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Baha'i Writings   Baha'i Guidance

Assembly Considerations   Some Reflections   Some Useful Concepts

Three Misconceptions   Eliminating Prejudice   Sex / Self / Society

 

c

 

Bahá'í Writings

 

Bahá'u'lláh

 

We shrink, for very shame, from treating of 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 desires.

(Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 58, paragraph 107)

 

134. the subject of boys 107

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.

In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi it is stated:

No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against nature. To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap.

Bahá'u'lláh makes provision for the Universal House of Justice to determine, according to the degree of the offence, penalties for adultery and sodomy (Q&A 49).

(The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Notes, p. 222)

 

49.     QUESTION: Concerning the penalties for adultery, sodomy, and theft, and the degrees thereof.

          ANSWER: The determination of the degrees of these penalties rests with the House of Justice.

 (The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Questions and Answers, p. 121)

 

Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery. Avoid them, O concourse of the faithful. By the righteousness of God! Ye have been called into being to purge the world from the defilement of evil passions. This is what the Lord of all mankind hath enjoined upon you, could ye but perceive it. He who relateth himself to the All-Merciful and committeth satanic deeds, verily he is not of Me. Unto this beareth witness every atom, pebble, tree and fruit, and beyond them this ever-proclaiming, truthful and trustworthy tongue.

 (Bahá'u'lláh, cited by the Universal House of Justice, 5 July 1993)

 

The Prophets of God should be regarded as physicians whose task is to foster the well-being of the world and its peoples, that, through the spirit of oneness, they may heal the sickness of a divided humanity. To none is given the right to question their words or disparage their conduct, for they are the only ones who can claim to have understood the patient and to have correctly diagnosed its ailments… The whole of mankind is in the grip of manifold ills. Strive, therefore, to save its life through the wholesome medicine which the almighty hand of the unerring Physician hath prepared.

(Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 80-81)

 

O My servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will, no doubt, attain.

 (Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 329)

 

'Abdu'l-Bahá

 

The mission of the Prophets of God has been to train the souls of humanity and free them from the thraldom of natural instincts and physical tendencies. They are like unto Gardeners, and the world of humanity is the field of Their cultivation, the wilderness and untrained jungle growth wherein They proceed to labor.

 ('Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 310)

 

Know thou that the command of marriage is eternal. It will never be changed nor altered. This is divine creation and there is not the slightest possibility that change or alteration affect this divine creation.

 ('Abdu'l-Bahá, Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Volume II, p. 474)

 

Shoghi Effendi

 

Briefly stated, the Bahá'í conception of sex is based on the belief that chastity should be strictly practiced by both sexes, not only because it is in itself highly commendable ethically, but also due to its being the only way to a happy and successful marital life. Sex relationships of any form, outside marriage, are not permissible therefore, and whoso violates this rule will not only be responsible to God, but will incur the necessary punishment from society.

The Bahá'í Faith recognizes the value of the sex impulse, but condemns its illegitimate and improper expression 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 very 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 the Guardian to an individual believer, 5 September 1938)

  

Such a chaste and holy life, with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance, decency, and clean-mindedness, involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations. It demands daily vigilance in the control of one’s carnal desires and corrupt inclinations. 

(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Civilization, p. 25)

  

They (homosexuals) should be treated just like any other people seeking admittance to the Faith, and be accepted on the same basis. Our teachings, as outlined in “The Advent of Divine Justice” on the subject of living a chaste life, should be emphasized to them just as to every other applicant, but certainly no ruling whatsoever should be laid down in this matter. The Bahá'ís have certainly not yet reached that stage of moral perfection where they are in a position to too harshly scrutinize the private lives of other souls, and each individual should be accepted on the basis of his faith, and sincere willingness to try to live up to the Divine standards; further than this we cannot go at present. 

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 11 April 1948)

  

We must be patient with others, infinitely patient!, but also with our own poor selves, remembering that even the Prophets of God sometimes got tired and cried out in despair! …He urges you to persevere and add up your accomplishments, rather than to dwell on the dark side of things. Everyone’s life has both a dark and bright side. The Master said: turn your back to the darkness and your face to me. 

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 22 October 1949)

 

Bahá'u'lláh has spoken very strongly against this shameful sexual aberration, as He has against adultery and immoral conduct in general. We must try and help the soul to overcome them. 

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 25 October 1949)

  

No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against nature.

To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap.

God judges each soul on its own merits. 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 Bahá'u'lláh and that one so afflicted should struggle and struggle again to overcome it. We must be hopeful of God’s mercy but not impose upon it. 

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 26 March 1950)

  

Regarding the question you asked him about one of the believers who seems to be flagrantly homosexual – although to a certain extent we must be forbearing in the matter of people’s moral conduct because of the terrible deterioration in society in general, this does not mean that we can put up indefinitely with conduct which is disgracing the Cause. The person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are condemned by Bahá'u'lláh, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make 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 Bahá'í body should take it upon itself to denounce him to the Authorities unless his conduct borders on insanity. 

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 20 June 1953; Lights of Guidance, p. 52, #185)

  

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… This indicates how the whole matter of sex and the problems related to it have assumed far too great an importance in the thinking of present-day society.

We must struggle against the evils in society by spiritual means, and medical and social ones as well. We must be tolerant but uncompromising, understanding but immovable in our point of view.

The thing people need to meet this type of trouble, as well as every other type, is greater spiritual understanding and stability; and of course we Bahá'ís believe that ultimately this can only be given to mankind through the Teachings of the Manifestation of God for this Day. 

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

  

When a person becomes a Bahá'í, actually what takes place is that the seed of the spirit starts to grow in the human soul. This seed must be watered by the outpourings of the Holy Spirit. These gifts of the spirit are received through prayer, meditation, study of the Holy Utterances and service to the Cause of God. 

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 6 October 1954)

  

There is no teaching in the Bahá'í Faith that “soul mates” exist. What is meant is that marriage should lead to a profound friendship of spirit, which will endure in the next world, where there is not sex, and no giving and taking in marriage; just the way we should establish with our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters and friends a deep spiritual bond which will be everlasting, and not merely physical bonds of human relationship. 

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 4 December 1954)

 

The question of how to deal with homosexuals is a very difficult one. Homosexuality is forbidden in the Bahá'í Faith by Bahá'u'lláh; so, for that matter, is immorality and adultery. If one is going to start imposing heavy sanctions on people who are the victims of this abnormality, however repulsive it may be to others, then it is only fair to impose equally heavy sanctions on any Bahá'ís who step beyond the moral limits defined by Bahá'u'lláh. Obviously at the present time this would create an impossible and ridiculous situation.

He feels, therefore, that, through loving advice, through repeated warnings, any friends who are flagrantly immoral should be assisted, and, if possible, restrained. If their activities overstep all bounds and become a matter of public scandal, then the Assembly can consider depriving them of their voting rights. However, he does not advise this course of action and feels that it should only be resorted to in very flagrant cases. 

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 20 August 1955; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368-369, #1230)

  

Homosexuality is highly condemned and often a great trial and cause of suffering to a person, as a Bahá'í. Any individual so afflicted must, through prayer, and any other means, seek to overcome this handicap. But, unless the actions of such individuals are flagrantly immoral, it cannot be a pretext for depriving them of their voting rights. 

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 6 October 1956)

 

Concerning your question whether there are any legitimate forms of expression of the sex instinct outside of marriage; according to the Bahá'í Teachings no sexual act can be considered lawful unless performed between lawfully married persons. Outside of marital life there can be no lawful or healthy use of the sex impulse. The Bahá'í youth should, on the one hand, be taught the less of self-control which, when exercised, undoubtedly has a salutary effect on the development of character and of personality in general, and on the other should be advised, nay even encouraged, to contract marriage while still young and in full possession of their physical vigor. Economic factors, no doubt, are often a serious hindrance to early marriage, but in most cases are only an excuse, and as such should not be overstressed.

 (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, cited in Lights of Guidance, pp. 364, #1220)

  

Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a new and noble set of principles, not by any organized campaign of teaching – no matter how world-wide and elaborate in its character – not even by the staunchness of our faith or the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and sceptical age the supreme claim of the Abhá Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendour of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh. 

(Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í Administration, p. 66)

 

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Guidance

 

A number of sexual problems, such as homosexuality and transsexuality 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 or 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, 12 January 1973; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1222)

  

Just as there are laws governing our physical lives, requiring that we must supply our bodies with certain foods, maintain them within a certain range of temperatures, and so forth, if we wish to avoid physical disabilities, so also there are laws governing our spiritual lives. These laws are revealed to mankind in each age by the Manifestations of God, and obedience to them is of vital importance if each human being, and mankind in general, is to develop properly and harmoniously. Moreover, these various aspects are interdependent. 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. Similarly, the condition of society has a direct effect on the individuals who must live within it.

As you point out, it is particularly difficult to follow the laws of Bahá'u'lláh in present-day society whose accepted practice is so at variance with the standards of the Faith. However, there are certain laws that are so fundamental to the healthy functioning of human society that they must be upheld whatever the circumstances. 

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

  

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. Thus Bahá'í law restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married.

Thus, it should not be so much a matter of whether a practicing homosexual can be a Bahá'í as whether, having become a Bahá'í, the homosexual can overcome his problem through knowledge of the teachings and reliance on Bahá'u'lláh. 

(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice, 14 March 1973)

  

While recognizing the divine origin and force of the sex impulse in man, religion teaches that it must be controlled, and Bahá'u'lláh's law confines its expression to the marriage relationship. The unmarried homosexual is therefore in the same position as anyone else who does not marry. The Law of God requires them to practice chastity.

Even though you feel that the conflict between sensuality and spirituality is more than you can bear, your affirmation – “I do know I am a Bahá'í” – is a positive factor in the battle you must wage. Every believer needs to remember that an essential characteristic of this physical world is that we are constantly faced with trials, tribulations, hardships and sufferings and that by overcoming them we achieve our moral and spiritual development; that we must seek to accomplish in the future what we may have failed to do in the past; that this is the way God tests His servants and we should look upon every failure or shortcoming as an opportunity to try again and to acquire a fuller consciousness of the Divine Will and purpose.

Certainly the problem confronting you is a difficult one. However, its solution lies within your power, for Bahá'u'lláh has assured us that God “will never deal unjustly with anyone, neither will He task a soul beyond its power.” (Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 106) And again, “Whensoever he hath fulfilled the conditions implied in the verse: ‘Whoso maketh efforts for Us’, he shall enjoy the blessings conferred by the words: ‘In Our Way shall We assuredly guide him.’” (Ibid, pp. 266-267) 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, 9 January 1977)

  

The House of Justice comments that while there is little in Bahá'í literature that specifically points to the causes of homosexuality itself, there is much that concerns the nature of man, his inner life and growth, and the way to a true Bahá'í life. If you are sincerely intent on overcoming your problem, you must yourself determine to resist wayward impulses each time they arise and the House of Justice feels that there is no better way than to turn to the Writings to divert our thoughts into spiritual channels, perhaps to concentrate on what we may do to help others along the way to discovering the Bahá'í Faith. 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.

Man’s physical existence on this earth is a period during which the moral exercise of his free will is tried and tested in order to prepare his soul for the other worlds of God, and we must welcome affliction and tribulations as opportunities for improvement in our eternal selves. The House of Justice points out that homosexuals are not the only segment of human society labouring at this daily task – every human being is beset by such inner promptings as pride, greed, selfishness, lustful heterosexual or homosexual desires, to name a few which must be overcome, and overcome them we must if we are to fulfil the purpose of our human existence. 

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 16 July 1980; Lights of Guidance, p. 368, #1228)

  

When a person wishes to join the Faith and it is generally known that he has a problem such as drinking, homosexuality, taking drugs, adultery, etc., he should be told in a patient and loving way of the Bahá'í teachings on these matters. If it is later discovered that a believer is violating Bahá'í standards, it is the duty of the Assembly to determine whether the immoral conduct is open and scandalous and can bring the name of the Faith into disrepute, in which case the Assembly must take action to counsel the believer and require him to make every effort to mend his ways. If he fails to rectify his conduct in spite of repeated warnings, sanctions should be imposed. Assemblies, of course, must exercise care not to pry into the private lives of the believers to ensure that they are behaving properly….

The House of Justice asks us to point out that the recognition of the Manifestation of God is but the beginning of a process of growth and that as we become more deepened in the Teachings and strive to follow His principles, we gradually approach more and more the perfect pattern which is presented to us. Bahá'u'lláh recognizes that human beings are fallible. He knows that, in our weakness, we shall repeatedly stumble when we try to walk in the path He has pointed out to us. If all human beings become perfect the moment they accepted the call of Bahá'u'lláh, this world would be another world.

Recognizing imperfections, which we all have, is a positive step towards spiritual growth. Every living thing must change; it is the very nature of life. This growth and change can be imperceptible and slow or dramatic and rapid…. 

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 2 December 1980)

  

There should be real incentive for you to courageously face the problems inherent in the situation you describe in your letter, and to firmly resolve to change your way of life. But you must desire to do so. Both you and your Bahá'í 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 will help you both to return to a path that leads to true happiness. 

