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Abortion and the Bahá’í Faith

 

One of my readers asked:

I have a friend who is not a Bahá’í who is planning on getting an abortion. I am hesitant to get involved in any way and uncertain as to whether I should share the Faith’s view that a soul comes into existence at conception. I do feel very responsible for being aware that an embryo is a spiritual being, which she doesn’t seem to know/comprehend, and not doing anything. Any thoughts on this if you have time?

 I replied:

What a great question! Let’s start by looking at what the Writings say about abortion.

The soul appears at conception so it would be improper to have an abortion after conception has taken place:

It should be pointed out, however, that the Teachings state that the soul appears at conception, and that therefore it would be improper to use such a method, the effect of which would be to produce an abortion after conception has taken place. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

Abortion and surgical operations for the purpose of preventing the birth of unwanted children are forbidden in the Cause unless there are circumstances which justify such actions on medical grounds:

Abortion and surgical operations for the purpose of preventing the birth of unwanted children are forbidden in the Cause unless there are circumstances which justify such actions on medical grounds, in which case the decision, at present, is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the Teachings. Beyond this nothing has been found in the Writings concerning specific methods or procedures to be used in family planning. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

Abortion to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden in the Cause.

Abortion merely to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden in the Cause. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 343)

Circumstances might exist in which such an operation would be justified. In that situation, individual believers are called upon to make such a decision guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them and their own consciences.

It is clear that to have surgical operation merely to avoid unwanted children is not acceptable. However, as in the case of abortion, circumstances might exist in which such an operation would be justified. Individual believers called upon to make such a decision must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them and their own consciences. In arriving at a decision the parties must also take into consideration the availability, reliability, and reversibility of all contraceptive methods. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped foetus is a matter left to the judgment of capable professionals in the field, and the consciences of the parents

As to the permissibility of terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped foetus, this is a matter left to the judgement of capable professionals in the field, and the consciences of the parents. (Universal House of Justice, 21 May 1992, to an individual)

If a Baha’i becomes pregnant as a result of rape, it is for her to decide whether she should continue or terminate the pregnancy, and no pressure should be brought on her by Baha’i Institutions to marry:

One of the most heinous of sexual offences is the crime of rape. When a believer is a victim, she is entitled to the loving aid and support of the members of her community, and she is free to initiate action against the perpetrator under the law of the land should she wish to do so. If she becomes pregnant as a consequence of this assault, no pressure should be brought upon her by the Bahá’í institutions to marry. As to whether she should continue or terminate the pregnancy, it is for her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá’í Teachings. If she gives birth to a child as a result of the rape, it is left to her discretion whether to seek financial support for the maintenance of the child from the father; however, his claim to any parental rights would, under Bahá’í law, be called into question, in view of the circumstances. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Violence and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children)

At present, the House of Justice does not intend to legislate on this very delicate issue, so it’s left to the consciences of those concerned, who must carefully weigh medical advice in light of the general guidance in the Baha’i Writings:

Legislation on this matter has been left to the Universal House of Justice. At the present time, however, the House of Justice does not intend to legislate on this very delicate issue, and therefore it is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the teachings. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 343)

It would be unacceptable for a Bahá’í doctor to advocate abortion as a method of birth control and set up a clinic for that purpose:

All Bahá’ís are subject to Bahá’í law and Bahá’í standards. It would clearly be unacceptable for a Bahá’í doctor to advocate abortion as a method of birth control and set up a clinic for that purpose, or for a Bahá’í psychiatrist to publicly advocate sexual intercourse before marriage. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

Knowing all of this, of course you’d want to protect the life of the unborn child, and perhaps even save your friend from being considered a murderer in the eyes of God!

Keeping silent on this topic, however, might be one of the biggest tests of your life!

Not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed, nor can everything that he can disclose be regarded as timely, nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the capacity of those who hear it. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 268)

Rather than teaching your friend about the rules and regulations, it’s much better to fan the spark of faith with the love of God:

The Process of educating people of different customs and backgrounds must be done with the greatest patience and understanding, and rules and regulations not imposed upon them, except where a rock-bottom essential is in question. He feels sure that your Assembly is capable of carrying on its work in this spirit, and of fanning the hears to flame through the fire of the love of God, rather than putting out the first sparks with buckets, full of administrative information and regulations. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 78)

As with everything in the Faith, one topic cannot be examined without understanding a LOT of other principles, which isn’t always possible or desirable for a seeker without giving them spiritual indigestion!

You ask about ’spiritual indigestion’: Bahá’ís should seek to be many-sided, normal and well-balanced, mentally and spiritually. We must not give the impression of being fanatics but at the same time we must live up to our principles. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 112)

For example, Farzin Aghdasi gave a course for the Association for Baha’i Studies in Southern Africa (April-June 2000) on Reproductive Health, Abortion, Sacredness of Life, and Women’s Choice, in which she examined this topic from 33 following perspectives:

  • History of oppression against women
  • Societal patterns that would imprison women at home & abandon them to chores including child rearing
  • Religious support for mistreatment of women
  • Neglected condition of women’s health issues
  • Irresponsible male behaviour towards pregnancy, and maintenance of family
  • Consequences of sexual revolution, and unwanted pregnancies
  • Asserting women’s rights not to become victims vs. a licence for promiscuity or carelessness
  • Teenage pregnancy
  • Illegal, back street abortions
  • Timing of the appearance of the soul
  • Debates around when to consider the foetus as a separate individual
  • Viability of an independent life, and the first tri-mester
  • The potential for growth, and the definition of the individual
  • The right to life, and its limits
  • The role of education, and availability of counselling to women
  • Sex education before puberty
  • Moral education and abstention, vs. practical safe-sex lessons
  • The roles of the family and the school system
  • Building character and pride in nobility
  • Family planning: education, the tools and support system
  • Birth control: avoiding pregnancy vs. early termination
  • Mechanical, chemical and surgical tools for birth control
  • Social support systems for untimely pregnancy
  • Dealing with unwanted children
  • Adoption
  • African community practices that support social security
  • Abortion in rape cases
  • The unhealthy outcome of a politically polarized debate
  • Pure motives and an intelligent search for the solutions
  • The role of consultation
  • Finding pragmatic solutions to difficult situations
  • Strengthening Baha’i Assemblies to seek solutions within cultural context
  • A statement to the South African Government as part of the public debate on termination of pregnancy act.

