Archive for the ‘marriage’ Category

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

August 11, 2017

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

I have added the red parts.

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

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

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

Author’s name is removed

Summer 2007 | page 1 of 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bahá’ís are expected to strive for understanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Can a rainbow be partisan?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What does Baha’i Scripture say about homosexuality?

November 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detail of one of the index pages in Lights of Guidance

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

Link to this index page on the Bahai Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Haifa, Israel,
June 20, 1953.

National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada.

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

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

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

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

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

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

With warmest Bahá’í love,
R. RABBANI.

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

Mar 1950 letter with response

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

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

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

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

[The above letter is online here]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Is it better to walk away?

August 17, 2014

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caption: Spirituality is less about ‘doing’ & more about ‘being’ our truest most authentic self everywhere we go.- Emmanuel Dagher.


When a gay friend wrote:
My energy could be better served not fighting for inclusion but by focusing on doing good works. I’m starting to see why many people just give up on God completely and decide that, dogma, worship and religious labels get in the way of working towards creating a better world. A world that doesn’t exclude or hurt people.

I was reminded of ‘Abdul-Baha who said that if religion is not a cause of love and unity then it better not to have a religion. [footnote 1] Some have suggested to me that it is always better to walk away, that unity is most important. I don’t think Baha’u’llah nor ‘Abdul-Baha intended their teachings to be a mouthpiece for the majority. I think Baha’u’llah was serious when he said that ” [t]he best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice” [Hidden Words] but more importantly I think any community, religious or not, needs to value diversity because of the fresh inputs diverse people bring. If those from minority backgrounds are to have a voice, those from a majority perspective need to make it clear that there is ‘space’ for them in their community. In my view, it isn’t about tolerance or sympathy or looking good, but about developing a community where diversity is valued. Diversity doesn’t just happen, it needs to be worked at just as many Baha’i communities have and do work at racial diversity.

I think most Baha’is care very deeply about the importance of diversity, except, it seems, when it comes to our gay and lesbian brothers. I am often told that there is no such thing as a “LGBTQ” voice because we are all one. We are all equal. I agree with the sentiment but by ‘voice’ I mean a particular perspective on the world and society that is different to a majority voice.

I am a human being first and this means acknowledging others as equals, acknowledging that their differing perspectives are of value, however odd or ‘wrong’ they might seem to me personally.

So the next time there’s a gay or lesbian at a Baha’i event, do your best to treat that individual not as an ‘other’ – because they might not be there next time – threat them as an equal and a welcome element of diversity. And if there are no gays or lesbians in your community, then ask yourself why? What is it about your community that does not show to a 10% minority or so of humanity, that they are welcome?

A Baha’i recently told me that she felt embarrassed to say she was a Baha’i because she didn’t have the words to counter statements such as Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, is spiritually condemned [footnote 2]. Then a work colleague, an out of the closet lesbian, said she had heard that she was a Baha’i and that it sounded like a nice religion and asked her about it. My Baha’i friend kept the conversation brief because she didn’t want her to find out that lesbians and gays are treated differently. For my friend, this is a huge crisis of faith. Personally she sees nothing wrong with homosexuality, but she knows that the public image of the Baha’i community conflates homosexuality with immorality or disease, and she can’t see how she can do anything to change this. I suggested that she could speak about her discomfort in her own Baha’i community. If others in the community share her views, suggest that they state in their publicity something like: “a Bahai teaching is equality for all regardless of their cultural background, race or orientation.” If these Bahais find such a public statement problematic, then host a study class on the topic to find out why and use the opportunity to find ways to present the Baha’i community that work best while still showing the world that this particular Baha’i community is working at reducing discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Like any form of discrimination, the issue affects everyone, not just those who are being oppressed. Looking the other way means doing nothing to address the public perception that the Baha’i community is not coming “to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated” [Universal House of Justice, 27 October, 2010] of those who identify as GLBTQ.

Back to my question: is it better to walk away?

My gay friend continued: I ask myself “why do I have pain and suffering?” Is it because I want there to be a true Faith that makes existence make sense? I desire God and want a religion. In a way, it is selfish. And the result is pain, because the only Faith that makes sense to me, is just like all the other religions: it divides the world into “us” and “them,” even though it claims it doesn’t.
 
Like a child having a tantrum, I am angry and mad and fighting for this not to be so. But the fact of the matter is … it *is* this way. So, I feel the right way is to stop desiring there to be a God or an afterlife or even a religion or Faith that tries to make sense of existence.
 
I want those things because I’m selfish and want inclusion and want some sense of order. If I abandon my desires for these things and accept what is, then I no longer suffer with the pain that comes with the rejection from the Bahai Faith that is caused by being a gay man. And if I stop worrying about an afterlife and the “why” of existence, I can finally live free and at peace.