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 August 1982; Lights of Guidance, p. 368, #1229)

  

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

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

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 March 1987)

  

The Universal House of Justice does not feel that the time has come for it to provide detailed legislation on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues. The principles pertaining to these issues are available in the book “Lights of Guidance” and elsewhere. In studying these principles, it should be noted that in most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done. It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. In the Bahá'í Faith moderation, which is so strongly upheld by Bahá'u'lláh, is applied here also. Provision is made for supplementary legislation by the Universal House of Justice – legislation which it can itself abrogate and amend as conditions change. There is also a clear pattern already established in the Sacred Scriptures, in the interpretations made by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and in the decisions so far made by the Universal House of Justice, whereby an area of the application of the laws is intentionally left to the conscience of each individual believer. This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity, and one aspect of this is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action in areas which are left open by the law of God.

It should also be noted that it is neither possible nor desirable for the Universal House of Justice to set forth a set of rules covering every situation. Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain his objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented towards service to Bahá'u'lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.

Therefore, every believer must continually study the Sacred Writings and the instructions of the beloved Guardian, striving always to attain a new and better understanding of their import to him and to his society. He should pray fervently for divine guidance, wisdom and strength to do what is pleasing to God, and to serve Him at all times and to the best of his ability.

The House of Justice feels it would not be wise for it to make a public statement on the moral issues you mention which are now being discussed widely. In such aspects of morality, the guidance that Bahá'í institutions offer to mankind does not comprise a series of specific answers to these moral issues, but rather the illumination of an entirely new way of life through the renewal of spiritual values. Bahá'ís who are striving to teach the Faith can take advantage of the growing public disquiet about the accelerating moral breakdown through the world to bring to the attention of thoughtful people the fact that such problems are symptoms of a profound malaise which can be healed only throughout acceptance of the divine message. As Bahá'u'lláh states, “the people are wandering in the paths of delusion”, engaging in practices which will lead inevitably to unhappiness and disorder. Inspired by the example of loving compassion set by the Master, let the believers disclose to the wayward multitudes a new mode of living which brings true liberty and abiding happiness… 

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 5 June 1988)

  

The Universal House of Justice understands the concern you feel upon discovering that the Faith includes teachings about homosexuality which differ so markedly from your own views. This discovery may best be regarded not as a challenge to your faith in Bahá’u’lláh but rather as an opportunity for you to acquire a deeper understanding of the Bahá'í teachings and their implications.

When an individual becomes a Bahá’í, he or she accepts the claim of Bahá’u’lláh to be the Manifestation of God bringing a divinely-inspired message from God for the benefit of mankind. Implicit in the acceptance of this claim is the commitment of the believer to embark on the lifelong process of endeavouring to implement the teachings on personal conduct. Through sincere and sustained effort, energized by faith in the validity of the Divine Message, and combined with patience with oneself and the loving support of the Bahá’í community, individuals are able to effect a change in their behaviour; as a consequence of this effort they partake of spiritual benefits which liberate them and which bestow a true happiness beyond description.

As you know, Bahá’u’lláh has clearly forbidden the expression of sexual love between individuals of the same sex. However, the doors are open for all of humanity to enter the Cause of God, irrespective of their present circumstance; this invitation applies to homosexuals as well as to any others who are engaged in practices contrary to the Bahá’í teachings. Associated with this invitation is the expectation that all believers will make a sincere and persistent effort to eradicate those aspects of their conduct which are not in conformity with Divine Law. In the case of homosexuality, the Guardian has stated, in a letter written on his behalf on 26 March 1950, that “through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap”.

As to why Bahá’u’lláh forbade the expression of sexual love between people of the same sex, this question relates to the broader and more fundamental question of the purpose of the laws of Bahá’u’lláh and of the Bahá’í teachings on sexual morality The laws do not represent a sterile and inhumane legal code, but rather the divine prescription, a definition of how an individual must act in order to achieve true freedom and spiritual happiness in this world and the next. Bahá’u’lláh wrote that:

The Prophets of God should be regarded as physicians whose task is to foster the well-being of the world and its peoples, that, through the spirit of oneness, they may heal the sickness of a divided humanity. To none is given the right to question their words or disparage their conduct, for they are the only ones who can claim to have understood the patient and to have correctly diagnosed its ailments...

The whole of mankind is in the grip of manifold ills. Strive, therefore, to save its life through the wholesome medicine which the almighty hand of the unerring Physician hath prepared. (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, rev. ed. [Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1984] sec. XXXIV, pp. 80-81) 

In a letter dated 6 February 1973 sent to all National Spiritual Assemblies, the Universal House of Justice underlined the importance of the law of God to both individual and social development, and described the effect of obedience to the laws on individual lives:

Just as there are laws governing our physical lives, requiring that we must supply our bodies with certain foods, maintain them within a certain range of temperatures, and so forth, if we wish to avoid physical disabilities, so also there are laws governing our spiritual lives. These laws are revealed to mankind in each age by the Manifestation of God, and obedience to them is of vital importance if each human being, and mankind in general, is to develop properly and harmoniously. Moreover, these various aspects are interdependent. 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. Similarly, the condition of society has a direct effect on the individuals who must live within it.

As you point out, it is particularly difficult to follow the laws of Bahá’u’lláh in present-day society whose accepted practice is so at variance with the standards of the Faith. However, there are certain laws that are so fundamental to the healthy functioning of human society that they must be upheld whatever the circumstances...

In considering the effect of obedience to the laws on individual lives, one must remember that the purpose of this life is to prepare the soul for the next. Here one must learn to control and direct one’s animal impulses, not to be a slave to them. Life in this world is a succession of tests and achievements, of falling short and of making new spiritual advances. Sometimes the course may seem very hard, but one can witness, again and again, that the soul who steadfastly obeys the law of Bahá’u’lláh, however hard it may seem, grows spiritually, while the one who compromises with the law for the sake of his own apparent happiness is seen to have been following a chimera: he does not attain the happiness he sought, he retards his spiritual advance and often brings new problems upon himself.

With regard to the Bahá’í teachings on sexuality, the extract (cited below), from a letter dated 5 September 1938, written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, provides a succinct summary:

 

Briefly stated the Bahá’í conception of sex is based on the belief that chastity should be strictly practiced by both sexes, not only because it is in itself highly commendable ethically, but also due to its being the only way to a happy and successful marital life. Sex relationships of any form, outside marriage, are not permissible therefore, and whoso violates this rule will not only be responsible to God, but will incur the necessary punishment from society.

 

The Bahá’í Faith recognizes the value of the sex impulse, but condemns its illegitimate and improper expression 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 very 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. (30 June 1988)

...you write that you cannot explain to a friend why her way of love, homosexual love, is wrong and that your lack of understanding on this point also hampers your teaching efforts. Until there is wide recognition of Bahá’u’lláh as the Revealer of the Divine Will, there is no answer that will satisfy all questioners, particularly one who has a vested interest in maintaining that his behaviour is innocuous. Homosexuality has been forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh in His Book of Laws, just as it was forbidden by other Prophets of God.... 

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 3 July 1990)

  

The House of Justice was sorry to learn from your letter that your son has recently informed you that he is a homosexual. It commends your attitude of compassion and your efforts to both maintain harmony in your marriage and to keep open the lines of communication to your son. - In answer to your specific question, there is little in the Bahá’í writings that specifically points to the causes of homosexuality itself, but as the House of Justice has emphasized in past letters to individuals who sought its advice on this question, there is much that concerns the nature of man, his inner life and growth, and the way to a true Bahá’í life. In a letter to an individual believer, the beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, gave the following advice:

No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against nature.

 

To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap.

 

God judges each soul on its own merits. 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 Bahá’u’lláh, and that one so afflicted should struggle and struggle again to overcome it. We must be hopeful of Gods mercy but not impose upon it.

In general, the House of Justice urges you to avoid dwelling on thoughts of guilt which you, as a parent, would likely experience, and to continue to demonstrate love and acceptance toward your son; such an attitude, however, should imply no agreement with his attitude towards homosexuality. You will, no doubt, want to urge your son to seek appropriate counselling; in this connection you are encouraged to seek the assistance of your National Spiritual Assembly, which has often dealt with such cases, and can most probably assist you in identifying individuals who are experienced in this area and whose views on homosexuality are basically compatible with those of the Bahá’í Faith.

Regarding your husband’s refusal to permit your son to return home, it is understandable that a parent might feel deeply confused and angry when confronted with such questions which go to the very root of what it means to be a human being and what it means to educate and raise a child. Prayer, faith in God, loving consultation and patience will aid you to deal with this difficulty. As for your family members who are causing you further anguish, it is perhaps also to be expected that reactions to such inherently perplexing questions, nowadays compounded more than ever by the general disarray in moral thinking, tend toward extremes, either of resignation or condemnation. You are obliged to hew your own course, as illuminated by the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. Whether you can persuade anyone of the correctness of your responses, which seek to preserve your relationship to your son and also to avoid alienating your husband, is secondary; the main thing is that you strive to deal with these difficulties in a manner consistent with the spirit of the Cause of God, which is neither harsh and maledictory nor excessively liberal and forbearing. (1 March 1992 on behalf of the Universal House of Justice)

 (Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 5 June 1993, Homosexuality, p. 7)

 

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

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

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

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

This law is no reason for Bahá’ís to consider homosexuals as outcasts. If they are not Bahá’ís there is also no reason to expect them to obey the Bahá’í law in this respect any more than we would expect a non-Bahá’í to abstain from drinking alcohol. (16 March 1992) 

(Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 5 June 1993, Homosexuality, p. 11)

  

The Universal House of Justice received your letter of 6 August 1993 and was very pleased to learn of your interest in the Bahá'í teachings. It notes that the one matter which causes you deep concern is the Bahá'í attitude towards homosexuality, and it has asked us to send you the following brief explanation and analysis of the Bahá'í approach to the matter. First of all, it is important to understand that there is a difference between the Bahá'í attitude towards, on the one hand, the condition of homosexuality and those who are affected by it and, on the other, the practice of homosexual relations.

Basic to the Bahá'í teachings is the concept that it is only God Who knows the purpose of human life, and Who can convey this to us through His Manifestations. A distinguishing feature of human existence is that we have been given the capacity to know and love God and to consciously obey Him. Thus we also have the converse: the ability to turn away from God, to fail to love Him and to disobey Him. Animals are entirely subject to the laws of nature, as ordained by God; that is to say, they act according to the instincts with which they are born.

There is a currently popular philosophy which says that each human being should be free to do whatever he wishes, and makes him happy, so long as his actions do not harm anyone else. This sounds very attractive, especially in a world which has been so oppressed by totalitarian regimes of one kind or another. One of the major difficulties in applying it is to be found in the degree to which individuals’ perceptions of what is harmful vary. Another, which is often overlooked, is the average human being’s ignorance of the divinely intended goal of his existence. Human beings need not only assistance in defining acceptable behaviour of one person towards another, but also guidance which will help them to refrain from doing that which is spiritually damaging to themselves.

When one is living in accordance with the purpose of one’s life one experiences the greatest joy and freedom. At the same time, individuals who are living in this way find that they are living in harmony with each other. This is understandable because all are living in accordance with the purpose of the Creator. This requires, however, the effort to learn what this purpose is, to follow the guidelines that it establishes and to observe the bounds that it sets.

Human beings are at the interface of the animal nature and the spiritual nature. We have the capacity to control and transcend our animal appetites and to infuse our lives with spirituality. By responding to the Message of the Manifestation of God we learn how we should live and draw on the spiritual strength which comes with it. Through studying the Word of God and training ourselves to follow His commandments, we rise to the full stature that He has designed for us.

The material world, in relation to the spiritual world, is a world of imperfections. It is full of dangers and difficulties which have been greatly aggravated by man’s neglect and misuse of his responsibilities. Human society itself, which exists in the material world, is in disastrous disarray.

Our appetites and inclinations are strongly influenced by the condition of our physical make-up, and our bodies are in varying degrees of health, depending upon factors such as heredity, environment, nourishment and our own treatment of them. Genetic variations occur, producing conditions which can create problems for the individual. Some conditions are of an emotional or psychological nature, producing such imbalances as quickness to anger, recklessness, timorousness, and so forth; others involve purely physical characteristics, resulting not only in unusual capacities but also in handicaps or diseases of various kinds.

Whether deficiencies are inborn or acquired, our purpose in this life is to overcome them and to train ourselves in accordance with the pattern that is revealed to us in the divine teachings.

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 Bahá'ís would question. There are, of course, many kinds and degrees of homosexuality, and overcoming extreme conditions is sure to be more difficult than overcoming others. Nevertheless, in a letter written to an individual Bahá'í by Shoghi Effendi’s secretary on his behalf on 26 March 1950, we find the following assurance:

No matter how devoted and fine the love be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong…

 

To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap.

 

God judges each soul on its own merits. 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 Bahá'u'lláh, and that one so afflicted should struggle and struggle again to overcome it. We must be hopeful of God’s mercy but not impose upon it.

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 counsellors.

Bahá'í Assemblies can testify to the number of Bahá'ís who, although having had homosexual orientations, have been able to lead normally happy married lives and raise families.

