Archive for the ‘Social Teachings’ Category

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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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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.

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The individual in society – Bahai perspectives

March 31, 2012

I’ve just read the article, “Human Nature and Human Society: A Baha’i Viewpoint” by William S. Hatcher (available here) where he sets out the Bahai teaching that human nature consists of both spiritual and material capacities. He stresses that in contrast to other religious traditions, Bahais do not believe in “original sin” (the Christian concept that we are born with bad parts that need to be overcome). He wrote: “Bahá’ís view all human capacities, whether physical or spiritual, as potentially helpful to the process of full, adequate, and proper development.” (page 29).

And there is solid support for this view in the Bahai Writings:

O SON OF BEING! 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, Hidden Words, Persian #11)
… With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. … (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Persian #12)

In short: “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CXXII, pp. 259-260) born “in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26, English Standard Version (ESV)) with lots of potential and no bad bits. However, not all Bahais interpret the Bahai teachings in this manner, see this 1996 selection of quotations: “The Struggle Between the Material and Spiritual Natures of Man where the stress is the opposite. And the way the quotations in this selection are chosen and arranged strikes me as being influenced by conservative Christian perspectives. Just to give one example:
Then we must labor to destroy the animal condition, till the meaning of humanity shall come to light. (Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 34)

Selected in this manner is the impression that Baha’u’llah is stating that the animal (material) needs to be suppressed. Let’s look at the context for this quotation:
…At every moment he beholdeth a wondrous world, a new creation, and goeth from astonishment to astonishment, and is lost in awe at the works of the Lord of Oneness.

All these states are to be witnessed in the Valley of Wonderment, and the traveler at every moment seeketh for more, and is not wearied. Thus the Lord of the First and the Last in setting forth the grades of contemplation, and expressing wonderment hath said: “O Lord, increase my astonishment at Thee!”
Likewise, reflect upon the perfection of man’s creation, and that all these planes and states are folded up and hidden away within him.

Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?

Then we must labor to destroy the animal condition, till the meaning of humanity shall come to light.
Thus, too, Luqmán, who had drunk from…”
(Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 33-34) The text goes on to emphasise the importance of dreams.

It is difficult to work out what is specifically intended by the above text, but it certainly is not a Manichaean (material vs spiritual) perspective, given that it comes directly after a phrase in praise of human creation in holistic terms. It could mean that we must strive (use our intellect) not to act like animals or that we have to work hard to discover what being human is. To me Baha’u’llah here is most certainly presenting human creation as a good thing, not as a struggle between good and evil.

Another essay “Morality and Spiritual Growth” on Bahai.org refers to a transformation which is affected, in my view, by a holistic view of human nature: “Moral maturity thus comes from spiritual awareness. As stressed throughout the Bahá’í writings, the primary purpose of God in revealing His will through His Messengers is to effect a transformation in the moral and material conditions of human existence.”

I view “Spiritual awareness” as a holistic perspective (how one would define this is another matter, but there is no indication in the Bahai writings that ‘spiritual’ capacity competes or struggles with the material) because arguing from a differing perspective requires not only changing the context of the quotation but also going against other Bahai Teachings. Baha’u’llah wrote: “Out of the wastes of nothingness, 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.” so not only have we been created, without if and but clauses, but there are no taboes. Everything in the world is an aid for greater understanding.

Hatcher’s article then moves onto how “(t)he Bahá’í concept of morality–of behavioural norms and value choices– is closely linked to the Bahá’í concept of human nature and human purpose”. And summarizes this to mean: “That which tends to favour the development of human spiritual capacity is good, and that which tends to hinder it is bad”. (page 29)

On the face of it this summary might seem to be vague and tenuous, but personally I can’t think of a better way to express this because at the end of the day each of us must be responsible for our own actions and our own conscience, however when we are discussing social actions or society, or a particular Bahai community we need something more solid.
A stating point for a Bahai would be the Bahai teachings and that any Bahai Teaching should match or make sense with other Bahai Teachings. I don’t know if this is expressed as directly as this anywhere in Bahai Scripture but the following Bahai Teachings make a collective sense to me:

