|Communityas a Passion|
|Communityas a Passion|
by Jim Habegger
"We're going to live in a black neighborhood."
That was my then 21-year old daughter, in the plane, in August 1997.The white suburbanite family I belong to was on the way to live in theU.S. after 14 years in Martinique as pioneers for the Baha'i Faith. Mythen 19-year-old son, my wife, and I pondered a few seconds, and said "Yes,of course."
One of our central concerns, in trying to make ourselves useful in God'splan, is helping to bring together people who have been divided from eachother by racism. None of us knew what good it might do for us to move intoa black neighborhood, but we all felt called to do it.
After we moved in, we invited all our neighbors to an open house, andhave tried in various ways to develop friendships with them. One neighborcomes occasionally to pray with us for the neighborhood, the children,and the world, and talk about what God is doing and our part in it.
My personal efforts have mostly revolved around getting to know my neighborsand joining hands with them in service to the community. For a while Iwent to the family resource center once a week, trying to make myself useful,and gave a class to teach elementary school children to make Web pagesfor their classrooms. I've helped two elementary schools with their Webpages. Now I'm reading to children and teaching them Origami once a weekat an after-school center. My wife is teaching at one of the schools servingthe poorest people, and mentoring two girls. I think her work could makeas good a movie as "Music of the Heart."
"Looking for other people in the same dilemma to talk to."
This was in a religious discussion list, posted by someone who fellin love only with people of the same gender and who felt torn between romanticlongings and religious beliefs. I don't remember how I came across it.I've been mildly interested in gay issues most of my life. I've known gays,and friends of gays, and my mother was very interested in them.
Searching the Web for people for her to talk to, and visiting Web sites,I learned about exgay therapy. The more I read, the more it horrified me.I started looking for people I could work with to give people with unwantedsga some better possibilities. That eventually led me to B-A.
I have a sort of Don Quixote complex impelling me irresistibly to gallopto the aid of people in distress, especially where I see injustice. Firstit was the people who lost touch with many dear friends when the GeoCitieschat rooms were reorganized. I spent hours roaming the rooms looking forlost friends, and submitted ideas to GeoCities for ways to help them. Thenit was the people with prize-winning and community-serving Web pages, whowere shamelessly betrayed when their pages were carelessly sabotaged bythe GeoCities Watermark. Now it's gays, all gays, whichever way they decideto turn.
There's no history of homosexuality in my life. The experiences I thinkare most relevant here are the ones on both sides of the faith divide.Most of my life I've been practicing and promoting a way of life that includesrigorous observance of practices I've recognized as commandments of God.Simultaneously, for many years I suffered, sometimes excruciatingly andcatastrophically, from doubts about my salvation associated with otherpeople's views about me.
The earliest religious experience I remember was learning the twenty-thirdpsalm and the Lord's prayer from my big sister. I have precious memoriesof reciting that psalm, and the comfort it brought me.
For several years while I was in elementary school, I attended children'sclasses at the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. I don't rememberspecifically what we did. Mostly what I remember is how good it felt, andhow much I loved my teacher. I know what children have always studied inBaha'i classes. Most of all how the different kinds of people in the worldare all part one family, and how good it is that we're so different. Aboutthe prophets of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the other religions ofthe world, and their common service to one plan of God. About fellowshipand collaboration with people of all races, nations, classes, and religions.About the equality of women and men. About the spiritual dimensions oflife, and developing spiritual qualities and virtues. About practicingyour occupation in a spirit of service as a form of worship. I see nowthat the values I clung to in high school in interpersonal relationships,that collided with dominant social conventions, came from that training.
Just before seventh grade I moved, and for several years had virtuallyno contact with the Baha'i Faith. I attended an Evangelical and Reformedchurch. I have fond memories of the confirmation class, the friends I madethere, and the things we did together, including Christmas caroling anda summer camp. One memory of the classes that stands out is the time wediscussed whether Jesus was really the Messiah. In fact, I was the onewho actually asked the question, but I'm sure now I was just the firstto see where the teacher was leading us. Of course we concluded that Jesuswas truly the Messiah.
