The Baha’i Faith and homosexuality

Several news sources are reporting that an Interfaith group, including the Baha’is, staged an anti-homosexuality march in Uganda yesterday in response to an increase in pro gay rights activism in that country. While the protesters were united in their hope that the law would not be changed such that it would discourage family values, there were a variety of views on homosexuality being expressed by them and the banners they carried.

I feel it is worth saying a few words on the Baha’i attitude toward homosexuality here. In the Baha’i Faith sexual acts between two people of the same sex are not permitted. Sex is only permitted within marriage and marriage is viewed primarily as the institution for bringing children into the world, becoming a Baha’i when you are not married involves a commitment to abstain from sexual activity, just as it requires a commitment to abide by other laws too.

As with all religions, the Baha’i Faith presents love as a very powerful force, and for the love between any two people to be strong is to be seen as a positive thing, much moreso than popular culture generally dictates. It is only the sexual expression of that love which is forbidden outside of marriage.

A Baha’i would typically treat a homosexual and a heterosexual with the same dignity and respect, a homosexual is not seen as an evil person. The Baha’i teachings are for every individual Baha’i to apply to their own lives, and every Baha’i will have some short comings in this respect. Baha’is do not judge people simply because there is one obvious aspect of their life which is not in keeping with the teachings of Baha’u’llah, whether they have accepted Baha’u’llah or not. Within the Baha’i community if an individual is seen to be actively engaging in homosexual activity, as with any Baha’i law that is broken, they are likely to be discouraged or have certain administrative privileges removed. An addiction to, or inability to restrain from, homosexual activity is seen in the Baha’i teachings as a condition which can be treated.

The fundamental laws and teachings of the Baha’i Faith were set in stone by Baha’u’llah. There are some matters that were left for the Universal House of Justice (International governing body) to decide in accordance with the needs of the age, but they cannot change the basic laws of the Baha’i Faith to meet with popular opinion. Any individual who becomes a Baha’i will investigate the laws and teachings of Baha’u’llah, be inspired by the Holy Writings and recognise that the religion is from a Divine source, it is inevitable that somewhere in the laws and teachings there will be something that is incompatible with an individuals personal beliefs to that date, but to accept Baha’u’llah as a Messenger from God is to accept that His teachings are correct and our ideas are flawed, to suggest that Baha’u’llah may be wrong on one issue is to deny His divinity and thus reject the Baha’i Faith. It is common for an individual to have problems or issues accepting a view-point which is contrary to everything they have believed throughout their life, it is not unreasonable that such issues may never be fully reconciled or understood, so long as a Baha’i understands the Baha’i perspective as the Truth and their own perspective as restricted by the limitations of human understanding then there is no harm in such differences.

Religion is not about finding a code of living that everybody agrees with, it is about discovering the path for our spiritual development as individuals and as a society. Religion has never been popular for changing standards, but many religious standards that were unpopular in the past are accepted as proper today. For example (though somewhat disconnected from the overall subject matter) in the mid-nineteenth century the explicit Baha’i message that men and women should have equal rights was seen by many as outrageous, within a century it was globally prevalent and society is better for it.

There is a fairly good Wikipedia article on the Baha’i Faith and homosexuality which can be found here.

15 thoughts on “The Baha’i Faith and homosexuality”

  1. Thank you for this clear and accurate post, James. Sadly, the whole issue of homosexuality (for or against) has become polarized and politicized. The Baha’i teachings on this issue (as on others) are neither polarized nor politicized.

  2. I am glad that you addressed this issue, which has had a lot of publicity in the past couple of days since the Uganda demonstrations took place. Barney has it right: polarization and politicization of this issue have muddied the waters.

    It is unclear to what extent, if at all, the Baha’is in Uganda were actually involved in these demonstrations. It is to be hoped that they will distance themselves from a militant anti-homosexual stance, which is clearly not in line with Baha’i teachings. Baha’is do not advocate prejudice or discrimination against anyone on any grounds, including sexual orientation. We support civil and human rights for everyone. To regard homosexuals with prejudice or disdain would be contrary to the spirit of the Baha’i teachings. While the only permissible sexual relations for Baha’is are between a man and a woman who are married, Baha’is do not treat the laws and principles of their faith as public policy prescriptions; that is, Baha’is do not try to impose their beliefs and standards on the general population. Rather, we seek to transform hearts and bring about an entirely new way of life in which all may feel that they can progress spiritually and learn ever more fully how to abide by God’s will.

