My experience as a member of the Baha’i FaithPosted: September 29, 2019
By Dennis James Rogers
I became a member of the Baha’i Faith in the early seventies while an undergraduate at a small private midwestern university. The initial attraction was to the social teachings of the Faith particularly the tenets about gender and racial equality. I had been raised as a Roman Catholic and had attended parochial and public schools, but was not very well versed in Biblical Christianity. Since the sixties and seventies were a time of social upheaval and turmoil, the Baha’i Faith seemed like a rational alternative to traditional religious dogma. My connection to the group was minimal during my college years but picked up after I graduated in 1973. I had “accepted ” the Faith based on a conversation with a Baha’i teacher who asked me if I agreed with the basic nine tenets of the Faith, I told him I did and he said I was a Baha’i. This was quite ironic considering that one of the basic tenets is “independent investigation of the truth”. I had not taken the time to investigate nor done a thorough examination of it’s history or doctrine, something that I would not do until many years later while pursuing a role as a Baha’i apologetic.
In 1974 there was an International Convention held in St. Louis to initiate one of the plans that the Baha’i Administrative Order imposes on the rank and file. The plans originated with Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, they are ten-year plans, five-year plans, four-year plans, and seven-year plans or as little as one year plans. The plans have goals for teaching (expansion and consolidation) and “pioneers” which are similar to missionaries with the exception that pioneers are not subsidized by the organization, pioneers are expected to finance their own travel expenses, find employment and establish themselves as part of the city, village or community in which they are pioneering. The pioneer is to teach the faith, find new converts, establish a local spiritual assembly, (a local governing body consisting of nine adults) and then move on to a new pioneering post after the task has been completed. The Universal House of Justice, the international governing body for the Bahá’is, generally established what the goal areas were with input from the National Spiritual Assemblies, the national governing bodies. I must comment that many pioneers I met, rarely if ever established Local Spiritual Assemblies and generally left their “posts” to return home. Pioneering is considered a glorious spiritual station and a certain degree of social pressure is put upon the members to become pioneers. The pioneers I met in the United States who came from the Middle East, primarily from Iran, were people of means, educated and wealthy. The early pioneers of the Baha’i Faith (from the West} were also people of means. This can be verified by the early written Baha’i history of the United States and Canada.
Being a new member of the group, I was not aware of the Baha’i culture, I was first asked to answer telephone calls from people interested in the Faith, there was considerable publicity on television, bill boards and newspapers about the convention with a phone number to call for people interested in finding out more information concerning the Faith. I was to answer questions, secure addresses and phone numbers to send literature for follow up by Baha’i teachers. The older members, not wanting to answer phones, attended the conference, which was presented by the ruling Baha’i elite. The nine members of the Universal House of Justice and the remaining living “Hands of the Cause”. The Hands were individuals who had been appointed by Bahá-u-lláh, Abdul Bahá or Shoghi Effendi. The rank and file members, due to their high spiritual station of “servitude”, regarded them as spiritual giants. Their main function was to protect and propagate the Faith. They were to protect the Faith from schism, but were apparently unsuccessful after the death of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, the only appointed Guardian of the Baha’i Faith. There have been, since his death, two main splinter groups, the Orthodox Bahá’is and the Bahá’is Under the Provision of the Covenant (BUPC) that I am aware of. I do not know what the other group’s membership numbers are or their exact doctrines since contact with them is forbidden. They are to be shunned as “covenant breakers” and are considered “spiritually diseased” by the Baha’i Administrative Order. To be quite honest, I really was not that interested in them.
I attended a general session where several of the “Hands” spoke. Most of the talks were anecdotal in nature, encouraging the members to bring in more converts and step up the “teaching efforts”. Though Bahá’is claim they do not proselytize, semantics, all their efforts are aimed at bringing in more new members to establish the “New World Order”; this is to occur when there are mass conversions or “entry by troops”. A term I discovered taken from Sura 110 in the Qu’ran entitled. “Help”. (Rodwell’s edition pg.429).
One of the elements that I found disturbing during the conference was an underlying anti-Christian sentiment, which is what eventually contributed to my leaving the Bahá’is later, it was and is something not so overt as much as an arrogant attitude that many Bahá’is feel. There were Christians offering literature outside of the convention center, which were not allowed in, and heavily criticized by the Baha’i attendee’s. They consider themselves to be spiritually superior to Christians because Bahá’is believe they have all the answers to humanity’s problems for this day. One of the “Hands” stated that most Christians “were dead from the neck up.” I purchased this speech on audiocassette tape and had also heard the comment live. This individual was upset that the Christians had more heart and moral fiber than the Bahá’is. Christians were getting into Africa, South/Central America and Asia with missionaries before the Baha’i pioneers could “open” those areas. This “Hand” also felt that Americans were really not worth trying to teach the Faith to, since they were so entrenched in the culture and their churches. They were basically doomed, not worth saving. The Bahá’is should therefore concentrate their efforts on native peoples who did not have so many “veils”. A term frequently used by the membership to denote someone who could not accept the station of Bahá-u-lláh as God’s savior for the world. After the conference was over, I was introduced to a Baha’i couple that lived in the municipality where I resided. This introduction and my experience with this couple would have lasting implications for me for the rest of my life.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith, as I will call them, were a very charismatic and charming couple, they took me into their home and became my “spiritual parents”. Though I did not live with them I spent much time there. They were in their mid forties and had an adult daughter, whom I never met. Mr. Smith was about six foot four and had a very intimidating presence if he chose to and Mrs. Smith was about five foot seven and on the full figured side. She was very soft spoken with a mild southern drawl.
The couple immediately took me under their wing, seeing I was a new young and impressionable recruit gave them license to teach me as they saw fit. We began having “firesides”, weekly teaching meetings in their home, for “seekers” as they are referred to (potential Bahá’is). We held public meetings at the local library and community center, picnics at parks, anywhere we could attract attention to the Faith to bring in new members or seekers to invite to firesides. During this time I became a very persuasive teacher under Mr. Smith’s tutelage and as a result many young people “declared ” their belief in Bahá-u-lláh, including one of my older brothers, his wife and several of my friends. So many people were enrolling in the Baha’i Faith, coming to firesides and meetings that it attracted the attention of the National Spiritual Assembly and they began to send people to investigate our activities. I found out decades later that the more conservative Baha’i administration at that time were alarmed at the number of “long hair hippie types” and African-Americans who were enrolling into the Baha’i Faith. Professor Juan R.I. Cole, a historian and former member of the Bahá’is has gone into this in some detail in a published paper entitled “The Baha’i Faith as Panopticon”. The website address is: https://www-personal.umich.edu/~jrcole/bahai/1999/jssr/bhjssr.htm
The Smiths had me under their control and completely indoctrinated into the Baha’i Faith. I was their “spiritual son” and anything Mr. Smith said I took as truth. He began handing out “fez’s”, hats like the early Middle Eastern Bahá’is wore, to the younger male Bahá’is in the community. A symbol of his discipleship I suppose. This was alarming to the members of the National Spiritual Assembly who really took offense at this action, but did not confront Mr. Smith about it directly. I on the other hand and the other new young believers thought this was normal, wearing the fez, since none of the other older Bahá’is in the area said anything to him or us about it. At this time I was alienated from my family and former non-Baha’i friends. Everything I did was Baha’i, I felt I had all the answers and refused to listen to anyone else outside of the Baha’i Faith. Mr. Smith began to get verbally abusive and authoritarian with me if I disagreed with him on any issue. He never struck me, but he did on one occasion force me to prostrate myself before him and beg for forgiveness because I had disappointed him. I had wanted to get married and start a family and he wanted me to move away to another state with him. I need to add without going into to much detail that Mr. Smith sometimes would slip drugs into glasses of punch that he would give me and others to drink while we were guests in his home. On several occasions after giving me the “punch”, he proceeded to lock me in a small room on the second floor of his house, a prayer closet he called it, and tell me to pray and meditate. Several times I hallucinated while in the “prayer closet” and he would grill me as to what I had experienced. It was some years later that I realized what he had done to me and how sick an individual Mr. Smith really was. To this day I do not know what the nature of the drugs were he had given to me.
The Smiths moved away out of state, as there were enough adult members in the community to form a Local Spiritual Assembly. (LSA). I was elected Chairman of the LSA and had been in that position for less than a year when the Assembly was summoned to a meeting at a local hotel with members of the Baha’i Administration. I must add that when Mr. and Mrs. Smith left the area I was greatly relieved and thought to myself “good riddance”. I did occasionally speak to him on the telephone, when he called to see how I was doing.
What happened next when the LSA met with the Administrative representatives was something that I had kept to myself for over twenty years. We, the Local Spiritual Assembly members, thought we were going to be praised for all the teaching activity that had occurred and tripling the number of new believers. On the contrary, we were seated in a large hotel suite and then I was read a list of charges against me which included “conspiring” with Mr. Smith to run the Local Spiritual Assembly from out of state and for “claiming a station”, whatever that meant. When I protested and attempted to defend myself, I was told to “sit down and shut up, we know all about you and anything you say will be just lies.” I said I was leaving and they locked and blocked the door leading out of the room, there were about seven of them and they forced me and the other members of the Local Spiritual Assembly to listen to them for two hours. This is what the Bahá’is call “loving and frank consultation”. I was humiliated, demeaned and my character assassinated in this meeting. Two of the members of the Local Spiritual Assembly came to my defense and stated that the charges were not true and that the picture that was being presented of me by them was inaccurate. My accusers never confronted me; I came to find out later that the National Spiritual Assembly and other Administrative bodies had used members of the Local Spiritual Assembly and the community as “informants”. The concept of due process is foreign in the Baha’i Faith.
The result of this “consultation” had me removed from the assembly and ostracized from the community at large. Several of the Local Spiritual Assembly members left the Faith after this incident; as did several people that I had taught the Faith to. I seriously considered it, but decided not to because I was isolated and felt I deserved to be punished because of my association with the Smiths. I was instructed not to ever speak to them or have contact with the Smiths again, but not told why. If they contacted me I was to report it immediately to the Baha’i Administration.
The next step that the Baha’i Administration did was to “reeducate” me in the Baha’i teachings. They arranged for me to attend “deepening classes” (a Baha’i term used to denote in-depth study) with an older Baha’i teacher who had very little regard for me, almost to the point of open hostility. If I questioned him about certain doctrines that did not make sense to me he would become extremely defensive and caustic in speech. One time he hung up on me during the course of a telephone conversation after calling me an arrogant punk when questioning him about a prophetic statement in the Baha’i writings. He stated there was no such passage and when I read it to him over the phone he became very upset and hung up. I did not study with him much after that. Many of the Bahá’is and the Baha’i Administration considered him one of the best teachers in the United States and would rave about him. I found him to be offensive, sarcastic, demeaning to his students and to be without any formal training as an educator. He published a book through the Baha’i Publishing Trust, which I thought was confusing and incoherent, he was in his mid sixties when I met him.
Since many of the new Bahá’is we had taught had left the faith, the numbers in the community went down, so I was reinstated to the Local Spiritual Assembly by default. Much of my time was spent planning firesides, public meetings, picnics and fundraising. In the fifteen years that followed there was very little growth in the community in terms of the numbers of new believers, there was a revolving door so to speak, and people would come into the Faith and then either become inactive or just resign. This was particularly true of the African-American Bahá’is coming from a church background. There was very little structure or community life that resembles a church community. Most, if not all of Baha’i activity centers on meetings, teaching activities and fundraising. There was very little time left to develop interpersonal relationships or socialization.
One last painful episode, which further alienated me from the faith, was the fact that my wife at the time, we are now divorced, developed a close friendship with a “home front pioneer”. These are Bahá’is that move to an area for a short time to fulfill some arbitrary local goal of the Baha’i Administration to establish a group or Local Spiritual Assembly. This individual, unbeknownst to me, tried to coerce my wife to divorce me and marry him during his tenure in the community. She told me about the relationship after he left the country to pioneer to South America. She is still on the rolls of the Baha’i Faith to my knowledge.
During the divorce process the community abandoned me, since divorce is frowned upon. An incident that occurred while going through the divorce, (a year of patience is required by Baha’i law), was when I attended a Baha’i Sunday class where I was confronted by several members of the community and chastised in the class for going through the divorce, I did not defend myself, but I must add that a Persian Baha’i man stood up for me and said in my defense that no one knows what goes on between two people and that it was not for anyone to judge. Despite that I did not attend any meetings for the next two years, nor was I contacted by any of the “friends” during that time. The community has a history of abandoning its members when they no longer can attend the meetings or participate in teaching activities.
I cannot truly characterize the Baha’i Faith as a “cult”, though in my opinion there are strong social controls in place by the Baha’i Administration. Those controls filter down to the individuals who are afraid of openly questioning the decisions of that administration for fear of being labeled a “covenant breaker”. Which is tantamount to being excommunicated from the community. The leadership has used this effectively since the beginnings of the religion to “purge the ranks of the believers”. Once a person has been declared a covenant breaker, the Baha’i community shuns that person and contact with such an individual could cause “spiritual contamination” of the “Cause” as it is referred to. There are parallels in the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormon groups, as I understand it. The discussion of “unquestioning loyalty and obedience” to the Baha’i covenant and administration is paramount to maintaining order within the community. Though membership in the Baha’i Faith is completely voluntary, individuals such as myself who based their entire lifestyle around the faith find it difficult to separate themselves from family and friends who are Baha’i even if they know there are contradictions within Baha’i doctrine. One risks those relationships and being isolated from the community. It took me three painful years to extricate myself and resign as an enrolled member. Since leaving the Baha’i Faith in the fall of 2000, I have had little or no contact with people I had been friends with for many years, friends whose children grew up with my children. Most of them believe I lost my faith in God. Those that I have spoken to are surprised that I am doing fine, that I attend church and perform in a gospel band.
Some of the contradictions that began to surface for me were a result of a radio broadcast I heard by Rev. Robert Pardon of the New England Institute of Religious Research (NEIRR) on a Lutheran radio station in St. Louis. He was giving an overview of the Baha’i Faith and I called to challenge him and his sources. I felt he was misrepresenting the Faith and had gotten his source material from “covenant breakers” or enemies of the Faith. I thought about what he had said and contacted him through his web site, I was finally beginning to investigate the Baha’i Faith after twenty-seven years. He sent me facsimiles of his source material and I began to meticulously go over it. Checking it against what had been presented to me by the Bahá’is. I also began writing letters and asking questions of Baha’i administrators and academics. I discovered that several contemporary Baha’i historians and academics had been forced out of the Faith because of their research and publications. Baha’i academics have to go through a review process before publishing anything about the Faith. If an author does not pass the review process one is not published. Their work essentially is censored. This is why almost all Baha’i literature and historical works are redundant. All the books and pamphlets are rewritten from the same “approved” source material. As a result of this, most Bahá’is are unaware of the early history of the Faith, the power struggles that ensued from the founders family members and instead are directed to the Baha’i approved materials. Other sources are considered suspect, labeled as unauthorized or from enemies of the faith.
Though the Faith teaches tolerance for other religions, the truth is taught that the Baha’i Faith is the “Ultimate Truth” for this day. All the previous “Manifestations of God” and revealed religions are essentially null and void. Humanity must follow the Baha’i Faith or suffer severe punishment. Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior for the entire human race is reduced to the station of a ”Divine Educator”. His revelation is no longer considered relevant for this day, in fact Christ’s dispensation ended with the coming of Muhammad in the sixth century C.E. The clergy and a misunderstanding of scriptural interpretation have led all Christians astray. Personal salvation is no longer important; the salvation of the human race is the priority now. An intimate personal relationship with God is not possible, ” the door leading unto the Ancient of Days is forever closed to man”, (paraphrase from the Baha’i Writings). As I began to study the Bible in depth and outside of a Baha’i context, I began to understand the perspective of the Christian objection to the Baha’i Faith. A great deal of the social teachings and all of the spiritual teachings, which the faith presented as new, I discovered in Old and New Testament scripture. Some of the phrases from the Bible I found transcribed into Baha’i prayers. However the main source of contention for me was the arrogance of many Baha’i who became incensed at Christian authors trying to give accurate accounts regarding the Baha’i Faith and it’s history. Yet they thought nothing of explaining away two thousands years of historical Christianity and exegetical study, while engaging in the worst form of eisegesis.
On a more personal level, I was concerned about my soul and salvation, I never really felt forgiven or saved as a Baha’i or that Bahá-u-lláh was a personal savior. When reading how Jesus taught us to forgive our enemies and to pray for them in the Gospels, I compared that to how the Baha’i Faith historically condemned and shunned its enemies. (Many who were the disciples, spouses and relatives of the central figures of the Faith, even Shoghi Effendi, the Baha’i Guardian, excommunicated his own parents!). I began to ask God to open my eyes and guide me to the truth.
With the help of Rev. Bob Pardon, (NEIRR) Pastor Todd Wilken and Jeff Schwartz of radio station KFUO in St. Louis, I began the task of “testing the spirits” to determine what was true. I tested the Bahá’is by raising questions at Baha’i meetings about historical and doctrinal contradictions as well as prophetic statements in the Baha’i Faith that had not come to pass. Dates had been given where certain events were to have transpired and did not occur. Many Bahá’is were desperately trying to rationalize these unfulfilled prophecies. This line of questioning was making me very unpopular to say the least, particularly when I began to post those questions on the local Baha’i chat list. I started to receive calls from the local Baha’i authorities as well as from some of the “friends”. (A term Bahá’is use to refer to each other). I finally officially withdrew my membership and posted it on the chat list. I received numerous calls and e-mails from the “friends” wanting to counsel me, I then posted and requested that I not be contacted, which of course did not occur, finally I posted my reasons for leaving the Baha’i Faith and that I no longer could follow the doctrines or obey the Administrative Order. An Administrative Representative who wished to meet with me concerning my statements contacted me. His real intent was to declare me a “covenant breaker” and therefore have me shunned so as not to “infect” any other Bahá’is with doubt. I agreed to meet with him. He had books with him and was prepared to contend with me. I chose not to engage him on doctrinal issues, I instead stated that I did not believe that Bahá-u-lláh was the return of Christ and relayed to him the incidents I had suffered at the hands of Bahá’is and the Administration. He repeatedly apologized and stated he would ask the Bahá’is to respect my wishes that I not be contacted and harassed about my decision.
I have since accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and have found a peaceful assurance that I had never experienced as a Baha’i. I bear no malice towards the Baha’i Faith or individual Bahá’is. Some of them are very kind, gentle and loving souls. This testimony is intended to help those members of the Baha’i community, who may have experienced similar situations and come to a personal realization regarding doctrinal contradictions. There is hope, peace and life outside of the Baha’i Faith for those who choose to seek it.