Archive for the ‘sexuality’ Category

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“A gay Baha’i writes to the Universal House of Justice”

October 1, 2013

In response to “A mother writes to the Universal House of Justice” I was sent the following:

15 October 2008

To The Universal House of Justice


Dear Sirs,

I would like a clear and final decision on how openly gay couples and individuals would be treated in the Bahai community. Would we have our voting rights removed for openly stating that we are gay and living with a partner? Or would we be fully accepted with voting rights and all?

I understand the difficult decision that you must face. On the one hand you feel that you must follow the admonitions written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, on the other there is tremendous damage being done to gays inside the Bahai community. I am just one of those individuals who suffered as a gay youth in the Bahai community.

I have a solution that may be worth investigating. Baha’u’llah extols his followers to seek professional medical help when they have an illness. For this reason, no Bahai would ever lose his voting rights for drinking a medicine with alcohol that is prescribed by a doctor, correct? Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi also state that homosexuality is a disorder- one that may need the help of competent physicians. Then in the exact same way, if a homosexual has consulted a competent physician (all of whom do NOT recommend that a homosexual try to overcome his sexuality) and is now living a happy spiritual life- he should be FULLY accepted by the Bahai community. To remove this individual’s voting rights or make him hide his sexuality in order to function in the community would be an incredible injustice and the height of hypocrisy.

I hope to hear an unambigious reply from your office. For now, I have decided to remain inactive, but with the hopes that your leadership will bring the Bahai community to not only greater acceptance of gay families, but encourage the Bahahi community to evolve into a haven for such families and individuals. I will leave you with an incredible link to a book that I hope you will read. I just pray that the religion of my forefathers will act differently from those in this book: www.crisisbook.org

PP

 

Letter from the Universal House of Justice
10 December 2008

Transmitted by email

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

     The Universal House of Justice has received your email letter of 15 October 2008, and we have been asked to convey to you the following.

     Your comments about your experience in the Bahá’í community have been noted. We are to assure you that to regard homosexuals with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of the Teachings.

     With regard to your suggestion that Bahá’ís be allowed to live with a partner in a homosexual lifestyle without losing their voting rights if a physician were to recommend this course of action, the Bahá’í writings unambiguously affirm that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and sexual relations are only permissible between a couple who are married to each other. These teachings are set forth in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh and in the authoritative statements of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and are not susceptible to change by the House of Justice. Therefore, it cannot adopt your suggestion.

     The doors are open for all of humanity to enter the Bahá’í community, irrespective of their present circumstances. Associated with this invitation is the expectation that all those who accept Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation of God will make a sincere and persistent effort to modify those aspects of their conduct which are not in conformity with His Law. For some, this may involve a prolonged personal struggle. However, it would be a profound contradiction for someone to profess the intention to be a Bahá’í, yet consciously reject, disregard or contend with aspects of belief or practice ordained by Bahá’u’lláh.

 

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

Department of the Secretariat

His response to the letter above to which there has been no response.

December 2008

First thank you for your response. But I have to say I’m disappointed in your response, yet it is what I expected. You will allow people to consume alcohol if prescribed by a doctor (something specifically forbidden by Baha’u’llah). But, you disregard a prescription by a doctor to allow a homosexual to find stability and peace in a healthy/intimate relationship. You condemn gay families (not Baha’u’llah; I’ve yet to see a specific quote from Him in regards to adult consenting gay relationships) but you still believe that this is not prejudice. What then is prejudice? You have pre-judged the relationship of two same sex adults and their children as not worthy of fully participating in Bahai community life.

I am still a Bahai (albeit not active) and I always will be. I believe that justice is the most important thing before God’s eyes, not blind adherence to what was written by the secretaries of Shoghi Effendi to individual believers years ago.

I pray for the Bahai youth being brought up, like I was, to regard their sexuality as a disorder to overcome. You say that the Faith stands against any type of prejudice against homosexuals, yet the Bahai community by insisting that gay couples are not fully welcome in the community, you are discriminating. Your views only feed Bahais in other countries to continue to discriminate not only inside the Bahai community, but outside as well. Did you know for instance in 2003, the Guyana NSA wrote to the government against a proposed non-discrimination law that would protect gays/lesbians as well as others in society. And of course the recent protests in Uganda againsts gays where the Bahais were involved. Such actions by local Bahais, the trauma felt by Bahai youth (some whom I’m sure have committed suicide since they couldn’t “overcome”) and the loss of activity of thousands of good Bahais fall squarely on your shoulders because of the rigidness of your views.
Good day.

Note: a few minor typos were corrected,
and below are links to blogs I’ve written on topics that are mentioned above.
Uganda protests against gays + the Bahai involvement with the Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality
Statement by the N.S.A. of Guyana
Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi on the topic of homosexuality

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“A mother writes to the Universal House of Justice”

September 30, 2013

I was recently sent the following:

11 March 2011

“To The Universal House of Justice


I am having trouble accepting the Baha’i teachings on homosexuality and would appreciate further guidance. My son is gay which means that I am forced to explore this issue in greater depth and the test has become more real. I wrote a while ago about this issue to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i’s of the United Kingdom. They sent me a letter written by the Universal House of Justice dated October 1995 and also a paper from the Baha’i International Community on the same subject. Although this reading helped to clarify my vision to a certain extent I still feel as though I am not fully able to understand or condone the Baha’i stance on this subject. I know that God is all-knowing and my knowledge is limited so out of humility I should just accept what I do not understand as being true but I still feel rebellious.

I find it very difficult to accept that my son is damaging his soul by being true to his God given nature. Would this only be true if he was a Baha’i and acting against the teachings? Please can you help to clarify this for me? Although this is his issue I am put into a situation that brings the conflict between what I personally believe and what the faith tells me to believe into greater clarity. I want him to find someone he can love and share his life with. I find it hard to wish for him to be unhappy and celibate for all of his life, for the sake of his soul, as would be the situation expected of him if he was to become a Baha’i?

