Monday, June 25, 2012

Homosexuality: Missing Scripture Mystery

Many members of the the Baha'i community may be surprised to learn that, according to a "Homosexuality" compilation by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice (UHJ) of the Baha'i Faith, there is no Baha'i scripture on homosexuality. Baha'i scripture is conventionally defined as writings of Baha'u'llah, founder of the Baha'i Faith, and his son, 'Abdu'l-Baha. Nonetheless, the central, highest leadership of the Baha'is is on record claiming that Baha'i scripture on homosexuality does exist. Where is it? What does it say? This article presents the missing scripture mystery and some of its implications.

Homosexuality is an attribute of people -- homosexuals -- a lot of people estimated to number in the 1% to 5% ranges of the population. That is, for every one billion humans, there would be from 10 million to 50 million homosexuals. These statistics may emphasize the significance of the absence of Baha'i scripture on the subject. Search of Baha'i scripture on the internet fails to find the words "homosexuality" or "homosexual".

On the other hand, Shoghi Effendi, the central leader of the Baha'i Faith, known as the Guardian, from 1921 to 1957, signed off on letters written on his behalf that scripture on homosexuals does in fact exist:
...Bahá'u'lláh has spoken very strongly against this shameful sexual aberration... (25 October 1949)

All he can tell you is that it is forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh... (26 March 1950)

Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, is spiritually condemned. (21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

Homosexuality is forbidden in the Bahá'í Faith by Bahá'u'lláh... (20 August 1955; Lights of Guidance, pp. 368-369, #1230)
These clearly anti-homosexual statements emphasize the significance of the missing scripture mystery. Did Shoghi Effendi, and later the UHJ, imagine and use alleged unpublished scripture by Baha'u'llah to justify their own homophobia? If so, was it fair to blame Baha'u'llah for their own anti-homosexual bias? What can be done now to remedy such an injustice, if the alleged scripture was in fact a fabrication?

Several explanations of the missing scripture mystery might be considered.

Solutions to the Missing Scripture Mystery
Option #1. Perhaps Baha'u'llah did write about homosexuals, as alleged by Shoghi Effendi, but that scripture has simply not been published yet. If this is true, one might ask why.

One possibility is that this Baha'i scripture on homosexuals is so shocking in the context of current sensibilities that Baha'i authorities have decided to suppress it, keeping it secret. This theory may gain a little credibility given that the Baha'i Faith teaches the oneness of mankind and at the same time Baha'u'llah is alleged to label such a huge population of humans as afflicted, abnormal, condemned and the like. This labeling practice, attributed to Baha'u'llah, might be seen as poor public relations or even pointless name-calling.

Some may argue that "shameful sexual aberration" is a rather harsh and even cruel description of tens of millions of human beings and that this suggests that writings by Baha'u'llah on homosexuals must in fact exist to justify these statements.

The above references by Shoghi Effendi to writings by Baha'u'llah on homosexuality date from 1949 to 1955. One may speculate that these writings were retrieved and authenticated only after the passing of 'Abdu'l-Baha (who had nothing to say on the subject), some 28 years later.

Option #2. Another explanation may be that Baha'i scripture on homosexuality in fact does not exist.

This option is supported by the "Homosexuality" compilation released by the UHJ cited above which begins with quotations from Baha'u'llah's major Book of Laws where several prohibitions are listed. The "subject of boys" item appears to prohibit pederasty -- sexual contact with, or rape of, minor males by adults. Sodomy -- generally defined as anal sexual intercourse -- is also prohibited. However, as is well known, pederasty and sodomy prohibitions apply to both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Indeed, since heterosexuals out-number homosexuals by twenty to one (up to 100 to one), by the estimates mentioned above, statistically, the vast majority of acts of pederasty and sodomy would no doubt be committed by heterosexuals.

In conclusion, these quotations from Baha'u'llah tell us precious little specifically about homosexuality or homosexuals. These considerations are further supported by the bulk of UHJ guidance in the compilation, repeatedly emphasizing in considerable detail that heterosexuals and homosexuals should be treated equally by Baha'is and Baha'i administrative units.

