The Guardian’s Guardian?

You may be familiar with some of the more startling things said about homosexuality in the Bahá’í writings. If not, here’s a sampling:

Homosexuality is highly condemned … (6 October 1956)

… through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap. … it is forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh, … (26 March 1950)

… [the homosexual] must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make every effort to overcome this affliction, which is corruptive for him and bad for the Cause. If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his voting rights taken away. (20 June 1953)

These excerpts paint a bleak picture, but the broader image is one of tolerance and compassion. Still, homosexuality itself is depicted as a “handicap” and an “affliction” that ought to be treated by doctors. On top of this, “homosexuality is highly condemned.”

None of these words were written by a leader of the Bahá’í Faith, but rather by a secretary of Shoghi Effendi, “Guardian of the Cause” from 1921 to 1957. Though the mere scribblings of a lowly secretary, these words are thoroughly authoritative—the Guardian himself said so. He appeared to have cosigned each one of the letters (I have not verified every case). Still, what virtuoso secretary would the Guardian of God’s Cause bless with the privilege to speak on his behalf?

Mary Maxwell

Mary Maxwell

His wife, probably. We know that she wrote one of the three cited letters, and I’m going to guess that she wrote the other two as well (which I have not been able to locate).

This conjecture should surprise no one who knew his wife, Mary Maxwell, whom he named Ruhiyyih. She was as sharp as she was beautiful. She had been raised in a leading Bahá’í family. Her father, like Mary herself, had been honored with the title “Hand of the Cause.” Few Bahá’ís would have been more qualified to speak on the subject of the Bahá’í Faith.

The time period of the four known letters on the subject of homosexuality was from 1949 to 1956, the final eight years of Shoghi Effendi’s life. It was during these years that the Guardian bestowed a number of honors on his his friend Charles Mason Remey, an older Bahá’í who had been a leading Bahá’í when Shoghi was just a boy.

In 1950, the Guardian asked Remey to move to Israel so that they could work together. The Guardian then appointed Remey a Hand of the Cause and appointed him president of the International Bahá’í Council, the predecessor of the Universal House of Justice. The president of the Universal House of Justice was going to be the Guardian.

The Guardian also made Remey the architect of several temples and appeared to give Remey some holy relics.

Given Remey’s track record by 1950, all these honors may have been misdirected. His credentials as an architect were dubious. He hadn’t designed any building other than his own mansion and mausoleum, so far as I know. The mausoleum, which he dubbed the Remeum, was a towering example of self-indulgent excess and poor planning. Living off of inherited wealth, with friends and associates in high places, Remey had never been much more than a promoter of the Bahá’í Faith. As such, he had introduced Mary Maxwell’s father to the Faith. In 1909, Shoghi’s illustrious grandfather `Abdu’l-Bahá’ asked prominent Bahá’í Juliet Thompson to marry Remey. Thompson politely and respectfully declined.

What did `Abdu’l-Bahá’ see in Remey in 1909? What did the Guardian see in him in 1950?

I have wondered whether Ruhiyyih was guiding the Guardian himself through those four letters. Why did the Guardian seem reticent to write on the matter? It is possible that he had gay friends. Some have said that Mason Remey was gay. Did the Guardian himself have gay leanings? He certainly wasn’t the most masculine man in appearance, he didn’t marry until age 40, and his young, beautiful wife would later claim that he had been too busy to have children (I believe I heard her say this during a visit in Israel). I don’t believe the Guardian was gay, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he was.

Some few have alleged that the Guardian left a will in which he appointed Remey to be his successor, and that Ruhiyyih destroyed the document when Shoghi died. I doubt this, but if it was the case, Ruhiyyih Khanum may have saved the Bahá’í Faith. Remey was visibly incompetent. He made a fool of himself when he claimed to be the new Guardian at age 75, but he’d always been incompetent.

©2017 Kaweah (Dan Jensen)

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