This shows that the topic of abortion is a complex topic, which is probably why the House doesn’t want to legislate on this topic just yet. First we have to deal with the roots of the problem!

Another thing to consider, is that as a non-Bahá’í, she is not bound by the laws, because she hasn’t accepted Bahá’u’lláh’s authority. In a letter written by the House of Justice regarding a gay couple who wanted to declare, we read:

If persons involved in homosexual relationships express an interest in the Faith, they should not be instructed by Bahá’í institutions to separate so that they may enroll in the Bahá’í community, for this action by any institution may conflict with civil law. The Bahá’í position should be patiently explained to such persons, who should also be given to understand that although in their hearts they may accept Baha’u’llah, they cannot join the Bahá’í community in the current condition of their relationship. They will then be free to draw their own conclusions and act accordingly. Within this context, the question you pose about the possibility of the removal of administrative rights should, therefore, not arise. (Universal House of Justice, 5 March 1999 to an individual)

What this suggests to me is that even if people want to become Bahá’ís, (which your friend does not yet), if they know the law and don’t want to abide by it, it’s better that they not declare, so that they can continue living a life outside the law.

Our job as individuals is to be loving and forgiving:

In their relationships with one another individual believers should be loving and forgiving, overlooking one another’s faults for the sake of God, but the Spiritual Assemblies are the upholders of the law of God. They are embryonic Houses of Justice. The education of a child requires both love and discipline; so also does the education of believers and the education of a community. One of the failings of Bahá’ís, however, is to confuse these two roles, individuals behaving like little Spiritual Assemblies, and Spiritual Assemblies forgetting that they must exercise justice. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 499)

Even Bahá’í institutions in this situation, would be required to be one of education, encouragement, assistance and counsel:

The institutions of the Faith … do not pry into the personal lives of individuals. Nor are they vindictive and judgmental, eager to punish those who fall short of the Bahá’í standard. Except in extreme cases of blatant and flagrant disregard for the law that could potentially harm the Cause and may require them to administer sanctions, their attention is focused on encouragement, assistance, counsel, and education. (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 19 April 2013)

You might find it helpful to read another Bahá’í author on this topic:

One Bahá’ís Approach – Abortion

Finally, I’d like to end with a Baha’i Statement on Termination of Pregnancy, submitted by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of South Africa in response to the call by the Parliament of South Africa for public submissions prior to legislative action, which might give some other ideas:

The subject of wilful termination of pregnancy has been a controversial subject of great importance to many societies. Its many aspects have been discussed, argued, and debated with great conviction by many people in the last two decades. Despite much soul searching and sincere efforts many societies who have already legislated on this subject still find themselves with an unhappy state of affairs. Whatever the merits of these arguments on either side of the issue may have been, one thing is clear to the unbiased observer, namely that it has been a divisive subject. The Baha’i teachings offer a different and unified approach.

The primary purpose here is not to prescribe a specific course of action, but rather to present a universal framework, and to elaborate on those principles that must guide our collective search for a wise and just solution.

The fundamental Baha’i teaching is the oneness of mankind. This is the principle which is the pivot round which all the Teachings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha’i Faith, revolve. It has widespread implications, which affect and remould all dimensions of human activity. It calls for a fundamental change in the manner in which people relate to each other, and the eradication of those age-old practices which deny the intrinsic human right of every individual to be treated with consideration and respect.

The Baha’i sacred texts affirm the essential nobility of all human beings irrespective of colour, class, creed, gender or age. Each individual member of human race is a trust of the whole. “Nobel have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created,” are the revealed words written by Baha’u’llah. The sources of this nobility are the God-given talents, capacities and potentialities in each one of us. These endowments which distinguish the human race from all other forms of life are summed up in what is known as the human spirit.

The human spirit, or soul, is not confined to certain individual members of the species. It is the essential characteristic of all humans, much the same as heat is an essential quality of fire, or growth is the inseparable quality of the vegetable kingdom. The seed of a plant or a tree has all the attributes of the tree in a concealed form. In like manner a fertilised human egg has all the potentialities and attributes of man albeit in a concealed form. The human soul of an individual therefore comes to existence at the moment of conception. For this reason alone the practice of deliberate termination of pregnancy cannot be regarded as a routine solution for family planning.

While the soul is created at the moment of conception, it will continue to acquire perfections in this life and in the world beyond.

Recognition of this cardinal principle would determine our attitude towards human embryo. To treat either the embryo or the foetus as anything other than a human is to deny its latent potentialities. To consider a properly fertilised human egg as merely a biochemical object, to be disposed of at will, is no different than to reduce our own humanity to a clump of biochemical material in a sack made of skin, and devoid of all meaning or purpose.

Equally, the interpretation of embryo as a part of a woman’s own body, or determination of the exact age at which foetus becomes independently viable is to miss the point about the ultimate potential of a being who, for a while, is dependent on the good will of another person – the mother – whose unique privilege it is to extend such a gift of love, as life itself.

Considerations such as this make it abundantly clear that the resolution of these complex social problems does not reside in a mere code of legal practice. The social forces that demand the right of women to ask for abortion need to be addressed in an integrated and wholesome fashion.

