Bahai News - Spreading message; U.S. Bah' hope to grow numbers

Spreading message; U.S. Bah' hope to grow numbers

At 142,000 strong, Bah's in the United States are a relatively small religious community. More than 100 Bah's live in the greater Knoxville area.

A member of the organization's governing council says the independent religion's principles of racial, gender and social harmony make it recognizable to many but not well understood.

"Our numbers are smaller than many people may think," said Erica Toussaint, 54. "People are surprised by that because of how we are sought out in various communities when certain issues are being addressed."

Toussaint is a member of the foremost governing council for the Bah' of the United States.

Internationally, there are about 6 million adherents in more than 200 countries. The National Assembly has embarked on a media campaign to get the word out about aspects of the faith.

Locally, 60-second spots have aired on local television and cable networks. The spots so far have been "Building the Kingdom With Love," which emphasizes the oneness of humanity, and "Building the Kingdom as Promised," which conveys the Bah' belief that the time of peace promised in all religions is inevitable and that Bah's are working toward that end. Each spot offers a free booklet entitled "Every Eye Shall See" which was written by Knoxville author/ publisher Gary Matthews and which addresses the relationship between Jesus Christ and Bah'u'llh, founder of the Bah' faith.

Toussaint, elected to the National Spiritual Assembly in 2000, will conduct a workshop entitled "Strengthening Unity in the Community" from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at the Palisades Club House off Gleason Road, and following 10 a.m. devotions Sunday, Nov. 18, at the downtown Knoxville YWCA, 420 Clinch Ave. Lunch will be provided both days. There is no charge for the workshop. She will also be the guest speaker for a public meeting today at 7 p.m., also at the Palisades Clubhouse.

"What our research has shown, (is) if people have heard about the Bah' faith, they have a positive response, think it's good as opposed to bad, but they really don't know that much about it," she said in a telephone interview from her home in Milwaukie, Ore., a suburb of Portland. "We're not actively trying to overcome some negative image because there really isn't one. ... So far, we're so small we're not the targets of any backlash. Also we promote unity of all faiths and are not crusading against anyone."

There is no clergy in the faith. In each locality, nine-member boards known as local Spiritual Assemblies are elected annually. At the national level are National Spiritual Assemblies, also consisting of nine members, elected annually by representatives of in each state without prior nomination or campaigning. These are the administrative and spiritual head of the national Bah' communities. At the international level is the Universal House of Justice in Israel, made up of delegates who also serve appointed terms.

Some of the Spiritual Assemblies of the Baha'i in East Tennessee are in Knoxville, Knox County, Johnson City and Chattanooga. It is estimated that there are 150 families in East Tennessee.

Jeannine F. Hunter may be reached at 865-342-6324 or hunter@knews.com.


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