Is the anger because of attachment? Or injustice? What is more important – passion, involvement or detachment?

As for myself, if I thought the Baha’i Teachings (Link to a blog outlining ‘Abdul-Baha’s eleven principles) endorsed treating gay and lesbian Baha’is differently, I would have leave the Baha’i Faith and in turn, I would be less sure about the existence of God more than ever, as I am one of those Baha’is whose idea of God borders on the agnostic. I am not sure about the existence of God but the Baha’i Writings ring true as does my belief in spirituality.

I would have to leave the Baha’i Faith because if gays and lesbians are treated differently because of their orientation, then it means that the Baha’i principle of equality is meaningless. It is not possible to preach equality and then add, “except for those people”. Baha’is might say things such as “homosexuality is spiritually condemned” but if it is not in Baha’i Scripture, then as far as I am concerned it is not part of the Baha’i Teachings. I realise it is easier for me. I have the confidence to say this.

A friend nailed it by saying: I’ve had to recently acknowledge the fact that deep inside me I feel like I don’t have the right to be happy because I’m gay. God hates us, unless we’re celibate. And it affects my relationships, my self-esteem, and it certainly has played a huge part in my history of enjoying various substances.

“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)

If you are not treated with equality, of course it affects your self-esteem. If you are expected to hide your orientation, of course that creates an imbalance. I think that is why the Baha’i Teachings place such importance on equality, justice, independent investigation, and science and religion being in harmony and why ‘Adbul-Baha wrote: “The divine religions must be the cause of oneness… and the means of unity and love; they must promulgate universal peace, free man from every prejudice, bestow joy and gladness, exercise kindness to all men and do away with every difference and distinction. Just as Bahá’u’lláh addressing the world of humanity saith: ‘O people! Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.'” [Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 28]

We can use reason to overcome prejudice and hopefully make a conscious effort to improve the state of humanity”. [Bahaiteachings.org]

I do not want my religion to be used to hurt another gay or lesbian and I hope for the day when Baha’i communities demonstrate publicly by action that in their community they treat their gay and lesbian members as equals.

‘Abdul-Baha spoke of the diversity of the flowers in the garden of humanity being diverse as a good thing and as a metaphor for the diversity of humanity (being a good thing). I hate it that public statements present as homosexuality being: an aberration subject to treatment or abnormality, handicap, affliction, problem or an abnormality … a great problem for the individual so afflicted … that he or she should strive to overcome it“. (all these quotations are from the Wikipedia “Homosexuality and the Baha’i Faith” page. See footnote two). Where are the examples of Baha’is showing that within the Baha’i community there are those who value the diversity of those who identify as LGBT?

Although the Universal House of Justice’s current 2010 policy states that a “marriage is a union between a man and a woman” I wish that marriage was the only issue here, but it isn’t. Not only are gays and lesbians expected to live solitary lives while others may raise families and enjoy the support and companionship of a life-partner, this distinction is then enlarged by Baha’is to say things such as homosexuality is a transgression or a disease.

Don’t get me started on gender and how many a Baha’i has tried to justify the absence of female Universal House of Justice members as being based on supposed differences in capacity between women and men. I think it is human nature to look for reasons and the tendency to create them when there doesn’t appear to be a reason. But then the danger is, just as in discussions on gender equality, difference is then used as a means to enlarge on the inequality.

The Universal House of Justice letter states that “The Bahá’í Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman” but it doesn’t state the situation of already married gays or lesbians becoming Baha’is or that unmarried gays and lesbians should be treated differently to unmarried straights. The Universal House of Justice does not give a source in Baha’i Scripture (See my blog on this topic), and if there is nothing in Bahai Scripture that restricts marriage to a man and a woman, a later Universal House of Justice is free to take a different approach. It is not clear to me here whether The Universal House of Justice is making a policy on what is a Bahai marriage or telling us what they think is in Baha’i Scripture.

Of course I do see the catch 22 here for those in countries where it would break the law of the land to discriminate against legally married same sex couples. What can Baha’is do? I guess one day the Universal House of Justice is likely to make a policy on same sex marriage, but until they do, I would suggest that any N.S.A. or L.S.A. to view this as a new phenomenon and deal with this in the way that seems closest to the teachings of Baha’u’llah and the latest policy of the Universal House of Justice, while respecting the right of government to define civil marriage.

But I find it horrific that a Baha’i could say that treating a gay or lesbian differently is based on Baha’i Scripture, because it is not true.

In light of such attitudes, I don’t blame this gay friend for writing: it is religion and my desire to be a part of it and my desire to be loved by the Creator. If the Creator doesn’t love me, what is the point of trying to love the Creator? These are thoughts I usually hold down but I don’t see the usefulness (anymore) in pretending these feelings aren’t there. I’m sure I’m not alone. And I’m sharing with you to process and discuss”.

