Saturday, September 16, 2000
Photos by Lauren McFalls/For The Olympian
Members of Thurston County's Baha'i community Joyce Baldwin (left) of Tumwater and Dariugh Khaleghi of Lacey commemorate a holy day for the Baha'i, the date that a founder of the faith was executed for his teachings in 1850.
Vicki Armstrong-Lewis (left) and Caryn Gayfield, both of Olympia, participate in services.
Personal faith fuels Baha'i
LORRINE THOMPSON, THE OLYMPIAN
"I suddenly could accept people of all other faiths. I could have a love for the other messengers that I couldn't have before." -- Char Robley
OLYMPIA -- Driving in Olympia recently, David Lynch saw a bumper sticker that concerned him.
It read: "My God can beat up your God."
Meant to be humorous, the bumper sticker still reflected the divisive and competitive nature of many organized religions. It also reflected one reason Lynch and others became interested in the Baha'i faith, a growing worldwide religion that has about 250 members in Thurston County.
The faith teaches that all major religions spring from the same God, and messengers such as Mohammed, Jesus and Buddha all came from the same source with similar teachings.
"There's nothing that divides us from anybody," said Char Robley, a member of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'i of Tumwater.
"We're so connected that we don't even know how connected we are," said her husband, Don Robley.
The Robleys and Lynch say that though the Baha'i faith is growing in the county and around the world, many people don't know what it is or what it stands for.
"We're not out banging the drums like a lot of other religions," Lynch said. "There's a lot of lack of information about the Baha'is."
The Baha'i of Thurston County meet in six assemblies. They meet in homes and have no paid clergy. They welcome members of the public at their fireside meetings and holiday and specials events.
Lynch said he was attracted to the Baha'i faith particularly because it encourages followers to investigate for themselves.
"It didn't demand a blind, unreasoning faith," he said.
Lynch had grown up in a Protestant home, with a Lutheran and Methodist background. "I found a lot of people saying one thing and doing another," he said.
A particular turning point came when his pregnant wife became ill during a church sermon and was told by a church member she should have stayed home rather than disrupt the service.
"But that wasn't the reason. It was a growing away. It didn't meet my needs spiritually. It didn't answer the questions my soul was searching for," he said.
He studied Buddhism and other faiths in a search for what felt right for him, and when he found the Baha'is, "it was like coming home."
Women and people of all races were deemed to be entirely equal, followers were encouraged to explore the truth on their own, and the religion was run as a democracy with elections and no all-encompassing leader.
The Baha'is don't solicit or require donations from members.
"It's all secret. I could donate a penny or $50,000. There are no special promises or glory or deals (based on donation amounts)," Lynch said.
Questions lead to answer
Char and Don Robley also were attracted to the faith when they began questioning their own -- both grew up in Methodist families.
"I was always questioning. I didn't just take what was told me in class," said Char, who attended a Methodist university in California.
"The main thing that didn't make sense to me was excluding all the other people in the world. I wasn't even allowed to date in other religions," she said. "All these good people were cut off from each other. It would make me weep."
Don and she had already met, were dating, and were Methodist when they married. But he, too, was questioning his faith.
"I couldn't quite grasp what they were telling me," Don said. "I wondered what God did with all these great people who weren't Christian."
He met a black seaman of the Baha'i faith on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. "I wrote Char about this great thing and scared her. She wrote back and said, 'But what about Christmas?' "
They both laugh at the memory.
The change did not happen overnight, but "it was a beginning for me," Don said. "There was this knowing inside that I had changed."
When he returned from the Navy, he began attending Baha'i fireside meetings and bringing home books. Char would attend Methodist sermons, then look up what the Baha'i writings said on the same subjects.
Finally, at a Baha'i fireside in 1968, both came to separate decisions that they wanted to join the faith.
For Don, a slide show of people of different races in different countries studying Baha'i writings struck him with its message that all people really can come together.
Char was moved by the realization that "I didn't have to hate anybody," she said.
"It was a wonder to me. I suddenly could accept people of all other faiths. I could have a love for the other messengers that I couldn't have before," she said. "I have a love of Christ that I didn't have as a Christian."
She could talk to Buddhists, Muslims, Jews and Christians and know that they all belong together and are working toward the same thing.
If any one word was used to define the Baha'i faith, it would be "unity," Lynch said.
People of all other religions are welcome at their meetings, and indeed, do not have to relinquish their beliefs in order to study Baha'i teachings.
People of all religions are connected, Lynch said, "We just choose to be Baha'i."
Lorrine Thompson covers health and lifestyles for The Olympian. She can be reached at 754-5431.
The Thurston County Baha'i community is sponsoring free Sunday classes featuring the Virtues Project, a non-denominational program highlighting 52 virtues such as honesty and kindness that can be taught and shared by youth and adults.
Classes run from 10 a.m. to noon and begin Sept. 24 at the Tumwater Old Town Center, 215 N. Second Ave. For information, call 704-4470, or e-mail Don and Char Robley at firstname.lastname@example.org
All Baha'i fireside meetings and holiday observances are open to the public. To learn more about meeting schedules and other events, call David Lynch at 754-6697.
The central principles of the Baha'i faith include:
- All major religions and messengers spring from the same God. Moses, Mohammed, Buddha, Jesus and Baha'u'llah were all primary messengers sent at different times to bring God's word and advance human understanding.
- Humanity is growing just as an individual grows. Humankind has gone through its infancy and childhood and is passing through its adolescence now, heading toward a mature and united future. As humans have advanced, God has sent new teachers along the way to guide them.
- Absolute equality among men and women, who are equally capable of reflecting the virtues of God. God is neither male nor female.
- Absolute equality among people of all races, and the abolition of all prejudice. This is needed for humanity to become united.
- The essential harmony of science and religion, which are two sides of the same truth. Baha'is are encouraged to independently investigate the truth.
- Education and a universal auxiliary language are needed to help unite all of humankind and bring about peace.
©Copyright 2000, The Olympian