Creating a New Bahá’í Marriage Culture
by Raelee Peirce
The following article appeared in the September 2006 issue of the Baha’i Parenting Newsletter, available at bahaiparent.com. The author, Raelee Peirce, was kind enough to permit a copy of the article to be hosted here at doberman pizza.
Our world and our Bahá’í community are in trouble. Our Bahá’í youth are struggling in a culture that over-emphasizes the sex impulse. We are fooling ourselves as Bahá’í parents if we aren’t aware that our youth are having sexual experiences and they are feeling a great sense of shame and guilt and even leaving the Faith due to their feeling of unworthiness after breaking this law. Somehow as parents we are failing our children because we aren’t communicating the beauty and joy of sex within the marriage relationship. Perhaps we are waiting until our children turn into pre-youth or even youth before we decide to tell them "don’t have sex outside of marriage."
A list of "Do-Nots" is not a great way to inspire or create acceptance of this law. Instead, we should be emphasizing the joy of sex and what a fantastic gift it is within the marriage relationship when our children are young. We need to share with our preschoolers the idea of marriage and we need to discuss the concept of finding a husband or wife when our children are in grade school rather than entertaining the idea of boyfriends and girlfriends. We need to create a family culture that does not include our children or youth engaging in frivolous boy-girl relationships. For example, when a six-year-old talks about "liking" another of the opposite sex, one should not consider it cute and exclaim to others that Jamal has a little girlfriend. As a Bahá’í parent we need to say, "Jamal, it’s wonderful that you like Emma; it’s great to have lots of friends. One day when you are much older you will find a girl to be your wife and have a beautiful Bahá’í family!"
My three-year-old daughter loves Cinderella and anything to do with princesses. Recently we were staying at a hotel on a mini-vacation and we saw a bride with her wedding party in the lobby. My husband took Isabel over to see the “princess” and to her delight the bride smiled at her and said, “Do you like my princess dress?” We use any opportunity we can to share with her the joy and the excitement around marriage and being married.
When we consistently refer to boy-girl relationships as a marriage relationship through the young years and the expectation of our family standard is that boyfriends and girlfriends aren’t relevant, then it isn’t a part of our child’s context even when it is part of their world at school. Potential husbands and wives are the more acceptable concept. In this context, a young boy or girl is not likely to start seeking a marriage partner!
The middle school years are difficult for our children and some are following the lead of their peers. A life of secrecy and hiding becomes part of the way our young adolescents are living. Many of our youth have boyfriends and girlfriends and end up emotionally hurt over and over again through these immature romances that primarily revolve around game-playing, manipulation, and physical contact. By the time they are in high school, sex is no longer a mystery and is considered an acceptable part of a relationship. Today, oral sex is as common as kissing amongst teens because it is not considered to be sex.
Once our youth are in college disconnecting from the Bahá’í Faith is all too common. Some of our Bahá’í college students are inactive in the Faith because they are engaging in the college scene of sex and parties. Rather than feel like a hypocrite, they leave the Faith. They continue to date primarily non-Bahá’ís so they do not feel judged about their behavior and continue accumulating emotional wounds from the starts and break-ups of falling in out of love/lust/attraction. Once married, sustaining a long-term, committed relationship is about being fulfilled by another person, rather than serving the Cause of God. Should their spouse not be able to make them happy anymore, infidelity, unhappiness, and even divorce may result.
It is so important that we unconditionally love our children, even when they make mistakes. None of us are perfect Bahá’ís. Just because we love and accept our child who has made a mistake, we are not saying that breaking God’s law is okay. Judgment and consequences to the laws of God are left to God. As a community we must envelop our young people with love, not criticism. We all have our burdens to bear because of mistakes we have made. Each of us is developing our own relationship with God and we will answer to God. It isn’t necessary for parents to be unsupportive toward their children. This only has detrimental affects. God is the All-Merciful, the All-Forgiving. To go through life feeling guilty and shamed for our mistakes, only encourages making more mistakes or withdrawing more and more from God.
Our only message to our youth continues to be "don’t do it" or "be chaste." This is unacceptable and will not protect or inculcate the love of God in the hearts of our children and youth. Attending Feast, Holy Days and Bahá’í classes may assist some, but even this is not always enough to create a child or youth who desires to serve their Lord, dedicate their lives to Bahá’u’lláh, or become a champion of the Cause. So, what are some ideas? How can we better help instill the love of God?
- Attend Bahá’í activities and events regularly. Celebrate Baha’i Holy Days, pray, memorize prayers and writings, sing songs (especially when your children are young). Create Bahá’í traditions. This builds a Bahá’í identity.
- Engage your young children in discussions about life – marriage, the power of prayer and guidance in your own life.
- Model a joyful, happy Bahá’í marriage!
- Stay positive about the institutions of the Faith, Fasting, and daily prayer.
