I would like to respond to some notes I’ve read recently from a presentation given at the Vancouver conference of the Association for Baha’i Studies (ABS). The ABS invited Ms. Lynne Schreiber to present a talk on “Re-thinking Same-Sex Attraction,” and lists many Baha’i quotes on the issue of homosexuality. The list can be read here.
I’m particularly interested in #2 on the list, for a couple of reasons: first of all, I fail to understand how it supports her point; and secondly, it seems to contradict the statements made by the Universal House of Justice that are quoted so frequently on the list. Every quote given here from both Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice demonstrates the intolerance and hatred the Haifan Baha’i Faith has for their homosexual brothers and sisters, and the hypocrisy of the organization who preaches the unity of mankind and the elimination of prejudice, while perpetuating the outdated and prejudiced view that homosexuality is a disease which must be cured.
Let’s take a look at quote #2 from Abdul-Baha, and consider how it actually hinders her argument, rather than supporting it. Abdul-Baha says, “Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears, nor comprehend with another’s brain.” This statement, with which I happen to agree whole-heartedly, speaks more to those heterosexuals who would claim that homosexuality can be cured through prayer and determined effort than it does to anyone else. How can a heterosexual, who has grown up never questioning their sexuality, never struggling with their romantic feelings in this way even begin to presume they know the first thing about it? They can’t “comprehend with another’s brain,” can they? They can’t begin to understand the struggle that rages in a gay child’s mind the first time he’s confronted with the idea that homosexuals are disgusting, perverted, or mentally ill. It may very well have never crossed his mind that the feelings he has are anything out of the ordinary – until it’s pointed out to him by people he believes “know best.”
Of course, I’m speaking here from personal experience. I had my first crush on a boy when I was in kindergarten, and it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with that. I don’t remember the first time I realized it was unacceptable, but I do know that point was made quite clear to me throughout most of my school days. I remember clearly from 1st grade onward being called a “faggot,” “pansy,” “queer,” “gay,” etc. It wasn’t until 4th grade that I realized myself that I was in fact gay, and it was still another two years before I accepted it as a fact.
I’d grown up in a fairly conservative Protestant Christian home, and at the Church of Nazarene, homosexuality was considered a serious sin. I’d always been taught that if you ask God for help, He’ll help you – but you should always try and meet Him half way. Well, considering the fact that I couldn’t help whether or not I found another boy attractive, I fully admitted to God that I couldn’t meet him halfway, and I needed His help to take this feelings away from me. I prayed for two years that God would make me “normal,” but after seeing no improvement in my situation, I finally realized maybe God didn’t really care if I was gay – maybe that’s just the way I am! I accepted my homosexuality at the age of 12, and though that lightened the burden, it still didn’t change the way other people thought of it. So it would be another few years before I actually came out.
That’s my story, in a nutshell, and just as Abdul-Baha seems to suggest, it’s a personal experience that no one else can begin to comprehend – particularly not straight people.
Now, the other part of Abdul-Baha’s quote I find interesting is: “Depend upon your own reason and judgment, and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation; otherwise you will be utterly submerged in the sea of ignorance and deprived of all the bounties of God.” This is exactly what I’ve done!
As I suggested earlier, this quote contradicts the statements of the Universal House of Justice, and undermines Ms. Schreiber’s points. If I’m to adhere to the outcome of my own investigation and rely upon my own reason, then I have no need to for the biased statements made by the Universal House of Justice – a group of (presumably) heterosexual men who have never seen with my eyes, nor heard with my ears.
I resent their statements suggesting that I’m “afflicted” with a “great burden,” and that my “aberration” should be “subject to treatment.” And I’m offended that they would consider me to be born with “deficiencies.” To say that I am a “distortion of human nature” – a statement that is completely subjective, and not based on any sort of fact – is hurtful. Bahais are forbidden from inflicting suffering on others, yet the Universal House of Justice causes pain and suffering time and time again, based on their distorted views of scripture. I refuse to risk being “deprived of all the bounties of God” by relying on a bunch of straight men’s reason rather than my own, and I pray that God with open their hearts and minds to the wonderful diversity that exists in mankind. This is an important value in the faith, yet people’s own judgments often cloud their vision, so that they can’t see the beauty that exists before them.
The Haifan Baha’i Faith is trapped in its 19th century view of the world, and while its ideas may have been quite progressive 100 years ago, the Haifan organization has failed to show any true progress when it comes to eliminating all forms of prejudice. Consider that in the 19th century, it was considered inappropriate for a woman to be unmarried and live alone, hold property, or keep her own income. Women were, for the most part, not allowed to become doctors, lawyers, or hold any other job traditionally attributed to men – not because they were incapable, but because that was simply “the way things were.” To rely on an argument based upon societal practices and traditions, rather than Truth is not what the faith is about. Why call yourself a Bahai if you’re going to exclude one portion of society from the equality and unity you preach?
Just for the sake of interest, I’m attaching an article I read some time ago that was presented at a Bahai meeting of scholars in 1996, which really shed some light on the issue of sexuality in the Kitab-i-Aqdas. I think it’s particularly important when studying scripture to consider the original language, rather than relying on translations, and Mr. Armstrong-Ingram does an excellent job of that here.