One turning point I remember in my faith journey is wondering how ourconsciousness could continue after death, if it's an activity of our brains.Someone whose opinions I took very seriously said "What makes you thinkit does?" That gave me a lot to think about, and from that time I movedsteadily towards atheism, possibly assisted by Ayn Rand, arriving sometime in my first or second year of college. Even as a confirmed atheist,I never lost my admiration for Jesus, as I knew Him from the gospels. Iknew that some people were doubting His very existence, but I never believedthat ordinary people could invent a character that could affect peopleacross 2000 years the way He affected me. It puzzled me why He would indulgepeople's superstitions about God, but I trusted Him to have good reasons.
I admired Baha'u'llah in the same way, with the same questions, andthe Baha'i Faith was still my favorite religion because of its social implications.From my first year in college I had two books with Baha'i writings, whichI devoured, in search of practical applications. I also read some otherbooks which opened me up to the possibility of the universe being designedby Someone or Something. Baha'u'llah's words about Christ increased myreverence for Christ, and devotion to Him.
Christians whose only spiritual interest in others is saving them alwaysannoyed me. I'll refer to them here as "salvation-minded Christians." Theyseemed mean-spirited, superstitious, and obnoxious. Some of the tractsabout the devil, and going to hell if you didn't do this or that, seemedobscene to me. Those people seemed like alien creatures to me. I wantedto be at one with all the people of the world, but with them I couldn'tsee how it could ever be possible. One thing I especially liked about thewritings of Baha'u'llah was that they gave me hope of reconciling withsalvation-minded Christians. Baha'u'llah seemed to understand everythingthey were talking about, and to uphold it, without scorning the human mindand offending my sense of justice the way they did.
I became friends with a member of Campus Crusade For Christ, and hadsome discussions with him about the plan of salvation. Eventually thatled to me inviting Christ into my life. I remember that the hardest partof entrusting myself to Him was the fear of becoming like those Christianswho offended me so much. That was the ultimate test for me of my trustin Christ. Unexpectedly, since then I've never felt alone the way I usedto. I sometimes feel alone in my pursuit of some interest or other, butnever Completely Alone.
Another turning point I remember in my faith journey was in 1969, atTyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Florida. I was still studying thewritings of Baha'u'llah, and trying to practice whatever I honestly could.I had advanced fairly well in my understanding of what it could mean totalk about God. I admired very much the work of the Baha'i community, andwanted to support it, but was held back from joining by doubts about someof the claims of Baha'u'llah, as I understood them. Most of all the claimthat the return of Christ was fulfilled with the appearance of Baha'u'llah.I wasn't sure just what Christ meant in talking of His return, but whatBaha'is were saying about it seemed to me to be really stretching things.
One day I was reading something in the writings of Baha'u'llah, andsuddenly I recognized the voice of Christ, as I had come to know Him fromthe gospels. Not someone imitating Christ. Christ. That's how it felt tome. I think it would be futile to try to substantiate it. That's my descriptionof what happened to me. I exclaimed, "It is Him, it really is Him."
I wrote a letter to my mom: "What do I do to join the Baha'i Faith?"I dropped it in the slot at the post office, then went to get my incomingmail. There was a letter from my mom: "By the way, if you ever come toyour senses and decide to join the Baha'i Faith..." with an address ofsomeone to contact. That person put me in touch with someone in Tallahasseewho invited me to a public proclamation at the University of West Florida.For some reason I hesitated to go. I decided that when I went to the messhall to eat, I would invite someone at the table go with me, and if heagreed, I would go. The person I met and invited agreed to go, and he afterwardsbecame the second best companion I've ever had.
At the proclamation in Tallahassee, at the entrance to the auditorium:
"I'm looking for Dr. H. Do you know him?"
The woman I was later to discover was Mrs. H. replied with an amusedsmile, "Yes, I do," and took me to meet him. She introduced me to him,then he introduced me to her, and to their children, one of whom, Patty,is now my wife.
