Sunday, 27 May 2007

A Reconciliatory Approach to Homosexuality

This is a message I addressed to a bulletin board of homosexuals who were or had been Bahá'ís, in the context of the great polarisation that the discussion of homosexuality in a religious context tends to engender. Following the logic of reconciliation that I understand to be one of the animating principles of Bahá'í hermeneutics, and inspired by the model of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's approach and interactions with those whose views were at times directly challenging to the teachings, I offer these thoughts as a possible path toward, not removing the inevitable tensions that the position of homosexuality in the Bahá'í Faith generates, but framing their discussion in a more unifying, more potentially constructive perspective.


Dear all,

I have been moved by all your comments to participate in this heart-deep exchange. I should clarify that I am a Baha'i, and I am not gay. Many of my friends are gay, and I lived for many months in a gay household when Iwas 15. From my perspective, there is no denying that being gay in today's world may prove a painful experience (although not only painful...). There is stigma and prejudice resulting at times in violence, physical or psychological. In a Baha'i community that remains small, widely scattered and, according to its own testimony, embryonic, the challenge of relating effectively to homosexuality is even greater, both for homosexual and heterosexual Baha'is.

A number of parameters are clear. The bottom line in terms of homosexual practice and the Baha'i community, is that it is not allowed in the Baha'i Faith. As has already been said, there is no room for compromise on this principle, as it is based on the scriptures themselves and backed up by the authorised interpretations thereof. The UHJ simply does not have the powers to change such a law. This means that a Baha'i with homosexual tendencies or a homosexual identity will find reconciling their Baha'i and sexual identities an area of unavoidable tension in the Faith. I'll come back to this in a minute.

Equally crucial, is the unequivocal and primary principle of the oneness of humanity, trancending sexual, racial, religious and even moral divides. There is no exception, no leaf that does not belong to the tree of humanity. There is, it is evident from even a cursory reading of 'Abdu'l-Baha's writings, no warrant whatsoever for Baha'i attitudes toward homosexuals that involve hostility, shunning, or any form of aggression. If such attitudes are sometimes found among Baha'is, it is because this is a very young Faith, still learning to walk, and even struggling to grasp the transforming vision of Baha'u'llah. In such circumstances, we often fall back on inherited patterns of behaviour. The difference is that those patterns are not sanctioned in the writings, and that we are committed to gradually but permanently replacing them with new standards of interaction based on the oneness of humanity. Similar challenges face us as Baha'is in dealing with all the forces that currently tear humanity apart. After all, as theUniversal House of Justice states,"As you know, the Baha'is are distinguished not by their perfection or their immunity from the negative influences of the wider society in which they live, but by their acceptance of Baha'u'llah's vision and willingness to work toward it. Each of us must strike a balance between realistically facing our community's shortcomings, and focusing on Baha'u'llah's Teachings rather than our fellow believers as a standard of faith. This comment is not intended to belittle your concerns, but rather place them in perspective so that you may not become discouraged as you strive toward the ideal."

Thus I believe that as the years go by, while the tension between homosexuality and faith in the Baha'i community will not go away (only one of the many possible tensions confronting a Baha'i), the climate in which such tensions are resolved will become much more refined, more spiritually informed, less conditioned by the past, and more unifying and transformative. This does not promise a "final answer" that satisfies everyone, but a nurturing and positive process, that increasingly liberates our human potential and ability to communicate with one another above our differences and blindspots and frailties. Another dimension of this, is that gay identity itself is in flux, and embryonic too. The powerful poem in this site attests to nuances and layers of identity that are yet to fully find their voice in gay discourse. All of humanity will have much to learn, as will the Baha'is, from the spiritual insights gained by homosexuals around the world who have suffered from the venomous hostility of many in their society. And I suspect the gay world will likewise discover that there are voices within its ranks that remain silent or excluded, and which, as they are heard, will transform the meaning of homosexual identities. Again, this will not resolve the tension between Baha'i identities and gay sexuality, but it may well open new and more constructive spaces and arenas in which to address such tensions.

As to the laws of the Aqdas specifying punishments and sanctions against extramarital sexuality, it is evident that laws and society define one another. The reason why such laws are not in force anywhere in the Baha'iworld today, is, according to the Universal House of Justice, not on account of limited numbers (we have areas with entire Baha'i villages in which such laws could well be applied), but because the society does not exist yet with the refinement required to furnish an appropriate context to such laws. Ag reat deal of complementary legislation remains for the Universal House of Justice to formulate (and change later if necessary) that may qualify, clarify and even deeply challenge the common-sense meaning which we might attribute to a law which is unlikely to apply for decades or centuries tocome. So it would be misleading, both for Baha'is and others, to derive a code of behaviour from laws which, as long as society remains in its current state of development, are neither applicable, nor fully comprehensible.

Another theme discussed are administrative sanctions. These are explicitly not to be applied in relation to individual lifestyles, except when those lifestyles affect in a serious way the wider perception of the Baha'icommunity. To give you a real life example, I once visited a Baha'i community near the Gulf of Mexico. It so happened, that the most receptive population to the Baha'i message in that city was the large local gay community. The Local Spiritual Assembly which administers the faith in that city adopted a welcoming and tolerant approach, making clear the Baha'i teachings on homosexuality, but leaving individuals to work on their own relationship to the Faith in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and the passing of time. The enrolements grew among gays in the city, to the point that when I invited someone to visit the Baha'i centre, he told me that he thought that was a gay club! In this context, a local Baha'i community was placed in a dilemma, whereby the public built a picture of the Baha'i community which, rightly or wrongly, is not the community envisioned byBaha'u'llah. For the sake of honesty, both towards the public and towards itself, the Baha'i community must prevent this sort of scenario from emerging. This does not mean that a wave of administrative sanctions followed against gay Baha'is. It didn't. It is merely to point out the delicate juggling act between preserving individual rights and freedoms, and acting as custodians of the community and institutions designed explicitly by Baha'u'llah.

There are no easy answers to such dilemmas within a faith perspective. Knee-jerk responses of condemnation, of either the Baha'i community or individuals struggling to reconcile their faith and sexuality, are in myview inappropriate. Slowly, I have no doubt, we will develop processes and discourses that allow these dilemmas to be faced in a life-affirming, soul-ennobling fashion. I say slowly, because we are struggling against the inertial of millenial instincts to conflict and power struggles. I say I have no doubt about the positive outcome, because no unprejudiced observer would question the depth of Baha'i commitment to (however embryonic the understanding of) the oneness of humanity. Baha'is daily sacrifice careers and security to place themselves in situations of painful diversity, only to struggle, day in and day out, to reconcile their differences. We have been doing this for one hundred and fifty years, and we will, God willing, continue to work on this for another thousand more. Already, against all odds, a sociologist who is not a Baha'i described the Baha'i community as the single most unified, most diverse body of people in the planet. It sounds good, but it's not easy, and the heroism of the Baha'i community lies in not running away from the inevitable pain that must precede understanding. After all, it is, Baha'u'llah tells us, patience that leads from search to love; and pain that leads from love to knowledge. And so, in this early stage of dealing with the issue of homosexuality within the Baha'i community, patience is required, as is pain; but also the spirit of search and love and the thirst for knowledge. Every time we create a breakthrough of understanding, we are pioneering into a new country, in which the proscription of extramarital sex does not translate into virulent hostility and aggression, and in which the preservation of a homosexual identity does not require the vilification of a Faith community. A new country in which what matters is increasing mutual understanding, sacrificing our lives for one another, and building a peaceful and united world.