Nevertheless there are undoubtedly cases in which the individual finds himself (or herself) unable to eliminate a physical attraction to members of the same sex, even though he succeeds in controlling his behaviour. This is but one of the many trials and temptations to which human beings are subject in this life. For Bahá'ís it cannot alter the basic concept taught by Bahá'u'lláh, that the kind of sexuality purposed by God is the love between a man and a woman, and that its primary (but not its only) purpose is the bringing of children into this world and providing them with a loving and protective environment in which they can be reared to know and love God.

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 Bahá'í who suffers from such a disability should be treated with understanding, and should be helped to control and overcome it. All of us suffer from imperfections which we must struggle to overcome and we all need one another’s understanding and patience.

To regard homosexuals with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of Bahá'í teachings. A Bahá'í who has a homosexual orientation is not automatically barred from Bahá'í community life or acceptance or excluded from worship. It is only as a result of behaviour which flagrantly violates the laws and principles of the Faith that a Bahá'í would be advised and cautioned and, if he did not rectify his behaviour, would be deprived of his or her administrative rights.

In the area of behaviour, homosexual intercourse by a Bahá'í 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 may be able to detect some of the beneficial aspects of these laws, just as we can be conscious of the struggle we must go through to observe them, but we certainly do not fully understand their long-term implication; these will become apparent as society evolves.

Bahá'ís believe that the love of God is evident in all His laws, no matter how severe some of them may appear to be, because He is revealing to us the purposed and true pattern for which we are created.

The prohibition of sexual intercourse outside the marriage bond does not by any means imply that there cannot be strong bonds of friendship between persons, whether of the same sex or not. On the contrary, affection and friendship are qualities highly praised in the Bahá'í teachings. This whole question of love and friendship is distorted these days because our civilization has exalted sex and sexuality to a level of importance far beyond its proper place in our lives. Sex has also been wrenched out of its proper context. On the one hand our current culture suffuses every aspect of our lives with sex but, on the other, it isolates the sex act from its natural corollaries of marital life and the bearing and rearing of children.

One of the Bahá'ís asked the Guardian about “soul mates”, and in the reply written on the Guardian’s behalf on 4 December 1954, there is the following very significant comment on the range of those with whom we should develop bonds of affection.

There is no teaching in the Bahá'í Faith that “soul mates” exist. What is meant is that marriage should lead to a profound friendship of spirit, which will endure in the next world, where there is not sex, and no giving and taking in marriage; just the way we should establish with our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters and friends a deep spiritual bond which will be everlasting, and not merely physical bonds of human relationship.

When society adopts Bahá'í moral standards it will become much easier for a person to have close friendships with many other individuals without arousing any suspicion that he or she is also involved in sexual relations with them. The pressure of sexual harassment at work or in social contacts will be removed and it will, at last, be possible for men and women to work together on a footing of complete equality.

We trust that these comments will help you to understand the basis of the Bahá'í attitude to these matters. 

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 17 September 1993)

 

The Research Department has studied carefully the letter of … dated 17 August 1993 in which she raises a number of questions about the Bahá'í view towards homosexuality. These questions are of immediate and urgent concern to her, as she is herself in love with another Bahá'í woman, and is perplexed about how to reconcile what seem to her to be natural desires with the laws and principles of the Faith. We provide the following response.

By way of introduction, it may be useful to recall that the laws and ordinances of his Dispensation Bahá'u'lláh has specifically characterized as “the breath of life unto all created things”, as “the mightiest stronghold”, as the “fruits” of His “Tree”, as “the highest means for the maintenance of order in the world and the security of its peoples”, as “the lamps of His wisdom and loving providence”, as “the sweet-smelling savour of his garment”, as the “keys” of His “mercy” to His creatures. “This book” (The Kitáb-i-Aqdas), He Himself testifies, “is a heaven which we have adorned with the stars of Our commandments and prohibitions.” (Shoghi Effendi, extracted from God Passes By and published in The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book [Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1992] pp. 15-16)

As stated in the attached letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, “Bahá'ís believe that the love of God is evident in all His laws, no matter how severe some of them may appear to be, because He is revealing to us the purposed and true pattern for which we are created.”

Regarding …’s question about the areas of the Guardian’s infallibility, we note that the letters written on his behalf on the subject of homosexuality represent his interpretation of the revealed Word on the subject, and are authoritative. They do not, for example, stray into the realm of science, a field in which, as the Guardian himself points out, he is not infallible, by speculating on the possible biological or psychological cause of a predisposition to homosexual tendencies. They do reflect the Guardian’s interpretation based on an infallible understanding of the entire Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, and form a coherent and consistent whole with the entire body of Bahá'í Sacred Literature and authoritative texts.

We provide two attachments for …’s consideration. The first is a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual who was investigating the Faith and expressed a concern about the subject of homosexuality. (See 17 September 1993 letter above.) The letter provides a clear summary of the Bahá'í point of view. Regarding the possibility of marriage between two people of the same sex, one of …’s central questions, the letter quotes the letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which states, “No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong.” The letter of the House of Justice goes on to clarify that “the basic concept taught by Bahá'u'lláh, that the kind of sexuality purposed by God is the love between a man and a woman, and that its primary (but not its only) purpose is the bringing of children into this world and providing them with a loving and protective environment in which they can be reared to know and love God.”

Interestingly, the letter also states that “the prohibition of sexual intercourse outside the marriage bond does not by any means imply that there cannot be strong bonds of friendship between persons, whether of the same sex or not. On the contrary, affection and friendship are qualities highly praised in the Bahá'í teachings. This whole question of love and friendship is distorted these days because our civilization has exalted sex and sexuality to a level of importance far beyond its roper place in our lives. Sex has also been wrenched out of its proper context. On the one hand our current culture suffuses every aspect of our lives with sex but, on the other, it isolates the sex act from its natural corollaries of marital life and the bearing and rearing of children.”

On the question of whether or not there is a biological predisposition to homosexuality, the letter indicates that the question is still open to dispute. In this regard, it may be important to note that 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. A comparison can be drawn with the evidence which suggests that there is a genetic flaw which produces a predisposition to alcoholism. Most people would hesitate to conclude from such evidence that a person with such a genetic aberration would be destined to become an alcoholic in spite of any efforts to the contrary. As the letter states, “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 counsellors.” Furthermore, contrary evidence may well exist but may be overlooked by scientific reporting that is, for one reason or another, biased.

The second attachment is a compilation of extracts from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and from letters written by or on behalf of Shoghi Effendi or the Universal House of Justice, a study of which we believer will clarify …’s remaining questions. [See 5 July 1993 above.] 

(From a memorandum prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, 3 May 1994)

  

The Universal House of Justice has considered your letters of August 27, 1993, and September 19, 1994, in which you describe the impact of the changing sexual mores and the public debate on homosexuality of some of the members of the American Bahá'í community who are homosexuals.

We are instructed to provide the following guidance in response to the National Spiritual Assembly’s requests for clarification of the Bahá'í law on homosexual practices and for assistance in guiding the believers.

It is important to understand that there is a difference between the Bahá'í attitude toward, on the one hand, the condition of homosexuality and those who are affected by it and, on the other, the practice of homosexual relations by members of the Bahá'í community.

As you know, the Bahá'í Faith strongly condemns all blatant acts of immorality, and it includes among them the expression of sexual love between individuals of the same sex. With regard to homosexual practices, Bahá'u'lláh, in the Kitáb-í-Aqdas, paragraph 107, and Questions and Answers, number 49, forbids paederasty and sodomy. The following extract from one of His tablets reveals the strength of His condemnation:

Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery. Avoid them, O concourse of the faithful. By the righteousness of God! Ye have been called into being to purge the world from the defilement of evil passions. This is what the Lord of all mankind hath enjoined upon you, could ye but perceive it. He who relateth himself to the All-merciful and committeth satanic deeds, verily he is not of me. Unto this beareth witness every atom, pebble, tree and fruit, and beyond this ever-proclaiming, truthful and trustworthy tongue.

In a letter dated March 26, 1950, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the authorized interpreter of the Bahá'í Teachings, further explicates the Bahá'í attitude toward homosexuality. It should be noted that the Guardian’s interpretation of this subject is based on his infallible understanding of the Texts. It represents both a statement of moral principle and unerring guidance to Bahá'ís who are homosexuals. The letter states:

No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against nature.

 

To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap. 

It is evident, therefore, that the prohibition against Bahá'ís engaging in homosexual behavior is an explicit teaching of the Cause. The Universal House of Justice is authorized to change or repeal its own legislation as conditions change, thus providing Bahá'í law with an essential element of flexibility, but it cannot abrogate or change any of the laws which are explicitly laid down in the sacred Texts. It follows, then, that the House of Justice has no authority to change this clear teaching on homosexual practice.

You mention that concern has been expressed by some of the friends that the unique identity of homosexual Bahá'ís is not sufficiently appreciated by the Bahá'í community. It is important to reflect on the fact that the Writings of the Faith not only acknowledge that each individual has a God-given identity, but they also set out the means by which this identity can achieve its highest devel­opment and fulfillment.

Bahá'u'lláh attests that through the Teachings of the Manifestations of God “every man will advance and develop until he attaineth the station at which he can manifest all the potential forces with which his inmost true self hath been en­dowed.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá observes that should man’s “natural qualities...be used and displayed in an unlawful way, they become blameworthy.”

Shoghi Effendi, in a letter dated May 25, 1936, written on his behalf, identifies man’s “true self” with “his soul.” In describing the nature of man’s inner spiritual self or reality, he notes that the “two tendencies for good or evil are but manifes­tations of a single reality or self,” and that the self “is capable of development in either way.” Underlining the importance of education to the actualization of man’s potential, the Guardian concludes:

All depends fundamentally on the training or education which man receives. Human nature is made up of possibilities both for good and evil. True religion can enable it to soar in the highest realm of the spirit, while its absence can, as we already witness around us, cause it to fall to the lowest depths of degradation and misery.

As a framework within which to consider the subject of homosexuality, it is important to acknowledge, with all due humility, that basic to the Bahá’í teachings is the concept that it is only God who knows the purpose of human life, and Who can convey this to us through His Manifestations.

A distinguishing feature of human existence is that we have been given the capacity to know and love God and to consciously obey Him. Indeed, left to himself, man is naturally inclined toward evil. Human beings need not only assistance in defining acceptable behaviour of one person toward another, but also guidance which will help them to refrain from doing that which is spiritually damaging to themselves.

By responding to the Message of the Manifestations of God we learn we should learn how to live and draw on the spiritual strength which comes with it. Through studying the word of God and training ourselves to follow His commandments, we rise to the fullest stature that He has designed for us.

The material world, in relation to the spiritual world, is a world of imperfections. It is full of dangers and difficulties which have been generally aggravated by man’s neglect and misuse of his responsibilities. Human society itself, which exists in the material world, is in disastrous disarray.

Our appetites and inclinations are strongly influenced by the condition of our physical makeup, and our bodies are in various degrees of health, depending on factors such as heredity, environment, nourishment and our own treatment of them. Genetic variations occur, producing conditions which can create problems for the individual. Some conditions are of an emotional or psychological nature, producing such imbalances as quickness to anger, recklessness, timorousness, and so forth; others involve purely physical characteristics, resulting not only in unusual capacities but also in handicaps or diseases of various kinds.

Whether deficiencies are inborn or are acquired, our purpose in this life is to overcome them and to train ourselves in accordance with the pattern that is revealed to us in the divine Teachings.

The view that homosexuality is a condition that is not amenable to change is to be questioned by Bahá’ís. There are, of course, many kinds and degrees of homosexuality, and overcoming extreme conditions is sure to be more difficult than overcoming others. Nevertheless, as noted earlier, the Guardian has stated that “through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap.” [Shoghi Effendi, 26 March 1950]

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 counsellors.

Nevertheless there are undoubtedly cases in which the individual finds himself (or herself) unable to eliminate a physical attraction to members of the same sex, even though he succeeds in controlling his behavior. This is but one of the many trials and temptations to which human beings are subject in this life. For Bahá'ís it cannot alter the basic concept taught by Bahá'u'lláh, that the kind of sexuality purposed by God is the love between a man and a woman, and that its primary (but not its only) purpose is the bringing of children into this world and provid­ing them with a loving and protective environment in which they can be reared to know and love God.

If, therefore, a homosexual cannot overcome his or her condition to the extent of being able to have a heterosexual marriage, he or she must remain single, and abstain from sexual relations. These are the same requirements for a hetero­sexual person who does not marry. While Bahá'u'lláh encourages the believers to marry, it is important to note that marriage is by no means an obligation. It is for the individual to decide whether he or she wishes to lead a family life or to live in a state of celibacy.

The condition of being sexually attracted to some object other than 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 Bahá'í who suffers from such a disability should be treated with understanding, and should be helped to control and overcome it. All of us suffer from imperfections which we must struggle to overcome, and we all need one another’s understanding and patience.

To regard homosexuals with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of Bahá'í Teachings. The doors are open for all of humanity to enter the Cause of God, irrespective of their present circumstances; this invitation applies to homosexuals as well as others who are engaged in practices contrary to the Bahá'í Teachings.

