Bah'i Community promotes interfaith dialogue

Posted: Friday, December 27, 2002

In a statement delivered to religious leaders in Alaska and around the globe earlier this year, the International Bah'i Community called on the world's religious leaders to promote interfaith activities and the oneness of all the world's religions.

The statement, authored by the Universal House of Justice -- the international governing body of the worldwide Bah'i community -- encourages religious leaders to take an active part in establishing interfaith dialogue as a means of impacting the current "rising fires of religious prejudices" around the globe.

In the central Kenai Peninsula, this message was delivered to almost 100 religious leaders by local Bah'is.

"We owe it to our partners in this common effort to state clearly our conviction that interfaith discourse, if it is to contribute meaningfully to healing the ills that afflict a desperate humanity, must now address honestly, and without further evasion, the implications of the over-arching truth that called the (interfaith) movement into being; that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one," reads the statement.

When Rev. Dale Kelley, pastor of the Soldotna United Methodist Church, was presented with the statement she received it with enthusiasm and shared her view of God as being the center of a wheel, from which all true religious paths emanate.

"The individual religions form the spokes leading from the same God, each containing truth, but only God holds the exclusive truth," she said.

She and several other recipients agreed with the message's call for improved dialogue and described their own efforts to gather together with the leaders of other churches.

The message also says that the danger to the world caused by religious prejudice is a danger that civil government cannot overcome without the assistance of religious leaders.

"The crisis calls on religious leadership for a break with the past as decisive as those that opened the way for society to address equally corrosive prejudices of race, gender and nation. Whatever justification exists for exercising influence in matters of conscience lies in serving the well-being of humankind," the message states.

David Baumgartner, secretary general of the Alaska Bah'i community, said the message also looks at how organized religion has often behaved as an obstacle to peace.

"The statement offers changes made in the 20th Century in the areas of women's rights, international cooperation and the elimination of racial prejudices, as hopeful examples of humanity's ability to root out longstanding prejudicial beliefs," he said.

"The enduring legacy of the 20th Century is that it compelled the peoples of the world to begin seeing themselves as members of a single human race, and the earth as that race's homeland," reads the statement. "Despite the continuing conflict and violence that darkens the horizon, prejudices that once seemed inherent in the nature of the human species are everywhere giving way. Down with them come barriers that long divided the family of man into a Babel of incoherent identities of cultural, ethnic or national origin. That so fundamental a change could occur in so brief a period -- virtually overnight in the perspective of historical time -- suggests the magnitude of the possibilities of the future."

Noting this quotation from the Bah'i writings that ends the message -- "The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unobtainable, unless and until its unity is firmly established" -- Dr. Byron McCord, a Bah'i living in Ridgeway, said "World peace is first a matter of attitude, especially at the grass roots level, before it can become a physical reality. When our hearts are united, our lives will effortlessly follow suit."

Curt Shuey is a member of the Bah'is of Kalifornsky. The members of the Bah'i faith hope to join in interfaith dialogue with others in the diverse religions and cultures in this area in order to explore our essential oneness and to build on that unity for the creation of a respectful, collaborative, peaceful community.

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