Guidance on the Use of Talks at Feast
1. Letter sent to the US NSA
September 29, 2009
Recently a transcript of a talk by Dr. Peter Khan has been distributed amongst the friends, largely on the internet and also offline [online here. -J.W.]. It deals with the Ridvan letter of the Universal House of Justice for 2009, and addresses themes like the nature of civilization and religion, and the Five Year Plan in context of the larger goals of the Faith. It is of a very high quality and very useful to the community.
I just recently studied it myself – after hearing about it for a few weeks – and I thought it very accurately addresses some misconceptions about the Five Year Plan I have experienced in my local community and elsewhere. However, I then learned that some Local Spiritual Assemblies may have asked that it be studied by the believers at Feast. I have only heard this on hearsay, but it concerned me a lot for a few reasons:
While I loved the talk, and I think it would be useful for the friends to study, I don’t feel like Feast is the appropriate time, especially not for an LSA to formally ask that it be read. Is the National Assembly aware of the source of this transcript? Did it come through more official channels than I am aware of, or can it be authenticated? Is there any guidance from the Institutions of the Faith on the issue of talks/articles by individuals being studied during feast? I know Hands of the Cause used to send out letter/talks for Feasts, but that was in their role as an Institution, a talk by a House member has no similar role, nor does it seem that Dr. Khan intended it be used that way.
I would appreciate any guidance, advice or elucidation than can be provided.
2. Reply from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States
November 3, 2009
Dear Baháʹí Friend,
The National Spiritual Assembly has asked us to respond on its behalf to your email of September 29, 2009, requesting guidance on whether it is appropriate to read talks by Universal House of Justice members and others at the Nineteen Day Feast, and whether such talks have been, and should be, authenticated. Please accept our apologies for the delay you have experienced. This office must handle a large volume of correspondence on behalf of the National Spiritual Assembly, and, regrettably, it is not always possible to reply to each letter and email as promptly as we would like.
The talk which you refer to in your email is indeed by Dr. Peter Khan, and it is an example of many similar addresses, the content of which the friends are free to distribute in the variety of ways that are available to them. Although it is not possible or desirable to authenticate every such address, the friends are trusted to ensure that their accounts are accurate and presented in a dignified manner, much in the way of Pilgrim’s Notes in the early days of the Faith in North America.
While it is true that only “prayers and readings from the Holy Texts” may be read during the devotional portion of the Feast, `Abduʹl‐Bahá encouraged the Baháʹís to “deliver eloquent speeches” during the administrative and social portions. To this end, a Local Assembly may decide to include talks such as the one by Dr. Khan as part of the Nineteen Day Feast. This issue is addressed in a number of references, one of which is included below for your convenience, in Chapter 8, pages 4‐5, of Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, which can be accessed online on the Baháʹí administrative website at www.usbnc.org.
We appreciate your questions as well as the spirit which prompted them. If you have other questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office.
With warm Baháʹí regards,