Concern for Environmental Issues is Not a Sidebar Conversation
The Bahá’í Faith Community joined Kentucky Interfaith Power & Light as an Earth Steward partner community in November 2020. Judy Parsley, who serves on the Kentucky IPL Board, answered questions for us on what it means to care for the Earth, how the Bahá’í community is working within Louisville, and why being a part of a network is important for climate change in Kentucky.
Q: How does your faith align with creation care? What does your faith say about caring for the Earth?
“In every Dispensation the light of Divine Guidance has been focussed upon one central theme…. In this wondrous Revelation, this glorious century, the foundation of the Faith of God and the distinguishing feature of His Law is the consciousness of the Oneness of Mankind.”
‘Abdu’l-Baha (son of Baha’u’llah)
This is the foundation, the core of all of the Bahá’í teachings. It permeates all thought and action. The Bahá’í Faith’s stance on sustainability and concern for environmental issues is not a sidebar conversation. It is tied to the core of Bahá’í teachings: the interconnection of science and religion, the dangers of rampant materialism, the importance of economic justice, and the recognition of the oneness of all humankind.
We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.
(Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi,
17 February 1933, Compilation on Social
and Economic Development, p. 4)
(Guardian from 1921-1957)
“Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world. It is a dispensation of Providence ordained by the Ordainer, the All-Wise.”
Through these worlds, Baha’u’llah, the prophet of the Bahá’í Faith, explains that Nature is a manifestation of God’s will in the material world. Bahá’ís believe that Nature is entrusted to us by our Maker and that we are expected to make every effort to protect it and that we will answer for it.
In the international arena, the Bahá’í community has offered insightful and challenging observations to this crucial discourse. In a concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue, London, February 1998, the Bahá'í International Community, an arm of the Universal House of Justice, the Bahá’í world governing body, wrote:
As trustees, or stewards, of the planet's vast resources and biological diversity, humanity must learn to make use of the earth's natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable, in a manner that ensures sustainability and equity into the distant reaches of time. This attitude of stewardship will require full consideration of the potential environmental consequences of all development activities. It will compel humanity to temper its actions with moderation and humility, realizing that the true value of nature cannot be expressed in economic terms. It will also require a deep understanding of the natural world and its role in humanity's collective development - both material and spiritual. Therefore, sustainable environmental management must come to be seen not as a discretionary commitment mankind can weigh against other competing interests, but rather as a fundamental responsibility that must be shouldered - a prerequisite for spiritual development as well as the individual's physical survival.
Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations
Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development
In addition to the bedrock concepts of the oneness of humanity and justice, is another Bahá’í principle that assists individuals to weigh in on the importance of creation care.
The harmony of science and religion is one of the fundamental principles of the Bahá’í Faith, which teaches that religion, without science, soon degenerates into superstition and fanaticism, while science without religion becomes merely the instrument of crude materialism. “Religion,” according to the Bahá’í writings, “is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore, it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive.” 1 “Science is the first emanation from God toward man. All created things embody the potentiality of material perfection, but the power of intellectual investigation and scientific acquisition is a higher virtue specialized to man alone. Other beings and organisms are deprived of this potentiality and attainment.” 2
The Revolutionary Bahá’í Approach to Climate Change
Q: Even though COVID-19 has changed how many congregations or organizations operate, what are some ways either presently or in the past that your congregation has lived out creation care?
The members of our Greater Louisville Bahá’í community, like other faith communities, span a continuum of individual action. Some members have worked diligently and aggressively to make their ecological footprint as small as possible.
As a community, before the pandemic hit, we chose the use of non-disposable dishware and cutlery for the social segments of our worship and holy day gatherings. Community members have been diligent in recycling while at the Bahá’í Center. We have held a number of devotional and study sessions on the environment. We have held programs for our children on growing food organically, biodiversity, recycling, and the interconnectedness of all creation. Recently two members of our community offered to teach both adults and children about growing plants and food in an environmentally safe way. We are also preparing a community study exploring the Bahá’í Writings on the environment along with the implications for individual lifestyles.
We are just beginning as a community to look at the effects of the world’s environmental challenges with the lens of justice, and how we can engage in elevated conversations and work with other like-minded communities to serve the greater community. During our monthly gatherings (feasts), while consulting on various issues, environmental sustainability has been discussed as an imminent and present concern of members of the community, especially as it pertains to moral implications of materialism and Consumerism.
Baha’u’llah, the Prophet, and Founder of the Bahá’í Faith wrote:
The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.
(Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CVI, p. 213
Q: Why did the Bahá’í community join KIPL? How do you see the missions aligning? What are you most excited about in being a partner community?
Our local community first heard about IPL in a missive to Local Spiritual Assemblies from the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States. We were encouraged to join this interfaith organization which aligned so well with the Bahá’í teachings. We are encouraged to reach out to people of other faith traditions.
Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship . . .
The fact that KIPL does not involve itself in partisan politics was an important aspect of our interest in joining. We have had members of our community on the board of directors ever since that time, and are happy to announce becoming a partner community this year.
Q:If someone wanted to get connected to the Bahá’í community, how would they do that?
To learn more about the Bahá’í Faith you can go to bahai.us or visit the Louisville Bahá’ís at louisvillebahai.org or the Louisville Bahá’í Facebook page. We are holding virtual devotional gatherings every Sunday at 11:00. Links to the gatherings are on FB and on our website. Many of our devotional videos are available through Facebook and YouTube.