Mainstream group doesn’t want the name Baha’i by any other group
May 18, 2009
|By Manya A. Brachear, Tribune reporter
Every religion has been riven by struggles over authority and authenticity.
Buddhism began when a maverick Hindu prince inspired disciples to embrace asceticism. Judaism has sprouted branches from ultra-orthodox to ultra-liberal, even Jews for Jesus. Christianity went through numerous profound splits, including the Protestant Reformation sparked in the 16th Century by Martin Luther in Germany and the 19th Century Mormon movement led by Joseph Smith in the U.S.
Now the Baha’i Faith, the organization representing the most recent sect to spring from Islam, is struggling to defend its identity in federal court in Chicago, where North American Baha’is have been based ever since believers came to the U.S. about 90 years ago. They contend that a tiny band of believers known as the Orthodox Baha’i Faith can’t call themselves Baha’i or use one of its key symbols without violating trademark law or a previous court ruling more than 40 years ago.
In the hands of the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the case could set a precedent for settling religious schisms, doctrinal disputes and claims to truth.
“The word Baha’i carries with it implications for a certain sets of beliefs — and we have to protect that,” said Robert Stockman, a practicing Baha’i and religious studies instructor at DePaul University.
Adherents of the Orthodox Baha’i Faith believe the international community has strayed from the religion’s original teachings. That deviation, they say, threatens to interfere with God’s plan for the world.
Baha’u’llah, who founded the faith in Iran in the mid-19th Century, is regarded by Baha’is as the most recent messenger of God in a long line including Abraham, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus and Muhammad. Baha’is believe Baha’u’llah revealed God’s plan by which humanity one day would unite to become a single race.
On a Web site called www.truebahai.com, the orthodox group faults the mainstream denomination for corrupting that plan.
The mainstream Baha’is have responded with a lawsuit that tries to bar the orthodox from calling themselves Baha’i and sharing the “The Greatest Name,” a sacred and trademarked symbol. Baha’is believe they are not only safeguarding their identity. They are defending the truth with a capital T.
The Orthodox say that is not a matter for the courts to decide.
“We’re the true faith. That’s what we would say,” said Jeffrey Goldberg, a member of the Orthodox Baha’i Faith who left Chicago to be closer to an Orthodox community in New Mexico. “That has to be decided in the hearts and minds of the Baha’i, not by a secular court order.”
The Baha’is first took breakaway believers to court in 1966 after a tumultuous time for their community. Nine years earlier, Shoghi Effendi, guardian of the faith and direct descendant of the founding prophet, had died unexpectedly and allegedly without naming a successor.
Leaders decided a Universal House of Justice envisioned by Effendi would oversee the faith. But shortly after the leaders announced their solution, one of them declared that Effendi actually had intended for him to serve as the next guardian.
Charles Mason Remey, then in his 90s, said Effendi had addressed him in letters as his son or spiritual descendant.
The National Assembly of France and about 100 others followed Remey. But the rest of the Baha’i community declared Remey a covenant breaker, expelled him from the faith and successfully sued his followers, barring them from calling themselves Baha’i and using the sacred symbol. Remey’s group disbanded, but orthodox believers reorganized and continued to maintain the guardianship.
Thirty years later, Goldberg, an active Baha’i in Barrington, came upon the splinter group while surfing the Internet. He became convinced that he had been duped.
With no explanation, Goldberg quietly resigned from the community because he knew the consequences. When Bahai’s are declared covenant breakers, they are shunned or ostracized with the exception of business relations.
But Janice Franco wouldn’t let Goldberg go that easily. She insisted on knowing why he left and, when he told her, went on a quest to prove him wrong. After plunging herself into Baha’i literature, Franco discovered Goldberg might have a point.
Indeed, both Goldberg and Franco were declared covenant breakers and shunned. Goldberg’s wife was encouraged to divorce her husband. Franco’s home-schooled children lost a number of friends. To this day, they are wary of organized religion.
