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

I have two particularly vivid memories of growing up as a Christian, which have stayed with me even as I decided to become a Baha’i.

One is my recollection of the evening prayer sessions conducted by my grandfather when we visited him and our cousins in Arkansas. The second is the time that my mother surprised and amazed me when she spoke in tongues during a Sunday evening service at our church, the Southside Assembly of God in Odessa, Texas. 

Both of these events and others I experienced had meaning for me, informed my spiritual life as an adult, and created a love for and appreciation of my Christian heritage – all of which helped me become a Baha’i:

When Christians act according to the teachings of Christ, they are called Baha’is. For the foundations of Christianity and the religion of Baha’u’llah are one. The foundations of all the divine Prophets and Holy Books are one. The difference among them is one of terminology only. Each springtime is identical with the former springtime. The distinction between them is only one of the calendar – 1911, 1912 and so on. The difference between a Christian and a Baha’i, therefore, is this: There was a former springtime, and there is a springtime now. No other difference exists because the foundations are the same. Whoever acts completely in accordance with the teachings of Christ is a Baha’i. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 248.

My grandpa, Henry Steele, was a lay preacher in the Ozark Mountains in Northwest Arkansas, near Huntsville. As a lay preacher, he was self-taught about the Bible and Christianity, and in addition to earning his living as a farmer, he gave sermons and performed other ministerial services through what he perceived as God’s will.  

As a young boy of six or seven, the evening prayers led by my grandfather made a big impression on me. He prayed and prayed and then prayed some more. The floors in the house were hard and wooden, and we kneeled on them in our summer shorts and bare knees with our heads bowed. His prayers probably didn’t last as long as it seemed, but it seemed like an eternity. 

Grandpa would pray some general prayers of thanksgiving and worship of God and Jesus, and then go person by person among his family and friends, asking for God’s blessing and support as they made their way through life. My grandfather was loving and kind to all his grandchildren during our visits to the home he shared with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. Once Grandpa saved all of us children from a certain dire parental punishment when he hid us in the root cellar after we rolled in the mud from a big summer rain. Grandpa got the hose and washed us off, alleviating some of the worst of the muddy mess we had made of our best clothes, and he ran interference with the adults when they returned and learned of our misadventures. 

Grandpa Steele had a very strict and some would say conservative view of his relationship with the Lord. For example, he didn’t go the doctor or seek medical attention of any kind when he was ill. His view was that God would take care of him as God saw fit, so he left his health in God’s hands. Sadly, he had a growth on his hand that turned cancerous and led to his untimely death. Tragic, yes, but he was a believer and stood firm in his beliefs. 

My family attended Southside Assembly of God Church in Odessa, Texas when I was a child. Everyone there in the church was “Brother” this and “Sister” that, like family, and it seemed to me that genuine love and compassion existed among the congregation. I remember that our preacher Brother Bozeman came to visit me when I was in the hospital with pneumonia at the age of seven. I really liked it when he came and showed concern for me and my recovery – it made me feel important and valuable. 

The church leaned Pentecostal in its Christian teachings, believing in healing, baptism, and speaking in tongues. They also seemed to feel a special spiritual connection to God. One way that connection manifested itself was when members of the congregation, and sometimes the pastor, spoke in tongues. This seemed strange but fascinating to me as a child, and honestly kind of gave me a break in the doldrums of the regular everyday nature of the church experience. 

Mrs. Mayo, a long-time member of the church, seemed to be the one who did most of the talking in tongues. She delivered messages from the Holy Spirit that were translated or interpreted by others also in tune with her spirit-filled experience at that moment. The messages were generally uplifting, sometimes cautionary and urgent, but a special feature of the church services when these happenings occurred. 

I remember clearly the time my mother stood up and began speaking in tongues. I was amazed and thrilled that my mom was taking such a leading role for once in the service. I don’t remember the content of what she said, but I do remember being proud of her and enthralled that she felt the Holy Spirit move her in that way.

I loved growing up Christian – I loved the children’s song that goes “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Be they yellow, black, or white, they are precious in His sight.” That sentiment resonates with me today as I embrace the oneness of humanity as a major teaching of the Baha’i Faith. I loved being told repeatedly not to “hide my light under a bushel.” I wasn’t sure what a bushel was, and still am not, but I had the sense that I must carry myself as proud believer in God and let my belief or light stand out as I went through the world. 

I also loved the Christian emphasis on love and on forgiveness, the emphasis on caring for the poor and the downtrodden, with “the meek inheriting the earth,” and Jesus as a social warrior and religious reformer. For example, Christ threw the money changers out of the temple, upsetting the corrupt old order that they represented and setting the stage for a renewed belief system. 

As  a high school teacher for years in Odessa, Texas, I taught many students raised as Christians, and they were great kids – honest, sincere, hard-working and just all-around wonderful in their interactions in the school setting. Many of the Christian kids seemed different in a positive way, not doing some of the bad things and self-destructive behaviors that plagued too many of their peers. I always appreciated them and the efforts their parents and families had made to teach them right from wrong and to have a moral compass and foundation in their young lives:

… unless the moral character of a nation is educated, as well as its brain and its talents, civilization has no sure basis.

