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

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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.

page 2 of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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“We will all, verily, abide by the will of God.”

December 31, 2010

"We will all, verily, abide by the will of God." This is the Bahai marriage vow. I always loved the sentiment here — that individuals give themselves to God, rather than the promise to obey each other. In 1984 my spouse to be and I recited this at the same time, as it seemed fitting as an expression of equality. Our partnership as two consenting adults.

So roll on a decade or two and the hot discussion in some Bahai circles is the conviction that gays and lesbians cannot do the same, cannot “verily” state their committment as equals. They are not allowed marriage, family and a lifelong committment of partnership. There are some exceptions, some Bahai communities accept their married gay Bahais, however the majority don’t.

A very important Bahai Teaching is equality.
In fact I’d even say that it is probably the most important Bahai Teaching, along with a stress on diversity. The numerous quotations from the Bahai Writings about all the flowers in the garden being of value support this. There’s nothing there about some being more equal than others, being allowed to “verily” commit while others are not.

In other postings I’ve gone more into the status of the letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. First trying to see why there is this seeming contradiction with equality in the letters that condemn homosexuality. (By “homosexuality” I mean orientation, being gay or lesbian.)
On one level it is true that these letters are expressions of the values of the times of the 1930-1950s, as guidance for individuals of the times and in a some cases as guidance for an institution, and all these letters have some authority, an authority that is not clearly defined but is something less than Shoghi Effendi’s own. Because this authority is not clear, I think that any issues depending on these letters are a matter for the Universal House of Justice, which gives some flexibility, some possibility for change now or in the future.
As I see it the Bahai Faith has two aspects: Scripture (not flexible nor changeable) and Authority (executed through the Bahai administration which is flexible or changeable) or in other words the carrying out of the day-to-day administration of how that scripture applies to our lives.

Being changeable does not mean that authority is less important than scripture but I would say that scripture should inform or guide the actions taken by Bahai administration and Bahai communities. I suspect that when Bahais get upset at me when I discuss the flexibility in the Bahai Teachings, they think I’m demeaning the value and importance of the Letters Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. That is not my intent. My intent is to see how they might fit – how Shoghi Effendi might have intended them to be used and most importantly how are they used by the Bahai community at large. Are these Letters used as guidance, as inspiration or are they being used like a big stick, used to promote prejudice or intolerance? I hope not.

You might be wondering why I bother, when the authority of these Letters is not the same as the authority of Baha’u’llah’s writings, is not the authority of Abdul-Baha’s writings nor that of Shoghi Effendi when he wrote in his role as official interpretator of Bahai Scripture.
Well many Bahais place great value on these letters. And in 1983 the book “Lights of Guidance” compiled by Helen Hornby came out, and it seems now that many Bahais treat this book as if it is Bahai Scripture. Actually more like a book of rules. And in this book, Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi are placed underneath various sections such as “1221. Acts of Immorality” as if this is Bahai Scripture. So one can hardly blame Bahais for assuming that Letters Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi have the same status as what Baha’u’llah wrote. [See a few of these letters which show that they do not have the same status as Bahai Scripture]

The list underneath the title: Homosexuality in the book, Lights of Guidance

Homosexuality title in Lights of Guidance

[This link goes to where this screenshot was taken from]

But I have realised that I am possibily approaching the issue of inequality from the wrong direction as it seems that when I argue about the status and authority of the Letters Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Bahais see red and in one case a Bahai responded to me recently writing that anyone treating these letters as if they were not written by Shoghi Effendi was “challenging covenantal authority.”

So it got me to thinking, why did I start down this line of thinking?

The current Bahai practice is that some people are more equal than others. That some individuals may not marry, may not raise children, may not voice themselves openly, should believe that they are diseased or need to keep their orientation secret so that they are treated with respect.
This hurts me deeply. It hurts me deeply that my Faith is allowing individuals to tell other individuals that they are not equal.
They might not use those words. These Bahais might even believe that it is equality afterall  —  as is often said, you volunteer to be a Bahai, you can leave. This is like saying, well this flower can’t blossom here. This Bahai garden is just for straight voices. I know of course, Bahais celebrate diversity, I see it everywhere. But you can’t celebrate diversity without equality.