The very idea that some people are less worthy because of their nature, their race, or orientation is repulsive to me. I can’t match this idea with anything in the Bahai Writings, however another of my gay friends wrote: Lately I have been heavy on fighting for inclusion, perhaps to the exclusion of good works. But it may be time for a recalibration…. As regards your comments about desire producing pain, I have found that detachment from religion and people (even the most well intentioned) helps me maintain my sanity and my faith.
 
My view of humanity is much more melancholic than it used to be as a result. But I find that this detachment combined with a regular prayer/meditation practice works for me. When I get particularly depressed by people I turn to the prayers and writings of ‘Abdul-Baha for comfort.

So why should gays and lesbians have to suffer? What justification is there for prejudice against gays and lesbians to continue in the Baha’i community?

My friend Daniel who runs the blog “Revolked”: wrote in response to having his voting rights removed in 2009 by the American Baha’i community for being legally married in California: The Buddhist sangha really helped me… there was something about total inclusion mixed with a semi-Baha’i administration (all volunteer committee of 12 who coordinate the whole shabang), and 40 minutes of silence… with a short (very firesideesque) talk after… that helped me heal.
 
I felt listened to, and I am talking about listened to by Baha’u’llah/Buddha for the first time…
 
I needed (still do) help with dealing about my anger related to organized religion, how the Baha’is treated me, and my overall distaste for any organized spiritual anything…
 
It really helped … sitting every Sunday with really nice, good, smart people who don’t push, nor judge … other folks will find other ways to heal.
 
But I have come to realize that at least for me, Baha’i doesn’t work. It’s a nice idea, and I desperately love and accept Baha’u’llah… but the community … they reject people like me

This is the first case I know of in which a legal same-sex marriage was the reason for applying a Baha’i administrative sanction. I hope it is the only case and that one day that Daniel receives a letter of apology, because it is a Baha’i principle to follow the laws of one’s country. Shoghi Effendi was very firm about this when he wrote “they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of [Baha’i] laws and the application of [Baha’i] principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah) To me, this principle implies that the assemblies – local as much as national – must do their best to avoid any actions or statements that might be misconstrued as a rejection of the rights of government and the legitimacy of civil laws.

As far as I know this applies as long as a Baha’i law or teaching is not transgressed and even then, such as in the case of apartheid in South Africa, Baha’is were encouraged not to confront the law of the land. As far as I know the Universal House of Justice has not made a ruling on same sex marriage, only statements concerning homosexuality outside of marriage and the statement that a Baha’i marriage “is a union between a man and a woman”. So I assume that until the Universal House of Justice makes a ruling on same-sex marriage it is up to local or national Bahai communities to decide what is best in light of the Baha’i principles for those who are already Baha’is as much as for married couples who choose to join the community.

Some days I think the fight is worth it because I hope my actions help Baha’is to be more tolerant and for Baha’i from diverse perspectives to feel equally welcome. I am selfish about this. I want the Baha’i community to be more inclusive. Other days, I think it is better to be more involved in the art world (I am an artist) because it is so diverse and energizing. Perhaps in the end I can do more as an artist to help my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters than trying to work for tolerance and openness within the Bahai community. Who knows? It’s odd though, each time when I think this might be my last blog on the topic of gay rights, it feels as if Baha’u’llah is pushing me – as if this can’t be the last word.

I dedicate this blog to all my gay and lesbian friends who given me the honour of sharing their voices with me for three decades.

Footnote 1: The passage “If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion.” is often quoted by Baha’is but the source here, Paris Talks, consists of notes made by an interpreter of the talk given in French by a translator, which in turn were translated into English.

An authentic source in Abdul-Baha‘s own wording is: “Third: religion is the foundation of harmony and love, of solidarity and unity. If religion is made the cause of enmity it yields not solidarity but rather troubles, and the absence of religion is better than its existence. The abandonment of religion is preferable to this.” [A provisional translation by Sen McGlinn from notes in Persian that had been checked by Adbul-Baha

Footnote 2: In footnote 8 on the “Bahai Faith and Homosexuality” Wikipedia page (Last accessed 17 August 2014) is the statement Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Baha’u’llah, is spiritually condemned. Admittedly this page is currently dominated by the opinions of two Baha’is (Back in May 2014 I failed to get them to modify their opinions because they were not backed up by the sources they referred to). And so like any Wikipedia page that deals with a sensitive topic, those with the most friends with the skills and time, win. It is a weakness of the Wikipedia system that, like the worst aspects of party politics, majority voices are able to drown out other voices. But just because a system can be misused doesn’t mean it is bad system. I love Wikipedia!