Is there any possibility that in the future the Universal House of Justice would consider allowing same sex marriage and thereby making the test of no sex before marriage equal for all people regardless of sexuality? Or will gay people always be made to feel as though they are on the edges of society and that their actions are evil and blameworthy. However much Baha’is may say that they do not judge other human beings there is a danger that the teachings on this subject could cause guilt, repression and estrangement, especially when a homosexual child is born within a Baha’i family that upholds such principals.

I have full faith that a state run on Baha’i principals as we envisage happening in the Golden age of this dispensation would not enforce moral teachings and would leave each individual with equal rights and freedom of speech as well as the freedom to act according to the dictates of their own individual conscience. Despite this what I fear is the psychological self hatred and guilt that can torture a soul when the society around teaches that they have a handicap that needs to be overcome. I struggle to understand why homosexuality is seen as a problem rather than an aspect of self that can be embraced and feel as though such an attitude is a step backwards rather than forwards.

I understand that society has lost its moral bearings and too much emphasis can be put on the sex impulse but unlike drug addiction for example I believe that sexuality is not a compulsion but an essential aspect of an individual’s identity. I do hope that the Baha’i stance on this subject will be explored in greater depth with experts in the field of psychology etc. so that it can be justified and stand up to the scrutiny that will come its way as the faith evolves and its teachings become integrated into the wider society.

I understand that a soul will progress spiritually if it is able to transcend its desires and this is why Baha’u’llah has given this teaching to mankind. I also believe that if an individual is so deeply moved by their love of Baha’u’llah that they receive the inspiration and motivation to overcome their sexual desires the greatness of the test will mean that they are a truly special soul with great capacity. Not all souls however will be called in such a way and the majority will be left with a feeling of self hatred and that they are inherently deficient. I find it impossible to condone such an attitude as I believe that every soul must learn self love for what they are in entirely, without cutting off an essential aspect of themselves. From this psychologically healthy attitude of wholeness and true deep self acceptance may develop the power to move closer in understanding of how a person’s actions can be brought in harmony with the will of God.

Science continues to prove that it is impossible to cure someone of homosexuality; public opinion in the UK continues to move away from prejudice and intolerance in an enlightening direction. By contrast we see countries like Uganda where religion stirs up bigoted hatred and violence against homosexuals. I became a Baha’i because I believe in independent investigation of the truth, the balance of Science and religion and the illumination of prejudice. The Baha’i stance however could be seen to bolster up the bigoted counter progressive attitude we see in countries such as Uganda, an attitude that leads to the cruel persecution of their homosexual citizens. Would you be able to help to alleviate these fears or point me in the direction of Baha’i literature that can serve as an antidote to such religious extremism on this topic such as examples of Baha’is who are actively working against this kind of cruel homophobia?

In the literature that the NSA of the UK sent me on this subject I also read that “What a Baha’i cannot logically do is to represent himself or herself as a faithful follower of Baha’u’llah while denying or even attacking features of the Faith which He Himself has made integral to its nature and purpose.” If this is true then what should I do about the fact that if I am asked about my attitude towards homosexuality I have to deny this feature of the Faith and say that I do not believe it is wrong if expressed within a loving and lasting relationship. Does this mean that I should stop being a Baha’i or is it ok if I am clear that this is only my personal opinion? I do not want to be rebellious but I have been unable so far to change my opinion through the power of faith or will alone. I therefore request that you pray for me to receive further enlightenment on this issue. I would also greatly appreciate any further insights that you could give me on this topic.

Warmest Baha’i Love
RR

13 May 2012

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

With regard to your email message of 5 May 2012 enquiring about the status of your email letter of 11 March 2011, you may be assured that your letter has been received and is under consideration. A reply will be sent in due course.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

Office of Correspondence


 
Letter from the Universal House of Justice
22 April 2013

Transmitted by email

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

     The Universal House of Justice has received your email letters of 11 March 2011 and 5 May 2012 describing your struggle to reconcile the Bahá’í teachings with your own views on homosexuality, which have evolved as you have reflected on your relationship with your son. We have been asked to convey to you the following and in so doing express our regret that, owing to the pressure of work at the Bahá’í World Centre and the time necessary to carefully consider the many facets of your heartfelt questions, our reply has been so long delayed. The House of Justice appreciates the candour with which you have expressed your concerns, and your earnest desire to comprehend aspects of the teachings more fully is warmly acknowledged.

     The understanding about human beings today is heavily influenced by materialistic assumptions. Perspectives of social movements, leaders of thought, and the media are shaped by them. Even the findings of science are interpreted according to such prevalent cultural notions. It is not surprising, then, that there are many ideas about human identity and behaviour in contemporary society commonly accepted as truths that conflict with the Bahá’í teachings. Yet, as Bahá’u’lláh asks every thoughtful soul, “Where shalt thou secure the cord of thy faith and fasten the tie of thine obedience?” His answer, revealed in innumerable passages, is, as you know, unambiguous. “The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind.” “No man, however acute his perception,” He affirms, “can ever hope to reach the heights which the wisdom and understanding of the Divine Physician have attained.” And He counsels not to weigh “the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men”, and in “this most perfect Balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed….” The Manifestation institutes His laws and ordinances in accordance with His intrinsic knowledge of human reality and His intended aims for individual and collective transformation. From a Bahá’í perspective, then, it is the teachings of the Manifestation of God that clarify the essential elements of human identity.

     In contrast to many contemporary conceptions, the Bahá’í teachings maintain that a person must rise above certain material aspects of human nature to develop and manifest inherent spiritual qualities that characterize his or her true self. The Sacred Texts contain laws and exhortations that, in many instances, redirect or restrict behaviours that arise from impulses, tendencies, and desires, whether inborn or acquired. Some of these are physical, while others are emotional or psychological. Yet, whatever their origin, it is through their regulation and control that the higher, spiritual nature is able to predominate and flourish. Those who are not Bahá’ís may have no cause to take into account such considerations. A Bahá’í, however, cannot set aside the implications of these teachings and must endeavour to respond to the best of his or her ability, though it be little by little and day by day. In so doing, all believers face challenges, although the specific type or extent of a test may differ. They act with faith in Bahá’u’lláh’s declaration, “Know assuredly that My commandments are the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures”, and they respond to His call, “Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.”

