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I’ll never forget the time I went to Sunday school with my old friend David. We were young boys, me a Baha’i and him a Christian, and his mom took us to his church.
I had a sleep-over the night before, and we ended up sleeping in, so that we were almost late the next morning for the service. My friend David, in his haste, managed to put on his jacket—but totally forgot to put on a shirt.
When we got to the morning service, the pastor politely let David know that it was considered discourteous to wear a jacket in the house of the Lord. Being the polite kid that David was he went to unzip his jacket, but then quickly realized he had no shirt underneath. The pastor understood, and said it was OK for David to keep his jacket on. About 30 minutes later, the pastor said “I thought I asked you to take off your jacket!”
David had to remind the poor old man that he had forgotten to put on a shirt that morning. We all had a good laugh over it.
Now, as my wife and I attempt to raise our son—who is now about the same age I was at that shirtless Sunday school—I understand why experiencing religious diversity is just as important as racial and cultural diversity:
On all occasions, association with the followers of other religions offers an opportunity to give expression to that genuine spirit of fellowship that flows from recognition that all of the great religions have come from the one same Source and that diversity of opinion need not be a cause of conflict. – The Universal House of Justice, Message to the World’s Religious Leaders, p. 1.
Growing up in a Baha’i family, I took it for granted that I had friends from many different beliefs and walks of life. From going to my friend David’s church service on the occasional Sunday, to hanging out with my Portuguese friend and her Communist family listening to debates as to why God doesn’t exist and why the government is corrupt, to hearing about my Muslim friends talk about the amazing feasts they would have right at the break of the fast during Ramadan, I grew up in a multicultural, religiously diverse environment.
All of that seemed totally normal to me. Because Baha’is don’t proselytize or press their Faith on others, I was never on a mission to change their beliefs. I would just listen and try to understand what it was like living in their universes. I realized, the more I listened to the explanations and reasons for why my friends believed what they believed, the more I grew to love them.
Growing up in the Baha’i community I have noticed from time to time a mentality in the wider culture where people are perhaps hesitant to meet those who practice other religions—that by consorting with such people you might run the risk of being influenced by something negative and it might test your beliefs. This has never been the case for me—it only continues to increase my faith when I meet people from other belief systems, because then I see that we are all truly one people. Everything else is just the tiny nuances of belief that help create the mosaic landscape of the world in which we live.
Baha’u’llah also wrote:
… consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship, to proclaim that which the Speaker on Sinai hath set forth and to observe fairness in all matters.
They that are endued with sincerity and faithfulness should associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 35-36.
My goal for my son is to take him to a church and a mosque, a synagogue and other centers of faith so he can see how other people express their beliefs—so he can see with his own eyes the beautiful diversity we have on this planet.
How wonderful that I have a chance to show my son just a few of those paths to God, and to give him the gift of friendship and fellowship with the followers of all religions.