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The Bahá'í Faith and homosexuality

1987 Universal House of Justice letter.
1993 meeting of a pro-LGB group.

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1987 Letter on behalf of the Universal House of Justice:

A letter from the Research Department to the Universal House of Justice dated 1993-JUL-5 cited an earlier letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, directed to a physician who apparently counseled lesbians and gays. It was dated 1987-MAR-22, and said that persons with homosexual orientation can change their same-sex attraction, and were otherwise expected to live a celibate life.

The letter stated, in part:

"...the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a 'natural' or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as an aberration subject to treatment, however intractable exclusive homosexuality may now seem to be. 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. As for those now afflicted, a homosexual does not decide to be a problem human, but he does, as you rightly state, have decision in choosing his way of life, i.e. abstaining from homosexual acts."

"Your plea for understanding of and justice extended to homosexuals is well taken in many respects, and the House of Justice assures you of its concern for the large number of persons so afflicted. Your work with the homosexual community is praiseworthy, and it permits you personally to exercise the support which is necessary for these often harassed persons, support which you call for in your essay. Moreover, your interest cannot but be therapeutic, at least for the more superficial elements of the problem; however, definitive therapy of the underlying predisposition, which you consider to be innate but the Teachings do not, may have to await additional investigations. As for the responsibility of Assemblies and of individual Baha'is, certainly all are called upon to be understanding, supportive and helpful to any individual who carries the burden of homosexuality.

"As a young physician, you may wish to use this quotation, taken from a letter written by the Guardian to an individual believer in March l9S0, as your guidance: "To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap."

Over two decades have passed since the writing of the original letter. In spite of extensive research and study, no effective method of preventing homosexual or bisexual orientation has been found. Also, no treatment to change a person's sexual orientation has been developed, with the exception of reparative therapy which appears to have a success rate less than 0.1%.

1993 gay-positive meeting:

On 1993-SEP-3 to 5, at the request of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States, a group of gays, lesbians and supporters gathered in Reno, NV to discuss the beliefs and practices of the Baha'i Faith with regard to homosexuality. The meeting was organized by the Local Spiritual Assembly of Reno and members of the Gay Baha'i Fellowship. On a letter to the Assembly dated 1993-SEP-20, they raised a number of points:

In an apparent reference to the high suicide rate among gays and lesbians, they said:

bullet"Many of us have been in hiding from our Baha'i communities, we have all been made to feel unwelcome in our own religion. For a few of us, it seems that alienation, confusion, and despair has been too heavy a burden to bear."
 
bullet"Many of us believe that this issue revolves around the Baha'i principle of the reconciliation of science and religion."
 
bullet"None of us has found in all our efforts any evidence whatsoever that a homosexual can be changed into a heterosexual by medicine or psychological treatments. Our personal experience supports the accepted view of science."
 
bullet"...recent data strongly suggests that sexual orientation is not only non-pathogenic, but prenatal, in fact in part genetically determined."

They cite a conflict between:

bullet"On the one side, a person's unchangeable sexual and emotional needs, supported wholeheartedly by medicine and psychology and further strengthened by a global movement in Gay and Lesbian rights. On the other side, the morality and censure of their chosen Faith. This is no small dilemma." 2

The group produced a series of recommendations to the Assembly:

bullet"...greater compassion and forbearance in regarding homosexual Baha'is." They suggested that administrative action be taken against gay or lesbian Baha'is only in cases of "genuine public scandal."
 
bulletAn end to "backbiting, intolerance, and unkindness" directed at gays' and lesbians' private behavior. They called for an end to a double standard; they felt that homosexuals and heterosexuals were treated differently for the same behaviors. The asked for a review of all cases where voting and other rights were removed from gays or lesbians.
 
bulletCreation of a learned committee "to develop a plan to enlighten and educate the American Baha'i community concerning homosexuality..."
 
bulletCreation of a group: Baha'i Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (BPFLAG), modeled after the existing, secular PFLAG.
 
bulletThe Gay Baha'i Fellowship provide a speakers bureau as a resource to the Baha'i community.
 
bulletThe Assembly should make a "clear statement about whether gays and lesbians are welcome in the Baha'i Faith." They expressed concern about the negative effect that lack of acceptance of homosexuality by the Baha'i Faith is having upon individuals in the scientific, civil rights, and progressive religious communities.
 
bulletThat Auxiliary Board Members and their assistants be provided "with up to date materials, resources, and background on this subject." They expressed concern that "the focus to date has been one of "changing' sexual orientation which is not a reachable goal, in light of current scientific findings."
 
bulletThe Assembly should instruct Local Spiritual Assemblies to stop encouraging marriage as a cure for homosexuality in view of the disastrous consequences that generally result. They recommended that lists of AIDS resources and support organizations be made available all Baha'i institutions and individuals.
 
bulletThe group offered to consult with the National Spiritual Assembly about these recommendations.

They received no response from the Assembly at the time. However, the latter have since gone on record as welcoming gays and lesbians as members, as long as they make a "sincere and persistent effort to eradicate those aspects of their conduct." Presumably this means that they try to change their sexual orientation and/or remain celibate. More details below.

References used:

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

  1. "The Bahai's and the homosexuals," at: www.studiedocumenten.googlepages.com/  This is a PDF file.
  2. Letter containing recommendations to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States from a gay-positive group is at: http://bahai-library.org/

Copyright © 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-OCT-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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