It may be remarkable that 'Abdu'l-Baha is not cited at all in the compilation. Part of the mission of his ministry spanning almost three decades (1892 - 1921) was to interpret (i.e., explain the meaning of) passages in Baha'u'llah's writings. Of course, if writings or teachings by Baha'u'llah on homosexuals or homosexuality (as an attribute of homosexuals) do not exist, there was nothing to interpret, nothing for 'Abdu'l-Baha to say about the subject. Therefore, the lack of any statements whatsoever by 'Abdu'l-Baha further supports the option that Baha'i scripture on homosexuality does not exist.

Some Missing Scripture Implications
In sum, presently available evidence suggests that there is no Baha'i scripture on homosexuality, which implies that Shoghi Effendi's claims to the contrary may be falsehoods. Of course, publication of such scripture would vindicate his claims.

But if Option #2 is correct, it is not clear what may have happened to prompt Shoghi Effendi to endorse letters based on non-existent scripture by Baha'u'llah. In his defense, one might argue that Shoghi Effendi thought that pederasty or sodomy were somehow equivalent to homosexuality. On the other hand, this defense might be seen as weak and unconvincing because it assumes lack of knowledge of English or lack of general intelligence or both. However, by all accounts, Shoghi Effendi was very intelligent and a master of the English language. In short, he had a dictionary and knew how to use it.

Setting speculation aside, observers seem to be left with the impression that homosexuals and heterosexuals should be treated equally without prejudice, but specific writings of Baha'u'llah which have not yet been disclosed sanction calling tens of millions of homosexuals every unsavory name in the book -- afflicted, abnormal, unnatural, aberrant and even forbidden.

Meanwhile, the UHJ has gone on record: "Homosexuality has been forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh in His Book of Laws..." (3 July 1990), although the author has yet to find this passage. Perhaps the complete Book of Laws has not yet been disclosed. Needless to say, this sort of text cannot be a confidence-builder for tens of millions of people who have generally been persecuted by society since the beginning of mankind. The obvious and almost unthinkable next step might be termination of people forbidden to exist. One might suspect that many Baha'is would want to see this passage by Baha'u'llah. Why has it not been released?

Some may offer the very weak argument that it is homosexual behavior that is forbidden. But, as far as is known, Baha'i scripture does not single out homosexuals alone in prohibiting any specific behavior, as discussed above. In short, the clear negative attitude toward homosexuals may reflect prejudices of society more than any alleged and unpublished Baha'i scripture.

The UHJ further writes:
...One could have concluded that homosexuals could well establish stable relationships with one another for mutual support, similar to the marital relationship of a heterosexual couple who cannot have children... But Bahá'u'lláh, having divine knowledge of human nature, shows that such a relationship is not a permissible or beneficial solution to a homosexual's condition. (16 March 1992)
This dramatic passage strongly suggests that Baha'u'llah did write about homosexuals and that this scripture must be highly specific beyond anything previously contemplated.

Indeed, some might consider this passage to be a milestone in the Baha'i Faith where it is alleged that Baha'u'llah has shown that it is not "permissible" for untold millions of people to have "stable relationships". Who thinks up this stuff? Perhaps this alleged scripture has been kept secret since it so markedly violates the fundamental teachings of the Baha'i Faith.

In conclusion, many Baha'is might prefer that Baha'i authorities promote the Baha'i community as a safe haven for homosexuals and that any official statements including the implied name-calling based on undisclosed scripture be retracted or that the scripture justifying the quoted statements be released to the public.
© 2012 James J Keene


  1. Even though the Bahá'í Scriptures do not explicitly prohibit homosexual intercourse, kindly consider an unauthoritative assertion of this humble servant.

    What Bahá'u'lláh does explicitly prohibit in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is adultery.

    "Ye have been forbidden to commit murder or adultery, or to engage in backbiting or calumny; shun ye, then, what hath been prohibited in the holy Books and Tablets."
    - Bahá'u'lláh

    Some definitions of adultery do not include fornication. Hence, such definitions don't include extramarital homosexual or heterosexual activity. However, in note #36 of the Most Holy Book, the meaning of adultery in the above quotation is explained to include fornication.

    "The Arabic word 'ziná', here translated as 'adultery', signifies both fornication and adultery. It applies not only to sexual relations between a married person and someone who is not his or her spouse, but also to extramarital sexual intercourse in general."