Associated with this invitation is the expectation that all believers will make a sincere and persistent effort to eradicate those aspects of their conduct which are not in conformity with Divine Law. It is through such adherence to the Bahá'í Teachings that a true and enduring unity of the diverse elements of the Bahá'í community is achieved and safeguarded.

When a person wishes to join the Faith, and it is generally known that he or she has a problem such as drinking, homosexuality, taking drugs, adultery, etc., the individual should be told in a patient and loving way of the Bahá'í Teachings on these matters. If it is later discovered that a believer is violating Bahá'í standards, it is the duty of the Spiritual Assembly to determine whether the immoral con­duct is flagrant and can bring the name of the Faith into disrepute, in which case the Assembly must take action to counsel the believer and require him or her to make every effort to mend his ways.

If the individual fails to rectify his conduct in spite of repeated warnings, sanctions should be imposed. Assemblies, of course, must exercise care not to pry into the private lives of the believers to ensure that they are behaving properly, but should not hesitate to take action in cases of blatant misbehavior. The Spiritual Assemblies should, to a certain extent, be forbearing in the matter of people’s moral conduct, such as homosexuality, in view of the terrible deterioration of society in general. The Assemblies must also bear in mind that while awareness of contemporary social and moral values may well enhance their understanding of the situation of the homosexual, the standard which they are called upon to uphold is the Bahá'í standard. A flagrant violation of this stan­dard disgraces the Bahá'í community in its own eyes even if the surrounding society finds the transgression tolerable.

With regard to the organized network of homosexual Bahá'ís mentioned in your letter the Universal House of Justice has instructed us to say that, while there is an appropriate role in the Bahá'í community for groups of individuals to come together to help each other to understand or to deal with certain problem situa­tions, according to the Bahá'í Teachings there can be no place in our community for groups which actively promote a style of life that is contrary to the teachings of the Cause.

It should be understood that the homosexual tendencies of some individuals do not entitle them to an identity setting them apart from others. Such individuals share with every other Bahá'í the responsibility to adhere to the laws and prin­ciples of the Faith as well as the freedom to exercise their administrative rights.

The Universal House of Justice will pray that, armed with the guidance con­tained in this letter, the National Spiritual Assembly will act with love, sensitivity and firmness to assist the believers both to gain a deeper understanding of their true and ennobling purpose in life and to make a strong and determined effort to overcome every handicap to their spiritual development. 

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, September 11, 1995)

  

Your e-mail messages of 20 October 1998 and 16 February 1999 have been received at the Bahá'í World Centre. In your message of 20 October, you cite two quotations written on behalf of the Guardian giving guidance on how newly enrolled believers whose previous moral behaviour did not accord with the Teachings should be gradually nurtured into bringing their conduct into conformity with the Faith’s high standards. You ask whether the same principle applies in two separate cases, polygamists becoming Bahá'ís, and homosexual couples wherein one or both individuals accept the Faith.

Your understanding is correct in that should a polygamist become a Bahá'í, he would not be required to divorce or separate from any of his spouses; however, he would not be able to enter into a new marriage while still being married to another spouse.

With regard to the second case, in general, when a person who wishes to join the Faith is known to have a problem such as drinking, homosexuality, drug abuse, adultery, etc., he or she should be told in a patient and loving way of the Bahá'í Teachings on these matters. In particular, 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 Bahá'í 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)

  

The Universal House of Justice has received your letter dated 21 June 1999 enquiring why homosexuality is prohibited by Bahá'u'lláh, and we have been asked to reply as follows.

As to why Bahá'u'lláh forbade the expression of sexual love between people of the same sex, this question relates to the broader and more fundamental question of the purpose of the laws of Bahá'u'lláh and of the Bahá'í teachings on sexual morality. The laws do not represent a sterile and inhumane legal code, but rather the divine prescription, a definition of how an individual must act in order to achieve true freedom and spiritual happiness in this world and the next. Bahá'u'lláh wrote that:

The Prophets of God should be regarded as physicians whose task is to foster the well-being of the world and its peoples, that, through the spirit of oneness, they may heal the sickness of a divided humanity. To none is given the right to question their words or disparage their conduct, for they are the only ones who can claim to have understood the patient and to have correctly diagnosed its ailments… The whole of mankind is in the grip of manifold ills. Strive, therefore, to save its life through the wholesome medicine which the almighty hand of the unerring Physician hath prepared. (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, rev. ed. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1984, sec. XXXIV, pp. 80-81) 

Homosexuality has been forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh in His Book of Laws, just as it was forbidden by other Prophets of God. Shoghi Effendi offers the following explanation:

No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against nature. (26 March 1950)

While recognizing the Divine origin and force of the sex impulse in man, religion teaches that it must be controlled; Bahá'u'lláh’s Law confines its expression to the marriage relationship, meaning that it is permissible only between a man and the woman who is his wife.

The above comments will, it is hoped, assist you to clarify the issues concerning you in this matter… 

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 23 July 1999)

 

The Universal House of Justice has received your letter…requesting guidance as how to best manage the difficult situation confronting you and your children following the break up of your marriage, owing to your husband’s decision to adopt his homosexual identity. Although saddened by the news, the House of Justice was deeply touched by your thoughtful and compassionate attitude during this testing period, your firm resolve to uphold Bahá'í standards and your sincere concern for the welfare of your dear children.

With regard to your query of how to explain such a development to the children, the House of Justice feels you should be entirely open with them and clearly explain the Bahá'í teachings on homosexuality, contextualizing these teachings within the wider concept of a chaste and holy life. By sharing your beliefs, carefully focusing on the principles involved rather than the people involved, you will be able to help the children understand the situation.

…The issue is a complex and sensitive one, and it may also be helpful for you to explore your concerns further with the help of suitably knowledgeable Bahá'ís in your area.

When considering the issue of contact between your children and their father, it will be important that you and the children’s father consult on, and be in agreement regarding, both the nature and frequency of such contact and of related considerations. In preparing for such a consultation, it would seem wise that you seek the advice of legal counsel in order to be certain that you understand your civil rights in the matter. 

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 June 2001)

 

 c

 

Three Misconceptions About Homosexuality

  

According to some views currently advocated in western, and more specifically, North American culture, homosexuality, if not inborn or biologically based, is at least established in very early childhood.  It is considered as a natural variation of healthy sexuality.  I would like to offer some reflections on what I feel are some fundamentally erroneous assumptions that form the basis of these views. I offer these reflections for discussion.  They come from years of dealing with homosexuality on a personal level, the last 23 as a member of the Bahá’í community.  They are also based on the reading, but by no means extensive study, of the professional literature.   I have assumed that the reader is familiar with the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith in general and specifically on homosexuality.  Finally, they are the thoughts of a husband and a father who once despaired of ever being either.

  

MISCONCEPTION #1:

The whole of human sexuality can be defined by dividing it into two categories:

homosexuals and heterosexuals.

  

These divisions are considered to be mutually exclusive. Anyone who rejects this definition or deviates from it - that is, individuals who have experienced attraction to both men and women - is dismissed as experiencing conflict or confusion, being in transition, or as denying their “true” homosexual orientation. In the preface to a special issue of The Journal of Homosexuality, editor John P. DeCecco expresses an interesting perspective on this belief:

Sexual orientation...is essentially a biological notion pressed into the service of behavioral and social scientists. It is biological because individuals are assigned an identity - bisexual, heterosexual or homosexual - on the basis of the biological sex of their partners in sexual relationships, or how well they fit a biological conception of femaleness or maleness.  Since biological sex is the core ingredient of sexual identity, the concept inevitably implies that human sexuality basically resides in female and male genital anatomy.... By pegging individuals as heterosexuals or homosexuals, or for that matter bisexuals, the complex and fascinating ways in which human beings can be sexual in their mentality, conduct, and social relationships are crudely subsumed under a biological concept.... The existence of males and females is a biological fact.  That individuals include sexuality in their social relationships with one sex and exclude it in relationships with the other is a social fact. (1)

Although many statements would merit further discussion, I feel his main point is that human sexuality is very complex and inadequately described by the one-dimensional bimodal models (example: Kinsey Scale) which currently enjoy widespread use, and upon which much debate, discussion and research are based - either overtly or implicitly. The danger of using inadequate models is that they lead to erroneous conclusions.

Some dynamics that maintain these bimodal models are quite intriguing. There is tremendous societal pressure from both sides of the issue to conform to the models and their associated labels. As a society I think we are uncomfortable with diversity, with complexity, and above all with change. As we often do with other complex issues in a materialistic Western society, we attempt to simplify sexuality by classifying and labelling it.  Furthermore, this labelling makes us feel secure, divided into the known and trusted “we” as opposed to the unfamiliar and feared “them.” The process of labelling an individual as homosexual, heterosexual (or bisexual) is quite arbitrary, (often based on dreams, fantasies and overt sexual behaviour), highly contradictory and will vary from one culture to another. For example, in a North American culture if a man who self-identifies as heterosexual has one “genital” homosexual experience he is immediately labelled by both “sides” as latently homosexual, with little regard to past or even future genital activity.  There are, nevertheless, some exceptions: if, for example, the man is an adolescent, he may escape the labelling because, after all, he may just “be going through a phase.” If the man is a football player and was under the influence of alcohol, he isn't homosexual. He was just drunk.  Not so, of course, if the man in question was a ballet dancer.  By comparison, if a man who self-identifies as homosexual has a heterosexual genital experience, he would not be labelled as a “latent heterosexual.” This, again, with little consideration for past or future genital activity.  In some societies, if a man engages in non-receptive intercourse with another man, even on numerous occasions, he will not be labelled as homosexual by his society.  He may in fact be admired for his sexual prowess.

Categorical in labelling others, we border on the fanatical when labelling ourselves. Once self-labelled, we steadfastly conform to the expectations of this label and therefore become “boxed in by our own biographies.” We see no alternatives because we don’t consider that they might exist. And if by chance reality contradicts the popular belief, it is the reality that is often reinterpreted to fit the belief.

  

MISCONCEPTION #2:

Once established, one's sexual orientation or identity remains fixed, immutable to change.

  

This assumption follows from the first. Although opinions may differ as to exactly when this event takes place - in the uterus, in childhood, in adolescence - the result is the same. One is labelled for life.  I have several comments, the first concerning sexual identity/orientation being fixed at some point in life. In the introduction to his article on homosexual identity development, Richard R. Troiden says that sexual identities develop slowly, over a prolonged period. He further clarifies this process by writing,

"Homosexual identity development is not a linear step-by-step process, nor is developmental change a matter of either progress or regression. Instead, identity development is a horizontal spiral similar to a spring lying on its side. Progress through developmental stages occurs in a back-and-forth, up-and-down fashion. Characteristics of stages may overlap and recur in different ways for different people." (2)

The author also notes, as have many others, that many individuals who self-identify as homosexual recall that from a very early age they felt somehow different from their peers...and that this difference was/is primarily sexual. (“I’ve been homosexual for as long as I can remember.”) This, however, may not be the case. What often happens is that these differences are retrospectively reinterpreted or ‘sexualized.’ It is easy to see that in the context of the current (but not necessarily correct) belief that sexual orientation is fixed at a very early age, individuals concerned might interpret any differences as primarily ones of sexuality. In doing so, of course, they conform to societal believers, thereby reinforcing the belief.  Again, we box ourselves in by our own biographies.

Troiden concludes his article by stating,

“In the final analysis, however, homosexual identity is emergent: that is, it is never fully determined or fixed in an absolute sense and is always subject in modification and further change.” (3)

Continuing with the second part of the assumption, immutable to change, an article by Fritz Klien, et al, originally published in The Journal of Homosexuality (4) is very illuminating. The article is intriguing in that it attempts to develop a framework to better define sexuality. The subjects for this study were self-selected - i.e., 384 individuals who filled out a questionnaire that appeared in an article in Forum magazine. The questionnaire, an evaluation grid proposed by Klien, is essentially three dimensional with seven variables: sexual attraction, sexual behaviour, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, self-identification, and hetero/gay lifestyle, each in three different modes: past, present, and ideal, with each of the modes rated on a scale: 1 - “other sex only” to 7 - “same sex only.” The results of the study indicate the inadequacy of the labels hetero-, bi-, or homosexual in describing a person's sexual orientation and, contrary to popular belief, the sexual orientations of the individuals in the study changed remarkably over their adult lives. This was true whether the subjects labelled themselves as homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual. It was also of note that the best predictor of a respondent's mean score for the entire grid was his or her self-identification. Perhaps we are, or we become, who we chose to be?

I feel the importance of this study, and others like it (Berkey 1990) however, lies not so much in the results as in the conceptual framework. The study used an evaluation tool that allowed for the possibility of a multi-dimensional definition of sexuality, and also the possibility of change. And it found that indeed sexuality is multi-dimensional and subject to change. If you don’t look for something, you are unlikely to find it!

