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Religious Tolerance logo

The Baha'i faith:

Part Fundamentalist and Part Liberal.
Recent Conflicts about Homosexuality.

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The nature of the Baha'i faith:

Religions -- and individual denominations or traditions within religions -- are often classified using terms like fundamentalist, mainline, liberal, and progressive.

The main characteristic of a fundamentalist religion or denomination is a belief that the founding writings are:

  • Inerrant: they are totally free of error as interpreted by the group, and

  • Infallible: they make no easily misunderstood statements on any matter of faith and practice."

The Baha'i faith is clearly fundamentalist in nature. An anonymous author, writing under the pseudonym "wordsandtheword" said that the faith:

"... is fundamentalist, for it claims, quite explicitly,  that its founding prophet, Baha’u’llah, and his writings, are infallible and inerrant.  Likewise, it claims, quite explicitly, that Baha’u’llah’s successor, his son Abdu’l Baha, and his son’s successor, Shoghi Effendi ... are likewise infallible, and that their official writings are, likewise, inerrant, which, predictably, also includes the idea that they are contradiction-free:

    'In attempting to understand the Writings ... one must first realize that there is and can be no real contradiction in them.'

And it claims, again, quite explicitly, that the Universal House of Justice, the legislative body presently acting as head of the faith, is likewise infallible in its collective decisions.  As for the ordinary believers:

    'our part is to cling tenaciously to the revealed Word and to the institutions that He has created to preserve His Covenant'.

And, as Shoghi Effendi has written:

    'Either we should accept the Cause without qualification whatever, or cease calling ourselves Baha’is'." 1

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On the subject of sexual activity, Baha’u’llah wrote a brief passage about human sexuality almost two centuries ago:

"It is forbidden you to wed your fathers’ wives. We shrink, for very shame, from treating the subject of boys." 7 [Emphasis not in the original]

Most people probably would interpret the highlighted part of that passage as referring to adults engaging in sexual activity with underage boys. Modern-day terms for adults who have this form of sexual attraction are referred to as:

  • pedophiles: adults who are sexually attracted to prepubescent children.

  • hebephiles: adults who are sexually attracted to children about 11 to 14 years-of-age, and

  • ephebophiles: adults who are sexually attracted to teens about 15 or 16 years-of-age.

These modern-day terms refer only to sexual attraction, whether they are acted upon or not. Baha’u’llah would seem to be referring in his passage to adults who acted on their feelings of attraction by engaging in sexual activity specifically with underaged boys.

For an unknown reason, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957) interpreted this brief passage as a condemnation of ALL same-gender sexual behavior, whether by adult males or females, with person(s) of the same sex or of any age. That is, he condemned all same-sex behavior, even consensual activity between adults with a homosexual or bisexual orientation in a loving, committed, and exclusive relationship. That included married same-sex couples. His interpretation of the writings by Baha’u’llah are considered to be infallible and inerrant. Since he failed to select a person to continue his interpretive role after his death, it will not be easy for the Baha’i faith to change his interpretations, now or in the future.

On the other hand, in practice, the Baha'i faith is in many ways quite liberal and progressive in nature. From its founding, they have promoted:

  • world peace,

  • the peaceful resolution of international conflicts,

  • star symbol respect and adoption of the findings of science,

  • harmony between science and religion,

  • cooperation among religions,

  • elimination of prejudice,

  • equality of men and women,

  • universal education,

  • respect for other world religions, and

  • an emphasis on personal good works. 2

As a result, the Baha'i faith has characteristics both of an very conservative and very liberal religion.

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This appears to have produced internal conflicts. For example:

  • The Baha'i faith is sexist.
    • Women are excluded from serving in the Universal House of Justice, irrespective of their qualifications, solely because of their gender. 1

    • "... certain Baha’i inheritance laws favor male children." 1

  • While many, perhaps most, members of the faith are tolerant and accepting of members of the LGBT community, Baha'i rulings:
    • Restricts all sexual activity to married couples.

    • Limits marriage to the union of one woman and one man.

    • Expects single members to remain totally celibate.

  • Shoghi Effendi wrote:

"... ...according to the Bahá'í Teachings no sexual act can be considered lawful unless performed between lawfully-married persons. Outside of marital life there can be no lawful or healthy use of the sex impulse." 3

At the time that he wrote this, the concept of same-sex marriage had not been widely discussed. All legal marriages worldwide were between one man and one or more women. If he were to write this passage again for today's audience, he undoubtedly would have specifically excluded same-sex marriages.

He also wrote:

"Amongst the many other evils afflicting society in this spiritual low water mark in history is the question of immorality, and over-emphasis of sex. Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, is spiritually condemned. This does not mean that people so afflicted must not be helped, and advised, and sympathized with." 4

  • Members of the Baha'i Universal House of Justice have written:

    "... ...it is clear from the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh that homosexuality is not a condition to which a person should be reconciled, but is a distortion of his or her nature which should be controlled or overcome. This may require a hard struggle, but so also can be the struggle of a heterosexual person to control his or her desires." 5

    and:

    "... Bahá'u'lláh has clearly forbidden the expression of sexual love between individuals of the same sex. However, the doors are open for all of humanity to enter the Cause of God, irrespective of their present circumstance; this invitation applies to homosexuals as well as to any others who are engaged in practices contrary to the Bahá'í teachings. Associated with this invitation is the expectation that all believers will make a sincere and persistent effort to eradicate those aspects of their conduct which are not in conformity with Divine Law." 6

    and

    "... we summarize below some of the fundamental points made in the attached extracts:

    • Homosexuality is strongly condemned by Bahá'u'lláh ...
    • The Bahá'í Writings do not point to the causes of homosexuality ...
    • They do state that Homosexuality is an 'aberration', and is 'against nature. ...'
    • Homosexuality can be overcome... and
    • The individual is expected to make an effort to overcome the affliction." 6

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. A discussion conducted on the listserv Talisman One, available at: http://bahai-library.org/
  2. "The Baha'i World Faith: Its Stand on Same-Sex Love," GayToday.com, at: http://www.gaytoday.com/
  3. "Messages from the3 Universal House of Justice, 1963-1986," Section +235, at: http://bahai-library.com/
  4. "The Baha'i faith and homosexuality," at: http://bahai-library.org/
  5. Sara Reardon, "Epigenetic 'tags' linked to homosexuality in men," Nature magazine, 2015-OCT-08, at: http://www.nature.com/
  6. T.C. Ngun et al., "PgmNr 95: A novel predictive model of sexual orientation using epigenetic markers," Event Pilot, undated, at: https://ep70.eventpilotadmin.com/
  7. Bahá'u'lláh, "The Kitáb-i-Aqdas," Bahá’í World Centre, 1992 edition, Paragraph 107, at: http://reference.bahai.org/

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Copyright © 2016 & 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-JAN-13
Latest update : 2017-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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