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Keeping the faith
A religion professor told the diverse audience at the Baha'i House of Worship that a Christian saint is the Buddha.
by Sam Kennerly
The Daily Northwestern

People of all religions celebrated World Religion Day Sunday at the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette with music, prayer and a story.

The celebration opened with a devotional service featuring an a cappella choir in the House of Worship's domed auditorium. Visitors then went downstairs to hear Dr. Robert Stockman speak. His speech began and ended with prayer and a performance by a soprano accompanied by piano.

The Baha'is created World Religion Day in the 1950s as an opportunity to discuss unity of religion.

Stockman, a religion professor at DePaul University with a Harvard doctorate, spoke about the commonalities of world theologies to a diverse audience of about a hundred people, from Northwestern students to Sikh religious authorities. He told the story of how the expression "Jumpin' Jehoshaphat"cq refers to the Buddha.

Jehoshaphat the prince gave up his riches and devoted his life to helping the needy, Stockman said. He explained that scholars have traced variations of the story back in time through Rome, Greece, Russia and the Middle East only to discover that the story was originally about the Buddha.

"One of the characters in a Christian story was the founder of another religion," Stockman said.

Audience member Ken Craft said he'd never heard that Jehoshaphat was the Buddha. Craft, a former Methodist, converted to Baha'i 26 years ago after hearing a sermon about "Progressive Revelation."

"I heard the teachings of Baha'i, and it was automatic," Craft said of his conversion.

Stockman's story was meant to emphasize the unifying similarities of different world religions.

The holiday is now celebrated globally by various religious groups, primarily the Baha'is.

"World Religion Day is a day to ponder the unity of the world's religions... to examine the truth of the faiths, and to consider anew our own most cherished values," Stockman said.

The Baha'i faith is founded on the belief that all religions are different interpretations of the same truth.

"All religion is one in its essence, and revelation is a continuous process," House of Worship spokesperson Lorelei McClure said. "We should treat others with equal respect for being members of the human family."

Baha'i is one of the world's newest religions. It was founded in the mid-19th century by the Persian prophet Baha'u'llahcq. The religion centers around the teachings of Baha'u'llah, whose primary message was that all of humanity is one.

Inscribed inside the House of Worship are sayings of Baha'u'llah such as "All the Prophets of God proclaim the same faith."

The Baha'is have no clergy and avoid rituals and elaborate services. They believe the unity of global religions and cultures is especially relevant in modern times, McClure said.

"Humanity is headed towards unity," she said.

The seven Baha'i temples worldwide welcome people of all religions. The House of Worship in Wilmette is the only Baha'i temple in the United States, and the headquarters for the National Spiritual Assembly is in Evanston.

The House of Worship is located at the corner of Sheridan Road and Linden Avenue and is open to all visitors.

©Copyright 1998, Daily Northwestern
Original Story

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