Two views of the Baha’i view on homosexualityOctober 18, 2013 Recently in a discussion a Bahai asked whatwould happen if a Baha’i started a pledge similar to this one where members of the Jewish community pledge at working at ending homophobic bullying or harassment of any kind in their synagogues, schools, organizations, and communities.
In response: a Baha’i wrote:
“The official policy of Baha’is toward gays is demeaning…what to do? I mean that first statement in the pledge implies that we see each gay or lesbian as created in the image of the divine. This doesn’t quite go with the image of gays as inherently handicapped and in need of repair to their basic nature. Not that I don’t appreciate your intention…I just don’t see how it all fits together in an intelligible and consistent way”
So here are two differing responses to the question
“What is the Baha’i perspective of homosexuality”
Baha’i A: “This is an attempt on my part to give us “the flavor,” of the Baha’i teachings on homosexuality where I have capitalized certain words. The following quotations (shown in brown and inside quotation marks) are selections taken from the BNASAA (Baha’i Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addiction and Abuse) website, under the section “Sexuality”, subsection “Homosexuality” [Last accessed on 18 October 2013]
“Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy, and lechery.”
This reference from Baha’u'llah is offered without any explanation of what the terms translated as “sodomy” and “lechery” mean in the original Arabic, and how they might relate to the subject of homosexuality today, or how they relate to heterosexual activity. The infamous “subject of boys” passage in the Aqdas (Book of Laws), which is also offered under the heading of “homosexuality” clearly refers to pederasty, or pedophilia, an altogether different subject, although the Guardian, according to the Universal House of Justice, is supposed to have interpreted it to apply to all homosexual relationships. There are no references penned from Abdu’l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi specifically regarding homosexuality. The remaining references are pulled from letters written by secretaries on behalf of the Guardian, or from correspondence from the Universal House of Justice or, in the case of the final three quotations, from a paper published on the BNASAA website.
“IMMORALITY of every sort is really forbidden by Baha’u'llah, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being AGAINST NATURE…through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this HANDICAP.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 26 March 1950; Letter from the Universal House of Justice to National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1995 on Bahai-Library; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1223)
‘Baha’u'llah makes provision for the Universal House of Justice to determine, according to the degree of offence, penalties for adultery and sodomy.” (The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Notes Section, p. 223, authored by the U.H.J, 1992)
“Sex relationships, of any form, outside marriage are not permissible … whoso violates this rule will not only be responsible to God, but will INCUR THE NECESSARY PUNISHMENT FROM SOCIETY.” (Letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, 5 September 1938; Cited in a Letter from the U.H.J. All National Spiritual Assemblies 6 February 1973, on Bahai-Library; Lights of Guidance, p. 346, #1157 – Here a date for this letter is not given)
“Baha’u'llah has spoken very strongly against this SHAMEFUL SEXUAL ABERRATION, as He has against adultery and immoral conduct in general.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 25 October 1949. Cited in a 1993 compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.)
“The Guardian cannot tell you what the attitude of God would be towards a person who lives a good life in most ways, but not in this way. All he can tell you is that it is forbidden by Baha’u'llah and that ONE SO AFFLICTED SHOULD STRUGGLE AND STRUGGLE AGAIN TO OVERCOME IT.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 26 March 1950. Cited in a 1993 compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice.)
“The person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are CONDEMNED BY BAHA’U'LLAH, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary CONSULT DOCTORS, and make every effort to OVERCOME THIS AFFLICTION, which is CORRUPTIVE FOR HIM AND BAD FOR THE CAUSE. If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his VOTING RIGHTS TAKEN AWAY. The Guardian does not think, however, that a Baha’i body should take it upon itself to denounce him to the Authorities unless his conduct borders on INSANITY.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 20 June 1953 to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada, published in “Messages to Canada” p. 39; cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 4., on Bahai-Library.)
