Sean is a gay third generation Baha’i who has been with his partner for ten years. He kindly agreed to give an interview about his experiences to God Made the Rainbow. This is the third part of a three part interview. Read the first part here and the second part here.
What do it mean to lose your administrative rights as a Baha’i? What impact does that have on someone’s participation in their community?
To lose your Administrative Rights is quite a blow to a Baha’i. Although you are not shunned you cannot attend the 19 Day Feast (which serves as a spiritual, administrative, and social meeting once a Baha’i month), you cannot give to the Baha’i Fund, and you cannot take part in Baha’i elections for Baha’i Administrative bodies. People who loose their Administrative Rights can only attend Baha’i Holy Days. Ultimately most people who lose their Administrative Rights become estranged from their faith community.
The way the law is applied in various Baha’i communities concerning gays and lesbians varies. The interpretation can be as strict as losing your Administrative Rights for being “flagrantly” gay (interpret as being openly gay). The more mature communities just leave their gay members alone as long as they “keep it under the radar”, renounce gay relationships and live lonely celibate lives, or go through therapy and become magically straight!
An interesting fact is that back biting is considered an awful offense like arson, theft, etc., yet my entire Baha’i life I never witnessed anyone losing their Administrative Rights over it: most of the Baha’i world would have to collectively loose thier Administrative Rights if we were going to be playing this game of “Scarlet Letter”.
How do you see the Baha’i faith ultimately resolving the conflict between Baha’i law and homosexuality? Do you think there is an answer?
I believe the future for gays in the Baha’i Faith to be bright. Gays will ultimately will find a place in the Baha’i Faith as their straight Baha’i peers become less homophobic. Baha’i Administrative Bodies will have to re-examine how Baha’i law is applied to gay Baha’is in committed relationships. There will have to be a campaign to educate Baha’is on the harm of homophobia, that homophobia is indeed a form of prejudice that has to be eliminated. Gay Baha’i Gatherings similar to the Black Men’s Gatherings will have to be formed to bring solace to the GLBT Baha’i Community.
Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
This interview is part of a irregular segment called God Made the Rainbow, promoting inclusive spirituality. Subscribe to SarahMcCulloch.com via Email so you don’t miss future posts! (or via RSS!)
Thank you so very much Sean and Sarah for this… as a Baha’i who lost his rights for marrying his partner of 12 years… I deeply appreciate Sean being honest and forthright here.
The Baha’i Faith is deeply mired in hypocrisy, bigotry, and homophobia at the moment… the more light is shed on this, the better it is for all.
Thank you all so very much for giving and honest and accurate picture of what the Baha’i Faith has become.
You are most welcome Daniel, and you are not the only one who has contacted me. I hope that people who have the power to change the rules will be able to hear the stories of everyone who has struggled between their Baha’i faith and their sexuality and be moved to change them.
Yes Sarah, that seems to be the stumbling block for many Bahais. They think that it is a Bahai Law not to treat gays with equality and I’ve yet to find one phrase in Bahai Scripture, Scripture that cannot be changed, that even hints at this.
Actually the “gay issue” is a very important one for the Bahai community because Bahais will need to see distinctions between ‘tradition’ (some Bahais even believe that letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi are part of unchangeable Bahai Scripture when it is clear it isn’t (see how)) and what Baha’u’llah, Abdul-Bahai + Shoghi Effendi clearly intended. So one reason for the ‘fear’ and prejudice is a fear of change. Ironic for a religion that has such amazing teachings. My latest blog is a conversation on some of these ideas. Thanks so much Sarah for your contributions to these issues. http://justabahai.wordpress.com/2010/10/30/a-conversation/
Hi Sonja, thankyou for your compliment on my blog. This blog series has one of the most popular articles that I have written, every day I get referrals from Google for angsty and heartbreaking search terms that I wish I could do something about. I find it extraordinary that there is this burgeoning gay Baha’i movement that the Baha’i leadership seems to be doing it’s best to ignore. It’s not that out-of-context compared with other religions, but before I started to research this issue, I thought that Baha’i was a lot more laid-back with stuff like this. Gender equality in the Baha’i faith is light years ahead of, say, Catholicism, the black men’s groups show that the Baha’i Faith can regret previosu stances – why this situation with homosexuality? It will be interesting to see how it plays out, and for the sake of my Baha’i brothers and sisters, I hope it comes soon.
