Local Group Inspired by a Wilmette Institute Course To Prepare for Public Discourse

Sherna Deamer, from San Rafael, California, one of the faculty in Social Action and Public Discourse, which concludes on August 7, shares what her local community is doing to prepare its members to participate in the public discourse that the Universal House of Justice continues to ask us to add to the basic core activities.

Inspired by the Wilmette Institute course on Social Action and Public Discourse, about a dozen Baha’is in my cluster have started to meet once a month to practice “public discourse.” That is, we pick a topic that is in the news, try to find the facts, identify the principles involved, study the writings of our Faith, and practice making short, informed, principled statements about the chosen topic. Last month, for example, we discussed the “Occupy” movement, which resulted in a very rich and helpful discussion.

Needless to say, the Wilmette Institute course itself was inspired by the directives of the Universal House of Justice in a number of its recent messages.  For example, in its Ridvan 2010 letter to the Baha’is of the world, par. 27, it wrote:

In our Ridvan 2008 message we indicated that, as the friends continued to labor at the level of the cluster, they would find themselves drawn further and further into the life of society and would be challenged to extend the process of systematic learning in which they are engaged to encompass a widening range of human endeavors. . . . it seems appropriate that the friends everywhere would reflect on the nature of the contributions which their growing, vibrant communities will make to the material and spiritual progress of society. In this respect, it will prove fruitful to think in terms of two interconnected, mutually reinforcing areas of activity: involvement in social action and participation in the prevalent discourses of society.

Our cluster, as so many others, has had crises and victories in our participation in the Institute process.  As we are recovering from our last crisis and working toward our next victory, we felt that we wanted to come together to better prepare ourselves for the next tasks that we face.

We first studied the compilation of Baha’i writings prepared for the Wilmette Institute course that includes quotations from the Bab, Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice about social action and public discourse. We repeatedly refer to the example of ‘Abdu’l-Baha as given to us by the Universal House of Justice in its Ridvan 2011 letter to the Baha’is of the world, par. 5:

Uncompromising in defense of the truth, yet infinitely gentle in manner, He [‘Abdu’l-Baha] brought the universal divine principles to bear on the exigencies of the age. To all without distinction—officials, scientists, workers, children, parents, exiles, activists, clerics, skeptics—He imparted love, wisdom, comfort, whatever the particular need. While elevating their souls, He challenged their assumptions, reoriented their perspectives, expanded their consciousness, and focused their energies. He demonstrated by word and deed such compassion and generosity that hearts were utterly transformed.

The goals of our local group are very humble. In our two-hour meetings we are not trying to become experts in any field. Rather, we are just trying to be obedient to the directives of the Universal House of Justice and to help each other learn how, as the House of Justice asks us in its Ridvan 2011 letter, par. 5, to bring “the universal divine principles to bear on the exigencies of the age” to the best of our abilities.

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