Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Building Bridges: A World Religions Program for 8th-9th Grades

Activity 3: Multicultural and Multiracial

Activity time: 25 minutes

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Obtain samples of Baha’i music. One way is to visit the Divine Notes website, where you can purchase credits and download several tracks. Or, if your workshop space has Internet access, sample clips during the workshop, for free. Try Navid Freedom (Italian-Persian rapper), Lin Cheng (Chinese singer and violinist), and Eric Dozier, African American gospel singer from Tennessee.

Description of Activity

Youth consider the success of the Baha'i Faith in creating multicultural, multiracial communities. They explore what Unitarian Universalism can learn from them.

Share the following:

We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated hour in this nation. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic. Nobody of honesty can overlook this. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Dec. 18, 1963

While Dr. King said this decades ago, it is still true. Although multicultural gains have been made in other areas of society, as of 2008, fewer than 10 percent of America's churches were multiracial (defined as no more than 80 percent of the congregation being of one racial/ethnic group).

The Baha'i Faith, with its seven million members, is the second most geographically widespread religion in the world, second in reach only to Christianity, which is 300 times larger. Why their wide appeal?

1. They believe that all people are one in spiritual purpose.

2. They consider no group complete without diversity.

3. All aspects of their worship are intentionally diverse.

Ask the youth if they consider these tenets valuable. Diversity is a stated goal of the Unitarian Universalist Association and many of its member congregations.

  • Do you agree diversity is a worthwhile goal?
  • Why would multicultural, multiracial diversity be something our faith movement would want to do?
  • Is diversity a stated goal of our congregation? If so, how is it going?

Read the following Baha'i quote:

If the flowers of a garden were all of one color, the effect would be monotonous to the eye; but if the colors are variegated, it is most pleasing and wonderful. The difference in adornment of color and capacity of reflection among the flowers gives the garden its beauty and charm. Therefore, although we are of different individualities, different in ideas and of various fragrances, let us strive like flowers of the same divine garden to live together in harmony. Even though each soul has its own individual perfume and color, all are reflecting the same light, all contributing fragrance to the same breeze which blows through the garden, all continuing to grow in complete harmony and accord. Become as waves of one sea, trees of one forest, growing in the utmost love, agreement and unity.

('Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 24)

Because they believe no group is complete without diversity, some Baha'i communities require that all church business be conducted by a diverse group; in fact, no matter how many people are present, there is no quorum without ethnic diversity. Business is postponed until there are multiple ethnicities present.

  • What do you think of this practice? What is the purpose of such a rule?
  • Since it is sometimes very inconvenient, should the commitment be absolute, or should the rule be ignored sometime?
  • What if the requirement for diversity in the conduct of business included age diversity, and our congregation could not do group business without youth and young adult participation? Do you think that is a good idea? Why or why not? If you received a call saying a meeting could not happen unless you came, how would you feel? Important? Annoyed? Tokenized? Appreciated? Something else?

Sociologist Brad Christerson wrote based on his research:

We found that multiethnic faith communities that integrated culturally diverse ways of worshiping, preaching, and doing ministry were much more able to manage conflict and retain a diverse constituency. - Brad Christerson, co-author, "Against All Odds: The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations" (NY: NYU Press, 2005)

  • Does this make sense to you?
  • What cultural heritage(s) are evident in our congregation's worship?
  • What cultures in our community are not evident in our worship? What would be a logical entry point to diversify worship at our church?

The Baha’i faith, like many other religious communities, ranges all over the world. One consequence of this is a wide selection of Baha’i inspired music. As part of their commitment to multiculturalism, some Baha’i use music from many different cultures in worship, incorporating different styles, including Latin, American jazz, traditional Christian hymnody, folk music, and many more. Consequently, visitors will likely hear music from their ethnic background and faith tradition.

Play the songs you downloaded. If you can visit, peruse their catalog, noting the music styles and the countries represented. Ask:

  • What do you think of the Divine Notes website?
  • If the Unitarian Universalist Association were to create a broadly inclusive, faith-based music website like Divine Notes, what musical styles would you want included? Which cultural groups would you want to welcome through music?
  • What do you think would be the result of such a project for our congregations? How would it affect current members? Newcomers?
  • Any other ideas to nurture a more multicultural, multiracial, multiethnic religious community?

Distribute Handout 2, Excerpts from Community Cohesion – a Baha'i Perspective for youth to read later.