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Baha’is believe that the United States of America will eventually be a beacon of justice in the world—and will lead the world spiritually.
How can this be, you might ask, when so much of our country’s history is littered with injustice, and the present day faces the lingering consequences of that history?
The answer lies in the fact that past and present wrongs can only be made right through a fundamental transformation in the thoughts, words and actions of individuals—on a massive scale.
Changes in laws, social norms and traditions can have an impact on contributing to greater fairness and equity, but those who harbor prejudice and oppose change will always find ways around laws and social behavior. The Baha’i teachings say that real and lasting transformation can only come through spiritual means. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, lovingly and unflinchingly gave humankind the vision for the work we need to do, now and in the future:
He who is your Lord, the All-Merciful, cherisheth in His heart the desire of beholding the entire human race as one soul and one body. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 214.
The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. – Ibid., p. 215.
That spiritual vision of oneness and unity has guided the global Baha’i community since the beginning of the Baha’i revelation, especially in the work of eradicating racism and all its effects. In fact, the American Baha’i community has an extensive history of advocating and building racial equality, long before the civil rights movement occurred. Nothing could have been more direct than the words Abdu’l-Baha imparted to the American Baha’is as he prepared to leave the United States in December of 1912:
This is my last meeting with you, for now I am on the ship ready to sail away. These are my final words of exhortation. I have repeatedly summoned you to the cause of the unity of the world of humanity.
The earth is one nativity, one home, and all mankind are the children of one father. The obstacle to human happiness is racial and religious prejudice, the competitive struggle for existence and inhumanity toward each other.
Your eyes have been illumined, your ears are attentive, your hearts knowing. You must be free from prejudice and fanaticism, beholding no differences between the races and religions.
The best way to thank God is to love one another.
You have no excuse to bring before God if you fail to live according to His command, for you are informed of that which constitutes the good-pleasure of God. It is my hope that you may become successful in this high calling. And unto this I call you, praying to God to strengthen and bless you. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 468-469.
This admonition to the American Baha’is regarding purging the evil of racism from their hearts, minds, words and actions was expounded upon in great detail by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith and the grandson of Abdu’l-Baha, in many writings and letters from the 1920s to the 1950s, making it even clearer that the destiny of America to lead the world spiritually could only be accomplished through unity of thought and action, and that the eradication of racism was the essential element in establishing unity:
Freedom from racial prejudice, in any of its forms, should, at such a time as this when an increasingly large section of the human race is falling a victim to its devastating ferocity, be adopted as the watchword of the entire body of the American believers, in whichever state they reside, in whatever circles they move, whatever their age, traditions, tastes, and habits. …
Casting away once and for all the fallacious doctrine of racial superiority, with all its attendant evils, confusion, and miseries, and welcoming and encouraging the intermixture of races, and tearing down the barriers that now divide them, they should each endeavor, day and night, to fulfill their particular responsibilities in the common task which so urgently faces them. – Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 36, pp. 39-40.
The Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected global administrative body of the Baha’i Faith, has continued to place great emphasis on the elimination of racism in America and elsewhere. In their 1985 message addressed to the people of the world, The Promise of World Peace, the Universal House of Justice carried forward the clear messages of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi:
Racism, one of the most baneful and persistent evils, is a major barrier to peace. Its practice perpetrates too outrageous a violation of the dignity of human beings to be countenanced under any pretext. Racism retards the unfoldment of the boundless potentialities of its victims, corrupts its perpetrators, and blights human progress. Recognition of the oneness of mankind, implemented by appropriate legal measures, must be universally upheld if this problem is to be overcome. – The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, p. 3.
In 1996 the Baha’is of the world—and in reality, all people—began to receive specific blueprints and detailed guidance from the Universal House of Justice for the eradication of racism, along with the rooting out of other societal evils such as war, extreme poverty and gender inequality. A series of worldwide plans from 1996 to 2020 laid the framework for a grassroots, institute-centered process of learning, utilizing small study groups, children’s classes, youth activities and devotional gatherings.
These plans, and the activities they generated, called on Baha’is and the inhabitants of the wider community throughout the world to focus on individual and collective transformation through Baha’i-inspired activities—to directly involve all people with the effort to build a more just and equitable society, free of the cancer of racial and religious prejudice.
This approach of direct engagement with our brothers and sisters directly and very personally in neighborhoods, communities and homes, infused with the healing teachings of Baha’u’llah, provides, in a humble yet revolutionary posture, for the first time in human history, a means of truly eliminating racism from the hearts, minds, words and actions of the human family.