Need for sympathy for those with a homosexual orientation and their need for struggle to overcome
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice2013-04-22
22 April 2013
Transmitted by email
Dear Bahá’í Friend,
The Universal House of Justice has received your email letters of 11 March 2011 and 5 May 2012 describing your struggle to reconcile the Bahá’í teachings with your own views on homosexuality, which have evolved as you have reflected on your relationship with your son. We have been asked to convey to you the following and in so doing express our regret that, owing to the pressure of work at the Bahá’í World Centre and the time necessary to carefully consider the many facets of your heartfelt questions, our reply has been so long delayed. The House of Justice appreciates the candour with which you have expressed your concerns, and your earnest desire to comprehend aspects of the teachings more fully is warmly acknowledged.
The understanding about human beings today is heavily influenced by materialistic assumptions. Perspectives of social movements, leaders of thought, and the media are shaped by them. Even the findings of science are interpreted according to such prevalent cultural notions. It is not surprising, then, that there are many ideas about human identity and behaviour in contemporary society commonly accepted as truths that conflict with the Bahá’í teachings. Yet, as Bahá’u’lláh asks every thoughtful soul, “Where shalt thou secure the cord of thy faith and fasten the tie of thine obedience?” His answer, revealed in innumerable passages, is, as you know, unambiguous. “The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind.” “No man, however acute his perception,” He affirms, “can ever hope to reach the heights which the wisdom and understanding of the Divine Physician have attained.” And He counsels not to weigh “the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men”, and in “this most perfect Balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed….” The Manifestation institutes His laws and ordinances in accordance with His intrinsic knowledge of human reality and His intended aims for individual and collective transformation. From a Bahá’í perspective, then, it is the teachings of the Manifestation of God that clarify the essential elements of human identity.
In contrast to many contemporary conceptions, the Bahá’í teachings maintain that a person must rise above certain material aspects of human nature to develop and manifest inherent spiritual qualities that characterize his or her true self. The Sacred Texts contain laws and exhortations that, in many instances, redirect or restrict behaviours that arise from impulses, tendencies, and desires, whether inborn or acquired. Some of these are physical, while others are emotional or psychological. Yet, whatever their origin, it is through their regulation and control that the higher, spiritual nature is able to predominate and flourish. Those who are not Bahá’ís may have no cause to take into account such considerations. A Bahá’í, however, cannot set aside the implications of these teachings and must endeavour to respond to the best of his or her ability, though it be little by little and day by day. In so doing, all believers face challenges, although the specific type or extent of a test may differ. They act with faith in Bahá’u’lláh’s declaration, “Know assuredly that My commandments are the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures”, and they respond to His call, “Observe My commandments, for the love of My beauty.”
You have suggested that homosexuals could be made to feel as though they are “on the edges of society” and “inherently deficient”, which would drive them away from the Faith. Such an outcome would be antithetical to the Bahá’í teachings. It may be reassuring to you to know that Shoghi Effendi has stated, in letters written on his behalf, that a Bahá’í who has a homosexual orientation must strive daily to come closer to the Bahá’í standard and, in this process, should be treated with tolerance and receive help, advice, and sympathy; he also acknowledges that such an inclination can be “a great burden to a conscientious soul” and states that those concerned should “adhere to their Faith, and not withdraw from active service, because of the tests they experience” since, “in one way or another, we are all tested; and this must strengthen us, not weaken us.” Whatever the particular challenge he or she may face, through the recognition of Bahá’u’lláh and steadfast effort to abide by His teachings and to serve humanity, every believer can have a rich and rewarding Bahá’í life.
Although they affirm their conviction that Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings reflect God’s purpose for humankind in this Day, Bahá’ís do not seek to impose their values on others. They do not pass judgement on others on the basis of their own moral standards and can never presume to know the standing of any soul in the eyes of God. Rather, the friends are enjoined to show forth unconditional love, to engage in fellowship with all, and to be forbearing, concerned with their own shortcomings and not those of others. They are to have a sin-covering eye, focusing on good qualities and ignoring the bad, and they must eschew backbiting and gossip. As the Bahá’í community continues to grow and develop, increasing its involvement with the wider society, such characteristics will become more pronounced and a hallmark of Bahá’í culture. Given this, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain, the House of Justice has repeatedly emphasized, would be entirely against the spirit of the Faith. In response to your question about the position a Bahá’í would take in relation to supporting the human rights of homosexuals, we have enclosed a copy of a letter dated 27 October 2010 written on behalf of the House of Justice to an individual believer that discusses this topic, and it is hoped the guidance contained therein will allay any concern you may have.
As to the possibility of same-sex marriage within the Faith, according to the teachings, Bahá’í marriage is a union between a man and a woman. This is set forth in the Writings and is not susceptible to change by the House of Justice.
You have also asked how you should deal with the conflict you face in being a Bahá’í while struggling to appreciate certain aspects of the teachings, and you wonder whether you should withdraw from the Faith or simply acknowledge that on this point you have a different view. It can be helpful to consider that, on occasion, a believer may discover that a personal understanding differs to some degree from the teachings. How can it be otherwise, when our conceptions are forged in a social milieu that Bahá’u’lláh has come to radically transform? “An exact and thorough comprehension of so vast a system, so sublime a revelation, so sacred a trust,” Shoghi Effendi reminds us, “is for obvious reasons beyond the reach and ken of our finite minds.” A sensible approach is simply to recognize that the human mind is both finite and fallible and that acquiring spiritual insight and greater understanding is a gradual and ever-unfolding process that requires time, continued study, reflection on action, and consultation with others. This perspective is quite different, however, from contending with or attempting to change explicit provisions of the Faith. Humility is required, rather than an insistence that one’s personal views at any given time are correct. Thus, there is no reason why you should feel a need to withdraw from the Bahá’í community. Rather you are encouraged to keep an open mind and acknowledge, like every other Bahá’í, that there are elements of the Revelation that you are striving to understand more fully. This does not prevent you from showing forth unconditional love and support for your son.
You are assured of the loving prayers of the House of Justice at the Sacred Threshold that you and your son may be the recipients of heavenly blessings and bestowals.
With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat