By Jake Sasseville |
Baha’is Believe in the Oneness of God. The Oneness of Humanity. The Oneness of Religion. »
What got me was the idea of progressive revelation; in essence, that no one prophet is it, that Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Zoroaster, Buddha, the Bab and Baha’u’llah — who Baha’is believe is the most recent manifestation of God — have come based on the needs of humanity for the era in which they lived.
I’ve visited the Baha’i World Center in Israel twice and I’ve opened my home in New York City for devotionals hundreds of times. I share the ideas of the Baha’i Faith with those who are curious and have been an active member within the community. Aside from my parents, the Baha’i Faith has cultivated and shaped who I’ve become in my life, and it is the most consistent community to which I’ve belonged.
That’s why it’s so heart-breaking that I’m considering leaving the Baha’i Faith.
Jake Sasseville is editor-in-chief of ProfoundlyHuman.com, where this article first appeared. Read his profile (he was the youngest host in the history of late-night television) in our July issue. Follow Sasseville on Twitter @JakeSasseville.
DON’T DO IT
Friends suggested that I not write this article. Baha’is have told me to deal with this quietly because it may bring about disunity. It’s been suggested that I talk it out instead; for fear that my writing something would have negative repercussions for me. I believe that any time one can express their challenges — their vulnerabilities and that which they feel makes them unlovable (and lately, being gay and a Baha’i mostly certainly makes me feel unlovable) — that it allows more shining to take place. That’s my goal in writing this: That we may all celebrate our wholeness, despite our challenges.
I also hope this is helpful to those who read it. In particular, for those gay Baha’is who are in the closet right now and, even more so, the gay Baha’is in the closet who’ve chosen to repress their sexuality and marry women in order to serve the Cause of the Baha’i Faith. Let’s not pretend you don’t exist.
Many Baha’is have written me over the months since The Jake Sasseville Show went live asking how I’ve reconciled being openly gay and a Baha’i. The truth is, as I receive many kind emails and Facebook posts, I realize I’m quite embarrassed to call myself a Baha’i while being at odds with the core teaching around marriage and sexuality.
According to the Universal House of Justice, the supreme ruling, democratically elected body of the Baha’i Faith, made up of nine members headquartered at the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, Israel:
“Homosexuality… can well have medical aspects, and in such cases recourse should certainly be had with the best medical assistance. But it is clear from the teaching of Baha’u’llah that homosexuality is not a condition to which a person should be reconciled, but is a distortion of his or her nature which should be controlled or overcome.” (Letter to a member of the Baha’i Faith, 1973)
Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith and Baha’u’llah’s great grandson, provided explanation and interpretation for a variety of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, including homosexuality:
“No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against nature.” (Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a member of the Baha’i Faith, March 26, 1950)
Shoghi Effendi was often asked to clarify the position of Baha’u’llah’s writing on homosexuality, as some have suggested that the word “boys” in the original writings refers to the practice of Middle Eastern men in the 1850s who kept young boys as sexual company. Understandably, there was a desire to protect these young boys from this practice.
Shoghi Effendi had the opportunity to clarify the teaching a hundred years later and provided guidance that said homosexuality is immoral, wrong and against nature. Many who now learn about the Faith, especially those in my generation, are turned off by this guidance.
When a member of the Baha’i Faith asked the Universal House of Justice about polygamy and homosexuality, the guidance said polygamists who married before becoming a Baha’i could keep their wives. However, homosexuals who are in a relationship before declaring their Faith ought to reconcile their relationship first.
“Your understanding is correct in that should a polygamist become a Bahá’í, he would not be required to divorce or separate from any of his spouses…
With regard to the second case, in general, when a person who wishes to join the Faith is known to have a problem such as drinking, homosexuality, drug abuse, adultery, etc., he or she should be told in a patient and loving way of the Bahá’í Teachings on these matters. In particular, if persons involved in homosexual relationships express an interest in the Faith… 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 Bahá’u’lláh, they cannot join the Bahá’í community.” (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual March 5, 1999)
One can’t help but also recognize the historical context that informs this passage. The reality is that Baha’u’llah himself, the Prophet Founder of the Baha’i Faith, had multiple wives. Granted, he had them before he revealed himself as Prophet. The guidance from Shoghi Effendi was written in the 1950s, when homosexuality was outlawed in many parts of the world.
Bigamy was an accepted practice for Baha’is until ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah’s son and who Baha’is refer to as “The Master” came and clarified the position, stating “bigamy is conditioned upon justice to each wife, and as justice is impossible, it follows that bigamy is not permissible, and monogamy alone should be practiced.”
