The Reform Bahá’í Faith affirms the universal spiritual and moral principles taught in all of the great religious traditions. Similar to Mahayana Buddhism, Reform Bahá’í believe the example set by Abdul-Baha during his travels to Europe and the United States in the early 20th century, an example of universal love and brotherhood, was perhaps his greatest teaching.
As Abdul-Baha often suggested, far from having the exclusive truth and the fanaticism to which that notion has so often led, Reform Bahá’ís look to what is universal and non-creedal in the world’s religious experience, and include prayers and meditations from other religions in their private and community worship, listen to and learn from God’s other religions all of which is to say the Reform Bahá’í Faith has moved on from its historical and cultural roots, as all living religions have and do, and is now a global, universal faith.
Abdul-Baha taught that the Bahá’í movement was a way for people of all religious persuasions to come together in neutral territory and worship the Divine Being in a mutually respectful atmosphere of peace and harmony. Speaking in England, he said, “You can be a Baha’i-Christian, a Baha’i-Freemason, a Baha’i-Jew, and a Baha’i-Muhammadan.”
Reform Baha’is believe Abdul-Baha’s Interpretation for the modern world of his Father Bahaullah’s Teachings is much more profound than the prevailing conception of religion.
Speaking in Europe and North America from 1911 to 1913, Abdul-Baha stated on a number of occasions that he was a man just like anyone else and that the Bahá’í Faith could not be organized, yet often spoke paradoxically of the growth of the Bahá’í community throughout the world, grounded in democratic pluralism. Known during Abdul-Baha’s time as the Bahá’í movement or cause, the Reform Bahá’í Faith is not an organization, but a way of life.
More “Protestant” along the lines, in some ways, of Unitarian Universalism or other similarly liberal denominations, Reform Bahá’ís believe it’s largely the responsibility of the individual to read the Bahá’í writings and prayerfully decide, prayerfully discern, how to follow the spiritual message of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and those of Abdul-Baha, the Interpreter of Baha’u’llah’s Covenant, striving for spiritual development and service to humankind.
God has created the individual soul to develop in the integrity and freedom of his or her own search for spiritual maturity and conscience, through prayer and meditation, transforming the community and the world one soul at a time, achieving the timeless goal of self-sacrificing love, compassion, and service to humanity.
In practice, there are individual Reform Bahá’ís who follow all or many commonly shared Baha’i forms and teachings observed by other Bahá’í denominations because they themselves believe they should or want to; not because they’re pressured into them. There are other Reform Bahá’ís who don’t feel comfortable with one thing or another, believing perhaps the time is not right for themselves and others, or the particular teaching may be more culturally bound to the past than the more universal principles of Baha’u’llah. Reform Bahá’ís follow Abdul-Baha’s 1912 Authentic Covenant, which he delivered publicly in New York City, a broad, open, loving vision of God’s relation to humanity.
While emphasizing what is universal in humanity’s religious experience, Bahaullah taught the changing, evolutionary, and progressive nature of religious truth, demonstrating it by his own example and teaching which evolved away from much of the teaching of his forerunner the Bab. Similarly, Abdul-Baha demonstrated essentially a re-interpretation of Bahaullah’s teachings for the modern world. Reform Bahá’ís do not regard the Bahá’í message as a rigid set of unchanging and inflexible doctrines and formulas. Nor is the universality of the Bahá’í vision frozen in a form subordinate to the exclusivism of the Judeo-Christian or Islamic and Sufi cultural heritage of the Bahá’í Faith. The universal, global teachings of Baha’u’llah transcend the limitations of all past dispensations, inspire and envision a new spiritual worldview and civilization.
Bahaullah and Abdul-Baha taught that it is the Spirit that is important, not form, doctrine, or organization. Accordingly, God is interested in the human heart, sincere worship, communion, and prayer, the individual cultivating the virtues of the spirit in selfless service to humanity, in practice and deed, not merely doctrine
And theory, in every walk of life, respecting the unique cultures of the earth, even while revering what universal or held in common by humankind.
Abdul-Baha envisioned the Bahá’í House of Worship as open to the faithful of all religions and traditions, as a place of universal prayer and meditation, not exclusively Bahá’í. Consequently, Reform Bahá’ís honor the spirit wherever it is found and expressed in the writings and oral traditions of wisdom and belief.
Following Abdul-Baha, Reform Bahá’ís elect Spiritual Assemblies, with nine members, for community consultation and guidance. Largely “congregational” in structure, local communities are independent grass roots associations, though they will ultimately elect national and an international unit with non-binding advisory and coordinating duties and responsibilities. While Abdul-Baha stated he had not “appointed” anyone to succeed him, he did not mean that the local, democratically elected assembly could not appoint people to serve in any position necessary, “to engage in service of the Kingdom.” At every level of Baha’i consultation, the independence and integrity of the individual is preserved.
Reform Bahá’ís believe Baha’u’llah taught that the separation of church and state is the Will of God and distance themselves from any interpretation of an eventual Bahá’í theocracy, following Abdul-Baha’s vision of a global spiritual democracy, enriched by pluralism.
Reform Bahá’ís are free to express, write, and publish, without any type of “review” or censorship. The Reform Bahá’í Faith does not teach or practice shunning, nor any form of excommunication, following Abdul- Baha’s teaching that “The conscience of man is sacred and to be respected.”
1. Reform Bahá’í Faith Rochester, Michigan USA http://www.ReformBahai.org
2. Chicago Tribune. Bahá’í rift. Bahá’ís upset with Orthodox Bahá’í Faith May 18, 2009
3. http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2009/may/18/local/chi-bahai-18-may18 Comments posted to The Chicago Tribune
4. Forum on one page: http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship/Chicago_Tribune.html
5. Yahoo Group – Reform Bahá’í http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ReformBahai
6. Bahá’í Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship
7. Reform Bahá’í Faith Rochester, Michigan USA www.ReformBahai.org Chicago Tribune. Bahá’í rift. Bahá’ís upset with Orthodox Bahá’í Faith May 18, 2009
9. Comments posted to The Chicago Tribune Forum on one page: http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship/Chicago_Tribune.html
10. Yahoo Group –Reform Bahá’í http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ReformBahai
11. Bahá’í Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship
12. Reform Bahá’í Faith Rochester, Michigan USA http://www.ReformBahai.org
13. About the Reform Bahá’í Faith http://www.reformbahai.org/about.html
14. Abdul-Baha’s 1912 Authentic Covenant http://www.reformbahai.org/Covenant.html
15. An Analysis of Abdul-Baha’s 1912 Authentic Covenant
17. Blog > Reform Bahá’í Faith http://reformbahai.blogspot.com
18. Bahá’í Faith & 7th Circuit Court of Appeals http://bahaifaith7thcircuitcourtofappeals.blogspot.com
19. Chicago Tribune. Bahá’í rift. Baha’is upset with Orthodox Bahá’í Faith
21. Comments posted to The Chicago Tribune Forum on one page: http://www.fglaysher.com/bahaicensorship/Chicago_Tribune.html
22. Federal appeals court rules in favor of splinter Bahá’í group November 25, 2010 8:12 PM