As religion inculcates morality, it is therefore the truest philosophy, and on it is built the only lasting civilization. … The Christian Teaching was illumined by the Divine Sun of Truth, therefore its followers were taught to love all men as brothers to fear nothing, not even death! To love their neighbours as themselves, and to forget their own selfish interests in striving for the greater good of humanity. The grand aim of the religion of Christ was to draw the hearts of all men nearer to God’s effulgent Truth.

If the followers of the Lord Christ had continued to follow out these principles with steadfast faithfulness, there would have been no need for a renewal of the Christian Message, no necessity for a re-awakening of His people, for a great and glorious civilization would now be ruling the world and the Kingdom of Heaven would have come on earth. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 31-32.

13 Comments

characters remaining
  • Antonio Chavez
    Dec 08, 2019
    I enjoyed your article. Many of your experiences are similar to mine. Even though I was raised as a Catholic, in my early twenties I attended Pentecostal Assembly of God churches. I also joined a group that would evolve into a small cult of about ten people. We thought we were chosen by God to do something special in the end times. It was quite an experience, lasting about ten years during the Seventies and not something I would wish for others to experience. When I finally woke up, broke free, and had some ...time to think about what I experienced, I was able to see religion and God with fresh eyes, not so naïve as I had once been, cautious but not to the point of being close minded. I was prepared to be introduced to the Baha'i Faith.
    Read more...
    • Dale Fowler
      Dec 17, 2019
      What an interesting story! Thanks for sharing it with me in response to this article.
  • Dec 08, 2019
    I loved the article! I am so grateful for my own Catholic upbringing that created in me a deep love of prayer and of what faith means.
    • Dale Fowler
      Dec 17, 2019
      I can see how a Catholic upbringing would create the love of prayer and the faith that you experienced. Glad to know that this resonated with you.
  • jack Price
    Dec 08, 2019
    Jay Tyson I noticed that there is no played I can reply to your statement if you would like todiscuss the return of Jesus Christ from a biblical point I'm more than happy to do that with you but if you want to discuss it from a Baha'i point of view what the Baha'is believe is nowhere in the Bible how Jesus would return and again Jesus Christ is not a religion Christianity in the Bible points to the one you have a personal relationship with
    • jack Price
      Dec 08, 2019
      In the Bible definitely speaks of his physical return please give me the scriptures in the Bible where it speaks of evil only return spiritually and it will be different manifestations of God besides Jesus Christ that are in the Bible
  • jack Price
    Dec 07, 2019
    Why would you even say such a thing Christians only believe in one manifestation and it was Christ is God manifest in the flesh when Christians follow the Bible don't follow religion the Bible directs them to a relationship with Jesus Christ it's not a religion say personal relationship Baha'is believe in working her way to favor with God we believe in accepting Jesus Christ and that puts us in favor with God
    • Jay Tyson
      Dec 08, 2019
      Jack--I think most first-generation Baha'is of Christian background would agree that it was by the grace of God, not by our own works, that we were led to understand that Jesus Christ has returned. It was by His grace, not our own learning, that our eyes were opened to see the Biblical passages about His return in spiritual terms instead of physical ones. If you are uncertain about whether these teachings are truly from God, then pray to Him and sincerely ask Him for His guidance. And listen for that guidance, not only in the moments after ...the prayer but also in the days and weeks that follow. If nothing comes to mind, then continue with your current practices. But if a door does indeed open, have the courage to step through it.
      Read more...
  • Jim Beasley
    Dec 07, 2019
    I had a similar upbringing in Tennessee. I loved the people and their sometimes purity of heart but the magical thinking and push back against science, change and anything challenging their simplistic world view pushed me toward agnosticism until my encounter with Baha’i. I had to become a believer in Christ’s essential message on my way to accepting Baha’u’llah’s similar station and unifying overview.
    • Dale Fowler
      Dec 17, 2019
      Thanks for your comments. I agree with you in many ways about the good nature of the people that you come across, but I also see how a simplistic world view can lead to the problems you noted.
  • Pamela Hollows
    Dec 07, 2019
    Thank you. I enjoyed recalling my similar upbringing reading your article. So grateful to have been able to recognise Baha'u'llah and the unity of all religions.
    • Dale Fowler
      Dec 17, 2019
      Thank you for your comments. Glad what I wrote resonated with you. I also feel blessed to be where I am being a Baha'i.
  • Jan 01, 1970
    I enjoyed your article. Many of your experiences are similar to mine. Even though I was raised as a Catholic, in my early twenties I attended Pentecostal Assembly of God churches. I also joined a group that would evolve into a small cult of about ten people. We thought we were chosen by God to do something special in the end times. It was quite an experience, lasting about ten years during the Seventies and not something I would wish for others to experience. When I finally woke up, broke free, and had some ...time to think about what I experienced, I was able to see religion and God with fresh eyes, not so naïve as I had once been, cautious but not to the point of being close minded. I was prepared to be introduced to the Baha'i Faith.
    Read more...