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Subject:Letter of resignation
Author: pdodenhoff <>

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Dear friends,
    As you are aware there has been much
discussion about the recent letter dated April 7,
1999 from the Universal House of Justice
concerning issues related to the study of the
Baha'i Faith. And as you know, these issues have
long been a serious concern of mine and many
others who are engaged in various academic
pursuits including the study of religion.
    Over the past weeks, I have read the letter
from the House many times and given it a great
deal of consideration, thought and prayer. When I
first read the letter after it appeared on Baha'i
Studies, I was shocked. Considering the dialogue
that I thought had begun between the
Administrative Order and Baha'i scholars in
February of 1998 at our meeting in Teaneck, I
felt upon reading it, and still do, that this
letter painted with a very broad brush all
scholars who are engaged in the academic study of
    I do not think it would serve here to give a
detailed statement of the many points which I
find objectionable in the letter. Until now I
have maintained a middle position concerning the
use of certain methodologies in the study of the
Baha'i Faith and have been open regarding the
areas in which I agree or disagree with certain
individuals or with the Baha'i Administration
regarding the role of Baha'i scholars.
    However, I do think it necessary to say that,
as one who is particularly engaged in the study
of New Religious Movements, I find this letter
very disturbing. The very tone of the letter
displays an attitude which I find difficult ot
reconcile with my understanding of the Faith of
Baha'u'llah. It states clearly that the methods
used in the academic study of religion are
"designed to ignore the truths that make religion
what it is" and that they, and by inference those
that use them, are tainted by the "reigning
doctrines of materialism." Apart from the fact
that this appears to me to reveal at least a
misunderstanding of the proper use of
methodologies and their purpose in academic
studies, this statement has overtones that can
only be described, in my opinion, as
fundamentalist in nature. This appears to become
even more evident as the reference to the
emphasis certain individuals place on academic
freedom is demonized as an attempt to "pervert
scholarly discourse," an assertion I find
particularly objectionable. Indeed, it would
appear that the proper use of scholarly
discourse, according to the inferences made in
the letter, should be nothing more than an
exercise in apologetics for the Baha'i Faith. I
have no quarrel with apologetics and its role in
religion. But it has no place in academic studies
where the  truth claims of any tradition are
beyond the purview of the academic endeavor to
prove or disprove. These are matters of the
spirit and the heart which are beyond the
limitation of any methodology to understand.
However, despite that limitation, methods are
developed to help us understand the actualities
of religion in historical and sociological
contexts. Without such understanding, and the
vital healthy criticism that can strengthen a
faith community, religion eventually devolves
into mere ritual, superstition, formality and
authoritarianism. It may be true that there are
some scholars who, even as people of faith, take
what appears to be an extreme approach in the use
of methodologies when studying religion. I can
understand better those of my colleagues who
claim no faith as their own or who even reject
faith altogether, where in such cases it is
appropriate to rely on "materialistic" methods.
And I believe that to some extent an
understanding is gained through such endeavors.
Contrary to the statement in the April 7 letter,
though, I have never met nor have I ever heard
any  scholar of religion claim that "religion
itself can be adequately understood only through
the use of an academic methodology." Indeed, it
has been my experience that most are still not
agreed on what constitutes a proper definition of
religion. Yes, there are some who may claim to
fully understand religion and who take an
adversarial stance against anythng that would
reflect an attitude of faith, but I have found,
to the credit of the academy, that this is not
reflective of all scholars. Most simply object to
the attempt to inject ideas such as revelation or
spirit into an academic discussion of religion,
an objection with which I concur. It seems that
the April 7 letter reveals a desire within Baha'i
Administration to "have ones cake and eat it,
too" for while it rejects these methodologies as
"dogmatic materialism" it seeks to be accepted,
on terms of its own making, into the very arena
of discourse it so decries, an arena in which
method, not revelation, is the tool used to
understand religion. Yet, it is true that methods
are simply tools which, like scholarship in
general, have a proper and an improper use. Now
one may not approve of the way an individual or
individuals use their tools and is free to
express that disapproval. But in doing so, one
should not be surprised if they receive an equal
amount of criticism for the manner in which they
use their own tools! In this case, the April 7
letter from the House criticizes _what they
perceive to be_ an improper use of methodologies.
Is it any surprise, then, that some scholars who
work with those methodologies, Baha'i and non-
Baha'i, are critical of the application of
something as subjective as revelation and faith
in engaged academic discourse? I think not.
Rather than seeking common ground and _on an
active, daily basis, engaging in  serious
consultation _for the purpose of understanding
each other_ both sides have become polarized, a
situation exacerbated by this letter.  It is
unfortunate and not a little frightening to read
this letter with its "us against them" tone so
prominently displayed. More than that, it is
saddening to see that the letter did not make any
attempt to assure the NSA's to whom it was sent
that this may not be a reference to all Baha'i
academics. In light of the recent events in some
parts of the U.S., where some individuals have
been subjected to the indignity of an
investigation because of their beliefs, one would
suppose that such assurances would be included in
the letter. While it may be argued that the
letter was meant to be private, only for the
NSA's, one should not be surprised that it turned
up on the internet and that it caused such pain.
More surprising than that, I believe, is the
publishing of it in the latest edition of Baha'i
Canada without any commentary or
contextualization. Imagine the effect this will
no doubt have on those who are already suspicious
of academic methods and those that engage in
academic study! More than the letter itself, I
find this action particularly irresponsible.
