Bahai News - Bahá'is preach equality of religion, humankind
Bahá'is preach equality of religion, humankind
Jun 26 2001 12:00AM By Tim O'Donnell
For many of us, our faith is something we are born into. Our parents
raised us to worship under the guidelines of a specific religion, sect
or denomination. Later on in life, we accept those beliefs on our own
terms, and pass them on to our own children.
tradition and spreading beliefs to new people, the world's major
religions have spanned thousands of years and millions upon millions of
people. The enduring nature of religions such as Buddhism, Christianity,
Hinduism, Islam and Judaism has made their beliefs and practices
commonplace in our society.
But when a religion is relatively
new, the beliefs may be unknown and the practices obscure.
many, the ideals and practices of Bahá'ism are just that - though
the word "Bahá'i" may seem vaguely familiar, the ideas
it stands for are unfamiliar.
But even locally, the 158-year-old
religion is attracting more and more people. In the Waukesha area, there
are anywhere from 100 to 200 Bahá'is. Nationally, there are an
estimated 140,000. Worldwide, between 3 million and 4 million people
call themselves Bahá'is.
The Milwaukee area will soon get
a firsthand look at the religion and its followers as the Bahá'i
National Convention comes to the city.
"There are more than
8,000 people registered now, and with door registrations, we'll easily
hit 9,000," said Jim Beasley, a city of Pewaukee Bahá'i who
is working on the public relations team for the convention. The event
begins this Thursday, June 28, and runs for four days at U.S. Cellular
Arena and Milwaukee Auditorium.
Throughout Waukesha County,
Bahá'i communities in places such as Hartland, Pewaukee,
Sussex/Lisbon, North Prairie and Oconomowoc are doing what they can to
help out with the convention.
"All of us find ourselves
pretty busy these days," Beasley said. "You'll get an e-mail
saying, 'We need 350 chairs to seat kindergarten-age children. Find
them. Get them from a school, whatever.'"
Though not all of
the Bahá'is in the area are helping out with the convention, that
spirit of community and togetherness embodies some of the core beliefs
of the Bahá'i religion.
Beasley said the heart of the
religion is most easily understood in a song that Bahá'i children
sing: "God is one; man is one; all religions agree. When everyone
learns the three onenesses, we'll have world unity."
"Theologically, you can't get much more profound than that - the
idea that everyone worships the same God, that all humanity, male,
female, all races, are equal in the sight of God," Beasley
While other religions may see their beliefs as the one true
path to salvation, Bahá'is feel that all religions are right,
because they are all after the same goal.
"The most basic
Bahá'i tenet is that really all religions come from the same
source, the same God. There is really just one religion," Beasley
said. "Bahá'is see religion as a progressive thing that's
been revealed to humankind over time, and Bahá'i is kind of the
last chapter in that book."
Coupled with the acceptance of
all religions is the acceptance of all people, no matter what race,
creed, culture or gender they are.
Though much more widely
accepted now, those ideas of racial and gender equality were
considerably groundbreaking more than 150 years ago.
claim to fame in the past has always been our approach to racism. But
when you get out into Lake Country, racism doesn't get to be a big
issue, because we don't have that much diversity," said Ken
Klabunde, a member of the Bahá'i community in the city of
Delafield. "But if you go into the large cities, the Bahá'is
are known for evening out tensions."
The ideas behind
Bahá'ism come from the faith's savior figure, who has been given
the title of Baha'u'llah, which means the light or the glory of God.
Baha'u'llah began preaching both the equality of humans and the
equality of religion in Iran in the mid-1800s. His beliefs caused him to
be imprisoned or under house arrest for nearly 40 years.
Bahá'is see Baha'u'llah as the return of Christ, the
reincarnation of Buddha and the Rainbow Warrior sought in Native
American religions. They feel that Baha'u'llah is the fulfillment of all
"For people who are looking for a
regular, orderly prophecy or fulfillment, Baha'u'llah is whatever it is
that they were looking for," Beasley said.