The Baha’i Faith recognises the natural existence and the value of the sexual impulse, but it also believes in its regulation. The proper use of the sex instinct is the natural right of every individual, and it is precisely for this very purpose that the institution of marriage has been established and is regarded as a fortress for well being. The sexual expression is therefore confined between lawfully married couples. Observance of chastity before and fidelity during marriage therefore should be an integral part of one’s moral upbringing.

Within the family also there are definite relationships that define the role of its members. In this context the Baha’i Faith categorically declares the equality of men and women. All decisions should be arrived at as a result of a frank, free and loving consultative process within the family. Specifically the act of procreation must enjoy the consent of both husband and wife. In this aspect of the marital relationship, as in all others, mutual consideration and respect should apply. In view of the greater responsibilities of women, who not only will have to bear the child for 9 months, but who also must act as the first teacher of that child a greater measure of say must be accorded her in deciding when to fall pregnant.

The supreme role of education in this matter, as in so many other areas relevant to a developing society is abundantly clear.

Effective means of family planning, and provision of reliable methods of contraceptives should be encouraged. Those contraceptive methods that function by destroying the fertilised egg clearly vitiate against the principle of sanctity of the life of the embryo.

If the social support structures are in place, then the practice of abortion for the sole purpose of getting rid of unwanted children and without any extenuating circumstances is unacceptable to conscientious people.

As is the case with most matters of the law, such exceptional circumstances will always exist and should be catered for. One obvious case in question is where medical opinion determines that there are serious risks to the health of either the child or the mother, should pregnancy be allowed to continue. Another case is when the mother had no choice in the decision to conceive, and was a victim of rape, either as a result of violence or statutory grounds of being under legal age. In such circumstances the supportive attitude of the family, and the society will play an important role in making the decision to opt for abortion or to continue with the natural course of pregnancy, a decision which must ultimately rest with the mother. If after all the required counselling, and consideration of all the physical, medical, emotional, social and financial considerations, and the recognition of the potentials of the unborn child, the mother still opts for abortion, then the society must recognise her right not to be victimised. There may well exist other exceptional circumstances that would warrant the deliberate termination of pregnancy.

In summary, the Baha’i community, in its earnestness to contribute to the development process, wishes to stress that all those concerned with setting the human affairs aright would do well to first identify those salient spiritual principles that operate at the root of social issues. If these principles are used to guide our decisions then the outcome will be both enduring and beneficial to all segments of the society.

Of course, all of this is just my personal opinion, but hope it gives you something to think about! Let me know if I can be of further assistance!

Sex and the Year of Waiting

We live in a very selfish, materialistic environment and most of us have adopted the habits and beliefs of society around us.  This includes leaving a marriage when our needs aren’t met.  It’s all about “me”.

One of the great obstacles to progress is the tendency of Bahá’ís to be sucked into the general attitudes and disputes that surround them, to be influenced, for example, as you yourself pointed out, by the prevailing attitude to marriage so that the divorce rate becomes a problem within the Bahá’í community itself which should be an example to the rest of society in such matters.  (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 516-517)

This is not the Bahá’í standard.

By unconsciously absorbing the extremely lax morals and the flippant attitude towards divorce which seems to be increasingly prevalent in our society, we do not take divorce prevention seriously enough:

There is no doubt about it that the believers in America, probably unconsciously influenced by the extremely lax morals prevalent and the flippant attitude towards divorce which seems to be increasingly prevailing, do not take divorce seriously enough and do not seem to grasp the fact that although Bahá’u’lláh has permitted it, He has only permitted it as a last resort and strongly condemns it.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 392)

Our Teachings on the subject of divorce are clear and in direct contrast to the loose and casual attitude of the ‘permissive society’ around us, and it is vital that the Bahá’í Community practise these Teachings:

The Universal House of Justice has noted with increasing concern that the undisciplined attitude of present-day society towards divorce is reflected in some parts of the Bahá’í World Community. Our Teachings on this subject are clear and in direct contrast to the loose and casual attitude of the ‘permissive society’ and it is vital that the Bahá’í Community practise these Teachings.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 390)

Often we leave our marriages when we no longer feel physical attraction or sexual compatibility and harmony but Shoghi Effendi tells us we have to rise above such considerations:

For the Bahá’í Teachings . . . while permitting divorce, consider it a reprehensible act, which should be resorted to only in exceptional circumstances, and when grave issues are involved, transcending such considerations as physical attraction or sexual compatibility and harmony.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 446)

The institution of marriage established by Bahá’u’lláh, while giving due importance to the physical aspect of marital union, considers it as subordinate to the moral and spiritual purposes and functions:

The institution of marriage, as established by Bahá’u’lláh, while giving due importance to the physical aspect of marital union, considers it as subordinate to the moral and spiritual purposes and functions with which it has been invested by an all-wise and loving Providence.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 446)

Most of us did not receive the love we needed from our parents (who didn’t receive it from their parents, and so on); so we look for others to give it to us.  We’ve been taught that there is someone out there who will meet our needs, so when our spouse no longer fulfils our needs, we leave our marriages, so that we can find the right person.  This is contrary to the standard of heavenly value and true chastity.

Among the people of the past Dispensation a trifling matter would cause divorce. However, as the light of the Kingdom shone forth souls were quickened by the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh, then they totally eschewed divorce . . . It should not happen that upon the occurrence of a slight friction of displeasure between husband and wife, the husband would think of union with some other woman or, God forbid, the wife also think of another husband. This is contrary to the standard of heavenly value and true chastity. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 391)

It isn’t what God wants for us!  He wants us to make a decision to stay.  To make sure we understand the urgency and importance of staying, He warns us that whoever becomes the cause of divorce will fall into great difficulties, become the victim of formidable calamities and experience deep remorse:

If one of these two become the cause of divorce, that one will unquestionably fall into great difficulties, will become the victim of formidable calamities and experience deep remorse.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 391)

He wants our marriages to be based on harmony and love, oneness, relationship and union, not on sex.

