A Spiritual Framework for Social Change
The distinctive features of the Baha'i approach to social transformation include:
A grounding on spiritual principles, notably the fundamental truth that humanity is one
Recognition that means must be consistent with ends—in other words that unity cannot be achieved through methods that are based on contest or contention.
Three protagonists: individuals, communities and institutions.
Three broad areas of activity: community building, social action and contributing to public discourse.
The March 2, 2013 letter from the Universal House of Justice to the Baha'is in Iran describes the conceptual framework underpinning the Baha'i approach to involvement in the life of society. (available here)
Attitudes that Reflect the Sublime Teachings
"Let us consecrate ourselves to the creation of a world in which knowledge will be the province of all; where there are no limitations imposed upon a soul by virtue of race, gender, or creed; where the material and spiritual aspects of life are in harmony; and where all of the truths essential for human progress are held sacred. ...The evils of racism, materialism, and moral decadence will be eradicated only by:
A Love that is translated into action
Actions as deliberately going out of our way to befriend all
Appreciating the indispensable contributions of all
Joining hands with all in the creation of a new world.
(National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, America and the Five Year Plan February 25, 2017)
(1996-2020) Extracts Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to Individual Believers in the United States Achieving Race Unity (Updated Compilation)
April 27, 2017 from the Universal House of Justice individual participation in social action and public discourse
June 2020 National Assembly Statement Forging a path to Racial Justice
March 8, 2016 National Spiritual Assembly general importance of refraining from taking part in partisan politics.
Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism — Baha'i International Community’s Contribution to the 18th Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, New York, 3 May 2010
One Same Substance: Consciously Creating a Global Culture of Unity — Submitted by the Baha'i International Community to the World Conference Against Racism, Durban, South Africa, 31 August 2001
Eliminating Racism — Statement to the forty-fifth session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Geneva, 8 February 1989
The Bahá’í Faith and Politics: A compilation of Bahá’í texts — Compiled by the Office of Public Affairs, includes guidance on participation in movements, organizations, demonstrations and activism, contact with prominent people, and contact with government agencies and officials.
The Destiny of America and the Promise of World Peace — A Statement by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, 2001
The Vision Of Race Unity, America's Most Challenging Issue — A Statement by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States, 1991
Baha'i Sacred Writings on Overcoming Racial Divisions and Rebuilding America
Compilation of Baha'i sacred writings on the oneness of humanity and the process of achieving unity
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Baha'is participate in marches and demonstrations?
Bahá'ís are free to follow the dictates of their consciences about participation in in-person or online events so long as the event does not:
Advocate something contrary to the principles of the Faith.
Involve the breaking of laws, including civil disobedience.
Support political partisanship, i.e., for or against a political party or a political figure.
Provided that the prohibitions above are observed, for both individual Bahá'ís and Bahá’í institutions, there is a presumption in favor of events that support principles that are particularly central to the Faith, such as race unity or the elimination of racial discrimination: In a letter to Ellsworth Blackwell: “…there was no objection at all to the students taking part in something so obviously akin to the spirit of our teachings as a campus demonstration against race prejudice. The Bahá’ís did not inaugurate this protest, they merely were proud to have a voice as Bahá’ís in such a protest, took part, and he thinks they did quite right and violated no administrative principle.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, November 18, 1948)
Can Baha'is associate with Black Lives Matter?
Black Lives Matter is both an organized movement advocating for non-violent civil disobedience and protest and a decentralized movement, which has localized chapters focused on local awareness of unequal treatment, especially in the use of lethal force by police or citizen vigilantes, towards African-Americans in the United States. Additionally, it is a slogan and hashtag used to draw attention to societal racial inequities. Since leadership is to a large degree localized, events naturally can reflect, at least in part, the agenda, views, and methods favored by local organizers and participants.
Hence, Baháís should:
ascertain not only what is being advocated but also the means to be used to express that advocacy and assure themselves that any advocacy will not be politically partisan or involve civil disobedience.
understand that they are obligated to withdraw from an event, such as a rally or demonstration, if it becomes clear that the speeches being delivered are politically partisan ( e.g., for or against a political party or a political figure), the activities involve civil disobedience.
Can Baha'is promote the Faith at rallies?
Individuals may not present themselves as representatives of the Faith, unless authorized to do so by the Local Spiritual Assembly with jurisdiction over the location where the event is occurring. This is especially true when interacting with the media. Because Bahá'ís currently represent a very small segment of society and the Faith is not yet generally well understood, there is always the possibility that an individual identifying himself or herself as a Bahá'í will, when interviewed, be regarded as expressing views that are official ones of the Faith.
If a Local Spiritual Assembly has made a determination that a rally is not partisan politically, does not involve any law breaking, and is promoting a principle closely aligned with principles of the Faith, it may participate officially at a rally and have the Faith promoted as a supporter of the event. Of course, if the rally were to develop in such a way that these conditions were no longer being observed and it was apparent that the organizers were not able and willing to take immediate corrective action, the LSA would be required to withdraw.
Do Baha'is see the color of skin
Perhaps to Baha'is, the saying I don't see color can be confused with the idea:
"There are no whites and blacks before God. All colors are one, and that is the color of servitude to God. Scent and color are not important.The heart is important. If the heart is pure, white or black or any color makes no difference. God does not look at colors; He looks at the hearts." - 'Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace
"Equality is a chimera! It is entirely impracticable! Even if equality could be achieved it could not continue..." one understanding of this could be a call for equity, that people are not the same - they have different needs and different contributions to society but all should valued. - 'Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks
Colors can delight us and reflect the Baha’i principle of “unity in diversity.” This "diversity of hues, form and shape, enriches and adorns the garden, and heightens the effect thereof. In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest. - 'Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets to The Hague
How can Baha'is engage effectively in conversations about race?
All are encouraged to prepare to participate in conversations about the current conditions of the world through prayer and careful study of the compilation guidance of the Universal House of Justice distributed on May 15, 2020 by the National Spiritual Assembly that describes the means by which the worldwide Bahá’í Community is endeavoring to achieve racial justice.
In addition, the friends should make an effort to learn about various aspects of current discrimination and the legacies produced by past discrimination. For instance, in its letter to the national community for the Feast of Raḥmat (June 23, 2020), the National Spiritual Assembly described racial discrimination in the United States as “systemic.” The friends should be able explain ways in which racial discrimination has been and continues to be systemic.
Also, in its message to the American people published in June 2020, the National Spiritual Assembly made it clear that it is important to “build capacity to truly hear and acknowledge the voices of those who have directly suffered from the effects of racism.” This not only implies listening carefully to one’s friends and acquaintances, who are people of color, but also gaining a familiarity with the articles and books of well-known minority authors, who are recognized within their communities as expressing views that are currently widely accepted or respected.
There is, of course an intimate connection and coherence between an individual and a community’s ability to contribute to elimination of racial prejudice and the skills, habits and abilities developed through active engagement in activities of the Five Year Plan. Indeed, intensification of effort in this regard is directly related to the elimination of racial prejudice.
Notably, the Universal House of Justice has stated the following about the effect of the core activities of our community-building process: “In such intimate settings, people of diverse racial backgrounds encounter the Word of God, and in their efforts to translate the Teachings into practical action, are able to generate bonds of love, affection, and unity, and to learn what it means to establish a true interracial fellowship that is powerful enough to overcome the forces of racism that afflict them and their society.” (See the message dated August 6, 2018 in the Compilation, distributed by the National Spiritual Assembly on May 15, 2020, of letters written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice on Race Unity 1996-2020.)