NSA of the USA: eradicating racial prejudice in the nation
National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States:
letter for the friends gathered at the Feast of Izzat, September 8, 2014.
Dearly loved Friends,
With all Americans, we received with dismay and deep sadness news of the tragic death of Michael Brown, a young African American man not yet out of his teens, on the streets of his suburban home in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9. While we are not in possession of the exact circumstances of the police shooting that resulted in his death—nor is it ours to assess its justifiability—it is not difficult to understand why people across the nation reacted strongly to the incident and arose publicly to register their distress: the incident felt like one more painful reminder of a pattern of indignity and injustice African American men experience every day of their lives. Whether looked at from the standpoint of educational and employment opportunities, the workings of the criminal justice system, economics, politics, or any other facet of American life, there can be no doubt that, despite the advances of recent decades, a deeply ingrained, cancerous racial prejudice continues to afflict American society, disproportionately limiting the prospects for a happy and prosperous life for millions of our fellow citizens of a variety of races and national origins, frustrating their aspirations, compromising their safety and security, and thwarting their ability to realize their full potential.
Witnessing injustice, fair-minded people feel compelled to take action. How much more should this be true for the community of the Most Great Name—we who have recognized the Promised One, Whose purpose is to unite all the human family in a peaceful and just world civilization! Surely we, of all people, cannot afford to stay silent or aloof. We, who have access to the healing message of Baha’u’llah, cannot fail to apply the remedy. We can neither surrender ourselves to anger or despair nor merely mouth platitudes or offer shallow prescriptives unsupported by the force of example. We must never imagine we have achieved the high standards of conduct we are called to by Baha’u’llah. Rather, we must recognize the greatness of the challenges still before us, the vastness of the learning and growth we must still acquire. We must also never doubt the transformative power latent in the community life we are laboring to create. As the Universal House of Justice has stated:
“We live in the midst of populations which are in desperate need of the Message of Baha’u’llah. It is our duty to present it lucidly and convincingly to as many souls as possible. The darkness and suffering around us not only are the signs of a need, but also present us with an opportunity which we must not fail to use. Conveying the message is merely the first step. We must then ensure that it is understood and applied, for, as we read in one of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian: “Until the public sees in the Baha’i Community a true pattern, in action, of something better than it already has, it will not respond to the Faith in large numbers.” When people embrace the Cause, they should then, through the Teachings, develop their relationships with each other and with their fellow-citizens to gradually produce a truly Baha’i community, a light and haven for the bewildered.”
In light of these words, let us not underestimate the power for change inherent in the Five Year Plan’s framework for action. Beginning with a few simple but profound lines of action, growing more complex and far-reaching over time, they give rise to a way of community life in which outmoded habits of thought and action yield to new understandings and practices founded in God’s purpose for this Age. Imagine thousands of diverse people in a community engaged in meaningful conversations about unity centered in the Word of God; people inspired to translate their insights into active service; people accessing a system of spiritual education capable of nurturing them from childhood to adulthood; people worshiping and serving together for the material and spiritual betterment of all. Imagine the cumulative effect that hundreds of such communities would have on our society! And this is no abstraction—such vibrant communities are already in existence in various parts of the world, as the Supreme Body points out in its most recent Ridvan message, as well as its August 1 message surveying the progress of work on Baha’i Houses of Worship across the globe.
The distress we see around us is as much a part of God’s plan as our own efforts to spread His teachings. The beloved Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, reminded us many times of the promises ‘Abdu’l-Baha voiced about the future spiritual leadership of our nation. Yet he also reminded us that America would be made fit for that role through great tribulations. Consider but one of his statements to this effect:
“The woes and tribulations which threaten [America] are partly avoidable, but mostly inevitable and God-sent. . . . These same fiery tribulations will not only firmly weld the American nation to its sister nations in both hemispheres, but will through their cleansing effect, purge it thoroughly of the accumulated dross which ingrained racial prejudice, rampant materialism, widespread ungodliness and moral laxity have combined, in the course of successive generations, to produce, and which have prevented her thus far from assuming the role of world spiritual leadership forecast by ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s unerring pen—a role which she is bound to fulfill through travail and sorrow.”
Dearest friends! What a great destiny the Blessed Beauty has ordained for this nation! Yet how very long the road to that destiny seems! We can be confident He will do His part to prepare the people of this land to make their full contribution to the building of God’s Kingdom on earth. But we must also do our part. Our opportunity is priceless, our duty inescapable. We must not fail in our ceaseless campaign to eradicate racial prejudice, that indispensable element in our “double crusade, first to regenerate the inward life of [our] own community, and next to assail the long-standing evils that have entrenched themselves in the life of [our] nation.”
The American struggle is our struggle. We are one nation, one people.
With deepest Baha’i love,
NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY OF
THE BAHA’IS OF THE UNITED STATES