     You have suggested that homosexuals could be made to feel as though they are “on the edges of society” and “inherently deficient”, which would drive them away from the Faith. Such an outcome would be antithetical to the Bahá’í teachings. It may be reassuring to you to know that Shoghi Effendi has stated, in letters written on his behalf, that a Bahá’í who has a homosexual orientation must strive daily to come closer to the Bahá’í standard and, in this process, should be treated with tolerance and receive help, advice, and sympathy; he also acknowledges that such an inclination can be “a great burden to a conscientious soul” and states that those concerned should “adhere to their Faith, and not withdraw from active service, because of the tests they experience” since, “in one way or another, we are all tested; and this must strengthen us, not weaken us.” Whatever the particular challenge he or she may face, through the recognition of Bahá’u’lláh and steadfast effort to abide by His teachings and to serve humanity, every believer can have a rich and rewarding Bahá’í life.

     Although they affirm their conviction that Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings reflect God’s purpose for humankind in this Day, Bahá’ís do not seek to impose their values on others. They do not pass judgement on others on the basis of their own moral standards and can never presume to know the standing of any soul in the eyes of God. Rather, the friends are enjoined to show forth unconditional love, to engage in fellowship with all, and to be forbearing, concerned with their own shortcomings and not those of others. They are to have a sin-covering eye, focusing on good qualities and ignoring the bad, and they must eschew backbiting and gossip. As the Bahá’í community continues to grow and develop, increasing its involvement with the wider society, such characteristics will become more pronounced and a hallmark of Bahá’í culture. Given this, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain, the House of Justice has repeatedly emphasized, would be entirely against the spirit of the Faith. In response to your question about the position a Bahá’í would take in relation to supporting the human rights of homosexuals, we have enclosed a copy of a letter dated 27 October 2010 written on behalf of the House of Justice to an individual believer that discusses this topic, and it is hoped the guidance contained therein will allay any concern you may have.

     As to the possibility of same-sex marriage within the Faith, according to the teachings, Bahá’í marriage is a union between a man and a woman. This is set forth in the Writings and is not susceptible to change by the House of Justice.

     You have also asked how you should deal with the conflict you face in being a Bahá’í while struggling to appreciate certain aspects of the teachings, and you wonder whether you should withdraw from the Faith or simply acknowledge that on this point you have a different view. It can be helpful to consider that, on occasion, a believer may discover that a personal understanding differs to some degree from the teachings. How can it be otherwise, when our conceptions are forged in a social milieu that Bahá’u’lláh has come to radically transform? “An exact and thorough comprehension of so vast a system, so sublime a revelation, so sacred a trust,” Shoghi Effendi reminds us, “is for obvious reasons beyond the reach and ken of our finite minds.” A sensible approach is simply to recognize that the human mind is both finite and fallible and that acquiring spiritual insight and greater understanding is a gradual and ever-unfolding process that requires time, continued study, reflection on action, and consultation with others. This perspective is quite different, however, from contending with or attempting to change explicit provisions of the Faith. Humility is required, rather than an insistence that one’s personal views at any given time are correct. Thus, there is no reason why you should feel a need to withdraw from the Bahá’í community. Rather you are encouraged to keep an open mind and acknowledge, like every other Bahá’í, that there are elements of the Revelation that you are striving to understand more fully. This does not prevent you from showing forth unconditional love and support for your son.

     You are assured of the loving prayers of the House of Justice at the Sacred Threshold that you and your son may be the recipients of heavenly blessings and bestowals.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,

Department of the Secretariat

 
The 27 Oct 2010 letter which was sent to RR is reproduced below. The relevant parts of this letter were published by the National Spiritual Assembly on January 5th, 2011 which Sen McGlinn has on his blog here

27 October 2010

Transmitted by email: …

Mr. …

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

     Your email message of 10 July 2010, sent to the Office of Public Information at the Bahá’í World Centre, was forwarded to the Universal House of Justice, which was pleased to learn that you have recently become a Bahá’í and that you are studying the Teachings and their relationship to contemporary issues. With respect to your question concerning the position Bahá’ís are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following.

     The purpose of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Bahá’ís 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 Bahá’í 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.

     At the same time, you are no doubt aware of the relevant teachings of the Faith that govern the personal conduct of Bahá’ís. The Bahá’í 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 teachings of Bahá’u’lláh on personal morality are binding on Bahá’ís, who strive, as best they can, to live up to the high standards He has established.

     In attempting to reconcile what may appear to be conflicting obligations, it is important to understand that the Bahá’í community does not seek to impose its values on others, nor does it pass judgment on others on the basis of its own moral standards. It does not see itself as one among competing social groups and organizations, each vying to establish its particular social agenda. In working for social justice, Bahá’ís must inevitably distinguish between those dimensions of public issues that are in keeping with the Bahá’í Teachings, which they can actively support, and those that are not, which they would neither promote nor necessarily oppose. In connection with issues of concern to homosexuals, the former would be freedom from discrimination and the latter the opportunity for civil marriage. Such distinctions are unavoidable when addressing any social issue. For example, Bahá’ís actively work for the establishment of world peace but, in the process, do not engage in partisan political activities directed against particular governments.

     As you continue to reflect on this important matter, it is hoped that you will be able to seek the advice of knowledgeable Bahá’ís and the institutions of the Faith in your area. Rest assured of the loving prayers of the House of Justice in the Holy Shrines on your behalf.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat

cc: National Assembly of …

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“The Baha’is lose another gay”

September 16, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

your Hispanic American friend

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

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

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

August 16, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since when is sexuality an illness?

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

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

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

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

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

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

D.W.

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

Click to view the whole cartoon.

Click to read in a pop up window.

Click to read in a pop up window.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Homosexuality and the Baha’i Community: a conversation

October 30, 2010

Sonja: Recently I was told that writing for a Baha’i gay audience was an oxymoron, and when I pointed out that I found this comment offensive the response was that the problem was with me and the writer went so far as to state that I needed to take this up with the House of Justice, as if his statement automatically reflected their views. My point here is that so often when in discussion with Baha’is on the topic of homosexuality, at some point a Baha’i tells me I am disagreeing with the House of Justice or the Baha’i Teachings as a way of trying to silence me. To start this discussion I’d like to focus first on homosexuality as a form of identity.

