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What Do Baha’is Believe? Sexual Orientation

Maya Bohnhoff | Apr 4, 2014

PART 1 IN SERIES Asking Questions

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Maya Bohnhoff | Apr 4, 2014

PART 1 IN SERIES Asking Questions

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

The Baha’i Faith encourages, welcomes and honors the basic human urge to ask questions.

In fact, one of the months in the Baha’i calendar is even named Questions (Masa’il, in Farsi). The Baha’i teachings start by urging everyone to undertake their own independent investigation of truth – to ask the questions and seek the answers a spiritual search always raises. In some religious traditions questions are discouraged – but not in the Baha’i Faith, which actively encourages all questions.

This series is devoted to answering a set of questions that came to us from students of a college comparative religion class. They’re questions that I’m often asked, so they seemed worthy of answering here in the event that others of our readers have wondered the same things.

Question: The Baha’i religion believes that everyone is equal, no matter what ethnicity or gender, but what about sexual orientation?

According to the teachings of Baha’u’llah, we have one duty toward each other — that is to love. This love, the Baha’i scriptures repeatedly remind us, must be universal because God’s love is universal:

“…the oneness of the world of humanity shall be realized, accepted and established. When we reflect upon this blessed principle, it will become evident and manifest that it is the healing remedy for all human conditions. All mankind are the servants of the glorious God, our Creator. He has created all. Assuredly He must have loved them equally; otherwise, He would not have created them. He protects all. Assuredly He loves His creatures; otherwise, He would not protect them. He provides for all, proving His love for all without distinction or preference. He manifests His perfect goodness and loving-kindness toward all. He does not punish us for our sins and shortcomings, and we are all immersed in the ocean of His infinite mercy. Inasmuch as God is clement and loving to His children, lenient and merciful toward our shortcomings, why should we be unkind and unforgiving toward each other? As He loves humanity without distinction or preference, why should we not love all? Can we conceive of a plan and policy superior to the divine purpose? Manifestly, we cannot. Therefore, we must strive to do the will of the glorious Lord and emulate His policy of loving all mankind.” — Abdu’l-Baha, from a talk at St. James Methodist Church in Montreal, 1912, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 315.

Couple holding handsLike Christ, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha really leave us no “wiggle room”. We are to love everyone and not make exceptions. This even extends to differences in what Abdu’l-Baha calls “shades of thought”:

Do not allow difference of opinion, or diversity of thought to separate you from your fellow-men, or to be the cause of dispute, hatred and strife in your hearts. Rather, search diligently for the truth and make all men your friends. — Paris Talks, p. 53.

In another talk during the same period of time, he adds:

When you love a member of your family or a compatriot, let it be with a ray of the Infinite Love! Let it be in God, and for God! Wherever you find the attributes of God love that person, whether he be of your family or of another. Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet, whether of your country, your race, your political party, or of any other nation, colour or shade of political opinion. — Paris Talks, p. 38.

While Abdu’l-Baha specifically mentions ethnicity and politics (because these were the chief issues of the time) his words clearly apply universally. “Every human being whom you meet” comes with no “except these”. So, there are no differences recognized by God. Such things as race, gender, sexual orientation, and other realities of human existence are physical/material differences. The soul has no gender, skin color, ethnicity language, or sexual orientation; and Baha’is try to love every soul.

