abdul-Baha last will and testament: “To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion or express his particular conviction. All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error”

This isn’t the first time this selectively cut quotation has been presented to me. Without any further context it appears that Abdul-Baha is saying that our own opinion or expression is not allowed, however what Abdul-Baha was referring to at the end of the Will and Testament was to avoid the schisms and infighting after the death of Baha’u’llah. Abdul-Baha meant that we (Bahais) must accept Shoghi Effendi as Centre of the Cause.

“O ye the faithful loved ones of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá! It is incumbent upon you to take the greatest care of Shoghi Effendi, the twig that hath branched from and the fruit given forth by the two hallowed and Divine Lote-Trees, that no dust of despondency and sorrow may stain his radiant nature, that day by day he may wax greater in happiness, in joy and spirituality, and may grow to become even as a fruitful tree.
For he is, after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the guardian of the Cause of God, the Afnán, the Hands (pillars) of the Cause and the beloved of the Lord must obey him and turn unto him. He that obeyeth him not, hath not obeyed God; he that turneth away from him, hath turned away from God and he that denieth him, hath denied the True One. Beware lest anyone falsely interpret these words, and like unto them that have broken the Covenant after the Day of Ascension (of Bahá’u’lláh) advance a pretext, raise the standard of revolt, wax stubborn and open wide the door of false interpretation. To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion or express his particular convictions. All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error.”
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 25)

I elaborate on this in my 2015 blog “Is Criticism Allowed” here.

So back to the beginning, the above and the first quotation assert the importance of the authority of the Universal House but when you see the context of each, this authority doesn’t infringe on the duty of each of us to express our views, hopefully with wisdom and tact.

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

August 11, 2017

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

I have added the red parts.

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

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

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

Author’s name is removed

Summer 2007 | page 1 of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bahá’ís are expected to strive for understanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Does a letter from a secretary create a Bahai Teaching?

July 18, 2015

“Unity of doctrine is maintained by the existence of the authentic texts of Scripture and the voluminous interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, together with the absolute prohibition against anyone propounding “authoritative” or “inspired” interpretations or usurping the function of Guardian. Unity of administration is assured by the authority of the Universal House of Justice.” Universal House of Justice, to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Netherlands, March 9, 1965: Wellspring of Guidance, pp. 52-53

Imagine the very idea of adding more text and calling this a Bahai Teaching? Well when it comes to the topic of homosexuality, this is what some Bahais do. A man who calls himself Dr Johnson, who often comments on my blog, seems to also think that it is a “Bahai Teaching” that masturbation is a bad thing. And so…

I have published Dr Johnson’s comments (link to his comments) because there might be a few Bahais that share these views as to what is a Bahai Teaching. Most of these comments focus on adultery or cheating on one’s spouse, which has nothing to do with a committed same-sex marriage, but the point I wish to make is the he treats texts from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as if these are Bahai Teachings and goes so far as to put Shoghi Effendi’s name underneath these.

In the future I will not allow any future comment on my blog where you (Dr Johnson) claim that something is a Bahai Teaching unless you provide a clear quotation from Bahai Scripture (link to what is Bahai Scripture). Expressing your views of the Bahai Teachings as your own personal point of view is fine. You have repeatedly ignored my request to distinguish between the lesser authority of a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and what you call a Bahai Teaching and so I assume you are consciously doing this.

I am sure that you are aware of the following letter but here it is again: “I wish to call your attention to certain things in “Principles of Bahá’í Administration” which has just reached the Guardian; although the material is good, he feels that the complete lack of quotation marks is very misleading. His own words, the words of his various secretaries, even the Words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself, are all lumped together as one text.

This is not only not reverent in the case of Bahá’u’lláh’s Words, but misleading. Although the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions and these messages are authoritative, their words are in no sense the same as his, their style certainly not the same, and their authority less, for they use their own terms and not his exact words in conveying his messages.

He feels that in any future edition this fault should be remedied, any quotations from Bahá’u’lláh or the Master plainly attributed to them, and the words of the Guardian clearly differentiated from those of his secretaries.”

Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 260

There are more letters expressing a similar view (link) – that a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi does not share the same authority as anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself. And only the Guardian (Shoghi Effendi) was authorized by Abdul-Baha in his Will and Testament to make authorized interpretations of Bahai Scripture. Outside of this it is up to each of us to apply the Bahai Teachings as we think they should be applied and each of us is free to express our own interpretations as personal understandings. Added to this is the authority of the Universal House of Justice to make policy about the practice (social teachings) of the Bahai community. Their 2014 letter makes it clear that a same-sex married couple is not welcome to join the Bahai community let alone able to marry after they join the community. Although whether or not this policy is intended to override the Bahai teaching that the law of the land is to be respected and obeyed by Bahais is not clear to me. However this is Bahai policy not a Bahai Teaching. See my May blog (link) where I critique the first part of this letter by the Universal House of Justice.

So then I ask you and other Bahais who do likewise, why refer to these letters as if these are Bahai Teachings when we have plenty of scripture by Baha’u’llah as well the interpretations by Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi? It seems not only irreverent but actually wrong to place more emphasis on what is in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi than on what is in Bahai Scripture. And to the point, if there is a contradiction between what is expressed in a letter and what is penned by Baha’u’llah, Adbul-Baha or Shoghi Effendi, then as a Bahai, I choose the later because the principles of justice and equality are more important than anything else.

The Book Lights of Guidance is not a source for Bahai Scripture and if you cannot see this, read my 2014 blog + screenshot here. If you wish to quote from this book and call this a Bahai Teaching, then find the original source in Bahai Scripture.

Here is another blog of mine (link) showing as much of the original context for the 5 letters that mention homosexuality (out of thousands that do not) as I can. Where the letters are shown in full it is very clear to me that the intent of these letters was advice or current policy or to share information but certainly never ever to be confused with the status of Bahai Scripture or a Bahai Teaching.

I will take just one example from something you wrote, Dr Johnson, to show you how in my view it goes against the Teachings of Baha’u’llah to add in letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as a source for a Bahai Teaching.

You wrote: “When we realize that Bahá’u’lláh says adultery retards the progress of the soul in the after life … “ This text is a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and I critique this phrase in my September 2013 blog here because there is no source to be found to back up what the secretary wrote. I state that there is no source because if there was one it would be accessible and I am sure that I would have found it by now having access to texts in Persian or Arabic as well as English. The only way I would not have access is if there was a text at the World Centre where I do not have access. I do not think that this is likely since the only source to be found is in a letter penned by a secretary in English in 1949. In the comments underneath my September 2013 blog I refer to a text by Baha’u’llah that refers to punishments related to adultery and you made a comment there yourself lower down. So I assume you either forgot, ignored, or didn’t care that what the secretary wrote is not backed up by Bahai Scripture.

However Baha’u’llah did write “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) which brings me to my next point.

The Bahai Teachings are: equality for all, justice for all, the principle of the independent investigation of truth and so on. See my blog which lists the major Bahai teachings. One of the Bahai Teachings is the distinction between social teachings which change over time, and Bahai teachings which do not change. I would agree with you that many Bahais currently think that a same-sex marriage between two Bahais is not possible and this social teaching is reinforced by the current policy of the Universal House of Justice which has the authority to make such policy. However what Bahais think or do is not the same as what is a Bahai Teaching. Only Baha’u’llah, Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi can state what is a Bahai Teaching. No one else can add in new teachings.

Finally, do you really think it is a Bahai Teaching that masturbation is a bad thing? You do not state this clearly in your comments, so that is why I am asking. If you wish to follow what is written in letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi personally as if these words have the same authority as Bahai Scripture, all good, but on my blog, I will not allow any more of your comments if you continue to confuse the distinctions between what is a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and what is a Bahai Teaching.

I end with a quotation from the Universal House of Justice in relation to the book Lights of Guidance and note their emphasis on thinking for oneself and applying the Bahai Teachings as principles rather than taking the hellfire and damnation approach.

“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. The principles pertaining to these issues are available in the book “Lights of Guidance” and elsewhere. In studying these principles, it should be noted that in most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done. 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. In the Bahá’í Faith moderation, which is so strongly upheld by Bahá’u’lláh, is applied here also. Provision is made for supplementary legislation by the Universal House of Justice — legislation which it can itself abrogate and amend as conditions change. There is also a clear pattern already established in the Sacred Scriptures, in the interpretations made by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and in the decisions so far made by the Universal House of Justice, whereby an area of the application of the laws is intentionally left to the conscience of each individual believer.

This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity, and one aspect of this is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action in areas which are left open by the law of God.

