A while back we talked about the difference between teaching and proselytizing. This is becoming more and more of an issue as Baha’is are being prodded to use more “direct” teaching methods. These involve going door to door in neighborhoods – something which we, at one point, were proud that we didn’t do.
27 years ago someone was concerned about this and wrote to the Universal House of Justice. And they wrote back the better below. By the way, if you have a question for the UHJ, you can easily email them using this email address: secretariat @ bwc [dot] org
The first part deals with the question but it also veers off into a discussion of the Covenant and the difference between interpretation and legislation. I’m assuming that the questioner brought these topics forward, otherwise, it is a stretch to link them to the question of proselytizing vs. teaching.
It is also interesting that at the end of the letter, the House of Justice says:
For this reason a number of points are not expressed in the, National Baha’i Constitution (the Declaration of Trust and By-Laws of National Assemblies); these are left to each National Spiritual Assembly to decide for itself.
When in fact, the document in question was changed in recent history (from its previous wording) to disallow National Spiritual Assemblies from instituting such changes as term limits.
In any case, here is the complete letter:
The Universal House of Justice
The Bah??’? World Centre
3 January 1982
To an individual Baha’i
Dear Baha’i Friend,
The Universal House of Justice has received your letter and has asked us to assure you that you should feel no diffidence in raising the sort of questions that you have expressed. It seems clear from your letter that you have been greatly attracted to the Message of Baha’u’llah and have accepted His Faith before, as you say, becoming “fully committed,” and are, therefore, now having to face and resolve problems that many believers overcome before they declare their faith. The House of justice urges you not to let it worry you. All through life Baha’is are faced with tests of many kinds, and problems and doubts, but it is through facing and overcoming them that we grow spiritually.
On the particular issues that you raise, the House of Justice has instructed us to send you the following comments.
Teaching vs. Proselytizing
It is true that Baha’u’llah lays on every Baha’i the duty to teach His Faith. At the same time, however, we are forbidden to proselytize, so it is important for all believers to understand the difference between teaching and proselytizing. It is a significant difference and, in some countries where teaching a religion is permitted, but proselytizing is forbidden, the distinction is made in the law of the land. Proselytizing implies bringing undue pressure to bear upon someone to change his Faith. It is also usually understood to imply the making of threats or the offering of material benefits as an inducement to conversion. In some countries mission schools or hospitals, for all the good they do, are regarded with suspicion and even aversion by the local authorities because they are considered to be material inducements to conversion and hence instruments of proselytization.