    The implications of this prohibition of adultery need to be understood within the context of Bahá'í marriage. The Master explains what Bahá'í marriage is:

    "The true marriage of Bahá’ís is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God. This is Bahá’í marriage."
    - `Abdu'l-Bahá

    One could argue, though, that marriage is not restricted, in the quote above, to only a husband and a wife. However, with sufficient information about what a thing is, one does not need information about what a thing is not. For example, with an accurate definition of an apple and of an orange, one can determine that the two fruits are different. A same-sex marriage does not have both a husband and a wife. Therefore, it is not the same as a Bahá'í marriage, which must have a wife and a husband both, as indicated in the quote.

    Since Bahá'í marriages are defined as being between a husband and wife, and Bahá'ís can only participate in sexual activity within a Bahá'í marriage, homosexual activity is, thus, prohibited in the Bahá'í Faith. However, it should be noted that this reasoning only applies to the actions of Bahá'ís and not their sexual orientation per se, according to the imperfect understanding of this servant.

    1. Thank you very much for your comments, which, I note, do not dispute the conclusion in the final paragraph of my little article.

      On the one hand, one might say, as a heterosexual, I don't have "a dog in this fight". On the other hand, as a person with many homosexual friends over a life-time, many in the Baha'i community including many quite famous persons, I've always been interested in this issue.

      I have no dispute with your comments. I only hope my articles on Baha'i topics might be of service perhaps by stimulating thought. Your approach seems sort of theological, stringing points together in if-then statements to reach a conclusion. Nothing wrong in principle with that. I suspect it will take many years to resolve some of these issues. E.g., the meaning of "husband" and "wife" -- homosexual couples may exhibit their own version of these roles. E.g., who cooks and who takes out the garbage. To say that "homosexual activity is ... prohibited" assumes some definition of what that is. All too often, the listener may fill in their own perhaps uninformed definitions. Meanwhile, the article states all prohibitions in the Baha'i Faith based on the Book of Laws apply equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals. Consider your "homosexual activity is ... prohibited" statement and this hypothetical one: "heterosexual activity is OK". Is either one complete or useful for any purpose? I think not.

    2. Some additional thoughts in reply to Anonymous:
      1. First, to have any credibility at all in serious discourse, state your position under your real name; identify yourself.
      2. Your complex, even contrived argument is for theologians and lawyers, who would be lucky to follow it, much less ordinary people. Religion is for ordinary folks.
      3. From #2, I stand by the article concerning _what_ is prohibited from the Book of Laws and that these two prohibitions apply equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals. Ordinary folks can understand that. Meanwhile, you really need to work on yourself -- your apparent desire to prohibit things and claim that the Baha'i Faith is responsible. This is just how Shoghi Effendi and the UHJ got themselves into trouble -- making up things and blaming Baha'u'llah for it.
      4. I hope that your spurious experiment in logic and its conclusion are not presented publicly at Baha'i schools, etc. They are your take, your opinion and not official Baha'i information. Perhaps your time would be spent better in writing accounts of the enormous contribution to Baha'i advancement done by homosexual Baha'is. These are facts, not lawyerly arguments nobody can understand.
      5. "Official" positions would come from the Baha'i Administration. One of the major points of the article goes way beyond the topic of homosexuality -- namely the apparent lack of integrity in official statements on this subject. This is a huge issue including the credibility of the Baha'i Administration itself to both the public and the Baha'i community. The resulting lose in credibility, say, at the level of the UHJ has been horrendous on just this one issue, where it appears social prejudice against homosexuals has dominated their outputs on this subject, rather than the fundamentals of the Baha'i writings. So the agenda is for the UHJ to work to regain credibility before proceeding with "official" positions aimed at past follies as presented step-by-step in the article.
      6. I humbly suggest you spend more time on larger more significant issues facing mankind. Exactly what (sexual) behaviors occur or not is publicly unknown anyway so there is little point in dwelling on what others do privately.