It seems to me that some Baha’is pretend that gay Baha’is don’t exist or don’t have a voice, viewpoint or audience. I’m an artist and a Baha’i, and while I might not have any sort of Baha’i audience, I certainly have a Baha’i artistic voice, which is informed by my experiences and beliefs. This is what I mean by a gay Baha’i voice. What do you think?

Of course there’s a huge difference between no one in my Baha’i community being interested in what sort of art I’m making and a gay Baha’i having to keep their sexuality a secret in order to be treated with dignity and equality.

Lee: First, let me say “thank you” for asking me to participate in this project. I am humbled and a little nervous, as our discussions are bound to dredge up a lot of uncomfortable feelings that I have quite successfully moved beyond. I am willing to do this work, however, on the chance that it might help someone else in some way. I am a Baha’i, and I am gay — so there is definitely a “gay Baha’i audience.” I don’t think it is an audience of only one! And I do have a voice that springs from my belief in Baha’u’llah, and the reality that I am a homosexual.

I firmly believe that true spiritual principles are never in conflict. When I read the situation you have described, I ask myself “What spiritual principles are these people following?” Yes, the clash of differing opinions is a tool for arriving at what is true, but there are other definitions of “true” than simply “right”. One definition that I like to apply is “Proper alignment or adjustment.” When a door is hung “true” it closes properly and fits snugly, insulating from the cold. When the sailor sets a “true” course, it is one that guides the ship closer to its goal.

Bahai House of Worship in Wilmette, U.S.A.I was fortunate to sit in the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette a few weeks ago with my daughter, who is currently wrestling with the decision to either remain a member of the Baha’i Faith or to have her name removed from the rolls. We talked about how we felt being in this building, how our feelings have changed over the years, and whether or not we still identify with all the Temple symbolizes. Does it still feel “true” to us?

I first set foot in this place in the summer of 1970, a fresh convert from a small town in the West attending my first Youth Conference. I prayed and wept in the Cornerstone Room, which my daughter and I were shocked to discover has now been utterly “de-spiritualized” and “demystified” by removing the walls around it — taking away its aura of “sanctum” and eliminating the possibility of quiet, meditative reflection. Back then I was filled with hope and youthful idealism, and dedicated my life to serving a Cause that I saw as the only hope for humanity. Having come from a myopic, stark black-white/right-wrong, fundamentalist background where outward piety masked hatred of “others” and harsh judgments of fellow believers, I was thrilled to be welcomed into a diverse community which espoused the elimination of all forms of prejudice.

I suppose my first inkling that all was not “true” or in perfect alignment came when I accompanied my two “spiritual mothers” on a visit to the home of some believers who had just moved into our little community. They were two older gentlemen who were living in a colorfully decorated home, and who were themselves fastidious in their attire and a little “precious” in their demeanor. We left the visit, and I saw these two women (who I truly adored) look at each other and chorus: “homos!” That was the last attempt by anyone in the community to include these newcomers in any activities. I had not yet begun to explore this element of my sexuality, but I got the message loud and clear that it would not be OK to be gay! Rather than confront the issue head-on, and try to get to the essence of the spiritual principles being applied in this instance, I simply bottled up my feelings and continued to immerse myself in my early Baha’i education.

Now, more than 40 years later, I am sitting with my daughter in the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, and we are both marveling at how the light has gone out of the Temple for us. I look around at the quotes from the Hidden Words, and I am unmoved. I have seen too clearly the evidence from my own life experience of how this place, which is intended to stand as a beacon of hope for all, and to welcome all within its doors no matter what path they have taken to reach it, is really not a haven of peace and joy for a significant portion of the human family.

I turned to my daughter and said: “Look, I don’t have the temerity or lack of humility to claim that I understand the Grand Design. I am willing to concede that I may be totally out of alignment myself, and perhaps the conflict I am feeling springs from my own ignorance of ‘true’ spiritual principles.” For that reason I never speak ill of the Baha’i Faith. I still teach its core principles avidly, even when my auditors are incredulous that I am still so passionate about a belief system that tells me I am somehow “unnatural.”

I don’t know the way to bridge the divide, and I have honestly given up trying. All I know is what my heart tells me is “true.” My heart tells me that the universe and everything in it is bound together by the force of attraction, which is the force of love. Everything is gradually aligning toward love and unity, whether it is apparent or not. The underlying purpose of all the Prophets and Holy Messengers has been to foster that love and unity, and ‘Abdu’l-Baha said that if religion is a source of discord and disunity we are better off without it! I believe that the world is better off with the Revelation of Baha’u’llah, and that someday all the diverse manifestations of humanity will truly be welcomed, valued and appreciated for being exactly how God created them.

Sonja: I had a close gay friend of the same age when I was 18, and in particular loved it that we could be such close friends without the trappings of “romance”. I encountered the Baha’is a few years later but was never aware of any particular aversion towards gays.
I knew that the official position was that gays were welcome as long as they remained celibate. It didn’t seem fair as it meant condemning gays to a life of singleness, but like many Baha’is around me in the 1980s we took the position as an assembly or community in treating the gays in our community with equality and we didn’t consider that it was any of our business to pry into their personal lives. However, all of these gay friends of mine eventually left the Faith, very angry, and rightly so because they knew that the Baha’i Teachings were not treating them with equal rights and responsibilities.

Lee: I think many Baha’is blithely state that all are welcome in the community, including gays, and that Baha’is don’t hold gays to any different standard than they hold up for straight people. All are expected to live celibate lives outside the sacred institution of marriage, which has been designed as a “fortress for well-being.” They don’t consider the painful and, honestly, abusive reality behind that concept. You expressed one aspect of it: “Condemning gays to a life of singleness.” When you really stop and think about everything that is implied by the “fortress” which has been erected to exclude and isolate gays, it is not surprising that many of your friends left the Faith.

