Bahai News - Baha'i faith's gathering is first in 15 years
Baha'i faith's gathering is first in 15 years
Event brings followers, social tolerance message to Milwaukee
Last Updated: June 29, 2001
More than 8,000 followers of the Baha'i faith are in Milwaukee for
"Building the Kingdom," their first national conference since 1986.
With Robert C. Henderson
Henderson, secretary general of the National Spiritual Assembly of the
Baha'is of the United States.|
The Baha'i national conference ends
Sunday afternoon. Workshops, which run through Saturday night, are at
various downtown hotels and centers. Registration is in the U.S.
An Iranian nobleman known as Baha'u'llah started the faith, declaring in
1863 that he was God's newest messenger, the fulfillment of prophecies from
past religions and the bearer of new laws for modern society.
Baha'is believe there is only one God, only one race, and that traditional
barriers of race, class, creed and nation are giving way to a unified world
civilization. Baha'is have no clergy and elect a nine-member national
assembly each year to govern the affairs of the Baha'i community. Baha'is are
non-partisan and do not affiliate themselves with political parties. Robert
C. Henderson, secretary general of the National Spiritual Assembly of the
Baha'is of the United States, spoke with reporter Tom Heinen.
Q: Do Baha'is see race relations as a key social issue in the U.S.?
A: Yes. As a matter of fact, the primary teaching of the Baha'i faith
is the oneness of humanity. The Baha'i writings say emphatically that
freedom from prejudice is the hallmark of a true Baha'i character and the
central teaching of our faith. And so the Baha'i teachings specifically
enjoin Baha'is to integrate their lives, to reach out in interracial
fellowship in every aspect: children at play, business, social, at home. Not
just at conventions or meeting halls, but to really make our lives a
testament to the unity that we believe in.
Q: Do Baha'is offer something special to this country in
regards to racial unity?
A: Absolutely. First of all, Baha'is believe that racial unity is a
spiritual teaching. The Baha'i writings refer to racial unity as the
most challenging and vital issue confronting America. And the Baha'i
writings talk about the spiritual destiny of America.
Q: Whose writings?
A: The founders of the Baha'i faith. Baha'u'llah himself addressed
the American continent, and the republic, and really said that the destiny
of this nation was to establish the unity of all people because it was the
first nation that was started as a composition of all people.
Q: Speaking of people, the Baha'i faith tallies 5 million or more
followers in more than 190 countries. There reportedly are 144,000 in the
U.S., including Middle Eastern immigrants. Who are the Baha'is here?
A: The Baha'i community is extremely diverse: white Americans,
Americans of African descent, of Latin descent, of Southeast Asian descent,
of Chinese descent, Japanese descent, American Indians, everybody.
Q: What attracts them to the faith?
A: Unity makes a lot of sense. That's extremely attractive when you
say to people that we believe that the God of Abraham and the God of Moses
and the God of Christ and Muhammad, the God of Buddha, is one God. That there
is an essential unity of all religions . . . and when you say humankind is
one, that we have one God who is the father of all . . . and when you say
that it's time for us to bring the entire human family together at a new
level of unity, and to build bridges of understanding and cooperation, a
kind of universal fellowship of love and service.
Q: What is the purpose of this convention? This gathering is
unusual for your faith in that it is open to non-Baha'is and it has some
268 workshops in which Baha'is from around the country will share their
experiences in everything from running social service programs to
building better faith communities.
A: Well, the Baha'i faith has an organized mission of service
and development. Part of the Baha'i teachings are that we want to reach
out to people of all races and all religions, and to help them through
the provision of service, and particularly through social development
activities. We have projects on literacy, youth development, family
institutes, all kinds of health programs and a variety of other things.
Part of our effort is to share the spiritual teachings of the Baha'i faith
- the unity of all people, the elimination of prejudice, the equality of
women and men - which we take not simply as social principles but as spiritual
teachings which are essential to the spiritual and social transformation of
individual and community life.
One of the things we are going to do here is launch a five-year plan that
has as its major aim the development of Baha'i communities, the expansion
of our missions of service, the spiritual development of children, youth,
adults and families and communities, and a larger engagement in the wider
community so that our surface activities and our encouragement of (the
spiritual teachings) can be expanded.
Q: You say it's been 15 years since your last national conference.
Why hold it now?
A: Part of what's happened is, every year there are (regional)
conferences throughout the United States, and they've gotten stronger
and larger and more vibrant. It just felt like the right time.
©Copyright 2001, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Page last updated/revised 071101
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