“Homosexuality … IS SPIRITUALLY CONDEMNED … we do not believe that it is a permissible way of life.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)
“We must struggle against the EVILS IN SOCIETY by spiritual means, and medical and social ones as well.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)
“The thing people need to meet THIS TYPE OF TROUBLE, as well as every other type, is greater spiritual understanding and stability.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)
…any friends who are FLAGRANTLY IMMORAL should be assisted, and, if possible, restrained. If their activities overstep all bounds and become a matter of PUBLIC SCANDAL, then the Assembly can consider depriving them of their voting rights. (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 20 August 1955; Lights of Guidance, p. 369, #1230)
“Homosexuality is HIGHLY CONDEMNED…Any individual SO AFFLICTED must, through prayer, and any other means, seek to overcome this HANDICAP.” (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 6 October 1956)
“…no sexual act can be considered lawful unless performed between lawfully married persons.” (Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi no date nor further information – cited in Lights of Guidance, pp. 364, #1220)
“…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.” (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, p. 110-111; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1222)
“If an individual violates the spiritual laws for his own development HE WILL CAUSE INJURY NOT ONLY TO HIMSELF BUT TO THE SOCIETY IN WHICH HE LIVES.” (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer; excerpts to all National Spiritual Assemblies, February 6, 1973: Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1968-1973, pp. 105-106. Lights of Guidance, p. 343-344 #1146)
“…Baha’i law restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married.” (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 14 March 1973; Lights of Guidance, pp. 365, #1225
“Thus, it should not be so much a matter of whether a practicing homosexual can be a Bahá’í as whether, having become a Baha’i, the homosexual can OVERCOME HIS PROBLEM.” (From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 14 March 1973; Lights of Guidance, pp. 365, #1225
“While recognizing the divine origin and force of the sex impulse in man…it must be controlled, and Baha’u'llah’s law confines its expression to the marriage relationship. … You can be confident that with the help of doctors, by prayer and meditation, by self-abnegation and by giving as much time as possible to serving the Cause in your community you can eventually succeed in OVERCOMING YOUR PROBLEM.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, January 9, 1977; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368, #1227)
“If you are sincerely intent on OVERCOMING YOUR PROBLEM…The more we occupy ourselves with teaching the Cause and serving our fellow-man in this way, the stronger we become in resisting THAT WHICH IS ABHORRENT TO OUR SPIRITUAL SELVES.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, July 16, 1980; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368, #1228)
“Both you and your Baha’i friend must first recognize that a homosexual relationship SUBVERTS THE PURPOSE OF HUMAN LIFE and that determined effort to overcome the wayward tendencies which promote this practice which, like other sexual vices, IS SO ABHORRENT TO THE CREATOR OF ALL MANKIND…” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, August 23, 1982; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368, #1229)
“…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a “natural” or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as
AN ABERRATION SUBJECT TO TREATMENT…To the question of ALTERATION OF HOMOSEXUAL BENTS, much study must be given, and doubtless IN THE FUTURE CLEAR PRINCIPLES OF PREVENTION AND TREATMENT WILL EMERGE. As for those now afflicted, a homosexual does not decide to be a PROBLEM HUMAN, but he does…have decision in choosing his way of life.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 March 1987. Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 7., on Bahai-Library.
“You mention recent research which indicates that there may be a genetic basis for homosexuality; you accept the Baha’i view of this matter, but you question the use of such terms as “ABNORMALITY, HANDICAP, AFFLICTION, PROBLEM, ETC.” since they can create misunderstandings. ON THE CONTRARY, THE HOUSE OF JUSTICE FEELS THAT JUST SUCH WORDS CAN BE A GREAT HELP TO THE INDIVIDUALS CONCERNED.” Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 11., Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated, 16 March 1992. on Bahai-Library.
“Some people nowadays maintain that homosexuality is not an abnormality…The Faith, on the contrary, makes it abundantly clear that HOMOSEXUALITY IS AN ABNORMALITY, is a GREAT PROBLEM for the individual SO AFFLICTED, and that he or she SHOULD STRIVE TO OVERCOME IT. The social implications of such an attitude are very important.” Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 11., Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated, 16 March 1992. on Bahai-Library.
“One could have concluded that HOMOSEXUALS COULD WELL ESTABLISH STABLE RELATIONSHIPS WITH ONE ANOTHER FOR MUTUAL SUPPORT, similar to the marital relationship of a heterosexual couple who cannot have children. This, indeed, is the conclusion that some churches and governments have come to. BUT BAHA’U'LLAH…SHOWS THAT SUCH A RELATIONSHIP IS NOT A PERMISSIBLE OR BENEFICIAL SOLUTION TO A HOMOSEXUAL’S CONDITION.” (Cited in a compilation on homosexuality by Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 1993, p. 12., Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual dated, 16 March 1992. on Bahai-Library.