It should also be noted that it is neither possible nor desirable for the Universal House of Justice to set forth a set of rules covering every situation. Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain this objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented towards service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.”
The Universal House of Justice, 1988 June 2005, `Detailed Legislation on Moral Issues´

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Society and the individual – a Bahai view

March 24, 2014

Recently I came across this Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi:
“The Bahá’í conception of social life is essentially based on the subordination of the individual will to that of society. It neither suppresses the individual nor does it exalt him to the point of making him an anti-social creature, a menace to society. As in everything, it follows the ‘golden mean’. The only way that society can function is for the minority to follow the will of the majority.”
Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 21 November, 1935. Printed in 1973 in Directives from the Guardian.

This made me sit up because it is the individual, not the collective, that is “created in the image of God,” (See Genesis 1:27 or Some Answered Questions, pp. 195-197) and because the protection and priority given to minorities is characteristic of the form of democracy intended for a Bahai society. And that the spiritual priority of the individual, over all the structures that are created by and consist of various individuals, underlies many other Bahai teachings. For example:

Independent search after truth: “the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself.”Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143 (click to view the source online)

No “original sin”: “Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth.”Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 189 (click to view the source online)

The law is a means to an end, not an end in itself: “The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilization, is human happiness; and human happiness consists only in drawing closer to the Threshold of Almighty God, and in securing the peace and well-being of every individual” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 60 (click to view the source online)

While the priority of the individual is a strong principle, we also have the principle of majority rule in decision-making, when consultation has failed to form a consensus and the group needs to make a decision:
“unquestionably accepted by the entire body of the believers, not necessarily because they represent the voice of truth or the will of Bahá’u’lláh, but for the supreme purpose of maintaining unity and harmony in the Community. Besides, the acceptance of majority vote is the only effective and practical way of settling deadlocks in elections. No other solution is indeed possible.” From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, July 10, 1939 (Published in Lights of Guidance in 1983)

“There is only one principle on which to conduct the work of an Assembly, and that is the supremacy of the will of the majority. The majority decisions must be courageously adopted and carried out by the Assembly, quite regardless of the opinionated adherence to their own views which any minority may cling to.” From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, November 20, 1941 (Published in Lights of Guidance, 1983)

But against this, there is the Bahai principle of positive discrimination:
“Since the Guardian’s instruction on this point is unequivocal where it is obvious that one of the persons involved represents a minority, that person should be accorded the priority without question. Where there is doubt further balloting will allow every voter present to participate.

“With reference to the provision in Article V of the National By-laws governing the situation where two or more members have received the same highest number of votes, if one of those members represents a minority that individual should be given priority as if selected by lot.” Universal House of Justice addressed to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, January 25, 1967. (Published in Lights of Guidance, 1983)

You might notice that all the quotations concerning majority rule are from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, which the Universal House of Justice may take into consideration when it makes its own rulings, in line with Bahai Scripture, concerning Bahai policy. The role of the Bahai administration is to rule on new situations as much as to give structure to the worldwide Bahai community. So it could be that in some situations an LSA decides it is best to listen to the views from a minority in their midst, or to minority views and then to act accordingly, and this would not contradict Bahai teachings because Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi do not form part of unchangeable Bahai Scripture.

Back to the initial phrase on this blog “to follow the will of the majority.” This implies that we cannot have a huge diversity of lifestyles or ways of perceiving the world. As Bahais we obey the authority of the institutions but that doesn’t mean we are not free to think or to take action. However this directive “to follow the will of the majority” refers to society in general and not the Bahai administration, and so implies that a ‘majority rules’ attitude is how Baha’is are expected to behave. The subordination of the individual will to that of society is akin to how communism evolved. Individuals were subordinate to the state and so the importance of individual conscience, responsibility and action was forgotten or suppressed. Baha’u’llah in contrast wrote: “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 346 (click to view the source)) – It is not the society or any group that is the supreme talisman.

Rather than treating the individual as subordinate to larger social groups, the Bahai teachings, as I see them, regard the individual as the root, and larger groups, from the family upwards, as the branches and fruit. 
The Persian notes of a talk given by Abdu’l-Baha say “a family is composed of individuals, and a nation likewise is formed of individual persons.” (Khitabát-i-`Abdu´l-Bahá, Reprint Hofheim; Bahá´í-Verlag [1984] p. 402. This translation here is by Sen McGlinn). So the freedom and development of the individual is the condition for the progress of the family, the nation and the world, and their first duty is to foster the freedom and development of the individual. Shoghi Effendi wrote:
“The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 203)
It is the individual, not the collective, that is “created in the image of God.” The spiritual priority of the individual over all the structures that are created by and consist of various individuals is illustrated in many places in the Bahai writings. Some of these have been quoted above. I will close with two more:

The third candle is unity in freedom which will surely come to pass.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 32)

So the unity that Abdul’-Baha refers to above implies that each of us exercises individual spiritual responsibility.

“Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration.”
Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 213

 
Further reading: Sen McGlinn’s 2010 blog, Evolving to individualism which explains two different ways in which the Enlightenment and its fruits in Western societies can be viewed, in relation to the goal of building a Bahai society.

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It’s Getting Better: Baha’i Faith & Homosexuality

May 31, 2011

Demonstrator at the August 2007 anti-gay rally in Kampala, Uganda. Photo credit: Rebekah Heacock. http://jackfruity.com/2010/01/the-other-eight/
 Demonstrator at the August 2007 anti-gay rally in Kampala, Uganda.
 Photo: Rebekah Heacock.


I posted the following blog on Bahai rants (http://bahairants.com/bahai-faith-homosexuality-its-getting-better-1358.html) on January 14th 2011 in response to the Universal House of Justice letter made public in a letter penned by the US N.S.A. on January 3rd 2011.
I’m reposting this here because I’ve been having a discussion on gaybahai.net and would like to be able to make direct links to some points. I also add some of my responses at the bottom and have updated a few external links. I suggest that you go to Bahai Rants where to date there are 95 comments from a great diversity of viewpoints.

On January 3rd, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States sent out a letter to the American Baha’i community, quoting parts of a letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual:
“…With respect to your question concerning the position Baha’is are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following.
The purpose of the Faith of Baha’u’llah is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.”

(Letter from the UHJ to an individual, 27 October 2010)

And further in the same letter:
“[The Bahai Faith] does not see itself as one among competing social groups and organizations, each vying to establish its particular social agenda. In working for social justice, Baha’is must inevitably distinguish between those dimensions of public issues that are in keeping with the Baha’i Teachings, which they can actively support, and those that are not, which they would neither promote nor necessarily oppose. In connection with issues of concern to homosexuals, the former would be freedom from discrimination and the latter the opportunity for civil marriage.”

It seems to me that this letter would indicate that the Baha’i community should now not be publicly supporting or opposing actions such as the anti-gay activities in Uganda in 2007.

Ugandan gays demand freedom article in the Guardian mentioning the Bahais involvement, 17 September 2007 Above is a screenshot from the Guardian, 17 September 2007.
 Accessed 6 January 2011.

The article in the Guardian shown in the screenshot above continues, lower on the page:
The rally was organised by the interfaith coalition against homosexuality, an alliance of Christian, Muslim and Bahai organisations.

This wasn’t a case of Baha’is just being associated with any interfaith organization but with an association called the Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality. It has been suggested to me that an individual Baha’i got caught up in the events without the knowledge of the local Ugandan Baha’i community. When I first heard the reports, I too thought that, while individual Baha’is are certainly free to participate in activities such as this, Baha’is would not be participating in any representative sense, and newspapers can get things wrong. But how then, did the newspaper reports come to mention the word Baha’i, if this was not the case? Moreover, these reports first appeared a month before the Guardian story in the screenshot, and there were, as far as I know, no statements made from the Baha’i Community in Uganda to indicate that Baha’i representatives were not involved.

Screenshot of an article in the Christian Post, 22 August 2007. Click to view the whole article in another window Screenshot of an article in the Christian Post, 22 August 2007. Accessed 12
 January 2011. Click on the image to view the whole screenshot in another
 window

The following links, all dated in August 2007 and mentioning Baha’i involvement, indicate that it is not likely that the Ugandan Baha’i community was unaware of this association that had been made:

 
Whether this was one individual who joined this anti-gay coalition or not, the 3rd of January letter from the UHJ seems to mean that it is no longer appropriate for Baha’i communities to take an anti-homosexual stance. This has happened in the past, for example when the UK NSA made submission to a London educational advisory committee in 1996, and in 1999 when the Guyana NSA issued a statement against a government bill for equality.

I realise that this new policy of the Universal House of Justice is going to be difficult for some Baha’i communities, in countries where interfaith groups are against homosexuality, as you see in the screenshot below where Baha’is are named as members of the interfaith group.


