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What does it mean to honor an abusive spouse or parent? Does it mean you have to put up with their abuse? Does it mean you have to visit them? Take care of them in their old age? Stay in an abusive marriage? These are some of the questions I asked myself and I’d like to share some of my understanding of the Bahá’í Writings on this important topic.

First of all – is the abuse ongoing?

If so, you need to get out and get help. Contact your local crisis shelter immediately.

Abusive Spouses

First of all, violent acts are forbidden and Assemblies are not to tolerate domestic violence.

The National Spiritual Assembly will not tolerate domestic violence and condemns its existence. Violent acts are forbidden. The Universal House of Justice has said: “Acts of violence might properly be regarded as a negation of the persistent emphasis on concord, understanding and unity which are at the heart of the Bahá’í Teachings.” (Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 22 September, 1983)

The Baha’i Faith recognizes that domestic violence is a criminal act connected with an inability or unwillingness to apply the principle of equality and to recognize the right of everyone to be treated with consideration and respect.

The National Spiritual Assembly wishes to convey to the Bahá’í community a clear message that acts of domestic violence are at complete variance with the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and that violence in the family is a practice to be condemned. In addition, domestic violence is a criminal act in the United States. Such behaviors, on the part of either men or women, are rooted in longstanding social practices connected with an inability or unwillingness to apply the fundamental spiritual principle of the equality of women and men, and to recognize the fundamental right of every human being to be treated with consideration and respect. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 20)

While we know that suffering may be the cause of spiritual development, it’s never a justification to

• ignore abuse
• fail to assist those who are suffering
• fail to call to account one who is perpetrating abuse

Recognizing that suffering may be the cause of spiritual development is never a justification for inflicting or ignoring abuse, failing to assist those who are suffering abuse, or failing to call to account one who is perpetrating abuse. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 134)

If a woman suffers abuse or rape by her husband, she can turn to the Assembly for assistance and counsel and seek legal protection. This abuse would gravely jeopardize the continuation of the marriage and could well lead to irreconcilable antipathy.

If a Bahá’í woman suffers abuse or is subjected to rape by her husband, she has the right to turn to the assembly for assistance and counsel, or to seek legal protection. Such an abuse would gravely jeopardize the continuation of the marriage, and could well lead to a condition of irreconcilable antipathy. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself suggested that women remain faithful and forbearing towards her husband but if his cruelty became unendurable, she should leave him to himself and live separately from him:

There is a case recorded where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to a Western believer who had sought His advice. She was told that she should remain faithful and forbearing towards her husband but, should his cruelty become unendurable, she should leave him to himself and live separately from him, as this was better and more acceptable. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 July, 1987)

It takes courage to report an offence but it can provide the perpetrator with the motivation to change; and allowing the situation to continue through our silence could be a greater evil than the abuse itself.

This motivation [to change] is often propelled by the courage of those who report the offence, even in the face of the possibility of temporarily increasing the danger to the victim. Allowing the situation to continue, by silence, may very well be the greater evil. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, Canadian Bahá’í News, Kalimát, B.E. 150, p. 44)

If Assemblies counsel a couple to stay together under these circumstances, there’s no guarantee the violence will not recur and if so, the Assemblies would appear to be condoning it.

If, alternatively, the couple is counseled to remain together to try and reconcile their differences, there can be no guarantee that the violence will not recur, in which case the Assembly could appear, inadvertently, to be condoning it. (National Spiritual Assembly of Australia’s Policy Regarding Domestic Violence, From Australian Bahá’í Bulletin, July 1990)

Couples are encouraged to separate and seek treatment from professional counselors:

At present the prevailing method, within the Australian community, of treating domestic violence, is to advise the couple to separate and to seek treatment from professional counseling services. It is suggested that Assemblies follow this method of treating domestic violence also. (National Spiritual Assembly of Australia’s Policy Regarding Domestic Violence, From Australian Bahá’í Bulletin, July 1990)

After the couple separate, the Assembly can provide an independent forum within which the couple can try to resolve their differences.  If the couple separate, however, the role of the Assembly can then become that of providing an independent forum within which the couple can come together and try to resolve their differences. (National Spiritual Assembly of Australia’s Policy Regarding Domestic Violence, From Australian Bahá’í Bulletin, July 1990)

Overcoming domestic violence in Baha’i communities requires us to develop an environment:

• in which abusive behavior is not tolerated
• where individuals are sensitive to the warning signs of abuse
• in which no individuals or families are so isolated that they have no one to turn to in times of difficulty
• in which there is a “spirit of loving encouragement and support to families

Overcoming domestic violence requires developing an environment in the community in which abusive behavior is not tolerated, in which individuals are sensitive to the warning signs of abuse, in which no individuals or families are so isolated that they have no one to turn to in times of difficulty, and in which there is a “spirit of loving encouragement and support to families…” (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 119)

If you are in an abusive relationship, please get help!

