BAHAI CONFERENCE HERE PUTS FOCUS ON EQUALITY
The Bahai religion was formed in 1844 in Persia, now Iran. Bahais number 6 million in more than 205 countries. The religion has 100, 000 worshipers in the United States, 1,000 in Missouri, 300 in St. Louis and 30 in St. Charles County. Its followers maintain that next to Christianity, Bahai is the most widespread religion in the world.
The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of St. Charles County was started 25 years ago. Its followers meet every 19 days for worship, which they call feasts. The religion has no clergy. In each Bahai community, the spiritual assembly consists of nine members who act as administrators. The Bahai principle is unity with diversity, said Bahai member Kathryn Jaspar of St. Peters. "The first time I went to a Bahai conference, I felt like I was in the mainstream of people, from different races, nationalities, and social and economic backgrounds," Jaspar said.
Another dominant principle is that universal peace is linked with the emancipation of women and full equality in all fields of human endeavor. To foster awareness on the importance of gender equality, the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of St. Charles County is sponsoring a "Conference on the Equality of Women and Men: Partnership for a Healthy Planet."
The conference starts at 8 o'clock tonight at the St. Peters Senior Center, 108 McMenamy Road. It will continue from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at St. Peters City Hall on Mexico Road.
Highlights include separate and inclusive workshops for men and women, dramatic readings, devotions and lectures.
Keynote speakers and workshop leaders are psychotherapists Jack and Fafar Guillebeaux of Montgomery, Ala., and Billie S. Mayo of University City. Mayo is a co-founder of Self-Evaluation Consultants Inc., a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to healing racism and creating a productive society.
The cost of the conference is $25 a person and $45 a couple, including workshops and lunch on Saturday. The $60 fee for a family includes workshops, lunch on Saturday and a children's program. Those who are interested may call 441-2944.
Jaspar and Cate Vance, also of St. Peters, are in charge of the conference. Jaspar embraced the Bahai faith in 1962, when she was teaching a graduate fellowship in English and literature at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.
Jaspar was attracted to the religion because of its global views and cultural tolerance during a period of racial upheaval in the United States.
"Fort Worth was in the Bible Belt, and there was a great deal of intolerance," she recalled. "I heard about this strangely named religion where black children were welcome in the classes and where children learned about all the religions of the world and the great revelators - not only Christ but Buddha, Mohammed and Moses," Jaspar said. "I wanted that kind of understanding for my three children." Vance turned to the Bahai faith 20 years ago as a newlywed living in Chicago. Vance, who is originally from Florissant, was raised as a Catholic. She was attracted to the Bahai faith not as a denial of her Catholicism but as a continuance, she said.
"Baha' Allah talks about how religion progresses and that in our infancy we need simple teachings. When we become adults, the teachings need to encompass the age we live in," she explained. "The spiritual laws stay the same, but social laws change and we must address those changes."
Jaspar suggested that equality between the sexes is in its infancy and that many of the worlds' problems can be connected to a disparity of opportunity between men and women. "Eighty percent of the poor in the world are women and children. Simply by educating and empowering women and giving them the same opportunities as men, we could virtually eliminate poverty," Jaspar said. "The Bahai faith is the only world religion to have as a basic tenet the spiritual principle that women must attain their divine birthright for the good of everyone."
The conference will open this weekend with a symphony by Beethoven, prayers, and a short skit that tells the story of an Iranian poetess named Tahirih (tah hah ray). The male players will wear turbans and women the body-hiding chadors. Vance said that Tahirih was strangled by the Persian government in 1848 because she appeared at a conference before a group of men without a veil. "That was the trumpet call for women to take responsibility and step forward to be equal to men."
Esther Talbot Fenning; St. Charles Post Special Correspondent, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 03-31-1995, pp 03.
©Copyright 1995, St. Louis Post-Dispach