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Comments

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  • Dec 30, 2014
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    The crossroads of religion and sexuality can be a tricky one, particularly if people are tempted to regard the subject through the lens of current societal standards and attitudes. And even more so if those standards and attitudes are those of the West. These are standards the Guardian in no uncertain terms described as far too permissive to be an effective yardstick for measuring our own perceptions and behavior as Baha’is. (And if anything, the standards have gotten even lower and more permissive than they were in his time.)
    It’s a tough subject to tackle, because perhaps more so than ...anything else we might struggle with in this life, the standards that religion call us to regarding sexuality run sharply counter to what our natural urges or inclinations might be. Emotionally, we’re practically hard-wired to crave the companionship of an intimate partner. Physically, most of us have a robust sex drive that really doesn’t lend itself to monogamy, much less chastity and lifelong marital fidelity. Homo Sapiens is one of the few species on Earth that can have sex purely for pleasure, which complicates things even further.
    And yet, our religion, like others, calls us to chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within it. Furthermore, I would invite everyone to consider a particular teaching of Jesus Christ, which I think carries over to the Baha’i Faith. That being: His teaching that to look upon another with lust is to effectively commit adultery in one’s heart. Therefore, it would seem that the standard is not merely physical; it calls for chastity and fidelity of the eye and mind as well. Set against our natural inclinations, and the wildly over-sexed society we live in, that might seem like an impossible challenge to overcome.
    Still, I think that’s still what expected of us, and we can’t allow zeitgeist to cloud our thinking. However, the sheer magnitude of the struggle should be enough to remind us that being judgmental on a person-to-person basis is pointless. Because if all it takes to stray from the standard is a wayward glance or fleeting thought, then I think it’s safe to say we’re all stumbling clumsily along this path.
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  • Oct 25, 2014
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    The Baha'i Faith also strongly condemns sex outside of marriage for people of different genders.
  • Oct 25, 2014
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    I found this article to be a good beginning. I think to be fair to the topic, it would need to forthrightly include that the Baha'i Faith does not condone a gay lifestyle. Now, please..... before everyone (Baha'is and my other friends) get all upset..... this question goes back to a person's relationship with the source of these teachings. As a Baha'i, I have investigated the origin of the Faith and the authenticity of the teachings. To my complete satisfaction, I accept them as fully true and coming from God. Since I accept that God is smarter than ...I am, and has a broader picture of the world than I do, I am willing to defer whatever might seem "obvious" to me, if God says otherwise. I may be confused as to why, and I may be confused about how to become comfortable with my internal conflict. I am NOT sorry that God "didn't see things my way" and I don't feel that my Faith is antiquated or has missed the boat. I simply accept that there is something here that I have not yet fully understood. I trust God more than I trust myself, and I have satisfied for myself that the Baha'i Faith is the word of God.
    This aspect of the Baha'i teachings does not mean that Baha'is are to discriminate or to disassociate themselves from people based on sexual orientation (or on any other criteria, for that matter). It does not mean that gays cannot become Baha'is. It means that if any person becomes a Baha'i, that they have also done their research and that they accept the Baha'i Faith as the word of God. As such, they are expected to abide by the laws of our faith. That goes for all the laws, which also include honest work, the avoidance of gossip, respect for one's family, etc. -- and to do the very best they can at living by those laws. If there are laws they don't agree with, it becomes their responsibility to abide by them anyway, to study, to pray, and to try to understand -- but this is not a pick and choose buffet of options. You don't get to follow the laws you like and ignore the laws you don't like.
    It is also important to remember that the Baha'i Faith is not pointing fingers and saying that the rest of the world has to live by our laws. A sincere Baha'i person will treat everyone, Baha'i or not, with fairness, kindness, and brotherly love regardless of the many factors which sometimes create walls -- race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, intelligence, education, age, or whether they prefer cats or dogs. These are complex issues, and at times very emotional ones. Let's all proceed slowly and kindly as we explore them with respect.
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    • Oct 25, 2014
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      Thank you Judy. That was well said. Yes, there are things I do not understand, but I must accept. As the years go by I have been able to see the wisdom in some of the things I did not understand before.
  • Jul 26, 2014