    3. "Ye are forbidden to commit adultery [zina], sodomy [lavit] and lechery. Avoid them, O concourse of the faithful. By the righteousness of God! Ye have been called into being to purge the world from the defilement of evil passions. This is what the Lord of all mankind hath enjoined upon you, could ye but perceive it. He who relateth himself to the All-Merciful and committeth satanic deeds, verily he is not of Me. Unto this beareth witness every atom, pebble, tree and fruit, and beyond them this ever-proclaiming, truthful and trustworthy Tongue."
      (Bahá'u'lláh, from a Tablet - translated from the Arabic)

      e are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery. Avoid them, O concourse of the faithful. By the righteousness of God! Ye have been called into being to purge the world from the defilement of evil passions. This is what the Lord of all mankind hath enjoined upon you, could ye but perceive it. He who relateth himself to the All-Merciful and committeth satanic deeds, verily he is not of Me. Unto this beareth witness every atom, pebble, tree and fruit, and beyond them this ever-proclaiming, truthful and trustworthy Tongue. -Baha'u'llah (From a previously untranslated Tablet) [2] [There is no exact English equivalent to the original passage and Arabic terms. Technically, the word translated as adultery is Zina and has a broader meaning and applies to sex outside of marriage even if not married, the word for sodomy is Liwat and applies to homosexual acts (typically between men), and the third Arabic term, khiyanah, means unfaithfulness or betrayal.]

      Secretariat of House of Justice 9 May 2014 letter to an individual[29]:

      "The contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality, which began in the West and is increasingly promoted in other parts of the world, generally takes the form of a false dichotomy, which compels one to choose between a position that is either affirming or rejecting."

      "While Bahá’ís hold specific beliefs about human identity, sexuality, personal morality, and individual and social transformation, they also believe that individuals must be free to investigate truth and should not be coerced."

      "To regard a person who has a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain is entirely against the spirit of the Faith. And where occasion demands, it would be appropriate to speak out or act against unjust or oppressive measures directed towards homosexuals."

      "Just as Bahá’ís do not impose their views on others, they cannot relinquish their principles because of changing trends in popular thought."

  2. The entire premise of your argument is misstated. Baha'u'llah explicitly prohibited zina and lavit.

    "Your letter asking for direct or indirect references in the Writings of the Faith to rape or sexual assault was referred to the Research Department, and we have been asked to convey to you the following comments.
    "Lechery" is clearly forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh (see "Epistle to the Son of the Wolf", p. 49) and Shoghi Effendi has stated that a "chaste and holy life", according to the teachings of the Faith, implies a condemnation of "all manner" of "sexual vices"(See "Advent of Divine Justice", p. 25.).

    As to the contents of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, one of the provisions of that Most Holy Book is "not to indulge one's passions" (see "Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas", p. 50). Furthermore, reference should be made to one of the "prohibitions" mentioned on page 47 of the "Synopsis", namely "adultery". This word so appears in this book because entries in a synopsis should by necessity be brief, and by the original word used by Bahá'u'lláh in the Aqdas, i.e., "zina", adultery is generally and mainly intended. However, this by no means covers all the meanings of the concept of "zina" in legal language used in Arabic and Persian. One of the forms of "zina" — i.e., when the illicit sexual intercourse is performed through force or violence — is rape or sexual assault.

    As to the punishments for such acts as rape, these will be determined in the future by the Universal House of Justice." (From a letter dated 8 June 1982 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)

  3. After almost a decade from the publication of this article, it continues to be a popular item. Its readers may include major players at the Baha'i International Centre in Haifa. One indication might be that official statements seem to drop the previous homophobic tone and adopt the more fair approach that the article advocates -- namely, that both heterosexuals and homosexuals play by the same rules regarding a selection of prohibited sexual behaviors. One may agree or disagree with the particulars in the list, but equal and fair application to all persons is welcomed as a good step in the right direction. Perhaps an even better sign of progress is clear statement that homosexuals should not be singled out as objects of "prejudice or distain". This progress is a welcome and remarkable development which may come to distinguish the Baha'i community from most others that continue "unjust or oppressive measures directed towards homosexuals." Still pending is the further step to aggressively promote the Baha'i community as an important refuge for homosexuals, as it has been from nearly its inception. For example, a disproportionately high percent of Baha'is noted for high distinction and achievements have been homosexuals.