Homosexuality and the Bahá'í Faith

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The Bahá'í Faith teaches that the only acceptable form of sexual expression is within marriage, and Bahá'í marriage is defined in the religion's texts as exclusively between one man and one woman.[1][2][3] Bahá'ís stress the importance of absolute chastity for any unmarried person,[4] and focus on personal restraint.

While in authoritative teachings homosexuality is described as a condition that an individual should control and overcome,[5] Bahá'ís are left to apply the teachings at their own discretion, and are discouraged from singling out homosexuality over other transgressions, such as the consumption of alcohol, or heterosexual promiscuity.[6] Membership in the Bahá'í community is therefore open to lesbian and gay adherents,[7] who are to be "advised and sympathized with".[8][9][10]

Overview[edit]

The Bahá'í Faith has been described as a religion "ambiguous or contested on the issue of LGBT inclusion".[11] The religion has a strong emphasis on traditional values found in Abrahamic religions, which promote chastity over sexual promiscuity. The Bahá'í Faith, however, leaves the application of laws of social conduct largely up to the individual, and Bahá'ís generally do not advocate for or discriminate against homosexual people.[12]

Bahá'í teachings state that Bahá'ís should not treat homosexual people as condemned outcasts, nor expect people who are not Bahá'í to follow Bahá'í laws.[13] The Bahá'í writings teach adherents to treat everyone with respect and dignity, and an attitude of discrimination and social intolerance toward homosexuals is not supported by the Bahá'í teachings.[9][14][15]

The opportunity for civil same-sex marriage was mentioned in a 2010 letter by the Universal House of Justice as being a public issue that is not in keeping with the Bahá'í teachings, but one that Bahá'ís "would neither promote nor necessarily oppose."[16]

Homosexual Bahá'ís[edit]

Individuals who are openly homosexual are not prevented from entering the religion and joining in community life; however, someone involved in a same-sex marriage or union will be prevented from registering as a Baha'i and joining the community.[17]

There is also recognition that becoming a Bahá'í is not conditional on complete and strict compliance with all Bahá'í standards and laws. [18] Spiritual Assemblies are told to act patiently, and gradually persuade members to accept principles inwardly and “out of pure conviction and desire.” [19] As a general rule, the Spiritual Assemblies do not get involved in the private lives of believers, unless their actions are considered to be causing some harm to the community. [20] [21]

An individual may be subject to administrative sanctions if their actions are decided by a Spiritual Assembly to be damaging to the image of the Bahá'í Faith. This response removes the right to contribute to funds, vote in elections for spiritual assemblies, hold office, or attend the Nineteen Day Feast. It may be applied to extreme cases of alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, and anything that is considered flagrant immorality. However this consequence is meant only to be applied in cases of "public scandal", "very flagrant cases", or if the conduct of the Bahá'í is "seriously injuring the Faith in the eyes of the public". [18] In cases of Bahá'ís who are flagrantly promiscuous, they are to be approached by a Spiritual Assembly and informed of the teachings on personal conduct. If after a probational period the person continues to present a disregard towards the laws in a public way, then the assembly may remove the person's administrative rights, "administratively expelled from membership in the Bahá'í community," [22] though this action is not the same as ex-communication, as there is no directive to avoid fellowship with the individual.

In 2009 a Bahai set up the Gay and Lesbian Baha'i story project[23] in which Lesbian and Gay Baha'is and others may share experiences they have had within the Baha'i community. As of February 2014 there are 68 stories there.[24] The purpose of this website is "To tell, listen to, and reflect upon stories of Gay/Lesbian Baha'is and their supportive friends/family."[25]

Changing homosexual orientation/behavior[edit]

Shoghi Effendi, the appointed head of the religion from 1921 to 1957, taught that "through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap."[26] Anyone who is not able to have a heterosexual marriage is encouraged to remain celibate, as would any person who does not marry and is a Bahá'í.[27][28]

The concept of homosexuality as a disease in need of a cure has been largely dismissed recently by mental health professionals.[29][30] However, the Universal House of Justice, the elected governing body of the Bahá'í Faith, has stated that "the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a 'natural' or permanent phenomenon."[31] The Universal House of Justice has approved of and encouraged Shoghi Effendi's idea of possible medical treatment,[32] and has written its own correspondence to individuals, encouraging them to divert thoughts into spiritual channels and the nature of man, and to "resist wayward impulses each time they arise".[33]