At the basis of such processes, lies the Baha'i principle of the independent investigation of truth. No one is forced to become a Baha'i. Someone who decides not to be a Baha'i is not considered damned or evil. So becoming a Baha'i is a matter of choice and recognition; a decision to embrace Baha'u'llah's authority to teach and legislate, affirming but transcending (stretching) our deep spiritual insights, based on a recognition of the spiritual integrity and beauty of His voice and of His life and of His message.

Such recognition cannot be manufactured or imposed, but if it is there, it requires that we abide by its principles. When a homosexual person finds his heart captivated by the Slayer of Lovers; when his or her soul discovers in Baha'u'llah the Ancient Beauty; and when Baha'u'llah's global vision encompasses the horizon of his or her heart, then he or she will enter a world of wonder, of struggle, of joy and disappointment; of loss and reunion; of plenitude and powerlessness. When a heterosexual responds in the same way, the very same experience will follow, nor will the trials be less, merely different. And if a homosexual finds that he is tested by attitudes within the infant Baha'i community he or she has joined; so will a heterosexual be tested, and in equal measure. If our sense of vision and rapture and recognition is greater and more compelling than the trials and sorrows that accompany all spiritual journeys, we will remain, homosexual and heterosexual alike, humble lovers of Baha'u'llah; and with infinite longing offer up our lives in the path of love. Otherwise, our search will continue along different routes, and God willing, the Baha'i Faith will prove to have been a valuable milestone in our path to God.

"For whoso maketh efforts for Us, in Our ways shall Weguide them".

With deep love and humble admiration for the honesty and yearning ardour of the voices in this space,

Your broken winged brother,

Ismael


21 comments:

Andrew said...

I am a former Roman Catholic monk who has been involved with various forms of Sufi spirituality over the past several years: notably within the Naqshbandiyya-Mujaddidiyya and the Inayatiyya-Chishtiyya orders. I have a graduate degree in educational psychology and have worked in the fields of counselling and psychological services as well as in interfaith hospital chaplaincy. I have also been in a monogamous (sexually exclusive) same-sex relationship for nearly fifteen years and have been legally married (in Canada) for almost five years. My partner and I have been searching for a religious community that would welcome us as a couple as well as provide us with a common faith tradition: we will (no doubt) eventually become members of either the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship or the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

The Baha’i Faith might have been an ideal choice for me (not so much for my partner) were it not for what I would call its decontextualised interpretation of the words of Baha’u'llah. Every reliable academic and lexicographical authority I have consulted has specifically defined “liwat” as anal penetration between males. Anal intercourse is not synonymous with homosexual activity: many gay men never have anal intercourse, nor is it practiced among the majority of committed same-sex male couples. If the injunction of Baha’u'llah is specifically against liwat, then it is against anal penetration between males. It need not be interpreted as a directive against other forms of same-sex affectional activity nor does it preclude the possibility of life-long commitments between homosexual persons.

Same-sex marriage has become normalized, if not entirely normative, here in Canada. No longer is there widespread social opposition to it, even among the socially conservative. If, however, the members of the Baha’i Faith wish to inhabit what I would describe as a hermetically-sealed, self-referential religious universe defined by its opposition to informed clinical practice and post-modern gender theory, then so be it. The Baha’i Faith may well be relegated to the cultural backwaters of religious obscurantism, wishful thinking to the contrary notwithstanding.

Many years ago, I knew a lesbian couple who were (in effect) excommunicated from their Local Spiritual Assembly because they lived openly as a same-sex couple. This is the kind of condemnation that one might expect to see coming from the most obscure, extreme fundamentalist cult, not from a faith that claims to promote the cause of world unity. “Weak argument, talk louder,” as the saying has it.

You note that:

"The bottom line in terms of homosexual practice and the Baha'i community, is that it is not allowed in the Baha'i Faith. As has already been said, there is no room for compromise on this principle, as it is based on the scriptures themselves and backed up by the authorised interpretations thereof. The UHJ simply does not have the powers to change such a law."

The Sufi, however, seeks synthesis rather than differentiation. The authorised interpretations of scripture must surely be susceptible to the development of doctrine and discipline within the context of research in the social sciences. Abdu'l-Baha, in The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 394, writes:

"Furthermore, religion must conform to reason and be in accord with the conclusions of science. For religion, reason and science are realities; therefore, these three, being realities, must conform and be reconciled. A question or principle which is religious in its nature must be sanctioned by science. Science must declare it to be valid, and reason must confirm it in order that it may inspire confidence. If religious teaching, however, be at variance with science and reason, it is unquestionably superstition. The Lord of mankind has bestowed upon us the faculty of reason whereby we may discern the realities of things. How then can man rightfully accept any proposition which is not in conformity with the processes of reason and the principles of science? Assuredly such a course cannot inspire man with confidence and real belief."

A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi (1950-MAR-26) states that a homosexual relationship is inherently sinful, that it is a handicap to overcome, and that persons with a homosexual orientation can change and become heterosexual. He wrote, in part:

"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 Baha'u'llah, 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 doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap."

Context, however, is everything. The words of Shoghi Effendi could well be interpreted to apply to the category of ego-dystonic homosexuality found in DSM-III, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Given that ego-dystonic homosexuality was, during the time in which he was writing, the predominant form of homosexuality with which Shoghi Effendi would have been familiar, his comments on same-sex relationships would inevitably have been conditioned by his familiarity with ego-dystonic homosexual behaviour. Otherwise, his absolutist judgement on the nature of homosexual relationships is not in conformity with the processes of reason and the principles of science. The problem here lies not in the Baha'i prohibition, but in its tangential appeals to reason and science.

"Let us also remember that at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views." (Shoghi Effendi: Baha'i Administration, p. 63)

I will continue to respect and revere Baha’u'llah, but I find it impossible to seriously consider becoming a member of the Baha’i Faith. What I foresee happening in the future is an increased appreciation of (and devotion to) Baha'u'llah beyond the official boundaries of the Baha'i religion, much as many individuals follow the path of the Buddha or the Christ without ever becoming formally affiliated with Buddhist or Christian religious communities. In any event, I wish you well on your journey and God bless.