    As I said above, I was shocked when I first
read this letter. I was also very angry. And I
suppose that in some measure I still am. But over
the past few weeks consideration of the contents
of this letter have caused Lisa and I to step
back and reconsider some of the issues which
concern us, particularly those with which we have
struggled as members of the Baha'i Faith. The
result has been a recognition that, despite our
love for the Baha'i Faith, and for the many
friends we have made as part of the Baha'i
community, there are some issues which, if we are
to be honest with ourselves and with the Baha'i
Faith, call for an obedience which we cannot
    One of these, for me, is the issue of review,
a process which I find repressive and distasteful
as a scholar, and one to which I simply would not
submit. Despite the assurances that it is only
temporary, it is still a present reality which
shows no sign of being abolished in the near
    Another is the ban on living as a practicing
homosexual while a Baha'i. Both Lisa and I have
always taken a clear stand on gay and lesbian
rights. For us, that clearly meant that gays and
lesbians have the right to live _completely_ in
same-sex relationships, including marriage and
child-rearing. Indeed, we can point to many gay
friends who have marriage relationships which put
many heterosexual marriages to shame and who are
raising happy, well-adjusted children. It was not
until after I became a Baha'i that I learned, on
my own, of the teachings on this issue. I was
dismayed, but tried to convince myself that I
could live with this and could simply be quiet on
the issue. Lisa became a Baha'i thinking that it
would be easy enough to avoid the issue, and both
of us held out hope that the Faith would soon
change its stand on this issue. By the time it
became a reality that this would not happen, we
had convinced ourselves, or so we thought, that
the issue wasn't important.  Similarly, we had
the same feelings concerning women serving on the
House of Justice.
    But, over the past weeks, we have come to
realize just how important these and other social
matters are to us. We became convinced that the
spiritual reality of the Mashriqu'l-Adkhar has
been, for the most part, forgotten or ignored.
Having been raised in a tradition in which I was,
from my earliest years on, engaged in social
welfare work, I find and Lisa doesas well, that
I am uncomfortable with the spending of Baha'i
funds for the Arc project while there are so many
other ways in which they could be used to help so
many who desperately need it. While I do not wish
to be critical, I must express my doubt that the
completion of the Arc will mean little to the
single mother trying to raise children on her own
or the homeless family who have no place to sleep
other than unsafe shelters or cardboard boxes.
And while some may say that we should use
"individual initiative" in such matters (which we
do), and while we grant there are many individual
Baha'is who do such vital work, it must be
acknowledged that Baha'is are a _community_ and
as such should be addressing these issues as a
body of believers on the local, national and
international levels in equal measure to those of
other traditions.
    Most distressing, though, has been the
growing sense of fear that can be observed within
certain parts of the Baha'i community. As an
assistant, I have grown increasingly
uncomfortable with the seeming need to keep track
of and report on the activities of individuals,
something which I initially thought to be
necessary to protect the Covenant and serve the
cause. But recent events have convinced Lisa and
me that such practices, and especially the notion
that anyone may at any time be "investigated,"
are out of keeping with both the teachings of
Baha'u'llah and with who we are and what we
believe about the essence of religion. Having
been raised in a tradition in which I was
constantly fearful of "losing my salvation" due
to some action or thought, a notion with which I
lived for much of my life, I will not allow such
fear to again stifle the spiritual growth of
myself or that of my family.
    Central to the Baha'i Faith is a trust in the
institutions of the Administrative Order and, one
would assume, a trust of the individual by the
Administration. I have increasingly come to lose
that trust in the Administrative Order, and
especially with the release of this latest
letter. Let me be clear, though, that this does
not reflect in any way on the individual members
of those institutions, most of whom I have never
met. I am certain that they are all doing the
best they can in their positions to administer
the affairs of the Baha'i Faith in a faithful and
honest manner, even as they are subject to human
frailties,  which we believe can indeed interfere
with openness to and understanding of the Divine
will, a human predicament with which we all
    As a result of this recognition, we believe
that it is best for us, and for the Baha'i Faith,
to formally submit our resignation. In doing so,
we recognize that there will be some who will,
depsite anything we may say, accuse us of
rejecting Baha'u'llah. However, as one's faith
can be conditioned by no one but one's self, we
want to make clear here that we still believe
Baha'u'llah to be the Manifestation of God. Our
relationship to and understanding of Baha'u'llah
is something which we must work out for ourselves
apart from "official" involvement within the
Administrative Order. of the Baha'i Faith. I
believe it is necessary to also state for the
record, despite our resignation, we believe that,
based on the evidence of the texts, it is clear
that the legitimate authority for the Baha'i
community is the Universal House of Justice whose
seat is on Mt. Carmel and the Adminstrative Order
in the various parts of the globe. We reject,
simply based on facts, any pretense to authority
of any other alleged "Baha'i" body or
    Most importantly, we believe that by
resigning, we will avoid being a cause of
disunity within the community. For were we to
remain, we could not, in good conscience, remain
silent about these and other issues which are
important to us.
    Our purpose in writing this letter has been
only to explain, perhaps at greater length than
we initially desired,  why we are taking this
step. Our decision has been our own. There have
been some close friends with whom we have
discussed this matter and who have given us their
honest advice. None of them have advised us to
leave, some have suggested we stay and try to
just "go about our business," but all of them
have given their support and love and all will
remain our close friends. We pray that this is
true for all of you whom we have had the great
bounty of knowing and still love with all our
With warmest love,
Paul and Lisa Dodenhoff
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