Husbands responsible for family's finances...?

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Jonah
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Husbands responsible for family's finances...?

Postby Jonah » Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:00 pm

I've recently heard about a couple contemplating marriage, one Iranian and the other North American, who is finding some difficulty with this part of the Baha'i teachings. It was news to me. Are there other sides to the story, so to speak? (I'm sure this topic has already been addressed in articles online, I've just not noticed it before.) If this should become a sticking point for a couple not-yet-engaged, are there other scriptural references which would shed a different light on the situation? Some quotes:
the basic principle of Bahá'í law is that the husband is responsible for the support of his wife and children so long as they are married; that is until the granting of the divorce. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United Kingdom, February 24, 1983, http://bahai-library.com/hornby_lights_ ... er=2#n1323)

although the primary responsibility for supporting the family financially is placed upon the husband, this does not by any means imply that the place of woman is confined to the home. (The Universal House of Justice, 1980, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife, http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/c/CW/cw-91.html)

A husband has no explicit right to be supported by his wife. (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife, http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/c/CW/cw-71.html)

This concept is based on the principle that the man has primary responsibility for the financial support of the family,... (Universal House of Justice, Compilation on Women, http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/c/CW/cw-74.html)

You ask about the admonition that everyone must work, and want to know if this means that you, a wife and mother, must work for a livelihood as your husband does… You will see that the directive is for the friends to be engaged in an occupation which will be of benefit to mankind. Home-making is a highly honourable and responsible work of fundamental importance for mankind. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 625-626)


All I can note is that many of the above quotations seem taken out of context, as some are followed with statements like
Rather, while primary responsibility is assigned, it is anticipated that fathers would play a significant role in the education of the children and women could also be breadwinners. (http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/c/CW/cw-74.html)

Sen McGlinn
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Re: Husbands responsible for family's finances...?

Postby Sen McGlinn » Fri Jun 20, 2014 8:26 am

The quotes seem to be elucidations from the House of Justice (which are changeable, may be wrong, and are not authoritative), rather than authoritative statements of Bahai teachings. If the UHJ was asked the same questions today, would it say the same thing? Would it matter? Only to the extent that the changed or unchanged elucidation has consequences for "what must be done."

The legislation enacted by the Universal House of Justice is different from interpretation. Authoritative interpretation, as uttered by 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the Guardian, is a divinely guided statement of what the Word of God means. The divinely inspired legislation of the Universal House of Justice does not attempt to say what the revealed Word means-it states what must be done in cases where the revealed Text or its authoritative interpretation is not explicit. It is, therefore, on quite a different level from the Sacred Text, and the Universal House of justice is empowered to abrogate or amend its own legislation whenever it judges the conditions make this desirable.
(The Universal House of Justice, 1982 Jan 03, Teaching vs. Proselytizing)



"23.20 There is a profound difference between the interpretations of the Guardian and the elucidations of the House of Justice in exercise of its function to "deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book." The Guardian reveals what the Scripture means; his interpretation is a statement of truth which cannot be varied. Upon the Universal House of Justice, in the words of the Guardian, "has been conferred the exclusive right of legislating on matters not expressly revealed in the Bahá'í writings." ... Unity of doctrine is maintained by the existence of the authentic texts of Scripture and the voluminous interpretations of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi together with the absolute prohibition against anyone propounding "authoritative" or "inspired" interpretations or usurping the function of Guardian. Unity of administration is assured by the authority of the Universal House of Justice.
(The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 56)


Both of these are elucidations of this question, from the House of Justice. So one doesn't have to accept them, but anyone whose stance is more Roman than the Pope is standing on shaky ground.

brettz9
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Re: Husbands responsible for family's finances...?

Postby brettz9 » Fri Jun 20, 2014 3:17 pm

"responsible for" has, as I believe, a very different connotation than the "responsibility to do something" covered by the quotations. The former implies control, and none of the quotations hint at that whatsoever. The context of the second quotation you cited (or its even fuller context here) makes things particularly clear, imo.

You already cited one paragraph (and there are supporting paragraphs from Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha), and as far as negating any implication of control there is this:

"In any group, however loving the consultation, there are nevertheless points on which, from time to time, agreement cannot be reached. In a Spiritual Assembly this dilemma is resolved by a majority vote. There can, however, be no majority where only two parties are involved, as in the case of a husband and wife. There are, therefore, times when a wife should defer to her husband, and times when a husband should defer to his wife, but neither should ever unjustly dominate the other."

((In a letter written by the Universal House of Justice, 28 December 1980 to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of New Zealand, emphasis added)


The very selective quoting by Sen (of supposedly potentially "wrong" House of Justice quotations, no less) adds nothing to this and is quite misleading. Thankfully we have the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha to clarify the status of the Universal House of Justice as including "Whatsoever they decide is of God" and "That which this body, whether unanimously or by a majority doth carry, that is verily the truth and the purpose of God Himself" (Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha).

While it is true they may change their decisions, this is to keep their actions flexible with the times, not in regard to elucidations which do not need to vary (except perhaps in language) and cannot vary in truth:

"Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself. Inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same."

(Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha)


A comparison with the Pope falls short since, unlike 'Abdu'l-Baha with Baha'u'llah, he was never granted infallibility by Christ, but to the extent a comparison can be made, it ought to be, regardless of any expression, about whether one can be more Christian than the Pope rather than more Roman, and per the quotations above, a view recognizing the infallibility of the House does not go beyond what the Baha'i Writings state.
Last edited by brettz9 on Fri Jun 20, 2014 3:23 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: Clarify decisions not opinions

Jonah
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Re: Husbands responsible for family's finances...?