Anyway if most Baha’is believe that somewhere in Baha’i Scripture same-sex marriage is excluded then that is an accurate picture of the state of play in the Baha’i community, regardless of whether it is true or not. Wikipedia is a fabulous resource which is flexible, and one day when the current views are minority views, this page will be changed.
So I hope this explains why quite a few of the statements [as accessed on August 17th, 2014] on this Wikipedia page are inaccurate. I hope the day is sooner rather than later when these inaccuracies are removed. However it is a fight, that for now at least, I have chosen to walk away from. Here is what I am referring to as being inaccurate:
The Bahá’í Faith teaches that the only acceptable form of sexual expression is within marriage, and Baha’i marriage is defined in the religion’s texts as exclusively between one man and one woman (Wikipedia, accessed 17 August 2014)
I had replaced the text: “in the religion’s texts as exclusively” with “in Bahai law as being” because the UHJ creates Bahai law or policy. If there is a religious text stating this, then it needs to be found or shown. All Wikipedia references used by these two Baha’is either led to statements made by the Universal House of Justice or references to marriage as a monogamous relationship between a man and woman [click on p. 147 + ”In the Glory of the Father: The Baha’i Faith and Christianity, p. 100”]. Bahai’s would not call policy made the Universal House of Justice ‘religious texts’ because that would confuse the Universal House of Justice’s authority with that of Baha’i Scripture. Saying that a marriage is between a man and woman is not the same as saying this is exclusive.

By now you might be wondering why I am putting all of this into a footnote here. Well, should a Baha’i feel uncomfortable about the phrase defined in the religion’s texts or anything else in that Wikipedia article, this might help. Opinions expressed as if they are supported by secondary literature when in fact they are not [my major argument with these two] is one thing, but these opinions create the impression that Baha’i Scripture is prejudiced against gays and lesbians, when it is not. It might seem petty, but for me it is an important distinction because Baha’i Scripture cannot be changed while statements by the Universal House of Justice can be changed by a later policy of the Universal House of Justice.
You might say, but, there is much more on that page, such as the assumption that homosexuality is a transgression [accessed 17 August homosexuality over other transgressions in the second paragraph] when in fact current Universal House of Justice policy since 2010 is that “to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith.” Well, I thought I’d just start with the first sentence on the Wikipedia page and see how that went before going any further. Perhaps I should write a blog about the exchanges I had on the ‘talk’ behind the scenes page, because until then I had not realised how easy it was for the views of just two individuals with the skills, to dominate a Wikipedia page. I was used to an academic environment where if a reference is made, then it relates to the statement. These two repeatedly added material where in some cases marriage wasn’t mentioned at all. Admittedly they removed most of these when I pointed this out, but it took a lot of time to look up the books. In the end they won because they just kept deleting my edits. It was not pleasant so I understand perfectly why Baha’is might walk away from that fight as I have.

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Is homosexuality spiritually condemned?

May 9, 2014

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

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


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

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

The first four sentences say it all: “Between obliviousness and puritanism stand Bahá’ís, who say that homosexuality is wrong, but homosexuals are kindred souls. The Bahá’í Faith is a religion of unity, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh. Remembering this context is essential when saying that the Bahá’í position on homosexuality is spiritual condemnation. As a Bahá’í, I believe that morality is foundational to spiritually healthy individuals and, therefore, to a united society; and this applies to a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality.”

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

…this applies to a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality. ‘Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.’
Page 1.
    1. Sodomy is not homosexuality.
2. Bahaú’llah is condemning three forms of illicit sex-related activities, not homosexuality. (See the context here)
The author assumes that homosexuality is illicit, but the question is, is homosexuality illicit within a marriage?
Bahá’ís consider the condition of homosexuality to be spiritually condemned and reject the act, they would never reject homosexual people.
Page 1.
    “Justice and equity are twin Guardians that watch over men. From them are revealed such blessed and perspicuous words as are the cause of the well-being of the world and the protection of the nations.”
– Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 13

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

We believe that the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the ‘breath of life unto all created things’, that the exhortations and prohibitions of a Bahá’í life comprise the great education and the great enablement, not the great lockdown.

Through obedience to the laws, Bahá’ís work to discipline themselves according to spiritual standards that outstrip average notions of appropriate living, and this discipline allows the individual to respond to grander impulses than physical desires or psychological complexes.

Furthermore, spiritual discipline frees us from our own selves and offers a life fulfilled through clarity of purpose and devoted service to our fellow humans.
Page 1.

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

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

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

The authors’ comment ”being freed from our own selves” implies that Bahais are expected to obey rules and not to use their own insights. The House of Justice has not laid down rules on subjects such as homosexuality, instead leaving many matters to individual conscience and the Bahai communities that exist in diverse social settings.
“The Universal House of Justice does not feel that the time has come for it to provide detailed legislation on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues. …

It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. Universal House of Justice to an individual, 5 June 1988.

