Archive for the ‘LGBT’ Category

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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

page 3 of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bahá’ís are expected to strive for understanding

page 4 of 5

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

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

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

page 5 of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Love and Legalism – a tale of two Baha’i communities

April 12, 2016
A Bahai with his family

One of these is a Bahai. Would his family be welcome in your Bahai community?

Abby’s story:
I was raised a Baha’i, so that is definitely why it took me so long to come out.

Added to that are my many happy experiences in the Baha’i community, which explains why I am still happy to call myself a Baha’i today, living with my same-sex partner and my children.

I was always attracted to women but knew it was a no go.

I married a man because that’s what I was supposed to do.

The LSA became aware of my “lifestyle” years ago because my ex-husband went to the Assembly to complain about me.

They told him to mind his own business, but I didn’t know this until after my meeting with them. I was extremely anxious about meeting with the LSA, and had no idea they would be so incredibly loving and accepting. It seemed clear to me that they were open to learning and desperately did not want me to feel unloved or unaccepted. It is a struggle for them, as they know the laws, but they also know me and I suppose this forced them to open their eyes on this subject. I told the LSA that I refuse to hide or pretend to be something I am not and felt doing so was dishonest and against the Faith. I pointed out that heterosexual Baha’is who are single or dating do not have their chastity questioned, and unless they are in my bedroom have no idea what is going on… That as Baha’is we are encouraged to be loving and the only “law” pertains to chastity. Except the marriage part… They also know that I would like to marry my partner. Not sure I’ll still have my voting rights then though!

And now because I live with my partner, I was offered a meeting to “deepen” on the writings on the subject but I declined. I have read everything, needless to say, being born, raised and currently still a Baha’i. If I didn’t love Baha’u’llah so much I would leave the Faith, and I told the LSA I would leave if they felt I was doing wrong by the Faith. They said absolutely no way should I leave the Faith. Another member of the LSA told me they are still babies with this subject and would like to be enlightened. I thought that was great.

For me, if the LSA had reacted negatively I would have left. We are supposed to love everyone and accept everyone. For me, Bahá’ís who judge or are homophobic are committing a greater sin than me, loving the most incredible human being I’ve ever known. But it is their issue and whatever I do is between me and God, I’m OK with that. If the LSA felt I was harming the Faith I would leave.

It’s very frustrating because I think individuals who don’t have any LGBT friends have bizarre ideas in their heads, and don’t think of us as regular, boring, loving, normal, fellow human beings. I’m not willing to live my life alone when I haven’t been convinced that Baha’u’llah believes this is what I should do.

The fact that my LGBT friends are loving and accepting of everyone, yet many Bahá’ís cannot be, is a contradiction of the Faith and my friends are the ones who are unprejudiced and all loving. I love all diversity in the world and this is just another. So many people miss out on knowing some beautiful human beings by judging what they don’t know.
I think my story is as positive as it can be for this time. I would love to I go to Feast with my partner and be active with her, but until the UHJ changes things I will keep my relationship with the faith at home. There are also some individuals in my local community who have shown in their behaviour that they do not welcome me as a lesbian.

“…homosexuality is not a condition to which a person should be reconciled, but is a distortion of his or her nature which should be controlled or overcome.”

Letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 12 January 1973; cited in Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, pp. 110-111; also cited in Lights of Guidance, #1222, published in 1983, p. 365

“Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and sexual relations are only permissible between husband and wife.”

Department of secretariat letter from the Universal House of Justice,
9 May 2014
The The full letter is here

If the UHJ published a more positive view on this subject, I wouldn’t care what the rest of the community thought. It would be great to enlighten Baha’is unfamiliar with “ordinary” LGBT people. The LSA said I should not let anything keep me from attending the Feast. I feel if the UHJ changed the law there would be no leg for anyone to stand on and they would have to look at their own prejudices. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there are other LGBT people in the community who are not out.

I’ve been to Baha’i functions in the last few years, and a few Feasts, and feel quite close to some members of my LSA and my local community. I do have children that I am raising Baha’i. I live the life, so to speak (in service to others, love and acceptance and celebration of everyone). Unfortunately, my ex-husband is preachy towards my children about the evils of homosexuality. I have to tell them to not judge the Faith by their father and focus on the beautiful, amazing Baha’is we have in our community.

The LSA has encouraged me to go to feast and suggested I go to a cluster that the ex isn’t at. And they have asked what they could do to help support me, if there was anything. They are very loving.

