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The following letter to an individual Bahá’í was written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice in response to a question raised about the spiritual health of the American Bahá’í community. The National Spiritual Assembly felt that the issues discussed should be shared with the community as a whole.
Dear Bahá’í Friend,
The House of Justice notes your concerns for the spiritual health of the American Bahá’í community, as conveyed in your letter of November 17, 1990, and we are to share the following advice on its behalf.
Our hope as Bahá’ís is that our communities will indeed foster increasing levels of candor, trust and intimacy wherein those practical steps and concerted measures which you allude to may be identified and agreed to in a consultative spirit.
It is understandable if the believers feel a sense of impatience with the apparently slow progress in the expansion of the Cause in certain regions, but they should take heart at the victories being won elsewhere, and even study these for insights into the process of effective teaching and community development. We may take comfort in the following words of the beloved Guardian:
“…every bearer of the Message of Bahá’u’lláh should consider it not only an obligation but a privilege to scatter far and wide the seeds of His Faith, and to rest content in the abiding knowledge that whatever be the immediate response to that Message, and however inadequate the vehicle that conveyed it, the power of its Author will, as He sees fit, enable those seeds to germinate, and in circumstances which no one can foresee enrich the harvest which the labor of His followers will gather …” (The Advent of Divine Justice [Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1984, p. 53)
As for acknowledging problems, should an institution of the Faith become aware of a problem within the community, it would seem that the most prudent course of action is usually to draw attention to underlying spiritual principles, or to encourage the believers along pathways of growth and development; an example would be the December 29, 1988, letter of the House of Justice on individual rights and freedoms in the Bahá’í community.
There is a great difference between illuminating a wrong that should be put right, and simply indulging in criticism. Then too, there are differing perceptions about what is the appropriate method for sharing critical information; circumspection and wisdom are needed.
The Bahá’í Teachings define marriage as a sacred institution Our Faith brooks no compromise with those pernicious theories which assert, for example, that maintaining a single monogamous relationship throughout one’s lifetime is an unreasonable expectation.
You may be interested to know that the Research Department at the World Center has recently produced a compilation titled “Preserving Bahá’í Marriages” which was designed with the idea that the friends needed to have easily at hand resources from the ocean of Baha’u’llah’s Writings which might enable them to acquire a more profound sense of Bahá’í marriage as a bulwark against the disintegrating forces of materialism which continue to derange the foundations of mankind’s ordered life. This compilation is in the process of being mailed now to National Spiritual Assemblies.
With regard to vitalizing the Nineteen Day Feast, this has been addressed in a letter dated August 27, 1989, from the Universal House of Justice to the followers of Bahá’u’lláh, which is enclosed for your information. You are advised that your ideas for structuring Bahá’í newsletters should be directed to your local or National Assembly, as appropriate.
If you are in possession of specific practical skills which you feel may be of benefit to your fellow-believers, perhaps you might consider volunteering yourself as a facilitator of a training course, to be offered at some suitable venue, whether for the members of your immediate community or perhaps at a regional institute. It should be borne in mind, however, that the believers are not obliged to accept theories and methods from outside the Cause, though they may find it useful to adopt certain practices which common experience has shown to be useful in organizing affairs, so long as these accord with the spirit and principles of the Faith.
As you rightly point out in your letter, fresh approaches must be taken if we are to discover together effective methods for propagating and establishing the Cause of God. The House of Justice emphasized in its recent Ridvan message, as you may no doubt have noted, that there should be scope and freedom for diversity of action, because it is recognized that there are ways of serving our precious Cause.
Regarding the flow of information, while some communities may find it useful to conduct an annual survey, it is worth noting that there is provision in the Cause for airing of concerns from the grassroots at each Nineteen Day Feast. Eventually, as the friends learn to take fuller and more effective advantage of this divinely conceived mechanism, it will be seen how truly wondrous is this divine economy which the Blessed Beauty has bequeathed.
You express a longing for greater openness and deeper ties among the believers, for more tolerance of authentic diversity and for greater discipline on the part of the individual and the community. You draw attention to the need for greater sensitivity and cite the importance of cultivating the art of listening, and for enhanced attention to the practical applications of our Faith in all arenas, and to the objectives of the Six Year Plan. These concerns are indeed urgent and compelling, but depend for their successful prosecution upon individual grassroots initiative, forbearance, and resolve, perhaps even more than upon administration, vital as that is.
The following admonitions of the beloved Guardian may be relevant to your meditations:
“The friends must be patient with each other and must realize that the Cause is in its infancy and its institutions are not yet functioning perfectly. The greater the patience, the loving understanding and the forbearance the believers show toward each other and their shortcomings, the greater will be the progress of the whole Bahá’í community at large.” (From a letter dated February 27, 1943, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer.)
Moreover, we are urged to “study deeply the teachings, teach others, study with those Bahá’ís who are anxious to do so, the deeper teachings of our Faith, and through example, effort and prayer, bring about a change.” (From a letter dated September 30, 1949. written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)
It is only as individuals and their communities realize a profound transformation that that dynamic unity foreshadowed in the Teachings will gradually evolve, what will catalyze this change is a more comprehensive and systematic attention to the Covenant and its requirements. Be assured that the House of Justice will pray ardently in the Holy Shrines on your behalf that your devoted efforts in the path of service to His exalted Cause may be bountifully confirmed.
With loving Bahá’í greetings.
The Universal House of Justice
Department of the Secretariat
December 24, 1990