Marriage itself is considered a divine institution and a ‘fortress of well-being and salvation’ that can shelter a man and woman from loneliness and drift, which can save them from the emotional pains of physical satisfaction in unhealthily transient relationships.

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

We are not our desires or our inclinations; we are more. Human sexuality is celebrated though not indulged:
Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 1-2.

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

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

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

Bahai Scripture stresses the importance of the spiritual as part of a holistic worldview which, of course, includes our ‘inclinations’ and ‘desires’: “with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom of existence and the essence of all created things.”

Bahá’u’lláh recommends marriage at a young age.
Page 2.
    Baha’u’llah did not recommend marriage at a young age. He changed an Islamic law where girls could be married off as children, to a law where for the male or female the minimum age for marriage was their 15th birthday. Another Bahai law is to follow the law of one’s country so if the minimum age for marriage is higher, this sets the limit.

But sex must be within marriage because it guarantees that intimate relationships are buttressed against the uncertainties of life, with each married couple and family a solid piece of a slowly unifying humanity.

Such is the core and utterly rational reason that the Bahá’í Faith cannot allow homosexuality within this balance of physical love, emotional health, social responsibility, and spiritual growth.

Our desires are innate but our inclinations are another matter.

And so very firmly, the Bahá’í Faith rejects the possibility that sexual relations between homosexuals are a natural or positive influence on either the individuals themselves or their wider society.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 2.

    There is nothing in Bahai Scripture stating that marriage is only for heterosexuals. When ‘Abdul-Baha wrote about the rules for marriage as an aspect of the social teachings of the Bahai Faith he refers to a man and woman but he doesn’t state that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. And Baha’u’llah wrote:“Whoso contenteth himself with a single partner from among the maidservants of God, both he and she shall live in tranquillity.”

And the introduction the Universal House of Justice explains:
where Bahá’u’lláh has given a law as between a man and a woman, it applies mutatis mutandis between a woman and a man unless the context makes this impossible.

Note that the author has effectively said that married homosexuals could not have a positive influence on others, and on society. How then can he regard them as ‘kindred souls,’ if they are so innately flawed that they can contribute no good?

Bahá’í do not accept the materialist notion that nature is perfect, but rather, the nature of humans must be improved through spiritual education.
Page 2.
    “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Bahá’u’lláh); children are born with lots of potential and no bad bits, so it is not that human beings must be improved, but that through education and experience we can develop and “(t)he purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, hath been to bring forth the Mystic Gems out of the mine of man”. – Baha’u’llah (See my blog on human nature)

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

The condition of homosexuality is regarded by Bahá’u’lláh as an ‘affliction’ and an ‘aberration’ which is ‘against nature’. The starkness of this language makes it transparently clear that not only is the condition wrong but same-sex relationships do not ring true. The language is also difficult to bear for non-Bahá’ís and some Bahá’ís alike; the proper consolation is that this condemnation comes from He whom Bahá’ís believe to be the Manifestation of God, and thus speaks with a voice unparalleled and inimitable. His starkness is not available for our own use. Bahá’ís of whichever sexual orientation are taught acceptance and love by their Faith and its teachings; spiritual condemnation cannot be translated into tangible or emotional condemnation. This very firm rejection is made with the utmost love for homosexuals. For proofs of this utmost love, again the fundamental principles provide guidance: people of all kinds deserve only praise and encouragement from other individuals within the Bahá’í community. (Only the institutions have the right to concern themselves with the private affairs of Bahá’ís, a right exercised only when that behaviour manifests itself in a way publicly damaging to the community.)

Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 2-3.

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

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

“When, therefore, the people of Baha undertake to marry, the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God.” – ‘Abdu’l-Baha

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

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

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

Tolerance and plurality are the professed values of a liberal society, and because of the pacific nature of the Bahá’í Faith, often we are perceived to be liberal intellectuals who also believe in God. Not so. The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions, it was revealed to rewrite human spirituality, morality and society, so we cannot obfuscate the teachings elemental to these goals.
Page 3.
    The author wrote “The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions” while
‘Abdu’l-Baha praises “intellect and wisdom” as “two most luminous lights in either world”

I quote the context below.

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

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

Inside the Bahá’í Faith, the covenantal duty and expectation is obedience to the laws and the institutions. Bahá’ís are expected to strive for understanding of those laws beyond their grasp; a selective adherence to these laws is unacceptable because it undermines the unity of the entire community.

But these are standards for Bahá’ís only, and because the Faith finds itself in a context of many different beliefs, it holds that concord and plurality are more important than contention and division. These principles are reflected in the values of any progressive society.

And yet because this current liberal society has convinced itself of the rightness of Enlightenment thinking, which includes a permissive attitude to sex and allows for an individualistic definition of sexuality, dissension therefrom brings denouncement.

