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The task of transforming an entire society will require a many-faceted approach through which a pattern of life can emerge demonstrating the rich possibilities inherent in walking the spiritual path of love and service.
The Universal House of Justice, without attempting to strictly define them, has stated that these possibilities can be considered as falling into the three broad categories of expansion and consolidation, social action, and engagement in the discourses of society. They emerge organically and coherently as a community rises from one level of advancement to the next.
Experience has shown how, from the humblest beginnings, a pattern of community life that includes all three dimensions can develop. All three can be seen as mutually reinforcing elements of one process―a process that must be accelerated, for it will generate the consciousness necessary to apply in both word and deed the teachings of Baha’u’llah to the challenges we face, not least of them the challenge of race relations. As it gains momentum, it will embrace vast numbers of people empowered to take charge of their own social and spiritual development and contribute their full share to a new way of life.
The activities at the core of our community life are the foundation for great social change. Simple as they might appear, they are, in reality, profound and revolutionary. This becomes clear as we observe systematically applied in action some of the capacities we are building through insights derived from Baha’u’llah’s revelation.
Among them is the ability to engage in distinctive conversations of a spiritual character. We learn to converse with others about the fundamental purpose of life, the relationship of the soul with its Creator, and the implications of Baha’u’llah’s advent and his teachings for our spiritual and social progress. We learn to create an atmosphere of reverence and devotion to God in the community, to foster a spirit of friendship and intimacy that transcends the barriers of race and class, to provide spiritual and moral education for young people, to share the lives and teachings of the central figures of the Faith with confidence and with sensitivity to varying situations.
We also learn to walk with others on the spiritual path, in a humble posture of learning, engaging in individual and collective service for the betterment of the world. These are but a few of many examples.
All these activities must increase and grow to embrace multitudes of individuals. In an ever-enlarging number of neighborhoods, for example, we will learn how best and most effectively to work among diverse populations and about the practical dimensions of interracial fellowship. Such activity―and the genuine friendships that result―will help to weaken and eventually uproot prejudice-tainted notions underlying our present social order, and can begin to undo racism in our society.
In the realm of social action, it is possible to observe the range of projects and activities that emerge organically from our community-building work and highlight those which tackle, directly or indirectly, situations with a bearing on race relations. We anticipate the emergence of more such activities as we gain in experience and capacity, and as more people become empowered to serve.
In the area of discourse, we can explore and develop a conversation with the wider society which, when added to the range of conversations already cultivated by the institute process, can assist our fellow citizens to abandon the language and practices in society that have resulted in an intractable divide, unite on the basis of commonly held ideals and principles, and work together for a social order free of prejudice and characterized by unity in diversity. Such conversations will naturally come about as we pursue the work of community building at the level of neighborhoods, as well as through a diverse array of personal contacts.
We can also appreciate activities of the kind in which a host of individual Baha’is are engaged―whether with like-minded organizations or in their professions―encouraging more Baha’is to similarly take advantage of opportunities in the wider community.
At every level, we have much to learn from others who are striving for the same goals and with whom we can join hands in this vital and foundational work. … we are advancing this institution’s involvement in the national discourse on race―drawing on insights from the various experiences of the friends and from our own previous efforts to offer a Baha’i perspective. A process is already underway leading to a national race unity conference under the sponsorship of this Assembly, details of which will be announced in due course.
A key component of our approach is the spirit of learning. This begins with the realization that successfully giving form to the divine principles given to us by Baha’u’llah will require persistent effort over time. We will progress as we build on strengths that emerge through experience. If we study carefully the ways various communities are active in each one of the three broad areas of expansion and consolidation, social action, and engagement in the discourses of society, we can identify new insights and bring them to the attention of others so they can be established in more and more places. As we move forward, we will come to an increasingly profound appreciation of the rich potential inherent in this approach.
Unity and effectiveness in our work will evolve to the extent that we see our efforts as complementary and mutually enriching. By advancing energetically in all areas, we will apply our systematic approach to learning to such effect that one can envision how, in the decades ahead, Baha’is will contribute in an ever more effective way to the eventual eradication of racism in our country.
This article, the second part of a three-part series, contains selected excerpts from the first portion of a February 25, 2017 letter from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, the democratically-elected U.S. national Baha’i administrative body, to the American Baha’i community. In some places, quotes from the Baha’i writings have been appended. The next article will contain excerpts from the final portion of the letter.