“It was devastating news to find out the larger group had strayed,” Franco said. “I want to follow the truth. I don’t want to support a mistake. The consequence is I don’t have a community.”
Then in 2006, the mainstream Baha’is filed a lawsuit, accusing the orthodox believers of violating the court order issued 40 years earlier.
The Orthodox Baha’is insist they aren’t the same group. They also say a religious denomination can’t trademark truth. The term Baha’i refers to a follower of Baha’u’llah. That applies to him and other Orthodox Baha’i, he said.
“From our point of view, if you believe in Christ you can use the word Christ in your name,” Goldberg said. “It’s a little bit like asking you to recant your faith. It’s unacceptable to us.”
But Stockman said it is the religion’s responsibility to protect the Baha’i name.
“Baha’is are told again and again to try to exercise discipline on what they say about their faith and don’t confuse the public. … We have our own community to build,” he said.
There are 5 million Baha’is in the world — 150,000 in the U.S., including 2,000 in the Chicago area. Why the mainstream denomination waited four decades to enforce the court ruling is a mystery. Baha’i leaders declined interview requests.
Barring the Orthodox believers from using the name “Baha’i” prevents them from popping up in Google when users type in that term.
Stockman said the Web is a tricky place to have conversations about spiritual truth.
“It’s not our desire to convert people. It’s our desire to put our material out there for people to know what the truth is and decide themselves.”
While I find the claim of Mason Remey to be weak and poorly supported,it does highlight the weaknesses of the mainstream Baha’is’ claim to administrative authority by the UHJ.
For one, the concept of Guardianship was not a minor point in the Baha’i religion prior to the death of Shoghi Effendi. Indeed, it was no less important to Baha’is than the patriarchies of the Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic religions.
I would go so far as to say that it is more important, since the Guardianship was far more emphasized in Baha’i writings than was the papacy or patriarchies.
…. the administration of the church was far less— far less emphasized in the Bible than was the case of the Guardianship among Baha’is. Given this critical emphasis upon the Guardianship, its abandonment clearly undermines the claims of the Baha’i religion to divine inspiration.
This is especially true since the transmission of Guardian authority would have been such an easy matter to arrange. At the least, Shoghi could have put in writing (in multiple copies for security) the name of his successor, and if he wished to keep the matter a secret until the right moment, could have sealed the appointment and deposited it for safekeeping in any of a number of secure repositories.
Why? That’s a huge inconsistency, just absolutely huge.
In order for majority-faction Baha’is to explain this, they have to abandon large chunks of the basic foundations of their religion. For example, they could no longer claim superiority of writings. Their writings (scripture) could no longer be regarded as definitive compared to translated copies of the Bible, for example. Everything suddenly had to be “interpreted.”
Publications had to be subject to censorship. The Guardianship had to be de-emphasized, indeed,scuttled, as if it had never really been important (when in fact it had been crucial). Suddenly, with the passing of Shoghi Effendi, the claims of divine revelation had been revealed to be the works not of God, but of man.
The point I made was to contrast the stated crucial importance of the guardianship during Shoghi’s life, and afterward. While he was alive, there was enormous emphasis on a continuing, inherited or appointed, guardianship. But upon Shoghi’s death, with no heir apparent, all that crucial importance became discarded as if it had never been written about. This is an enormous discrepancy, and I have never seen a reasonable reconciliation of the two teachings on the guardianship.
The Baha’i Faith envisions a one-world government, complete with a universal language, worldwide currency, and a unified religion.
The problem with this is that prophecy foretells two consecutive world governments. The second one will be ruled by Jesus. But the first one will be ruled by Satan, and its consequence will be, for a time, a hell-on-earth torment.
However, at first it will not seem that way. At first, it will seem that a utopian society has been established. Peace will reign, prosperity will abound, and all the major problems that beset the world today will seem to have been resolved.
Only a very few will warn that this is a disguise, an outwardly mighty oak, but full of inner rot. After a brief period, that inner rot will cause the entire house of cards to collapse. And then the wrath of Satan will descend on all the world.
The trap into which Baha’is are falling is a deadly one. The trend toward a world government is already very clear, and many Baha’is see this trend as a fulfillment of their religious beliefs. They celebrate the coming to fruition of all the foretellings and guidance of their prophet.
Worse yet, Baha’is may be instrumental in bringing about this one- world government. Even though Baha’is are supposed to remain aloof from secular politics, they are not. They are actively promoting, under various guises, the authority of the United Nations, which itself has no real authority to command any nation, but is only a gathering place where nations can sort out problems among themselves.
In this way, Baha’is are themselves becoming part of the problem.
In the United States, government is not predicated on the divine right to rule, which underlay the tradition of European monarchies. The US model is that the rulers are the people.
The Euro model is that if the people obey the government, the king will take care of the needs of the people.
The American model is that if the government obeys the people, the people will take care of their own needs, and will restrain the government to the confines of its limited and enumerated duties.
Sadly, the Euro model has infiltrated North America, and has savagely undermined the practice of the Constitution, until legislators feel free to pass into law, bills which they have not so much as even read.
So yes, the socialist model is in full ascendancy, and will eventually place everyone under its heel. For a time, this will seem to have been the best course— at least according to people who trade freedom for free things.
But eventually, the velvet glove will come off, and the iron fist will prevail until Jesus Himself defeats it.
To summarize the Guardian problem:
1. The station of Guardian was decreed by the Last Will and Testament of Abdul Baha, a document which some have alleged to be a forgery.
2. If the LW&T is not a forgery, then the Guardian’s failure to obey his self-described duties are contrary to what a divinely appointed authority would be expected to do.
3. These self-described duties include the critical task of appointing a successor guardian, who would take over after the death or incapacitation of the preceding guardian. The successor was to have been appointed in a manner that would leave no room for doubt as to the validity of the successor’s appointment.
4. There is no credible evidence that any successor guardian was ever appointed in such an unambiguous manner, although there were claimants.
5. No provision had ever been made concerning the contingency of a guardian dying without having appointed a successor. Indeed, such a possibility had never even been mentioned by Shoghi. That is why his
death intestate led to the crisis it did.
6. The combination of these facts decisively refutes the notion that the Guardianship was ever a divine institution. It also demonstrates that Shoghi himself never believed that it was. He never made any attempt, neither to ensure a clear line of succession, nor to anticipate the lack of a succession.
7. Upon Shoghi’s unexpected death, the Hands of the Cause took it upon themselves to resolve the matter by declaring that henceforth, the Baha’i Faith would have no living guardian. But they had no authority to make that declaration.
8. Shoghi’s death created an unresolvable discrepancy, a contradiction, that pits the alleged divine authorship of the station against the physical facts. One cannot have it both ways. For the station to be of divine authorship, there must be a succession of guardians, or absent that, some provision to account for a lack of succession.
9. While the Hands made the best they could of a bad situation, their
best was not enough. Nor could it be. It should become apparent that such an irregularity could not be explained in terms of a divinely appointed station. Shoghi Effendi had been inexcusably, and inexplicably, derelict in his duties, duties which he himself had repeatedly affirmed in the most emphatic manner.
10. Claimants to the succession of guardianship make such a weak and flimsy case for their divine authority that their claims make no improvement regarding the failure of Shoghi Effendi to be clear and unambiguous in the appointment of a successor.
11. Attempts by the UHJ to uphold the actions of the Hands are equally flimsy and unjustifiable. Even their most contorted explanations do not suffice to resolve the contradictions.
12. In all likelihood, the LW&T was a forgery by those who sought power in what they thought would become a powerful world religion. Even if it was not a forgery, it certainly had no divine authorship, as demonstrated by its abject failure to bear the fruit which it had promised.