Door-to-Door Teaching: NSA Letter

The teaching campaign
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Below is a recent letter from the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of New Zealand to clarify doubts about door-to-door teaching as well as “direct teaching”. I have heard this term (“direct teaching”) more and more but no one bothered to define what they meant by it. Towards the end of the letter, the NSA of NZ outlines their definition. Most helpful.

In the end, it comes down to using your own judgement and taking each and every opportunity to teach the Faith as a singular moment which can not be mass-produced. Sometimes the best thing is to say nothing, sometimes it is to challenge the person, sometimes it is to say a lot, sometimes almost nothing, sometimes to use logic, sometimes to use stories that evoke emotion, etc. Since we are talking about the most fundamental human endeavor, teaching is an art. Not a science.

Can you imagine if, stopping by the blacksmith, Mirza Abu’l-Fadl would have been invited to a Ruhi class instead of having the irksome exchange he did have?

Here is the letter:

In its recent consultations the National Spiritual Assembly has thought deeply about the purpose underlying the calling of these 41 conferences. What message should we take from this action of the supreme institution of our Faith as we draw nearer to the end point of the Five Year Plan? What must we do in New Zealand if we are to meet our commitments to the Universal House of Justice and establish nine intensive programmes of growth?

Inescapably we come to the conclusion that the immediate and urgent need is that the recent calls for a massive upsurge in teaching efforts must be heeded and acted upon by increasing numbers of the friends.

In particular we must embrace the clear and unequivocal guidance from the central institutions in regard to the audacious employment of direct teaching methods.

Learning from clusters in diverse places around the world is showing empirical and positive benefits from adopting these teaching approaches and we have had the hint of successes in New Zealand as well.

One of the elements in many direct teaching projects is the practice of what is referred to as “door knocking.” The National Spiritual Assembly is aware that some of the friends feel anxious about the practice of Baha’i teachers making door-to-door visits on homes, because of their concern that this practice is “pushy” and perhaps amounts to proselytising, which is forbidden in the Teachings.

It is important that such understandable anxieties are alleviated in order that needless controversy be avoided that would sadly hold back the momentum of the Plan. The National Spiritual Assembly offers the following explanation of its view on this matter, believing that this will settle the legitimate concerns of the friends while also encouraging individual initiative by audacious but wise Baha’i teachers.

As in most things, the solution to this issue lies in balance and moderation but without fear of treading in new territory. In its message to the Baha’is of the world last Ridvan, the Universal House of Justice noted with great pleasure the rising tide of individual initiative by the believers in “carrying out those acts of service befitting a healthy pattern of growth”. It praised the friends for having “taken to heart the words of Shoghi Effendi that they must neither ‘hesitate’ nor ‘falter’; neither are they ‘fanatical’ nor ‘excessively liberal’; they become adept at determining whether the receptivity of their listener requires them to be ‘wary’ or ‘bold’, to ‘act swiftly’ or to ‘mark time’, to be ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’ in the methods they employ.” In these words the Supreme Body highlighted that effective teaching takes the middle path between the extremes of overzealousness on the one hand and timidity on the other.

Door-knocking
It might be thought that door-to-door visits are in themselves, unavoidably, an “overzealous” form of approach to members of the public. However, when the matter is considered in detail it becomes clear that making calls on people at their doors to inform them about some aspect of Baha’i activities or beliefs can be acceptable under the right circumstances. Factors affecting the appropriateness of doing so include the cultural outlook of the people in the particular neighbourhood, and the subject-matter and style of approach being made by the Baha’i visitor. There is a world of difference between, say, politely informing householders of a service being provided in a neighbourhood (such as children’s classes or junior youth programme) and an uninvited intrusive attempt to give what might be described as a “door-step fireside”.

In addressing itself to this question the National Spiritual Assembly has also made reference to the most relevant messages from the Universal House of Justice. An important one is dated 5 May 1982 and deals specifically with understanding the nature of what constitutes proselytizing, which is forbidden by Baha’u’llah. The Supreme Body wrote:

Proselytizing implies bringing undue pressure to bear upon someone to change his Faith. It is also usually understood to imply the making of threat or the offering of material benefits as an inducement to conversion.