My confusion at being called a bigot stemmed from this double standard: that western society was liberal and open-minded, so long as certain issues were agreed upon beforehand.

There was a hypocritical element which Bahá’ís must reject when explaining their position on homosexuality: pluralism and the liberally spread charge of bigotry are incompatible.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 3-4.

    “It should also be borne in mind that the machinery of the Cause has been so fashioned, that whatever is deemed necessary to incorporate into it in order to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements, can, according to the provisions made by Bahá’u’lláh, be safely embodied therein. To this testify the words of Bahá’u’lláh, as recorded in the Eighth Leaf of the exalted Paradise:

“It is incumbent upon the Trustees of the House of Justice to take counsel together regarding those things which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book, and to enforce that which is agreeable to them. God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth, and He, verily, is the Provider, the Omniscient.”

Not only has the House of Justice been invested by Bahá’u’lláh with the authority to legislate whatsoever has not been explicitly and outwardly recorded in His holy Writ, upon it has also been conferred by the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the right and power to abrogate, according to the changes and requirements of the time, whatever has been already enacted and enforced by a preceding House of Justice. In this connection, He revealed the following in His Will:

“And inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same. Thus for example, the House of Justice enacteth today a certain law and enforceth it, and a hundred years hence, circumstances having profoundly changed and the conditions having altered, another House of Justice will then have power, according to the exigencies of the time, to alter that law. This it can do because that law formeth no part of the divine explicit text. The House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.”

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

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

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

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

There is a curious paradox here which hinges on the identity aspect of this discussion. If liberal society accepted so sincerely the homosexuality of homosexuals, why then have many homosexuals felt the need to persist in their segregated and specialised gay identity long after their supposed entry into the mainstream? I postulate two answers. Firstly, their sexuality has been dramatically overemphasised in the creation of their self-image, self-worth and social identity – just as is the case with many heterosexuals who see sex as soul. The Bahá’í teachings, meanwhile, state that ‘in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex.’
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 4.
    This tactic avoids engaging the critique by projecting onto the opponent. No Bahai is expected to sacrifice aspects of their identity; in fact Shoghi Effendi argues for positive discrimination because diversity is so important.

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

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

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

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

The introduction of the Bahá’í understanding of homosexuality – that the condition is aberrant and the act wrong, but censure of homosexuals even worse – resolves this dichotomous identity problem because it drains the bile from public discussion and sentiment about homosexuality. A homosexual person secure in his or her acceptance by society would not feel the need to adopt a segregated identity. This would succeed is more than the avoidance of false dichotomies, it would foster genuine unity, the very purpose of the Bahá’í Faith.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 4.
    “Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity. This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination.
How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruits, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and colour! Diversity of hues, form and shape, enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof.” -‘Abdu’l-Baha

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

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Reparative therapy and the things Bahais say

November 30, 2012

A friend posted the following on facebook recently:

Peter Drake, sent me the following email to let me know that he will be appearing on the Dr. Oz show to discuss the harm caused by “reparative therapy” for gay people.

I hope you will be able to watch the program, as it is important for Baha’is to be clear about the dangers of something that is suggested in our literature.

I appeared on the Dr. Oz show, about reparative therapy, which will air nationally on Wednesday, November 28th in the afternoon. Clay Aiken and a host of others were also on the show. This has become an international topic of great importance. California’s recent ban on this form of therapy is being challenged in court very soon, so the debate still rages. It is professional malpractice, and highly dangerous — particularly for youth.

Here is what a British publication has to say this week:
“this September, California became the first state in the nation to outlaw “conversion therapy” – basically, trying to make gay people straight – for children and teenagers. Jerry Brown, the governor, calls ex-gay therapy “quackery”, but it’s actually worse than that. The American Psychological Association, in a 2009 report, found that not only does conversion therapy have no effect on a patient’s sexual orientation, but it can also lead to depression, if not suicide. And while it’s harmful enough for adults, for more vulnerable teenagers the inculcation of inferiority and sinfulness that conversion therapy relies on can have lifelong effects.“
The Guardian, 23 Nov 2012

I hope you find a moment to watch or record this show. You’ll see quite a vehement exchange of opinions, well beyond the usual realm of Dr. Oz’s topics. I applaud him for taking this on, and it was quite an experience to be a part of the show!

 
So how did a few Bahais respond to this?

Well, prejudice against gays by Bahais seems to be alive and well with responses such as:

What is in the Baha’i Writings is the general principle to pray and to consult physicians in matters of health. In this particular instance, “through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer.” It would be wise for us as Baha’is to also reflect on the danger to us of continuing conduct that is in violation of the laws of God.