Being able to share this with others gives me goosebumps and makes me smile.

Julia’s story:
I have been a Baha’i for some 30 years now, and I always tended to keep things pretty clear and honest, but my honesty got me into trouble. I told my daughters about my sexuality on the day I left the marital home and moved in with Granuaile, and I sent a letter to my LSA because I knew my husband had been in touch with them and given his side of the story. Then a member of the LSA, who has been a close friend of the family, asked me to come and see her. First privately, but also as a representative of the LSA. We had a nice chat but then she told me that her main concern with all this was the fact that her 16-year-old son could find out that I am living with a woman! How could people be so cruel? And that from someone I thought of as my friend. Another LSA member told me that I could no longer be a member of the Baha’i community if I was a lesbian. I was devastated. Baha’is who had been close friends stopped speaking to me, and my daughter, also a Baha’i, said that I could not visit her nor the grandchildren.

I have certainly come to realise that if you rock anybody’s boat most people react in some kind of strange way. What are they afraid of? As I told everybody, family and LSA alike, I had to do something for myself and now am happy and asked them to be happy with me. My daughters even said they wanted their fat, smoking mother back. (On this note I have to say that I have lost quite a bit of weight – which I needed to do anyway – and also gave up smoking in the last year – all since I have met my partner.)

The calendar of events, until then a regular e-mail sent to all in the community, stopped being sent to me. I was just dropped as the “old friend” they used to call me. I lived for my community and would have really appreciated a phone call or e-mail occasionally to see how I was – but nothing. It was as if I was dead. My partner’s friends were much more loving and understanding.

Then months later, the NSA asked a member of the pastoral care committee to contact me to find out what was going on. I had a lovely long chat with her on the phone. I tried to explain what my innermost thoughts about the Faith were, and that nobody had the right to tell me that I could or could not have these thoughts – I will always be a Baha’i in my heart – even if the NSA was threatening to take away my administrative rights. I was sent a letter from the NSA a few weeks later which stated: “You should be aware that if you do not take steps to align your life with the standards set out in the Holy Writings then the National Assembly will be left with no other option but to seriously consider removing your administrative rights. This is something that the Assembly very much wishes to avoid and it therefore lovingly invites you to reconsider your position; in this regard, it warmly offers you an opportunity to discuss your situation with a representative of the National Assembly whom you trust.”

Almost a year after this all began an LSA member phoned me saying that he had a “heavy heart” as he hadn’t spoken to me and he was a close friend as well as a fellow Baha’i. Then he said that his heavy heart was because he wanted to tell me where I had gone wrong because he was concerned about the well-being of my soul. I asked him why he was not concerned about me in the last year when I could really have done with a bit of friendly support.

At about the same time I had a friendly chat with an NSA member, and then a few weeks later I received a call from a local Baha’i reminding me that the NSA was going to meet in the next couple of days and had my case on the agenda, and wanted a response from me. So I sent a letter stating that I still believed in Baha’u’llah but could not go back to a life that felt dishonest to me, and that I was not going to leave the only person who is a support for me. In reply to that the NSA wrote a letter removing my administrative rights.

So there we have it – I am no longer a Baha’i in good standing.

I cannot contact the UHJ myself.

I cannot attend feasts, etc.

On the upside – the NSA wanted to know what happened in my 30 years of marriage because I hinted that it was not a happy time for me. I have very mixed feelings about being a “second class Baha’i” and have to think long and hard as to what I want to do now.

What was once a loving and caring community has turned into the total opposite and it seems they feel that, by sticking their heads in the sand, the “problem” will go away – or the NSA will deal with it. Somebody once said to look at the LSA/NSA as loving parents – well I cannot see any love anywhere – on the contrary.

