The Baha’i Teachings and Homosexuality
Human beings think differently. They have different values and beliefs. Too often these differences lead to contention, conflict, injustice, suffering, oppression, and social instability.
Baha’is believe that all humanity is one, under the mercy of an all-loving Creator. In emphasizing the essential spiritual dignity and freedom of every soul, Baha’u’llah affirms that “the faith of no man can be conditioned by anyone except himself.” Our challenge then is to learn to live together, respecting diverse individuals and groups, each with their own perspectives on reality, while cultivating a unity in diversity of thought and action through which progress and a peaceful social order can be fostered.
Today, across the world and in different ways in different societies, the question of homosexuality is often addressed in a dichotomous way, demanding affirmation or rejection. It is thus framed as a zero-sum game, which dictates that society must take a particular form, and regards those who hold a different view as either immoral or bigoted. Baha’is take no part in this conflict, seeing the matter as more complex and nuanced. It is not appropriate to coerce other human beings on matters of belief. All must exercise their own agency. Any effort to impose a particular perspective or outcome on a part of humanity that does not agree is likely only to unleash forces that oppose and resist the change, thereby prolonging conflict, suffering, and disorder.
At the heart of the disagreement is a difference of perspective about the framework for sexual ethics. Historically, religious belief systems across cultures have been a primary source of moral insight and order. Sacred texts or traditions contain various laws and admonitions that, in one way or another, redirect or restrict behaviors that arise from inclinations and desires which occur naturally in human beings. In more recent centuries, ethical thought regarding sexuality was frequently based on the perspective provided by natural law: human sexuality was tied to procreation, one of the distinctive goods associated with marital union and an expression of an innate human purpose, and consequently proper sexual behavior was considered to be confined to the limited behaviors surrounding reproduction. Certain contemporary views challenge this perspective, suggesting that a framework of sexual ethics should instead be based on human psychology, which places emphasis on personal aspiration and fulfillment. In this view, the most important values for sexual ethics are not concerned with particular acts, but with consent and ensuring that an individual does not become solely the object of the action of another.
The Baha’i framework of sexual ethics is rooted in the teachings of Baha’u’llah. For His followers, the precepts and counsels found in these teachings represent “the breath of life unto all created things,” “the lamps” of God’s “wisdom and loving providence,” and so should be observed, as Baha’u’llah urges, “with joy and gladness, for this is best for you, did ye but know.” This framework affirms the value of the sex impulse, rejects sexual puritanism, but acknowledges the need for proper expression and self-control. It stands in contrast to the permissive standards of the contemporary age, which tend to place sexual liberty above other aims and values. Baha’u’llah affirms that the family is the foundation of society and civilization, that marriage is between a man and a woman “that they may bring forth one who will make mention of God”, and that sexual relations are only permissible between a couple who are married to each other. These teachings are set forth in the Writings of Baha’u’llah and in the authoritative statements of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. They are not susceptible to change by the Universal House of Justice, the governing body of the Baha’i Faith.
One of the fundamental verities of the Baha’i Faith is that conscience cannot be coerced. Every human being has the right to freedom of conscience and belief. Each is ultimately accountable to God for the choices made. Thus, despite their own convictions, Baha’is are enjoined to be tolerant and respectful of those whose views differ from their own, not to judge others according to Baha’i standards, and not to attempt to impose these standards on society. Prejudice of any kind is entirely against the spirit of the Faith; for embedded into the ethos of the Baha’i community is recognition that “love is light, no matter in what abode it dwelleth; and hate is darkness, no matter where it may make its nest.” Whether believer or not, Baha’u’llah exhorts all human beings “to traverse this brief span of life with sincerity and fairness;” to show forth “forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.”
In freely recognizing Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation of God—the divine Educator—for this age, Baha’is also freely choose to abide by His teachings, which they believe will awaken individual potential, further the development of spiritual qualities, and contribute to the well-being of society as a whole. True freedom, then, is found in recognizing that human beings are spiritual beings who aspire to a higher purpose; in moving beyond solely material understandings of reality by drawing on the capacities of both reason and faith in navigating the challenges of life.
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