Sunday, April 8, 2012

An Invitation to Enroll

"How can we invite people to join the community without feeling like we are imposing on them?"

Ah yes, that is actually one of my favorite questions. Thanks for asking.

There are some interesting underlying assumptions with that question. The first is that of proselytism. As you know, proselytism is not allowed within the Baha'i community, and many of us have used that as an excuse to not teach the Faith, whether or not we have meant to. To quickly counteract that argument, before it is even launched, let's look at a definition of what "proselytism" is. While some use the simplistic definition of "making a convert", found at such sites as, I think we can safely presume that this is not what is meant. The deeper meaning, and you have to go to more comprehensive dictionaries than are generally found on that site, is that of applying pressure on someone to convert, either through promises of reward or, more likely, threat of punishment. As the Universal House of Justice has said, "The aggressive proselytism that had characterized efforts in ages past to promote the cause of religion is declared to be unworthy of the Day of God."

Another way of phrasing this is that you can't bribe people into becoming Baha'i, for that isn't pure, nor can you threaten them with Hell if they don't, for that isn't true.

Instead, when teaching the Faith we should "Show forbearance", in the words of Baha'u'llah, "and benevolence and love to one another. Should any one among you be incapable of grasping a certain truth, or be striving to comprehend it, show forth, when conversing with him, a spirit of extreme kindliness and good-will...." In other words, we should help people to be attracted to the Faith. We should strive to draw them closer, and not try to push them into it.

There is much in the Writings about how to teach, and I'm not going to go into it here, for I'm sure you are far more versed in these points than I am. Instead, let's jump forward in the teaching process to the question itself. We're going to presume that the individual you have been teaching is attracted to the Faith, has fallen in love with Baha'u'llah, and has recognized that He has, in fact, been sent by God to us for this age.

Now what?

Well, the first question that comes to my mind is, "Do they need to enroll?" You see, we have to ask ourselves this before the question of how to help them enroll is even important. The question is, quite simply, is it important for someone who has recognized Baha'u'llah to enroll? I would say yes, it is. You see, the premise here is that the individual in question already recognizes Baha'u'llah as a Messenger of God. If they don't, then the question of enrolling is moot. They should not, for being a Baha'i (or more particularly, a member of the Baha'i community) means that you recognize Baha'u'llah as this Messenger, are striving to be obedient to both His laws and the institutions of the Faith.

If the person is past all this, and already recognizes Him, then it seems to me that they would want to help establish His community, which you cannot as readily do if you are not part of it. How often have I heard of those who love the faith, recognize Baha'u'llah, but don't want to commit, and then go out and teach? Those who are being taught often ask them why, if the Faith is so great, aren't they a member? By consciously joining, you are able to lend a greater share to the building of this new World Order, the one outlined by Baha'u'llah, not the one hollowly spoken of by many politicians. You are also able to receive the confirmation from those marvelous helpers of all of us, the Concourse on High.

Ok. Now that they recognize, and we understand the importance of enrolling, how do we invite people to enroll without overstepping boundaries? Well, that was the initial question, wasn't it?

This, to me, is not really much of a problem. I mean, let's put it into another context. How would feel about asking someone to go for coffee? Would we be concerned that they might be offended?

"Hey, do you want to go for coffee?" "Oh, I can't believe you just asked me that. I've never been so insulted in my life. How dare you? Don't you know that I don't drink coffee? I only drink tea. I am so offended."

Yeah, that just doesn't sound like it would really happen, does it? I'm sure the person, even if they are an avid tea drinker, would recognize the loving intention.

"Want to go for coffee?" "Sure, I'd love to. I'll order a chai latte." "Chai? Heathen. I'm never asking you for coffee again."

Alright. Just joking.

But seriously, why would we be concerned that someone might get offended at a loving invitation? "Would you like to be a member of the Baha'i community?" That's really all it is. If they already recognize Baha'u'llah, and are striving to put into practice His laws and teachings, what more is there?

I think the real issue is not concern about imposing on others, but our own fear of impure intentions. Why are we asking them to enroll? Is it so that we can brag about having taught someone? Or is it to see them take the next step on their own path towards their Creator? Obviously the latter.

As with all aspects of teaching, the problem is never the other person, but our own fears and insecurities. If we truly listen to the other person, then we will see when they are either willing or eager to take that next step, and really, it has nothing to do with us, but is all about the other person.

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