These two stories show how two LSAs (Local Spiritual Assemblies) in differing western countries treated a lesbian member of their community in similar situations. Pope Francis recently made some statements on the topic of same sex marriage, about this never being possible within the Catholic Church. This is similar to the Universal House of Justice’s own statements, however there’s one big difference. In the same statement Pope Francis talks of pastors engaging in a careful process of “discernment” with regard to individual cases and helping people reach decisions in conscience about the fashion in which the law applies to their circumstances. The blog “Pope Francis lets the world in on the Church’s best-kept secret” by John L. Allen Jr. explains it like this: “Yes, the Church has laws, and it takes them very seriously. But even more than law it has flesh-and-blood people, and it takes their circumstances and struggles seriously too.
At one stage, Pope Francis writes that the divorced and remarried can find themselves in situations ‘which should not be pigeonholed or fit into overly rigid classifications, leaving no room for a suitable personal and pastoral discernment.’”
(8 April 2016)

Instead of a pastoral service or priests, the Baha’i community has the elected Local Spiritual Assembly (LSA). In the stories above we saw that one LSA chose compassion and aimed to see the picture from the point of the individual, and some even saw it as an opportunity to learn. The other LSA appears to have used Baha’i law like a stick with stern counseling which the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) later reinforced with punitive action. I found the letter which stated that her voting rights were removed from that NSA particularly shocking because of these words “The principle reason for doing [this] is because such an arrangement is publicly in breach of Baha’i law and therefore your administrative rights are removed to protect the good name of the Faith.” If public impressions are the real issue, the fact is that in most western countries, religious examples of tolerance and compassion on such issues bring good publicity, not shame. They also noted that she is not allowed to host “devotional meetings nor any of the core activities related to the Plan” nor host Holy Days, teach children’s classes and a long list of other exclusions. Non-Baha’is are not excluded as much as this. I will work on a separate blog about what Shoghi Effendi wrote concerning the use and purpose of the removal of administrative rights, as it is clear to me that here it is being used to discriminate and exclude. At the same time, an NSA is free to be as harsh as they wish in the way they choose to apply Baha’i law, but the purpose of my blog will be to show that Baha’i law can be used like “choice wine,” to quote Baha’u’llah – using law with discernment without breaking any of the Baha’i principles.

This matters greatly to me because there’s not only the pain experienced by Julia and the pain I feel in reading her story, but also the problem of those who feel they are doing the right thing by the Baha’i teachings in reporting her to the LSA and the NSA, in excluding her because she is a lesbian, backbiting about her in the community (I’ve omitted this part of her story because it is so awful), not to mention all those others in her community who see this happening and go along with it, either because they think exclusion is right or because they are afraid to say anything.

Which Baha’i community would you want to be a member of? Which type of Baha’i community has a future in today’s world? Baha’is often don’t like me asking such questions because they argue that the Baha’i community shouldn’t be influenced by fads or trends, and that five letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi decades ago are all the guidance we need. I believe that Baha’u’llah’s religion is structured to change with the times, and that it is intended for all peoples – not just those who like things to stay the same or want to exclude people because they represent an aspect of diversity that they are unfamiliar with.

“…the broader issues that are the foundation of the religious law are explicitly stated, but subsidiary matters are left to the House of Justice. The wisdom of this is that time does not stand still: change and transformation are essential attributes and necessities of this world, and of time and place. Therefore the House of Justice implements decisions accordingly.”
Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet on on religious law and the House of Justice, provisional translation.

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Baha’is and the LGBTQ Community – Part Two

January 1, 2014

Does Baha’i scripture limit marriage to a union between only one man and one woman?

Not as far as I know. I have found nothing in the Baha’i writings that specifically prohibits same-sex marriage. It’s my personal opinion that the question of how Bahaí communities are to respond to the new phenomenon of same-sex marriage is in the hands of the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected body that administers the global Baha’i community. The Universal House of Justice has yet to make a policy that deals specifically with the question of individuals in legally and socially recognized same-sex marriages. I think it is very likely to be a policy which gives National Spiritual Assemblies a major role because conditions vary so much in terms of social acceptance and the law.
The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah’s book of laws, refers to marriage between men and women. That’s why most Baha’is assume that marriage means only a heterosexual union. But in the same book, it is also assumed that men take journeys while women stay at home. In fact all of the laws are presented in the context of the customs of the 19th century middle east which when this was written.

Because no specific scripture stipulates that only men may take journeys, for example, the Universal House of Justice applies the law of “mutatis mutandis” (Latin for changing what needs to be changed) to the gender-specific laws in the Kitab-i-Aqdas. In other words, all of the Baha’i laws apply equally to men or women unless the context makes this impossible.

Is same-sex-marriage impossible for Baha’is today? There’s no text that stipulates marriage is only between one man and one woman and Baha’u’llah provided ways for the Baha’i Faith to adapt and change over time. Baha’is believe that science and religion agree, and that religion should not conflict with science. That’s why the Universal House of Justice can make new policy and change old policy on any issue not defined in Baha’i Scripture.

