On September 21st my local Baha’i community helped organize and take part in a big interfaith activity to observe the International Day of Peace.
We started this now-annual autumn event in 2017 to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Baha’u’llah. The Baha’is invited all of the various religious and faith groups in the area to a 12-hour Interfaith Prayer Vigil for World Peace, which had two goals: celebrating the bicentennial of Baha’u’llah’s birth; and encouraging every Faith group to visualize world unity, pray for peace and then take action to make a peaceful and unified world a reality.
At that inaugural event, a wonderful spirit came over the gathering. We all felt it. Many of the different ministers, monks and clerical leaders who attended and participated commented on it, and said they felt it, too. We each recognized a strong sense of unity, understanding in real time that we all prayed to the same Creator. Religious leaders and believers from every group who attended—whether Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Quaker, Mormon, Unitarian or Baha’i—all agreed that the spirit of unity there called for making this an annual event.
The Methodist minister who had offered her large church for the gathering asked everyone: “This is so wonderful—can we do this again next year?”
Maybe it was the 12 hours of prayer, or the beautiful singing, or maybe it was the loving nature of the crowd, or perhaps simply the joy of the occasion, but we all got a tantalizing glimpse that day of Baha’u’llah’s vision of the unity of all Faiths and the oneness of their prophets:
It is clear and evident to thee that all the Prophets are the Temples of the Cause of God, Who have appeared clothed in divers attire. If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold Them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith. Such is the unity of those Essences of Being, those Luminaries of infinite and immeasurable splendor! – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 52.
Have you ever attended a large interfaith event, with hundreds of people who come from different Faiths, beliefs and religious traditions? If not, I highly recommend it. You may feel there what we all felt in our gathering—a sense of common purpose, a shared bond and a deep realization that God is one.
At this year’s event, as we sat in a pew in the United Methodist Church in town, a Jewish Rabbi asked me “How big is the Baha’i community in our area?”
“Not huge,” I said, smiling, “but enthusiastic.”
“Well,” he said, nodding his head, “judging from the turnout today, and your representation on the program, I thought there must be quite a good-sized Baha’i community here.”
“Because the Baha’i Faith focuses on the shared origin of all traditions,” I said, “we’re just really happy and enthusiastic about interfaith activities, so lots of Baha’is want to be here.”
Then he told me something that really surprised me, answering me by smiling and saying “I was just ordained as an interfaith minister.”
Have you heard of this? It’s a fairly recent development in religion—the U.S. Council of Interfaith Communities (CIC-USA) was formed in 2010, an umbrella group for interfaith/inter-spiritual ministers and interfaith seminaries, where clergy gain knowledge about all religions, not only their own.
This interfaith movement has even affected conventional theological seminaries, the traditional training grounds for clergy in various religions. Because those seminaries play important roles in the global need for greater interfaith cooperation and understanding, they have begun to offer education in the teachings and theologies of multiple religions—rather than just one, as was always done in the past. This change, which few theological seminaries could have foreseen or even imagined a generation ago, has begun to contribute to more constructive dialogue and interaction between people from different Faiths. Instead of clergy who are trained to exclusively believe in and only know about their own religion, recognition of the value and validity of many other traditions has increased.
These developments suggest that we’re all witnessing something bigger and more profound happening.
All the divine Manifestations have proclaimed the oneness of God and the unity of mankind. They have taught that men should love and mutually help each other in order that they might progress. Now if this conception of religion be true, its essential principle is the oneness of humanity. The fundamental truth of the Manifestations is peace. This underlies all religion, all justice. The divine purpose is that men should live in unity, concord and agreement and should love one another. Consider the virtues of the human world and realize that the oneness of humanity is the primary foundation of them all. Read the Gospel and the other Holy Books. You will find their fundamentals are one and the same. Therefore, unity is the essential truth of religion and, when so understood, embraces all the virtues of the human world. Praise be to God! This knowledge has been spread, eyes have been opened, and ears have become attentive. Therefore, we must endeavor to promulgate and practice the religion of God which has been founded by all the Prophets. And the religion of God is absolute love and unity. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 31.
So if you’ve never tried it, search out and find an interfaith activity where you live, or start one. Maybe you’ll discover, as we did, the beginnings of that absolute love and unity so heartily endorsed by the Baha’i teachings.