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Subject: Letter of resignation
Date: 06/26/1999
Author: pdodenhoff <electronic mail address omitted on re-post>


Dear friends,
    As you are aware there has been much discussion about the recent letter dated April 7, 1999 from the Universal House of Justice concerning issues related to the study of the Baha'i Faith. And as you know, these issues have long been a serious concern of mine and many others who are engaged in various academic pursuits including the study of religion.
 Over the past weeks, I have read the letter from the House many times and given it a great deal of consideration, thought and prayer. When I first read the letter after it appeared on Baha'i Studies, I was shocked. Considering the dialogue that I thought had begun between the Administrative Order and Baha'i scholars in February of 1998 at our meeting in Teaneck, I felt upon reading it, and still do, that this letter painted with a very broad brush all scholars who are engaged in the academic study of religion.
    I do not think it would serve here to give a detailed statement of the many points which I find objectionable in the letter. Until now I have maintained a middle position concerning the use of certain methodologies in the study of the Baha'i Faith and have been open regarding the areas in which I agree or disagree with certain individuals or with the Baha'i Administration regarding the role of Baha'i scholars.
    However, I do think it necessary to say that, as one who is particularly engaged in the study of New Religious Movements, I find this letter very disturbing. The very tone of the letter displays an attitude which I find difficult ot {sic} reconcile with my understanding of the Faith of Baha'u'llah. It states clearly that the methods used in the academic study of religion are "designed to ignore the truths that make religion what it is" and that they, and by inference those that use them, are tainted by the "reigning doctrines of materialism." Apart from the fact that this appears to me to reveal at least a misunderstanding of the proper use of methodologies and their purpose in academic studies, this statement has overtones that can only be described, in my opinion, as fundamentalist in nature. This appears to become even more evident as the reference to the emphasis certain individuals place on academic freedom is demonized as an attempt to "pervert scholarly discourse," an assertion I find particularly objectionable. Indeed, it would appear that the proper use of scholarly discourse, according to the inferences made in the letter, should be nothing more than an exercise in apologetics for the Baha'i Faith. I have no quarrel with apologetics and its role in religion. But it has no place in academic studies where the truth claims of any tradition are beyond the purview of the academic endeavor to
prove or disprove. These are matters of the spirit and the heart which are beyond the limitation of any methodology to understand. However, despite that limitation, methods are developed to help us understand the actualities of religion in historical and sociological contexts. Without such understanding, and the vital healthy criticism that can strengthen a faith community, religion eventually devolves into mere ritual, superstition, formality and authoritarianism. It may be true that there are some scholars who, even as people of faith, take what appears to be an extreme approach in the use of methodologies when studying religion. I can understand better those of my colleagues who claim no faith as their own or who even reject faith altogether, where in such cases it is appropriate to rely on "materialistic" methods.
And I believe that to some extent an understanding is gained through such endeavors. Contrary to the statement in the April 7 letter, though, I have never met nor have I ever heard any scholar of religion claim that "religion itself can be adequately understood only through the use of an academic methodology." Indeed, it has been my experience that most are still not agreed on what constitutes a proper definition of religion. Yes, there are some who may claim to fully understand religion and who take an adversarial stance against anythng {sic} that would reflect an attitude of faith, but I have found, to the credit of the academy, that this is not reflective of all scholars. Most simply object to the attempt to inject ideas such as revelation or spirit into an academic discussion of religion, an objection with which I concur. It seems that the April 7 letter reveals a desire within Baha'i Administration to "have ones cake and eat it, too" for while it rejects these methodologies as "dogmatic materialism" it seeks to be accepted, on terms of its own making, into the very arena of discourse it so decries, an arena in which method, not revelation, is the tool used to understand religion. Yet, it is true that methods are simply tools which, like scholarship in general, have a proper and an improper use. Now one may not approve of the way an individual or individuals use their tools and is free to express that disapproval. But in doing so, one should not be surprised if they receive an equal amount of criticism for the manner in which they use their own tools! In this case, the April 7 letter from the House criticizes _what they perceive to be_ an improper use of methodologies. Is it any surprise, then, that some scholars who work with those methodologies, Baha'i and non-Baha'i, are critical of the application of something as subjective as revelation and faith in engaged academic discourse? I think not. Rather than seeking common ground and _on an active, daily basis, engaging in serious consultation _for the purpose of understanding each other_ both sides have become polarized, a situation exacerbated by this letter.  It is unfortunate and not a little frightening to read this letter with its "us against them" tone so prominently displayed. More than that, it is saddening to see that the letter did not make any
attempt to assure the NSA's to whom it was sent that this may not be a reference to all Baha'i
academics. In light of the recent events in some parts of the U.S., where some individuals have
been subjected to the indignity of an investigation because of their beliefs, one would suppose that such assurances would be included in the letter. While it may be argued that the letter was meant to be private, only for the NSA's, one should not be surprised that it turned up on the internet and that it caused such pain. More surprising than that, I believe, is the publishing of it in the latest edition of Baha'i Canada without any commentary or contextualization. Imagine the effect this will no doubt have on those who are already suspicious of academic methods and those that engage in academic study! More than the letter itself, I find this action particularly irresponsible.