Ismael Velasco said...

Dear Andrew,

I cannot say how touched and grateful I am for your thoughtful and measured comment. This is exactly the kind of dialogue that my reflection seeks to inspire, and which is to me a genuine way forward in what can often seem like an intractable issue.

I found your contextualization of the citations mentioned very illuminating, in particular your mention of ego-dystonic homosexuality, of which I was unaware and which is a very helpful, unifying concept in between the, to my mind, and in common with your Sufi spirituality, limited and limiting extremes to which advocates and detractors of same sex sexuality tend to gravitate toward.

I think your position is entirely legitimate and logical, and it offers one plausible line of interpretation of the evidence at hand. As you know from your own spiritual tradition and post-modern inclinations, religious truth is relative, not absolute, interpretation plural, and identity multiple, which means that more than one logical, intellectually plausible narrative can be drawn from a single body of "facts".

Your own is one that many will no doubt sympathise with and even adopt. Clearly, the Bahá'í writings are a universal legacy, not confined to the Bahá'ís. That those who do not share the faith premises of Bahá'ís, however attracted in principle they may be to the Bahá'í teachings and the figure of Bahá'u'lláh, will arrive at different concepts of the meaning of the Bahá'í writings, is only to be expected, and perfectly valid, even constructive.

The Universal House of Justice, on this matter, very clearly states:

"In searching for understanding, Bahá’ís naturally acquaint themselves with published materials from a variety of sources. A book written by a disinterested non-Bahá’í scholar about the Faith, even if it reflects certain assumptions and puts forward conclusions acceptable within a given discipline but which are at variance with Bahá’í belief, poses
no particular problem for Bahá’ís, who would regard these perceptions
as an honest attempt to explore a religious phenomenon as yet little
understood generally. Any non-biased effort to make the Faith
comprehensible to a thoughtful readership, however inadequate it might appear, would evoke genuine Bahá’í appreciation for the perspective offered and research skill invested in the project."

In this light, I think your comment "reflects certain assumptions and puts forward conclusions acceptable within a given discipline but which are at variance with Bahá’í belief", yet your thoughtful contribution evokes in me "genuine Bahá’í appreciation for the perspective offered and research skill invested in the project."

On the other hand, even if by contextualizing Bahá'u'lláh's text and Shoghi Effendi's writings you might arrive, appealing to 'Abdu'l-Bahá's comment on science and religion and at an unexpected acceptance of homosexuality, the fact remains that such an individual interpretation, however attractive it may be to many, both outside and within the Bahá'í community, is not supported by the binding, and from a faith perspective, not only divinely athoritativem but also divinely guided, elucidations on a matter very clearly within its designated sphere of competence, including legislation, and the elucidation of points that are obscure or which have caused difference. This makes, as indeed your message seems to imply, the prohibition of homosexual practices normative for anyone who would be a member of the Bahá'í community, based, not on some authoritarian coercion from above, but on the free and sovereign concience of the individual who, knowing what the Bahá'í stance on homosexuality is, chosses to identify him or herself with its teachings and community.

Regarding the argument from science, clearly, the matter is not clear cut and unambiguous, relegating anyone whose vision of homosexuality s not biologically reductionist to the limbo of obscurantism.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated "Sexual orientation probably is not determined by any one factor but by a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences." (Sexual Orientation and Adolescents, American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. (http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/reprint/pediatrics;113/6/1827.pdf)

The exact balance of each of these factors is something which surely varies from individual to individual and which is in a more general way subject to a avriety of scientific opoinions.

In any case, to me the debate on the evolving scientific picture seems to me perhaps not the best place to start, or finish. For, even should one or another perspective achieve consensus, the real divide is regarding the response to such a reality. The Bahá'í writings make room for a biologically rooted homosexuality, but do not equate such a reality to a warrant for homosexual practices.

This is not to engage in a polemic or apologetic of the Bahá'í position, God forbid. Preciselythe point of my post is that such an approach is as unconstructive as it is divisive. Rather, it is simply to state what the position is, and to suggest that, while it may be to many an extremely disagreeable position, in the perspective of plural narratives and identities, it is not an irrational or illegitimate one, any more than its contrary view.

From this starting point, it makes perfect sense that many will agree with you, that the Bahá'í position on homosexuality, even if more liberal perhaps, and certainly infinitely less condemnatory than other traditional religious perspectves, nevertheless means, as you say, that it "may well be relegated to the cultural backwaters of religious obscurantism, wishful thinking to the contrary notwithstanding."

You would not be the first to think so. Others have thought the same on account of many other grounds, from a faith in the eventual reconciliation and unification of humanity (quaint), its advocacy of federal world government (dangerously totalitarian), the pivotal role given the notion of infallibile institutions (repeat of papal history), and a long etcetera.

For these and many reasons, many who are strongly attracted to one or more teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, and to Bahá'u'lláh Himself, find that they cannot, in good conscience, consider themselves Bahá'ís. The points of disagreement are simply strong enough to impede their recognition of the divine character of Bahá'u'lláh's message and Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant.

That is OK.

Bahá'ís, naturally, believe that their Faith, on the contrary, will stand the test of time, that its general worldview has proved, and will increasingly prove, prescient of evolving world opinion, notwithstanding points of departure often at complete and radical variance with consensus at given historical or geographical point.

That, surely, is OK also.

Clearly, the Bahá'í acceptance of non-sexual same-sex relationships, will not be enough to many, many people, most of all those with a homosexual sexuality. I would not minimise the incredible test, and in many cases, the incredible suffering that trying to reconcile the two identities can and very often does imply.

While I am sorry that the Bahá'í position on homosexuality stretches beyond assent your recognition of the divine character, not only of Bahá'u'lláh's Person and general teachings, but also of the inextricably linked Covenant and associated institutions of the community He engendered, I understand and respect it. Many Bahá'ís find this teaching likewise difficult to comprehend or harmize with their identity, as other who have no problem with this one are yet equally troubled by others.

In Sufi terminology, this is an intrinsic part of spirituality, designated hayrat, which is translated as wonderment, perplexity, astonishment, amaze.

Webster's dictionary defines astonishment as "the state ... of one who is astonished" and "astonish" as "to strike with a sudden sense of surprise or wonder especially through something unexpected or difficult to accept as true or reasonable" (135). Saccone, while commenting upon the word hayrat within the context of `Attar's poem "The Language of the Birds" (Mantiqu't-Tayr), writes:
Hayrat (astonishment, perplexity) is `a feeling of dismay or perplexity in front of a situation which appears as having no way out, or in front of incompatible truth on the rational level. It is the ultimate crisis of a mind which meets with its own limits' (T. Burckardt, Letters of a Sufi Master).