A further letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer on 30 June 1993 stated:

Baha’is tend to go to extremes, and too few people bring the proper balance to the way they act . At one extreme are those who are so on fire with love for the Faith . that they overstep the bounds of wisdom and discretion and stray into the area of proselytizing. At the other extreme are those who are so . concerned never to arouse an adverse reaction that they fail to convey the enormous importance of the Cause .; the first extreme leads to misrepresentation of the Teachings .; the second results in failure to fulfil . [the community's] fundamental duty of conveying this life-giving Message to the world.

In recent times the Universal House of Justice has also received queries explicitly on the subject of door-to-door teaching and on 18 October 2007 it wrote to a Local Spiritual Assembly giving the essence of how decisions are to be made on these matters: In general, the institutions of the Faith should be flexible in such matters and avoid restricting unnecessarily the efforts of the believers to teach the Faith. When questions arise as to the propriety of a particular method for use in a country, it is best to refer them to the National Spiritual Assembly.

In New Zealand, the National Spiritual Assembly recognises the need for prudence. Unquestionably, any teaching practice that veers towards any semblance of proselytising must be strictly avoided by the friends. The key is to be generally aware of the risks that accompany direct approaches to others about religion, and the problems that can occur if the Faith is introduced to others in an unwise or forceful manner.

For the future, the National Spiritual Assembly envisages the continuing possibility of door-to door approaches in teaching campaigns. In fact, it is imperative that our community move assertively, tempered with wisdom, in this direction. Decisions should be taken by Local Spiritual Assemblies and cluster agencies, which have the necessary close familiarity with local conditions to determine whether or not such door-knocking is appropriate. This view is obviously based on our trust that the friends will exercise discretion and discernment and always act within guidelines established by the New Zealand institutions.

As always in the teaching work, individuals must decide for themselves what approaches they are comfortable with in their personal acts of service. Involvement in such campaigns can never be compulsory but everyone can contribute to the success we all desire to see through adopting an encouraging supportive attitude with their ardent prayers.

“Direct teaching”
The National Spiritual Assembly is also aware that many of the friends have queries in their minds about what constitutes “direct teaching”. The Assembly hopes that the following notes may be helpful in developing a more unified understanding throughout the community.

The form of door-to-door contact (door-knocking) described above does not in itself constitute “direct teaching” because it does not aim to get into direct discussions about the Teachings, unless questions are asked by householders which lead naturally into such discussions. However, the door-knocking that has been done in the recent campaigns has had the underlying intention of opening up opportunities for direct teaching to occur later. If the Faith is going to attract committed new adherents, sooner or later in the process of contact with people, it will be necessary to inform them directly about the Teachings.

The International Teaching Centre, in a letter dated 30 September 2007, observed:

Those [clusters] that have attained a healthy, sustainable growth pattern are characterized by a focus on teaching, in particular direct teaching, and not just on extending invitations to core activities.

The choice of method lies with the teacher, who must act with wisdom in all circumstances, according to his or her perception of the seeker’s receptivity.

There are clearly occasions when the indirect method of teaching is preferable. However, global experience in clusters at every stage of advancement is increasingly demonstrating the effectiveness of a more direct approach in most teaching encounters. This is especially true with respect to the essential activities of the Five Year Plan. In this Plan, there is special emphasis on organized, collective campaigns of teaching. Such campaigns usually take place in specific neighbourhoods where receptive populations have been identified. Forms of direct teaching within these campaigns may include:

  • Asserting clearly and directly, in a fireside setting, the fundamental verities of the Cause.
  • Presenting the fundamental verities of the Cause openly and boldly to family, friends, neighbours, and co-workers in a non-fireside setting.
  • Nurturing toward acceptance of the Faith those who have already indicated their interest by their participation in the core activities.
  • In certain neighbourhoods and under the right circumstances, visiting people’s homes with the intention of sharing the teachings with them, if they are receptive.

As these various examples indicate, the phrase “direct teaching” refers to the content of the message and not the place where the teaching occurs. Whatever the situation, wonderful results are being seen when Baha’i teachers present the Faith in a comprehensive and audacious manner.

  • Greg

    Thanks for the posts, as always. BTW where did you get this letter from?

  • Greg

    Thanks for the posts, as always. BTW where did you get this letter from?

  • farhan

    Baquia wrote: Can you imagine if, stopping by the blacksmith, Mirza Abu’l-Fadl would have been invited to a Ruhi class instead of having the irksome exchange he did have?