    As I said above, I was shocked when I first read this letter. I was also very angry. And I suppose that in some measure I still am. But over the past few weeks consideration of the contents of this letter have caused Lisa and I to step back and reconsider some of the issues which concern us, particularly those with which we have struggled as members of the Baha'i Faith. The result has been a recognition that, despite our love for the Baha'i Faith, and for the many friends we have made as part of the Baha'i community, there are some issues which, if we are to be honest with ourselves and with the Baha'i Faith, call for an obedience which we cannot give.

   One of these, for me, is the issue of review, a process which I find repressive and distasteful as a scholar, and one to which I simply would not submit. Despite the assurances that it is only temporary, it is still a present reality which shows no sign of being abolished in the near future.

   Another is the ban on living as a practicing homosexual while a Baha'i. Both Lisa and I have always taken a clear stand on gay and lesbian rights. For us, that clearly meant that gays and lesbians have the right to live _completely_ in same-sex relationships, including marriage and child-rearing. Indeed, we can point to many gay friends who have marriage relationships which put many heterosexual marriages to shame and who are raising happy, well-adjusted children. It was not until after I became a Baha'i that I learned, on my own, of the teachings on this issue. I was dismayed, but tried to convince myself that I could live with this and could simply be quiet on the issue. Lisa became a Baha'i thinking that it would be easy enough to avoid the issue, and both of us held out hope that the Faith would soon change its stand on this issue. By the time it became a reality that this would not happen, we had convinced ourselves, or so we thought, that the issue wasn't important. Similarly, we had the same feelings concerning women serving on the House of Justice.

   But, over the past weeks, we have come to realize just how important these and other social matters are to us. We became convinced that the spiritual reality of the Mashriqu'l-Adkhar has been, for the most part, forgotten or ignored. Having been raised in a tradition in which I was, from my earliest years on, engaged in social welfare work, I find and Lisa doesas {sic} well, that I am uncomfortable with the spending of Baha'i funds for the Arc project while there are so many other ways in which they could be used to help so many who desperately need it. While I do not wish to be critical, I must express my doubt that the completion of the Arc will mean little to the single mother trying to raise children on her own or the homeless family who have no place to sleep other than unsafe shelters or cardboard boxes. And while some may say that we should use "individual initiative" in such matters (which we do), and while we grant there are many individual Baha'is who do such vital work, it must be acknowledged that Baha'is are a _community_ and as such should be addressing these issues as a body of believers on the local, national and international levels in equal measure to those of other traditions.

   Most distressing, though, has been the growing sense of fear that can be observed within certain parts of the Baha'i community. As an assistant, I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the seeming need to keep track of and report on the activities of individuals, something which I initially thought to be necessary to protect the Covenant and serve the cause. But recent events have convinced Lisa and
me that such practices, and especially the notion that anyone may at any time be "investigated," are out of keeping with both the teachings of Baha'u'llah and with who we are and what we believe about the essence of religion. Having been raised in a tradition in which I was constantly fearful of "losing my salvation" due to some action or thought, a notion with which I lived for much of my life, I will not allow such fear to again stifle the spiritual growth of myself or that of my family.

   Central to the Baha'i Faith is a trust in the institutions of the Administrative Order and, one would assume, a trust of the individual by the Administration. I have increasingly come to lose that trust in the Administrative Order, and especially with the release of this latest letter. Let me be clear, though, that this does not reflect in any way on the individual members of those institutions, most of whom I have never met. I am certain that they are all doing the best they can in their positions to administer the affairs of the Baha'i Faith in a faithful and honest manner, even as they are subject to human frailties, which we believe can indeed interfere with openness to and understanding of the Divine will, a human predicament with which we all wrestle.

   As a result of this recognition, we believe that it is best for us, and for the Baha'i Faith, to formally submit our resignation. In doing so, we recognize that there will be some who will, depsite {sic} anything we may say, accuse us of rejecting Baha'u'llah. However, as one's faith
can be conditioned by no one but one's self, we want to make clear here that we still believe Baha'u'llah to be the Manifestation of God. Our relationship to and understanding of Baha'u'llah is something which we must work out for ourselves apart from "official" involvement within the Administrative Order. of the Baha'i Faith. I believe it is necessary to also state for the record, despite our resignation, we believe that, based on the evidence of the texts, it is clear that the legitimate authority for the Baha'i community is the Universal House of Justice whose seat is on Mt. Carmel and the Adminstrative Order in the various parts of the globe. We reject, simply based on facts, any pretense to authority of any other alleged "Baha'i" body or individuals.

   Most importantly, we believe that by resigning, we will avoid being a cause of disunity within the community. For were we to remain, we could not, in good conscience, remain silent about these and other issues which are important to us.

   Our purpose in writing this letter has been only to explain, perhaps at greater length than
we initially desired, why we are taking this step. Our decision has been our own. There have been some close friends with whom we have discussed this matter and who have given us their honest advice. None of them have advised us to leave, some have suggested we stay and try to just "go about our business," but all of them have given their support and love and all will remain our close friends. We pray that this is true for all of you whom we have had the great bounty of knowing and still love with all our hearts.


With warmest love,
Paul and Lisa Dodenhoff´╗┐