This, as I say, is from a position of faith. It only happens if one's recognition, integrally, of Bahá'u'lláh is of such strength that it runs deeper, or at least as deep, as one's sexual identity and certainties. The ecnounter between these two perspectives (or their equivalent for a person with a different existential stance)generates, in the believer, the experience of hayrat. For one whose sense of recognition of Bahá'u'lláh does not reach such depths, the clash will not result in amaze, but in simple, or not so simple, and at any rate eventual, dismissal.

Fair enough.

The point of my essay was that such parallel experiences of a commonly available religious legacy, however at variance, need not degenerate into mutual recrimination and hostility. There is much, as I suggest, that can be learned through respectful dialogue, even if not in relation to substantive issues where the conceptual gap is too large to bridge, then in relation to a process of coexistence on which the harmonious future of humanity depend. We will never all agree about everything, and those disagreements will frequently concern matters of fundamental principle and identity. Our most urgent challenge, in my view, is not how to persuade everyone that to disagree with our perspective is obscurantist or terrible, but how to manage creatively and constructively the tensions that arise. As I wrote elsewhere, without friction there is no mevoment. WIth too much friction, there is impasse.

Your response to my informal essay is a wonderful example of what I have in mind, and I hope you feel, as I do, that beyond the doubtless irreducible objections you still hold toward my perspective, this exchange is not without fruit, and has brought out good things from one another, engendered a feeling of friendship and furnished a precious amount of learning, which will remain even when the thread of argument it weaves is not accepted.

Finally, as a side note, I would like to comment on your description of the exclusion of the two Bahá'ís you mentioned from the Local Spiritual Assembly as an "excomunication". This is, I suggest, and inaccurate and, above all, highly charged term to apply to exclusion from an administrative body (not the Bahá'í community) on the very clear and unambiguous guidelines of an administrative order instinsically and explicitly accepted when one declares oneself a Bahá'í.

The authority for such an explusion does not originate in some totalitarian body, but in the soverein will of the believer himself or herself. That is, the guidelines that regulate the function of Bahá'í administrative bodies and the Bahá'í community more generally are only applicable to those who decide, entirely without pressure and with full knowledge, to join that community on the basis of Faith in the teachings and laws that guide, regulate and orient it. Among these explicit guidelines is that a believer's private life is his or her own affair, in which the ihnstitutions are not to interfere, as long, and only as long as it does not impinge on the wider community, presenting an image which, however valid and legitimate it is considered outside the boundaries of the Bahá'í community, nevertheless presents a distorted picture of the values and practices that it upholds.

In any formally constituted human grouping, the membership of which implies and necessitates acceptance of its constitution, the infringement of its terms is quite logically judged incompatible with membership in its ruling bodies. To describe the exclusion from such a body on such clear grounds, as an excommunication, is, in my view, neither fair, nor helpful.

One may disagree, and disagree strongly with the policy that states that lifestyles that flagrantly contradict the Bahá'í teachings to the point of impacting on the public image of the community in a way that gives, not a worse or a better, but simply an ethically inaccurate view of its principles and character are to be followed by the loss of voting rights (and implicitly service in Bahá'í institutions), but from such a disagreement one cannot hold as an injustice the application of guidelines inherently accepted in the free act of voluntarily joing a community that explicitly enshrines those very guidelines.

In any case, the use of the words excommunication and takfir in relation not only to the loss of administrative rights, but the more serious, if very rare, disenrolment of a member of the Bahá'í community is, coincidentally, the subject of my nest posting...

If you are still awake, please accept, once more, my heartfelt thanks for the spirit behind your post, for stimulating me to think further on very important and infinitely relevant issues, and for making me want very much to one day meet you face to face and, if in England, have a cuppa (cup of tea), if in New York, have a frapuccino, if in these lone Canary Islands, a "leche y leche" (deadly mix of expresso, condensed milk, and hot milk), and if in Mexico, at least for yours truly, a non-alcoholic tequila (wait - that is water!).

With love,

Ismael

Andrew said...

Unfortunately, I do not have the opportunity at this moment to post a proper response to the observations you have offered on my previous post. I hope to be able to do so within the next few days. It seems to me that you have conflated several concepts in an attempt to reify what I would describe as hegemonic religious beliefs and practices with informed discourse in the social sciences while striving to maintain a singular and a priori authoritative interpretation on the matter. I hope to offer you a more detailed response at a later time; for now I will simply state that, in terms of process theology, the rejection of certain positions does not necessarily involve the abandonment of religious authority, but a recognition of the possibility that there might be a less unilateral, less dualistic, more unitive and far more nuanced way of expressing it. It is this apparent lack of attenuated discourse within the Baha'i religion as well as the monological exclusivity of its interpretive methodology that I find most problematic. Hopefully, I will be able to expand upon these ideas in a future post.

Ismael Velasco said...

Dear Andrew,

I look forward to your post. I hope you don't mind if I add a few more thoughts into the mix, to save you writing twice, since I would be very interested in your thoughts on these aspects too, to refine my own, very, very preliminary ones.

As you no doubt realize, my post is the only one that I have managed to encounter offering such a dialogic perspective on homosexuality, not from reality as it should be, whether in the Bahá'í community, or in homosexual identities, but from reality as it is, warts and all. There must be other such efforts out there, but unfortunately I haven't found them and so I haven't been able to benefit from them, and have had to work on my own. I should add that these thoughts, although the fruit of careful reflection, are not the expression of studious preparation, but rather a spontanous and unpremeditated posting from the heart, upon coming across a touching discussion. So are my responses to your comments. Off the cuff, so to speak. As such, I realize that some of my perspectives are certain to be crude and unrefined, and this dialogue helps me, and hopefully others, to hone more subtle perceptions.

From this perspective I want to emphasise that I have no intention of persuading you of the correctness of my (very individual and unauthoritative and provisional and in all likelihood altogether misplaced)position on this very difficult subject. On the contrary, my only goal has been to create a more dialogic space in which to live with our differences, focusing rather on whatever points of contact we might find in our respective experiences and values.

I wonder, in this respect, whether, beyond your objections, you find any points of resonance between your life experience and journey of identity, and that presented by the Bahá'í community, beyond whatever theological or hermeneutical shortcomings you might discern in it?

I ask this, because I think the lines of difference are fairly clear, and while our exchanges may well shift them back (I heartily hope they won't accentuate them) or leave them untouched, they are unlikely to remove them. In this respect, the nuances will, perhaps, be peculiar to our exchange, but the polarity will stay, unless we manage to innovate in this exchange,in the paradigm of oppositional stances. our exchange would then simply be, in a sense, a sophisticated and instructive reworking of all the existing patterns of encounter between the "ideal types" of 'for' and 'against' positions. And that to me is less valuable.

