Practical Piety

A Guide for the Perplexed


Bahá'í Faith

Founder:Bahá'u'lláh

Date:1863

Membership:U.S.: 100,000 to 130,000. World: 5 to 6 million.

Top Management:The Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body, elected via national Spiritual Assemblies.

The Word:The writings of Bahá'u'lláh, of which there are more than 200 volumes, all of which have not yet been translated from the original Persian and Arabic languages.

The Big Picture:Acceptance of all the world's major religions and God's messengers throughout humanity's history— Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and the Báb, of which Bahá'u'lláh is the last, but not final, one.

God:Reveals himself through messengers, each corresponding to the needs of a particular place, time, and level of civilization.

Path to Salvation:By acquiring virtues in this life, one is closer to God in the next life (heaven); conversely, hell is a "state of remoteness from God," and not a physical place. Satan does not exist. Bahá'ís are forbidden to participate in partisan politics.

Rendezvous Point:Houses of Worship, all with a central dome and nine sides (corresponding with their idea of completion). There's one on each continent, open to people of every religion, with no sermons, rituals, or clergy. The current placement symbolizes the Bahá'í belief in a democratic world government.

The Money Trail:Only registered members can donate money, and are encouraged to do so on a regular basis.

On Women in the Church:The Universal House of Justice, the international governing counsel of the faith, is limited to men, as stipulated by Bahá'u'lláh, and therefore is unchangeable. All other elected and appointed positions are open to women.

On Homosexuality:According to Vicky Jones, director of office of public information, "for Bahá'ís, the only truly legitimate sex act is between a man and a woman in marriage."

On Abortion:Bahá'ís believe that the soul comes into existence at the moment of conception; therefore valid medical reasons are the only justification for abortion among Bahá'ís.

On Euthanasia:According to Jones, the decision should be left to the "consciences of the patient, doctor, family members, and possibly the spiritual community."

On Interfaith Marriage:"The more the different cultures, ethnicities, and religions intermarry, the faster the prevailing prejudices can be expelled," says Jones.

On Millennialism:Manifestations of God will appear in the future but, according to Bahá'u'lláh, not before the expiration of a full thousand years from his own revelation.

Recruitment:"Teaching" can take the form of a "fireside," an informal gathering in a Bahá'í home, or "pioneering," moving into areas where there are few Bahá'ís and becoming active members in those communities.

Miscellany:Bahá'ís, the largest religious minority in Iran, have suffered from religious persecution in that country, with nearly 200 executed or killed.

Web Address:www.us.baha.org


Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Founder:Joseph Smith

Date:1830

Membership:U.S.: approx. 5 million. World: 10.4 million.

Top Management:Gordon B. Hinckley, president and Prophet of God

The Word:The Holy Bible (King James version); The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ; The Doctrine and Covenants; The Pearl of Great Price

The Big Picture:In 1829, God and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith and initiated a restoration of all the truths, powers, and priesthood authority of the ancient church established by Christ's mortal ministry.

God:A Godhead— God the father, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, separate in being but one in purpose.

Path to Salvation:Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost (confirmation), and abiding by the teaching of the faithful.

Rendezvous Point:A meetinghouse, generally with a chapel, a cultural hall, and classrooms, where a congregation or "ward" worships.

The Money Trail:Members tithe, contributing one-tenth of annual income.

On Women in the Church:No female bishops (heads of local congregations) or presidents (Prophets of God); women may lead services and preach sermons.

On Homosexuality:According to Don LeFevre, church spokesman, Latter-Day Saints take a "chastity and fidelity" approach: complete chastity outside of marriage and complete fidelity within marriage. Latter-Day Saints are opposed to same-sex marriages.

On Abortion:Opposed to elective abortion unless a woman's life is threatened by the pregnancy or the fetus will not survive birth.

On Euthanasia:"A person who participates in euthanasia, including assisted suicide, violates the commandments of God."

On Interfaith Marriage:Members are encouraged to marry within the faith.

On Millennialism:Latter-Day Saints believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ but do not predict when it will happen.

Recruitment:With nearly 60,000 missionaries worldwide, the Latter-Day Saints are firm believers in teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Scandal Sheet:In 1978, black male church members were permitted to enter the lay priesthood, and the church Web site denies any current racist attitudes. Critics charge that the church has not repudiated a link between blacks and Cain or a historical account that refers to the ancient Lamanites, a rebellious people who were cursed with a dark skin.

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