The last point I would like to make concerning the assumption that the sexual orientation is fixed and unchangeable is to consider the personal experiences of many individuals who have participated in BNASAA-sponsored activities. Our collective experience is that feelings, ideas and personal beliefs about sexuality can and do change. The refusal to accept the framework imposed by our society, steadfastness in the Covenant, courage and persistence are some of the common elements in our stories. More astonishing, however, is the diversity of the stories, the different paths leading to the same goal. There is no one solution or formula. This is to be expected if sexuality is indeed a dynamic and evolutionary process. Our experience alone demonstrates the inadequacy of rigid unidimensional models and their associated assumptions.

  

MISCONCEPTION #3:

Homosexuality is an identity, not simply a sexual behavior.

  

An article by Jay Paul, again originally published in The Journal of Homosexuality (5), gives an incredibly illuminating historical perspective on the transformation, beginning early in the 19th century, of the perception of homosexuality from a vice which focussed on the act, to a condition which focused on the actor. This transformation continued to the homosexual person who differed constitutionally from the normal population, to the gay who was a victim of society’s punitive treatment of homosexuality, to the gay community as a disadvantaged minority in society with its own culture, history, social organization, and politics. With this transformation came terms such as sexual orientation and sexual identity. This reconstructed view of the homosexual-as-an-identity as opposed to homosexuality as a behaviour is a transformation that was mainly political in its origins. Furthermore, according to the author, this change in perception is recent, unique to Western society, and is alien to most societies in which homosexuality is common.

 

CONCLUSION

 

The paradigm of homosexuality (and by implication, heterosexuality) as an identity - fixed and immutable - rather than simply a behaviour, is trapping us in stereotypes defined by society. In failing to challenge these perceptions we will fail to perceive, to appreciate, to understand the vision of our true nature, as defined by Bahá'u'lláh, as noble and spiritual. Our purpose is to grow, to transform, to struggle to become who we are destined to be - not to stagnate in materialistic definitions imposed by others.

 

Author: Name withheld by request

The ideas and opinions expressed in this document, originally written in November 1996, are those of the author. The document has been reviewed to be consistent with BNASAA guidelines, but the ideas expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions or thinking of the BNASAA Coordinating Committee.

 

REFERENCES

1.      DeCecco, J.P., Ph.D., Preface, Bisexualities: Theory and Research, The Haworth Press, Inc., 1985; xi-xiii.

2.      Troiden, R.R., Ph.D., Homosexual Identity Development, Journal of Adolescent Health Care 1988-9; 109-113.

3.       Ibid.

4.      Klien, F., M.D., Sexual Orientation: A Multi-Variable Dynamic Process, Bisexualities: Theory and Research, The Haworth Press, Inc., 1985; 21-34.

5.      Paul, J.P., Ph.D.(cand.), Bisexuality: Reassessing Our Paradigms of Sexuality, Bisexualities: Theory and Research, The Haworth Press, Inc., 1985; 21-34.

  

c

 

Eliminating Prejudices

  

Counsellor Wilma Ellis, former Administrator-General of the Bahá'í International Community in New York, corresponded with a non-Bahá'í who had raised a number of concerns about the Bahá’í viewpoint on homosexuality. With Counsellor Ellis' permission, we offer a portion of that letter:

 

I would like to take this opportunity to present to you my views concerning the Bahá’í community and homophobia. 

The Bahá’í community is made up of ordinary people from every culture and walk of life... 

While Bahá'ís come to the Faith having declared their belief in Bahá’u’lláh and His teachings, the most important of which is the oneness of humanity, they inevitably bring with them inherited prejudices and phobias. The Bahá’í Faith teaches that preju­dices of all kinds must be eliminated and as a Bahá’í of almost fifty years, I have witnessed the community growing closer to adherence to Bahá’u’lláh's teachings. However, since the Faith is inclusive and worldwide and is constantly attracting new believ­ers, the Bahá’í community is more a workshop than a showcase. For the most part, Bahá’ís, like people of goodwill everywhere, struggle to rid themselves of prejudices and fears absorbed from their cultural backgrounds. 

The essence of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings is all-encompassing love. This theme is emphasized through His revelation. 

“Love is light, no matter in what abode it dwelleth: and hate is darkness, no matter where it may make its rest." 

Love is the fundamental principle of God's pur­pose for man, and He has commanded us to love each other even as He loves us." 

"Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch; be ye compassionate and kind to all the human race." 

It is my perception that in most religious com­munities the onset of AIDS has led to a re-examina­tion of human sexuality. Similarly, over the past years a number of Bahá’ís assisted by the Bahá’í International Health Agency, have done a great deal of work in this area. You are quite right that progress has been made, but as is true of most people and organizations, we still have a long way to go. 

Concerning personal cases brought to Bahá'í Spiritual Assemblies for adjudication, blanket rules are avoided. The guiding principle is that each indi­vidual involved should be accepted on the basis of his or her own faith and sincere desire to follow the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. These teachings tell us that sexual activity is not the paramount element of human existence and that sexuality must be placed in a proper social and spiritual context, regulated, and subordinated to higher purposes. 

The Bahá'í Faith is not inherited. Everyone must come freely after investigating its principles and laws. Bahá’u’lláh prohibits His followers from engaging in sexual relations outside marriage, which He defines as limited to partners of the opposite sex. Intentional violation of this law subjects any Bahá'í to sanctions. The logic of faith makes it impossible to be a Bahá'í to claim to believe in Bahá’u’lláh's teachings, and then to pick and choose which teach­ings to follow and which to reject. 

Let me be clear: homosexual orientation, as such, does not subject a Bahá'í to sanctions. Only extra-marital sexual acts do. Whatever one's orien­tation, a person who accepts that Bahá'í Faith undertakes a spiritual struggle which can never be easy. The struggle involves many changes of attitude and behavior and frequently demands great sacrifices. The path of obedience to the laws of Bahá’u’lláh, however, is freely chosen. The laws are never forced on anyone. Moreover, those who do no commit them-selves to Bahá'í teachings are neither rejected nor discriminated against. 

I would like to close with two personal com­ments. First, the notion of discriminating against individuals for any reason - whether it be race, creed, color, age, gender or sexual orientation - is abhorrent to me. Second, as a Bahá'í who is African-American, a senior citizen and a woman, I do not pride myself in being tolerant of others, for I do not wish to be tolerated. Rather, I seek to offer every person a full measure of respect and loving fellow­ship....

 

Author: Wilma M. Ellis

The ideas and opinions expressed in this document, originally written in November 1996, are those of the author. The document has been reviewed to be consistent with BNASAA guidelines, but the ideas expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions or thinking of the BNASAA Coordinating Committee.

 


 

Some Reflections

on the Bahá'í Teachings

as they Relate to Homosexuality

 

Prepared by

Sam G. McClellan, M.D.

In consultation with the Institute on AIDS, Sexuality and Addictions

 

The Universal House of Justice has affirmed, “The fundamental purpose of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race.” (1)

'Abdu’l-Bahá has conveyed aspects of the nature of this intended unity throughout His Writings in enchanting metaphorical imagery as well as profound psychological insights. Consider two examples:

O peoples of the world! The Sun of Truth hath risen to illumine the whole earth, and to spiritualize the community of man. Laudable are the results and the fruits thereof, abundant the holy evidences deriving from this grace. This is mercy unalloyed and purest bounty; it is light for the world and all its peoples; it is harmony and fellowship, and love and solidarity; indeed it is compassion and unity, and the end of foreignness; it is the being at one, in compete dignity and freedom, with all on earth. (2)

How good it is if the friends be as close as sheaves of light, if they stand together side by side in a firm unbroken line. For now have the rays of reality from the Sun of the world of existence, united in adoration all the worshippers of this light; and these rays have, through infinite grace, gathered all peoples together within this wide-spreading shelter; therefore must all souls become as one soul, and all hearts as one heart. Let all be set free from the multiple identities that were born of passion and desire, and in the oneness of their love for God find a new way of life. (3)

In the same Tablet from which the last quotation was taken, `Abdu’l-Bahá goes on to speak of the need for sacrifice, implying, it would seem, that unity cannot be achieved without our giving up attachment to something called self:

Until a being setteth his foot in the plane of sacrifice, he is bereft of every favour and grace; and this plane of sacrifice is the realm of dying to the self, that the radiance of the living God may then shine forth. (4)

There are differences among Bahá’ís that present a challenge to us as we try to understand this ideal of oneness, apply it in our daily lives, and exemplify it in our communities. The Universal House of Justice writes:

Bahá’u’lláh tells us that prejudice in its various forms destroys the edifice of humanity. We are adjured by the Divine Messengers to eliminate all forms of prejudice from our lives….If we allow prejudice of any kind to manifest itself in us, we shall be guilty before God of causing a setback to the progress and real growth of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. (5)

Fifty-six years ago, the beloved Guardian advised the American Bahá’ís that “the most vital and challenging issue” was the elimination of racial prejudice, both within our Bahá’í community and in our nation as a whole. We continue to work on this, and have also paid much attention in recent years to realizing the equality of women and men. An issue involving difference which has been less openly discussed in our Bahá’í community, but which probably affects most of us, is that of sexual orientation. Though it involves a different kind of difference than that based on race or gender, prejudice may arise in connection with sexual orientation that, as with other forms of prejudice, needs to be recognized, challenged and eliminated from the Bahá’í community.

To further discuss this matter it is helpful to talk about homosexuality and to make a clear distinction between three aspects of this term. First, homosexuality refers to the condition of having a homosexual orientation. When we speak of an adult having a homosexual orientation, we simply mean that he or she is physically and emotionally attracted to other adults biologically of the same gender. Second, it may refer to homosexual behaviour, by which is meant engaging in sexual acts with partners of the same sex. Thirdly, it may refer to homosexual identity. The term homosexual identity is often used synonymously with homosexual orientation, but it can also be understood as a process of adopting, through self-labelling, an identification with a community that shares the same preference or behaviour, such as the gay or lesbian community. A person who self-identifies as a homosexual may be using this term to refer to one or all of these meanings. It is important to note that a person may identify himself or herself as homosexual, gay or lesbian, because they struggle with a physical and emotional attraction to people of the same sex, but it does not necessarily mean they are engaging in homosexual activity. Alternatively, someone who does not identify him or herself as homosexual may also struggle with their attractions to people of the same sex and even engage in homosexual behaviour.

There is nothing in the Bahá’í teachings to justify prejudice against any person because he or she happens to be dealing with issues of homosexuality – either in terms of orientation, behaviour or identity. This is stated explicitly in a letter to an individual written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice:

To regard homosexuals with prejudice or disdain would be entirely against the spirit of Bahá’í teachings. (6)

We live in societies where prejudice against individuals who are homosexual is quite prevalent. Such prejudice, often involving fear and dislike based on unfounded stereotypical beliefs, no doubt exists within the Bahá’í community as well. A challenge, then, to Bahá’ís is to root out such prejudice from our attitudes towards others who may be dealing with issues of homosexuality, or towards ourselves, if we are among those dealing with these issues.

What we have stated so far, regarding the matter of prejudice related to sexual orientation, presents a problem for our Bahá’í community as a whole, as few of us are likely to have been completely untainted by the prevailing cultural attitudes in our society. However, as we now turn to the second meaning of homosexuality – engaging in homosexual behaviour – we look at a challenge primarily facing Bahá’í men and women who find themselves homosexually oriented. Bahá’u’lláh forbids homosexual acts as He, indeed, forbids all sexual intercourse outside of lawful marriage between a man and a woman. A homosexual union, no matter how faithful and enduring, does not qualify as marriage in Bahá’í law.

Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery. Avoid them, O concourse of the faithful. (7)

No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. (8)

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. Thus Bahá’í law restricts permissive sexual intercourse to that between a man and a woman to whom his is married. (9)

It is worth noting that the law of chastity in our Faith applies without discrimination to Bahá’ís of both sexes and of whatever sexual orientation. There is no hint of a “double standard” as between men and women, or is there anything to suggest that a heterosexual person who falls short of perfect obedience by having sexual fantasies, let us say, about someone other than his or her spouse is any less deviant from the law than a homosexual person fantasizing about another of the same sex. The fact of having a heterosexual orientation, in other words, does not automatically confer moral superiority over others who may be homosexually oriented.

While recognizing the divine origin and force of the sex impulse in man, religion teaches that it must be controlled, and Bahá’u’lláh’s law confines its expression to the marriage relationship. The unmarried homosexual is therefore in the same position as anyone else who does not marry. The Law of God requires them to practice chastity… (10)

Man’s physical existence on this earth is a period during which the moral exercise of his free will is tried and tested in order to prepare his soul for the other worlds of God, and we must welcome affliction and tribulations as opportunities for improvement in our eternal selves. The House of Justice points out that homosexuals are not the only segment of human society labouring at this daily task – every human being is beset by such inner promptings as pride, greed, selfishness, lustful heterosexual or homosexual desires, to name a few, which must be overcome, and overcome them we must if we are to fulfill the purpose of our human existence. (11)

While the Writings of the Faith, and the letters of the Universal House of Justice do not claim to know the causes of homosexuality – there may be genetic, psychological and social factors – it is clear that regardless of the cause, it “is not a condition to which a person should be reconciled, but a distortion of his or her nature which should be controlled and overcome.” (12) Science, too, has not fully determined the causal factors involved, although there are many theories, often at variance with each other, and none of which is conclusive.