For Klabunde, a
fulfillment of the prophecies he was taught growing up is what drew him
Raised a strict Lutheran, Klabunde was not even
allowed to dance as a child. The order and strictness of his beliefs
just did not sit with him.
"My mind didn't follow the
traditional church service," he said.
When he met his then
future wife, she lent him a book on Bahá'i. After finishing that
one, Klabunde read another, which examined the life of Baha'u'llah in
terms of the Bible.
"While he was in prison, he made a swing
through the Mideast. If you read the Bible and look at the places
(Baha'u'llah) went, not because he wanted to, but because he was forced
to go, he fulfilled the prophecies of the Bible," Klabunde
While Klabunde's introduction to Bahá'i came through
looking beyond the Bible, Beasley came from a completely different
Though raised a Methodist, Beasley questioned
religion as a teen, to the point where he considered himself an
"I wanted to believe in God, but I didn't
understand why the Lutherans and the Methodists and the Baptists and all
the different churches had all of these theological differences,"
he said. "So as a result of that, I decided that it was pretty hard
to believe in organized religion, because there was a lot of stuff that
didn't seem to be too just and unified."
beliefs, Beasley went to a Christian college to pursue a career in
radio. There, he took several comparative theology classes. These
exposed him to religions such as Buddhism and Islam that he had no
previous knowledge of.
"I came out of college saying that I
think I believe in something, kind of an author or source of the
universe," Beasley said. "But I didn't know what to call
myself, because I was not just a Christian, and I certainly was not just
Islamic, and I was not just Jewish. I thought there's some kind of truth
behind all religions; I just didn't know what to call myself."
A few years later, Beasley was working as part of the Civil Air
Patrol at Waukesha Airport. When the chaplain did not show up to teach a
morality class to teens, Beasley substituted. With his
comparative-religion background, and no connection to any religion, he
stressed the equality of all religions.
officer asked if he was a Bahá'i. Beasley had not even heard of
Bahá'ism, but after reading some books and contemplating, he
"Bahá'i faith is what pulled it all together
and allowed me to believe in God," he said.
Klabunde's and Beasley's are commonplace in Bahá'i communities,
since most of the members find Bahá'i on their own.
"In this country, most Bahá'is were probably active
Christians, but, there, may have had some basic elements of their faith
that bother them, or they wanted to reach out and be more
all-embracing," Beasley said.
"Looking at the
populations of religions, almost all Christians came from
multigenerational Christian families," added Klabunde, "but
we're looking at new people coming in on almost a daily basis, because
of what the faith is about."
Though a majority of the
Bahá'is are the first generation in their families, there are
more multigenerational Bahá'i families in this region than in
most others across the country. That is because Baha'u'llah's eldest son
passed through the area, preaching his father's message, in the early
1900s. Kenosha and Chicago were the first sites of Bahá'i
The idea of family is something that is important to
put the pillars of the faith into action.
While other religions
rely on a single leader to provide guidance, Bahá'is take the
idea of family and form committees of leaders who vote on various issues
that come up. Groups of nine community members, selected annually, lead
communities on local, regional, statewide, national and international
Though organizational decisions and decisions made about
things not covered in Baha'u'llah's writings are voted on by groups, the
main focus of the religion is on "individual enlightenment,"
On this token, there are no organized services, no
clergy members who lead others in prayer.
"We see those as
outward, cultural ways that a religion is practiced, but that's not
really the essence of what people believe," said Beasley.
Bahá'i also does not accept contributions from people who are
not in the religion, nor do they get involved in politics. Both of these
practices are in place to keep outside influences from muddying the
For relatively new followers of a relatively new religion,
the Bahá'is are, as any members of any religion, continually
internalizing the tenets and beliefs of their faith; however, the
newness of Bahá'ism and its strong stance on equality give
believers a great opportunity to progress, said Beasley.
"We're struggling like all faith traditions, but one of the
things that make it easier for us is that a lot of these things, like
the oneness of man and the oneness of religion, are spiritual traditions
for us. They're not optional."
©Copyright 2001, ZWire
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