The Universal House of Justice can also decide to stipulate whether such rulings apply universally or locally. An example of Baha’i policy being applied differently in line with prevailing social conditions in various cultures, is the changing policy on males and females living as roommates in the same house. Even today in some societies such arrangements would be perceived as scandalous, while other cultures view it as completely acceptable. In the same way, some societies view same-sex couples as just as morally upstanding as any heterosexual couple, and civil and marriage laws are rapidly changing to reflect this.

Given that the current policy of the Universal House of Justice — that marriage can only be between a man and woman — what should local Baha’i communities do if a same-sex couple wants to join the community? Or if a gay Baha’i asks for a Baha’i wedding?

According to Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’i administration should be flexible:

“…whatever is deemed necessary to incorporate into it in order to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements, can, according to the provisions made by Baha’u’llah, be safely embodied therein.”
The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 22.

Shoghi Effendi also wrote:
“Let them proclaim that in whatever country they reside, and however advanced their institutions, or profound their desire to enforce the laws, and apply the principles, enunciated by Baha’u’llah, they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of such laws and the application of such principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments.” The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 65

In the past, the policy of the Universal House of Justice was that gay couples were not allowed to join the Bahai community:
“… if persons involved in homosexual relationships express an interest in the Faith, they should not be instructed by Bahá’í institutions to separate so that they may enroll in the Bahá’í community, for this action by any institution may conflict with civil law. The Bahá’í position should be patiently explained to such persons, who should also be given to understand that although in their hearts they may accept Bahá’u’lláh, they cannot join the Bahá’í community in the current condition of their relationship.” – Universal House of Justice letter to an individual, 5 March 1999.

That policy from Universal House of Justice has been followed by this 2010 policy:
” … to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.” – Universal House of Justice letter to an individual, 27 Oct 2010.

However some Bahai communities might still refuse married gays admittance to the Bahai community. For example the author of the current Wikipedia entry for “Homosexuality and the Baha’i Faith” states: “someone involved in a same-sex marriage or union will be prevented from registering as a Baha’i and joining the community.” (last accessed, 1 January, 2014) When the 1999 policy was written, same-sex marriage didn’t exist. Today it exists in many countries and the principle that Bahai policy must be subordinate to the laws of the land, would be another consideration by Bahai communities.

As a Baha’i, I hope that the tide of marriage equality now sweeping the world will eventually extend to people of every Faith.

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“The Baha’is lose another gay”

September 16, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

your Hispanic American friend

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

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

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

August 16, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since when is sexuality an illness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

D.W.

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

Click to view the whole cartoon.

Click to read in a pop up window.

Click to read in a pop up window.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time changes… an interview with a young American Baha’i

April 25, 2013

He spent 4 years hanging out with Baha’is and then signed his declaration card 2 months before this interview took place.

What was your first exposure to the Baha’is? Were you openly gay then?

I first met a Baha’i via my boyfriend in college. His best friend is married to a Baha’i and we would go over their house for couples game night. So yes, I was openly gay from my very first contact with the Baha’i community. At some point we got into a conversation about religion, and they were really good conversations!

For about 6 months it was just good conversation. Then I learned about progressive revelation and asked how Buddhism fits when there is no direct concept of God.
What that conversation revealed to me about the nature of God and the importance of context over absolute truth really made an impression on me. So now this was more than just good conversation. It was something worth serious investigation.

Tell me more about your religious background and your experience growing up and coming out.

Long story short: My family are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was one of those kids you could point to and say he’ll probably be gay.
I wasn’t effeminate, but I didn’t like rough play as a child and loved dolls and horses. I first realized it at age 11. Started actively fighting it at age 13 with the help of my parents. Stopped fighting and came out at 19 and I was celibate for two more years.

Coming out was no fun. When I officially came out at 19, my parents were disappointed but couldn’t do much since I was celibate. When I was excommunicated from the Jehovah’s Witnesses community at 20, however, it was a different story. I didn’t talk to my family for 6 months to avoid bringing shame on them. When I finally did tell them they moved from the next state over and blackmailed me into moving in with them, threatening to stop paying for school if I didn’t, and they tried taking me back to church. They imposed a curfew on me. They outed me to my extended family, half of whom now pretend I’m a ghost when we’re in the same room together. No talking, No eye contact. I couldn’t have a civil conversation with my mother for 8 months when she found out. Five years on, and I now have a fairly productive relationship with my parents where we talk about our work and so on, and avoid mentioning my sexuality except that every 6 months or so, there’s an argument about why I’m still gay.