In short, the foundation of the Kingdom of God is based upon harmony and love, oneness, relationship and union, not upon differences, especially between husband and wife.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 391)

Instead of going straight to divorce when our sex lives are no longer fulfilling, every relationship needs to have a grace period; where couples take some time away from each other.  In this dispensation, Baha’u’llah has given us a great tool called the “year of patience”, which, if used properly, can help restore marriages. It’s a wonderful opportunity for taking a “time out” to work on issues that are eroding the marriage and could lead to divorce.  It’s a safety valve, which, when used in a timely fashion, could give both parties time away to work on their own issues.

During that time, they live apart:

The parties to a divorce must live apart in separate residences during the year of waiting.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 397)

No sex is possible and if they have sex, they must seek God’s forgiveness and pay a fine:

Sexual intercourse between husband and wife is forbidden during their year of patience, and whoso committeth this act must seek God’s forgiveness, and, as a punishment, render to the House of Justice a fine of nineteen mithqals of gold.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 110)

At today’s rate (Aug 2013), nineteen mithqals of gold is worth US $3062!  That’s a LOT of money for a few minutes of pleasure!

This law is not yet incumbent on the people of the west, but nevertheless, the principle stands!

Also, if a couple has sex with each other during that time, the year of patience is over.

Any cohabitation of the parties stops the running of the year of waiting.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 397)

It can start again, of course!  If the couple has really decided to give up on the marriage and are ready to divorce, this could delay the granting of the Bahá’í divorce if they have to start over.

The House of Justice has given couples some tools to use during the time apart.  Here are some quotes to consider:

Your letter of … to the Universal House of Justice makes clear that you are seeking to re-establish your marriage through study of the Writings and through various modes of consultation and assistance. We are asked to convey its advice on this vital subject of reconciliation of partners in marriage in the context of understanding of yourself and your relationship to others. You are urged to persevere in your studies, in your prayers for resolution of your problems, and in your meditation which may provide guidance and confidence, inasmuch as the understanding of self and of relationships to others are contained in the Writings and in the example of the Master, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Neither you nor your husband should hesitate to continue consulting professional marriage counsellors, individually and together if possible, and also to take advantage of the supportive counselling which can come from wise and mature friends. Non-Bahá’í counselling can be useful but it is usually necessary to temper it with Bahá’í insight.

You ask how to deal with anger. The House of Justice suggests that you call to mind the admonitions found in our Writings on the need to overlook the shortcomings of others; to forgive and conceal their misdeeds, not to expose their bad qualities, but to search for and affirm their praiseworthy ones, and to endeavour to be always forbearing, patient, and merciful.

Such passages as the following extracts from letters written on behalf of the beloved Guardian will be helpful: There are qualities in everyone which we can appreciate and admire, and for which we can love them; and perhaps, if you determine to think only of these qualities which your husband possesses, this will help to improve the situation ….

You should turn your thoughts away from the things which upset you, and constantly pray to Bahá’u’lláh to help you. Then you will find how that pure love, enkindled by God, which burns in the soul when we read and study the Teachings, will warm and heal, more than anything else.

Each of us is responsible for one life only, and that is our own. Each of us is immeasurably far from being “perfect as our heavenly father is perfect” and the task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will-power and energy.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 454-455)

From these quotes we learn that the following requirements are our responsibility during the year of patience:

  • Prayer and studying and meditating on the Writings
  • consultation
  • understand yourself and your relationship to others
  • look to the example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
  • consulting professional marriage counsellors, individually and together
  • take advantage of the supportive counselling from wise and mature friends
  • temper non-Bahá’í counselling with Bahá’í insight
  • deal with anger
  • overlook the shortcomings of others
  • forgive and conceal their misdeeds
  • search for and affirm their praiseworthy deeds instead of exposing their bad qualities
  • be forbearing, patient, and merciful
  • think only of the qualities we can appreciate and admire
  • turn your thoughts away from the things which upset you
  • focus all of your will-power and energy  on perfecting your own life and character

If we sincerely strive towards each of these things, chances are good that our marriages will be strengthened thereby.  If we add sex to the mix, it makes the other things much harder, which no doubt, is why Baha’u’llah has forbidden it.

 

I’ve Met Someone, Now What Do I Do?

One day I got an email from someone, who had a question I’m sure many people have had:

I am 23 and a few months ago I met a girl and we have become very good friends. We have a very similar way of thinking but I am not sure how to go ahead from this stage of friendship to the next. Sometimes I think I should go and tell her what I’m feeling but then I talk myself out of it because of fear and uncertainty. I don’t want to do anything that would cause misunderstanding so I would lose what we already have. I don’t know how to proceed and it would be of great help if you could guide me to a Bahá’í perspective, please.

Get to Know Each Other First

As a Bahá’í, an elder and a woman, I would caution you to go slow and assess her character.

A book I highly recommend to help with assessing character is

Marriage Can Be Forever: Preparation Counts! Walking a Path to a Spiritually-Based Marriage

It’s full of questions and exercises you and your friend can work through to get to know each other better.

Don’t Confuse Lust with Love

The biggest danger for you is to confuse love with lust and if you move too quickly you will move into lust . . .

