Door-to-Door Campaigning in the 21st Century

You know those people who knock on your door to introduce you to God? That used to be me. I have knocked on doors in the San Joaquin Valley of California, Los Angeles, South Carolina, North Carolina, and even on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I did it to “teach” the Bahá’í Faith, as recently as the mid 1980s. I’d been told a few years ago that Bahá’ís don’t go door-to-door anymore, but apparently that is not entirely true.

I recently heard that Bahá’ís in the Pacific Northwest had been running door-to-door “expansion campaigns” (a rather aggressive form of what Bahá’ís call “direct teaching”) as recently as two years ago, so I went out into Googlespace to see what I could scare up. There is ample evidence that Bahá’ís in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington State were knocking on doors in the years 2008–2010. I have also found videos about “direct teaching” from 2011, but I don’t see much in the years since then.

I think this activity was prompted by the Universal House of Justice in the wake of the 2007-8 Global Financial Crisis. Bahá’ís, like some other religious groups, beam with anticipation at the first rumor of crisis. The failures of others are their reassurance that they have the answer and that the world will soon come begging for help.

In the following video, a poster board street map is presented during a 2009 planning session during what was called the “17th Intensive Baha’i Program of Growth.”

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America’s Last Chance

The year was 1966. The times they were a-changin’. In the Bahá’í universe, the pieces were falling into place. The first Universal House of Justice had been elected, and the world seemed to be ready for new answers and new leaders. It was the time of Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali. Malcolm X had recently been assassinated. Black Americans were asserting their status and rights as full citizens. The time was right to introduce Black America to Bahá’u’lláh’s message of racial equality and unity.

I was just a year old. My family moved from south Los Angeles to Saint Helena Island, just off the coast of South Carolina. We lived in the town of Frogmore, the location of legendary Penn Center. Saint Helena Island, midway between Charleston and Savannah, had once been a sanctuary for free blacks (Union territory during the Civil War), and the location of a school for the same. It remains an active cultural heritage center to this day. In the 1960s, Penn Center was a conference center for some of the leaders of Black America. My parents even joined in a meeting attended by Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, and—I daresay—even Joan Baez. Continue reading

Dear Mr. Ayatollah

Iran: Ethnicities and Sects

Dear Mr. Ayatollah,

Some time ago, a close Bahá’í relation of mine insinuated that I had encouraged you to persecute her fellow believers in Iran. This, I suppose, she did because I have often criticized her religion, having once been a Bahá’í myself. I was very troubled by this assertion of hers. I would hate to think that I had ever encouraged you to persecute anyone, so I am presently writing you to make certain that you have not misunderstood my statements on the subject.

To be frank, I consider your treatment of the Bahá’ís of Iran inhumane, unjust, and thoroughly detrimental to the social welfare of the people of Iran. I consider it divisive and counterproductive.

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Our Daily Bread: Quid Pro Quo

Hey, a little quid pro quo never hurt nobody. You scratch my back—I’ll scratch yours!

One of the most reliable ways for a Bahá’í to “grow spiritually” is by proselytizing. Bahá’ís call it “teaching.” I remember wondering as a child: what will Bahá’ís do when everyone is a Bahá’í, and there’s nobody left to teach?

O SON OF MAN! Magnify My cause that I may reveal unto thee the mysteries of My greatness and shine upon thee with the light of eternity.

—Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words

O SON OF BEING! Make mention of Me on My earth, that in My heaven I may remember thee, thus shall Mine eyes and thine be solaced.

—Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words

Our Daily Bread: It's All About Growth

growth [ grōth ]

noun (plural growths)
medicine tumor: a mass of cells with no physiological function, e.g. a tumor that forms in or on an organ

Encarta® World English Dictionary

Pathology An abnormal mass of tissue, such as a tumor, growing in or on a living organism.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

The words “growth” and “expansion” occur six times in a recent announcement of the Bahá’í Universal House of Justice, not because growth and expansion are occurring so much as they are anticipated.

When the Universal House of Justice got word of the global economic crisis that broke back in September, they anticipated a weakening in the world’s immunity to religion, and acted promptly, alluding to the Bahá’í prophecy that the “Old World Order” is doomed to collapse:

Behold how even in the short span of time since we raised this warning in our Ridvan message, financial structures once thought to be impregnable have tottered and world leaders have shown their inability to devise more than temporary solutions, a failing to which they increasingly confess.

Message to the Bahá’ís of the World, October 20, 2008

It is the weakening of the morale of a society, after all, that religions like the Bahá’í Faith feed upon:

the continued strengthening of the [Bahá’í] community should be matched by a further decline in the old world order

So they’ve got right to work. They’ve primed “scores of clusters” for “systematic expansion”:

Scores of clusters around the globe are being primed for systematic expansion, and we expect to see a wave of intensive programmes of growth launched in the months leading up to Ridvan next year.

They don’t just strike everywhere with their clusters, but rather, target specific weak points:

identify receptive segments of society and share with responsive souls the message of the Faith

Large-scale crises are always a promising time for those who would stand to benefit from crisis. The question for Bahá’ís, I think, is how might this crisis be different? What will make the crisis at hand the crisis of victory? Looking at America, I see people turning to their traditional saviors. Looking abroad, I don’t see much that is different for the Bahá’ís this time around, and it’s because of this: the Bahá’í Faith doesn’t appear to have changed, except that it’s not quite as new as it was before. What the Bahá’í “Administrative Order” appears to be banking on is their recent effort to “systematize” and “develop human resources.” Perhaps Bahá’ís are better organized and prepared to convert new seekers than they were before.