The word "vibrant" is not one, I think, most Bahá'ís would use to describe their Bahá'í experience of community.


Former member of the UHJ, Hooper Dunbar admits that the growth of the Baha'i community in the west has slowed down.

August 9. On this date in 2002, Ismael Velasco wrote the Universal House of Justice asking "what our attitude should be, as believers in Western lands, to the prolonged and sustained absence of growth for already two decades"?

To the cherished Universal House of Justice. ... I write to supplicate clarification of matters that I have come to believe have become sources of perplexity and weakness among the lovers of the Abha Beauty in the West. ... My question concerns what our attitude should be, as believers in Western lands, to the prolonged and sustained absence of growth for already two decades. In my own personal studies, I ascertained that the British Bahá'í community, for instance, had remained static and even slightly reduced in numbers since the year 1975. Without having conducted research on the subject, I understand anecdotally that many communities in Western Europe share this pattern of low or negative growth, such as France, Switzerland, etc. In the United States, according to Robert Stockman (bahai-library.com/essays/membership.stats.html), The community in the period 1979-1998 grew from 77,396 (48,357 confirmed addresses) to 138,168. Of these 138,000 however, roughly half are mail returns and address unknown. This has led Juan Cole to estimate a Bahai population of c.60,000. In addition, Margit Warburg, in her book I Bahá'í, estimated that 10-20% of Bahá'ís were "inactive" in Denmark, and suggested the same might be the case more widely.

Whatever the exact numbers, beloved source of guidance, it appears that for an entire generation of Bahá'ís, particularly those that entered the Faith in a period of high expansion in the 1960's and 1970's and also their children, have experienced constant disappointment, frustration and powerlessness in the teaching work. This has coincided with a growing emphasis on Entry by Troops, and universal expansion, and the combination of high expectations and constant apparent failure, have resulted in the discouragement of large sections of the community, and, just as sadly, in the life-giving task of teaching the faith becoming associated with feelings of pain and inadequacy.

This perspective seems also validated by the analysis in Century of Light, that explains that the seeming impasse reflected unrealistic expectations and triggered a period of learning and change. Unfortunately, many in these communities have yet to see meaning or purpose in this seeming impasse, and consider themselves to be the inhabitants of spiritually barren lands, or the very points of incapacity, or the members of altogether dysfunctional local and national, and sometimes even international Bahá'í communities.

I have seen personally diverse manifestations of such discouragement. I see them in desperate exhortations to teach the Faith in which the sense of urgency is accompanied by an element of despondency or resentment. I see them in strong, faithful Bahá'ís who choose to become inactive in the community on account of their perceptions of dysfunctionality. I see them in steadfast perseverance in the teaching work accompanied by an inner hopelessness and lack of expectation. And I see it in frequent manifestations of disunity as we seek the answer to this question in the abilities and deeds of one another. More recently, these perspectives have coalesced into systematic critiques of the community in internet fora and academic publications.

This is not to say that this is the prevailing spirit of Western communities. I do not know the relative prevalence of such attitudes in relation to the burgeoning of study circles and training institutes, the arts, etc. But I do get the feeling that a culture or at least subculture of discouragement has come to characterise significant segments of the communities in the West. I cannot help but associate the dearth of financial contributions in many national communities to this general discouragement, at least as much as to the general economic slowdown. The word "vibrant" is not one, I think, most Bahá'ís would use to describe their Bahá'í experience of community. ...

With deep submission and unfailing gratitude, Ismael Velasco, August 9 2002

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