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The Confederate Flag and the Oneness of Humanity

Homa Sabet Tavangar | Jun 29, 2015

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Homa Sabet Tavangar | Jun 29, 2015

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

As the Confederate flag of South Carolina goes down – literally and figuratively – and others, like Mississippi’s and Alabama’s, and even previously revered collectibles like the famed Dukes of Hazzard General Lee Confederate Matchbox Car, fall with it in rapid succession, many of us stand in awe that such a change is actually happening.

Confederate flag flying over State House in Columbia, SC

Confederate flag flying over State House in Columbia, SC

While these moves were unimaginable just two weeks earlier, my thoughts inevitably turn to the nine slain worshippers in the Emanuel AME church of Charleston, who deserve the honor bestowed upon martyrs for racial equality and justice. The fact that President Obama broke out in song during his moving eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney attests to how profoundly he, along with a quiet majority of humanity, have been moved not just by the tragedy of the loss of those innocent worshipers, but also by the faith, fortitude, and forgiveness shown by the victims’ families, and by the wider community of Charleston coming together for a greater good that must–absolutely must–be realized.

The sacrifice of too many lives to outright racism, and the loud cries for re-examining the many symbols glorifying overt racism surrounding us in a nation whose mottos include “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one) and “Justice for all,” creates a contradiction near a breaking point. It calls for a deeper examination of not just attitudes, but the very structures weaving the fabric of our society. We must continue to question, study, call out, boycott, teach our children, and take any possible stand against the ways racism is perpetuated by the major institutions of our society, like education, immigration, law enforcement, healthcare, and financial systems. And thanks to the discussion prompted by the horrific events in Charleston (and too many other places), we’ve gone a bit deeper, to look at another “structure of present-day society” — the Confederate flag that serves as a symbol keeping racism and subjugation alive.

My thinking on this matter of the structures of our society is informed by this emphatic statement from the Baha’i Writings, articulating the principle of the Oneness of Mankind, a central teaching of this Faith:

Let there be no mistake. The principle of the Oneness of Mankind—the pivot round which all the teachings of Baha’u’llah revolve —is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. It does not constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with an institution adequate to embody its truth, demonstrate its validity, and perpetuate its influence. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. It constitutes a challenge, at once bold and universal, to outworn shibboleths of national creeds—creeds that have had their day and which must, in the ordinary course of events as shaped and controlled by Providence, give way to a new gospel, fundamentally different from, and infinitely superior to, what the world has already conceived. It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarization of the whole civilized world—a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 42-43.

Just like the nearly unexpected fall of the Berlin Wall, triggering a rapid collapse of a Communist system; or the just-reached seminal decision by the U.S. Supreme Court granting marriage equality in all fifty states; realization of the Oneness of Mankind “implies an organic change.” It might seem dormant for a long time, but all of a sudden, thanks to realizations of mind and heart that take place internally, like a germinating seed, those organic changes appear, for all to marvel at and adapt to. With rapid communications, sharing of information that stirs hearts, and a growing sense of outrage at injustice and inequality, we are fortunate to see this organic, transformative change in the “essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family.”

I had not considered a flag as another structure of present-day society, until I saw the united outcry spurring its downfall, and I thank all those courageous souls who helped me understand that the structures that need to change to support our collective coming together come in all forms – large or small, institutional or symbolic. Similarly, it’s going to take all of us, powerful or humble, men and women, of whatever skin tone, faith, sexual orientation, location, and means, to unite around a transformation that is surely possible. Let there be no mistake

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Comments

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  • Nov 8, 2017
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    The comments about gay marriage are interesting to reflect on in light of the Baha'i writings on this subject. I myself try to focus on being at one with everyone to the degree possible and see any advancement towards treating others with equality and fairness helpful. We are children of the half light with many stages and steps to go before all will be more adequately revealed regarding this subject.
    I did enjoy the article and comments very much. Thank you.
  • Jul 1, 2015
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    This is a really beautifully written article. I enjoyed it immensely.
  • Jun 30, 2015
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    Thank you for mentioning the SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage. That topic – or rather more broadly, the entire subject of homosexuality – can leave Baha’is in America and elsewhere in the West in a perplexing position. While I certainly think we are to support and celebrate the recognition of the essential humanity of all people, and never presume to force our views on others, we should also be mindful of the admonishments of Shogi Effendi , et al, to not compromise our principles for any particular cultural trends. While certainly standing firm against hatred toward gays, I think Baha’is ...should stop short of embracing or endorsing the current culture rush toward a normative view of homosexuality. Shogi himself made it abundantly clear that permissive sexual attitudes America and the West were sharply at odds with Baha’i standards and principles of chastity and marriage. Indeed, I would argue, the entire concept of “sexual orientation,” and categorizing people by various forms of sexuality is sharply at odds with the Baha’i view of what a human being even is.
    I see no reason to be resentful toward or fearful of the SCOTUS decision as it applies to secular law. I think we must prepare ourselves to always be measured and mindful of how we answer any questions regarding “gay rights” that will probably come from seekers we encounter.
    Read more...
    • Jul 3, 2015
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      So true. I've had that question come up time and again. I quote what the House of Justice says concerning that.
  • Jun 30, 2015
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    May this unification of human race bring about the realisation of the onenesses and the wholeness of the world of man and his kind to be the new race of man as fortold in the Baha'i writings!
  • Jun 29, 2015
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    I have written a TOME on this topic but I have not posted it entirely. I won't here either. But let me offer this: My sweet bride is a black woman from Alabama. She suffered through her life at the hands of racists who waved the CSA battle flag (and looked a bit like me). When she says something is offensive to her, I stop doing it. I don't demand any justification from her. I stop because I love her and never want to see her hurt. If white people truly loved black people it would not matter what the ...flag stood for back then, or now. Just hearing black loved ones say "That hurts me" would be more than sufficient reason to take it down and put it away. Love is better than nostalgia.
    Read more...
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