Postby Jonah » Wed Jun 25, 2014 12:28 pm

Thanks for the feedback. One person feels that the quotations above indicate that, if a man isn't financially secure or doesn't have a job, then he shouldn't get married until he can afford to have a wife and family, whom he is obligated to support. Is it accurate, do you think, to consider the wife as having the "right" to financial support and, if such finances are not forthcoming, can she use the Writings as the basis for rejecting marriage until the fiancé can commit to providing for her?

One person writing to me about the issue had this to share, which I paraphrase, anonymously:
"The Writings are quite clear on the issue of the functions & responsibilities of the husbands. Husbands are financially responsible to support their wives, and their children if there are any.  Unless the wife and the husband consult and mutually and freely decide for the wife to give up some of her rights, and carry some of the husband's financial responsibilities, then, the husband has to carry his responsibilities and his function as the man by providing for his family. ... Every man claims to be a Faithful Baha'i, until he realizes that he actually has to part from his money!"

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Re: Husbands responsible for family's finances...?

Postby Sen McGlinn » Wed Jun 25, 2014 3:17 pm

No, I don't think those conclusions are at all warranted. Various laws of the Aqdas contain assumptions appropriate to the Middle East of the time: men go away on travels, wives stay home or travel with their husbands; men own the family home, wives do not have share; men have income, wives have to be supported; families pay for education and social support, governments do not. Today, we apply and adapt the precepts for our own societies, according to the needs of the time. One principle that is very useful is that of mutatis mutandi, or changing what must be changed. So when a wife goes away on travels alone, she too is obliged to "appoint for her husband a time when she will return home." Instead of simply shelving the part of the writings that relates to a patriarchal society that no longer exists (and a good thing too), or worse, instead of trying to recreate the patriarchy, the mutatis mutandi principle takes the inequality and mirrors it, it makes the obligations and privileges work both ways.

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Re: Husbands responsible for family's finances...?

Postby brettz9 » Wed Jun 25, 2014 6:54 pm

Jonah wrote:One person feels that the quotations above indicate that, if a man isn't financially secure or doesn't have a job, then he shouldn't get married until he can afford to have a wife and family, whom he is obligated to support.


The following is not from the point of view of male vs. female roles, but it does indicate that economic factors can indeed possibly hinder (early) marriage:

"The Bahá'í youth should, on the one hand, be taught the lesson of self-control which, when exercised, undoubtedly has a salutary effect on the development, of character and of personality in general, and on the other should be advised, nay even encouraged, to contract marriage while still young and in full possession of their physical vigor. Economic factors, no doubt, are often a serious hindrance to early marriage, but in most cases are only an excuse, and as such should not be overstressed."

(On behalf of Shoghi Effendi, from a letter dated 13 December 1940, to an individual believer, in Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-86, sec. 126.7c, p. 234)


And there is the concept of the dowry where the Kitab-i-Aqdas prescribes a dowry (given by the man) before marriage.

This law is not applicable in the West, and there is admittedly at least a pilgrim's note of Shoghi Effendi indicating that some of the laws may never be applied in the West, a possibility which, if true, might indicate the idea that some laws were indeed only intended to help the East "catch up" with the West on certain matters, e.g., if the dowry were meant to gradually minimize the preexisting practice (and the Writings do make abundantly clear that the Baha'i Revelation is not the final revelation, that religious truth is not absolute (fixed to one time), etc.). However, the infallible Universal House of Justice has already clarified on the matter of financial responsibility by saying that "the husband is responsible for the support of his wife and children so long as they are married".

Nevertheless, even the law of the dowry makes some provision for financial difficulty at the time of marriage (and the quotation above did indicate that financial reasons are often just an excuse):

"QUESTION: In connection with the dowry, what if the bridegroom cannot pay this sum in full, but instead were to formally deliver a promissory note to his bride at the time of the wedding ceremony, on the understanding that he will honour it when he is able to do so?

"ANSWER: Permission to adopt this practice hath been granted by the Source of Authority."

(Kitab-i-Aqdas, Questions and Answers, no. 39, p. 119)


Per the above balancing quotations, I think it is therefore upon the individuals to decide this for themselves.

Jonah wrote:Is it accurate, do you think, to consider the wife as having the "right" to financial support


Yes, I think this is quite clear from the quotations you cited earlier (including during any Year of Patience in the case of a separation).

Jonah wrote:and, if such finances are not forthcoming, can she use the Writings as the basis for rejecting marriage until the fiancé can commit to providing for her?


There may of course be some exceptions for those already married, such as if the husband has become ill or otherwise disabled (in such a case (or if a woman is left as a widow), the State is to assist). And in the case of divorce, the Baha'i Writings only require financial support of the wife during the Year of Patience, not afterward (unless the law stipulates otherwise, and regardless, supporting the children does remain a firm obligation).

But a woman (or man) can use any basis she wishes (or none at all) for rejecting marriage or indicate whatever conditions she wishes (or even make a prenuptial agreement about it)!

Note that in the East, the engagement period is limited to 95 days, and even Western believers may be advised of the wisdom of gaining parental consent first to avoid potential "later embarrassment"*, so it seems it may also be desirable to avoid engagement before such matters are determined, but despite being "not always desirable" for engagements to be broken (and "should rarely occur"), it is permitted for Baha'is to break off engagements.

Best wishes,
Brett

*
"The Laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas regarding the period of engagement have not been made applicable to believers in the West, and therefore there is no requirement that the parties to a marriage obtain consent of the parents before announcing their engagement. However, there is no objection to informing the believers that it would be wise for them to do so in order to avoid later embarrassment if consents are withheld."

(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia, January 17, 1971: Australian Bahá'í Bulletin, February 1971, No. 198, in Lights of Guidance, no. 1256)

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Re: Husbands responsible for family's finances...?

Postby Jonah » Thu Jun 26, 2014 8:07 am

Thank you for your well-researched and considered replies. :-)


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