Science and Religion agree “And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is, that religion must be in conformity with science and reason, so that it may influence the hearts of men.” (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 299)

Independent investigation (reading and thinking for oneself and the freedom (and importance) of self expression “The members [of a Spiritual Assembly] thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. 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)

Progressive revelation (that religious teachings as much as society are in a continual process of development – the general attitude that things change for the better);

Equality (of all peoples, “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);

Unity in Diversity (to work together but not necessarily think nor act in the same ways and in fact many Bahais interpret this to mean to value diversity as a sign of a healthy society);
For another listing of Bahai Teachings see: “Eleven essentials: the Bahai principles as taught by Abdu’l-Baha in London” or scroll down for a list of Bahai Teachings written by Shoghi Effendi.

 
While the degree of in-born empathy can be disputed in the scientific world, there is no doubt that it is a trait humans are born with (for an example see the article: Tracing the Origins of Human Empathy).

Looking in history, when there have been examples of a lack of empathy, an ideology has had to be created in support of this. If empathy, an awareness of the other as equal or with equal rights was not something in-born, there would be no need to develop an ideology where some group is to be excluded: ideologies such as Nazism or in today’s world, the anti-gay (you will be respected only if you are celibate for your whole life, don’t tell anyone you are gay, or if you don’t identify yourself as gay) stance taken by some societies.

Baha’ullah’s entreaty (below) for justice and equality support the notion that empathy is so much a given human trait that you cannot have peaceful world without it. “We entreat God to deliver the light of equity and the sun of justice from the thick clouds of waywardness, and cause them to shine forth upon men. No light can compare with the light of justice. The establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend upon it.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 28-29)
So Baha’u’llah argues for a society based on justice and equality. What else has Baha’u’llah written about the functioning of society? He wrote: “Our hope is that the world’s religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. …. It is incumbent upon them who are in authority to exercise moderation in all things.” (Gleanings, p. 216)

Moderation, as it is addressed to leaders here, could mean aim for a middle way or to be tolerant so that, I assume, there’s room for more diversity, but I’ve come across Bahais using this passage as an argument that individuals must conform to a majority view or middle of the road perspective. As you can read for yourselves that is clearly not the intent. After all society or any particular Bahai community could never progress, adapt or develop if new ideas from individuals were to be suppressed. “Thoughts are a boundless sea, and the effects and varying conditions of existence are as the separate forms and individual limits of the waves; not until the sea boils up will the waves rise and scatter their pearls of knowledge on the shore of life. … ” Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 109-110

Baha’u’llah’s text continues: “How long will humanity persist in its waywardness? How long will injustice continue? … (R)esolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you. Then will the effulgence of the world’s great Luminary envelop the whole earth, and its inhabitants become the citizens of one city, and the occupants of one and the same throne. … There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed.”(page 216)

To summarize Baha’u’llah’s text: we come from the same source and when there is something that is unjust or that doesn’t make sense, we should resolve to get to the bottom of this and when we do, wonderful things will happen. Here is Abdul-Baha “[To ensure] freedom of conscience and tranquility of heart and soul is one of the duties and functions of government, and is in all ages the cause of progress in development and ascendency over other lands. Other civilized countries acquired not this preeminence, nor attained unto these high degrees of influence and power, till such time as they put away the strife of sects out of their midst, and dealt with all classes according to one standard. All are one people, one nation, one species, one kind. The common interest is complete equality; …” (Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 87)

Humans need society and society needs the input of all voices if it is to be a society that reflects diversity. Again Hatcher expresses this very well: “We hold that it is impossible for an individual to develop his or her spiritual capacities in abstraction from the process by which others are developing their spiritual capacities. In other words, it is through the creation of a just, unified, and progressive social order that spiritual capacities can best be developed.”
The very argument, I’d say, for doing our very best to include our gay brothers and sisters in Bahai community life. In fact, I am convinced that one reason why Bahais write awful things such as “being gay is a spiritual disease” is due to an imbalance of their own ideas about what is a healthy society (“And among the teachings of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh is justice and right. Until these are realized on the plane of existence, all things shall be in disorder and remain imperfect” (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet to the Hague, p. 8-9)). They have put gays into an ‘another category’ of humanity and called this diseased. Other Bahai’s tell me that they are being neutral by saying “it’s a complex issue” when in fact it is very simple. A community or society acts according to the principles of justice and equality or it doesn’t. And a community, in particular any Bahai community, should in my view, encourage and stimulate “the realm of conscience [where] naught but the ray of God’s light can command,” (Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 39) so that each individual acts as “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93). In a nutshell it is up to each individual – our conscience doesn’t work in any other way.

 

Bahai Teachings
“The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind — these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys.”
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 281-2)”

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LGBTQ News

January 31, 2012

Links to what is in the news

Sean manages this page and adds what he finds in the news. These links will stay here and when I have time I’ll make cross links from the “About” page and other pages on this blog so this can be more useful as a resource and forum for discussion.

April 2012: Strict Parenting > Homophobia March 2012: Are Straight People Born That Way? January 2012: Genetic or Not, Gay Won’t Go Away | LGBT Baha’i News: Haifa, Israel | Children of lesbian parents do better


 
 
Article in The Atlantic, 18 April 2012

Study of the Day: Strict Parenting and Same-Sex Urges Lead to Homophobia

A few excerpts:
New research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that anti-gay prejudice may stem from restrictive upbringings and repressed homosexual desires.

PROBLEM: Time and again, stridently anti-gay public figures like Larry Craig and Ted Haggard are caught in same-sex scandals. Is there a relationship between homophobia and homosexuality?

METHODOLOGY: Researchers led by University of Essex lecturer Netta Weinstein looked into the discrepancies between the overt and implicit sexual orientation of participants in a series of experiments.


RESULTS: Across all of the experiments, the subjects with supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation, while those from authoritarian homes revealed the greatest discrepancy between explicit and implicit attraction.

CONCLUSION: The fear, anxiety, and aversion that some seemingly heterosexual people hold toward gays and lesbians can grow out of their own repressed same-sex desires, says co-author and University of Rochester psychologist Richard Ryan in a statement. “In many cases these are people who are at war with themselves and they are turning this internal conflict outward.”

SOURCE: “Parental Autonomy Support and Discrepancies Between Implicit and Explicit Sexual Identities: Dynamics of Self-Acceptance and Defense,” published in the journal Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/102/4/815/


Article in The Atlantic

Are Straight People Born That Way?

A few excerpts from an indepth article referring to scientific data from many sources and perspectives:

“…I put the question to a number of sexology colleagues…
…What do we mean when we say someone is “straight”?

In other words, do children give us clues about whether they’re going to ultimately be sexually attracted to males, females, or both? To a certain extent, yes. That’s why plenty of gay and lesbian adults can point to childhood clues that they were “born this way.” Most straight people could do the same, although typically no one asks straights when they knew they were straight. Behavioral patterns in childhood do show some correlation with adult sexual orientation.


For instance, in Samoa, boys who are very feminine as young children are understood to be destined for attraction to males. They are relabeled “fa’afafine” — meaning they will live “in the manner of a woman.” Without changing their bodies, the fa’afafine are raised like girls and then live as women, and take straight men as their sex partners.

Sexologists call this kind of phenomenon “homosexual transgenderism” and suggest it is fairly common around the world. Sometimes “homosexual transgenderism” is enacted via a humane cultural system, as in Samoa, and sometimes via a phenomenally oppressive one, as in Iran, where feminine homosexual men have been given the choice of transsexualism or death.

Regardless of the cultural system, social pressure to appear straight seems to be fairly intense cross-culturally. Indeed, one is inclined to wonder, if being straight is just natural, why does it require quite so much policing?

…the “fraternal birth order effect” (FBOE): The more older brothers a male has from the same biological mother, the more likely he is to be a gay adult. The theory is that the mother builds up an accumulating immune response to male fetuses, progressively dampening down masculinity of later-born male fetuses. That’s just a theoretical explanation, although the FBOE itself is unequivocally real; it holds up in study after study across cultures. Blanchard has estimated that the 15 to 29 percent of gay men are gay by virtue of the FBOE. (The effect doesn’t exist with women.)

While the FBOE is usually used to talk about the origins of male homosexuality, it could just as well be seen as suggesting that a particular womb environment is likely to produce babies who will grow up to be heterosexual men. In other words, the FBOE suggests that it is likely that many straight men were born inclined to be straight. Note this wouldn’t be because of these straight men having been born with a “straight gene.” They would be born inclined-straight following complex interactions of maternal and fetal genes.

Is there any evidence for “straight genes,” other than the rather indirect evidence of the large number of people who identify as straight? Researchers have looked at sexual orientation among monozygotic twins … Bailey concludes that the data are “consistent with some genetic influence” for sexual orientation but that the data are “not overwhelming.” He goes so far as to say “the evidence from twin studies for innateness of sexual orientation is pretty weak.

That said, Bailey does see some other evidence for an innate component to sexual orientation, at least in males. He points to cases …

Raymond Hames, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Nebraska,… …early same-sex experiences don’t seem to “turn” the boys gay.

While it has been asserted by some that abuse at the hands of men might incline girls to be more likely to ultimately become lesbians, the evidence for this claim is weak. Boston Children’s Hospital public health researcher Bryn Austin and her colleagues have documented that lesbian and bisexual women report having suffered higher rates of physical and sexual abuse in childhood and adolescence, a finding borne out by other teams’ investigations. But we can’t show any kind of clear causal link between the experience of childhood abuse (sexual or physical) and adult sexual orientation.

In short, we don’t really know where human sexual orientations come from yet. What we do know is that the evidence we have that sexual orientation includes an innate component doesn’t seem to point to the existence of simple “gay genes” and “straight genes.

Personally, I think it makes sense to let straight-identified people marry, not because they were necessarily born that way, but because it seems silly, in this day and age, to get in the way of their desire to marry…”


Article in the New York times28 January 2010:

Genetic or Not, Gay Won’t Go Away

By Frank Bruni

An excerpt: “…
The exact dynamics through which someone winds up gay are “still an open question,” said Clinton Anderson, the director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns Office of the American Psychological Association. “There is substantial evidence of various connections between genes, brain, hormones and sexual identity,” he said. “But those do not amount to a simple picture that A leads to B.” Go to Sonja’s blog in response to this article >>

 
 
LGBT Baha’i News: Haifa, Israel

In the Summer of 2010 an unprecedented event happened in Haifa Israel, the Secretary General of the Baha’i International Community spoke at Haifa’s LGBT Center known as the Haifa Forum (qjew.wordpress.com/tag/haifa-foundation). This talk was a part of a multi-faith panel from Haifa’s diverse religious groups that coincided with Haifa’s Gay Pride in 2010. This is the first time to my knowledge that any Baha’i official spoke at a LGBT Center (or a Gay Pride for that matter). What is most curious is that this event was not shared with the Baha’is of the world, no press release, no story on the Baha’i World News Service website (news.bahai.org) about how active the Baha’i International Community is in the religiously diverse climate of Haifa, nothing …
This event was shared by a lesbian Jewish blogger (qjew.wordpress.com). I took it upon myself to contact the Haifa Forum about the details of this talk, but all I received was a warm e-mail thanking me for contacting them, and their hope that LGBT Baha’is will be embraced by the Baha’i Faith. Why keep such this event from the Baha’i community I ask? It could offer some hope to the LGBT Baha’is who have been historically estranged from their faith community. Could this talk be a “sign” that there is a shift occurring with the International Baha’i Administrative (the Universal House of Justice) in regard to accepting LGBT Baha’i relationships? (currently same-sex relationships are banned in the Baha’i Faith with administrative sanctions imposed on those who do have them such as Daniel Orey in the United States (revolked2.blogspot.com/2009/05/lets-start-with-consultign-about-my.html).


 
 
Article in The New Scientist, 8 June 2010

Children of lesbian parents do better than their peers

A few excerpts: The children of lesbian parents outscore their peers on academic and social tests, according to results from the longest-running study of same-sex families.


The finding is based on 78 children who were all born to lesbian couples who used donor insemination to become pregnant and were interviewed and tested at age 17.

… it began in 1986.

Compared with a group of control adolescents born to heterosexual parents with similar educational and financial backgrounds, the children of lesbian couples scored better on academic and social tests and lower on measures of rule-breaking and aggression.

A previous study of same-sex parenting, based on long-term health data, also found no difference in the health of children in either group.

“This confirms what most developmental scientists have suspected,” says Stephen Russell, a sociologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “Kids growing up with same-sex parents fare just as well as other kids.”

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Baha’u’llah & “The Subject of Boys”

June 25, 2011

A few months ago Baquia wrote a blog of the same name where s/he noted:

“If we search Baha’u’llah’s writings, we find something quite remarkable. Nowhere in Baha’u’llah’s writings is there an explicit mention of homosexuality (and neither by Abdu’l-Baha). Arguably, the only reference we have is an extremely brief mention in the Aqdas (more on that a bit later).

To understand why there is no wider mention of homosexuality and what exactly Baha’u’llah was referring and what Shoghi Effendi translated to the seemingly cryptic words, “the subject of boys”, we have to take a few steps back.

Ban on Interracial marriage between the 1660s and 1967

Dates of repeal of US anti-miscegenation laws by state

Sexual dynamics and mores differ greatly between cultures and time periods. What may be accepted sexual behavior at one point in time or within a specific society may be completely unknown or unacceptable in another time or place.”

(See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-miscegenation_laws_in_the_United_States)

Later in the blog Baquia writes: “That does not mean however that homosexuality did not exist at all in one guise or another during Baha’u’llah’s time. Homosexuality, after all, has been observed in nature among hundreds of species as well as throughout human history.

So while the current definition of homosexual relationships may not have existed, there certainly have always been some forms of homosexuality in human society, just as there have been many other acceptable sexual expressions, beyond the institution of marriage between a man and a woman.

So to understand the extremely limited or non-existent Baha’i treatment of homosexuality, we have to first understand the sexual traditions prevalent in the Middle East during the 1800′s.”

One issue I was unaware of was a form of “lesbianism. It is sometimes referred to as sisterhood sighe and involved the consensual relationship between two women that was sexual in nature but not exclusively so. This was practiced in a society that allowed woman to travel together and spend time together (especially in harems where women were only allowed to frequent with other women freely).” [Link to this blog]

This was news to me and so since this existed during Baha’u’llah’s time, surely he would have made mention of this if this was an issue. In Kitab-i-Adqas Baha’u’llah wrote:
“”We shrink, for very shame, from treating the subject of boys. Fear ye the Merciful, O peoples of the world! Commit not that which is forbidden you in Our Holy Tablet, and be not of those who rove distractedly in the wilderness of their desire.” (page 58, Kitab-i-Adqas, 1992 English edition)

Baquia then illustrated use and context for the Arabic term Baha’u’llah used “ghulaam” which refers to: slave, page; lad, or servant, and exclusively males.
The rest of the blog goes into the ‘subject of boys’ that is, the middle eastern practice young boys being treated like a sex slave. The English 1992 edition of Kitab-i-Adqas has a reference to note 134 on page 223 where the research department or the Universal House of Justice has noted that this refers to paederasty. The next sentence in that note states that Shoghi Effendi has interpreted this reference as a prohibition on all homosexual relations, but as far as I know Shoghi Effendi never wrote anything the topic of homosexuality. What we have and what is then quoted next in the same note is a Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

The blog continues: “These relationships are markedly different from the homosexual relationships that we see practiced today. It is not a relationship between equals. Instead the adult male has resources, power, rank and authority and in effect ‘owns’ the younger male. He provides for the boy’s needs but expects certain reciprocation.”

book cover, Sexual Politics in Modern Iran by Janet Afary 1992, Cambridge University PressAnd then quotes:

“Nineteenth-century Iranian society did not adhere to modern definitions or sensibilities concerning same-sex relations. Although legally prohibited, homosexual sex was common, and homoerotic passion was accommodated. Falling in love with a youth and celebrating that love were recognized practices, as long as the lovers remained circumspect and observed certain conventions. Elite urban men often flouted these conventions. In the royal court and among government officials, wealthy merchants, and clerics, the practice of keeping boy concubines was widespread and commonly known; close, homosexual relations between free adult men were less often discussed or divulged, however.”

p. 104, “Sexual Politics in Modern Iran”, by Janet Afary 1992, Cambridge University Press.

And further in the blog: “Through this vice, livat [lavat], betsche bazi [bacheh bazi], is strongly rebuked in the Qur’an and can even be punishable by death, it is nevertheless today generally widespread, among the lay people, especially… officers, schoolteachers, and even clerics. It is so overt that no one makes an attempt to conceal it. In almost every house of standing there is such a boy, even many, who are there to serve this purpose. No one is reserved about introducing them publicly. Indeed, one takes pride in possessing a splendid specimen. One is especially jealous about them. They are carefully watched and protected from seduction.”
(Polak [1861] excerpt from account of the court gynecologist and obstetrician, Dr. Polak cited in “Sexual Politics in Modern Iran”1982, p.41) [Link to Baquia’s blog where there is more from this book]

Baquia then quotes the essay, Sexuality in the Aqdas by R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram:

“It was simply taken-for-granted in Middle Eastern tradition that all men find boys sexually attractive and that men who are attracted to boys are not a ‘different’ type of men but, on the contrary, ‘normal’ men who desire intromissive ejaculation for which a boy taken in liwat is as fit as a woman taken in liwat or vaginal intercourse.

Although egalitarian relationships between pairs of adult men that involved mutual sexual activity have not been unknown in Middle Eastern societies, there was no specific term to cover such liasons before recent decades. They fell outside regular socio-cultural categories, and they were not subsumable under liwat.

If we note the widespread use of dancing boys dressed as girls for prostitution in the Middle East; and the practice of female prostitutes dressing as boys to increase their appeal to customers who would engage in either anal or vaginal intercourse with them; and remember that the customers of both the dancing boys and the travesti girls are married men: It is evident that expecting recent western terms like ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ to be readily applicable in this socio-cultural milieu in any meaningful way is futile.
The Provisions for Sexuality in the Kitab-i-Aqdas in the Context of Late Nineteenth Century Eastern and Western Sexual Ideologies by R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, 1996. The underlined text is my emphasis.

Baquia’s blog continues with more details and information.

The blog then quotes from another article by R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram.

“A remark that it is shameful to keep a catamite presumably means first and foremost that it is shameful to keep a catamite. But from specific comments we may also develop generalizations. We are likely to be aided in generalizing by an understanding of the context in which the statement was made and received. However, apart from this there are two basic directions in which we may take our generalizing. The statement may be generalized to a condemnation of a broader range of homosexual acts; or it may be generalized to a condemnation of those in a position of power exploiting their dependents for their own ends. One type of generalization operates on the basis of presumed analogies among specific outward acts and the one in the statement; the other operates on the basis of a concern for the principles that may be inferred from the statement and how these may be related to motives, responsibilities, and relationships.
The important question is which type of generalization is more likely to produce results that may support a global value system that can flourish and develop in all cultures. Is God more interested in people’s actions than their hearts? Is the road to salvation a mechanically instrumental one? Of course actions matter, but what underlies the actions must matter at least as much if we are not to espouse a materialist view of existence. And not only individual actions matter but also the broader patterns of social interaction in which these actions are situated.

Bahá’í Faith and Sexuality, by R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, February 1996. The underlined text is my emphasis.

Baquia finishes by noting that “we of course pay attention to the translation and interpretation of the Guardian. Juxtaposing the two may provide us with a deeper insight into the discussion of the views and attitudes of the Baha’i Faith towards homosexuality.
Similar to the line of reasoning provided by R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram above, but with one important distinction, here is a question to ponder:
By ignoring the homosexual relationships between women, which were marked by consensual agreement between adult equals, and condemning specifically a despicable act of ritualized pederasty marked by the abuse of power and dominance of an adult over less fortunate minors, was Baha’u’llah telling us more about equality, justice and human rights than about merely a sexual act or orientation?”

About 2 weeks later I commented on 3 May 2011

SS wrote: What do you think of:
“Amongst the many other evils afflicting society in this spiritual low water mark in history, is the question of immorality, and over-emphasis 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 that it is a permissible way of life; which, alas, is all too often the accepted attitude nowadays.”
(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer,
May 21, 1954)

Some Bahais might think to use birth control is against the teachings of the Bahai Faith because a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi states it “as constituting a real danger to the very foundations of our social life.”
(A link to the letter is here – scroll to the comments below for the full letter)

So SS if you choose to treat everything penned by a secretary writing Letters on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf, as if this is scripture to be followed to the letter, I can only assume that you might have problems with Bahais who practice some form of birth control or anything else penned in these letters. As an individual there is nothing to stop you from following the advice in these letters, unless, and this is just my own opinion, your actions contradict any Bahai Teaching.

Some Bahais interprete anything penned by a secretary as if this has the same status as Bahai Scripture so here is a link to some statements about the status of these letters.

These letters have status, but not the same as anything penned by Baha’u’llah, Abdul-Baha, or Shoghi Effendi and here is a link to some of these letters which either contradict Bahai Scripture or have inaccuracies.

As Bahais we need to learn to see these distinctions if we want our Bahai community (here Shoghi Effendi is referring specifically to our administration) to: “be conceived as an instrument and not a substitute for the Faith of Baha’u’llah, that it should be regarded as a channel through which His promised blessings may flow, that it should guard against such rigidity as would clog and fetter the liberating forces released by His Revelation.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 9)

So in short Shoghi Effendi seems to be saying, let the priniciples of the Bahai Teachings guide us in our actions.

Now to the Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which you posted: I googled the phrase: “Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, is spiritually condemned.” and found it is sourced all over the place, including wikipedia, bahaikipedia and so on. However nowhere have I found anything in the Baha’u’llah’s Writings to back this up. Of course I realise many of His tablets are not yet translated but my argument here is, if there is a tablet somewhere that states clearly that homosexuality is spiritually condemned, it would be sourced or a priority would have been given, so such statements in Letters Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi would have some scriptural basis. We cannot assume that those secretaries had the power of divination to ‘know’ what was in a tablet without having read this themselves. It is not a Bahai Teaching to believe that Bahais such as those who served as secretaries had super-human powers.

But I can understand that anyone using the internet would think, well it must be somewhere in the Bahai Writings, otherwise why would this quotation often be the first thing quoted in places such as wikipedia. I would agree, I find this odd. Why does it seem to be that Bahais are so keen to damn homosexuality? Why do not more Bahais question this? Are Bahais more likely to damn homosexuality than any other individual? If you think so, then I’d say, do something about this.
Asking questions (to others or oneself) and investigating the truth are Bahai Teachings. We as individuals make what the Bahai community is in society – no people, no community. We need to do the investigating ourselves. It is our own responsibility.

Why does a religion that celebrates diversity and has equality as a teaching, have homosexuality as an exception? Where does the idea that homosexuality is bad come from? That’s my question. If it comes from those letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, and other issues mentioned in these letters are treated as advice for the particular individual/s it was addressed to, or not given a focus, then why are those mentioning homosexuality treated differently?

We cannot blame those letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi either, because it us, the Bahais, who are who treating the status of these letters differently to how other letters are being treated. Sen has written a blog which goes into some detail about the Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

SS then asked me:
In that case, what are your views on this:

“The word translated here as ‘boys’ has, in this context, in the Arabic original, the implication of paederasty. Shoghi Effendi has interpreted this reference as a prohibition on all homosexual relations.
“The Bahá’í teachings on sexual morality centre on marriage and the family as the bedrock of the whole structure of human society and are designed to protect and strengthen that divine institution. Bahá’í law thus restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married.”

(The Universal House of Justice: The Kitab-i-Aqdas: N 134, p. 223)

I responded on 5 May 2011:

I wrote about this on this blog some years ago and this is a direct link to the same post.

Here I show that since the notes section (the quotation you use) is penned by the U.H.J. or the Research department acting on their behalf.


“Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself. 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 these laws form no part of the divine explicit Text. The House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.”

(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 20)

I give more background on this here

Baquia has also pointed out the same in earlier comments. That there is no reference to homosexuality by Baha’u’llah or Abdul-Baha. And Shoghi Effendi did not write a word on the topic either. His secretaries did.

7 May 2011 SS asked me:
In response to your comment re: the authority of letters written on behalf of the Guardian: In a postscript appended to a letter dated 7 December 1930, written on his behalf to an individual believer, Shoghi Effendi described the normal procedure he followed in dealing with correspondence written on his behalf: I wish to add and say that whatever letters are sent in my behalf from Haifa are all read and approved by me before mailing. There is no exception whatever to this rule.

Posted on 25 June 2011
[sorry, I didn’t realise that this response didn’t get sent. It has been sitting here in the queue since May]

SS, I don’t want to clog up Baquia’s blog with repeating things I’ve already written on this blog, but I realise that it is hard to find links to particular comments, so that is why I posted the link.

Here it is again.  And in particular this link discusses the quotation you mention which is also a Letter Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, not penned by Shoghi Effendi himself.

I suggest that you look at the other letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi on my blog (all linked from the first link here) and if I’ve missed a letter you know of, then please do quote this, or if you disagree, or see a flaw in my argumentation, please address that here.

Surely you know the difference between ‘reading and approving’ and writing something yourself. And then when Shoghi Effendi was so clear when he was writing in his role as the Guardian. The letters have status, they needed to have status so Shoghi Effendi would not need to write them, so he could focus on his work as Guardian. But having status for the addresse is not the same as Bahai Scripture.

This is also why it doesn’t matter that these letters on his behalf contain errors and inconsistences. Their status was never intended to be treated as if they were interpretation on par with Shoghi Effendi and Shoghi Effendi set limits on his own role here as well.

I find it noteworthy that at those times when clearly Shoghi Effendi did not like the way these letters were being treated that his vehicle for expressing this was to have a secretary pen a letter. What this says to me is that he was being consistent. Using those letters for communication of another status to his role as Guardian. It seems to me, that he knew clearly the status of his writings as interpretator and so refrained from penning anything that did not fit within this framework. It would also mean that it would harder for letters penned by secretaries to become part of the canon of Bahai Scripture, but my guess is that he would operate from principle. That the principle was his role as official interpreter was not the same status or authority or role as those letters written on his behalf, often in response to a question.

Of course Shoghi Effendi did pen personal letters, and exactly what is the status of these and whether the status of all letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi are all the same is something that can be debated. Personally I would treat the status of these letters as being applicable to the addresse because that is has been stated.

The medium Shoghi Effendi used is part of the message.
Sen’s blog has more on this here

So my suggestion would be, if something isn’t clear, go to Bahai Scripture and if it is not there, then assume this is an area the Universal House of Justice can rule on and that a future Universal House of Justice can change.

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

May 31, 2011

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Considerations for Assemblies, Dealing with Same-Sex Issues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.