This physical world of man is subject to the power of the lusts, and sin is the consequence of this power of the lusts, for it is not subject to the laws of justice and holiness. The body of man is a captive of nature; it will act in accordance with whatever nature orders. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 119)

For desire is a flame that has reduced to ashes uncounted lifetime harvests of the learned, a devouring fire that even the vast sea of their accumulated knowledge could never quench. How often has it happened that an individual who was graced with every attribute of humanity and wore the jewel of true understanding, nevertheless followed after his passions until his excellent qualities passed beyond moderation and he was forced into excess. His pure intentions changed to evil ones, his attributes were no longer put to uses worthy of them, and the power of his desires turned him aside from righteousness and its rewards into ways that were dangerous and dark. A good character is in the sight of God and His chosen ones and the possessors of insight, the most excellent and praiseworthy of all things, but always on condition that its centre of emanation should be reason and knowledge and its base should be true moderation. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 59-60)

. . . and then any chance you have for a happy and successful marital life will be impossible!

Briefly stated the Bahá’í conception of sex is based on the belief that chastity should be strictly practised by both sexes, not only because it is in itself highly commendable ethically, but also due to its being the only way to a happy and successful marital life. Sex relationships of any form, outside marriage, are not permissible therefor, and whoso violates this rule will not only be responsible to God, but will incur the necessary punishment from society. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

Articles which you might find helpful include:

Sex before Marriage

Temptation

Making God your Best Lover

You’ll also want to make sure that whatever happens between the two of you, you MUST keep God as your primary relationship and turn to Him as your “Best Lover”.

You might find these articles helpful:

Relationships without God at the Core

Primary Relationships

Finally, here are some other Bahá’í books which you might find helpful:

Assessing Expectations and Meeting Needs, by Susanne Alexander

Becoming Relationship Ready – Preparing for a Future Partner, by Susanne Alexander

Becoming Unified Partners – Assessing Harmony Between You and a Partner, by Susanne Alexander

Conscious Courtship: Finding Someone to Love for the Rest of Your Life, by Raymond Switzer

Creating Excellent Relationships – The Power of Character Choices, by Susanne Alexander

Making Time and Service Choices, by Susanne Alexander

Making Time and Service Choices (Baha’i Faith), by Susanne Alexander

Partnership Decision-Making, by Susanne Alexander

Passionate and Spiritual Sex, by Susanne Alexander:

Remaining Faithful: Meditations on Being True to Yourself, Your Relationships and Your Principles by Phyllis Peterson

Strengthening Your Marriage Bond, by Susanne Alexander

How has this been helpful?  Post your comments here!

Being Baha’i and Gay

By James Howard Russell

Allah’u’abha! I am a 47 year-old third-generation Baha’i. I’m also gay. On the six-point Kinsey scale I eventually nailed myself as 4.5, which is at about the 75 percent mark across the scale (0 totally straight, 3 bisexual, and 6 totally homosexual). Sadly, this means to me that 75 percent or so of my sexual interest is devoted towards men. Woops, I am one, and people have a problem with that

I met a Baha’i recently who told me he had — living in Seattle — never even met a gay Baha’i, and so after some thought, I’ve decided to share a little of my journey from a man that has had homosexual feelings since before puberty, hated himself for them fiercely, and come out alive on the other side to write this.

Just a little background about me: like others in this country who went to school in the 1980s or prior, I was taught by American society that a man being attracted to men was considered morally wrong before I even knew to associate that concept with myself. When later I finally had accept in myself an innate attraction to other men, you can imagine the impact on my self-worth as I had to accept that my brand-new sex drive as a young man, such a part of any young man’s excitement when embarking towards manhood, was broken.

In high school I frequented libraries looking up with fierce — but ultimately futile — hopes that I would find evidence this hated trait was a phase I would grow out of or a condition that I could be cured of. Come to find out that curing doesn’t work, and overwhelmingly hurts those who try, increasing suicidal ideation when relapsing, and so forth.

“Okay,” I realized at some point, “So my unbidden but immovable homosexual desires are evil… gotcha. What did I do to be born evil again? Do I have to stay evil? Or can I just hide being evil and pretend to be good?” This latter means doing what gay men had done throughout the ages, hide it like crazy, deny it, have sex in secret, and marry a woman to really hide it? Sorry, to me that latter seems more evil than having sex with men.

I realize that to live with a man and have an emotional and sexual relationship with him _is_ a life choice and one forbidden in the Faith. I maintain that in my case, at least the attraction is _not_ a choice: who (in the 1980s, at least) would choose to be a kind of societal leper? Not I.

Sadly, sexuality is not changeable by human means, at least not at this time in history, and few of us have the spiritual capacity to just ignore our inner desires altogether. You can deprioritize sex and fantasies in your head to a degree, sure, but it’s always there in the background. And, because as far as you know you were born this way like myself — that is, not molded in such fashion by molestation or other abusive means – you have to then transfer the hatred of the characteristic with yourself, because you have it.

So, over the years I did some reading, and successively found what I was looking for layer by layer. First I found that Shoghi Effendi interpreted Baha’u’llah’s law against pederasty as also against Baha’is having homosexual sex. I’ve talked to gay Baha’is or straight non-Baha’is that are interested in the Faith but can’t get past what they see to be a denial of human rights and bigoted.

But read further, and the Guardian also said if we’re to start sanctioning Baha’is who engage in homosexual sex, we’ll also have to start sanctioning Baha’is who have extramarital heterosexual sex and Baha’is who commit adultery, and he noted that at that time – which he called a “low water mark in spiritual history” – to engage in such sanctioning would be “ridiculous.”

Against Baha’i law as it is, seeing homosexual sex listed alongside extramarital heterosexual sex for the first time in my life in any context, and it makes perfect sense suddenly to me. How many do you know who married as a virgin? Not many? Me either. I can’t recall any, actually. Thinking about it, extramarital sex in this country is the norm, not the exception, and virgins are hard to find these days.