A few visits later, I joined the Baha'i Faith. That was the beginningof my calvary of struggling with the view of salvation-minded Christiansthat I'm not saved, that I don't really know Christ. By this time my studyof the writings of Baha'u'llah had convinced me that there really is sucha thing as eternal life, and that we do have a choice to make, with DreadfulConsequences if we choose wrong. To the best of my knowledge and understandingI had chosen right in following Baha'u'llah, but according to all salvation-mindedChristians I ever met I had chosen wrong. I'm never willing to scornfullydismiss other people's points of view, no matter how incontrovertible mineseems to me, or how ludicrous and contemptible theirs. I always feel asense of responsibility to look for the truth in other people's views,including the view that I'm wrong.
For about the next ten years I worried off and on about the meaningof salvation and whether I had thought the right thoughts, said the rightwords, felt the right feelings, and/or taken the right steps, in orderto be saved. This happened more or less often, depending on my encounterswith salvation-minded Christians. Every soul-saving group had its own gimmickfor convincing others they hadn't truly been baptized yet. Even bona fide,baptized, born-again Christians weren't safe. You weren't really baptizedif you weren't immersed. It wasn't true baptism if you didn't speak intongues. If you were really saved you'd have the same arrogant assuranceof your salvation as your evangelist. They hit the jackpot with me. "Thereis no other name..." "No man cometh unto the father but by me..." "Whosoaddeth to the words of this book..." False prophets, wolves in sheep'sclothing, another gospel. You name it, I got clobbered with it. I wentover it all again and again, combing the Bible and the words of Baha'u'llah,praying and meditating. I'm very happy with all the things I learned inthe process, but it was agonizing at times.
Some time around 1980 I had a crisis which I think was an outgrowthof all this. For a period of many months I was literally paralyzed forhours on end, nearly every day, unable to move because of internal debatesabout what I should be doing. I didn't dare talk to anyone about it, noteven Patty. I was terrified and ashamed of what was happening to me. Istill don't know how to explain it to anyone. I think I eventually talkedto Patty and to my mother about it, in vague terms.
I finally developed a personal program of prayer, study, and makingnotes about my internal debates, and gradually came out of it. Since thenI haven't agonized any more about my salvation, although I still give fullconsideration to what other people say about it.
History of my thoughts andfeelings about gays and homosexuality.
The earliest thing I remember is hearing the words "homo" and "queer"used jokingly among my friends in junior high school. For example, if oneguy got too close to another, the other might say "Get away from me, youqueer!" I don't remember anyone thinking anyone really was gay. CertainlyI never associated someone being called "queer" with sexual relationships.I just thought of it as a guy being mushy with guys.
Maybe I'd better explain my ideas at that time about sex in general.When I was going to school, everybody was still pretending to disapproveof "going all the way," outside of marriage, with varying degrees of disapprovalfrom one person to another for necking and petting. Girls were understoodto want to save something for marriage, and guys were understood to wanteverything now. Of course every guy expected the girl he married to bea virgin. There were two kinds of girls, girls who would "do it," and girlsa guy might want to marry. I'm talking about the popular mythology, notnecessarily what everybody really thought.
It was understood that a guy would try to get a girl to have sex withhim by trying to make her think he loved her and always would. A nice girl,if she had sex at all, would do it only with the guy she thought was herone in the world.
My dating behavior was partly influenced by the complaints I'd heardfrom my big sister about what octopuses boys were. The thought uppermostin my mind when I started dating, as far as sex was concerned, was notto be an octopus. As a result, I never so much as held hands with a girluntil my second year in college. That meant that whenever I fell in lovein high school, it was without the slightest possibility of sex in mind.I didn't even fantasize the slightest eroticism with the girls I fell inlove with. Romance and sex were entirely and irrevocably dissociated inmy mind.
This dissociation extended to my thoughts and feelings about gays. Ididn't at that time associate being gay with same-gender sex. I knew thatsometimes boys masturbated each other, and I knew about oral and anal sex,but I didn't connect them with being gay.
It was the same way later, when I sometimes heard my mother, an amateurfreudian therapist, talking about gays, who were some of her favorite clients.I thought of gays as men who only fall in love with men. I'm not sure Iever thought of lesbians at all. The only connection I made between gaysand sex was that I knew some women like being around gay men because theydon't have to worry about warding off advances.
All this was before I ever heard about any of the social issues, soI never did any deep thinking about gays and homosexuality.
The first time I remember thinking seriously about gays and homosexualitywas when someone who was thinking of joining the Baha'i Faith was hesitatingbecause of the prohibition against sex outside of heterosexual marriages.She wasn't lesbian, but she had friends who were gay, and this law seemedto her to be terribly unfair. I did a lot of thinking about that, and wrotean essay about it for her. She was apparently satisfied and finally decidedto join. I won't try to reproduce that essay here, but there are some thingsI remember about it that show I was leaning towards equality from the verybeginning.
1. There was nothing in my essay about sga being defective in any way.From the very beginning I never saw sga in itself as a problem or a symptomof a problem. I suppose it was at that time that I became aware that allthe feelings I've ever had for women, I sometimes have for men. At thattime I didn't try to confirm my capacity to be sexually stimulated by aman's body.
2. I didn't assume that anyone who really wanted to could learn oga.I understood that for a lot of people, giving up same-gender sex wouldin practice mean giving up sex altogether for life, and I agreed that itwas a lot to ask, and did seem unfair.
Fast forward to the mid eighties. I learned that a friend of mine wasgay. About all this meant to me was that Patty could be more comfortablewith him than just about any other man, and that I associated some of thethings I like about him with his homosexuality. We both loved his company.The only trouble I know of that he had with other people was that anothercouple we knew never invited him to their house. We never talked aboutthe social issues surrounding gays.
Later when he decided to give up sgb, I offered him some of my ideasabout how he might be able to acquire oga. By this time I had become moreaware of a connection between being gay and having same-gender sexual relationships.He said that he didn't doubt that, in purely sensual terms, he could enjoysex with a woman. The problem was that it wouldn't mean anything to him.That put a different light on things for me. I realized that suggestinghe could learn oga was a little like telling someone whose girlfriend justbroke up with him that he could learn to love someone else! Even so, mostof the implications of that were lost on me at the time.
Years later, after my arrival in the U.S. and my initiation to the Web,someone I was corresponding with talked about the way gays had been blamedfor some scandal about people getting AIDS through blood transfusions.That may have been what originally inspired my research on the Internetthat eventually led me the SOS I described above, and later to BridgesAcross.
After that SOS, I agonized a lot over the plight of people with sgawho disapprove of homosexuality, and who think there's something wrongwith them. I wanted desperately to find some way to reach them and reassurethem. I started working on some Web pages to help them affirm their same-genderlove and practice their heterosexian convictions at the same time.
The next development in my thinking was when I first learned that peoplewere debating about job discrimination against gays, and marriage for gaycouples. I hesitated a few seconds, or possibly even a few minutes, overthe question of allowing sgb-affirming gays to be teachers, for example,before realizing how ludicrous it would be not to. Marriage was more ofa struggle. It seemed unthinkable to support the idea of same-gender civilmarriage. It seemed almost like recanting my faith. To explain how I overcamethis, I'll use an example from mathematics.
I'm very skilled in mathematics, but I sometimes make mistakes. Thereare times when I can tell my result is wrong, even though I can't findany mistakes in my work.
It was the same way with civil marriage for gay couples. No matter howincontrovertible it seemed to me, according to my theories, that gay couplesshouldn't be allowed to marry, something told me there had to be somethingwrong somewhere. I went over and over it, and couldn't find my mistake.Finally, I just did what some people call "taking a leap of faith." I prayedfor guidance and protection, and simply willed myself to accept civil marriagefor gay couples. Since then I've found what I think are very good reasonsfor people with conscientious objections to homosexuality to favor theelimination of gender considerations from civil marriage laws.
Some time before I started at B-A, I explored the NARTH site, and itnauseated me. Apart from the case studies in homophobia I found there,I've never agreed with trying to get rid of a person's sga, or trying tochange a person's orientation. My thoughts revolve around making the bestof human capacities, and there I see people trying to undermine human capacities.It seems like the opposite of what's needed even for someone who wantsto give up sgb. I can't think of any reason for anyone trying to get ridof sga, that doesn't offend me. NARTH was clearly doing things abhorrentto me, and I imagined that the ministries were doing the same things. Myvisit to a local ministry, and what I learned from Carlton and Sonia, changedmy mind about the ministries, although I've never been able to find outeverything I need to know to be completely reassured.