So this Bahai (lets call him X) thinks being gay is in violation of the laws of God, and so forgive me while I roll around on the floor in a fit of laughter. Ok I’m back now. Yes, that’s right reader, such an idea contradicts the Bahai teaching that we are all born beautiful (“I knew My love for thee: therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image” Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, Arabic nr. 3), born without sin (“Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth”. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 189.), and, in fact, born in the image of God (“chosen Thee to be the manifestation of Mine Own Self”, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 38. See my blog for more examples of this holistic perspective of the human condition.).

But this Bahai was not finished. He continued with paragraph, after paragraph, after paragraph, about how Bahais must obey Baha’u’llah’s laws. Reading it sent shudders down my spine because the approach was just like an old-fashioned fire and brimstone Bible-basher. Baha’u’llah’s words were being used like hammers and not like the “choice wine” (Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 5) Baha’u’llah wrote was the intent for his laws. Wine is a metaphor, of course, because Bahai’s do not drink alcohol, but the metaphor was used because one sips wine and consumes it selectively and chooses to enjoy it.

A law is not very meaningful to anyone if removed from its context, and so the paragraphs, all taken out of context, told me as a reader, this person hates gays so much he uses Baha’u’llah’s text like ammunition and throws it out insinuating that anyone who doesn’t think ‘gays should be cured’ is unwilling to obey Baha’u’llah and therefore is a bad Bahai. All good and fine: Bahais are free to express themselves, prejudices and all, and this was just one person’s response. But I continue with this train of thought because I ran against this idea of ‘obedience’ in relation to a blog by another Bahai who, while he wrote that there is nothing wrong with being gay, added: it is a difficult line to walk as an individual believer to profess equality while also adhering to an infallible faith that prohibits it.

I asked him if this meant that he thought there’s nothing to be done in making the Bahai community more welcoming of gays.

His response (you can read it here) would require another blog, but briefly his argument was that we must obey the Bahai administration even if we disagree with it and that individuals such as himself should make their views public so gay Bahais know who they are and that they have their support.

What he stated is a Bahai Teaching, that for the sake of unity it is best to work together even if the decision is wrong.

Here’s the text from Abdu’l-Baha: “It is my hope that the friends and the maid-servants of America become united on all subjects and not disagree at all. If they agree upon a subject, even though it be wrong, it is better than to disagree and be in the right, for this difference will produce the demolition of the divine foundation. Though one of the parties may be in the right and they disagree that will be the cause of a thousand wrongs, but if they agree and both parties are in the wrong, as it is in unity the truth will be revealed and the wrong made right.” Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 411

and another,
“The honoured members must with all freedom express their own thoughts, and it is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the thought of another, nay, he must with moderation set forth the truth, and should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority. It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness…” Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 88

So Bahais obey a decision made by an L.S.A. (a Bahai local administrative body) or a Bahai institution acting within its authority, but Abdu’l-Bahá also outlines that policies made by such bodies may, and are meant to, change (“The House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.” See more on my blog). So clearly this teaching doesn’t mean that Bahais cannot disagree or cannot present argumentation or have a discussion about a topic that has been ruled on.

 
So what has been ruled upon and how does this work?

When writing on the topic of homosexuality the Universal House of Justice has tended to refer to letters written by secretaries on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. These letters are not part of Bahai scripture, however the U.H.J.’s role, as head of the Bahai community, is to make policy on areas not covered by Bahai Scripture. This means they are free to refer to what they wish. While their policies which are part of a machinery “to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements” shouldn’t contradict any of the Bahai Teachings, both Shoghi Effendi and Abdu’i-Baha wrote that “another House of Justice will then have power, according to the exigencies of the time, to alter that law. This it can do because that law formeth no part of the divine explicit text.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah by Shoghi Effendi, p. 22-23)

So clearly any reference to do with infallibility of the Universal of Justice is in relation to their role as head of the Bahai Faith and not to do with interpretation or particular policies. That makes sense because otherwise we would have policy after policy building up on top of earlier ones and we would end up with a bureaucratic nightmare as the decades moved on. But we are spared this problem because of this separation between policy and scripture. Only what Shoghi Effendi penned in his own hand is considered interpretation and interwoven with the scripture penned by The Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha.

 
So what is the latest policy on the topic
of homosexuality and is it different to earlier policies?

To my knowledge the Oct 2010 letter from the Universal House of Justice is the most current policy statement on homosexuality, and the first time that there is policy encouraging the Bahai community to take a neutral position in regards to same-sex partnerships and they compare this policy to the current Bahai policy on party politics. That as individuals, Bahais are free to vote and are encouraged to be involved in political systems but not to join or be active members of any political party.

Their letter stresses that as a community Bahais must remain neutral on whether they support or do not support same-sex marriage but they must work at removing all forms of prejudice against gays (“regarding homosexuality and civil rights, … Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith.” The whole letter is here).

Now an L.S.A. in an area where same-sex marriage is legal can accept a homosexual marriage as equal to a heterosexual marriage. However the same letter also states that a marriage is between “a man and a
woman”
. So what can an L.S.A. do? I’d say look at the writings and look at the context of the situation. Would it be discrimination to treat a same-sex couple differently? If the answer is yes, then I would say the answer should be clear.

However whenever I bring this up, I’m told this idea is a challenge or that it is not possible. A lesser reason is that this is a new policy that has yet to filter into the Bahai community.

A bigger reason is that Bahais still promote the idea that gays need to be fixed. One example is the existence of the BNASAA program (Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions, and Abuse) whose pages advocate that gays can ‘pray’ their gayness’ away (“Any individual so afflicted must, through prayer, and any other means, seek to overcome this handicap.” is just one of the Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which are quoted as if this is a Bahai Teaching, Accessed 30 November 2012). The fact that this committee is also a committee for AIDS, drug abuse and addiction speaks volumes about how homosexuality is associated with illness.

And if anyone ventures to wikipedia for a Bahai view on homosexuality, the current state of play there is the statement that “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; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1222) and gays are to be “advised and sympathized with.” (Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

So what we have at the moment in the Bahai community and in its public face on this issue is the general attitude that there is something wrong with being gay.

This is in direct conflict with the most recent statement from the Universal House of Justice in its 2010 letter urging Baha’is to work at removing all forms of discrimination. This conflict signals a need for something to change.

Often Bahais have brought up arguments related to morality or the role of sex. Who one loves is not the same thing as celibacy or sexual behaviour. This four minute video summarizes the distinctions between gender, orientation (what reparative therapy attempts to ‘cure’), sex, and behaviour.


Watch this in a separate window if your connection is slow.

There’s no need to confuse morality or behaviour with orientation.

And back to the discussion on facebook, another Bahai wrote: there is an assumption that there is something to fix in the first place.
and another:
In the Baha’i Writings, there is such an assumption. However, I feel it is most respectful to view people as spiritual beings who have the dignity of choosing what they will take in and what they won’t; of defining who they really are; and even if such therapy existed which assisted people to change their sexual orientation, which was not proven harmful, of having the dignity to choose for themselves whether or not to participate.

So most Bahais in that discussion didn’t share the view that gays need to be fixed, but the initial poster (Mr. X) continued with more quotations on law and obedience and asserted the following personal views:

People have to decide whether they’re going to listen to the worldly-wise, and to the gay magazines, and to public opinion — or whether they are going to listen to the Word of God, in their lives. We all make that choice, all day
It is not for us to modify the Cause of God. It is for us to defer to the Will of God, not foolishly strive to change what is written in our texts.

So, forget all those teachings about the independent investigation of truth, Bahais are not to question anything!

Forget about religion needing to be reconciled with science!

Forget about the notion that change is the immutable law of nature – everything changes, and there are mechanisms built into the Bahai Faith to enable it to adapt to changing times!

No, Mr. X believes that everything we understand now is as it will be for the next thousand years. We will just have to ignore any evolutions in human knowledge relating to physical and spiritual reality.

Another response to Mr X’s torrent of quotations was:
And I feel that it would indeed be necessary to destroy such a God, a god who rules by Law alone and not through the whisperings of the Spirit, not through the brightness of the Inner Light. Such a God is, I feel, profoundly wrong and awfully harmful in the real world and ought to be rooted out of our spiritual culture. If I met the Buddha on the road I might not kill him, but if I met God up on the ridge as the last light fell, I would wrestle with him until dawn, just like Jacob did (Genesis 32:24-32), crying ‘Let my people go! Take your wretched book of dumb laws away from us, and leave us be!’

Here is where I stand on this subject: While some Bahais might think being a Bahai is about following rules or laws, I and a number of others see the rules or laws made by Baha’u’llah as ‘choice wine’ – to be tasted, to be applied in tune with the Bahai Teachings and in harmony with ever-evolving scientific knowledge. This is not an excuse or cop out, after all isn’t that the point of Baha’u’llah’s own laws – that religious laws are not static but contextual.

The most important teaching is unity. You can’t have unity when some people are treated differently than others.

However well meant, even feeling sorry for another person because of their difference, is prejudice. Sometimes feeling pity is worse than outright expressions of prejudice because then, at least, the words are expressed, as in the postings by Mr. X above. And then someone like me can make a blog about this.

Science has weighed in on the subject of reparative therapy (see my blog: On the psychopathology of homosexuality) and has judged it to be not only ineffective, but harmful. Bahais are required to uphold the principle of the essential unity of science and religion. It follows, therefore, that Bahai Institutions’ must modify the current public position that homosexuality is an illness which can be cured or is a handicap of some form.

A future installment will be about “what is suggested in Bahai literature about curing gays” but if you can’t wait here are a few links on my blog about a presentation at a Bahai studies conference in 2010, or about Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.