    Yes, Baquia, same goes for Mullah Hussein and the Bab, and Simon with Jesus; times change, and so do our needs and the means to meet them; this is why the NSAs and the UHJ have to adapt the means to the needs of each country and day and age. BTW, it would be good to have the date and heading of this letter

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/farhan farhan

    Baquia wrote: Can you imagine if, stopping by the blacksmith, Mirza Abu’l-Fadl would have been invited to a Ruhi class instead of having the irksome exchange he did have?

    Yes, Baquia, same goes for Mullah Hussein and the Bab, and Simon with Jesus; times change, and so do our needs and the means to meet them; this is why the NSAs and the UHJ have to adapt the means to the needs of each country and day and age. BTW, it would be good to have the date and heading of this letter

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/SteveMarshall SteveMarshall

    The letter says proselytizing is forbidden by Baha'u'llah. I don't disagree, but I think the ban is merely implicit in Baha'u'llah's writings. It would have been useful to find out from the NZ NSA exactly what passages it was relying on when it came to that conclusion. Instead we hear in detail what the House's opinion is. Teaching methods are hardly the stuff of legislation. :-)

    I have no problem with the advice to teach with wisdom and flexibility, and I accept that door-knocking may be appropriate under certain conditions and circumstances. But I believe it will be extremely difficult to get the balance right. Thre's a very good reason why NZ Baha'is were proud of the fact that they didn't "doorknock like Mormons".

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/SteveMarshall SteveMarshall

    The letter says proselytizing is forbidden by Baha'u'llah. I don't disagree, but I think the ban is merely implicit in Baha'u'llah's writings. It would have been useful to find out from the NZ NSA exactly what passages it was relying on when it came to that conclusion. Instead we hear in detail what the House's opinion is. Teaching methods are hardly the stuff of legislation. :-)

    I have no problem with the advice to teach with wisdom and flexibility, and I accept that door-knocking may be appropriate under certain conditions and circumstances. But I believe it will be extremely difficult to get the balance right. Thre's a very good reason why NZ Baha'is were proud of the fact that they didn't "doorknock like Mormons".

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Baquia Baquia

    Yes, times change and yet common sense and wisdom never go out of style. Cookie cutter solutions and one size fits all dresses make for pretty uncomfortable fashion.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Baquia Baquia

    Yes, times change and yet common sense and wisdom never go out of style. Cookie cutter solutions and one size fits all dresses make for pretty uncomfortable fashion.

  • Grover

    Well, bearing in mind that one member of the NSA was over in Haifa for 10 years or so and another was a counsellor, and the rest are pretty much die-hard Baha'is, its not surprising. They would regard the UHJ's opinion as the word of God.

  • Grover

    Well, bearing in mind that one member of the NSA was over in Haifa for 10 years or so and another was a counsellor, and the rest are pretty much die-hard Baha'is, its not surprising. They would regard the UHJ's opinion as the word of God.

  • farhan

    Baquia wrote: Cookie cutter solutions and one size fits all dresses make for pretty uncomfortable fashion.

    I totally agree, Baquia, uniformity and stereotyped behaviours are again a sign of immaturity or perhaps of senility. Verse after verse the writings call for flexibility and adaptability. As always, we have to establish standard stereotyped basis for some 80% of cases, and be casuistic for the remaining 20% exceptional cases. Automatic cameras with manual commands, ROM as a basis, RAM for exceptions. We have those who want everything casuistic, and those who want to standardise everything. I suffer from this every day as the chairman of our CLIN (committee against hospital infections): too many regulations kill regulations. This is inherent to nature and not a characteristic of Baha’is and of their administering body.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/farhan farhan

    Baquia wrote: Cookie cutter solutions and one size fits all dresses make for pretty uncomfortable fashion.

    I totally agree, Baquia, uniformity and stereotyped behaviours are again a sign of immaturity or perhaps of senility. Verse after verse the writings call for flexibility and adaptability. As always, we have to establish standard stereotyped basis for some 80% of cases, and be casuistic for the remaining 20% exceptional cases. Automatic cameras with manual commands, ROM as a basis, RAM for exceptions. We have those who want everything casuistic, and those who want to standardise everything. I suffer from this every day as the chairman of our CLIN (committee against hospital infections): too many regulations kill regulations. This is inherent to nature and not a characteristic of Baha’is and of their administering body.

  • farhan

    Steve wrote: But I believe it will be extremely difficult to get the balance right.