I got married, but by not being honest and true to who I really am, my fortress was actually a prison. I was accepted and honored in the Baha’i community as long as I could hold up the mask and continue the charade, but once the truth came out my life was utterly shattered. A representative of the National Assembly met with me to impart the news that my administrative rights were going to be removed. I asked if that meant that if I was ever to live as just a roommate with a man in the future, in a non-sexual relationship, I still could not have my rights back? Tearfully, she said that I could not ever cohabitate with a man in the future since, now that it is known I am homosexual, the presumption of innocence could not apply.

I knew in that awful moment that the doors to my acceptance in the community were closed forever. I am not someone who thrives in solitude. I don’t think that is how the human species is engineered. There are too many of life’s spiritual qualities that can best be learned and practiced in intimate association with another — humility, selflessness, honesty, acceptance, surrender, to name just a few. So here is the bitter reality of it — gays are not just condemned to a life of “singleness” but to one of solitude and deprivation of all the growth and sorrows and joys that come from the intertwining of two lives for better or worse. Is this “true”? Is this spiritual? Is this the will of a loving and caring Creator?

We talk about Unity in Diversity, and the elimination of prejudice in all its forms. In fact, this is one of the three pillars of our Faith — the Oneness of God, the Oneness of Religion, and the Oneness of Humanity. Who among us has not waxed rhapsodic as we relate the Beloved Master’s parable of the flowers in the garden? Every Baha’i speaks the words, and knows in his or her heart that the garden is much more beautiful when it is ablaze with a diversity of plants and flowers. Yet there is one variety of plant appearing throughout history in the beautiful garden of humanity that Baha’is are actively culling. Baha’is believe that plant is not appropriate. It does not belong. It is somehow “unnatural.”

"Gay marriage"Another fundamental spiritual principle of the Baha’i Faith is that Science and Religion go hand in hand. There is no disagreement between the two. Again, I go back to my original premise that “true” spiritual principles are never in conflict. Is it true that homosexuality has been a variety of the human condition for as long as there is recorded history? Is it true that homosexuality, by appearing in the natural world in many forms, is a gift from an all-loving Creator Who has a Purpose in His Designs? Is it true that the scientific community has removed homosexuality from its list of illnesses that need to be “cured”? Is this scientific truth in alignment with the current Baha’i stance? What do Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha say about the state of religion when it is in conflict with scientific truth? The word “superstition” comes to mind, but “ignorance” and “prejudice” work just as well.

Sonja: For me whether something is considered natural or not is not the issue, because what we consider ‘natural’ is a cultural construct. I think it is natural that men should have equal involvement in raising their children, for example. I view humanity, identity and orientation as a range, and I made an art work called “First Lessons in Relativity” of suspended male and female dolls as an expression of this idea. The work was triggered by the birth of my first son, and a gift of a blue male and pink female doll with their heads connected by string intended to be hung above his bed like other items of conditioning, and his indeterminate name. People couldn’t tell what sex this baby was and berated me when I “unnaturally” referred to him as a baby and not as a he or her, or didn’t correct them when they referred to him as she.
Lessons in Relativity, artwork by Sonja van Kerkhoff
It got me thinking about other instances related to identity where people seem to loose all sense of rationality, and in particular to when Baha’is get angry at me for even mentioning homosexuality. As if I am mentioning that which should not be mentioned. I wonder if some of the hate and rejection of homosexuality as one of the flowers in the garden of humanity is not a reaction of fear of one’s own identity or at least a fear of change? I find this a strange idea for a religion that has such progressive teachings and where our administrative system is built for flexibility and change.

Lee: I know a lot of the damnation is fear-based. Look at how many fundamentalist Christian ministers hack away from the pulpit at the homosexual “lifestyle” and are later found with a male prostitute. There is a great movie now “outing” congressional leaders who vote against gay rights but are secretly homosexual themselves.

Sonja: Yes and it is a pity that so many Bahais involved prominently in the Bahai community these days keep this aspect of their identity hidden and then Bahais think that there are no gay Bahais.
They might keep this hidden because they feel ashamed or wrong, but in the end it would be because most gay Bahais know that even if they live lonely celibate lives, they will still be constantly faced with Bahais who accuse them of being ‘diseased’ or ‘unnatural’ and most likely they would be removed from any position in which they serve their Bahai communities, as you were. (See my blog “Is the Bahai community homophobic” for a taste of these attitudes). Of course this is complex and in the end an individual must be responsible for their own actions, but one of the reasons I’ve found you so inspiring, is that you are not bitter towards the Baha’i community when you were rejected, lost your friends and family, lost your job, your community, and lost all sense of love and respect.

Lee: I deeply regret that I was more concerned about my “position” in the Community, and my image as a straight, family man, than about being open and living in truth. The primary harm I caused was to myself, for lying and contorting myself into the image of what I thought people wanted to see. But I cannot deny the harm I caused to others. As you mentioned above, I did a disservice to the Community by trying to disappear in a magic trick of smoke and mirrors, perpetuating the idea that a man who is gay by nature could be equally happy in a straight relationship. By living this lie I was unknowingly cutting the legs out from under anyone else who was trying to be honest and open. I take responsibility for my decision to live a lie. That was the only “unnatural” thing about my being gay. And in not being true to myself and others, I caused great harm and pain for my family and for the Baha’i institutions. I love Baha’u’llah and am grateful for all the profound changes that have happened in my life as a result of embracing His Revelation. I am a far better person today for trying to follow Baha’u’llah’s teachings in my daily life than I could have ever been otherwise. For that reason, I can never speak ill of the Faith or harbor any resentments. It has given me my life, and my life today is truly blessed!

Sonja: The issue is the practice of discrimination. It does make you wonder when a Baha’i or a Baha’i Institution appears set on removing voting rights such as in your case, even if you have a male flatmate. That is not equal treatment with heterosexuals who have flatmates. Or when a Bahai says: “only if homosexuals practice,” to which I think, when am I not a practising heterosexual? When I sleep?