The laws evolved as humanity did and as the Faith spread to become the second fastest growing Religion in the world. It would appear as though some laws like those dealing with bigamy evolved while others, like those concerning homosexuality, did not. Those are the contradictions with which I’m wrestling.
I’m not suggesting that laws should be changed or that I know the answer. I do know that my heart is aching. I spent 24 painful years in the closet and I cannot go back in the closet for Baha’u’llah or anyone else. Yet, I feel this strong attraction and love for the core tenets of the Baha’i Faith.
The problem with infallibility (Baha’is believe Baha’u’llah and the Universal House of Justice are infallible) is that in order to defend it (for the greater cause of unity, something in which I strongly believe) you must refute any contradictions for sake of the preservation of the systems and unification of humanity. Otherwise, if fallibility is acknowledged, unity is threatened, as some Baha’is have stated.
Sex isn’t what I’m after with my sexuality. Wholeness, oneness and unity are what I seek. My conflict with being gay and Baha’i is not whether or not I can be with another man (I’m currently single and celibate for the first time in a while and rather enjoying it). Sex doesn’t concern me that much.
What concerns me are the contradictions within the guidance of the Baha’i Faith and how that affects what is, in all other respects, the most accepting, loving and global community I’ve ever known. And these contradictions and homosexuality in general aren’t being dealt with.
A prominent Baha’i in California shared with me in consultation about this piece that while there are many gay Baha’is in his community in California, and while they do attend Baha’i gatherings, their sexuality is very much on the down low. There is an air of embarrassment and shame.
Those who are gay know they didn’t choose it. Not if you’re being totally truthful with yourself.
I was consulting with a friend of mine who is friendly with a mental health professional, who also happens to be a Baha’i. The mental health professional had some interesting thoughts including that there is confusion around sexual identities now more than ever because of the inequality of men and women and the discounting of men who have feminine attributes.
The mental health professional also shared that the Baha’i Faith has said that same sex attraction is not a genetic given but instead is a distortion in development.
What was particularly upsetting is that he said most of his gay clients agree with this statement (“a distortion”) unless they have a political agenda to which they adhere.
His statement that some sort of distortion in my development caused me to choose to be gay, and if I don’t accept that, I must be have a political agenda to defend, is likely reflective of how many people view sexuality. It struck me deeply.
Do we forget that beyond sexuality, we’re talking about human beings? People dealing with real, raw emotions, attractions, challenges and desires? Feels like it.
NEXT LEVEL CONVERSATIONS
I’ve written this piece for the sake of writing it — the journey and not the destination — not knowing where it’ll end up. I’m glad I wrote it and hope the conversation and awareness around the struggles are more open than they were before.
In my heart, I don’t see sexuality as natural or unnatural as it relates to the ability to procreate, as many have shared with me that they do.
In my heart, I reflect on my relatively ‘normal’ childhood and can’t consider what type of trauma would’ve caused me to choose to be gay.
In my heart, I’ve always liked fellas. I didn’t make that choice. If I had a choice, I’d choose to be attracted to women. It’s far easier.
In my heart, I want so much for the Baha’i Faith to evolve and accept me for who I am and I wonder how that might happen. It’s time that it does. Universally. Indeed, in guidance and at the highest levels of the administrative body and practice of the Baha’i Faith, and of all religions around the world.
This message took a lot of courage. Thank you for trusting me.
I can’t even begin to imagine the collision of feelings and contradictions one must experience being gay in this un-accepting world. It’s brutal, even today, and how much more as a public figure and as a Baha’i.
In my heart, up to this moment, the Baha’i Faith has changed my life. Indeed, it’s been my entire life. And whatever I choose or however I’m guided, my gratitude and love for Baha’is and the teachings of Baha’u’llah will remain in my heart forever.
To close, I’ll share with an email I received from a friend of mine. He was the first Baha’i, indeed the first person ever that I came out to. I shared with him the conflicting feelings of being gay, being a Baha’i, being in media and wanting to serve humanity to the best of my human abilities for the short time that I’m on earth. I told him I was terrified to come out but that I must so that I didn’t hide and feel partially whole in my human body.
His email response to me changed my life. I share it with you now.
But do know this, this world NEEDS famous gay Bahai’s who truly love Baha’u’llah and won’t abandon their faith for anything.
It’s only a matter of time before all these Ruhi circles and teaching campaigns turn the tide and millions will want to know what we stand for. What will we say to the millions of gay men and women, that they have no place at Baha’u’llah’s table? God forbid. They need to know how much they are loved, that God’s teachings have mysteries and private hardships for each us to struggle with, but that above all God is love and Baha’u’llah has come to unite us all.