Is this, then, an indication that even if I do have sex with a man, that’s not so different than two heterosexuals having sex outside of marriage; against the law, certainly, but not such a huge deal I should — or anyone should — hate me for it? That sounds more right to me.

I’m clearer now that Baha’u’llah’s laws are to protect all mankind, world over, and to promote the betterment of the entire world. Looking at it, created as we were said to have been by God with love, out of love, to love him in return and serve your fellow mankind. It sounds more reasonable, then, that Baha’u’llah gave us these laws to avoid self-harm on our part; a sort of fence of guidelines that we’re more than welcome to walk out of, but the path is likely gonna be rockier there. If these laws were, then, given to us as a loving parent gives rules to a beloved child that they don’t want to see get hurt, not random torments to suffer under.

Ultimately I know I have to choose a man or a woman, and know and accept that I am giving up something dear to me either way. Either I go against my sexual preference and try and find myself a female mate who’ll actually want me after being honest with her about my history and sexuality, or I will choose a good man, and in so doing lose the potential for a husband and wife family team, which I do see great value in for those capable, it’s clearly much harder to have biological babies for obvious reasons, and not least having to potentially deal with anti-gay bigotry that is not gone just because of legalized gay marriage. It’ll go underground more, but it’s not gone.

Thankfully, after this journey through Baha’i writings and my own conscience, soul, and moral compass, it’s finally becoming evident to my heart and mind that I am not defined solely or even mostly by my sexuality, not, at least, by Baha’u’llah. And as a man, gay or not, I need to love all of me, even the parts I may not like or understand — because even those parts may prove to have hidden value. Would I be writing to you now this very personal facet of myself that will likely make at least one person who sees it here uncomfortable? No, I’m not a sadist. However, maybe I can help reach the next gay Baha’i I meet as disillusioned and self-loathing as I once was? Such is my hope.

My heart tells me that regardless of other people and their beliefs, God loves me unconditionally and wants the best for me, and the answer to my question is that no, I am no less of a man in Baha’u’llah’s eyes, and He tells me that God would never promote hatred of any of His children for any reason, even for being gay. I thank God that not too late in life I can learn to see myself as a man, not as a “gay man” or as a “bi man” or including any another a stupid qualifier.

I think you’ll be interested to know there is an official Baha’i organization (a committee of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada) I’m part of that is set to spread all over North America as soon as we can.  It’s called BNASAA (Baha’i Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions and Abuse).  We want to start local service groups, a term for people organizing Baha’i-led groups, prayer circles, youth deepening (KEY ONE), and other such activities that would ALSO serve the 5-year plan.  Please like us on Facebook

I’m James, I’m gay, I’m a Baha’i, and I’m doing the best I can.  Contact me at jhrussell [at] gmail [dot] com for more information.

Thanks for reading,

JHR

25 Ways to Become Chaste

 

Many youth have asked me for some practical guidance on how to become chaste, when their thoughts and the images in society around them are suffused in sex.  Let’s start by looking at some quotes, and then pull out a list of practical suggestions from the Bahá’í Writings on chastity.

Helpful Quotes to Consider

We suggest you try to see it within the whole spectrum of the qualities that a Bahá’í must develop in his character. Be vigilant against temptation, but do not allow it to claim too great a share of your attention. You should concentrate, rather, on the virtues that you should develop, the services you should strive to render, and, above all, on God and His attributes, and devote your energies to living a full Bahá’í life in all its many aspects.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 363)

Certainly the problem confronting you is a difficult one. However, its solution lies within your power, for Bahá’u’lláh has assured us that God “will never deal unjustly with anyone, neither will He task a soul beyond its power.” And again, “Whensoever he hath fulfilled the conditions implied in the verse: whoso maketh efforts for Us, he shall enjoy the blessings conferred by the words: ‘In Our Way shall We assuredly guide him”‘. You can be confident that with the help of doctors, by prayer and meditation, by self-abnegation and by giving as much time as possible to serving the Cause in your community you can eventually succeed in overcoming your problem.  (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

Such a chaste and holy life, with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance  , decency  , and clean mindedness, involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations. It demands daily vigilance in the control of one’s carnal desires and corrupt inclinations. It calls for the abandonment of a frivolous conduct, with its excessive attachment to trivial and often misdirected pleasures.  (Shoghi Effendi: The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 30)

To be afflicted this way in 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.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 365)

When his life is oriented towards service to Baha’u’llah, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.  Therefore, every believer must continually study the Sacred Writings and the instructions of the beloved Guardian, striving always to attain a new and better understanding of their import to him and to his society.  He should pray fervently for divine guidance, wisdom and strength to do what is pleasing to God, and to serve Him at all times and to the best of his ability.  (Universal House of Justice, 5 June 1988)

Even though you feel that the conflict is more than you can bear, your affirmation “I do know I am a Baha’i” is a positive factor in the battle you must wage.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 366)

Until a being setteth his foot in the plane of sacrifice, he is bereft of every favour and grace; and this plane of sacrifice is the realm of dying to the self.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 76)

The Bahá’í youth should, on the one hand, be taught the lesson of self-control which, when exercised, undoubtedly has a salutary effect on the development of character and of personality in general . . . (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

The Master said: turn your back to the darkness and your face to me.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny, p. 457)

If you are sincerely intent on overcoming your problem, you must yourself determine to resist wayward impulses each time they arise and the House of Justice feels that there is no better way than to turn to the Writings to divert our thoughts into spiritual channels , perhaps to concentrate on what we may do to help others along the way to discovering the Bahá’í Faith. The more we occupy ourselves with teaching the Cause and serving our fellowman in this way, the stronger we become in resisting that which is abhorrent to our spiritual selves.  (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

Through sincere and sustained effort, energized by faith in the validity of the Divine Message, and combined with patience with oneself and the loving support of the Bahá’í community, individuals are able to effect a change in their behaviour; as a consequence of this effort they partake of spiritual benefits which liberate them and which bestow a true happiness beyond description.  (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

The Universal House of Justice lists “the loving support of the Bahá’í community as one of the elements through which “individuals are able to effect a change in their behaviour”  (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

Summary

Now that we’ve read the quotes, let’s look at what they teach us about becoming chaste.

