Bahá’ís around the world are presently celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of one of their two founding prophets. On such an auspicious occasion, it is perhaps meet and seemly to bring thyself to account—so to speak.
When I left the Bahá’í Faith in May 1988, things looked pretty good for “the Faith,” though some folks could see the moon of fundamentalism on the rise. Still, on the up-side, resurgent persecution of Bahá’ís in Iran had given the the Faith a new burst of media exposure. That majestic Lotus Temple had recently been completed, and the Bahá’í firmament still had its stars, though they may have been fading.
- William Sears, a TV personality and author (retired)
- Jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, who had become a Bahá’í after reading one of William Sears’ books (retired)
- The pop music duo Seals and Crofts (retired)
- Country singer Dan Seals, previously of England Dan & John Ford Coley
In early 1987, I was working at the Bahá’í World Centre in Israel, the Universal House of Justice (UHJ—the high committee of the Bahá’í world community) had its share of worthies:
- A music composer who had been musical director at both Disney and MGM
- An actor and BBC news anchor
- An award-winning specialist in medical communications and cinematography
- An attorney and CEO of the International Association of Chiropractic
Say what you will about musicians, actors, cinematographers, and corporate attorneys, these at least give an impression of men of achievement in the big pond outside the Bahá’í community. This was a religion that could at least attract solid talent.
But these men were getting long in the tooth, and they would be leaving the UHJ over the following six years. It was during this period that the UHJ began to draw its newest members from a pool of appointed “counsellors,” the International Teaching Committee (ITC), due perhaps to a lack of prominent princes in the Bahá’í frog pond.
Soon thereafter, with the advent of the Information Age, the UHJ seemed to have experienced a period of future shock. They got a little trigger-happy and expelled three rather loyal heretics: Karen Bacquet in 1997, Alison Marshall in 2000. and Sen McGlinn in 2005. I have read that some Iranian believers were declared “covenant breakers” in those years.
A couple years after Sen McGlinn was expelled, an ill-researched offensive against “marginals” and “apostates” was published by Moojan Momen. Three years on, the rather authoritarian “psychotherapist and organizational consultant” Stephen Birkland was promoted to membership on the high committee. Given these events, it is hard to expect substantive reform in the near future.
Today’s UHJ (2019) is not so recognizable as the group that I used to open the great iron gates for—back in 1986/7. One can hardly get basic biographical details on the current members. Besides the dubiously notorious Stephen Birkland, we have a school teacher/principal, a homeopath, and an associate lawyer. These are the standouts. Several come with little more than a name.
When are you guys going to elect Dwight Schrute?
Unfortunately, even the Great Dwight Hope won’t be able to fix this—he’s too much of a conformist. In a world where women have held some of the highest political offices in the world, Bahá’í women are locked out of the highest office of Bahá’í administration, an institution that might correspond in its influence and budget to the city council of a middling city.
In 2001, same-sex marriage was legalized in the Netherlands, and the old homophobic barriers began to fall like dominos. As same-sex unions become more and more common throughout the world, legal in Ecuador, Ireland, South Africa, Taiwan, and many other countries, the Bahá’í Faith remains scripturally fixed in its gender roles and sexual prohibitions. In this, the Information Age, these anachronisms are hard to hide.
Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue.Bahá’u’lláh