    I agree with the idea of flexibility which implies that the field of service is vast and we all have different skills: some write, others sing, pray, draw or translate, still others are able to door-knock; we choose our talents, and it is up to the LSA and NSA to say where the limits are at a certain time in a given place.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/farhan farhan

    Steve wrote: But I believe it will be extremely difficult to get the balance right.

    I agree with the idea of flexibility which implies that the field of service is vast and we all have different skills: some write, others sing, pray, draw or translate, still others are able to door-knock; we choose our talents, and it is up to the LSA and NSA to say where the limits are at a certain time in a given place.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Diba Diba

    You are right. Times change, but there is no justification for now going from door to door. Shoghi Effendi said it is undignified and that's why we should not do it. His interpretations are authoritative.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Diba Diba

    You are right. Times change, but there is no justification for now going from door to door. Shoghi Effendi said it is undignified and that's why we should not do it. His interpretations are authoritative.

  • Greg

    Diba, I assume this is the quote you are referring to. Could you point out where it says that going door-to-door is undignified?

    'He feels that to distribute Bahá'í pamphlets from door-to-door … is undignified and might create a bad impression of the Faith. No doubt, it is the eagerness and devotion of the friends that led them to make this proposal, but he does not think that the best interests of the Cause are served by such a method …'"

    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 592)

  • Greg

    Diba, I assume this is the quote you are referring to. Could you point out where it says that going door-to-door is undignified?

    'He feels that to distribute Bahá'í pamphlets from door-to-door … is undignified and might create a bad impression of the Faith. No doubt, it is the eagerness and devotion of the friends that led them to make this proposal, but he does not think that the best interests of the Cause are served by such a method …'"

    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 592)

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Diba Diba

    I don't understand what you want. If you read your own post you will see where Shoghi Effendi said it is undignified.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Diba Diba

    I don't understand what you want. If you read your own post you will see where Shoghi Effendi said it is undignified.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SteveMarshall SteveMarshall

    Shoghi Effendi is saying (actually it's Ruhiyyih Rabbani) that distributing Bahá'í pamphlets from door-to-door is undignified. This does not necessarily mean that he/she would consider any other door-to-door activities to be similarly "undignified". However, I'm assuming that the door-to-door aspect is what he/she found objectionable. Greg has found some wiggle room.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/SteveMarshall SteveMarshall

    Shoghi Effendi is saying (actually it's Ruhiyyih Rabbani) that distributing Bahá'í pamphlets from door-to-door is undignified. This does not necessarily mean that he/she would consider any other door-to-door activities to be similarly "undignified". However, I'm assuming that the door-to-door aspect is what he/she found objectionable. Greg has found some wiggle room.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/SteveMarshall SteveMarshall

    Yes, the NSA does appear to view the House in that way:

    "The faith of a believer can be tested when he comes across a statement that is contrary to his way of thinking. If this individual is steadfast in the Covenant, he will readily acknowledge that the mind of man is finite and his judgement often erroneous, and will sincerely accept as divinely guided the words and guidance of those upon whom Baha'u'llah has conferred infallibility."

    National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of New Zealand, Feast letter for the month of Qawl, 15 November 2001. Published in New Zealand Baha'i News December 2001-January 2002 (BE 158) p 4.

    Source: Alison Marshall – Commentary on the Divine Unity footnote 64.

  • http://www.intensedebate.com/people/SteveMarshall SteveMarshall

    Yes, the NSA does appear to view the House in that way:

    "The faith of a believer can be tested when he comes across a statement that is contrary to his way of thinking. If this individual is steadfast in the Covenant, he will readily acknowledge that the mind of man is finite and his judgement often erroneous, and will sincerely accept as divinely guided the words and guidance of those upon whom Baha'u'llah has conferred infallibility."

    National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of New Zealand, Feast letter for the month of Qawl, 15 November 2001. Published in New Zealand Baha'i News December 2001-January 2002 (BE 158) p 4.

    Source: Alison Marshall – Commentary on the Divine Unity footnote 64.

  • Grover

    I was just browsing through a Wikipedia article on Deism and found this little gem which is related to the quote that you found::

    "Laymen were told by the priests that only the priests really knew what was necessary for salvation and that laymen must accept the "mysteries" on faith and on the priests' authority. This kept the laity baffled by the nonsensical "mysteries", confused, and dependent on the priests for information about the requirements for salvation. The priests consequently enjoyed a position of considerable power over the laity, which they strove to maintain and increase. Deists referred to this kind of manipulation of religious doctrine as "priestcraft", a highly derogatory term."

