On September 14, 2020, the Regional Bahá’í Council hosted the first Racial Justice and Unity Forum for the Midwestern states. This was a delightful opportunity for Bahá’í s from three Midwestern states who are involved in race unity initiatives to come together to consult and share ideas about their own activities. This was the first of a series of such monthly gatherings, which will explore topics related to expansion and consolidation, public discourse, or social action. They will occur on the second Monday of each month, and with devotions, presentations, and small-group study and consultation.
This first gathering benefited enormously from the presence of Mr. Ken Bowers, Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly. Mr. Bowers brought the sincere greetings of that body, but he also offered cogent remarks on “the American narrative.”
As he noted, Americans think of the U.S. as a country of great destiny, one with an exceptional founding and several qualities unique in world history. However, from its beginnings, the American experiment did not include all people as equals. We are now in a moment of crisis, requiring us to make soul-searching reconsideration of what makes this country special as lingering inequalities continue to cripple America’s potential. Mr. Bowers noted that in The Advent of Divine Justice, Shoghi Effendi stated clearly that the Manifestation appeared in Iran because Iran was so backward and dark. The people of Iran needed the guidance of the Revelation even more so than did other people. Likewise, while it is true that both ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi considered North America to have exceptional potential, they also recognized that many aspects of American society were deeply flawed. We must understand that many of the special charges given to American Bahá’ís, such as building the foundation of the new administrative order and carrying out global plans, were not due to special merit inherent in Americans but rather to their presence in such a flawed society.
Mr. Bowers went on to say that the July 22, 2020, letter from the Universal House of Justice helps us understand clearly that this is a moment of great historic importance. As noted in that letter to the Bahá’ís of the United States, the American Bahá’í community has a great role to play, but it must build certain capacities. The current plans help lay out for us specific ways we can help bring about a new world order founded on justice and equality for all humanity.
After these cogent and affecting remarks, the 56 friends present broke into nine discussion
groups. There they considered the implications of one specific passage from recent guidance:
“A moment of historic portent has arrived for your nation as the conscience of its citizenry has stirred, creating possibilities for marked social change. It holds significance not only for the destiny of America anticipated in the Sacred Writings, but also for the mission entrusted to your community by the hand of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, who cherished you dearly and called you to a path of sacrifice and high endeavor. We are pleased to see that, led by your National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, you are seizing opportunities — whether those thrust upon you by current circumstances or those derived from your systematic labors in the wider society — to play your part, however humble, in the effort to remedy the ills of your nation. We ardently pray that the American people will grasp the possibilities of this moment to create a consequential reform of the social order that will free it from the pernicious effects of racial prejudice and will hasten the attainment of a just, diverse, and united society that can increasingly manifest the oneness of the human family.”Universal House of Justice, July 22, 2020
In the small group sessions, participants had a chance to explore reflection questions to consider more deeply the meaning enshrined in the paragraph. They also had an opportunity to share and explore the question, “What are you learning through action?” They shared with one another experiences with a wide array of race unity activities taking place in neighborhoods around the region: devotionals, discussions that expand our understanding of racism in our society, the need to discuss issues of race in a productive way, and the necessity of approaching the topic in a humble posture of learning. Participants gained deeper insights and enjoyed sharing experiences and understandings about applying guidance from the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice to the current challenges of achieving racial justice and unity in America in our current reality. Some participants made plans to connect between monthly forums to consult and consider plans.