  3. a well timed post… i just returned from Uganda where the Bahai church joined in a protest calling for the arrest of a group of gay activists…. for being gay. they weren’t having sex, just seeking understanding.

  4. Interesting. You say that Bahais treat gays with respect, yet the Uganda Bahais aren’t showing that. Why, I have always wondered, doesn’t the Universal House of Justice write an emphatic letter to all communities that they must reach out to gays and welcome them into the communities? There are a few letters here and there about not being prejudiced, but nothing strong enough to counteract the prejudices that exist in the Bahai community. Oh and btw, I’m gay, 5 generations Bahai and have lived in communities throughout the world, so I knwo what I’m talking about. I’m no longer active because I know that Bahais like to maintain this myth of being tolerant and loving, yet it is one of the most unwelcoming communities towards homosexuals as any. Pretty much equal to Souther Baptists or Islamists. I’ll take the Unitarians over Bahais any day.

  5. James, you state that “it {religion} is about discovering the path for our spiritual development as individuals and as a society.” Precisely. Hence the Baha’i slogan of “There is no room in my heart for prejudice.” For Bahais, spiritual development necessarily involves the removal of prejudice from our hearts. Problem is, that in regard to gays/lesbians, Bahais fail miserably in this regard. You cannot promote the stance that same-sex love is a perversion which should be “corrected” without promoting prejudice against lesbians/gays. Can’t have it both ways, fella. And this is exactly what the anti-gay demonstration in Uganda demonstrates.

    Cheers –

    Barb

  6. I don’t see any conflict between the Baha’i view on homosexuality and having a heart free from prejudice. To have a prejudice is to have an opinion about somebody or a hostility toward them based unjustly upon one unrelated fact (typically race, gender, religion, colour etc.). Whilst it is the bottom line that two openly and actively practising Baha’is cannot also be openly and actively practising homosexuals, this does not mean that a Baha’i automatically develops a derisory opinion of such individuals. Were that to be the case then you would have to assume that Baha’is were also prejudiced against common-law couples, sexually active teenagers and aging men who like to have pint of beer at the pub on a Friday night.

    I don’t doubt the anonymous writer who claimed to face a lot of prejudice against homosexuals among Baha’is, there is a lot of it in our society and therefore there will also be prejudiced members of the Baha’i Faith. In my formative years several of my Baha’i friends from whom I learned a lot about the Faith were openly very loving and friendly toward their homosexual friends, while some of my associated who were not Baha’is would have shunned somebody they knew was gay.

    The Baha’i Faith is not pro-homosexuality. It is not a Faith that you can accept as a sexually active homosexual without accepting a change of life style. The laws of the Baha’i Faith do not, however, allow for prejudice against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, such prejudice is against the teachings of the Faith. The Baha’i law on homosexuality is one of many that challenges modern day thinking and practises, those many laws impact on the lives of every individual who seeks to obey the teachings of Baha’u’llah, both in terms of what Baha’is shouldn’t do that we might otherwise desire and in terms of what they should do that is not common practise among our peers. The laws are part of a Divine model for living. I sympathise with those individuals who are convinced that their homosexuality is an aspect of their life that must be practised who also find everything else about the Baha’i Faith to be true, while the laws of the Faith, when properly applied, must have a deep impact on everyone who embraces the Baha’i Faith, the impact is clearly very harsh on active homosexuals, individuals who may even feel torn into choosing between their spiritual and emotional identity.

    I am certain though, that the Baha’i model is as opposed to genuine prejudice against individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation as it is opposed to active sexual expression of homosexuality within the Baha’i community itself.

  7. Yes, talk is cheap – and that’s why you must look at the actions of a person. If a Baha’i treats you with respect and love, then it is equally as unfair for you to judge them as prejudiced as it is for them to pass judgment against you. It is in our actions that our beliefs become manifest – and Baha’is can fall short, same as anyone else. Each of us is going to fall short of the standard. That does not necessarily equate to the failure of the standard.

    As is stated in the original post, “…to accept Baha’u’llah as a Messenger from God is to accept that His teachings are correct and our ideas are flawed, to suggest that Baha’u’llah may be wrong on one issue is to deny His divinity and thus reject the Baha’i Faith.”

    Further, I don’t believe that your sexuality is really my business. I would rather shape my view of you by any number of other characteristics. Perhaps you sing or write well, you are a good parent, you work tirelessly & are giving of yourself to the world around you, you are a good teacher, or you have a green thumb…all of these things make up who you are moreso in my view than what you choose to do consensually in private.

  8. The Bahai faith – in its current form – discriminates against homosexuals and promotes prejudice. It is also blatantly rejecting of the majority of Western medical scientific opinion that states homosexuality is random in nature, normative for the homosexual and not a pathology, as well as generally not curable or treatable. The current UHJ team reject this as politcal and biased – how demeaning to gays and lesbians and how convenient! This is extremely insulting to the gay and lesbian community (in and out of the faith) as the Bahai faith claims to embrace science. I guess it only embraces science when it doesn’t run contrary to the homophobic remants of the culture out of which the faith came.

    A shame, this whole issue is making a joke out of the faith and clearly playing a role in its lack of growth and the numbers of members who have chosen to leave. I’ve seen Internet postings from both gay and straight Bahais that this is one of the number one reasons for unenrollment.

    And one last time – you can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim to belong to a credible faith that actively promotes an end to all forms of discrimination and yet discriminate against a portion of the population via religions law. And just for the record – I will believe that the Bahai faith promotes gender equality when I see that some women are represented on the UHJ.

  9. The Universal House of Justice have explicitly stated that “To regard homosexuals with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of Bahá’í Teachings”.

    If you would say that a tennis club discriminates against people who want to join to play football then you can argue that the Baha’i Faith discriminates against homosexual activity because it does not accept the practise as part of a healthy Baha’i life. However, the Baha’i Faith quite explicitly forbids followers from judging or discriminating against people on the basis of any difference, including sexual orientation.

    The Baha’i Faith does not merely claim to embrace science, it states that science and religion work better when they are in harmony with each other. There are matters in science that will only be fully understood through the light of religion and there are matters of religion that will only be fully understood through science. Scientific knowledge is rarely absolute, it is usually a “best guess” at how things work. I have tried to find the scientific evidence that homosexuality is a purely genetic condition but the only research I have found has shown some genetic similarities among, but not limited to, homosexuals, I would really appreciate receiving some references (by email or as comments here) to scientific articles that have a more conclusive opinion.

    Whether Baha’u’llah was a Manifestation of God or not is a claim that every individual must examine for themselves. In religion there are tests, laws may be in place for our obvious benefit, for the creation of a healthy society, or even simply to develop us spiritually through sacrifice and obedience, fasting is an obvious example of the latter. To be a Baha’i you must accept these laws as tests for yourself and there is no suggestion that you would reject, as people, those who do not accept and follow the same Baha’i teachings, indeed the acceptance of non-believers is a fundamental law of the Faith. ‘Abdu’l-Baha explicitly stated that in this day love for your fellow man is not limited to the other followers of the Faith, but applies to the whole of humanity. The suggestion that because a homosexual Baha’i would have to refrain from homosexual activity it therefore follows that all Baha’is must be prejudiced and discriminatory towards all homosexuals does not, in my opinion or experience, apply.

    “In every dispensation, there hath been the commandment of fellowship and love, but it was a commandment limited to the community of those in mutual agreement, not to the dissident foe. In this wondrous age, however, praised be God, the commandments of God are not delimited, not restricted to any one group of people, rather have all the friends been commanded to show forth fellowship and love, consideration and generosity and loving-kindness to every community on earth. Now must the lovers of God arise to carry out these instructions of His: let them be kindly fathers to the children of the human race, and compassionate brothers to the youth, and self-denying offspring to those bent with years. The meaning of this is that ye must show forth tenderness and love to every human being, even to your enemies, and welcome them all with unalloyed friendship, good cheer, and loving-kindness. When ye meet with cruelty and persecution at another’s hands, keep faith with him; when malevolence is directed your way, respond with a friendly heart. To the spears and arrows rained upon you, expose your breasts for a target mirror-bright; and in return for curses, taunts and wounding words, show forth abounding love.”

    (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 20)

  10. James,

    1. Your first statement from the UHJ is pure hypocrisy.

    2. Your follow-up statements on the science issue are dishonest – the Faith promotes an acceptance of science as one of its selling points.

    3. The Bahai faith promotes itself as universal – the last time I checked, the concept of religious universalism applied to ALL people (whether an adherent of a particular faith or not).

    4. I am going to assume that by questionning the evidence of a genetic cause/link to homosexuality that you are alluding to your faith’s very homophobic teaching that gays and lesbians can be cured – gee, why don’t you just come out (no pun intended) and say it.

    5. One last question: Is that a pic of you and your wife? It looks like a wedding pic….this makes me sad – you know, sad that I will never have a Bahai wedding with my same sex partner because THE BAHAI FAITH IS COMPLETELY INTOLERANT AND DISCRIMINATES AGAINST HOMOSEXUALS!!!!

  11. Dear anonymous, this is obviously a very sensitive issue for you, it was Baha’u’llah who founded the Baha’i Faith, revealed the laws and exhorted his followers to love all mankind and treat them without prejudice. Baha’is believe that it is possible to obey the laws and live without prejudice, if you disagree that they are compatible then that is your view which you are entitled to.

    With respect to science and religion, perhaps I was not clear but I believe my statement was honest. Baha’is promote the harmony of science and religion. ‘Abdu’l-Baha said that they should be as two fingers of the same hand. This is not quite the same as accepting every current scientific theory as dominant over what Baha’is see as Divine Revelation.

    By openly asking for people to provide references to scientific research that supports the nature over nurture argument I am seeking to further my own understanding on the issue, I am not alluding to anything. In the blog entry I made reference to the Baha’i perspective that a doctors advise, along with prayer, can help in overcoming same-sex sexual desires where an individual cannot achieve this for themself.

    The picture is of my wife and I enjoying our first dance on our wedding day, and it was a Baha’i wedding ceremony. I am sorry that the picture makes you sad. We all have our difficult tests and challenges in life and I presume you must see an element of truth in the Baha’i Faith else you would not be unhappy that you cannot have a Baha’i wedding with your partner. I do not envy your situation. The Baha’i Faith will not change in its laws and teachings, they were set in stone by Baha’u’llah and even if every Baha’i in the world wanted them to change it could not happen. You will eventually have to decide in your heart which path is right. If, in the final analysis, you cannot identify a Faith as being true if it does not allow sexual relationships except between a man and woman in a marriage, then I hope you will still be able to gain from whatever other wisdom you have found in the Baha’i Faith.

    I do think that it is hard to read the Baha’i view on homosexuality in a society where people are quick to suggest that anything other than the popular view is homophobic and prejudiced. The Baha’i teachings on homosexuality must be taken in the context of all the Writings on unity, on love and fellowship, and in context of all the other laws and teachings on sex and relationships. Love and unity are the fundamental laws of the Baha’i Faith, if anybody reads another law and believes that it does not fit with love and unity then they have not understood it. I’m sorry to say, s you know, that many Baha’is forget this too, but a solid reading of the Writings of Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and/or the Universal House of Justice will make this perspective evident. It is easy to find inidvidual Baha’i laws, but they are all small parts of a much bigger whole.

    I know nothing I can say will make your own personal situation any easier to deal with. But I do wish you all the best and will pray that you find peace with your circumstances.

  12. James,

    While I believe that you are absolutely sincere in your post it still comes across as patronizing and full of condescension. Yuck! Is all I can say. If that is an attempt at tolerance and a heart free of prejudice I don’t know what else to say….I don’t get your fundamentalist apologetics.

    You do not need to sympathize with my situation and I am at peace. My reference to your wedding pic(although it could be considered insensitive on your part given the topic) was meant as hyperbole.

    One last point and I am finally signing off on this topic. Homosexuality is tolerated in Westerm culture – it is not yet accepted or we faggots and dykes wouldn’t be fightin’ so hard (and winning little by little)our rights. These questions about the stance of your faith and its homophobia are sensical and timely – the majority of Medical and Psychiatric Associations in the Western world pronounce homosexuality to be healthy and non-pathological. Medical institutions are believe me, not swayed by what is popular. Science has won out on this issue – not politics.

    The Bahai faith can change – and it will. Eventually homosexuals will be able to stay a part of the Bahai community (and enjoy a sex life), as well as marry. It’s coming and old school fundamentalism won’t be able to stop it. Sorry James, you are just going to have to become comfortable with the idea of us gay folk having equal rights in all things Bahai.

    Peace!!!

  13. I am sorry if I sounded condescending, perhaps it is because I am defending myself against accusations of dishonesty and allusive speech and trying to give a heart-felt answer to a concern that apparently didn’t really exist. I doubt it is down to prejudice, you presume a lot in that statement. If fully active homosexuals could be fully active Baha’is I would be quite comfortable with that, I don’t believe I have said anything to imply otherwise.

  14. James,

    I accept your apology. Peace brother. We are both Bahai and may we both live to see a diffent world and a diffent religion. I think at the end of the day we both want the same thing. Maybe we can struggle together.

    This is my last post.

    And btw, my name is Aaron.

    Shalom!

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