05 January 2011

New guidance regarding homosexuality

The below letter was recently sent from the US National Spiritual Assembly to the American believers. It quotes from a letter to an individual on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, and directly clarifies what is perhaps the greatest social issue of my generation. It clearly encourages Baha'is to fight against discrimination and work for social justice, while leaving intact the clear moral guidelines around marriage. The prominent reference here is that with regards to homosexuals, "freedom from discrimination" can be actively supported, while "opportunity for civil marriage" would neither be promoted nor opposed.


To those looking for a reform of the underlying belief of homosexuality being an aberration, this letter may be another disappointment; it does not present a technical case that would hold up in court, and it leaves the obvious conclusion that as the Baha'i Faith spreads, the social attitude towards sexuality will also spread with it. But to Baha'is caught in the line of fire between a polarized pro- and anti-gay society, this message seems to authoritatively address several recent issues. The Congressional bill that repealed the exclusion of homosexuals in the US military can be actively supported by Baha'is (in fact, I was going to blog about it as such but got busy), as can any effort to stem the harassment in public schools that leads to an unseemly high suicide rate among homosexual youth. Regarding the California Prop 8 debate raging in court, Baha'is can change the channel.




January 3, 2011

To the American Bahá'í community

Dearest Bahá'í Friends,

The National Spiritual Assembly understands that homosexuality is a subject of particular interest and concern to many in this country and is, therefore, moved to share with you a letter dated October 27, 2010, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice on this topic. A copy of the letter-addressed to an American Bahá'í-was received by our Assembly, and the Supreme Body has kindly granted us permission to share it with you:

 "...With respect to your question concerning the position Bahá'ís are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following.

 "The purpose of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Bahá'ís are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Bahá'í is exhorted to be "an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression", and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.

 "At the same time, you are no doubt aware of the relevant teachings of the Faith that govern the personal conduct of Bahá'ís. The Bahá'í Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that sexual relations are restricted to a couple who are married to each other.  Other passages from the Writings state that the practice of homosexuality is not permitted. The teachings of Bahá'u'lláh on personal morality are binding on Bahá'ís, who strive, as best they can, to live up to the high standards He has established.

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

We felt it important that the friends have access to this guidance from the House of Justice, and trust that you will find it helpful.

With loving Bahá'í greetings,

Kenneth E. Bowers
Secretary
National Spiritual Assembly
 of the Bahá'ís of the United States

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this. It's great to see it coming from so high a Baha'i authority as the Universal House of Justice. Have you seen this other article about that issue, written last year by an individual Baha'i? I really like his approach. http://onebahai.blogspot.com/2009/11/gay-marriage-issue.html

    Thanks again.

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  2. I wonder where Baha'is stand on civil unions? It's not exactly marriage but it does ensure certain right rights, such as property transfer and hospital visitation. Are denying these rights a to gay couples a form of discrimination?

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  3. Mead over at "One Baha'i's Approach" has written a wonderfully thoughtful response to the letter http://onebahai.blogspot.com/2011/01/homosexuality-and-civil-rights.html

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  4. I think calling it civil union vs marriage is a trivial point, and they would both fall into the category of being agnostic. I think it's a stretch to say that denying marriage is denying rights, it's more about the social acceptance. How hospitals administer visiting hours isn't the greatest issue surrounding the attitude toward sexual relationships. Writing a will, power of attorney, etc. are legal mechanisms to share responsibilities available to anyone regardless of relationship type.

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  5. You wrote: "I think it's a stretch to say that denying marriage is denying rights, it's more about the social acceptance. How hospitals administer visiting hours isn't the greatest issue surrounding the attitude toward sexual relationships."

    While I agree with you on the first part, I think you unfairly minimize the importance of some of these rights. They include joint adoption and parental rights, status of next-of-kin for hospital visits, immigration and residency rights, decision rights on the remains of the deceased, automatic inheritance, veterans benefits, social security, medicare, joint tax filing, child support (if necessary), joint insurance plans, tax credits, among many others.

    The Baha'i view on the practice of homosexuality is clear. But is there a way to distinguish between the sexual aspect and the legal aspect, and therefore support these rights for committed gay couples?