- Stay positive about life in general and share often your own struggles and how God assists you to get through.
- When appropriate, discuss the wonder and joy of sex when it is between two married persons. Share that the law of chastity is not to punish us or deny us joy, but it is a protection to us so that we have clarity and sound judgment. Tell your children and youth how sex can cloud their vision in a relationship or bring about unplanned pregnancies or disease.
- Share your high expectations and talk about trusting your child and/or youth.
- Learn the stories of the Old Testament and tell them regularly to your children and youth. These stories describe how God works and tell of his love, mercy, and judgment. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encourages us as parents to teach our children through stories!
- Talk about being a champion for God’s Cause, standing up for what is right and just in the world. Create rebels who are willing to stand up against corruption and immorality! We want to be heroes for God not enemies of God’s Cause. Be a warrior of what is True and of what is Just!
- Get support from other Bahá’í parents.
So, we’ve done all of this. God willing, we have chaste children, chaste pre-youth, and chaste youth. The sexual impulse begins between 11-13 years old and now our 18-year-old is going off to college. They have been chaste for five to seven years already. Now we hope that they will remain chaste through four years of college, and even some parents believe that their child should not think of marriage until after graduate school or professional school. So, now we have an individual in their late 20’s or even early 30’s who is chaste and finally has found a marriage partner. Is this realistic? Is this even healthy? And no wonder we are met with astonishment from non-Baha’is when we explain that our 29-year-old or 32-year-old needs parental consent to get married! Did Bahá’u’lláh establish the consent law because he didn’t believe that adults could manage this decision? Could it be that the consent law was given to us because it was intended to protect our children from making a poor marriage choice when they are young?
The beloved Guardian wrote, "Outside of marital life there can be no lawful or healthy use of the sex impulse. The Bahá’í youth, on the one hand, be taught the lesson of self-control, which when exercised, undoubtedly has a salutary effect on the development of character and personality in general, and on the other, should be advised, nay, even encouraged to contract marriage while still young and in full possession of their physical vigor. Economic factors, no doubt, are often a serious hindrance to early marriage, but in most cases are only an excuse, and as such should not be overstressed." From Unrestrained as the Wind, Shoghi Effendi, page 149. 
What about the age of 15 being the age of spiritual maturity? Bahá’u’lláh states that this is an age suitable for marriage. Is that realistic in our culture? Is that just for the future? Certainly most 15-year-olds aren’t ready to get married. However, perhaps as Bahá’í parents we should be encouraging our youth to attend Bahá’í activities, conferences, and Bahá’í schools with an open mind to finding a spouse. It is during their youth that they will meet the most Bahá’ís and have the most opportunity to find a spiritual connection. Attending college together as a young married couple, perhaps living with parents for financial and emotional support, sounds strange, inappropriate, or unacceptable. On the other hand, it could be a way of protecting our young people and creating strong marriages. This approach requires strong parental support. By encouraging our youth to wait for marriage, we are buying into the cultural norm. Our culture accepts pre-marital sex, companionate marriage, and serial monogamy because our culture is becoming more wary of the institution of marriage. As Bahá’ís, we are agreeing with the idea that marriage should be after education and in some cases should be considered when the individual is financially independent and stable. It is unrealistic to expect our youth to wait 20 years before they experience intimacy or a relationship. Our message is confusing and we will see more and more youth possibly leaving religion behind.
Just because we encourage young marriage, doesn’t mean our youth would become indiscriminate. On the contrary, by putting the male/female relationship into a marriage context, our youth may become more responsible, mature, and more "choosy" of their significant other. They may become more focused on their education at a young age, free from the burden of boy-girl games since marriage is not appropriate for a high school student! But between 18-25 years of age, more Bahá’í marriages could be taking place with the financial and emotional support and guidance of parents.
As a Bahá’í community who wants to create dedicated children and youth to the Cause of God for this day and encourage and support strong marriages and family life, we must dialogue about working toward our goals.
: From a letter dated 13 December 1940 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer. Also included in the compilation "A Chaste and Holy Life" (link).
The Triangle Bahá’í Cluster of North Carolina in the U.S. formed a Bahá’í Marriage Support Team based on the New York City Marriage Task Force model. The team is comprised of dedicated Bahá’ís and sponsored by a Local Spiritual Assembly. The team meets regularly to deepen on the Writings around marriage as well as other resources that assist them in providing support and guidance to single, married, and divorced community members. For more information about starting a Marriage Support Team in your area, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Raelee Peirce is a PCI Certified Parent Coach and Parent Educator and serves on the Triangle Bahá’í Marriage Support Team. She and her husband Glenn are raising their two young children with the loving support of her parents in a home they all built together in North Carolina, U.S.A. Their idea of all living together is, like they say in Hawaii, “Ohana” or the idea of living with your extended family! If you would like parenting support, visit her website at http://www.artofmothering.com for more information.