Luckily I had supportive friends and a supportive university psychiatrist when I came out.

Participating in a LGBT bible study at the Methodist ministry on campus did a lot to help me resolve my spiritual issues, as my life was falling apart with the battles I was having at home.

So what happened next in your journey?
I spent the next two years learning all I could about the Faith. At first it was mostly focused on theology and there were several other obstacles I had to overcome such as women on the U.H.J., the nature of ‘infallibility’, and the marriage laws, along with reconciling Baha’i beliefs with my fundamentalist Christian background. I used the book “Responding: 101 questions often asked of Baha’is” as the basis for many long conversations. Even though I was asking difficult questions and was confrontational at times, I never felt my questions were unwelcome or out of bounds. Each Baha’i I spoke with saw my sincerity and was eager to engage and to share their experiences and opinions along with explaining the official Baha’i position. Even when the answers were unsatisfactory to me and we continued to disagree, they did not dismiss me but respected my conscience and continued inviting me to participate in their community. As a scientist from a fundamentalist background this made a big impression on me.

Of course the Faith’s stance on homosexuality was probably my biggest obstacle. If it weren’t for that issue I probably would’ve declared 6 months after learning about the Baha’i Faith. But my biggest fear was of getting involved in another religious community and then having to endure the excommunication and shunning I had experienced as a Witness. This fear kept my investigation, earnest though it was, somewhat academic for a long time. Some of the texts on the subject are quite harsh in their wording, especially letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. But there was so much that was good about this Faith and the Baha’is I knew.

Eventually two things helped me to allay my concerns. First, exposing myself to different Baha’i perspectives online helped me to understand the Baha’i definition of infallibility and how it applies to the Baha’i writings. Combined with the Baha’i principle that science and faith should be complimentary, and understanding the different roles of the Guardianship and the U.H.J., most of my concerns about homosexuality were allayed. Second was the quality of the Baha’is I met in the community. Over time I came to realize that even if I was not able to have a Baha’i marriage, I would still be welcome in the community and it would be a place where I could feel safe raising my kids. Not all Baha’is would agree with me but that’s OK. The quickest path to truth is unity in diversity. And the Baha’is showed me that I was more than welcome to be a part of that.

Some other things happened along the way including 2 trips to the Wilmette temple and several frank conversations with LGBT Baha’is of various stripes. I decided to publicly declare my faith in Baha’u’llah in February of 2013.

You said that roughly a third of the population in your city area are openly gay individuals. Why do you think this is so high?
This is a metropolis in a culturally conservative part of the county, so gay people move here because it’s easier to live openly.

What sort of impact do you think this has on your Baha’i community and in your view how has this affected how you are accepted as an openly gay man and a Baha’i?
I think it means that the Baha’i community is familiar with the LGBT community and there’s less prejudice and ignorance than there probably is in other places. Also they see multiple definitions of what it means to be gay. It’s not just parties and bathhouses, we come in as many varieties and lifestyles as straight people. So there is less suspicion among the straight Baha’is and less doubt about my intentions and morality. It means Baha’is in my community can see the possibility of me leading a Baha’i lifestyle as a gay man.

They may not agree, but they see the possibility and respect my conscience. And, frankly, many of them show that they are happy to see me actively participating in the community. They realize this is a contentious issue that leaves people feeling as if the GLBT community is outside the scope of the Baha’i community. And that doesn’t sit well with them. They recognize the need to have more GLBT people involved in the community. Also the fact that I’m active in the community helps others to see aspects to my personality outside of my sexuality and this lightens any discord that might be caused by my sexuality.


I was blessed in that all three Baha’is I initially had contact with identified as GLBT, even though I didn’t know it at the time. So my initial exposure to the community was sensitive to my concerns as an openly gay seeker. One of the things I did before enrolling was to make an effort to get to know as many GLBT Baha’is as possible. Within my own local Baha’i community there’s a wide spectrum: one gay man is married to a woman; one bisexual woman is married to a man; there’s a single gay who keeps his gay and Baha’i identities separate, while being out to the important people in his life; another Baha’i is a closeted gay; and now there’s me. I also came across a Baha’i from another community who is in a same-sex marriage who is active in his community and served on his LSA for a time. I also familiarized myself with the stories of gay Baha’is who did not have positive experiences with the Faith. Having all these perspectives helped me to have a representative view of what the gay Baha’i experience could be like and whether I could see a place for not only myself but also my future family in this community.


