understand that the dramatic changes and transformations we have witnessed over the last
century--and which we are continuing to sec have been initiated by the coming of a new
Messenger of God and influenced by the breaking light of a new Revelation.
Although its numbers and resources are still limited when compared with those
at the disposal of some of the much older religious bodies--not to mention governments and
international agencies--the worldwide Bahá'í community has in recent years launched what
amounts to a comprehensive effort to address the problems of underdevelopment and
environmental degradation around the world.
This effort is significant not for its size or scale, but
rather for the fresh and hopeful model it offers to the world.
According to the most recent count, Bahá'í communities
operate more than 1,300 local development projects around the world. These efforts range
from simple literacy centers to reforestation efforts, from health clinics to
environmental research centers. The largest share of these projects is in the developing
What sets the Bahá'í approach apart is its integration of
the distinctive spiritual, social and administrative principles outlined a century ago by
Bahá'u'lláh. In each separate sphere covered by these principles--whether in terms of
spiritual understanding, social ideals, or administrative procedure--the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh offer fresh approaches and insights.
When taken as an integrated whole, the impact is multiplied:
Bahá'ís believe that the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh provide a set of comprehensive tools
for the type of collective social action necessary for humanity to survive and prosper in
this new age.
The spiritual teachings of Bahá'u'lláh
emphasize self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and they promote a holistic and
world-embracing approach in understanding social problems and their underlying causes.
Perhaps more important, Bahá'u'lláh's teachings connect with the deepest elements of
human nature elements which are inherently spiritual--and in doing so tap into the
motivational powers of the human spirit.
The social teachings of Bahá'u'lláh
provide a standard for progressive action and moral conduct that is not only consistent
with the highest ideals of modern society, but conforms to its innermost aspirations. They
are the embodiment of justice, and have direct and practical applications in efforts to
solve social problems.
For example, efforts to alleviate poverty cannot be divorced
from activities that promote full equality for women. The vast majority of the world's
poor are women and children. In many developing countries, especially in Africa, women
farmers grow much of the food. Bahá'ís believe that efforts to ensure food security in
these regions depend largely on improvements to the status of women. Issues of development
and environment are equally dependent on finding solutions to problems of racism,
under-education, and religious strife.
The administrative order created by Bahá'u'lláh,
likewise, represents a new approach to social action. The structure of the worldwide
network of local, national and international Bahá'í governing councils suggests a new
model for decentralized administration. This is especially true for local Spiritual
Assemblies, which can be seen as grassroots level decision-making agencies capable of
understanding and acting on development choices.
Further, the procedures of consultation, as practiced by
Bahá'ís, can be applied in a wide variety of other settings to stimulate cooperation and
social development. [See page 43 on Consultation.] continues