The Guardian states that homosexuality is “a great burden to a conscientious soul” (8) and that an individual “so afflicted should struggle and struggle again to overcome” (8) this condition. The guidance provided in the Bahá’í writings primarily address the issue of behaviour and encourages individuals to seek the assistance of competent health professionals.

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.

Even within the Bahá’í community there may be a polarization of two equally unsound perspectives. One consists of the prejudicial ideas and feelings about homosexuals inherited from the mainstream culture; the other derives from acceptance of the liberal notion that a gay lifestyle is a healthy and legitimate alternative to the traditional concepts of marriage and family. While this latter approach may serve a defensive purpose for homosexual men and women in our society who feel understandably oppressed by prevalent attitudes towards them, it is not based on a foundation of truth, as evidence by its incompatibility with Bahá’í teachings.

We suggest that abandonment of both positions by those who occupy them is required to further the unity for which Bahá’u’lláh, 'Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi laboured and suffered untold tribulations all their lives. Within the safe haven of the Bahá’í community and its Administrative Order, and “in the oneness of their love for God”, prejudice is itself a handicap, and identity based on commitment to any other ideology than the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh can be relinquished with resulting gain in spiritual freedom and assurance.

In the past few years awareness has grown that there are materials and resources that can be of assistance in dealing with issues of homosexuality. One such resource in North America is a small group of mental health professionals – psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers – who have continued, despite discouragement from their professional organizations, to offer therapy to persons wishing to overcome their homosexuality. 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. In November 1989 a group of Bahá’ís first met, under the auspices of the Bahá’í International Health Agency (BIHA), which is an agency of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, to consult about issues related to AIDS and human sexuality. The aim of BNASAA is to explore issues related to AIDS, sexuality, addictions and abuse within the framework of the Bahá’í Covenant, and to assist individuals in their personal struggles with these issues through support, encouragement and discussion. Its second aim is to assist with the education of the Bahá’í community in general and the Institutions with regard to these issues. BNASAA can be contacted at 7200 Leslie St., Thornhill, ON L3T 6L8, Canada. Email: bnasaa@sympatico.ca

 

References

 

(1)    Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, p. 100

(2)    Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 1

(3)    Ibid. p. 76

(4)    Ibid. p. 76

(5)    Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, p. 99

(6)    From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a non-Bahá’í dated 17 September 1993, para. 14

(7)    Extracts from Bahá’í Writings on the Subject of Homosexuality, compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, revised 1 August 1994, #2

(8)    Ibid. #4

(9)    Ibid. #7

(10)Ibid. #9

(11)Ibid. #10

(12)The Universal House of Justice, to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 6 February 1973, published in Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, p. 110

 

c

 

Sexuality, Self, and the Shape of Society

 

Prepared by Holly Hanson

for the

Building the Kingdom Conference

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

29 June 2001

 

I am Holly Hanson, and this presentation is "Sexuality, Self, and the Shape of Society." I have written and thought about the Bahá'í Revelation and how it affects society - some of you may be familiar with my book on Bahá'í social and economic development, or with essays I have published on Bahá'í ideas regarding overcoming racism, the creation of social justice, and related topics. I teach history at Mount Holyoke College, and this talk builds on the understanding of the history of sexuality that I have developed as a professional historian. I am one of the very many Bahá'ís in this country who was not raised a Bahá'í - my parents were radical social reformers, and I grew up in a home that was emphatically atheist until I discovered the Faith and became a Bahá'í at the age of fifteen.

This talk is about the painful, bitter conflict about sexuality which is vexing us in the United States - and which we are imposing on the rest of the world. I want to look at the consequences of this conflict, which are greater than we realize. I want to show how we arrived at the point of thinking the way we do. We will explore how our ideas and our experiences of sexuality have changed over the past few hundred years as our society has taken its modern shape. The angry, hurtful debate in this country about whether our lives and our legal and social structures should be "gay-affirming" or should reject homosexuality is an aspect of a profound, encompassing transformation in our organization of society, and our understanding and experience of ourselves. These changes are complex, but they have to do with an assertion of the primacy of the material dimensions of human beings. I want to argue that the patterns we have created over the past several hundred years are not good for us. We have created them and we live inside them, but if we look at them, we may see that we would prefer lives that are not so incessantly material. In order to be happy, in order to develop the capacities God has given us and in order to make the world the manifestation of justice that God wants it to be, we need to change the shape of society and change our understanding of our own selves.

I want to begin with two observations. First, discussions of sexuality in this society tend to be fundamentally coercive: people are telling each other what to think. As a Bahá'í, I cannot do that and I do not want to. A core principle of the Bahá'í Faith is that every person has to seek and understand truth for her or himself. This is the capacity of every person and the obligation of every person. I believe that Bahá'u'lláh’s words enable human beings to create well-being in the world, and in this talk I am sharing with you how I have understood what the Bahá'í Revelation says about sexuality and society. Perhaps these ideas will be useful to you; perhaps you will have thoughts about how I can expand my understanding of this subject, perhaps you will find these ideas totally useless. The last part of the presentation will be discussion and questions, and I hope we will all learn from each other. But as you listen to me, I want you to keep in mind that I absolutely am not telling you that you ought to agree with me.

Second, it is possible that some people have chosen this presentation because they want support in being Bahá'ís who experience same-sex desire, or in being the fellow community members of those believers. The Bahá'í writings clearly forbid homophobia, but at the same time Bahá'í law only allows sexual expression inside a marriage between a woman and a man. Many people find this confusing or difficult to accept. We will get to those issues, I promise.

 

Gay-Affirming versus Gay-Rejecting: A Conflict that is harmful to everyone

 

Let's imagine the current discussions over homosexuality in our culture. On one side is the gay-affirming position, which says 'God loves everyone; God loves homosexuals. Any group that denies gay people the possibility of sexual expression is fundamentally unjust. Religions have to discard their outdated teachings, so if your religion is not gay-affirming, you should change it.' We can imagine this person here, wearing a rainbow pin - maybe it says 'We are everywhere,' or maybe it says, 'I'm straight but not narrow.' On the other side of this polarized conflict is the gay-rejecting position, which says, 'All the holy books of all the world's religions say it is wrong to be gay, and the acceptance of homosexuality is a sign of the decline of civilization. Any person who thinks they want to live a gay lifestyle should just pray to God to change, and they can change, (and be like us).' We can imagine this person here, with a book that he is quoting, to tell the other side they are wrong.

People's hopes for the world and their sense of themselves as good people are caught up in this conflict. Part of the gay-affirming position is that the world will become better - more tolerant, more accepting, more celebrating of diversity - through active acceptance of homosexuals. There is also a demand for visibility - 'We are here - do not deny our existence.' The gay-rejecting side also understands its actions to be a social necessity - that the world will be a better place if people pay attention to religion and obey religious law. These people's identity is also invested: they believe the way God wants people to be is the way we are.

Underneath the rational gay-affirming argument there may be anger and pain at having experienced intolerance and rejection. Underneath the gay-rejecting position may be fear: that same-sex desire is scary because it does not make sense; that things are more and more out of control in the world around us, and attacking same-sex sex seems to be a way to make things more stable.

This highly charged, highly polarized debate makes it impossible to think about the issues in another way. People want to know, are you gay-affirming? Or are you gay-rejecting? And no other answer is possible. The costs of this conflict are high. It hurts us, when people feel they are being attacked - and they are being attacked - on both sides. It divides us, when people are forced to take sides. It distracts us, when this conflict overwhelms other concerns: Who receives health care? Who pays attention to children after school? How do we counteract AIDS? More profoundly, it hardens and confirms limited, unproductive ways of thinking about our own reality.

In order to see this, we need to consider the underlying assumptions that the gay-affirming position and the gay-rejecting positions share. The gay-affirming side views sexual desire as something that defines human beings: experiencing same sex desire makes a person a homosexual: a person can acknowledge that, and define himself as gay; a person who experiences same sex desire but does not adopt a gay identity is gay and experiencing internalized homophobia. There is not any other choice, it is permanent, and it is defining. The gay-rejecting side also views sexual desire as defining, because it asks people to stop experiencing same-sex desire, which is bad, and change themselves so they experience heterosexual desire, which is good. Again, sexual desire defines people.

Both sides share a vision that in order to be happy and fulfilled, an adult person needs to find a partner who will meet one's needs for emotional intimacy, physical closeness and sexual expression, for financial support, for practical life support, for socializing, and for reproduction. This unit will be legally recognized, but it also, in practice, will be defined by jointly owned possessions. In this society, aren’t wedding presents the difference between a couple living together and a married couple? And if a couple own property separately, do we ask, are they really married? Access to legal recognition for this unit is a main concern of gay rights activism; and marriages are the organizing principle of people's lives for the gay-rejecting side. Both sides are looking to this legally defined, possession-laden unit to make people happy; they are relying on it, to the exclusion of any other relationship or social institution, to meet people's needs. Of course marriage, life-partnership, is a powerful institution that supports people. But we have impossible expectations of what it will accomplish for us. One partner-person cannot give us emotional, physical, and financial security, and children, and sexual satisfaction, and fun and companionship, and help with life's difficulties, and a sense of purpose, for all of our lives. No one can do that for us. Complete dependence on one other person will not work. But partnership as the exclusive strategy for personal happiness is an underlying assumption of the gay-affirming and gay-rejecting points of view.

Both sides in this argument also have a fundamentally static view of society: the changes that are necessary are other peoples becoming more like them. The gay-rejecting side asks everyone to have families like theirs, which they perceive to be traditional. The gay-affirming side asks everyone to be tolerant, like they are. Both sides see the world as having the social structures we have now, although the gay-affirming side wants the benefits of marriage extended to homosexuals.

The underlying assumptions of both sides of this conflict are wrong. Sexual desire does not define human beings. A long-term relationship with one person is not the cause of human happiness. And no one is the living model for the society God wants us to create. To think about the world in this way is a really bad idea. I am not saying that recognition of the existence of homosexuality is a bad idea, I am saying the whole cultural framework, and our whole perception of heterosexuality and homosexuality and of human nature as fundamentally material, sexual, and acquisitive is a bad idea. Our culture's way of thinking about sexuality flattens, narrows, and diminishes what it is to be human; it distorts us. Furthermore, it interferes with the process of imagining and creating a just society, because it naturalizes oppressive gender roles, acquiesces in the loss of social responsibility of members of a community for each other. It freezes attention on the simple question of what do people do with desire, blocking out consideration of any other dimension of what might be just or unjust about society.

How did we arrive at such an unproductive way of thinking and acting? Our materialistic, body-centered way of thinking about the world and ourselves has emerged over the past several hundred years. This is really important: the biology of human reproduction may be constant, but the way human beings understand sex is constantly changing, just as all human patterns of thought and institutions are constantly changing. "Nothing is stationary in the material world of outer phenomena or in the inner world of intellect and consciousness." [1] Society transforms through a dynamic interplay between people's efforts in the world and their responses to its influences. We are not entirely creators of our destiny, because circumstances shape us; but we are not robots either, because we can change those circumstances by the actions we take. Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of Bahá'u'lláh and the leader of the Bahá'í Faith for the middle third of the twentieth century wrote: 

"We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions." [2]

Race is a good example of this feedback loop. We know that race has no reality. But the existence of racist structures and institutions in a society affect its members: people will be shaped by those elements of a society, perceive race, and perpetuate it. But people who want to overcome racism can take deliberate steps to change their own thoughts, to deliberately break down habits of racial separation - their actions can have an affect on the shape of the society. The effects go both ways.

Another concept to keep in mind is that not all transformations are progressive. A selfish action can have consequences far beyond the intentions of the initiator. In 1914, travelling in the United States, 'Abdu'l-Bahá stated that despots created national and racial distinctions and conquerors that sought to dominate others:

"We are all human, all servants of God and all come from Adam's family. Why, then, all these fallacious national and racial distinctions? These boundary lines and artificial barriers have been created by despots and conquerors who sought to attain dominion over mankind, thereby engendering patriotic feeling and rousing selfish devotion to merely local standards of government." [3]

When we look at the origins of our culture's ideas and practices about human nature and sexuality, we see people being shaped by and shaping society and we also see the far-reaching, tremendously destructive consequences of ideas imposed for the benefit of some people only.

A set of changes in how people in Europe experienced sexuality, which started in the late eighteenth century, happened at the same time as other profound cultural changes. For about half a century before this, European intellectual life had been revolutionized by a group of thinkers who prioritized human reason and knowledge derived from the senses over religious knowledge. There were economic changes also. Wealth became more concentrated and productive activity became more centralized. This had social consequences: relationships between people, which had in the past had social and economic dimensions, became solely economic. Gradually, everything in life came to be exchangeable for money – this process is called co modification. Although this process created a lot of wealth, many people lost their ability to control their productive life, and work became more regimented. The kinds of communities that people lived in as a result of these transformations were different than the kinds of communities people lived in before industrialization. These changes in the practice of production and the organization of wealth led to changes in the way that people thought about society and human nature. Organic models for society, which included God and the soul, got replaced by economic models, in which all the elements of the systems were material. Thinkers began to conceptualize social relations in terms of purchase and of human beings as bundles of needs, which could be met by consumption.

We can trace these transformations in the history of sexuality. Until the late eighteenth century, people in Europe thought men and women had the same sexual organs: in women these organs were inside, and slightly inferior; in men they were on the outside, in their perfect form. The organs were basically the same. This was replaced by the concept that female and male bodies were diametrically opposed, and women were perceived to be entirely controlled by their sexual organs, while men were perceived to be in control of theirs sexuality, in the same way that men were thought to be in control of shaping the world through engagement in the market economy. [4] As social classes solidified and industrialists sought to create markets for the massive output of nineteenth century factories, women's sexuality became divided by class. Women who worked in factories in Europe were considered to be inherently impure, their work made them hypersexual. Part of the rationalization for a migrant female labor force in American textile factories was to protect the workers from sexualizing consequences of labor. [5] Wealthy and middle class women, on the other hand, were perceived as asexual, and the Victorian woman's purity, which she created by staying in a home full of possessions, healed her husband from the spiritual wounds he received as an industrialist. Since this work involved breaking expectations of reciprocity, which had governed social relations previously, it makes sense that people thought work harmed men spiritually. The division between sexual working class women and asexual middle class women ended in the early twentieth century when, in an effort to sell automobiles to women, women's magazines began to promote the concept of 'the modern woman' who was just as sexually free as a man, and who created a romantic life with a romantic partner.[6]

Industrialization and the emergence of a culture of consumption also shaped European or North American concepts of masculinity. In the colonial period, manhood involved reproduction, and court records show cases of women taking their husbands to court for being impotent. In the mid-nineteenth century, as the culture stressed middle class men's calm, cool capacity to control the economy, manliness involved control of sexual impulses. Doctors and public speakers warned of the disfigurement and disease that men would suffer if they used up the energy they needed for active engagement in the world with unnecessary sex. In the early twentieth century, as a culture of consumption became entrenched, doctors urged men to find means of sexual release in order to be healthy. [7]

Our ways of thinking about homosexual desires and actions have followed the same trajectory. In the late nineteenth century, same-sex sex stopped being a verb - an action some people took, and became a noun - a quality that defined a category of people. A rethinking of human nature that began to focus more thoroughly on the body, the rising status of medical discourse, and the activist efforts of people who believed that those who participated in homosexual sex should not be punished all contributed to this transition. [8]

There is another level of connection between social and economic insecurity and our concepts of sexuality. Homosexuality and heterosexuality are ideas that make sense together. The idea that deviant desire defines some people makes sexual desire a determining characteristic of everyone's identity. The idea of a homosexual - a person who wants to have sex with someone of the same sex is an identifiable kind of person - came into existence at the same time as the idea of a heterosexual - that a person who wants to have sex with someone of the opposite sex is a particular kind of person. Before that, people were people, and what they might have desired, or what they might have done sexually, did not define them. Historians have argued that people began to create these new categories as a result of the disturbance in family life that accompanied the consolidation of industrial capitalism. People's loss of control over their own lives, and also the cultivation of higher levels of consumption that industrial production necessitated, led to more rigid distinction of male and female social roles. While in the more distant past most same-sex sex between men involved adult men and boys, communities of men who assertively rejected male gender roles began to emerge in the nineteenth century. [9] For a while, these men did not call themselves homosexuals (for example, in New York in the late nineteenth century they made sharp distinctions between men who cross-dressed and displayed feminine characteristics, men who followed the culture's norms of behavior for men but wanted to sleep with men, and men who had wives or girlfriends but were willing to sleep with men). However, men who did not display feminine characteristics (and tended to be middle class) wanted to be understood as something different from normal men, and also different from effeminate men (who were more likely to be working class). They began to define themselves as homosexual, which helped to create the patterns that psychologists and medical men labeled. [10]  Furthermore, men who perceived an erosion of their manliness through a narrowing of their ability to control their work lives and through new assertiveness of workers and women also participated in the creation of this category by defining their manliness as sexual interest in women only. Their changing perception of themselves helped to create the category of heterosexual. [11]

The establishment of the categories of "heterosexual" and "homosexual" drastically changed patterns of friendship among people of the same sex. Nineteenth century women and men established life-long, deeply intimate friendships with people of the same sex, friendships that had an intensity that we would now perceive as deviant. Once sexuality became a part of how people defined themselves, this pattern of emotional closeness ceased in U.S. society. [12]

Our current way of thinking, that divides people into heterosexuals and homosexuals, came into being about one hundred years ago. It is real: we both shape and are shaped by the societies that we live in. Since these categories are so firmly established, it makes sense that we experience our own reality as defined by desire. Sexual identities are very comforting to people - both people who identify themselves as homosexuals and people who identify themselves as heterosexuals.

However, if we look at how we have arrived at the conception that people are defined by desire and find happiness in possessions and a romantic partner, we may ask ourselves whether we really want these ideas shaping us, whether this is the best we can do for ourselves. We have come to this pattern of thought through a long process that involved an increasing focus on the human body and the loss of a consensus about humanity's spiritual reality. It followed a drastic reduction of the richness of people's social relationships. It accompanied a profound anxiety about the direction of social change, which led to intensely rigid gender roles, a narrowing of the realms of activity considered acceptable for women and for men. After several hundred years of this process, we experience ourselves as bundles of needs, which can be satisfied through consumption. We are so accommodated to the degradation of human beings as objects of the desire of others that it seems normal. We objectify ourselves, and whole industries exist to help us do it. We have co modified every conceivable social relationship: we pay people to talk to us and to take care of our aging relatives; we have learned to express our emotions in purchases. As a result, we live with material excess whose results will be inscribed on the planet for generations. The set of beliefs and practices we have about sexuality are less than useless. The theories are pernicious, the standards are false, the claims are hollow, the habits are perverse, and the excesses are sacrilegious. [13] This was my first point. When people ask me where Bahá'ís stand on the question of homosexuality, I say, we disagree with our culture's conception of sexuality, all of it, heterosexuality and homosexuality, the whole way we think about it and act on it is not useful to us as human beings, and we need to change it.

This brings me to my second point. While our culture's conflict over sexuality is focussed on whether or not people who experience same-sex desire can change or should change, the Bahá'í perspective is that all of us need to change. We need to change ourselves for our own sake, and for the well being of society. We do not think that people, who are now defined as homosexuals, need to stop being who they are and start being people who are straight with family values. We think that everyone, whatever we desire, however we understand ourselves, needs to deliberately engage in a process of individual and social transformation to make the world into what God wants it to be. This is the purpose of religion, as Bahá'u'lláh explains. "...Is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself, both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions? For if the character of mankind be not changed, the futility of God's universal Manifestations would be apparent."  [14] The courage we need to imagine that we can live differently, and the vision of what God intends, and the capacities to accomplish it come from the Word of God.

There are beautiful statements in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh that define human reality as an expression of God's love: the image of God is engraved on us. "O Son of Man! Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty." [15] To be most fully human, according to Bahá'u'lláh, we need to focus our attention and understanding on our connection to the divine inside of us. "O Son of Spirit! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty powerful and self-subsisting." [16] If we think about human beings this way, holding sexual desire - or any other desires - at the center of our understanding of ourselves does not seem that useful. The word of God may change our experience of ourselves as primarily material beings. Bahá'u'lláh says this: "Were any man to ponder in is heart that which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed and to taste of its sweetness, he would, of a certainty, find himself emptied and delivered from his own desires, and utterly subservient to the Will of the Almighty. Happy is the man that hath attained so high a station, and hath not deprived himself of so bountiful a grace." [17] Bahá'u'lláh is saying that far from being fixed, impermeable, and at the core of our beings, desire disappears, it evaporates, and it empties out of us when we taste the sweetness of the word of God.

What about strategies for human happiness? What else might we consider, besides finding a partner and owning a lot of stuff together? Bahá'u'lláh makes many clear statements about this. He says, "Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest." [18] 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the son of Bahá'u'lláh, wrote, "Supreme happiness is man's, and he beholds the signs of God in the world and in the human soul, if he urges on the steed of high endeavor in the arena of civilization and justice. And this is man's uttermost wretchedness: that he should live inert, apathetic and dull, involved with only his base appetites." [19] Pursuing our physical longings, 'Abdu'l-Bahá says, creates human wretchedness, and happiness comes from making strenuous efforts to facilitate civilization and justice.

This is what communities are for. They are our means for facilitating civilization and justice. In communities, we can deliberately, systematically, work to change the conditions that created the degraded conception of reality that entraps us. All of us, together, are responsible for creating the conditions in which each of us lives as an individual. Social patterns that cause alienation and humiliation, such as those we have now, make it more difficult for people to live in a way that is characterized by connection to God. We need to purposefully create the dense web of connection, of love between many people, of habits of service to each other, which is the pattern of life in harmony with our true nature. When we do this, the lives of people struggling with difficult spiritual tests will be easier. For example, Bahá'u'lláh requires that His followers express gender equality in their personal lives and in their patterns of social interaction. [20] The Bahá'í writings affirm that the world needs men who are sensitive and intuitive and women who are strong and effective in the world. The actions that we take as communities to establish gender equality and to eliminate rigid gender roles are important for all of us, but they are especially important for a member of the community whose own life moves beyond constrained gender roles. All of us struggle to prioritize spiritual longings over material desires in the way we live our lives, and the structures that a community creates - of meetings for worship and study, of interpersonal interaction that draws out our spiritual capacity, make this easier. These structures may be particularly valuable for believers who experience same-sex desire that they cannot act on as Bahá'ís. A community that is loving, respectful, and focussed outward on creating well-being in the world, will unfold and develop the capacities of all of its members.

Some people reject the idea that deliberately engaged communities, trying to be obedient to the will of God, is a wholesome environment for people who experience same-sex desire. They say, 'You say you love and include everyone, but if the gay people can't have sex, it is not fair.' I want to disagree, to suggest that the injustice to people who experience same sex desire is the way their inner lives have become fodder for a highly politicized fight.

Chastity, in a society that asserts sex is everything, is certainly not easy. But the individual lives of people who experience same sex desire are burdened by the way religion is used in the debate over homosexuality. Two principles of spiritual growth have been drawn into opposition with each other in the increasing politicization of sexual desire in our society. One of these is the principle that truthfulness is the foundation of spiritual progress for a soul.

 

          Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized. [21]

 

The other is the principle that we make progress spiritually through constant movement towards God.

 

          Creation is the expression of motion. Motion is life. A moving object is a living object, whereas that which is motionless and inert is as dead. All created forms are progressive in their planes, or kingdoms of existence, under the stimulus of the power or spirit of life. The universal energy is dynamic. Nothing is stationary in the material world of outer phenomena or in the inner world of intellect and consciousness. [22]

The gay-rejecting strand of religious thought about sexuality seems to ask people with same sex desire to not tell the truth about themselves, to seek a conversion experience that makes them straight. At the other extreme, some strands of gay politics ask people to hold an unchanging, solidified experience of desire at the core of their being. Although both of these strategies are presented as the means of achieving emotional and spiritual health, both are flawed: the pray-for-miracle-that-will-make-you-straight strategy lacks recognition that truthfulness is the foundation of spiritual progress. Divine virtues unfold by our being truthful, so how could denying one's experience and knowledge of self be a good thing? It is unjust to ask this of people. The gay-identity strategy asks people to achieve emotional and spiritual health through telling the truth about their same-sex desire and holding it at the absolute center of their lives, with a higher priority than anything else. This lacks recognition that the essence of human nature is our connection with God, and that all material desires are ephemeral. If the love of God burns away our desires, why insist that people continuously put them back in place? It is unjust to ask people to do this.

People who want to know more about Bahá'ís dealing with same-sex desire may want to get in touch with BNASAA, the Bahá'í Network on Aids, Sexuality, Addiction, and Abuse. This is a group that is other people as well but includes gay Bahá'ís, committed to supporting each other in their efforts to be obedient to Bahá'í law, in a context of confidentiality. This is an institution under the sponsorship of the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada. Their email address is bnasaa@sympatico.ca and their web address is http://www.bnasaa.org, or you could watch for their meetings, which appear on the schedule of the permanent Bahá'í schools in the United States.

Finally, I want to consider how the Bahá'í community might be doing a better job of loving and supporting its members who experience same-sex desire. Shoghi Effendi told the Bahá'í community in the 1950s that it should not discriminate against homosexuals, and the Universal House of Justice made a clear statement about this a few years ago: "To regard homosexuals with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of the Bahá'í teachings." 23] Transcending the homophobia that is part of our society requires honesty. Are we afraid that other people’s experience of same-sex desire might be contagious? Are we accepting negative stereotypes? Like many other prejudices, a fear of homosexuals can operate on a very subtle level. One manifestation of this is to assume that anyone who experiences same-sex desire is having sex with someone. We understand that people can have heterosexual desires and not act on them: this is what we expect of all the single people in our communities. We need to be careful to treat Bahá'ís who experience same-sex desire with the same kind of respect; to recognize these members of our community as also capable of chastity, and interact with people in a way that shows that. We need to recognize that we are all people who have tests and are struggling, people who experience same-sex desire need the same love and support that everyone else needs.