After being in the largest Baha’i community in America, I have never found any individual who thinks that it is a Baha’i law not to treat gays with equality. To suggest otherwise I would consider to be a judgement by yourself. That doesn’t mean homosexual behavior is acceptable. The reference to homosexuality IS written by Baha’u’llah. I have read it. However the understanding of HOW it is written may be vague to some people. It is not written as “Homosexuality is forbidden”. As a Baha’i who repeatedly must have gone through Baha’u’llah and Abdul Baha, one would see the reference in the strongest terms specifically against such behavior. Shoghi Effendi saw that in the writings, as do the members of the Universal House of Justice…and myself. But some people don’t. There has NEVER been a religion which accepts homosexuality, and I think I am correct in saying that there never will be. Some people who are “religious’ or “clerics” may think that it is a debateable issue which they can use for their own gain. Something to be accepted or rejected according to their own determination. No one has the “power to change the rules”. If we did have that power, what would be the purpose of the Manifestations? If I break a Baha’i law (and I may have) then that should give me pause to reflect on how I might change MY behavior to live accoring to what is the reality of a spiritual person, not my own indulgent feelings. I hope you will continue to read until your search is finished.
there are an extraordinary number of people, including the person who wrote this article, who have commented, who have written on the blogs linked, who have had very different experiences of the Baha’i Faith’s treatment of gay people.
I think you miss several key points here, and I am presuming that this is because you are heterosexual and don’t know many, if any, gay people. The first is that “being gay” and “homosexual behaviour” go as much hand-in-hand as “being deeply religious” and “going to church”. Desiring a partner of the same sex is not on the same level as wanting a really nice car – describing being gay as submitting to “indulgent feelings” is utterly ludicrous. You can’t help who you’re attracted to, and you certainly can’t help wanting other people – both feelings are hardwired into you, and forcing people into involuntary celibacy creates all kinds of mental health problems (go look at the Catholic Church, for example).
The second issue is that all beliefs and principles of all traditions everywhere evolve with the passage of time. Maybe this has not yet happened with Baha’i, it’s only 150 years old, after all, but there are few faiths that haven’t ripped up some part of their constitution and subsequently broken down into different sects. Christianity has a major split every 400 years over their belief system after all, Islam has Sunni and Shi’a, the Jews have Orthodoxy and Reform, etc. This is because the “rules” to which you refer were laid down by men and can be changed by men. The power to change them will be either granted, taken, or Baha’i will burn out and vanish.
Finally, you say there will never be a religion which accepts homosexuality – go check them out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_and_homosexuality
I have read all that I need to on Baha’i, and I have a great deal of respect for people who try to reconcile their love for God with the demands of their faith than I do for people who fail to try to understand the pain and suffering of other people and palm them off with high-minded twaddle about the unchanging nature of revelation. I hope that your search will lead you to realise why one day.
Revelation does change until humanity does. However, it is not up to Humanity to change Revelation. So Sean, whom I know has made a cognitive decision to disobey a law for this period of Revelation. Who or what Sean is sleeping with or having a relationship with is not of personal importance to me as I am not his partner. I am amongst those who are single, heterosexual and celibate and would not be needing a Scarlet Letter of any type. This is not to say I am free from all transgressions equal to or worse than others. I agree with Sean that our current society and Baha’is live in and come from that society have aversions and prejudices toward homosexuals, which complicate the issue beyond religion and personal choice of sexual conduct. (Note, I am not saying sexuality is a matter of choice. If your homosexual, you are homosexual.)
Baha’is do lose Administrative Rights for repeated disregard for specific laws, such as consumption of alcohol, or recreational drugs, gambling, adultery of any form, and your basic tho shalt not swipe… kind of criminal statutes.
I would not presume to know if the laws regarding homosexuals will change in the future revelations in say 900 years or so. Laws regarding personal status have changed over the centuries in revelation. The status of women and children, slave and bonded, and non slave. Gentile and Jew all have changed. The laws regarding marriage, and divorce have also changed in response to the condition and maturity of mankind.
If your a Homosexual, Baha’i or not, at least the Baha’i Faith recognizes the legitimacy of your existence and elevates you to the same challenge of celibacy of we heterosexuals who remain single, and yes alone in the physical sense. This is not high-minded twaddle about unchanging nature of revelation, it is a recognition that revelation is not always convenient and easy.
Sean, I wish you well, not in spite of who you are, but because of who you are.
The fact that ‘there has NEVER been a religion which accepts homosexuality’ does not justify homophobia.
Also, on that point: Anglican church now accepts gay marriages as well as female priests. Is this not progressive?
You can’t hind behind your holy scriptures in order to justify discrimination.