Baha'i Movement targets dissenters

The Baha'i movement is experiencing growing conflicts and dissent over its members involvement in computer forums, reports Gnosis, (Winter), a magazine on esoteric spirituality. While regarded as a liberal and nondogmatic religion, the worldwide Baha'i community has enforced "rigid controls for discourse on internal matters, with all publications controlled or censored by the administration; even mild dissent is regarded as treasonous," writes K. Paul Johnson. The Baha'is gained most of their members in the U.S. in the early 1970s, although membership levels have been stagnant since. Some of the young converts of the 1970s became scholars of Persian, Middle Eastern history and related fields. In 1994, a discussion group on the Internet was started by these scholars which often questioned or addressed controversial teachings.

Dissent was voiced over women's exclusion from the Baha'i governing body, the Universal House of Justice, and the teaching that Baha'is are destined to take over all functions of local and national government and create an international government. The position that any Baha'i writing about the movement has to submit such writings for review to Baha'i leaders also drew a good deal of criticism from the discussion group (which numbered about 100 members), which is called Talisman. After almost two years of existence, Talisman became the focus of a series of investigations by authorities at the Baha'i World Center in Haifa, Israel and also by leaders in the U.S. Baha'i leaders have called the scholars and their sympathizers "dissidents," with more conservative members charging that they are "covenant breakers," which means advocating an alternative source of authority in the religion. Baha'is are ordered to avoid all contact with covenant breakers. Although Talisman disbanded last May, an ex-Baha'i has recently opened a new Talisman group.

Gnosis Magazine, Winter 1997

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