A Brief Word on "Cult"
A few years ago, I had occasion to write the following letter to the minister of a local church for reasons that become obvious as you read it. I never heard another word from that minister.
The Baha'i friends in my community felt this letter should be published. From my perspective as its author, you are free to use it or any part of it as you see fit, but I would recommend consulting with your local Spiritual Assembly first, if you're a Baha'i. If you're not yet a Baha'i, I hope this will help your understanding of the Faith.
The Rev. _________
Pastor of ______ Church
Dear Pastor ____:
God bless you, and I thank you for your call last Saturday in which you expressed a desire to understand more about the Baha'i Faith. We fully sympathize with your immediate concern to "protect your flock," but your repeated use of the word "cult" during our conversation indicates that you truly are unaware of the Baha'i message. No legitimate definition of that word found anywhere that I've looked applies to the Baha'i Faith. (I say legitimate because I realize that a few people, totally careless of the slanderous nature of the word and the pain it may cause innocent people, apply it to anybody who doesn't adhere to their specific belief.)
We do not proselytize. Our own laws forbid it. But we do believe that everyone who wants to hear the Word of God should have the opportunity, and that's all we are offering. Almost two years ago, the Hobbs Baha'is undertook a project to send an information package to every known religious leader in the Hobbs area. The local newspaper published our story about the effort. Our intent was to make the entire church community aware that we would be increasing our effort to make the offer of information to more people. Our records do not indicate that your name was on our list. Perhaps we missed you. Perhaps you are new to the community. Either way, I would be happy to fill the gap and provide you with a complete package if you request it.
Points of Unity
We seek points of unity, not divisiveness. That's because we believe that where we agree is so much more important. See if you have a problem with any of the following beliefs and assertions of the Baha'i Faith:
- The God of Adam, Abraham and Moses is the Creator.
- God is also Infinite Love, Mercy, and Justice.
- There is only one God.
- Jesus is the Son of God.
- Jesus is Divine.
- The Virgin Mary mothered Jesus through the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit.
- Man cannot know God except through Jesus.
- When they crucified Jesus, He died for me.
- God requires and expects us to pray.
- God requires and expects us to love one another.
- God requires and expects us to develop virtues.
- Among those virtues are honesty, trustworthiness, chastity, and patience.
These and many more are what I consider very important points of unity between us. These points, to me, far out-weigh any points of disagreement. I am a Baha'i because of my love for Jesus. Anyone who becomes a Baha'i must accept Jesus regardless of his previous religious background. I do not expect you to believe what I believe, only to understand that I believe it and that I try to live it.
Asking Honest Appraisal
If you choose to discuss the Baha'i Faith with the rest of your congregation, to "warn" them if you will, we will not be surprised. But I would ask that you investigate a little further. Then, you will find that using the word "cult" would be both unnecessary and untrue. I, too, have children whom I have taught to love God, to pray daily, and to be more than tolerant of, actually embracing in friendliness, the followers of other religions. Such language strikes at the heart. They've spent their lives attending Baha'i meetings, and they know that the atrocities associated with "cults" do not happen among us.
Elected Spiritual Assemblies
All I know about cults is what I read in the papers or the dictionary. Nevertheless, I understand some cults follow a living charismatic leader. We have none, charismatic or otherwise. We elect local, national and international bodies to serve our administrative needs, but our only "leader" is God. None of the elected bodies can pass legislation contrary to what has already been laid down in our Scripture. Those elected consider themselves servants, not authorities.
Freedom of Choice
I also understand some cults don't let you out once you're in. All it takes in the Baha'i Faith is a personally written letter to our National Spiritual Assembly stating that you no longer believe, and your name is immediately removed from our rolls. We're saddened to see someone do this, but it does not lessen our love for him or her. As long as they wish, they are welcomed back, as visitors if they so desire.
Clear Minds and Bodies
I also understand some cults require the use of certain drugs or alcohol in their rituals. The Baha'i teachings strictly forbid any use of alcohol or drugs unless prescribed by a qualified physician.
I also understand some cults "brainwash" their members and don't let them study anything but the cult message. The Baha'i Faith encourages universal education, urging everyone to become well-rounded in knowledge. This includes any study one wishes to make of any other religious teachings. As you know, Jesus told us to "Watch" and Paul said to "Prove all things; hold fast to that which is true." You cannot prove or know if you don't investigate. Independent investigation of Truth is a primary principle of the Baha'i Faith, not just a right, but a responsibility of every individual.
Nobility and Dignity of All
I also understand some cults demean their members in various ways. The Baha'i Faith vehemently asserts the nobility of every one of God's creatures and protects the dignity of all individuals. Baha'is are in the forefront of human rights and civil rights efforts around the world. We seek everyone's input in a consultative and democratic decision-making process
I also understand some cults use various illicit sexual practices in their "worship." The Baha'i Faith teaches cleanliness, purity and chastity. The only legitimate sexual relationship sanctioned in the Baha'i teachings is monogamous, heterosexual and privately engaged in by couples who are married to each other.
Free Will Contributions Only
I also understand some cults require members to give disproportionate amounts of their money and property to the cult. The Baha'i Faith never approaches individuals about so much as a tithe. Our funds are discussed openly, any needs being explained in general meetings, and individuals are free to give as they choose. No one but the elected treasurer knows who gives how much, an obvious necessity for bookkeeping reasons. Annual audit reports tell everyone where the funds are spent. Every individual's giving is between him and God, and Baha'is are forbidden to judge each other's relationship with God. (We avoid the use of paid clergy.)
Open and Above Board
I also understand some cults are secretive. The Baha'i Faith has been an open book since its inception in 1844. Major political and religious leaders around the world began receiving letters about the Baha'i teachings in the 1870s. Baha'is have tried hard for more than 150 years to tell the world about it, while trying not to be perceived as proselytizing.
The Baha'is were the only religious organization invited to speak at the Earth Summit in Brazil. A recent Encyclopedia Britannica Yearbook lists the Baha'i Faith as the second-most widespread religion in the world. The Baha'i International Committee, holding non-governmental advisory status, has offices at the United Nations.
It would be difficult to be "secretive" while at the same time claiming to be the agent for unsealing the books that the prophet Daniel was ordered to seal up until the time of the end.
The Changeless Faith of God
Baha'i Scripture includes the following statement:
This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future. Let him that seeketh, attain it; and as to him that hath refused to seek it -- verily, God is Self-Sufficient, above any need of His creatures.
Once anyone tells us they want to hear no more, we turn away, continuing our search elsewhere for those souls who are seeking Divine Truth.
Forgive me if I have overstated my case, but it is for love of Jesus, and love of truth and justice, that I felt it necessary to provide a few more facts than you had immediately available. As you know, your congregation looks to you for spiritual guidance, expecting you to give them truthful, prayerfully considered responses to their questions. I hope this information provides the basis for a serious investigation.
At a minimum, I hope that whatever answer you give your congregation is based on knowledge and love, not on fear of the unknown.
You are welcome to join us in worship, to attend a meeting and ask questions, to investigate privately, or to turn away. It really is between you and Jesus what you do with His message.
Forever in His service,
for the Baha'is of Hobbs
(The following is such an important point that, even though I neglected to include it in the original letter, I agreed with a Baha'i friend's suggestion that it should appear here.)
Family Unit Exalted and Protected
I also understand that some cults create painful divisions in families, turning children against their parents. The Baha'i Faith, on the contrary, builds bridges between children and their parents, even if it results in the believer refraining from participating in Baha'i community activities. Baha'u'llah commanded:
"Beware lest ye commit that which would sadden the hearts of your fathers and mothers. Follow ye the path of Truth which indeed is a straight path. Should anyone give you a choice between the opportunity to render a service to me and a service to them, choose ye to serve them, and let such service be a path leading you to Me. This is My exhortation and command unto thee. Observe therefore that which thy Lord, the Mighty, the Gracious, hath prescribed unto thee." (Emphasis added)
If you're not already a Baha'i,