“Human beings need not only assistance in defining acceptable behavior of one person towards another, but also guidance which will help them to refrain from doing that which is SPIRITUALLY DAMAGING TO THEMSELVES.” (Letter from the Universal House of Justice to National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1995 on Bahai-Library)
“Whether DEFICIENCIES are inborn or acquired, our purpose in this life is to overcome them…” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 September 1993. This letter is cited in full by Bill Collins on on the e-list soc.religion.bahai, 31 Aug 1994)
“You state that “homosexuals cannot be altered into heterosexuality, all such trials have failed and homosexuals remain so until the day they die.” THIS IS A STATEMENT WHICH IS STILL OPEN TO DISPUTE, AND WHICH BAHA’IS SHOULD QUESTION.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 September 1993. ibid)
“Baha’i Assemblies can testify to the number of Baha’is who, although having had homosexual orientations, have been able to lead normally happy married lives and raise families.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 September 1993. ibid)
“The condition of being sexually attracted to some object other than to a mature member of the opposite sex, A CONDITION OF WHICH HOMOSEXUALITY IS BUT ONE MANIFESTATION, is regarded by the Faith as a DISTORTION OF TRUE HUMAN NATURE, as a PROBLEM TO BE OVERCOME, no matter what specific physical or psychological condition may be the immediate cause. Any Baha’i who suffers from
such a DISABILITY…should be helped to control and overcome it.” (Letter from the Universal House of Justice to National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1995 on Bahai-Library.
“…homosexual intercourse by a Baha’i is AN OFFENCE AGAINST THE LAW OF GOD and is STRONGLY CONDEMNED. Strict laws of sexual behaviour are important, we believe, not merely for the individual, but also for society in general…we certainly do not fully understand their long-term implication; THESE WILL BECOME APPARENT AS SOCIETY EVOLVES. Baha’is believe that the LOVE OF GOD IS EVIDENT IN ALL HIS LAWS, NO MATTER HOW SEVERE SOME OF THEM MAY APPEAR TO BE.” (U.H.J., 17 September 1993. This letter is cited in full by Bill Collins on the e-list soc.religion.bahai, 31 Aug 1994)
“…while science may find that a predisposition to homosexuality is caused by genetic aberration, and in that sense may be considered “natural”, IT DOES NOT FOLLOW THAT IT IS “NATURAL” FOR SOME PEOPLE TO BE HOMOSEXUAL …The statistics which indicate that homosexuality is incurable are undoubtedly distorted by the fact that many of those who overcome the problem never speak about it in public, and others solve their problems without even consulting professional counselors. Furthermore, contrary evidence may will exist but may be overlooked by scientific reporting that is, for one reason or another, biased.” (Letter from the U.H.J. to the N.S.A. of the U.S., published in American Bahá’í, 152, 23 Nov 1993, On Bahai-Library)
“…the Baha’i Faith STRONGLY CONDEMNS all blatant acts of immorality, and it includes among them the expression of sexual love between individuals of the same sex.” (U.H.J., Letter to an individual, 11 September 1995. The letter is cited in full on 6 Feb 1996 on the Talisman e-list)
“The view that homosexuality is a condition that is not amenable to change is to be questioned by Baha’is.” (U.H.J., 11 September 1995. ibid)
“…the standard which they are called upon to uphold is the Baha’i standard. A flagrant violation of this standard DISGRACES THE BAHA’I COMMUNITY IN ITS OWN EYES even if the surrounding society finds the transgression tolerable.” (U.H.J., 11 September 1995. ibid)
…if persons involved in homosexual relationships express an interest in the Faith, they should not be instructed by Bahá’í institutions to separate so that they may enrol in the Bahá’í community, for this action by any institution may conflict with civil law. The Bahá’í position should be patiently explained to such persons, who should also be given to understand that although in their hearts they may accept Bahá’u'lláh, THEY CANNOT JOIN THE BAHA’I COMMUNITY in the current condition of their relationship. They will then be free to draw their own conclusions and act accordingly. Within this context, the question you pose about the possibility of the removal of administrative rights should, therefore, not arise.” From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual 5 March 1999
Bahai B wrote: If I want to know the Bahai position, I look to Baha’u'llah. Then to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, etc for clarification of what Baha’u'llah says. I don’t start with the House and work “backwards” for clarification. For me, that seems to lead to confusion and tends to relegate Baha’u'llah to the footnotes, where he possibly doesn’t deserve to be.
But, if by “Baha’i position” you mean the current dominant and generally-seen-as-authoritative view then, yes, you pretty much have to look at what the House is saying and quoting. And, yes, “the official policy of Baha’is toward gays is in itself demeaning”.
But the House could stop quoting Shoghi Effendi’s secretaries, particularly where they appear to describe [the] homosexuality [of their time] in demeaning ways. When I’m trying to understand “the Bahai position” (second, deprecated, definition), I look at what the House has stopped quoting and what it’s stopped saying. That’s a generally a reliable guide to changes of position.