Abusive Parents

There are some clues on what you can do for them in this quote:

Also a father and mother endure the greatest troubles and hardships for their children; and often when the children have reached the age of maturity, the parents pass on to the other world. Rarely does it happen that a father and mother in this world see the reward of the care and trouble they have undergone for their children. Therefore, children, in return for this care and trouble, must show forth charity and beneficence, and must implore pardon and forgiveness for their parents. So you ought, in return for the love and kindness shown you by your father, to give to the poor for his sake, with greatest submission and humility implore pardon and remission of sins, and ask for the supreme mercy. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 17)

From this quote we see that there are two concrete things you can do:

1. Implore pardon and forgiveness for their sins. You can do it by remembering that:

It is seemly that the servant should, after each prayer, supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents. Thereupon God’s call will be raised: ‘Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense!’ Blessed is he who remembereth his parents when communing with God. (The Báb, Lights of Guidance, p. 230)

And you can use this prayer when praying for them:

O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals of this Dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love, Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 64)

2. Give to the poor in their name

Click here for some good stories of generosity which might inspire you.

3. You can also thank God (and your mother) for giving birth to you:

It behooveth man, upon reaching the age of nineteen, to render thanksgiving for the day of his conception as an embryo. For had the embryo not existed, how could he have reached his present state? (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 89)

I don’t know how old you are, but it doesn’t matter, since there is no age in the spiritual world. If you aren’t yet 19, or if you’re long past 19, you can still say this prayer!

The past, the present, the future, all, in relation to God, are equal. Yesterday, today, tomorrow do not exist in the sun. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 116)

There are many wonderful prayers for forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is boundless! Hopefully you can find one that resonates with you:

Forgiveness

Forgiveness for Others

There are ways you can be kind to them now without having contact; particularly through prayer. This will help in two ways – it will help both you and them. Have you seen this quote by the Báb?

It is seemly that the servant should, after each prayer, supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents. Thereupon God’s call will be raised: ‘Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense!’ Blessed is he who remembereth his parents when communing with God. (The Báb, Lights of Guidance, p. 230)

Perhaps it’s a bit self-serving, but the Báb must have told us this to motivate us to pray for them!

Here’s a prayer you can say for your parents:

O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals of this Dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love, Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 64)

Being kind to our perpetrators doesn’t mean we have to spend time with them. Again these quotes from the House to me and a friend of mine, helped me make those decisions:

Such an attitude (forgiveness and insight into their actions) does not preclude your being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents. In reaching your decision you should be guided by such factors as their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past, the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings, and the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them. In the process of reaching a decision, you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 9 September, 1992)

The House of Justice has noted with sympathetic understanding the despair to which you have been driven by the recurrent incidences of cruelty and neglect you have been made to endure . . . Under the circumstances you have so amply described, you should feel free to separate yourself from them to the extent possible. Their behavior towards you grossly violates the norms of parental relationship with a child, and this fact can be taken into consideration if and when you decide to get married. (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 7 August 2001)

To summarize – we can use the following criteria in deciding how much contact to have:

  • their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past
  • the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings
  • the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them

And we can look at having their right of parenthood removed when we want to get married.

The insights which have helped me are knowing that my abusers have to meet their Maker and be called to account for what they did.

Know verily, that while the radiant dawn breaketh above the horizon of eternal holiness, the satanic secrets and deeds done in the gloom of night shall be laid bare and manifest before the peoples of the world. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Persian 67)

I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed it with My seal of glory. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Persian 64)

So I can trust that God sees what they’ve done and can leave justice in God’s hands!

I’ve often found this quote interesting:

In the same way they consider that the spiritual punishment, that is to say the torture and punishment of existence, is to be subjected to the world of nature, to be veiled from God, to be brutal and ignorant, to fall into carnal lusts, to be absorbed in animal frailties; to be characterized with dark qualities, such as falsehood, tyranny, cruelty, attachment to the affairs of the world, and being immersed in satanic ideas; for them, these are the greatest punishments and tortures. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 324)

Try to look at your abusers and see how many of these apply to their lives.

Are they:

  • subjected to the world of nature?
  • veiled from God?
  • brutal and ignorant?
  • fallen into carnal lusts?
  • absorbed in animal frailties?
  • characterized with dark qualities such as

• falsehood?
• tyranny?
• cruelty?
• attachment to the affairs of the world?
• immersed in satanic ideas?

If so, these are among their spiritual punishments.

I love this quote by Bahá’u’lláh. It seems to offer us a step-by-step process we can use to stay close to Him. I think if we can remember to take all of these steps every day, we can be prevented from engaging in negative interactions with others:

Deprive not yourselves of the unfading and resplendent Light that shineth within the Lamp of Divine glory. Let the flame of the love of God burn brightly within your radiant hearts. Feed it with the oil of Divine guidance, and protect it within the shelter of your constancy. Guard it within the globe of trust and detachment from all else but God, so that the evil whisperings of the ungodly may not extinguish its light. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 325)

The steps are:

  • let the flame of the love of God burn brightly within your radiant hearts.
  • feed it with the oil of Divine guidance
  • protect it within the shelter of your constancy
  • guard it within the globe of trust and detachment from all else but God, so that the evil whisperings of the ungodly may not extinguish its light.

My compilation Violence and Abuse: Reasons and Remedies might be helpful – it contains all the quotes I found to help me recover from childhood abuse

You might also find lots of gems in this book: Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence

How has this helped your understanding of this topic? Post your comments below!