The Universal House of Justice responds to recent research that claims that homosexuality is innate and not changeable by asserting that homosexuality is one of

"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... homosexuality is an abnormality, is a great problem for the individual so afflicted, and... he or she should strive to overcome it."[34]

It also argues that statistics may be distorted due to underreporting,[35] that other genetic predispositions to undesirable behaviors exist, and that other types of bias may exist in the present-day research.[36]

Basis from texts[edit]

In one passage of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh writes "we shrink, for very shame, from treating the subject of boys."[37] with an implication of pederasty, or erotic relations between adult males and adolescent boys.[38] Such practices were not uncommon during the time of Bahá'u'lláh in the Islamic world, and in some cases were socially acceptable - see bacha bazi. Bahá'u'lláh condemned such relations, and Shoghi Effendi, the authorized interpreter of the Bahá'í writings, has more clearly defined a prohibition on all homosexual relations,[39] stating that, "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."[6]

Bahá'u'lláh clearly forbade fornication and adultery,[40] referring to any form of premarital or extramarital sexual intercourse. The Universal House of Justice, in its notes on the text of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, stated that the Baha'i laws restrict "permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married."[38]

Letters from National Spiritual Assemblies[edit]

From the United Kingdom, 1996[edit]

The Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom distributed a statement prepared for a London, UK, education group about the teaching about homosexuality within the school system. The Assembly stated that "the statement does not claim to be exhaustive, but it can be used with wisdom as part of a response to questions." Some excerpts from their statement are:

  • "...the sexual impulse is a God-given one... The appropriate circumstance for this is within marriage, the legally, socially, and spiritually sanctioned union of two adults of the opposite sex. Other expressions are neither valid nor to be encouraged."
  • "This is taught by the world's great religions, and is part of the basis of a stable and civilized society."
  • "The moral and sexual education of children cannot be taken separately, and must be based upon heterosexuality, fidelity, and the family unit."
  • "...the sexual practice of homosexuality is no more an acceptable activity than is heterosexual activity outside marriage."
  • "We also abhor the introduction of loaded words such as 'homophobia' and 'heterosexism' to try to convey the idea that rejection of homosexuality is as prejudiced and discriminatory as racism, sexism, and other biases and intolerances..."[41]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Coward, Harold (1996-11-12). Religious Dimensions of Child and Family Life: Reflections on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Wilfrid Laurier University Press. p. 147. ISBN 155058104X. 
  2. ^ Lepard, Brian D. (2008-10-01). In the Glory of the Father: The Bahai Faith and Christianity. Bahai Publishing; New edition. p. 100. ISBN 1931847347. 
  3. ^ "Bahá'í law restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married."
    (Letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual; Lights of Guidance, pp. 365, #1225) [1]
  4. ^ "...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."
    (On behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual; Lights of Guidance, pp. 364, #1220) [2]
  5. ^ "...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."
    (Letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 12 January 1973; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1222) [3]
  6. ^ a b "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."
    (On behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual, 26 March 1950; cited in Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1223) [4]
  7. ^ "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"
    (Compiled by the Universal House of Justice Research Department, Homosexuality, p. 3) [5]
  8. ^ "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."
    (On behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221) [6]
  9. ^ a b "As for the responsibility of Assemblies and of individual Bahá’ís, certainly all are called upon to be understanding, supportive and helpful to any individual who carries the burden of homosexuality."
    (Compiled by Universal House of Justice Research Department, Homosexuality, p. 7) [7]
  10. ^ "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.
    (Compiled by Universal House of Justice Research Department, Homosexuality, p. 11) [8]
  11. ^ Gallagher, Eugene V.; Ashcraft, W. Michael (2006). Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America: History and controversies. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 255. ISBN 978-0-275-98713-8. 
  12. ^ Gallagher, Eugene V.; Ashcraft, W. Michael (2006). Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America: History and controversies. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-275-98713-8. 
  13. ^ "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."
           (Compiled by Universal House of Justice Research Department, Homosexuality, p. 11)
  14. ^ "To regard homosexuals with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of the Baha'i teachings." (Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, September 11, 1995)
  15. ^ "to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith." (Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, October 27, 2010)
  16. ^ Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, October 27, 2010
  17. ^ '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)
  18. ^ a b "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."
           (On behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 20 August 1955; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368-369, #1230)
  19. ^ "…the Assemblies, whether local or national, should act tactfully, patiently and in a friendly and kindly spirit. Knowing how painful and dangerous it is for such believers to repudiate their former allegiances and friendships, they should try to gradually persuade them of the wisdom and necessity of such an action, and instead of thrusting upon them a new principle, to make them accept it inwardly and out of pure conviction and desire. Too severe and immediate action in such cases is not only fruitless but actually harmful. It alienates people instead of winning them to the Cause.”
           (Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, LOG, p. 162, #541)
  20. ^ "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.
           (On behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, 6 October 1956 [9])
  21. ^ "Assemblies, of course, must exercise care not to pry into the private lives of the believers to ensure that they are behaving properly…."
           (On behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 2 December 1980 [10])
  22. ^ Universal House of Justice (1991-12-09). "Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice". Retrieved 2007-12-04. "
    A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies that they should resort to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believer's administrative rights only for such matters as 'disgraceful conduct, flagrantly contrary to our Teachings', 'seriously injuring the Faith in the eyes of the public through his conduct or flagrantly breaking the laws of God', 'gross immorality and open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith, and disregard for the laws of personal status', 'conduct which is disgracing the Cause', and 'breaking of laws, such as the consent of parents to marriage', or 'acts of such an immoral character as to damage the good name of the Faith'.

