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As I said in the first essay in this two-part series, Baha’is don’t participate in partisan politics. So how do we plan to have any impact on the world?
Baha’is believe in a grassroots, ground-up process of social change, one that does away with the ugly, polarizing, divisive and dis-unifying partisanship that has infected our political processes. Instead, Baha’is are building—right now and right where you live—a new, organic structure that prizes love, unity and peaceful cooperation with all peoples, all races, all religions and all nations.
What I understand as my role is to focus on creating new processes, new ways of collaboration and dialogue, new perspectives on our place in the world… and on a personal level, to work on my own spiritual and moral development. If I succumb to the vitriol and rancor and disunity that animates and pervades seemingly everything now… I’m lost. As soon as I “go there” I feel my ego, my self-righteousness, my lower self trying to take over.
So I’ve avoided, on social media and elsewhere, any commentary on our corrupt, poisonous politics. It hasn’t been easy, because I care deeply about those social issues.
But I will speak about things that are principles of my Faith. I will speak about the rampant racial injustice in this country and in the world, which the Baha’i writings refer to as “the cancerous growth… eating into the vitals of an already debilitated society.” The Baha’i teachings also call racism “a patent evil” and “the most vital and challenging issue.”
This is unique in the Baha’i Faith and in its scriptures. Baha’is believe in the oneness of the human race, and I’d be willing to bet that the global Baha’i community is the most diverse collection of human beings on the planet. Their treatment of the subject of racism, as far I can tell, comprises the only place where the Baha’i writings are not “color blind.”
Instead, they assign different missions to the black and white people in America.
As a white American, the Baha’i writings tell me that I and my white brothers and sisters must:
…abandon, once and for all their usually inherent and sometimes subconscious sense of superiority, …to correct their tendency toward revealing a patronizing attitude ….and to master their impatience of any lack of responsiveness on the part of a people who have received for so long a period, such grievous and slow-healing wounds. – Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 40.
That last part always gets me. I see this impatience, and at times have struggled with it myself. But the moment I reflect on the “grievous and slow-healing wounds” African Americans have had to bear after three hundred years of slavery, the wisdom becomes clear.
At the end of this powerful passage, we are brought back to a meditation on the attitude and process that will be necessary to truly deal with this issue:
Let neither (black or white) think that such a problem can either easily or immediately be resolved…. Let neither think that anything short of genuine love, extreme patience, true humility, consummate tact, sound initiative, mature wisdom and deliberate, persistent, and prayerful effort, can succeed in blotting out the stain which this patent evil has left on the fair name of their common country. – Ibid., pp. 40-41.
The Baha’i writings are not naive. They do not shy away from naming and shining a light on the contemporary evils we face—but they constantly summon us to new and enlightened ways to face them.
They continually call us back to our own personal character, our own innate senses of both justice and mercy. So I must look at this and stand inside the issue. Can I support both “Black Lives Matter ” and “Blue (police) Lives Matter”? The contemporary polarization makes this very difficult—but it feels absolutely necessary. Where is there a space in our society to do this?
That new space is what Baha’is are charged with creating, building and sustaining.
So this is why I have been quiet in the face of my country’s latest political upheaval. But I realize I can’t be quiet any more. I have to strive to share the deep faith that animates my life, and hope that the guidance and wisdom of the Baha’i teachings can offer a new perspective.
Or… I’ll just keep posting cute animal videos. Thanks for listening and I wish for each of you a growing sense of peace and purpose. Oh, and here’s an otter video.