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    While I agree with what's said by the other commentators, I like the article. It covers what so many other articles leave out—the importance of love, acceptance and diversity. Maya has taken a very fresh look at a popular topic. I'm sure most readers realise it's not the last word on the subject.
  • Jul 12, 2014
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    This is very nicely written, a pretty good start, and absolutely true... but to many people this short, tactful article doesn't answer the real question being asked here, I'm afraid. The Baha'i take on sexual orientation is a lot more complex than this and needs deeper discussion.
  • Maya Bohnhoff
    Apr 8, 2014
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    Gender orientation is not, itself, a sin. It is a fact of life. We all have some sort of gender orientation. What we do with that is between us and God. But It is worth pointing out that when Bahá'u'lláh was speaking of sin, backbiting was given the distinction of being the greatest because of its capacity for destruction of individuals and entire communities.
    Backbiting is not just easy to fall into, though, it's also considered positive in some segments of our society where it is called "gossip" or "venting".
    Think of that—how easy it is to judge ...and backbite, yet how serious compared to any other sin. Yet we so rarely see dire warnings about the wages thereof. God's priorities are not always our own and vice versa. Consider the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Most people I talk to cite sexual perversion as the reason for the destruction of those cities (leaving aside whether that destruction was material or symbolic). But the Bible actually gives a completely different reason. According to Ezekiel 16: 48-50
    “As I live,” says the Lord God, “neither your sister Sodom nor her daughters have done as you and your daughters have done. Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit."
    Which reminds me of something Muhammad revealed at the very end of the Qur'an: Hast thou observed him who belieth religion? That is he who repelleth the orphan, and urgeth not the feeding of the needy. Ah, woe unto worshippers who are heedless of their prayer; who would be seen (at worship) yet refuse small kindnesses! — Qur’an, Surih 107:1-7
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    • Maya Bohnhoff
      Apr 23, 2014
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      My point was twofold: 1) gender orientation is not a sin. Shoghi Effendi and the House of Justice have made that indubitably clear. Being homosexual is not a choice; the only choice involved is how one lives one's life as a homosexual or heterosexual, for that matter. 2) what sins are counted as great or small is in God's purview, not ours. God has determined that the law guiding how we treat each other is the most important law upon which all others depend.
      The student didn't ask whether homosexual behavior was permissible to Bahá'ís, she asked how Bahá'ís ...view people of different sexual orientations. Her concern was how people who were gay were to be treated. That was the question I answered and I felt a legalistic response was inappropriate.
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  • Melissa Hughes
    Apr 5, 2014
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    When I was a child one of my favorite people in the St Louis Baha'i community was Tommy G. He was such a warm person with a silly sense of humor, and a wonderful listener. His favorite word was "remarkable!". He was also gay, and HIV positive. I remember vividly his physical decline toward the end of his life, how this vibrant person was suddenly sapped of his vitality. I also remember how his weakened voice became so deep and melodious when he prayed at Feast. I treasure the little Christmas ornament of a boy on a rocking horse that ...he willed to me, given because I reminded him of himself as a child.
    I am glad to have known him, and to have learned from his example that homosexuality is not mutually exclusive with goodness and love of God.
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  • Michelle Hackler
    Apr 5, 2014
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    Baha'is also believe in independent investigation of the truth and that you are to confess your sins with no man. I am a transgender female who has be a Baha'i for over thirty years. Like any other Baha'i I have to deal with how I live my daily life and Baha'i Law. I am responsible for my own spiritual journey toward God, and my shortcomings are between God and myself. I realize that I do not have the right to disobey God's Law. But there are no ...differences in sinfulness in my sexual behavior as a transgender woman and heterosexual women or heterosexual men outside of marriage. Individuals in the Baha'i Faith who have sex outside of marriage will never be stoned to death or physically punished in any way. As individuals we are breaking a spiritual law which is between each individual and God. Baha'is do not believe in hell or in Satan. We are either becoming closer to God or drifting away from God. God judges our behavior and not man. All people are supposed to deal with each other in a kind, loving, and nonjudgemental manner. The sin that is most harmful to the soul is backbiting and gossip. We members of the GLBTQ community have to come to the understanding that we are just as good as anybody else and that all of us have the right to be Baha'is and join the Faith. God's message is for all of us. The Baha'i Faith is not a puritanical Calvinistic religion. As a person I do not have the right to judge myself, but I have the duty to respect and love