Introduction to a Statement on Race Unity
The followers of Bahá'u'lláh have a central role in the nation's struggle for racial justice and unity. Here the destiny of America and of the Bahá'í Faith are tightly intertwined. The nation needs a model of interracial love and unity, based on the principle of the oneness of humanity, to restore confidence that race unity is possible and to give rise to new approaches to the organization of community life.
Some Bahá'í communities are now in the forefront of America's struggle for race unity. They are doing heroic work in public schools and colleges, police departments and community organizations, governments and neighborhoods. Nevertheless, much remains to be done to achieve Abdu'l-Bahá's standard of interracial unity and love within the Bahá'í community itself, and to become a guiding force for our nation.
The Bahá'í Writings assign our community the mission to "demonstrate to our countrymen the ennobling reality of a power that shall weld a disrupted world." The growth and influence of the Bahá'í Faith are tied directly to the manner in which Bahá'ís carry out, among ourselves and in the larger society, "those high standards of interracial amity so widely proclaimed and so fearlessly exemplified to the American people by Abdu'l-Bahá." Freedom from race prejudice is the "hallmark of a true Bahá'í character" and the "supreme injunction of Bahá'u'lláh." Sustained action to eliminate prejudice and build race unity will surely attract the blessings of Bahá'u'lláh, invoke a spiritual atmosphere, and stimulate the release of heavenly forces that will stir the growth of the Bahá'í community, and "change the direction of human affairs throughout the planet."
Shoghi Effendi warned that should we neglect this duty, we will "not merely be failing in what is our most vital and conspicuous obligation, but thereby retarding the flow of those quickening energies which alone can insure the vigorous and speedy development of God's struggling Faith."
The President of the United States has appointed a Commission on Race. His aim is to start a national campaign of discussion of the means to establish racial justice and unity. The campaign has gotten off to a slow start, raising doubts that meaningful action will result. Public skepticism is fueled by America's long history of advance and retreat on racial matters. Over time failed initiatives have caused a steady erosion of public confidence that America will sustain her commitment to eliminate the ingrained racism that cripples the freedom of all its people and jeopardizes the internal order and national security of the nation as a whole.
Equally troubling is the prospect that the Commission may reach oft repeated conclusions, diagnosing the problem of racism as a deficit of rights and privileges. While the legal and material requirements to eradicate racism are well known, its spiritual requirements have been persistently neglected. The Bahá'í Teachings state that America should be the first nation to proclaim the oneness of the human family, but the principle of oneness is not yet the force driving the struggle of uniting the races. America has not done enough to demonstrate her commitment to the equality and unity of the races, to the dignity of all human beings whatever their color, and to the moral imperative of extending love and respect to the entire human family.
Soon, as you have read in the American Bahá'í, the National Spiritual Assembly will launch a nationwide television proclamation of the Bahá'í Teachings on race unity. The program will air repeatedly on over 1000 stations and will be the center point of a national campaign of teaching. Its aim is to invite people of every race and background to investigate the Bahá'í Faith in their local communities. We must prepare ourselves to be living witnesses to the truths Abdu'l-Bahá tirelessly championed.
The National Spiritual Assembly calls upon every Bahá'í to rededicate himself or herself to the glorious task of eliminating the last traces of prejudice and alienation among the races within the Bahá'í community and to spare no effort to bring the healing message of reconciliation and love to our fellow Americans of all races and religions. Our community, which is already interracial and diversified, should examine itself to see how far we have come and what we must now do. American Bahá'ís, "now but a tiny nucleus of the Bahá'í Commonwealth of the future" must "so exemplify that spirit of universal love and fellowship as to evoke in the minds of their associates the vision of that future City of God which the almighty arm of Bahá'u'lláh can alone establish.
We appeal to every Local Spiritual Assembly, individual Bahá'í, and community to assert leadership in the President's campaign for a national dialogue on race. We ask that every Spiritual Assembly that has a Bahá'í center hold public gatherings for open discussion of the requirements for race unity. Bahá'í communities without centers should make arrangements to use facilities where public meetings may be held. Moreover, isolated believers and groups should invite their neighbors to their homes to participate in this important discussion. Our hope is to initiate thousands of meetings, hosted by Bahá'ís, between now and Race Unity Day, June 14, 1998, and help America advance toward her God ordained destiny to be the first nation to proclaim the oneness of the human family.
Robert C. Henderson