I wanted desperately to keep gays away from programs that devalue sga.Besides the harmful emotional effects, I think the expectation of losingsga, and the expectation of changing orientation, are enough in themselvesto explain the failure rates of those programs. I'm still hoping for thatto change, and still looking for ways I can help it change. I think a personwho values her sga, and her relationships with other gays and whatevergay communities she's been a part of, will be in a much better positionto learn to manage her sexual relationships the way she wants to and eveneventually to have a happy and successful marriage with a person of theother sex.
Some of the discussions at B-A have made me aware that what's beingpromoted by gay rights advocates, especially what they're promoting forpublic schools, is likely to lead to unfair treatment of people with conscientiousobjections to homosexuality. I'll do whatever I can to alleviate that,but I don't consider it an excuse for anyone to oppose any efforts forgay equality, including those involving the public schools.
My position on social andmoral issues:
As far as public policy is concerned, I think it's wrong for any policyto be designed to discriminate against gays.
As far as faith communities are concerned, I want the disagreements tobe worked out within each community in accordance with the provisions ofthat community for conflict resolution, without external interference, includingharassment. Personally I think any discrimination based on orientation aloneis wrong for any community. I'm not opposed to churches defining marriageas strictly heterosexual, but in most cases I think it's hypocritical inview of the way they've accommodated frivolous marriages and divorces andother abuses of marriage.
I don't think there should be any more interference with healing ministriesthan with any other religious outreach, but I think they're wrong to singleout homosexuality as a problem in itself. I don't agree with devaluing sga,or trying to change a person's orientation, but I think people should befree to make their own decisions about that and not have them made by others.I think the ministries probably serve some people better than anything elseavailable.
As far as the morality of homosexual relationships is concerned, in myview it would be wrong to make any categorical statement about it. SomeBaha'is may do so, citing Baha'i writings about marriage, sexual prohibitions,and chastity, and letters from Baha'i institutions responding to questionsabout homosexuality. I endorse those writings and those responses, butI maintain that in my view it would be wrong to make any categorical statementabout the morality of homosexual relationships. If two people are enjoyingsexual pleasure together, knowing they're both women or both men isn't enoughfor me to know it's wrong.
Some Baha'i principles that I do think are relevant to social issuessurrounding gays are justice, the elimination of prejudice, the equalityof women and men, consultation, the complementarity of science and religion,universal human fellowship and companionship, the development of human virtuesand capacities, making the best of our diversity to be all we can be together,the social role of families, and the education of children.
Here are some of the ways I apply Baha'i writings on marriage and chastity:
I'm working to spread the knowledge and love of God. I'm practicingand promoting permanent marriage, and responsible and competent parenting,in all families, including those formed by gay couples. I'm working forbetter recognition and support of all families, including those formed bygay couples. I'm working to strengthen all families, including those formedby gay couples, and make better use of their capacities. I'm practicingand promoting volunteer work with children and youth. I'm working for theequality of women and men. I'm working for gay equality. I'm working topromote appreciation of gays, their relationships, and their distinctivecultural contributions. I'm working to dispel common myths about love, marriage,romance and sex. I'm working for every person on earth to have everythingshe needs to develop her capacities and combine them with those of othersin fellowship and service. Those are some of the things I think will bestserve my beliefs about God's recommendations for sex and marriage.
I don't know. It seems to be much more than a passing interest thistime. It seems to be a genuine calling. Is it because my mother was soproud of befriending some of them? Is it because of my same-gender attractions,which I've always thought are common to everyone, whether they recognizethem or not? Is it because it was such a deep concern to some people I'veknown? Is it because it's such a challenge to combine unqualified equalitywith shameless heterosexism? Is it because of that lonely SOS in a mailinglist? I don't know. I only know it won't let go.
I've worked most of my life in computer programming and help desk, butin 1999 I started working as a grounds worker, partly in connection withmy ideas about economic justice, and partly for my health.