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Church And Its Work

Church And Its Work
Grand Rapids Minnesota Press
June 24, 1912

Abdu’l-Bahá, the Persian prophet of “a new universal religion,” who is now touring this country, has a stanch defender and advocate in Grand Rapids in Rev. B.A. Van Sluyters, pastor of the Holland Unitarian church. Mr. Van Sluyters does not agree with the estimates of ‘Abdul quoted lately in The Press. In an interesting historical summary of the man and his movement, given yesterday in a sermon, Mr. Van Sluyters said:

How Bahá’ísm Started.

What is now called Bahá’ísm originated with a young merchant of Shiraz, Persia, in 1844. By deep study and meditation he had become very much dissatisfied with the religious formalism and judicial and political corruption of his country. To study the sources of Mohammedanism he went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, but there he found matters still worse.

With indignation and sorrow in his heart he returned to his own city and proclaimed a spiritual reform. The young reformer, twenty-four years old, began to be called the Báb, that is ‘gate’ or ‘door,’ through which a new light shines. He had studied Parseeism, Judaism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Hinduism and Christianity. His desire was to go back of the separate religions to find the source of all religion. Through the form he wanted to penetrate to the spirit and he hoped to see that religion practiced in daily life, in church and nation.

He certainly had not studied the teaching of Jesus in vain. His preaching was directed especially against ceremonialism, hypocrisy and coldness in religion, against the corruption of judges and other public officials and unjust taxes and spoliation; against superstitions and church divisions and church hatreds; against race hatred, against war; against polygamy and the low estimate placed upon women.

Life of Founder Sacrificed.

He obtained an enthusiastic following among people of all classes in society. His preaching the rights of women brought to his assistance the energy, the beautiful purity and eloquence of a remarkable woman although she never met the Báb personally.

A frightful persecution broke out against, the Báb and his devoted followers in 1850-1852. The Báb was publicly executed, being only thirty years old; the woman worker was burned alive; thousands of men, women and helpless children were butchered.

After the death of the young reformer minor leaders in various parts of the country directed the work until in 1862 Bahá u’llah, scion of a leading family, proclaimed himself the head of the new movement, the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Báb. The reformer’s life is a hard one. The large estates of Bahá u’llah were confiscated. In the direst poverty he and his family were exiled to Bagdad then to other places, till at length he was imprisoned in Acre, near Nazareth, in Palestine. From this prison he continued to direct the reforming movement. He sent missionaries into the world, and he wrote letters to the heads of leading nations. He addressed letters to the Czar of Russia, to Queen Victoria of England, to the president of the United States, to the Sultan of Turkey, letters pleading against war and for peace and humanity.

But politics is politics and business is business. Christian wars and social injustice and judicial murders went on just the same — tyranny remained supreme and the spirit of the Christ which spoke through this eastern prophet pleaded in vain, as it has done for twenty centuries.

Rise of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

In 1892 Bahá u’llah died in prison and his son, also in prison, became the recognized leader. He is called ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. To this new movement is at east partly due the awakening of Persia and of Turkey. The Turkish revolution in 1908 released ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from his prison where he had spent the larger part of his life. Since his release he had traveled to Europe. Everywhere he has been well received; noted men invite him to their pulpits. At present he is traveling in the United States, reminding us of the best in our own religion and delivering lectures for universal peace and brotherhood.

Bahá’ísm wants war abolished, reaches equal social and political rights for women — it believes in a brotherhood of man that reaches beyond religion, race and sex. It believes in the universal God of all and desires to accomplish unity by pointing to the great principles underlying all religions. The forms and creeds separate, the spirit unites. The Christian should become a better Christian, the Buddhist a better Buddhist, the Mohammedan a better Mohammedan, the Jew a better Jew in spirit.

I do not bring you a new religion, but I wish to rekindle the flame of your own religion,” says ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Message for the Times.

This certainly is a message for the times. It is a pity that it has to come to us Christians from Persia. It is humiliating and arouses our prejudice and religious hatred. All that is good in the preaching of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is contained in the teaching of Jesus; his doctrine of love to God and love to man is a statement of universal religion that cannot be improved. But Christians have not been true to the religion of Jesus. Hair splitting formalism and creeds, church hatreds, social injustice and industrialism cry to heaven for vengeance, wars and race hatred are pronounced in Christian lands. It may be that ‘Christianity’ is a failure, but in reality the religion of Jesus has never yet been tried.

In Bahá’ísm some things seem fanciful and partake of distinctly eastern flavor, but the great principle of the movement is sound — justice, righteousness, blessedness, brotherhood. Some Christian preachers proclaim, the same tidings, but one more earnest prophet can do no harm.

Bahá’ísm counts about three millions of follows with a very rapid increase, most of them in eastern countries, with temples in many large cities. There are temples in St. Petersburg, Berlin, Paris, London, New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles and other places.”

William P. Lovett.