1.  See it within the whole spectrum of the qualities that a Bahá’í must develop in his character.

2.  Be vigilant against temptation, but do not allow it to claim too great a share of your attention.

3.  You should concentrate on

  • the virtues that you should develop
  • the services you should strive to render
  • God and His attributes

4.  Devote your energies to living a full Bahá’í life in all its many aspects

5.  Self-abnegation (means self-rejection); dying to the self.

6.  Exercise of moderation in all that pertains to

  • dress
  • language
  • amusements
  • all artistic and literary avocations

7.  Daily vigilance in the control of one’s carnal desires and corrupt inclinations

8.  Abandonment of a frivolous conduct, with its excessive attachment to trivial and often misdirected pleasures.

9.  Advice and help of doctors

10. Strong and determined effort

11. Life oriented towards service to Baha’u’llah and every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference; serve Him at all times and to the best of his ability; giving as much time as possible to serving the Cause

12. Study the Sacred Writings and the instructions of the beloved Guardian, striving always to attain a new and better understanding of their import to him and to his society.

13. Pray fervently for:

  • divine guidance
  • wisdom
  • strength to do what is pleasing to God

14. Affirmation “I do know I am a Baha’i”

15. Sacrifice

16. Loving support of the Bahá’í community

17. Self-control

18. Turn your back to the darkness and your face to me

19. Determine to resist wayward impulses each time they arise

20. Turn to the Writings to divert our thoughts into spiritual channels

21. Concentrate on what we may do to help others along the way to discovering the Bahá’í Faith (teaching)

22. Make a decision in choosing his way of life

23. Sincere and sustained effort

24. Faith in the validity of the Divine Message

25. Patience with oneself

Promise:  whoso maketh efforts for Us, he shall:

  • enjoy the blessings conferred by the words:
  • ‘In Our Way shall We assuredly guide him”‘.

Promise:  When his life is oriented towards service to Baha’u’llah every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.

Courting During the Year of Patience

Recently someone told me they were having a lot of trouble resisting the temptation of seeing someone else and “courting” them during the year of patience.  They knew the standard required, but felt it was impossible to reach.

First of all, what is the standard?

It is quite contrary to the spirit of the teachings for either party to be courting a new partner during the year of waiting.

Therefore … it is quite contrary to the spirit of the teachings for either party to be courting a new partner during the year of waiting. This should be made clear to the couple and they should be exhorted to conduct themselves as Bahá’ís.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 394)

No marriage is possible during the running of the year of patience unless the parties to the divorce remarry each other in a civil ceremony.

For this reason no marriage is possible during the running of the year of patience unless the parties to the divorce remarry each other in a civil ceremony. (Universal House of Justice, quoted in the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada’s Assembly Resource Compilation, p. DIV-20)

There is no Bahá’í law requiring the removal of voting rights for obtaining a civil divorce before the end of the year of waiting.

There is no Bahá’í law requiring the removal of voting rights for obtaining a civil divorce before the end of the year of waiting. It is, of course, preferred that civil divorce action be not instituted or completed before the end of the year unless there are special circumstances justifying such action.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 399)

If a non-Bahá’í partner, having obtained a civil divorce, marries during the year of waiting, the Bahá’í partner is released from the need to wait further.

On the other hand, if a non-Bahá’í partner, having obtained a civil divorce, marries during the year of waiting, the Bahá’í partner is released from the need to wait further.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 399)

The believer will be subject to sanctions if he marries someone else during the year of patience:

The believer will be subject to sanctions if he should marry a third party within the year of patience, not only because it is a violation of the year of patience itself, but also because even though a civil divorce has been granted, the Bahá’í divorce cannot be granted until the end of the year of patience.  (Universal House of Justice, quoted in the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada’s Assembly Resource Compilation, p. DIV-20)

If a Bahá’í should marry another prior to the end of the year of waiting however, voting rights should be suspended as, under Bahá’í law, he is still regarded as married whether or not the civil divorce has been granted.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 399)

She told me:

I’ve fallen back into what would be considered ‘courting’ with the guy, feeling good when he’s around but knowing that spiritually it’s from my lower nature – I just don’t think I can reach this standard required of me, I feel it’s impossible. I’m not having sex with him, but I know that the way we interact would be considered a relationship.

I’m so fragmented on this, split right down the middle – on one hand, it feels so good and I get butterflies, and I’m so happy to see him and to have his arm around me, but on the other hand afterwards I get feelings of self-loathing, not only because I know that this is directly breaking the laws but also because I seem to stuck in this cycle and am not moving forward or making progress with it, even though I know how to, I just pray to God that I’m not strong enough to end it and could He do it for me, because I feel I can’t and this is beyond a struggle for me, its like resignation and knowing that this means it inhibits my use as an instrument of Baha’u’llah, and that its hypocrisy and renders me an ineffective teacher and unable to champion the Cause, is so sad and painful and yet, I still can’t do it and that makes me disappointed in myself and my choices.

I try and buoy myself up with recognizing the other qualities and other things that I reflect or do that are good, but it just seems like I still feel like a bit of fake and unable to fully connect with the community again because of it.

Can one person really mean that much? I feel like I’m not scared of being on my own, but I’m scared of losing him and I suppose that’s not good, or is it?