Guyana religious community condemns gay film festival, Voice of Africa article, 30 June 2010 Screenshot of an article in the Voice of Africa article, 30 June 2010.
 Click on the image to view the whole screenshot in another window.
 Accessed 12 January 2011.


Should Baha’is now remove themselves from interfaith groups which take an anti-homosexual stance?
Baha’is have a long history of working with interfaith groups. Rather than leaving these groups, perhaps Baha’is will be motivated to discourage these groups from acts of discrimination against homosexuals.

However there are other also ways Baha’is can act to remove discrimination, and that is within the Baha’i community itself.
In August last year, the North American Association for Baha’i Studies hosted a conference in Vancouver on the theme: “Rethinking Human Nature” and there was an extensive line-up of impressive-sounding presentations.
Under the topic “Psychology and Sociology I” was the announcement of this presentation:

Lynne Schreiber,
Rethinking Same-Sex Attraction and General Principles of How to Overcome It
The fact that some people experience same-sex attraction as unwanted and take measures to overcome it remains somewhat hidden from society, including much of the mental health profession. Shedding light on this process may be encouraging news to those who struggle with such attraction. Understanding the complex factors that commonly shape same-sex attraction unlocks the possibility to conceptualize a new framework for growth.

There’s nothing wrong with an individual expressing their views at a Baha’i conference, although I wonder if a person would have been allowed to present the view that homosexuality does not need to be overcome.

However what drew my attention to this presentation was the fact that a handout she presented had been taken up by at least one American ABM (while the Baha’is do not have clergy, a person in this role has a function akin to a counsellor, and while his or her advice is not mandatory, some Baha’is would give it great weight) in his mission to put pressure on Baha’is who are gay in his area. Moreover Lynne Schreiber is giving presentations and workshops, I assume on how to ‘overcome’ being gay, in Baha’i communities in various locations in the US.

Again, one could argue that this is not discrimination. That it is not discrimination to promote the view that people need to change their orientation. I would disagree. But allow me continue.

Her handout is here and the quotations from the Baha’i writings in relation to morality, obedience and the importance of independent investigation do not refer to homosexuality. But she has placed these here as if there is some connection with homosexuality.

Her handout also includes some quotations from the UHJ, such as:
…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a ‘natural’ or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as an aberration subject to treatment
(to an individual, 22 March 1987)

and I wonder if she used such statements as support for reparative therapies or not. Then what caught my eye were the links at the end of the handout to organizations associated with extreme right-wing political agendas such as Exodus International and in particular to NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals), which advocates what I would consider barbaric reparative therapies. And while some readers here might think that providing conversion therapy to a five-year-old “prehomosexual” boy is an extreme case, this unfortunately is just one of many many examples in this article.
A summary of the unscientific methodologies of NARTH and their activities can be seen on this webpage.

So then I went to the NARTH website to see for myself and was surprised to see that Baha’is were mentioned as members.

Click to view the screenshot in another window. In 2014 NARTH changed this page and now no religions are listed as supporters.

Since this page was last updated on 19 May 2008, this support has been on public show for over two years now, making it unlikely that various Baha’i communities are unaware of this. I hope this is removed in the near future, as I interpret this as the Bahai community taking sides by associating themselves with an organization that not only is geared towards ‘curing’ gays but makes clear statements that homosexuality is wrong.

The Baha’i policy as I see it, is that gays should be celibate, that is not the same as saying gays need to be cured or that they are wrong.

Whether individuals who are Baha’is are members of NARTH is another matter. We are free to use our conscience along with our own understanding of the Baha’i Teachings to guide our actions as individuals. For example Baha’is vote as individuals, we may even tell others who we voted for and discuss this, but we do this as individuals.
The Baha’i community doesn’t take a particular position. And likewise some Baha’is might individually support same-sex marriage as a positive thing while other Baha’is would not.
What the 3rd of January letter implies is that gays who are married shouldn’t be discriminated against and that gays are to be treated just as heterosexuals are treated except that the Baha’i community is not to be seen as taking any position for or against same-sex marriage.

The implication of the January 3rd letter is that the area of same-sex marriage is to be treated like the issue of party politics. So the Baha’i position could be, that it does not take any particular position but adopts what the law of the land or that state has as its policy. I say could be, because we have a long way to go as a Baha’i community to work on the prejudice against homosexuality that currently dominates Baha’i discourse. Here are two examples of what I mean by this apart from Lynne’s presentation at a Baha’i conference.

An essay by Sam G. McClellan, M.D., “Some reflections on the Bahá’í Teachings as they relate to homosexuality.” (Prepared in consultation with the Institute on AIDS, Sexuality and Addictions) which one day should be removed from the BNASAA (Bahá’í Network on Aids, Sexuality, Addictions, and Abuse) website, argues for tolerance while at the same time stating that individuals should not call themselves gay or lesbian.

Some Bahá’ís struggling with their sexual orientation have accepted into their core identity the concept “I am gay” or “I am lesbian” as a way of explaining the experience of uninvited sexual feelings towards others of the same sex, and even to imagine giving up this identity and the supportive community that goes along with it can be a fearful experience, calling for a major effort at sympathetic awareness by others of the difficulty involved. To change one’s self-definition requires much effort, support and encouragement, and it will, most likely, be a complex and lengthy process marked by small, cumulative successes and a great deal of struggle.
Excerpt of essay, Some reflections on the Bahá’í Teachings as they relate to homosexuality by Sam G. McClellan, M.D. (Accessed 12 January 2011. [One day it will be removed so here is a link for when it is removed])

He ends with:
In 1992, a group of these professionals formed a new organization, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Four Bahá’í mental health professionals attended the annual meeting of NARTH in Philadelphia in May 1994. Within the Bahá’í community a committee was recently appointed to assist Assemblies and individuals dealing with issues of homosexuality.

The website Religious Tolerance summarizes the Bahai position on homosexuality as being:
-The Baha’i Faith teaches that homosexual behavior is unacceptable among its members. Voting rights of some of their lesbian, gay and bisexual members (LGB) who are out of the “closet” have been suspended; some memberships have been terminated.

My hope is that the Bahai community will show that such statements are no longer true.
That, if there are sanctions that these are applied to heterosexuals or homosexuals, equally. That if a gay couple decide to join the Bahai community that their marriage will not be discriminated against and that youth will not be taught that homosexuality is a disease or an aberration, or that they must keep their orientation secret, but rather, the focus will be on celebrating the equality and diversity of humanity. Saying to any individual “we will tolerate you” is still a form of prejudice. In order not to discriminate we need to be welcoming.

There are over a hundred comments on Baquia’s blog in response to the above. So I’ve copied some of my own comments below.

Posted by Sonja on 15 January 2011: Located here on Baquia’s blog >>

Thanks for this information about “Uganda’s antigay protests”.
What I note in my blog is that this was not just any interfaith coalition but one with the title: “Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality“, so it would be hard for the Bahai/s or Bahai representative who joined to be unaware of the goals of this group.

And the misfortune in having the locals news and then the international news pick up on the Bahai involvement could have been avoided if the local Bahais had taken acton as soon as they knew that a Bahai had joined such a group.
I am aware that Bahais had taken action as soon as this was in the [international] news, but the point of my blog and the point, as I see it, is a Bahai shouldn’t have joined such a discriminatory group to start with.

The culture of the Bahai community needs to change so that Bahais don’t think it is OK to join such groups. That Bahais don’t think it is perfectly within the principles of the Bahai Faith to join any group or association which treats or views homosexuality with prejudice. And the references to the NARTH connections illustrate that this is the case and that the BNASAA shares the views that homosexuality is problematic, to put it lightly. Considering homosexuality as problematic is discrimination and the UHJ’s letter stating that homosexuals are not to be discriminated against, is in my view, a start on a change for the better. This is an opportunity for LSAs to start working at showing the community that the Bahai principle of equality applies also to homosexuals.

The reference to the Guyanan news items is different in that it is possible that Bahais were not actively involved in the protests, but yes, perhaps Bahais have to remove themselves from interfaith groups such as this. I agree it would be a wonderful teaching opportunity if they were to state publically why they are removing themselves.

Perhaps, as the Guyanan news item shows, Bahais are going to have to take some steps to show the world that the Bahai Faith is not anti-gay to counter the impression that it is. I see the 3rd January letter as a start in this direction. Another start would be for the BNASSA to stop associating homosexuality with illness.
It is no longer reasonable for Bahais to look the other way when another Bahai expresses their discrimination towards gays. The letter states Bahais must act to combate discrimination.
And if more Bahais publically showed support of gays then the impression would be that not all Bahais discriminate – that the Bahai community is diverse.
We need acts of positive discrimination bring in a change for more diversity. Your example of your involvement in a gay parade is one example. Now Bahais could do a lot of good by being present as a community in these. Bahais could even work as bridges here in fact. Having some presence at a gay pride parade where they promote unity in diversity, society for all, etc.