    It is clear that the removal of voting rights is a serious action which an Assembly should take reluctantly when the circumstances require that the Bahá'í community or its reputation in the eyes of the public must be protected from the effects of an individual's behaviour, and where the authority of the laws of the Faith must be upheld. It should be the hope and prayer of the Assembly that the believer who has been administratively expelled from membership in the Bahá'í community will come to see that his behaviour is in violation of the teachings, will endeavour to rectify his conduct, and will thus open the way to being welcomed back into the community so that he can lend his support to the vital and glorious task of establishing the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh." 

  23. ^ http://www.gaybahai.net
  24. ^ http://www.gaybahai.net/read-stories/
  25. ^ The Baha'i faith and Homosexuality
  26. ^ (The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, "Questions and Answers", p. 121)
  27. ^ "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."
    (Compiled by Universal House of Justice Research Department, Homosexuality, p. 5) [11]
  28. ^ "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."
    (Compiled by Universal House of Justice Research Department, Homosexuality, p. 11) [12]
  29. ^ In a 1998 position statement, the Board of Trustees of the American Psychiatric Association wrote that they oppose "any psychiatric treatment, such as 'reparative' or conversion therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation."[13]
  30. ^ The American Psychological Association and nine other American health and educational organizations issued a joint position statement saying that "All other major health professional organizations have supported the American Psychiatric Association in its declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. Thus, the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder or that the emergence of same-gender sexual desires among some adolescents is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy has no support among health and mental health professional organizations."[14]
  31. ^ "…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 Bahá’ís, certainly all are called upon to be understanding, supportive and helpful to any individual who carries the burden of homosexuality."
    (Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 22 March 1987)
  32. ^ (Letter of The Universal House of Justice, 5 June 1993, Homosexuality, p. 7)
  33. ^ "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..."
    (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)
  34. ^ "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."
    (Letter of The Universal House of Justice, 5 June 1993, Homosexuality, p. 11)
  35. ^ "The statistics which indicate that homosexuality is incurable are undoubtedly distorted by the fact that many of those who overcome the problem never speak about it in public, and others solve their problems without even consulting professional counselors. 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."
    (The Universal House of Justice, November 23, 1995 Bahá'í Teachings on Homosexual Practices [15])
  36. ^ "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 consulting professional counselors." Furthermore, contrary evidence may well exist but may be overlooked by scientific reporting that is, for one reason or another, biased."
    (The Universal House of Justice, May 3, 1994, Advice on Homosexuality [16])
  37. ^ Bahá'u'lláh 1992, p. 58, gr. 107
  38. ^ a b Bahá'u'lláh 1992, p. 223 note 134
  39. ^ "Bahá'u'lláh has spoken very strongly against this shameful sexual aberration, as He has against adultery and immoral conduct in general."
    (Compiled by Universal House of Justice Research Department, Homosexuality, p. 3) [17]
  40. ^ Bahá'u'lláh 1992, p. 181, note 36
  41. ^ Statement on Homosexuality by National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United Kingdom, October, 1996

References[edit]

External links[edit]