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  6. I have gotten to this blog because of many hours of research on Baha'i position on homosexuality. As a well adjusted gay man who is an ECKist and a Unitarian Universalists I found this research necessary as someone on the program committee invited a Baha'i to present their beliefs to our congregation even through we are open and a welcoming congregation for BGLT people.
    The many web pages I have encountered in the past week has convinced me that The National Spiritual Assembly has not changed their position from the many past decades but have decided to soft pedal the position on homosexuality.
    I frankly do not care what you people believe about homosexuality as long as you all stay out of the political arena as an religious unit and as individuals regarding BGLT issues.
    The Assembly states such but I question as to its validity.
    I am aware that the BGLT Baha'i community addressed their concerns back in early 1990s. But from the recent statement from the Assembly it is apparent that they were told to cool it or leave.
    Now what really gets me is the fact that two of your people agreed to come and talk to us about their religion when it is a well known fact that Unitarian Universalists accept BGLT as equals in all aspects including marriage. I will know in a few hours Baha'i reasoning for accepting an invitation, unbeknownst to the program chair the position of Baha'i position on BGLT, to a congregation who has open and no so open BGLT members.
    Frankly I am extremely offended to have the path of Baha'i preached to me from my pulpit.

    Terry W. Schneider
    Lambda 76
    Equality, Justice and Dignity for all
    www.lambda76.us

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    1. Offended to have Baha'is sharing their Faith with you? A Faith of mostly liberals who don't stand in the way of gay marriage, and who believe that their views should not be imposed on others offends you so much that you don't think they should be welcome to speak to your congregation? The Baha'i Faith teaches that the definition of Baha'i marriage happens to be between a man and a women, and meanwhile believes that such a position should not be imposed on the rest of society. You can disagree with the Baha'i position that Baha'i marriage is between a man and a woman, but do you not believe that it's quite nice that Baha'is don't force their beliefs on others, and yet, is it not also nice that the Faith focuses much more on love than on hell? If you have issues with the Baha'i Faith then you must really have issues with all other religions. And if you don't believe that different religions should share the beautiful things of their Faith with your congregation, then what is your congregation really about? What do you think it should be about? If you think it should ban people to speak who share different beliefs, then who is actually more intolerant?

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  8. I'm reposting Sonja's comment with the link removed:

    "Terry, I hope the experience with the Baha'is speaking was fruitful. It sounds as if there was a misunderstanding for them to have been invited or perhaps the intent was to hear varying religious views. It saddens me when I hear Bahai's state things in the name of the Bahai community that discriminate against our gay brothers and sisters.

    "I am a Bahai and there is nothing in Baha'i Scripture to support discrimination against gays. However many Bahais believe that treating gays differently or seeing homosexuality as something lesser, is embedded in Bahai Scripture. And it begins with the idea that being gay is wrong (against nature).

    "Bryan, I don't understand what you mean by this comment "and it leaves the obvious conclusion that as the Baha'i Faith spreads, the social attitude towards sexuality will also spread with it" - Are you saying that the current Bahai policy that gays are expected to be celibate will become the norm while heterosexuals will be allowed to partner, marry and raise children, and it won't be seen as unnjust or as a double standard? Or do you mean that as the Faith spreads "that the machinery of the Cause has been so fashioned, that whatever is deemed necessary to incorporate into it in order to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements" will happen because the UHJ has the power to rule and make changes on any issue that is not part of Bahai Scripture? (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 22/3)

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  9. And regarding your question, I think the answer is obvious, but you just wanted to make the point that the Faith can change with time and you feel that on this subject there will be a reversal of attitude because you see the teachings on homosexuality as unjust. It is certainly a complicated issue, especially due to the noisy public debate over religion and sexuality, but when I read the available writings from Shoghi Effendi and the House of Justice, there is a clear and logical approach to homosexuality that doesn't put Baha'is in the PRO and ANTI categories. I've read yours and others' attempts to explain how homosexuality will someday be acceptable within the Baha'i Faith in the future, or how it is simply misunderstanding and lingering prejudice that allow the attitude to continue. I agree that there are lingering prejudices among Baha'is, but those attitudes are not in line with the guidance on the issue, and neither is promoting homosexuality as akin to heterosexual relationships. Ultimately, we have incredibly clear guidance from Baha'u'llah and `Abdu'l-Baha that if there is any dispute among Baha'is on any issue, it should be referred to the Universal House of Justice and whatever they decide should be regarded as equal to the text itself. The House of Justice has been repeatedly clear on the issue and even though it has the possibility to change its previous decisions, it cannot deviate from the interpretations of Shoghi Effendi, and saying that the institution can overturn previous decisions doesn't give anyone a right to question the decisions made. I wrote in more detail in a previous post: homosexuality