Posted by Sonja on 16 January 2011: Located here on Baquia’s blog >>

L wrote: “I was never sanctioned in any way at a BNASAA conference for saying I was fine as a Baha’i who was gay. There was surprize mixed with relief that someone present was okay with his being gay, felt a good connection to God, couldn’t understand why Shoghi Effendi wrote what he did as he felt it did not make sense, and had no interest in changing. BNASAA doesn’t associate homosexuality with illness but allows someone with that view to speak about it only as it pertains to the individual speaking. No one speaks for another or discloses another’s story. You may not be aware of this if you have not been to one of their conferences. If you saw something of that nature on their website you may have mistakenly felt that this was the only view of BNASAA. Not being a big fan of computers myself I feel the personal approach is best when exploring the facts about something. You may wish to attend a conference for a more balanced viewpoint where you will hear the truths of all who attend instead of reading an article by someone who feels their intellectual prowess is more enlightening than a person’s spoken truth. If you have been to a conference I don’t understand how you could come away from it with the misunderstanding.”

Thanks for sharing your experiences of BNASAA conferences but the fact that the title of this organization throws sexuality in with addictions seems a very strong indication that BNASAA sees homosexuality as some form of illness. If not, then why not change the title, change the association with illness? It seems incongruous to pretend this is about illness if the conferences are then about treating homosexuality as a part of the diversity of humankind.
My question then is what types of talks were given? Were these talks, as it seems from the website, talks on overcoming homosexuality or on suppressing this?

The BNASAA website (lower on the same page) has a section titled:


Considerations for Assemblies, Dealing with Same-Sex Issues

4. The Assembly should strive to maintain the dignity if the individual. Many women and men struggling with same-sex issues have low self-esteem and are in desperate need of love and acceptance. Confidentiality needs to be maintained and inadvertent exposure carefully avoided.

5. Discuss with the individual the relevant Bahá’í laws and teachings on chastity, marriage, and same-sex issues. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, the individual being counseled may be extremely sensitive, and individuals counseling them may want to take care to ensure that their assistance is received in a spirit of sharing and support.

6. It is impossible to consult on situations without some basic knowledge of the subject itself. The Assembly should recognize that there is no known cure for homosexuality. Comparing same-sex issues to alcoholism is a very helpful method of avoiding the naiveté of suggesting that Bahá’ís struggling with same-sex issues should simply pray, read the Writings and teach the Faith. It is very important to understand that the struggle with same-sex issues may be a lifelong ordeal. Even so, it is fundamentally important for the Assembly to encourage the individual to pray fervently, to continue or begin to deepen, to involve him or herself in the activities of the community – especially in teaching activities – and to develop supportive spiritual friendships within the community.

7. The Assembly is not a “mental health center,” and should not assume responsibilities for functions that it is not competent to carry out. Tactful referral of homosexuals – as in the case of any other person with special needs for skilled professional assistance – should be made to appropriate outside resources. It should be noted that several attempts may be necessary before finding the appropriate therapist. In addition to encouraging the individual to seek therapeutic help, the Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse (BNASAA) can provide Bahá’í support and assistance.

I am not suggesting that the atmosphere of any BNASAA conference would be hostile. Not at all, and you can see above, the tone is very gentle.
However the goal, the view or focus compares homosexuality to illness. In this case to alcoholism!

There’s a long history of members of majority groups judging minorities as lesser, as having low esteem for example, because they don’t operate in ways that are familiar or are not visible to the majority. And I’ve been told so many many times by well-meaning Bahai’s, “ah but so and so isn’t really gay or they would be more clear about being gay” and so on.

It is easy to give the stamp of low self-esteem when the other person is silent or does not come back with a similiar mode of expression, when in fact they are hurt and insulted. When operating in a second language here in the Netherlands, I’ve been told that I have low self-esteem, by well-meaning individuals who do not have a clue what my life really is like! They make their judgements on what they see, and so given that the Bahai community in general treats homosexuality as something wrong, it is no wonder that gays who are Bahai’s, have to tread on thin ice when with other Bahais. The Bahai community is not gay friendly. This needs to change.
As a woman I’d feel insulted if the only committee currently allowed to exist in the Bahai community, that dealt in some way with being female, was also a committee on alcoholism, and then here all sorts of talks about how wonderful women are, how women need to be tolerated, given compassion for the affliction of being female, were all made in the spirit of trying to help us because basically there’s something wrong with being a woman to start with. I hope you can see how such an attitude is insulting however lovingly the expressions of tolerance are. It isn’t enough to tolerant, Bahais need to accept gays as equals – as individuals with perspectives and values.

You suggest that what I wrote on my blog above in reference to the BNASAA has little relevence as the website doesn’t reflect the experiences of the conferences, so I asked a friend to share some experiences:


“Yes I don’t think anyone is outright sanctioned. As in names aren’t written down and then the NSA goes ok, and removes his voting rights. HOWEVER, from the very beginning of the meeting it was made absolutely clear that BNASAA was NOT the place to challenge the official view that homosexuality is supposed to be corrected and that it is a wrong lifestyle. I absolutely did not feel like it was a affirming place for someone who is gay, Bahai, and wants to be in an open relationship. The meeting I went to was in Northern California back in 2002. So things may have changed since then, I don’t know. Pose this question to the reader: “Would BNASAA now invite a person like Daniel to come and tell his story about having his voting rights removed for getting married?” I doubt it.
What I got out of BNASAA at my one meeting was that it was a great place for people with some serious issues (sex addiction, incest, rape, drugs, etc.) to find solace and talk openly with others. There really weren’t classes per se, mostly just sharing of stories and prayer circles, which were beautiful and all. But I felt completely out of place. In a weird way, I felt bad for being there because, well… there was nothing wrong with me. It’s wrong of them to lump my sexuality with all these serious issues that people are battling with. My two cents worth. 🙂 So no, from my experience it is absolutely NOT an affirming place for gay and lesbians who are happy with themselves.”

Daniel formalized his Brazilian marriage when it became legal to marry in California. In response the NSA of the USA removed his voting rights citing his same-sex marriage as the reason (I wrote a blog in response to this here [on Baquia’s blog placed later on this blog)] in 2009. Now with this new policy of the UHJ, if the NSA of the USA were to reinstate his voting rights, they would no longer be discriminating against an existing same-sex marriage.

And finally a question out of curiosity, did you experience any talks or workshops given at a BNASAA conference, where the homosexuality was presented as part of the diversity of humankind, or as not needing to be cured or changed? I am aware that Bahais do have these views but until now I’m only aware that presentations from these perspectives within a Bahai context are not allowed or their papers have been rejected.

You wrote that they “allows someone with that view to speak about it only as it pertains to the individual speaking.”, does this mean that current scientific research on this topic would be disallowed.

 
Posted by Sonja on 17 April 2011:
Located here on Baquia’s blog >>

Sarmad, would you consider the removal of voting rights from a legally married couple as an individual’s foolish mistake? This is happening to many (but not all) married gay Bahais.

I wouldn’t call this a “foolish mistake” but rather a situation where the Bahai administration is breaking the rules of the country. I realise that in countries such as in the U.S., same-sex marriage has been associated with party politics and I see the wisdom in the letter by the U.H.J. in asking Bahai communities to stay out of the debate, however this is a different situation to then removing voting rights from those who marry or are married. That is gay Bahais, who are legally married according to the laws of their country or state (sometimes these are called civil unions, but the law is a legally recognized union) then lose their voting rights.
The worst thing about this whole scenario, in my view is the constant fear gay Bahais live with knowing that tomorrow they might have their voting rights removed. And for Bahais such as myself, knowing of so many stories where the administration appears to do this after an individual Bahai makes an issue of this.
Meaning that the administration seems to leave gay couples be, if no individual Bahai makes a fuss about this but then they act when some individual does. I can understand that an LSA might find it difficult to proceed and accept a gay union as having the same rights and responsibilities as is accepted by the law of the state or country, if then Bahais complain that homosexuality is forbidden, but I think in light of this latest letter by the U.H.J., L.S.A.s should be able to take a position of not discriminating against those who are married.
I know this is not the same as promoting equality for gays but it is at least not a practice of discrimination.

If administrative decisions are not the essence of a community what are they then? I agree they need not be the essence of a religion, although one would hope that there would be a close connection.

Just calling these “foolish mistakes” misses the point. The point that our Bahai communities have two standards. One lot of values and standards for heterosexual couples and families and another set of values and standards for gay couples and families.