Homosexuality: Biological, or a Learned Behavior?
by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice1993-07-05
M E M O R A N D U M
To: The Universal House of Justice
Mrs. ..., in a letter to the Universal House of Justice dated 15 March 1993, has raised several questions about the Bahá'í view of homosexuality. A number of her questions arise from an article she has read recently in the Atlantic Monthly magazine which supports the view that homosexual tendencies are biologically based. In particular she expresses concern for the plight of several Bahá'í men whom she knows and who are faced with the difficult struggle against their homosexual preferences. We provide the following response.
We attach a selection of extracts from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, and from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and of the Universal House of Justice pertaining to homosexuality. [online here -J.W.] These extracts offer many insights into the subject. In particular we direct Mrs. ...'s attention to the letters of the Universal House of Justice. They provide clear summaries of the Bahá'í view of homosexuality and also discuss, in the context of the homosexual affliction, the nature and purpose of man and the spiritual struggles with which he must contend in this life. In consideration of the questions raised by Mrs. ..., we summarize below some of the fundamental points made in the attached extracts:
In light of the above information, some of Mrs. ...'s questions become moot. However, a few additional points can be noted that may further assist her in her thinking on the subject. Regarding the old debate on which human behaviours are "innate" and which are "learned", it is worth noting that the Bahá'í Writings do not uphold the materialistic view that nature is perfect.
The mission of the Prophets of God has been to train the souls of humanity and free them from the thralldom of natural instincts and physical tendencies. They are like unto Gardeners, and the world of humanity is the field of Their cultivation, the wilderness and untrained jungle growth wherein They proceed to labor.l'Abdu'l-Bahá's teaching in this regard may be easily understood if one considers that "nature" sometimes provides examples that are unworthy of emulation by human beings. For example, the fact that some species eat their young does not mean that it is acceptable for human beings to do so. The Bahá'í concept of human nature is teleological; that is, there are certain qualities intended by God for "human nature", and qualities which do not accord with these are described as "unnatural" This does not mean that such aberrations may not be caused by the operations of "nature." Alcoholism is a good example. As Mrs. ... points out, evidence indicates that it may possibly be induced by a genetic flaw. In that sense it is due to "natural" causes, but this does not necessarily mean that it is. Regarding the question of whether or not same-sex marriages would ever be permitted by the Universal House of Justice, the enclosed extracts indicate clearly that it would not. In addition, it is interesting to note that 'Abdu'l-Bahá says in a Tablet,
Know thou that the command of marriage is eternal. It will never be changed nor altered. This is divine creation and there is not the slightest possibility that change or alteration affect this divine creation (marriage).Regarding Mrs. ...'s question about the possibility of altering the genetic makeup of an unborn child who shows a predisposition to becoming homosexual, this presumably would be a question, should it ever arise, on which the House of Justice would decide in the future. The Universal House of Justice has indicated that "To the question of alteration of homosexual bents, much study must be given, and doubtless in the future clear principles of prevention and treatment will emerge" (Extract 13).
Mrs. ...'s final question is, "How can we now help Bahá'ís struggling with their own homosexuality?" again, we refer to the attached extracts. The Universal House of Justice states:
As for the responsibility of Assemblies and of individual Bahá'ís, certainly all are called upon to be understanding, supportive and helpful to any individual who carries the burden of homosexuality (Extract 13)."In this regard, the Spiritual Assembly, while taking care not to pry into the private lives of the believers to ensure that they are behaving properly", has the duty to
determine whether the immoral conduct is open and scandalous and can bring the name of the Faith into disrepute, in which case the Assembly must take action to counsel the believer and require him to make every effort to mend his ways (Extract 10).The Universal House of Justice lists "the loving support of the Bahá'í community as one of the elements through which "individuals are able to effect a change in their behaviour" (Extract 14), and calls upon "all those concerned" to "have understanding and sympathy for the individual so afflicted... This law is no reason for Bahá'ís to consider homosexuals as outcasts" (Extract 17). In this regard, it may be well to note that the extracts indicate that it is not the condition of being attracted to someone of the same sex which Bahá'u'lláh condemns, but the action of engaging in sexual relations with someone of the same sex. This distinction places homosexuality in the category of one of many problems, from which an individual may suffer,
both physical and psychological. Some are the result of the individual's own behaviour, some are caused by the circumstances in which he grew up, some are congenital. Some human beings are born blind, some suffer from incapacitating accidents or diseases. Such conditions present the individual affected, and those around him, with serious problems, and it is one of the challenges of the human condition that all those concerned should strive to overcome such problems and have understanding and sympathy for the individual so afflicted (Extract 17).To a woman whose son had recently informed her about his homosexuality, the Universal House of Justice counselled, "demonstrate love and acceptance toward [him]", and "urge [him] to seek appropriate counselling" (Extract 16). In this regard, we are aware that the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States has had experience in dealing with the issue, and will likely be informed about various kinds of therapeutic resources for people concerned with homosexuality.
Man's physical existence on this earth is a period during which the moral exercise of his free will is tried and tested in order to prepare his soul for the other worlds of God, and we must welcome affliction and tribulations as opportunities for improvement in our eternal selves. The House of Justice points out that homosexuals are not the only segment of human society labouring at this daily task -- every human being is beset by such inner promptings as pride, greed, selfishness, lustful heterosexual or homosexual desires, to name a few which must be overcome, and overcome them we must if we are to fulfil the purpose of our human existence. (16 July 1980 to an individual believer)
There should be real incentive for you to courageously face the problems inherent in the situation you describe in your letter, and to firmly resolve to change your way of life. But you must desire to do so. Both you and your Bahá'í friend must first recognize that a homosexual relationship subverts the purpose of human life and that determined effort to overcome the wayward tendencies which promote this practice which, like other sexual vices, is so abhorrent to the Creator of all mankind will help you both to return to a path that leads to true happiness. (23 August 1982 to an individual believer)