This way of thinking seems to be an obsession with treating homosexuality as some sort of ailment instead of it being part of the spectrum of human orientation. What is there to fear? However the real issue is pretense. Pretending the issue is about celibacy, when it is really about visibility which brings me back to my first statement. The silencing of gay Baha’is by treating them as lesser beings. Silencing is one aspect of prejudice, a very painful one and hard to address because it is invisible to those perpetuating the prejudice.

Lee: If I were to tell you not to think about something that is close to your heart because it is not acceptable, like an idea for an art project that is welling up within you, and urge you to put it out of your mind entirely, what would happen? I am sure that the more you try to silence that thought, the more it will come to the forefront of your thinking. Any form of repression (internal or external) brings about a strong impulse in the opposite direction. Treating homosexuality as something to be cured breeds sick behavior. I sought counseling and treatment to no avail. There is no fix for something that is not broken. Attempts to change the core of one’s psyche and one’s reality result in nothing but harm, and that harm extends to everyone involved. Through my inability to be honest about who I really am with my wife, my children and with my coreligionists, I caused great pain. Betrayal of my inner reality led to a betrayal of my marriage vows and a shattering of the facade of happy family life. It was a devastating time for everyone, including the Baha’i Institutions, but especially for my wife and children. I don’t want to sound like I am ducking responsibility for my actions and the pain I caused, but I would like people to consider how the institutionalization of an atmosphere of “sickness” and “disease” and “abnormality” around a group of people who have absolutely no choice in the matter of their sexuality actually breeds the sickness of deceit, and the disease of denial, and the abnormality of self loathing. Unconditional love and acceptance is what is needed for healing and wholeness, and this is absent in the Baha’i community when it comes to its homosexual members.

Sonja: Just like those who told me I’d be mixing up my son’s maleness by not straight-jacketing his identity, Bahai’s state that homosexuality is lesser, wrong or worse because that’s what the Baha’i Writings say. Well they don’t.
Think about it, why would it matter to a Manifestation of God what the sexual orientation of an individual is?
I agree with you that Baha’i communities should act with compassion, but I’d also go a step further and say that Baha’is should think about the consequences of their actions. If they believe that homosexuals are lesser beings – which they must do if they apply different laws and remove their voting rights – how does this square with the principle of equality? One law that demands celibacy and in your case this was taken a step further: no co-habitation, no close friendship, no falling in love, no companionship, for all of one’s life. And another law that allows individuals to develop close friendship, to fall in love, to marry and to raise children. That’s two sets of laws and not equality.

I don’t believe that Baha’u’llah was inconsistent, so that was why I started to look around in the Baha’i writings to see where these homophobic ideas came from. Some ideas expressed by Bahai’s come from letters penned by secretaries writing letters to individuals on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. The ideas of many of these letters reflect the norms and values of the 1930-50s and some contain clear errors, however it is not an issue for me, because Shoghi Effendi made it clear that his own doctrinal authority was only when interpreting the “revealed word”. So if he considered his statements he made as head of the Baha’i Faith as not having the authority of interpretation, how could he have considered those letters penned by others as authorative interpretations?
A Baha’i asked me why Shoghi Effendi did not correct some of these letters written on his behalf, and I realised that he wouldn’t have seen a need to because it appears that he saw the authority of these letters as being advice or instruction for the addressee. [A link to more about this]

So actually my position when it comes to the metaphor of the flowers of the garden, is that as gays are currently excluded from open and active participation in Baha’i communities (of course, I might be wrong, some Baha’i communities might welcome gays and gay couples as equals) it means that the visions, viewpoints and energy of this minority group is missing. My motive is not out of pity for gays, but because I believe that the Baha’i community is a poorer place by not having the input of all people.

Often when something is out of balance, actions and events show this to be the case and make the imbalance even worse. It isn’t just a case of gays being expected to live lonely lives, and then being treated with equality and respect in all other cases, but in your case you were told you could never have a flatmate who is male or even a celibate male friend you share your life with. This inequality breeds prejudice.

Baha’is express what I consider hate speech against gays and sometimes it is so strong that it makes me feel ill.
‘Abdul-Baha wrote that

“among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is, that religious, racial, political, economic and patriotic prejudices destroy the edifice of humanity”
(Tablet to the Hague, p. 5)

and it seems to me that the garden of the Baha’i community is missing some of its humanity.

Lee: You are using strong language when you say that what some Baha’is are doing is expressing “hate speech” toward gay people. But when you look someone in the eyes and tell them, in even the most loving voice possible, that they are spiritually sick and in need of treatment, what else can you call it but hate speech? You are teaching such persons to hate themselves, and the consequences of this type of speech are horrific. We have seen it all too often end in suicide, and the insidious thing is that such speech breeds a culture where it is OK to act in prejudicial ways toward gays.

There is currently a law banning homosexuality being debated in Uganda. It imposes harsh prison sentences, and in some cases death, for a convicted homosexual. Uganda is a country where all the fundamentalist religions seem bent on outdoing each other in their outward displays of piety. You drive down the street and see things like a “Praise the Lord Butchery” sign hung over a window display of freshly slaughtered and disemboweled animal carcasses! The religious groups in Uganda have jostled one another in their eagerness to support this heinous new law, and ensure that it is passed. I am appalled to say that the Baha’i administrative order in Uganda fell into line and added its voice in support of the proposed death sentence for gays! THIS, from the community entrusted with the care of the Mother Temple of the African Continent, meant to be a beacon of light to all nations.

I spoke with a Baha’i in Uganda recently who was equally appalled by this situation. I was happy to hear that the World Center sent a Counsellor to educate the community about the harm this action is doing to the Faith, but where are the Counsellors flying into other communities where the termination of gay Baha’is in a spiritual sense is taking place every day? Where are the members of the community who will dare to speak the truth about the incalculable harm being done by the closed-minded culling of a particular variety of flowers in the garden of humanity? How many more beautiful Baha’is will commit suicide because of the untenable position they have been forced into by their love for Baha’u’llah and their unyielding and (dare I say it?) unspiritual “Spiritual Assemblies?” As you said before, the Community is lessened, and this has created incalculable harm.

Any Baha’i who wishes to continue using beautiful analogies about how the Baha’i Faith cherishes the diversity of the human family like it does the flowers of the garden must find some way to reconcile the evident conflict between the spiritual principles he or she is espousing and the reality in the Baha’i community. This is what is really being taught: “No gay flowers are allowed in this garden. If you are gay, and you try to grow here, you will be maimed and mutilated, and perhaps exterminated.” That is the truth. It is not in accord with spiritual principles and it is not in accord with scientific principles, but it is the current state of the Baha’i Community nonetheless.

Sonja: That Baha’is adamantly state that there is no discrimination against gays is one reason for publishing this discussion we are having. I assume most base their opinion on their own observations of the fact that there are no gays in their Baha’i community, and somehow feel that this is a healthy situation of diversity. Baha’is such as yourself who dare to be open, are driven out and well-meaning Baha’is, who have said or done nothing to stop the intolerant Baha’is, are also part of the problem by pretending it doesn’t exist or by looking the other way. This is not “innocent” behaviour when it results in injustice.

When your voting rights were removed, did your local community still make you feel welcome? Did they try and arrange events so you could still participate? Invite you and your partner to social events? Did anyone try and do something? If this happened in my community, my response would be to look at what would be a way forward, a way to include. But having had something similar happen to me personally and our local community turn their backs on us, I know it is difficult. It is up to your local Baha’i community to make some effort to show that they are inclusive and not up to you, the one who has been excluded.

In 2009 the U.H.J sent a letter to all N.S.A.s suggesting alternatives such as

“The House of Justice has decided that, in such instances, rather than eliminating the administrative portion completely or asking the visitors to withdraw, those conducting the programme can modify this part of the Feast to accommodate the guests.” Transmitted by email, To all National Spiritual Assemblies, 17 May 2009

However Baha’i community is as inclusive as the Baha’is choose to make it.

Lee: I am afraid that no matter how many overtures of inclusion and welcome a local community makes to its disenfranchised homosexual members, few will respond positively or want to participate until there is a fundamental change in the Baha’i belief system. Knowing that I am considered an aberration of nature, do you think I want to go and hang out with the Baha’is? Through years of pain and suffering, therapy, and intensive internal work I have finally come to a place where I can honestly say I love myself. Having reached this beautiful place, why would I ever choose to associate again with a community of people who do not (no matter what they say to my face) truly accept me for who I am? This is a huge dilemma for believers, like yourself, who want inclusion and healing. You are not able to change the Baha’i belief system. Only the Universal House of Justice can do that, and I have not seen to this point any evidence that this Body (of whom I knew two of their sons who were homosexual) is willing to do what is necessary to heal this festering wound in the Baha’i Community. They have the tools and the authority to do it, as you have pointed out so well elsewhere.

Sonja: Actually it is not a dilemma personally, because I am convinced that Baha’u’llah’s teachings are really about equality for all of humanity, but I agree it is tough when Baha’is think they can’t do anything because the U.H.J. has the current policy of celibacy for all gays.
Change never happens overnight. If Baha’i communities start to have the tolerance and flexibility they show for straight Baha’is who are not married (which of course depends on the local social climate), then sooner or later the U.H.J. might see a relevance in looking at their current policy. But they are unlikely to do this while countries discriminate against gays in the ways that Iran and Uganda currently do where even an expression of tolerance is not tolerated. I do not see a point in petitioning the U.H.J. and it is not my place to do so. I see any rules a U.H.J. makes as the most conservative aspects of the community and this makes sense, as this is a force for stability and these rules need to be universal.
I do, however, see a point in promoting tolerance and flexibility in Baha’i community life so that gays are not rejected and so that Baha’i communities can prosper from the creative input of gay voices, just as we have a need for all sorts of voices in order to develop Baha’i communities of diversity.

Your reference to what is happening to gays in Africa is very relevant. In 1996 the U.K. N.S.A. published a letter in support of a current bill, Section 28 (a ban on councils and schools stating that homosexuality was a valid alternative lifestyle. See my “Change is a Law of Nature” blog). Thankfully their letter has since been edited to remove the references to disease [<note: the text of this statement on the bahai-library.com has since changed adding these references back in, so now the original statement which was circulated plus an introduction explaining the context in 1996 is available here on scribd] but it remains online in 2010 with statements such as “Baha’is reject the idea that homosexuality is something to be regarded as normal and its practice merely a valid lifestyle alternative.” (accessed 6 July 2010, and available here). So, far from aiming for neutrality or tolerance, Baha’i communities seem to be perpetuating the idea that homosexuality is something ‘abnormal’.

The following 1999 statement by the N.S.A. of Guyana is an argument against human rights whether individuals are Baha’is or not.
“The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Guyana asks that your Government ensure that any legislation enacted safeguards the rights of all, but only insofar as the limits of morality may not be transgressed. It would not be acceptable for example, if the Constitution implicitly allows same sex persons to demand the right to be married. We do not believe this may have been the intention of the Amendment, but it should be sufficiently carefully constructed that such a situation does not automatically follow.”
Accessed from: http://www.gy.bahai.org/amendment.html on 24 April 2010.

The whole statement petitioning against equality has since been removed from the Guyana Baha’i website.

I don’t blame the Guyanan N.S.A. in particular because their action is a result of the same line of thinking as expressed in the statement by the U.K. N.S.A., that homosexuality is not a valid lifestyle.
My question is why can’t gays have equal rights and responsibilities as Baha’is? It is a human rights issue and it wouldn’t be one if individuals were treated equally.

Lee: Have you heard about how gay men in Iraq are being tortured and having their anuses sealed shut with super glue so that they die a horrible death? Where do we draw the line with regard to discrimination against a segment of humanity? We hastily condemn the actions of the perpetrators of such horrors in Iraq, but it is the same doctrines as expressed by the Baha’is in Uganda and in Guyana that merely take the “official Baha’i stance” on homosexuality to their obvious conclusion and thereby open the door to such horrific behavior. Freedoms must be curtailed if you want to hang the label of “evil” or “sick” on a certain form of human love. Equality can never exist in such a system. Pretty words and legalistic arguments cannot obscure the fundamental and jarring inconsistency of a religion preaching unity and inclusion while excluding from active participation a significant minority of the human family.

As I have said before, I believe that the Teachings of Baha’u’llah have the power to unite the world and bring peace. I continue to pray and fast, to live my life according to spiritual principles, to love and accept others as they are, unconditionally, and to do my best to serve humanity with the spirit that work is worship. This is, in essence, what I think it means to be a Baha’i. I will never give up hope that someday I will be welcomed into the Community of fellow believers just as I am.

Lee is a pseudonym. He lives in the U.S.A.

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The principle of ‘mutatis mutandis’

June 10, 2010

I started writing occasional blogs for Bahai Rants (bahairants.com) several years ago and I intend to continue to do this as time permits. In August 2009 I wrote a blog on the topic of homosexuality and equal rights in response to recent changes in the U.K. (linked here).

There are over 500 responses on this blog. So I started a blog here listing some of my responses and thoughts. This blog is now ‘Part two’ because that got too long.

Responses to this blog are moderated, mainly for practical reasons: I couldn’t cope the traffic that the Bahai Rants blog has. If you wish to be 100% sure your response is aired, then post it on Bahai Rants where I am likely to find it and if not, someone else will. Each of my comments below links to where it appears on bahairants.com:


Sonja’s comment posted on 24 April 2010
BahaiReply wrote: “We both know that neither R. Jackstrong-Ingram nor R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram are authoritative interpreters of the sacred writings”
Jackson didn’t make up the principle of ‘mutatis mutandis’, his quotation:

“Following from the principle of mutatis mutandis it is not simply a case of what is expressed as from a man to a woman incorporates from woman to man, and vice versa, but that gendered language is in fact rendered degendered. This is made explicit in other writings where it is stated that women are as men in this dispensation. Gendered textual usage should be read as gender inclusive.
Thus, although licit sex is limited to marriage, it could be regarded as a valid reading of the text to consider the sexes of the partners unspecified and irrelevant.”

(link to his paper on Scribd)

is a response to the following quotation from the introduction of the Kitab-i-aqdas, penned by The Universal House of Justice.

“In general, the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas are stated succinctly. An example of this conciseness can be seen in the fact that many are expressed only as they apply to a man, but it is apparent from the Guardian’s writings that, 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.
For example, the text of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas forbids a man to marry his father’s wife (i.e. his stepmother), and the Guardian has indicated that likewise a woman is forbidden to marry her stepfather. This understanding of the implications of the Law has far-reaching effects in light of the fundamental Bahá’í principle of the equality of the sexes, and should be borne in mind when the sacred Text is studied. That men and women differ from one another in certain characteristics and functions is an inescapable fact of nature and makes possible their complementary roles in certain areas of the life of society; but it is significant that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has stated that in this Dispensation “Equality of men and women, except in some negligible instances, has been fully and categorically announced.”
p. 8, accessed from: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/b/KA/ka-2.html

BahaiReply continues: “so are u saying when Bahá’u’lláh said, “Beware that ye take not unto yourselves more wives than two” he also meant two husbands? That doesn’t make much sense. He is obviously referring to a specific Islamic tradition that he was changing.”

It seems that you are choosing to ignore the introduction and the principle of equality expressed in the use of the principle of ‘mutatis mutandis’ and have decided you know that Baha’u’llah’s intentions were only from a male point of view in a marriage, whereas to quote Sen on his blog,

“(m)any laws that are stated briefly in the Aqdas are detailed in the Bayan”
and if you went to the Bayan and can read Persian, you would find what Sen has translated into English on his blog:

“If a man or woman proves incapable of having a child, it is legitimate for the spouse who is not infertile (whichever it may be) to marry again after having obtained the permission of the other party, but not without her permission”

Persian Bayan, wahid 8 section 15

Link to Sen’s blog, “The puzzle of the Aqdas…” which discusses this more

Sonja’s comment posted on 9 Feb 2010
The article by Jackson Armstrong-Ingram,
“The Provisions for Sexuality in the Kitab-i-Aqdas in the Context of Late Nineteenth Century Eastern and Western Sexual Ideologies” is

here: bahai-library.org/conferences/sex.aqdas.html and available on Scribd

In the Questions + Answers section of the Aqdas, liwaat is translated as sodomy. In the Aqdas, the section referring to ‘boys’ is translated as pedaesty.
This correlates with Jackson’s argument that “Both zina and liwat are sexual relations that take place outside of a context in which the long term rights of both participants are regarded. Unlawful sex is literally unprotected sex — it takes place in relationships that are not associated with social supports and long-term obligations. Lawful sex, as defined in the Aqdas, takes place in marriages, which are relationships embedded in a network of familial support and providing for the mutual development of the partners.”

In my searching around the only texts I have found that refer to homosexuality have been penned by secretaries writing Letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

When Shoghi Effendi was writing in his role as official interpreter of the Bahai
Writings he cites the scripture he is interpreting. Sen’s essay “More interpretive principles” bahai-library.org/articles/interpretive.principles.html gives some examples of this.


In the Aqdas there is no source given in the section of the Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, so I can only assume that it is not the case that the secretary who wrote that letter actually could read Baha’u’llah’s mind, rather the writer wrote this assuming, based on his or her own’s knowledge of the Bahai Faith, that this was a Bahai Teaching.

“A clear distinction is made in our Faith between authoritative interpretation and the interpretation or understanding that each individual arrives at for himself from his study of its teachings.
While the former is confined to the Guardian, the latter, according to the guidance given to us by the Guardian himself, should by no means be suppressed. In fact such individual interpretation is considered the fruit of man’s rational power and conducive to a better understanding of the teachings, provided that no disputes or arguments arise among the friends and the individual himself understands and makes it clear that his views are merely his own. Individual interpretations continually change as one grows in
comprehension of the teachings…”

(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual
believer, May 27, 1966) (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 311-312)

That leaves us with the question then, when is something penned by Shoghi Effendi to be considered interpretation, hence unchangeable, and how can we treat the status of the ten of thousands of Letters written on his behalf.


Sen has written a few posts on these topics. One is here:
“Anything Shoghi Effendi said is Baha´i doctrine”
[click to read this in a new window]