At the moment, the House has started talking more about the human and civil rights of homosexuals but — as you observe — it hasn’t stopped quoting Shoghi Effendi’s secretaries, who describe homosexuality as a “problem”, “sickness”, etc. So, not much change. At least, not where it counts.
Bahai A: Thanks for the clarification. Baha’i law on this issue hasn’t changed – homosexual behavior is still a punishable offense among Baha’is. Would you remind me what Baha’u'llah and Abdu’l-Baha give us in the way of clarification on the issue of homosexuality? I know about letters written on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf, of course, and that he signed off on such letters. And I certainly accept that the views of homosexuality in those letters represented the time in which they were written, and for the Faith to have openly accepted gays at that time would no doubt have put the Faith in a questionable light, so no problem there – I get it. But the House, despite its discussion of human and civil rights for gays, and its decrying prejudice toward them, seems to feel that they cannot go beyond the mindset that was represented in such letters, and thus can never get beyond the portrayal of gays as having an “affliction”. I’m sure that they can find a way around this…despite their saying they can’t. Until then, homosexuality is still criminalized in Baha’i law – it is a “shameful aberration” and most Baha’is will agree that this is Baha’i belief, and that Baha’is are not to display any prejudice toward gays, despite their apparent affliction, and are to come to their aid if their civil rights are being abused. It’s an interesting predicament, isn’t it? Progress is being made, in that homosexuality can now be discussed in Baha’i communities, and mean/ugly behavior toward gays is not to be tolerated but, as someone else said, religion still trumps science here.
I will admit that I haven’t visited BNASAA website for a while, to see if all this stuff about homosexuality is still up there – if it is still there, then I assume it represents Baha’i thought as coming from the House – surely they would not allow such prejudiced-seeming and negative material to remain on a public website which represents Baha’is on this issue, unless it represented their current views. If this material is removed by instruction of the House, there would be some question as to whether it represented the House’s current view, and I would immediately cease to circulate this material.
Bahai B wrote: “You wrote: “Baha’i law on this issue hasn’t changed – homosexual behavior is still a punishable offense among Baha’is….” My understanding is that the Aqdas discusses illicit forms of sexual conduct (zina and liwat) and it discusses marriage.
There are many forms of both homosexual and heterosexual behaviour that fall into the category of illicit sexual conduct. On the other hand, same-sex marriage seems to be in a category of its own. Is it “illicit sex”, is it “another form of marriage”, or is it something new that isn’t in the book?
I lean towards options two and three. I can’t see where homosexual behaviour has been made a punishable offence — at least no more than that all forms of heterosexual behaviour (except one) are a punishable offence.
“…Would you remind me what Baha’u'llah and Abdu’l-Baha give us in the way of clarification on the issue of homosexuality?”
Baha’u'llah said little if anything about homosexuality. And not much about liwat. Modern-day homosexuality in general, and same-sex marriage in particular, effectively didn’t exist in their time and place — so there’s nothing said about that. But they did say a lot about unity, amity, harmony, diversity, tolerance, a sin-covering eye, about religion being in line with science and about an unfolding revelation. Maybe it’s important that we don’t lose sight of those other things they said?”
Bahai A: “You are absolutely right – thank you. The problem with sexual behavior, of course, is that sex outside of marriage, whether hetero- or homosexual, is strictly forbidden, and of course same-sex marriage is forbidden, thus far, for Baha’is. Thus, heterosexual Baha’is have a way to express their sexuality, and strictly homosexual Baha’is do not, without risking sanctions. Even if they marry outside of the Faith, if they are fortunate to live in an area where such marriage is now legal, they are not yet, so far as I know, accepted as a same-sex couple in the Faith – though I realize this might change, and I hope it does. And I appreciate your emphasis on the positive – I just don’t want to gloss over any injustice that might exist. I do think it helps to discuss these things, to let Baha’is know that they can discuss them and can allow themselves to grow in their understanding of homosexuality. I have been allowed to grow in my understanding, and I would like for others to have the same chance. ”
Baha’i B: You wrote: “And I appreciate your emphasis on the positive – I just don’t want to gloss over any injustice that might exist.”
I didn’t realise that I was emphasising the positive. I thought I was emphasising the source. Back to the pledge.
Yes, a really strong pledge that reframes the issues in terms of the most important Bahai provisions could certainly be created. I’m sure it will take both persuasion and encouragement to deal with the ignorance and fear surrounding the signing of a pledge. I don’t normally get excited about pledges and petitions, but this one sounds interesting.
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