I feel that your very attention to nuance, to reconciliatory, persuasive and innovative hermeneutics in relation to difficult texts, and your sensitivity to atmosphere, so to speak, resonate with me, and open up possibilities for discursive innovation which I feel are actually important beyond the ever ephemeral personal opinions of two evolving individuals.

In this light I would be very interested to hear about any creative insights you might have on transcending, if not this polarity, then this pattern of discourse, this oppositional hermeneutic. I do not so much refer to a reinterpretation of the Bahá'í writings which, even were it to win me entirely over, would not do away with the present and urgent challenge of finding unity across conceptual barriers that in the short and medium term at least are likely to remain, beyond the loving and inquisitive exchanges of two individuals, particularly if those exchanges but add richness to an established pattern of oppositional discourse privileging persuasion over rapprochement.

Rather, I would be genuinely grateful to hear any thoughts you might have in relation to what could be described as inter-community relations between the multifarious, diverse, homosexual identities, particularly those that might sympathise with other teachings and features of the Bahá'í Faith, and the actual Bahá'í community, with all its possibly monologic, reified, and institutionally hegemonic discourses on homosexuality - if nonetheless sincere, unconfrontational, and non-hegemonist outisde its own community boundaries. Discourses contextualized by the complementary, and hopefully not universally inimical, teachings and approaches to other aspects of self and other, community, diversity and spirituality.

Here I am inspired and excited by this sentence from your hurried post:

"in terms of process theology, the rejection of certain positions does not necessarily involve the abandonment of religious authority, but a recognition of the possibility that there might be a less unilateral, less dualistic, more unitive and far more nuanced way of expressing it. It is this apparent lack of attenuated discourse within the Baha'i religion as well as the monological exclusivity of its interpretive methodology that I find most problematic. "

I understand that your main interest is in terms of doctrine, of the formulation of Bahá'í belief in a less reified form. My contention, from a purely practical point of view, is that if that process is to take place, attention must be given to the context of discourse, to the process of dialogue.

I in fact agree with you that there is a need, and scope, for far more subtle, nuanced and reconciliatory hermeneutics of Bahá'í texts on homosexuality. My post, in a sense, is not only, or perhaps even primarily, directed at practicing homosexuals, but at the Bahá'í community itself, as a stimulus for precisely new, more nuanced approaches that differentiate themselves from superficially similar stances in radical anti-gay groups, and which in fact are invested with a very different ethical, conceptual and relational thrust, by virtue of Bahá'í statements being embedded in a reconciliatory logic and kerygma underscoring the very basis of the Bahá'í religion.

But such a shift of community positions, such collective cultural change, as anyone with any sustained experience of community will recognise, is not a sudden process, or one that is achieved simply by articulating the best argument. It is achieved by a long process of dialogue, which seeks rapprochment and reconciliation from a starting point of diversity and opposition.

In that sense, I would like to apply your paragraph above to ask questions of the dynamics of discourse, not between polarised opinions, thoughts or doctrines, but between polarised individuals and collectives. The questions are in no sense whatsoever rhetorical, and reflect a very genuine, humble and tentative personal search for the key to Einstein's dictum:

"You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created. "

And the problem for me is not how you change someone else's opinions and beliefs, but how do you achieve meaningful and mutually empowering intellectual and spiritual engagement within significant difference.

With a process approach, to paraphrase you, polarised positions need not foreclose dialogic unity.

Here, then, are questions, not merely from the head, but from my heart and from my spirit, then, that I throw lovingly and sincerely in the air, like Noah's doves, and hope one at least may return with the leaf that points to an approximation to dry and fertile land amidst the flood of stringent controversy that has so submerged our common spiritual and discursive landscape.

Can we break new ground, can we achieve, in this exchange, "a less unilateral, less dualistic, more unitive and far more nuanced way" of transcending our differences without needing to negate them first?

Can we construct, and successfully model, an "attenuated discourse" regarding such an apparently fundamental difference?

Can we overcome the universal human tendency to assume "monological exclusivity" for one's point of view when it conflicts with that of another in matters fundamental to our personal identities?

Can we find a point of encounter beyond paradox, or rather, in and through paradox, that does not require you to change the self-understanding of the Bahá'í community, nor impels the Bahá'í community to change your own self-understanding?

Is it possible, across the immediate chasm that separates us, to make authentic contact, a reciprocal, processual acceptance that does not require isolation (to you be your religion, to me be my religion) but, unexpectedly, allows us to walk together without pulling one another to one's own side of the fence?

As these things tend to do, I suspect that, if we manage to achieve such engaged (as opposed to disengaged) acceptance of our difference, the differences themselves will diminish, and at a faster rate. As we accept the risks of intellectual and spiritual vulnerability, not doctrinally, but relationally, we create the safe (or a little safer) spaces where hardened positions can become more pliable.
It is only then, in my experience of community, that the leaps of communal insights, the changes of community culture, take place.

"Souls are inclined toward estrangement. Steps should first be taken to do away with this estrangement, for only then will the Word take effect." (SWA p.265)

"love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness."

In the human kingdom itself there are points of contact, properties common to all mankind; likewise, there are points of distinction which separate race from race, individual from individual. If the points of contact, which are the common properties of humanity, overcome the peculiar points of distinction, unity is assured. On the other hand, if the points of differentiation overcome the points of agreement, disunion and weakness result." ('Abdu'l-Bahá, PUP, pp.67-68)

Anonymous said...

Please excuse me if this seems inappropriate or misplaced, but I feel compelled to show my deep and heartfelt appreciation to you both for your contributions.
Whilst your dialogue surely means much to you as indiviuals, to me, as an albeit inexperienced reader and as yet only aspiring blogger, this discourse is like taking a dip in a cool lake, sharpening my attention and refreshing my mind, body and soul.
I regret that I have nothing to add to this thread at this juncture, nevertheless I will continue to read and reflect.
Again, I thank you for your thoughtful and mesured contributions to this and other topics, and I look forward with eagerness to have my mind further engaged and broadened by them.
May the God of Love be close to your hearts as you continue in this and other endeavours.

Anonymous said...

This stimulating interchange brings up a few disconnected thoughts I would like to share.

It takes work to create common ground and respectful relationships between people who have very different takes on hot-button issues such as homosexuality. I recommend to all readers the Bridges Across the Divide website (http://www.bridges-across.org/ba/index.htm).

The Baha'i Faith has a larger umbrella concept of the chaste life. This has a significant bearing on many sexuality issues, including homosexuality. It raises issues such as: Since marriage for Baha'is is between a man and a woman, sexual activity outside of that is unchaste. Is all same-sex loving unchaste? Can two men kiss and at the same time avoid the assumption that they have a sexual relationship? Sometimes, rather than drawing lines, we have to signal a direction to take. Perhaps Andrew and Ismael's thoughtful dialogue can help outline the issues that some people have with the Baha'i teachings - or at least with how those teachings are expressed. Likewise, the Baha'is can also help critics understand the web of spiritual meanings in which the prohibition of homosexual acts resides.

Andrew mentions Sufi practice. Muslim Sufi scholars such as Seyyed Hossein Nasr write that Sufism can only be truly practiced by observing sharia (Islamic law), walking the tariqa (the mystical path), to reach haqiqa (the Truth). I am interested how Andrew would deal with traditional Sufism, which requires following the sharia (and thus avoiding homosexual behavior).

I have heard wrong-headed statements from both extremes in the Baha'i community. I have even heard some believers state that there are positively no homosexuals in the Baha'i Faith, because the teachings are so clear on this matter. What we need, however, is an acknowledgement that an unknown portion of the population (anywhere from 2% to 10% by various estimates) are attracted primarily to members of the same sex. Significantly more have had at least one sexual experience with someone of the same sex. The Baha'i population is probably comparable. What, then, is the correct approach? On the one hand, we have to understand the reality. On the other hand, there is the concept of sacrifice - to give up something lesser for something greater. Can contextualization undermine basic Baha'i teachings? Is the Baha'i approach a call to give up something lesser for something higher? Or is it simply, as some may claim, a historical anachronism based on misconceptions of an already outmoded cultural taboo?

We live in a period when many people are increasingly unwilling to give up individual wants for the sake of religious principle. Some people see the quest for gay rights as a quest for justice; others see it as an attempt at turning a perverted affection into a civil right. Aren't both of these positions based on some kind of "religious" principle? Aren't they also both a bit about individual wants? Who has the authority to decide? For a Baha'i, that authority is Baha'u'llah and His successors, including the Universal House of Justice. In a world uncomfortable with "authorities", the argument from revelation and the covenant becomes more difficult. But does that make revelation and covenant irrelevant, or simply force Baha'is to more deeply understand them and relate them to the lives of suffering and struggling human beings?

We have a lot to learn.

Ismael Velasco said...

Thank you both anonimae (!) for your touching and encouraging responses. I am praying that this thread will achieve, around the dialogue with Andrew, an innovative space of harmonious encounter across our differences. This, as I have expressed at length, is to me of fundamental importance, and even this little epistolary space, should it succeed, has the potential, at this early stage of Bahá'í thought and expression on this issue, to make, between all of us, an important contribution.

Your interventions preserve the fragile, emergent connection in what is to me the beautiful and courageous vulnerability of a still uncertain exchange with a deep, honest, rigorous and courteous soul.

Humbly and gratefully awaiting, therefore, Andrew's next discursively birdge-building, spiritually challenging, and hence spiritually illuminating, contribution, without hurries, yet with hopes of a potential breakthrough that allows us to maintain our mutual hold in our reciprocally outstretched hands, or at least keep the tips of our fingers touching in the moment of creation, like Michelangelo's Genesis, I thank you both for breathing encouragement and insight into the process.

With deep love, and genuinely grateful for your comments,

Ismael

Anonymous said...

Well, as 5 generations Bahai and gay, I will give my 2 cents worth. To me the problems with the interpretation of this law stem from Shoghi Effendi. He was one Guardian in history, when we were supposed to have many. The UHJ has decided that the course to follow is to apply SE's interpretations for the rest of Bahai history. So we are stuck on this issue, as well as a number of other things. But the way I see it, the present system is not what was intended. So the UHJ has already changed things. They are in no way following the plan in Abdul-Baha's will and testament. Where is their head? An imaginary Guardian? So if they can adjust the the adminstrative system to a new reality, why then can't they apply the laws in a new way too? Your insistance and the present UHJ's insistance on SE's interpretations shows absolutely no reconciliation of any sort. For now, those of us who are sincere believers like you, but who do not take your stance, will just have to pray on our own, find a community on the internet or go to the arms of open-minded churces like the Unitarians who will accept us as we are.

Michael said...

Well this is a very interesting dialog we have here. I have been teaching the Faith to a friend who is very straight, but as a more liberal minded person has asked me about this issue a couple times. I explain it in the best way I can. I see the purpose of human life, as the Bahai teachings put it, is to know God, and to participate in an ever-advancing civilization. I feel we live in a sex obsessed world where often, the goal of life is who is the next woman (or man) one will sleep with. I myself have lived this life from the age of 15 to 21, basically looking for the next woman to the next. To make an extremely long story short, I began investigating religion, and had a profound mystical experience which changed me forever. It lasted 3 days, but one thing I remember was the I had absolutely no lust for any human. It was strange to me, but I realized that we have no gender on a spiritual plane. I was seized by an intense unconditional love and compassion for every person that I cannot really put into words. And I realized how sexual addiction is probably one of the most common problem facing humanity today. All of this being said, I would conclude that although I am in a monogomous, heterosexual, Bahai marriage, I would see being a gay Baha'i as an opportunity to develop my souls ability to percieve the untainted unconditional true love of all people by being chaste and celebate. In this Faith, it is definitely taught that the greater the struggle, the greater the internal spiritual rewards. I'm reminded of a quote that has proven difficult to emulate, but reminds me of my mystical experience of having no physical attraction for any human but seeing the true spiritual reality of every soul...

"Say: He is not to be numbered with the people of Bahá who followeth his mundane desires, or fixeth his heart on things of the earth. He is My true follower who, if he come to a valley of pure gold, will pass straight through it aloof as a cloud, and will neither turn back, nor pause. Such a man is, assuredly, of Me. From his garment the Concourse on high can inhale the fragrance of sanctity.... And if he met the fairest and most comely of women, he would not feel his heart seduced by the least shadow of desire for her beauty. Such an one, indeed, is the creation of spotless chastity. Thus instructeth you the Pen of the Ancient of Days, as bidden by your Lord, the Almighty, the All-Bountiful."
Baha'u'llah Gleanings LX

Now to "not feel his heart seduced by the least shadow of desire for her beauty" is tough for most guys I know, myself included. Yet this is the high standard expected of the people of Baha from the Blessed Beauty, Baha'u'llah.

michael said...

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Peace Ismael !

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Mavaddat said...

The Bahá'í attitude toward homosexuality was not always a challenge for me. My belief as a Bahá'í was that homosexuality was wrong. It was wrong because God defined marriage to be between a man and a woman. God defined marriage as between a man and a woman to ensure that the union of two people might produce offspring. I saw this as the natural order. Since a homosexual relationship cannot produce children, I thought, homosexuals cannot be married and it is unnatural for them to do so. Moreover, since no sex act is legitimate outside the context of marriage, I thought that homosexuality itself was illegitimate, and thus immoral.

I soon realized, however, that the purpose of marriage was not defined by God, but by humans. For example, some people choose to get married for the purpose of getting resident alien status. Others get married for financial reasons. And some radical people get married just out of love. I could not accept that every marriage that was not motivated by the desire to create children was illegitimate. Furthermore, the Bahá'í Faith explicitly condones the marriage of two people who cannot have children (from infertility or old age), so the purpose of marriage cannot be bearing children exclusively even if God did define it. What's more, having children is not always a good idea (sometimes, it's just downright immoral), especially in an age of over population and lack of resources. Homosexuality also appeared to occur naturally in humans and other animals irrespective of culture or era. Lastly, allowing homosexuals to marry seemed to me like a positive reinforcement of the institution of marriage, insofar as it lent that institution greater legitimacy by discouraging sexual relationships out of wedlock. All of this left me unable to understand what it was about merely the specification of two persons' genders that could give me any insight into the morality or immorality of their sexual conduct. From this confusion, I began to doubt the moral infallibility of my religion, and I soon abandoned it to think for myself.

Anonymous said...

There are no teachings or laws by Baha'u'llah regarding homosexuality. Shoghi Effendi was the Guardian and as such had no authority to make laws.

Therefore we have writings or laws regarding pederasty, rape, etc. But nothing on homosexuality. Unless I’m wrong. In which case, I’d appreciate it if you would produce but one sentence from Baha’u'llah regarding homosexuality.

Just one sentence. Out of all that He wrote, find me one sentence about homosexuality.

I’ll say it again: homosexuality.

Not lechery.

Not sodomy.

Not bestiality.

Not adultery.

Not pederasty.

Not rape.

But homosexuality.

The challenge stands.

Anonymous said...

"I’d appreciate it if you would produce but one sentence from Baha’u'llah regarding homosexuality....The challenge stands."

I agree, there is not one word in the Writings of Baha'u'llah prohibiting homosexual acts.

There is also not one word in Baha'u'llah's Writings about the Institution of Guardianship. Not a single word. That does not mean that institution is not direct from Baha'u'llah.

It is embedded not only in the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, but, as Shoghi Effendi showed in three of his World Order letters -- in the will and purpose of Baha'u'llah Himself. There are implications, but not explicit statements about the Guardianship in Baha'u'llah's Writings, and these are drawn out by the interpreter guided by Baha'u'llah, the Guardian himself.

Shoghi Effendi did not express an opinion, or say "I look" upon homosexual acts as prohibited. As Interpreter, he stated the view of Baha'u'llah Himself:

"Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh, and homosexual relationships
*He looks upon as such*"

The word "He", referring to Baha'u'llah, is capitalized in the Guardian's letter.

Whatever bridging we find; whatever compassion and understanding we show; whatever humility before God and one another; whatever freedom from any hint of self-righteousness or superiority before our homosexual brothers and sisters; let us not permit ourselves to compromise with the clear path in the Baha'i Writings. No good is found in that direction.

Anonymous said...

Actually Shoghi Effendi didn't say anything. A secretary writing on his behalf to an individual Bahai said something. The present UHJ and the "loyal" adherents take these few letters to individuals to condemn ALL homosexuality. So it makes no difference if you are a rapist sodomizing young boys or if you are a committed couple raising children to love God- in the eyes of the present UHJ and the I'm guessin the person who wrote this blog- we are ALL unchaste. Maybe a future UHJ will see the difference. There is no law and the UHJ has the right to address something that is outside of the Book- gay committed relationships. That will be the day of true reconciliation. You have offered nothing but fluff IMHO. Peace!

Mavaddat said...

The amount of intellectual dishonesty in the comments here is astonishing. The Guardian derives his authority to "infallibly" interpret Bahá'u'lláh from 'Abdu'l-Bahá who was conferred the same authority by Bahá'u'lláh himself.

Do you people who claim "there are no teachings or laws by Baha'u'llah regarding homosexuality," honestly not know this? It is sheer ignorance.

Shoghi Effendi "didn't say anything" because he had his secretary write them out? Are you kidding me?

First of all, we know that Shoghi Effendi checked all his letters before sending them out, so he would have known what they said and would have approved of them.

Secondly, everything written by Bahá'u'lláh was penned by his amanuensis after a point in his life. If we were to follow the principle underlying this objection, we'd have to throw out more than half of the tablets ascribed to Bahá'u'lláh because they "weren't written by him." This argument is sheer dishonesty.

Ismael Velasco said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comments. While I am fully aware of the arguments arguing from the fact that some of the materials dealing with this are found in letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, rather than in his own hand, I think in this case it is a red herring. Above and beyond what Mavvadat points out regarding the binding nature of all such communications and their authenticity for Baha'is, which is a subject I may deal with in future, the fact remains that as you yourself state, the Universal House of Justice has the authority to legislate on such matters, irrespective of the arguments for or against letters written in behalf of the Guardian. This is likewise the case with regard to the arguments from the sparsity of discussion in the writings of Baha'u'llah Himself. Even were one to grant that this interpretation is correct, and I think more are the grounds not to do so, you have correctly noted that the Universal House of Justice has the right to legislate on whatever is not explicit in the Book. Thus, whether or not Baha'u'llah wrote about this, or Shoghi Effendi, the praxis of the Baha'i community in this regard is not pending the discovery of some undisclosed passage such as I have been asked to provide from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, or some piece of authorized interpretation in the very hand of Shoghi Effendi. Whatever the position on such matters, the most relevant fact in this light is that the Universal House of Justice HAS pronounced itself on this, and identified its rulings with the line of thinking found in the letters on behalf of the Guardian, which in turn interpret the passage from the Kitab-i Aqdas, so that, whatever the putative legitimacy of such earlier letters, the actual outcome is identical, and as per your own affirmation, a legitimate excercise of the authority of the Universal House of Justice, and binding on Baha'is. Homosexuality, whether as presecribed by Baha'u'llah Himself, as elucidated by Shoghi Effendi, or as independently legislated by the Universal House of Justice, may be an innate preference held by Baha'is without conflict with the Writings, but it may not be practiced and embraced without involving a conflict of principle and identity, in the light of the explicit and unequivocal statements on the subject, at the very least, in the writings of the Universal House of Justice, and, as mostly agreed, in the elucidations and pronouncements in the writings on behalf of Shoghi Effendi interpreting the passage of the Kitab-i Aqdas.


That such an outcome is controversial, and indeed painful, is one that I have been at pains to candidly acknowledge in these posts. And I have argued that the back and forth of trying to declare the Other's position as wrong and our own as correct, is unlikely to yield much fruit beyond further polarisation, given that the basis for these judgements is not expediency, but fidelity to one's principles, on both sides of the divide.

What I suggest is that it may be more fruitful to seek lines of convergence, collaboration and agreement, without masking, but also without exaggerating or foregrounding, the differences that remain.

Thus, I think most impartial readers, and anyone even vaguely acquainted with Baha'is in real life, would find the idea that for Baha'is, in text or in practice, there is any remote equivalence between an abuser of children, and a loving homosexual couple raising children to the best of their capacity, as risible. It is a comparison arising from the heated rhetoric in which the discussion is generally conducted.

In fact, the quotes I cite, and many beside, suggest that precisely, the Baha'i approach is not to define a person by his or her sexuality, but by his or her virtues and spiritual characteristics. Whether one is attracted to one gender or another is, in reality, but a small part of who one is, and Baha'is are enjoined in unequivocal terms to seek fellowship, unity and service with all on earth.

Most of the people of the world presently diverge from Baha'is in one or another point of belief or practice. It does not mean that Baha'is consider all those whose differences mean they cannot in good conscience embrace the claims of Baha'u'llah or identify themselves as Baha'is, as evil criminals waiting to pounce! Such a perspective is as alien to the spirit, as to the practice of the Baha'i community, that I feel no need to establish it, since it is among the most obvious characteristics of these teachings and this body of people.

On the contrary, for example, I understand that the acting Prime Minister of Iceland is homosexual. Surely that fact is but a small part of her being, her identity and her achievements. Baha'is, without sharing her views on sexuality, would nevertheless be fully able to appreciate whatever constructive achievements she has attained, support whatever non-partisan, society improving initiatives she might sponsor, and rejoice in whatever victories she might achieve for her country and the world.

On the other hand, the fact that a child abuser, to take your example, is heterosexual, would be such a relative irrelevance before the monstruosity of such crimes, as to merit no mention. To draw an equivalence between these two, whilst serving the purposes of rhetorical controversy, does not serve the aims of justice, of tolerance, or reconciliation.

If there were no differences of opinion and perspective, reconciliation would be superflouous. My posting on this subject, fluffly though it may be, is an invitation to advance the agenda of reconciliation between advocates of homosexuality and those of us who cannot, as a matter of conscience, incorporate it into our communal practice, and if you are able to contribute to this in a more precise way, my heart will rejoice at having stimulated in some measure such advance.

If on the other hand, one has no interest in seeking harmony across the divides of belief and identity, save on condition that those who disagree adopt our own views, one can express one's pain and anger in a myriad fora, while this blog may not be the most appropriate one, seeking, as it does, not to win the point, but to advance the love between all human beings, whatever their religious, personal, or indeed sexual, differences.

We cannot always do away with disagreement. But I think it is always possible to expand, or deepen, the areas where agreement and collaboration for the good of humanity remain, notwithstanding, always possible, and more than ever in a fracturing world, necessary. I think the spirit in which we deal with difference, is among the hallmarks of our spiritual development. I am seeking to grow spiritually, by finding ways of engaging with difference without attacking it, without negating it, but seeking reconciliation where possible, and accepting difference where, or rather while, reconciliation remains elusive. Comments like Andrew's, are to me good examples that this is as possible on one side of the discussion as on the other. And that angry disqualifications are in no way inherent to either perspective, but rather the inevitable froth cast forth on the margins of a tumultuous, majestic sea, of thoughts, feelings, changes, of becoming.

With love,

Ismael

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Michael for your reconciliatory approach. I feel that it would help to distinguish three closely interdependent areas that we are conflating.

The first is the private, spiritual life which is essential and on which no one has a hold. We might be outstanding believers in the sight of God, but not integrated into a community, or an outstanding member of a community, unacceptable in the sight of God. In this area, sexuality is to be directed exclusively towards marriage, but it is a deal between us and God.

The second is community life which is vital for our practical contribution to humanity and which implies rules and restrictions. If our behaviour and way of life are in contradiction with community rules, we can be excluded from some areas of service, just as a priest who decides to marry or a Carmelite who decides to speak up.

The third area is the civil society the rules of which we are to adhere to.

The spiritual laws that promote morality do not need to explicitly mention homosexuality. We can fool ourselves and the community if we wish, but we cannot fool God. Baha’u’llah defines the minimum requirements for remaining a Baha’i as: “He who relateth himself to the All-Merciful and committeth satanic deeds, verily he is not of Me.” And also the maximum ideal which is: “Ye have been called into being to purge the world from the defilement of evil passions.”

The present the minimum community requirements are clearly set out by the UHJ in the 11th September 1995 letter. Blatent transgression, whether on the part of gays or non gays, will imply loss of voting rights and LSAs can define activities that remain open to these believers.

As to the civil laws, Baha'is will of course respect the laws of the state where they live concerning gay marriages and parenthood, without changing requirements for their community life requirements.

Anonymous said...

When we read comments challenging us to finds a sentence from Baha’u'llah regarding homosexuality, I am moved to draw our attention to the very purpose of being a Baha’i which is not to define the minimal requirements for maintaining voting rights within a community. Our purpose in becoming a Baha’i is to attain the heights of spiritual advancement so as to acquire virtues that can help advance civilisation. Our purpose in going to college is to become an outstanding professional, not wasting our time by merely attempting to meet the minimum requirements for not being excluded from college.

Anonymous said...

Andrew, with out underestimating the spiritual implications for a Baha’i to lose voting rights, I feel it important to point out that it is not an excommunication, but a loss of the possibility of taking part in some community functions. Perhaps you could compare this to a priest losing his position by deciding to marry.

Jera said...

A same sex relationship can never be a marriage, but it can be a beautiful thing. Marriage is a committed relationship between a man and a woman. No one needs to know the sexual secrets of another. Baha’u’llah has taught us to confess to God only, not to our fellow man. Now I know that if I encounter domestic partners of the same sex that they are more than likely gay, but so what? They don’t have to wear that on their sleeves, and I don’t have to make a judgment about it. It is up to them to examine their hearts before God and determine if they are able to add to the legacy of the human race by producing offspring in a marriage with a suitable partner of the opposite sex. If they know they cannot do that, then I see no harm in carrying on a discrete relationship with a same sex lover. It is not a marriage, and what they do for each other sexually is not sexual intercourse. I see no reason to make a sham of marriage by calling a gay relationship a gay marriage, nor do I see any reason to legislate what two consenting adults do with each other in private. As Baha’is, we are not required to admit anything that is potentially humiliating to anyone other than God. This is not exactly what “gay pride” is about. But face it, a gay person does not have the ability to have a successful relationship with a person of the opposite sex. You are handicapped, you are missing something. There is no pride in that. But there doesn’t have to be any condemnation in it either.