A Vision of a Family-Centered Baha’i Community

Through the course Building the Fortress: Marriage and Family Life, Helen Dechtiar of Burlington, Vermont, found resources for improving her own family life, helping the Baha’i community, and improving her professional skills at the school where she works.

Helen DechtiarThe resources acquired and studied in this course have been of immediate benefit to my family and the families of our friends. My children are at the stage of life when they are either starting a new marriage or seeking life partners. As a Baha’i parent involved in guiding that process, the material has been of great usefulness. A culture of learning has been fostered within our family as all our family members have engaged in discussion over the readings and various comments and ideas generated through the posts. We touched on such topics as motivations in relationships, the unique aspects of Baha’i courtship, which youth are struggling everywhere to define for themselves, the dynamics of equality and justice or lack thereof that affect relationships, the protective function of chastity, the divine nature of the union between man and woman, how the culture of instant gratification and late maturation has affected us all, and the vitally important foundation of a life that is service oriented. My husband and I delved deeply into the importance and practice of consultation as Baha’i community members faced severe marital tests involving this question and other aspects of marriage such as parental roles, cultural differences in child-rearing practices, and equality in relationships. As we worked to support our friends through their difficulties, the course gave us much material to explore aspects such as power play in relationships, the need for relationships based on equality rather than competition, and so on. . . .

One of the most important insights I have gained from the course is that Baha’is are in the process of creating a new culture around marriage and family life. The new culture retains much of the values that have always been at the foundation of marriage and family life throughout history but places it in the context of a new world civilization with more mature concepts motivating human relationships like equality of men and women or consultation. Baha’i communities are struggling with the full implications of these changes, what they really mean, and how they play out in our personal lives or in the life of society. It’s hard for all of us, at this point, to learn the application of these changes as we have “one foot” in the old ways or mired in the mud of present-day confusion and materialistic influences.

Furthermore, this course has raised an awareness in me that we need to explore the meaning and application of the Baha’i teachings about marriage and family life in much the same way that we are gradually evolving an understanding of Baha’i administration or Baha’i education. A scientific method and perhaps a degree of systematization need to be applied to the process. An understanding of marriage and family life will not be attained through a superficial comprehension only supported by various assumptions. We need to deeply study ourselves, the Baha’i writings, and the dynamic in the society around us. . . .

An unexpected benefit from the course was the learning acquired from readings about the effects of marriage and family life trends on children and education. A greater awareness of how certain social realities such as mothers working or divorce rates can affect a child’s life and how, is helpful to me as a teacher who works with children every day. . . .

I have become even more convinced that we need to learn to distinguish between what God wants for us and the material influences and trends that are subtly influencing us, often without our awareness. One such trend in Western society is the over emphasis on sex which, I don’t need to point out, benefits business. . . .

Finally, an exploration of family life and marriage around the world put my Western point of view into perspective. It is clear to me now that the Western perspective that predominates at the present time will likely NOT be the model adopted by the rest of the world. That would probably be global community suicide.

Four transformations will revolutionize the ancient and durable institution of marriage: equality of men and women, elimination of prejudice, consultation, and the end of violence (sexual and physical). However, these four changes are not possible without spiritual transformation. Oh yes, the drinking law being followed will transform a lot of marriages, or rather save them!

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