The Subject of Boys

The 60-year journey of the ashes of Alain Locke, father of the Harlem Renaissance

“Look what I’ve got!”

{josquote}Black, gay and short, Locke hardly fit the stereotype of the strapping Rhodes scholar...{/josquote}

Joellen ElBashir is standing, smiling, in front of filing cabinets with two long, low drawers agape. On a counter, she has laid out her finds: typewritten documents and a stained brown paper bag bearing a few faint lines of handwriting. It’s not the first time ElBashir, curator of Howard University’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, has seen the bag. But every time she sees it, she’s struck.

“If Alain Locke had known, he ... ”

The container that held Locke’s ashes for almost 60 years. It was kept in a paper bag. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

ElBashir chuckles and shakes her head, but it’s clear what she means: If Locke had known his cremated remains had been inside that grubby paper bag, he’d be rolling in his grave.

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Abdu’l-Baha on religious law and the House of Justice

This tablet by Abdu’l-Baha, dated around 1899, responds to detailed questions, “concerning the wisdom of referring some important laws to the House of Justice.” Abdu’l-Baha replies that, in principle, the Baha’i Faith is similar to Christianity, whose scriptures also specify only a few laws.

The Bahai Faith, he says, has little connection to worldly concerns. Religion’s primary function is to refine characters and bring light in darkness. However the Bahai scriptures do specify some foundations of our religious law, leaving subsidiary matters to the divinely-inspired House of Justice, which can make ‘cultural laws,’ (ahkaam madaniyyih) in accordance with time and circumstance. In Islam, this power was in the hands of diverse divines, resulting in conflicting rules. In the Bahai Faith, only the rulings of the Houses of Justice are binding, and the Houses of Justice change their rulings from time to time. This principle applies to a local, national or international House of Justice.

{josquote}As for the matter of marriage, this falls entirely within the ‘cultural laws.’{/josquote}

Abdu’l-Baha gives two examples of the advantage of flexibility in religious law: the forbidden degrees of marriage and the punishments for breaches of the religious law. The first should be decided by the House of Justice according to social customs and medical requirements, wisdom, and suitability for human nature (the first three of which are specific to a time and place). Punishments likewise cannot remain the same forever, as can be seen in Judaism and Islam, where the punishments specified in scripture are no longer socially acceptable.

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The Faith is my life

I was born and raised in a Baha’i family in Malaysia. I am a 3rd generation Baha’i. I realized that I was different when I was about 13 years old. When I found out that I was attracted to someone of the same sex, my whole world came crashing down. I was devastated and heartbroken because I couldn’t accept the fact. I was scared. I grew up believing that homosexuality was a disease and can be cured.

{josquote}I prayed to God to send me someone to talk to and He did.{/josquote}

Every day I prayed and asked God to make me normal. He seemed to answer all my other prayers except this one. I became confused. I cried a lot, sometimes crying myself to sleep. I asked God “why me?” but He never told me the reason. I had nowhere to turn or talk to.

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What Do Baha’is Believe? Sexual Orientation

Couple holding hands

Question: The Baha’i religion believes that everyone is equal, no matter what ethnicity or gender, but what about sexual orientation?

According to the teachings of Baha’u’llah, we have one duty toward each other — that is to love. This love, the Baha’i scriptures repeatedly remind us, must be universal because God’s love is universal:

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Why I Can’t Say Love the Sinner / Hate the Sin Any More

{josquote}It’s a special sort of condescending love we’ve reserved for the gay community.{/josquote}

I thought we just needed to try harder. Maybe we needed to focus more on loving the sinner, and less on protesting his sin.

But I’m done. I can’t look my gay brother in the eye any more and say “I love the sinner but hate the sin.”

I can’t keep drawing circles in the sand.

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