myself. No one is perfect and we do not live in a perfect world. As the world becomes more spiritual than many of these issues will work themselves out, even if it takes 1000 years and God's next Messenger appears bringing God's Spiritual message. It is only recently that gays and lesbians have been able to have legal civil ceremonies, therefore the Universal House of Justice is going to have to decide how it is going to handle legally married non Baha'is legal civil marriages when they become Baha'is. I will admit I do not know of any current messages from the Universal House of Justice covering this matter. Whatever it is we members of the GLBTQ community have to come to believe in our own essential goodness and stop looking outside of ourselves for validation. Our validation comes from within ourselves and our own private relationship with God. We just have to deal with whatever issues life brings and deal with ourselves with love and kindness and without judgement. With this in mind we will somehow deal responsibly with whatever issues we have to face within our community of Faith whatever that is.
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    • Maya Bohnhoff
      Apr 8, 2014
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      Thank you for sharing this, Michelle. This is a very individual and personal walk we take with Bahá'u'lláh, and this is the spirit in which the student referenced in my article asked her question. As we regard people of different ethnicities or different genders, how do we regard people of different orientations?
      The answer is, we are to love them. There's a wonderful Buddhist parable that says that if two people are plowing a field and one looks over to see how his neighbor's row is doing, his row will become crooked.
      You make a wonderful point about ...internal validation that I think many of us miss. The laws of the Faith are to be written on our hearts. If we are successful, then, we are striving to meet a standard that is within us (much like the kingdom of God) and not something that is imposed from without.
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    • Michelle Hackler
      Apr 7, 2014
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      Yes, a heterosexual couple having sex outside of marriage can possibly get into alignment with Baha'i law by getting married, but this they may not always be able to get legally married for various circumstances. And if a transgender woman or man has surgery and gets all of the legal documents concerning their gender identity taken care of, can this individual have a Baha'i wedding with another person who is legally the opposite sex. I, really don't know. The point being that there are circumstances where a heterosexual couple may never be ...able to have a Baha'i wedding one of which is that they cannot get one of their natural parents to approve of it. This couple may not wish to split up because there are children involved. Also, when a couple does have a Baha'i marriage a spiritual bond may not form between them and they may be really living together as two individuals who are in continuous contention with each other. I feel that as a GLBTQ individual that I have to just come to terms with the fact that in the present the Baha'i laws concerning sexual activity outside of marriage are a spiritual lighthouse which are there to remind me that I am a spiritual being and that my life and my interpersonal relationships should not be based upon sexual activity. Sexual activity is a basic part of life which is not immoral, is based upon family and raising children and not solely for fun and games. That while I may have sexual relationships with another person outside of marriage, my relationship with that person should not be based upon it, but based upon a spiritual relationship with them. And yes, I am not keeping Baha'i spiritual law concerning sexual activity, and I can not have any kind of justification for doing that, that I am also breaking Baha'i spiritual law if I and not kind and loving of myself and judging myself harshly. Not keeping Baha'i spiritual laws brings complications into your life and creates many possibilities of building barriers between yourself and God. But being self-righteous about following Baha'i spiritual and social laws also creates many possibilities of you building barriers between yourself and God. Me being a transgender woman who was created by God, just has to live life the best that I can, and carry on my "Walk about" through the worlds of God coming to terms with my spirituality and my own struggles with God's spiritual and social laws to learn the lessons of life that God wants me to learn. This includes the fact that I may never be able to have another Baha'i marriage. The first one of over 28 years did not work out so well anyway, because we never formed a spiritual bond, and it ended poorly. For me trying to live in the male role in marriage keep me from being a real person and forming a real relationship, or me really being a woman, made it impossible for me to bond spiritually with my partner, who had her own spiritual struggles which she also kept to herself. Being a Baha'i is not easy.
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      • Rich Smith
        Apr 21, 2014
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        A person who completed their physical transition, and also had it legally recognized could, with parental permission etc., marry a person of the opposite sex to the sex that they have transitioned to. I know this because I wrote the House and got a reply, and I`m in transition now.
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