I had one of these friends raise my concerns with the local LSA, since she was secretary at the time, and I got a very nice response from them as a seeker. The gist of the response from the LSA was this: “Baha’i law is Baha’i law, and it is our job to enforce it. However, we are not in the business of prying if you’re not flagrantly making us look bad. And even if you choose not to enrol there is still much you can benefit from and we would love to have your contributions to our community.” This made me feel very welcome and helped alleviate some of the pressure I felt to resolve all my conflicts before getting involved with the community. The Baha’is didn’t seem to be nearly as concerned as I was whether I had the “right” beliefs. They were most concerned that I was actively involved in my journey and that the community would benefit from what I had to offer for however long I chose to associate with the Baha’is. After this I started becoming more actively involved in the Baha’i community. Before I declared I had attended talks, devotionals, deepenings, and even a Baha’i feast.

So given what you have said about the diversity of those in your community, I guess you knew that identifying openly as being gay wasn’t seen as a bad thing and wouldn’t be considered being flagrant.
Nope. I knew same-sex marriage was a controversial topic. But homosexuality in itself was not something rejected by the community. It might cause some temporary discomfort as people reminded themselves about Baha’u’llah’s teachings on prejudice, equality and inclusion, especially since many come from an evangelical or Baptist background. The general mood seems to be that being openly gay may be awkward but most Baha’is in my community show that they are actively working to overcome this. There’s a bit of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude with the LGBT Baha’is who were raised in the community, which is understandable given where we are on this issue in the wider culture.
But it’s something that many in the community both straight and gay are working to improve. The important thing is that the community is not looking for black and white reasons to include or exclude, but rather they are looking at how you apply the Baha’i principles in your life. They look for the fruits and judge that rather than with whom or how you express yourself.

So you mean some Baha’is did say to you that being gay wasn’t OK or said that Baha’u’llah forbade it?
No one said anything as direct as this, but the feeling is there. I still live in a conservative part of the country and many Baha’is come from conservative religious and cultural traditions. That’s why being active in the community is so important for me. It gives others a chance to see evidence of my commitment to Baha’u’llah and that the majority of my life – any gay person’s life – is spent outside the bedroom. Some Baha’is in my community believe that Baha’is can’t have a same sex marriage and some are uncomfortable with this, while others feel it’s perfectly justified.

However, nobody is pressuring me to date women or play more football or anything.
At least here in the States, most people who live in bigger cities are comfortable enough around gay people and have enough exposure to be able to see us and not automatically think of sex, regardless of whether they support or oppose civil or religious gay marriage.

To give you an impression of the wider Baha’i community in my area here’s a story I submitted to the “gaybahai.net” forum:

Recently I told a Persian Baha’i colleague that I was gay. He’s an older gentleman, and during the Fast we’d been going on walks during our lunch hour once or twice a week. I’d found our walks very encouraging and uplifting so then I decided to open up to him.

I started by telling him about a sermon I had listened to by the founder of the Gay Christian Network, Justin Lee, on how God is an artist and why I thought that illustration fits well with Baha’i ideas. We all have different potentialities to develop the assortment of virtues/colors. And while there are rules to painting, sometimes they have to be broken to create a masterpiece. And God’s primary concern isn’t maintaining the letter of the law, but in creating masterpieces. I would definitely recommend checking it out here.

I then asked him for his thoughts on marriage and whether we focus too much on romance here in the West. After talking about that for about 10 minutes he asked me if I had a girlfriend, like I figured he would. I told him I had a boyfriend and that things are going well. He was surprised by the revelation but he took it in stride. No theological debates, no prejudiced comments or looks, no insistence that I’m sick or in need of therapy or that I should try dating women.
He reiterated that science and religion must agree so he expects the UHJ to rule on this eventually and that until then we must strive to adhere to the laws we do have and that, at the end of the day, whatever we do, we must be able to answer to our God with our heads held high. To which I agreed and added that I do expect to be able to have a Baha’i marriage someday based on what I know of the Writings and science and my own personal experience. And that even if I can’t have a Baha’i wedding I do intend to apply Baha’i principles to my union, whatever it is called. Even if I cannot adhere to the letter of the law, keeping with the spirit of it will only help me and those in the community who see.

We then continued our walk and our conversation about marriage and the purpose of laws. It was a great conversation. While I’m working on a need-to-know basis with my sexuality I have never been closeted in my interactions with the Baha’i community. And, in general, people have either been openly supportive or politely neutral. I’ve never felt judged or treated differently after people found out.


Now would this Baha’i support gay marriage on a ballot? I don’t know. But what I do know is that he is committed to his faith, while at the same time being open to learning from the experiences of others and adjusting his perspectives as new information comes along. He is why I have faith that the Baha’i community will eventually find its way through this issue.


Unlike a lot of religious communities, Baha’is are very much engaged in the non-Baha’i world around them. And that constant interaction with different ideas and perspectives and worldviews helps us to refine our own, to know the limits of what we know for sure. Often this ends up forcing us to narrow the scope of what we know for sure and embrace the constantly shifting shades of gray built into human experience. Admittedly I live in a very gay city, it is number 1 by percentage of the population, last time I checked. So my experience is by no means universal or even typical among Baha’i communities. It probably won’t be for a while yet. But it shows things are getting better. Being exposed to happy, healthy, religious, productive members of society who happen to also be GLBT helps. It doesn’t eliminate the controversy or even change minds necessarily. But by keeping the issue in front of people our presence in the community keeps the conversation open. And that’s the most important thing. People can only endure cognitive dissonance for so long when they are constantly reminded of it.

That’s why it’s so important for us to not only be out, but to stay engaged with our spiritual communities if at all possible. Yes, it means enduring injustice. I’m not saying we should keep allowing people to hurt us. Lord knows how many of us have been scarred on our souls by the “good intentions” of religious people, even Baha’is. I still have family that won’t talk to me since I was excommunicated from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But we can’t let that poison us, poison our relationship with God, poison our relationship with our communities. Ultimately that just hurts us and allows ignorance and injustice to persist that much longer.

Know your limits. But do what you can. Don’t give up. There’s hope.

I share this Baha’is hope that the Bahai community will eventually find a way through. I think there is nothing in Baha’i Scripture to inhibit the possibility of same sex marriage, but for those Bahais who think that there is something in Baha’i Scripture which implies that marriage is restricted to marriage between one man and one woman: here’s a quotation from a talk given by ‘Abdul-Baha:
“Time changes, and when time changes the laws have to change.”

What ‘Abdul-Baha means here is not to change the law, but not to enforce a religious law that is no longer relevant. Religious laws are “the accidentals of religion” and “useful in accordance with the exigencies of the time.” These fall under what Baha’u’llah refers to as social teachings. So if a social teaching or religious law is in conflict with the principle of equality or justice, if we follow ‘Abdul-Baha’s example, we do not enforce it.

The context for this quotation is below:
“In the Taurat there are ten commandments concerning the murderer. Is it possible to carry these out? Can these ten ordinances, concerning the treatment of murderers, be enforced?
Modern times are such that even the question of capital punishment – the one form which some nations have decided to enforce in relation to a murderer – is a mooted question. Wise men are consulting as to its feasibility or otherwise. So everything that is valid is only valid for the time being. The exigency of that time demanded that if a man committed theft to the extent of a dollar they would chop off his hand, but now you cannot cut off a man’s hand for a thousand dollars. You cannot do it; it is impossible. This is true, for it was useful for that time, but things are useful in accordance with the exigencies of the time. Time changes, and when time changes the laws have to change. But remember, these are not of importance; they are the accidentals of religion.”

From the middle of a talk given at to congregation in the synagogue, the Temple Emanuel, (Emmanu-El) in San Francisco on Saturday, October 12, 1912, in Star of the West Vol. 3, No. 13, p. 3, which corresponds to The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 365.
Talks in “Star of the West” are more reliable as a source than Promulgation of Universal Peace because the editor of Promulgation of Universal Peace was sometimes very free in what he added to the text.
Talks in the volumes of “Star of the West” are not authentic scripture unless they can be verified by a Persian version.
There are notes in Mahmud’s diary from p. 299 of Vol 1, which closely reflect the Star of the West version above. Mahmud’s dairy is a personal recollection by Mahmud Zarqani which ‘Abdul-Baha encouraged him to write. It was written during ‘Abdul’-Baha’s lifetime and so it is very likely that Abdul-Baha read this.
One day if Persian notes for the above can be found, then this could be treated as authentically by ‘Abdul-Baha.