I discovered the Faith while I was living and working in Akka when I was young. The Israeli soldiers would drive me in their jeeps to the Shrine of Baha’u’llah and the caretakers of the Shrine of Baha’u’llah would allow me to enter the interior – when no pilgrims were visiting. On Shabbat I would go into Haifa and sit in the gardens watching the pilgrims. I learned bits and pieces of the Faith from eaves-dropping on pilgrims’ conversations.
Hand of the Cause RK (whom I always called Mrs. Effendi) was wonderful to me.
When I left Israel and went to live in Turkey I knew I couldn’t declare; so I had to wait till I returned to the United States.
I was attracted to the MYSTICAL energies and stories of the Faith. I had no interest in the sociological principles such as unity of mankind, elimination of prejudice, universal language.
For me, the mystical energies of the prayers, the Writings, the stories of the Bab, Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l Baha, Shoghi Effendi and very importantly the Purest Branch, were my potent energizing connection to the MYSTICAL energies of the Faith.
When I declared – as a young man – I was confused when the LSA, before I was allowed to sign my card, grilled me about sociological principles and laws of the Faith, including the burial and funeral laws ( I was young and wasn’t planning on dying any time soon), the marriage and sexual laws ( I was a dancer so I guess they might have automatically suspected “homo”), the writings on “psychic phenomena” ( I had told them of my Roma (Gypsy) heritage, so I suspect they thought I might be roaming the world telling fortunes.)
When I was asked “do you have any questions or hesitations before signing the card?” I replied, “one thing. I’m a Roman Catholic and I believe in the Virgin Mary. By signing the card and becoming Baha’I this doesn’t mean that I stop believing in the Virgin Mary, does it?” The chairman of the Assembly said “We don’t pay attention to such things. The Virgin Mary means nothing to Baha’is.” I wasn’t going to sign the card; however, I thought “oh, I’ll just write a letter to Mrs. Effendi and ask her about this.”
I was saddened to think these Baha’is were more interested in me knowing about the sexual laws of the Faith than my love for the Mother of Jesus and my spiritual foundation upon which I would build my Baha’I spirituality.
Throughout the decades of being Baha’i, I spent much time teaching the Faith via firesides, speeches, radio and television shows. I always focused my talks on the MYSTICAL aspects of the Faith. I left the sociological presentations up to others. My interest was in HOW THE FAITH ENHANCES MY LOVE FOR GOD. That’s mystical for me. My love for God is mystical not sociological.
But through the decades I also became a resource and a counselor and a therapist to Baha’is who were struggling with issues about same gender love, same gender attraction, same gender sexuality.
For me, these were often three separate states of being and states of action, and often combined states of being/action.
I counseled Baha’I men struggling with such energies, Baha’I women married to Baha’I men struggling with such issues, Baha’I teens struggling with their parents’ energies and issues, and Baha’I teens struggling about their own sexual orientations, attractions and energies.
And yet, it was always for me, that such love was mystical in nature, for love is mystical.
I would often think “how much pain that gay person is in and yet why can’t he or she be allowed to see and feel and think that the love he/she has for the same gendered person is an energy force that can enhance his/her love for God?”
The great Sufi mystics Rumi and Shams -their love for one another enhanced one another’s love for God. Shoghi Effendi and HC Esslemont – did not their love for one another perhaps enhance each other’s love for God? When HC Mr. Kahdem told me that he loved Shoghi Effendi so much that when the Guardian died, Mr. Khadem spent months in bed paralyzed with grief – did not that love enhance his love for God? Mystical love between these men was the dominant force of energy.
But heterosexual Baha’is always wanted to focus on the sexual aspects of a Baha’i who was gay, or struggling with homosexual energies, or family members, struggling with the balance between love, sexuality and spirituality, etc.
I heard, so often I heard, Baha’is telling men with gay energies “if you get married, you will be cured.” Or “If you say the Remover of Difficulty Prayer 500 times Baha’u’llah will cure you a little bit each time you and after enough prayers you are cured.”
Cured of what? I would ask. Cured of love? Cured of mystical love?
At conferences I would have adult Baha’is say to me and others such erroneous statements as “It says in the Kitab-I-Aqdas that homosexuals are going to burn in hell.” Or “Baha’u’llah said that homosexual are suffering from a psychiatric disorder.” Or “ Abdu’l Baha said that gay people are sick people.” I was always astounded at such religious ignorance.
The more I spoke about supporting the gays and those struggling with the energies of reconciling sexual energies with spiritual energies within the Baha’I contexts of spirituality, the more I got attacked, slandered and libeled and condemned by Baha’is.
I was told by a Baha’I man “ You and the gay Baha’is are going to bring an end to the world by spreading AIDS,.” Or “ When you go to National Convention as our delegate you need to recommend that the NSA start forming concentration camps for all the gay Baha’is who have AIDS and have LSA’s appoint people in each community to work in the camps.” I had Baha’is write letters to Baha’I institutions and to non-Baha’I organizations including my employer that “Joseph is suffering from a brain tumor” or “Joseph has developed a personality disorder.”