'Abdu'l-Bahá said in 1914, "To accept and observe a distinction which God has not intended in creation is ignorance and superstition." [24] The distinction, which we accept and observe regarding sexual desire in our society, is a manifestation of ignorance and superstition, and it oppresses us, all of us. It diminishes our perception of our true reality, it accepts an impoverishment of social bonds and community, and it legitimizes false distinctions in gender roles. It confirms an enervating materialism. We are shaped by these ideas, but we don't have to be. We can change them; we can "urge on the steed of high endeavour in the arena of civilization and justice" and make the world different than it is.

 

References
 

  1. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p 140.

  2. Shoghi Effendi through his Secretary, quoted in Universal House of Justice, Research Department, Statement on Conservation of Earth's Resources.

  3.  'Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 354.

  4. Thomas Laqueur, "Orgasm, Generation, and the Politics of Reproductive Biology," in Catherine Gallagher and Thomas Laqueur, eds., The Making of the Modern Body: Sexuality and Society in the Nineteenth Century, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), pp. 1-41.

  5. Holly Hanson, "Mill Girls' and 'Mine Boys': the Cultural Meanings of Migrant Labor." Social History

  6. Pamela S. Haag, "In Search of 'The Real Thing'" Ideologies of Love, Modern Romance, and Women's Sexual Subjectivity in the United States, 1920-40, in Fout and Tantillo, 161-192.

  7. Kevin J. Mumford, "'Lost Manhood' Found: Male Sexual Impotence and Victorian Culture in the United States," in John C. Fout and Maura Shaw Tantillo, eds., American Sexual Politics: Sex, Gender, and Race since the Civil War (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 75-100.

  8. Jeffrey Weeks, "The Body and Sexuality" in Stuart Hall, David Held, Don Hubert and Kenneth Thompson, eds., Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies, (Malden: Blackwell, 1996), 364-393. Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality originated this arena of inquiry.

  9. Weeks, 383-4.

  10. George Chauncey, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, (New York: BasicBooks, 1994), pp. 21-2

  11. Chauncey, pp. 117-9.

  12. Carroll Smith-Rosenburg, "The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between Women in Nineteenth-Century America", Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America, (Oxford, 1985). Chauncey,

  13. Paraphrasing Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 25.

  14. Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, pp. 240-1.

  15. Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, no. 3.

  16. Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, no.13.

  17. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 343.

  18. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 138.

  19. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 3-4.

  20. "Exalted, immensely exalted is He Who hat removed differences and established harmony. Glorified, infinitely glorified is He Who hath caused discord to cease, and decreed solidarity and unity. Praised be God, the Pen of the Most High hath lifted distinctions from between His servants and handmaidens and, through His consummate favours and all-encompassing mercy, hath conferred upon all a station and rank on the same plane. He hath broken the back of vain imaginings with the sword of utterance and hath obliterated the perils of idle fancies through the pervasive power of His might." Bahá'u'lláh, Women, p. 1

  21. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í World Faith, p. 384.

  22. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 140.

  23. Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá'ís of the U.S., September 11, 1995, published in The American Bahá'í, November 23, 1995.

  24. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 76. 'Abdu'l-Bahá was speaking about the equality of men and women.

 

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Homosexuality: Some Useful Concepts

 

 

The Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse is a committee appointed by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada. BNASAA has sponsored a number of conferences dealing with issues related to homosexuality and its relationship to the Bahá'í teachings. At these conferences individuals who are themselves struggling with these issues have consulted openly with health professionals, family members and members of Bahá'í institutions to gain a clearer understanding of the Bahá'í perspective on homosexuality and to share insights and support around dealing with these issues in daily life within the context of the Bahá'í teachings. During the course of these consultations several ideas have emerged repeatedly as concepts that are helpful in sorting out the many complex issues that must be understood and discussed in relation to this issue. The following ideas are some of the concepts that have been found particularly useful.

 

 

Homosexual orientation, behaviour and identity

 

 

It is helpful to distinguish between homosexual orientation or preference, homosexual behaviour and homosexual identity. Orientation or preference is usually used to refer to an internal sense of being physically and/or emotionally attracted to an individual of the same sex. This attraction is usually experienced as spontaneous and involuntary; that is, it is often not felt by the individual to be a conscious choice or open to conscious, voluntary control. Homosexual behaviour relates to active engagement in sexual activity with an individual of the same sex. Homosexual identity is often used synonymously with homosexual orientation, but it can also be understood as a process of adopting, through self-labelling, an identification with a community that shares the same sexual preference or behaviour, such as the gay or lesbian community. Individuals who refer to themselves as “homosexual” may be using the term to refer to one or all of these uses of the term. It is important to understand that a person may identify themselves as homosexual, gay or lesbian because they struggle with a physical and emotional attraction to people of the same sex, but it does not necessarily mean they are engaging in homosexual activity. Alternatively, someone who does not identify him or herself as homosexual may also struggle with their attractions to people of the same sex and even engage in homosexual behaviour.

 

 

Artificial polarization of concepts

 

 

Many people experience a wide range and variety of sexual and emotional attractions during various points in their lives. This suggests that the reality of human sexual experience is a varied and multi-faceted one with many patterns of behaviour and preference appearing in a wide variety of combinations. Current popular thought, however, suggests that one is either homosexual or heterosexual lending a medical or biological strength to the construct of sexual identity. This can suggest that there is a definite and automatic linkage between experiencing a homosexual orientation and adopting a homosexual identity. Many individuals feel that this polarization is artificial and destructive, falsifying their own experience and setting up a political element to discussion of these issues which is often divisive and unhelpful. Many individuals struggling with these issues find it more helpful to describe themselves as struggling with sexuality rather than to automatically adopt the labels “gay” or “straight” within the context of the Bahá'í community.

 

 

Many causes, many paths to health

 

 

The Bahá'í writings do not directly address the issue of causes of homosexual orientation. It can be inferred from the wide range of current psychological research that there are many factors implicated in the development of homosexual orientation. Some of these factors may be biological or genetic in nature. There are apparently other factors that can affect individual decision-making around behaviour and identity. Some of these factors may include early sexual experiences, sexual abuse, rigid gender or sex-role concepts, family dysfunction, sex and love addiction, and cultural attitudes toward masculine and feminine behaviour or characteristics. The range and complexity of these factors suggest that it will often be a difficult and complex task to unravel all the various physical, psychological and social factors which impact behaviour and which can make significant personal change a long and difficult process. It also suggests that there is no one “right way” to address these issues and that every individual must construct his or her own path to a spiritually healthy lifestyle which does not deny the reality of internal experience and which also creates a framework for dealing with these issues within the scope of the Bahá'í teachings. For some individuals this may mean cultivating a lifestyle that makes marriage and family life possible. For others it may mean leading a celibate lifestyle, focusing energy on other aspects of life and building strong emotional and spiritual connections with other individuals. These choices can also evolve and change over the course of a lifetime. Thus consultation and support is most useful if focused on decision-making and consideration of alternatives rather than on specific prescriptions for behaviour.

 

Overcoming vs. curing homosexuality

 

 

The Bahá'í writings state that the condition of homosexuality is one that can be overcome. This is different from saying that it is possible to “cure” or eliminate a homosexual orientation. Overcoming a condition suggests that it is possible to move beyond any limiting conditions which might make full participation in the life of the community difficult, just as one might overcome limitations imposed by a physical disability or circumstances of poverty or deprivation. It is true that experiencing a homosexual orientation may make it difficult for individuals to take part in marriage and have children. But this does not mean that an individual cannot take part fully in community life and be fully developed as a spiritual being. Although marriage is desirable, participating in marriage and having a satisfying outlet for sexual activity are not essential to developing our intrinsic spiritual nature. Thus it is not essential that one “cure” or eliminate entirely the feelings and attractions of a homosexual orientation. The spiritual challenge is to overcome these feelings, as well as any other unwanted feelings or ideas, and to channel energy into activities that are more productive and useful. Many individuals have found that they can lead happy family lives in marriages despite the fact that homosexual feelings may not be entirely eliminated. Many other people find that they are able to have emotionally fulfilling relationships that are satisfying and non-sexual in nature. Thus overcoming the perceived limitations does not imply that a basic biological or physical condition must be altered or eliminated.

 

 

Benefits of personal sacrifice

 

 

Popular culture suggests that in order to be happy one must fulfil or express one’s inclinations, especially sexual inclinations. Controlling or regulating sexual activity is sometimes presumed to result in serious psychological distress and is felt to be unhealthy and even inappropriate. The Bahá'í perspective takes a much broader view of human nature and suggests that one’s sexual life is a very small part of one’s overall life and a facet that is ultimately much less important than others in building and cultivating a spiritually healthy lifestyle. In the context of dealing with homosexuality this suggests that not only is it possible to be spiritually fulfilled while choosing to not act on one’s sexual preferences but there can be substantial personal benefit from choosing not to do so.

 

“Through sincere and sustained effort, energized by faith in the validity of the Divine Message, and combined with patience with oneself and the loving support of the Bahá'í community, individuals are able to effect a change in their behaviour; as a consequence of this effort they partake of spiritual benefits which liberate them and which bestow a true happiness beyond description.” (Universal House of Justice, letter to an individual, 30 June 1988)

 

 

Bahá'í identity as primary identity

 

 

Many individuals report that they find it helpful to avoid categorizing or identifying themselves as “gay” or “lesbian”, even if they feel a homosexual preference or are struggling with homosexual behaviour. As one individual sometimes says, “I’m not gay. I’m a Bahá'í.” Accepting the label of “gay” or “lesbian” can unintentionally reinforce stereotypic thinking and behaviour on the part of others and reinforce a cycle of exclusion and marginalization that individuals struggling with homosexuality often experience. By refusing to accept the polarization inherent in the artificial distinctions around “gay” and “straight” identity and community, individuals can work actively to resist the labeling and stereotyping that often accompanies discussions of homosexuality. Affirming the Bahá'í identity as a primary identity enriches the discourse and enhances the inherent diversity of the entire Bahá'í community, making it much more likely that discussion will be based on individual experience and feelings rather than on the prejudicial stereotypes encountered in much current popular discussion. Refusing to be marginalized and asking for support from individuals, communities and institutions is an important part of asserting rights to membership in the Bahá'í community and to fully adopting a Bahá'í identity which can help to alleviate the loneliness and exclusion which affiliation with the gay community often tries to address.

 

 

On-going discourse

 

 

These concepts have emerged during the course of many long discussions at BNASAA conferences and meetings and are part of an on-going discussion and dialogue. These concepts are being continuously explored as to their usefulness in dealing with the day-to-day reality of dealing with homosexuality. It is important to understand that at this point in the evolution of scientific thinking it is difficult to assert the truth or ultimate validity of any of these ideas. If they are useful to individuals or Assemblies in dealing with these issues, then they should be used. But there are many other ways to think about these issues that will undoubtedly be developed, and BNASAA warmly invites all interested individuals to participate and engage in the development of the discourse. You can contact BNASAA at 7200 Leslie St., Thornhill, ON L3T 6L8, Canada. Email: mail@bnasaa.org

 

Prepared by the Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse – May 1997 – Revised January 2002

 

 

 

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Considerations for Assemblies

Dealing with Same-Sex Issues

 

1.  The Universal House of Justice has offered the following guidance about the role of local and national Assemblies in regulating the behaviour of members of the Bahá’í community.

"The aim of any Spiritual Assembly should be to develop a warm and loving relationship with the believers in the community, so that it can most efficiently nurture and encourage them in the acquisition of a deeper understanding of the teachings, and can assist them to follow the Bahá’í principles in their personal conduct. The Assembly should aspire to being understanding of the varying degrees of maturity of those entrusted to its care, compassionate in dealing with the problems which arise as a result of any shortcomings, ever prepared to guide them to the correct path, and very patient as they strive to effect the necessary changes in their behaviour. Such an approach is far removed from the administration of law in the wider society. The Bahá’í application of justice, firmly rooted in spiritual principle and animated by a desire to foster the spiritual development of the community will increasingly be seen as a distinctive and highly attractive feature of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh."

                                  (Letter from the Universal House of Justice, 9 December 1991)

  

2.    Members of the Assembly need to set aside their preconceived ideas and fears about same-sex issues when meeting an individual for the first time, and to be loving, supportive and sincerely interested in what the person has to say. Most Assemblies will have much they can learn from such individuals about the experience of being homosexual, and might approach this encounter as a learning experience as well as a response to an appeal for help.

  

3.    The Assembly must keep in mind that there are three possibilities arising out of the same-sex issue: One is that a person is homosexually oriented but may not be participating in homosexual behaviour. This individual may be seeking assistance with their struggle to live their life in conformity with Bahá’í law. The second possibility is that a person is actually participating in sexual activities that are not acceptable. A third possibility is that a family member or friend of the person you are meeting is homosexual. All need love, patience, counseling, guidance and sensitivity to guide them into the arms of the Covenant.

 

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.

  

8.    Encourage the individual to continue with their struggle of obeying the laws of Bahá’u’lláh.

 

9.    Offer prayers. Prayers from Assemblies are a very powerful and practical way of showing support for the individual's struggle.

  

[Updated November 2004]

 

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