  • Grover

    I was just browsing through a Wikipedia article on Deism and found this little gem which is related to the quote that you found::

    "Laymen were told by the priests that only the priests really knew what was necessary for salvation and that laymen must accept the "mysteries" on faith and on the priests' authority. This kept the laity baffled by the nonsensical "mysteries", confused, and dependent on the priests for information about the requirements for salvation. The priests consequently enjoyed a position of considerable power over the laity, which they strove to maintain and increase. Deists referred to this kind of manipulation of religious doctrine as "priestcraft", a highly derogatory term."

  • farhan

    Cowboy John appeared before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.
    ?Have you ever done anything of particular merit?? St. Peter asked.

    ?Well, I can think of one thing,? the cowboy offered.
    ?On a trip to the Black Hills out in South Dakota, I came upon a gang of bikers, who were threatening a young woman. I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn't listen ….

    ?So, I approached the largest and most heavily tattooed biker and smacked him in his face …. Then I kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring, and threw it on the ground.

    ?Then I yelled, 'Now, back off! Or I'll kick the sh*t out of all of you!?

    St. Peter was impressed. ?When did this happen?? he asked.

    ?A couple of minutes ago….?

  • Janus2

    You teach were and when you can. You teach by hearing others and having a loving heart, for all of mankind, be yourself and open that channel.

  • Guest

    You teach were and when you can. You teach by hearing others and having a loving heart, for all of mankind, be yourself and open that channel.

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  • J25bball7

    It strikes me as a little contradictory that the NZ NSA says they’re in no way promoting proselytizing(convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another: New Oxford English Dictionary). At the same time, they begin their letter stating they are short on their “growth programmes” and therefore need to employ these “direct teaching methods”. To go even further, I’d ask: shouldn’t the NSA and UHJ be more concerned with the quality of the communities than the size? Why is the UHJ’s five year plan concerned with quantity and not quality. To me part of the quality of a community is its love that attracts others and that does not require seeking out people in order to meet an administrations plan.

  • Desir0101

    Quote from Shoghi Effendi..
    ‘He feels that to distribute Bah??’? pamphlets from door-to-door … is
    undignified and might create a bad impression of the Faith. No doubt, it
    is the eagerness and devotion of the friends that led them to make this
    proposal, but he does not think that the best interests of the Cause
    are
    served by such a method …’”

    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 592)

    I believe that the least act to only distribute pamphlets from door-to-door is undignified according to the Guardian and how much more undignify to teach the Faith from door-to-door.(..he does not think that the best interests of the Cause
    are served by such a method …’” ).

    Now the Institutions are playing with words.

    Many says that things evolute and change with time, of course.

    But when Bahai institutions have to clarify some misundestanding they will choose from among the literatures that fit their  interest.

    Because there are different version( UHJ V/S Guardian) as things have change from the time of the Guardian up to now.

    I personally have no objection when the Witness of Jeovah knocked at  my door and I have many times invited them in to listen to them.

    And I know that most Bahai never appreciate that.

    The UHJ are devising all kind of  teaching techniques to promote the Faith but the failure is I believe that Bahais are convince that they are a superior born race , veiling themselves from reality and spirituality.
    They have nothing to learn from others.
    They are over and above.

    False humility. will never cohabit with spirituality.

  • Guest

    The people who are going “door-to-door” are not handing out pamphlets. Rather they are inviting their fellow neighbours to community activities which seek to build capacity within the individual to serve the community. If they are not interested, they are left alone. 

  • Desir0101

    Hi Guest,
    I have no problem with door to door.
    What is comic is that some 15years back when I have raised the issue to go door to door, there have been lots of  sermon, idle talk, and assemblies themselves was against that idea but how is it today these same persons are very eager and applause such decision.
    The declaration card itself is a big obstacle.Ridiculous.
    All these efforts behind were to convert to Bahai.

    Why not simply mingle, love, associate, be friends without the sole intent to convert them.

  • http://bahaisonline.net/tcb/?p=598 Steve

    Bahais need to take advantage of a special day that’s coming up soon. A day on which you can go door to door without anyone thinking it’s inappropriate – Halloween!

    Trick or treat…
    http://bahaisonline.net/tcb/?p=598

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