A Baha’I school called me and told me “the students are demanding that we bring you back to teach for another week.” However, I was told that the Board and Administrators were only allowing me to come back if I promised not to mention the word “homosexuality.” I told them I would not bring the subject up but if the students asked me to speak about it, I would. We agreed; however, within hours of my first class, the students asked to speak about homosexuality.
The kids were so mature. The teens expressed their confusions about their dads leaving the Faith because of being gay or their dads losing their voting rights for being gay, or about the pains their mothers were in because of dads’ being gay and leaving the Faith or having rights removed, and they spoke in privately about their own confusions about their own sexuality. The administrators were furious.
However, when I witnessed an administrator being beaten with fists by her husband and I had to deal with the issue and situation in the crisis situation, I was furious that nobody thought this was the issue that God disapproved of rather than me and the students talking about love between men and men, women and women, and the mystical aspects superseding the sexual energies.
When I hosted about 20 Baha’is who were gay, from around the country, at my home for 3 days, I was saddened to see what a group of former pioneers and very deepened and intelligent Baha’is had become – disenchanted and heartbroken Baha’is because their Baha’i peers displayed homophobic and bigoted behavior towards them. Yet, the joy of feeling and witnessing and experiencing the mystical love each of the 20 “gay” Baha’is had for God and for Baha’u’llah, was so overwhelmingly beautiful. Those three days in my home reminded me of the loveliness I felt in my younger days in Akka and Haifa when all I knew was the Mystical Energies of Baha’i.
And so it became a constant question; Where are the MYSTICAL ENERGIES within the American Baha’i community?
Finally, I was in New Mexico doing a radio call in show about the Faith. A listener called and asked me “Do you think AIDS is the worst disease in the world?” I replied, “no, the worst disease is the disease we call loneliness.”
That night, I thought that if a gay person wants to be a member in the Baha’I community, he or she must promise to live a life of loneliness.
He or she must promise never to have a life partner, a spiritual-mystical- emotional-sexual partner.
He or she must live a life struggling to overcome same gender mystical love that can enhance his/her love for God.
I knew I couldn’t be a Baha’I who told others that they must be condemned to a life of loneliness. I couldn’t do it as member of institutions nor as a professional therapist nor as a friend.
I became inactive in the community. An Auxiliary Board Member said to me “you will find there is nothing better out there in the world.”
But I have. I have found that there is a MYSTICAL ENERGY in this world that inspires people, including gays, to love God and having their love for God enhanced by the love they have for one another.
I recently attended a funeral of a lesbian woman who, with her partner of 22 years, adopted 10 medically fragile abused kids. These kids would have lived in a back room of a nursing hospital all their lives. But because of the mystical love these two women had for one another, for God, and for children, they gave these kids a home, a family, activities, fun and love.
Would Baha’is really tell these two women to put these kids in a nursing home and separate from one another so they can give to the Fund and attend Feast and vote on April 21 each year for an LSA? I think there are Baha’is who would disrupt that family in the name of fanatical religiosity.
I know two Baha’is who are gay and have lived with one another for over two decades. One day they decided to separate to “be better Baha’is.” The pain was immense and each became suicidal. I told them “suicidal energies don’t enhance your love for God, but your love for one another enhances your love for God.” Thankfully, they are back together and are happy again.
Would Baha’is prefer them to be suicidal so they can attend deepenings and vote for National Convention delegates? I think there are such Baha’is who would prefer to see such men lonely and depressed in the name of religion.
Shoghi Effendi said “first and foremost the Faith is mystical.”
For me and millions of other people….Same gender love is mystical as is any other dimension of love. Prejudice, homophobia, bigotry is not mystical. Suicide and loneliness are not mystical.
Do Baha’is believe that 100 years from now, 500 years from now, 1,000 years from now, there will be no homosexuals? Men will stop being spiritually and emotionally attracted to men? Women to women? No, that will never happen; yet, how can there be world unity and the elimination of prejudice 100% if gays are excluded from being members of any community, especially a community that says it can administer justice? Are not gays entitled to justice?
Oh, well.. Baha’u’llah did proclaim “justice has ceased to exist?.”
I am not interested in anyone’s sexuality because it doesn’t enhance my love for God. I’m not interested in what anyone ate for breakfast because such information doesn’t enhance my love for God.
But I am interested and appreciative of the love people have for one another, including men for men and women for women, because that love is mystical in nature and witnessing such mystical love does enhance my love for God because it makes me realize deeper and fuller that God is love.
Today, at this moment, a young person with the mystical ability to love a person of the same gender and have the incredible desire to be a life long companion of that person, may very well be walking through AKKA or Haifa Shrines and feeling a sensation of “perhaps I should learn about this beautiful religion they call Baha’I Faith because it may enhance my love for God.”
And, they learn and then they declare and before long they hear those familiar words “ BUT…. BUT.. BUT.. if you want to be a member of God’s chosen community, you must live a life of loneliness or else we will kick you out of our community.”
My favorite Baha’I prayer I offer for us all… “If thou didst know what God has ordained for thee, thou wouldst fly with delight and thy happiness, gladness and joy would increase every hour.”
God has not, in my feelings and thoughts, ordained for anyone a life of loneliness.