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  10. As someone intrigued by the Baha'i faith and resonate with most of its teachings, I've been reading this discussion with much interest. I have many good friends and acquaintances who are either gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender themselves or are supportive and active in the LBGT human rights movement for total equality, including the right to marry. The lesbian friends I have are in committed, monogamous relationships and many are raising families. I can honestly say that I can accept most everything I have learned about the Baha'i faith, save its views on homosexuality. The Faith says that God sends us a Prophet who is perfect for our time to deliver his/her (does God even have a gender? I think not.) message to guide us in our spiritual evolution. Let's consider the time in which the Bab and Baha'u'llah lived. During their life span, society was closed to even the slightest mention of tolerance towards homosexuals. One can only imagine how this population suffered back in the days of Baha'u'llah. I can't imagine he would have gotten very far as God's prophet if he included the acceptance of homosexuality as part of his teachings. While homosexual behavior has been around as long as there have been humans, it is only in the last decade that we have made some real advancements in the West towards its acceptance. Full equality for LGBT persons is now the human rights issue of our time. As we evolve in our acceptance of one another, isn't it possible that God could send us another messenger who encourages us to embrace homosexuality and homosexual marriage as equal to heterosexual marriage? After all, it's the same love and the same expression of that love. And isn't that a universal truth? Love thy neighbor as you would love thyself? The LGBT singles and couples I know are some of the most loving, caring, gentle, and nurturing souls I've ever met. If you ask me, many of them are further along on their spiritual paths than the most devout heterosexuals. To experience the psychological hardships of going through puberty, coming to terms with their sexuality or transgender nature, closeting themselves, and then mustering the courage to be true to themselves and come out to their friends and family at the risk of devastating rejection and persecution, yet still approach the world and the people in it with compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and love...well...you tell me who the more evolved person is. I hope I am still alive to experience the message of the next Prophet. I bet her or she will teach the message of full equality and acceptance of ALL peoples in ALL matters, marriage and sexuality included.

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  11. Hello Curious,

    Baha'u'llah was clear that the next Prophet will not appear for at least a thousand years, so at least 2853 AD. The next Prophet can make anything forbidden or not, so alcohol or gay marriage may be acceptable in the distant future, according to the needs of the time. However, the Baha'i teachings are clear, and even though the Universal House of Justice can legislate to make laws applicable to changing needs, they cannot change anything written by the core figures or Shoghi Effendi. So in other words, the Baha'i teachings do not allow for gay marriage, or any sex outside of marriage, and they won't change for 840 more years. If you feel attracted to the Baha'i Faith but have difficulty with this one thing, I encourage you to try and reconcile the issue and explore what the Baha'i teachings actually say about it. If you can't reconcile the issue in your mind, then you may also come to recognize that Baha'u'llah as the Manifestation of God for the day we live in, and in that role there will be teachings for every person and every culture that may seem confusing. But the teachings are a prescription for how to advance the individual and society, and there is wisdom in them.

    Also, I can't help but mention, love is not sex.

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    1. Hi Bryan and Curious,

      I am glad you made mention there is a difference between love and sex at the end of your post Bryan. I think, due in most part to the over emphasis of sex in our society at this particular time in history, that the function of the sex impulse is either not understood or overlooked when investigating the Baha'i teachings concerning homosexuality.

      According to Baha'i teachings, genuine, altruistic love between people is something to aspire to regardless of race, creed, or gender, but to allow this to find expression through acts of sexual intimacy is inappropriate.

      "The Bahá'í teaching on sexual intercourse is very clear. It is permissible only between a man and the woman who is his wife ..."

      (From letter of the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, February 6, 1973)

      (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

      "The Bahá'í Faith recognizes the value of the sex impulse, but condemns its illegitimate and improper expressions such as free love, companionate marriage and others, all of which it considers positively harmful to man and to the society in which he lives. The proper use of the sex instinct is the natural right of every individual, and it is precisely for this purpose that the institution of marriage has been established. The Bahá'ís do not believe in the suppression of the sex impulse but in its regulation and control."

      (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, September 5, 1938: Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, p. 108)

      (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

      "A number of sexual problems, such as homosexuality and trans-sexuality can well have medical aspects, and in such cases recourse should certainly be had to the best medical assistance. But it is clear from the teaching of Bahá'u'lláh 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 and overcome. This may require a hard struggle, but so also can be the struggle of a heterosexual person to control his or her desires. The exercise of self-control in this, as in so very many other aspects of life, has a beneficial effect on the progress of the soul. It should, moreover, be borne in mind that although to be, married is highly desirable, and Bahá'u'lláh has strongly recommended it, it is not the central purpose of life. If a person has to wait a considerable period before finding a spouse, or if ultimately, he or she must remain single, it does not mean that he or she is thereby unable to fulfill his or her life's purpose."

      (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, January 12, 1973; cited in Messages from The Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, pp. 110-111)

      (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 364)

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