I feel like my mentality keeps slipping between societal standards and Baha’i standards, so at one minute I will feel really happy and peachy and at the other minute I will feel really low and anxious and shame.

Unfortunately she was being shamed by her ex-husband, who was spreading gossip in the Baha’i community about her; and her Assembly was being very harsh and judgmental and condemning at a time when she most needed love and compassion.

Let’s look at what advice the Baha’i Writings might give her.  We’ll look at a few quotes, and see what we can pull out of them:

Helpful Quotes to Consider

We suggest you try to see it within the whole spectrum of the qualities that a Bahá’í must develop in his character. Be vigilant against temptation, but do not allow it to claim too great a share of your attention. You should concentrate, rather, on the virtues that you should develop, the services you should strive to render, and, above all, on God and His attributes, and devote your energies to living a full Bahá’í life in all its many aspects.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 363)

Certainly the problem confronting you is a difficult one. However, its solution lies within your power, for Bahá’u’lláh has assured us that God “will never deal unjustly with anyone, neither will He task a soul beyond its power.” And again, “Whensoever he hath fulfilled the conditions implied in the verse: whoso maketh efforts for Us, he shall enjoy the blessings conferred by the words: ‘In Our Way shall We assuredly guide him”‘. You can be confident that with the help of doctors, by prayer and meditation, by self-abnegation and by giving as much time as possible to serving the Cause in your community you can eventually succeed in overcoming your problem.  (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

Such a chaste and holy life, with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance  , decency  , and cleanmindedness, involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations. It demands daily vigilance in the control of one’s carnal desires and corrupt inclinations. It calls for the abandonment of a frivolous conduct, with its excessive attachment to trivial and often misdirected pleasures.  (Shoghi Effendi: The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 30)

To be afflicted this way in 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.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 365)

When his life is oriented towards service to Baha’u’llah, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.  Therefore, every believer must continually study the Sacred Writings and the instructions of the beloved Guardian, striving always to attain a new and better understanding of their import to him and to his society.  He should pray fervently for divine guidance, wisdom and strength to do what is pleasing to God, and to serve Him at all times and to the best of his ability.  (Universal House of Justice, 5 June 1988)

Even though you feel that the conflict is more than you can bear, your affirmation “I do know I am a Baha’i” is a positive factor in the battle you must wage.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 366)

Until a being setteth his foot in the plane of sacrifice, he is bereft of every favour and grace; and this plane of sacrifice is the realm of dying to the self.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 76)

The Bahá’í youth should, on the one hand, be taught the lesson of self-control which, when exercised, undoubtedly has a salutary effect on the development of character and of personality in general . . . (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

The Master said: turn your back to the darkness and your face to me.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny, p. 457)

If you are sincerely intent on overcoming your problem, you must yourself determine to resist wayward impulses each time they arise and the House of Justice feels that there is no better way than to turn to the Writings to divert our thoughts into spiritual channels , perhaps to concentrate on what we may do to help others along the way to discovering the Bahá’í Faith. The more we occupy ourselves with teaching the Cause and serving our fellowman in this way, the stronger we become in resisting that which is abhorrent to our spiritual selves.  (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

Through sincere and sustained effort, energized by faith in the validity of the Divine Message, and combined with patience with oneself and the loving support of the Bahá’í community, individuals are able to effect a change in their behaviour; as a consequence of this effort they partake of spiritual benefits which liberate them and which bestow a true happiness beyond description.  (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

The Universal House of Justice lists “the loving support of the Bahá’í community as one of the elements through which “individuals are able to effect a change in their behaviour”  (Universal House of Justice, Letters of The Universal House of Justice, 1993 Jun 05)

25 Ways to Become Chaste (from the above quotes)

1.  See it within the whole spectrum of the qualities that a Bahá’í must develop in his character.

2.  Be vigilant against temptation, but do not allow it to claim too great a share of your attention.

3.  You should concentrate on

  • the virtues that you should develop
  • the services you should strive to render
  • God and His attributes

4.  Devote your energies to living a full Bahá’í life in all its many aspects

5.  Self-abnegation (means self-rejection); dying to the self.

6.  Exercise of moderation in all that pertains to

  • dress
  • language
  • amusements
  • all artistic and literary avocations

7.  Daily vigilance in the control of one’s carnal desires and corrupt inclinations

8.  Abandonment of a frivolous conduct, with its excessive attachment to trivial and often misdirected pleasures.

9.  Advice and help of doctors

10. Strong and determined effort

11. Life oriented towards service to Baha’u’llah and every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference; serve Him at all times and to the best of his ability; giving as much time as possible to serving the Cause

12. Study the Sacred Writings and the instructions of the beloved Guardian, striving always to attain a new and better understanding of their import to him and to his society.

13. Pray fervently for:

  • divine guidance
  • wisdom
  • strength to do what is pleasing to God

14. Affirmation “I do know I am a Baha’i”

15. Sacrifice

16. Loving support of the Bahá’í community

17. Self-control

18. Turn your back to the darkness and your face to me

19. Determine to resist wayward impulses each time they arise

20. Turn to the Writings to divert our thoughts into spiritual channels

21. Concentrate on what we may do to help others along the way to discovering the Bahá’í Faith (teaching)

22. Make a decision in choosing his way of life

23. Sincere and sustained effort

24. Faith in the validity of the Divine Message

25. Patience with oneself

 

Promise:  whoso maketh efforts for Us, he shall:

  • enjoy the blessings conferred by the words:
  • ‘In Our Way shall We assuredly guide him”‘.

Promise:  When his life is oriented towards service to Baha’u’llah every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.

 

How has this helped you understand the topic differently?  Post your comments here: