Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Black Religion, Baha'i Community: Part One

O thou who hast an illumined heart! Thou art even as the pupil of the eye, the very wellspring of the light, for God's love hath cast its rays upon thine inmost being and thou hast turned thy face toward the Kingdom of thy Lord.
(The Baha'i Sacred Writings, referring to People of African Descent)

I have recently returned from Ghana and from the Baha'i World Center in Israel and my thoughts regarding the dynamic relationship between the Revelation of Baha'u'llah and the spiritual destiny of black Americans have reached a new intensity and depth. As you will know from previous posts, I believe that the Baha'i Faith is a 'prophetic', 'holy spirit' religion, in complete harmony with the best of the African American religious tradition, without being a "mere replica" of any aspect of that tradition. You also know that I am a keen observer of three trends in the development of Baha'i devotional culture, being driven by a revolutionary consciousness emerging among Baha'is of African Descent in America. Finally, you know that I'm interested in exploring what could be called a Baha'i Theology of Black Liberation in the spirit of the pioneering work done by James Cone. I've decided to do a series of posts, reflecting on "black religion in the Baha'i community". Here goes...

Black Religion, Baha'i Community: Part One
The foundation of my reflections on this topic is the following: The evolution of the Baha'i community in America and the spiritual and social consciousness of African Americans both within and without the Baha'i community, have converged in a moment of tremendous possibility. We are now in a position to begin to discover new models of unity in diversity through systematic study of the expression of black religion within a new multicultural, international faith community: The American Baha'i Community.
When I refer to "black religion", what am I talking about? I define black religion as those patterns of devotional practice, religious reasoning, social organization, and cultural expression that have emerged in the centuries since enslaved Africans were first brought to North America. African Americans have brought these patterns with them into the Baha'i community and as their consciousness of their spiritual reality as "the pupil of the eye" has deepened, they have exerted an increasingly transformative impact on the Baha'i Faith, just as they have done with Christianity and Islam. Examples of this transformative impact, what it means for our understanding of Baha'i belief and practice and how they relate black theology and black nationalism with be addressed in future. While you're waiting, rush out and purchase a copy of "Lights of the Spirit" written by Professors Richard Thomas and Gwen Etter-Lewis which is an awesome new book about African Americans in the Baha'i Faith.