As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King says in “Justice without Violence,” to achieve Beloved Community is not about defeating opponents but winning their friendship.” Further he said the pillars of Beloved Community are economic and social justice, fueled by brotherly love.
In order to describe how a Bahá’í would strive to create Beloved Community, it’s necessary to explain a little about organization in the Bahá’í Faith. Bahá’u’lláh (“The Glory of God”), revealer of the Bahá’í message, teaches that all things derive from one Point –God’s Will – so that all things are imbued with spirit. He advises that diversities of nationality, gender, ethnicity, race, and thought were provided by God who is in charge. He has proclaimed that humankind comprises one family whose members are united in spirit and that religions are part of a single progressively unfolding faith. Indeed, Bahá’u’lláh declared that if two people argue about religion, both are wrong. His social teachings include that all people must become educated, extremes of wealth and poverty must be eliminated by applying spiritual solutions, equality among races, nations, men and women must be upheld, and a universal auxiliary language must be established. He also declared that because religion and science are two different ways to understand reality, both avenues should be used and both must agree.
Bahá’u’lláh established an order through which the spirit of his teachings can flow.
Bahá’í communities are organized without clergy and are overseen by elected bodies, (called Assemblies) of nine individuals in each locality anywhere in the world where at least nine adult Bahá’ís reside. Any adult Bahá’í in the jurisdiction is eligible. Elections are by secret ballot without electioneering or nominations and occur similarly for national assemblies as well as for the international governing body.
Communities gather on the first day of each 19-day month to pray, consult and socialize. Issues of community concern are decided by consensus during a process of consultation whose aim is to uncover the truth in any situation. In this age of the maturation of humanity Baha’u’llah advises us to individually determine relative truths especially through prayer, meditation and studying our sacred texts. At the base of Bahá’í consultation is the covenant we make to obey God, so the decision process generally begins with prayer, with the goal of identifying the spiritual principles involved in any issue. Successful consultation requires elimination of all prejudice and quelling of egos. All expressed ideas immediately belong to the group, not to any individual. One hundred percent consensus is the goal. Once a decision is reached, all must support it and attempt to carry it out and look at the results before requesting that the decision be reconsidered. The nineteen monthly meetings, called feasts, are gatherings where the entire community consults. Everyone has an equal voice and all voices can be heard. Assemblies deliberate on the resulting suggestions from the community and create ways for them to become realized.
As individuals, Bahá’ís recite a daily obligatory prayer and participate in an annual 19-day fast; are encouraged to study Bahá’u’lláh’s writings and refer to his teachings to uncover the spiritual principles defining any situation. Baha’is are encouraged to voluntarily contribute to a fund in an amount of their choosing and to attend the monthly feast. Bahá’ís around the world are engaged individually as well as collectively to find spiritual solutions to material problems.
Within this framework, Bahá’ís assess their own individual and collective realities to find ways to resolve internal issues. They also work with those in the larger community to address challenges facing humankind, with the goal of carrying forward an ever-advancing civilization. Of course, the strength of the Bahá’í framework depends entirely on individuals’ efforts to embody spiritual teachings and their sensitivity to local issues. Surely this has always been, and will be, the case in all faiths.
Deborah Vance, Ph.D. (Howard U.), is a retired professor of Communication and Culture, now living in Cincinnati.