Steve Sarowitz Addresses the Community Plenary
Steve Sarowitz addressed the Community Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA.
Good morning, everybody. My name is Steve Sarowitz, and I represent the Bahá’í Faith. I’m here to talk about community from a Bahá’í perspective. We live in a world where many people are losing hope, with political turmoil, where all of our systems seem to be failing at once. We just had a big tragedy in Hawaii, a lot of environmental tragedies. We have wars and rumors of war and rumblings of war. We have division and strife and turmoil throughout the world. We have a mental health crisis all around the world, and universities here in the States, but it’s a worldwide crisis.
Eight years ago, when I became a Bahá’í, I told people that the world was falling apart and people looked at me like I was strange. Of course, the world’s fine. Nowadays, when I say that, almost nobody argues with me. The question is, what’s happening and is there any hope? We Bahá’ís have a lot of hope, because we see what’s going on as a two-part process.
In fact, it’s an irrevocably linked process between the disintegration of an old, defective world order and the rising up of a new society. An old world order based on greed, corruption, patriarchy, racism, superstition. An old world order where people are the other and we worry about our own tribe. An old world order that is steeped in materialism and lacks spirituality. It’s political partisanship and we should have trust and unity. It’s religious differences when we should all acknowledge the same God that made us and created us.
In its place, though, coming together, this is a two-part process, and they’re coming together as this old world order, as the acceleration of the disintegration happens. There’s an acceleration of the integration of the rising up. Since 1844, the whole world is experiencing a grand new age. 75% of the inventions in the history of the world have happened since 1844. New ideas like women’s rights shouldn’t be new, but it is. The idea of a single human race, the idea of global citizenry, they’re all arising. The end of slavery, you can actually trace country by country by country, the elimination of slavery.
All these ideas are new, and the idea of interfaith, the first Parliament of the World’s Religions that happened here in Chicago in 1893, was groundbreaking. I don’t think there was even a word for interfaith at the time, and it was so new and astounding and controversial that there wasn’t another one for a hundred years. What we are doing right now is the beginning of what will be worldwide religious reconciliation, the coming together of one.
So what is community? Community is not our tribe, or rather it’s not our individual tribe. It’s our global tribe, and the communities that make up this global tribe are individuals of a single body. This is the teaching of the Bahá’í Faith. This is the teaching of Baha‘u’llah, who said this, “Oh children of men, know ye not why we have created you all from the same dust, that no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how you were created, since we have created you all from one same substance, is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, with the same mouth, and dwell in the same land.”
You see, we all breathe the same air. We were all created by the same God. There isn’t a Jewish God, a Christian God, a Muslim God, or a Bahá’í God. There’s one God who created us all, who loves us all, and has told us through every prophet and every age to get along. We still haven’t learned. But we are learning, and as the disintegration process accelerates as the hopelessness increases, hope also increases. And I want to tell everyone that there’s not only hope, but it’s in the Bahá’í writings that we will have a great and united world.
People of all colors, people of all countries, coming together as one. And the elimination of the things that have plagued humanity for centuries, racial prejudice, sexism, nationalism, and yes, the one that we’re working on right here, religious prejudice. The idea that because I was born into a Jewish family, I’m lesser or greater than someone who’s born into a Hindu family, or a Christian family, or a Muslim family. How crazy is that? We are one.
We are not the same, as you two said. We’re one, but we’re not the same. But there’s unity in this diversity. But spiritually, we are one. It is only the material differences that separate us.
So when we go work in community, we have to acknowledge that each community knows what’s good for them. When we do philanthropy, as I do with the Wayfarer Foundation, we don’t go into a community and tell them what to do. We ask them what they’re doing, and we help them do it. But there’s also a global understanding that everything each one of us does is as a global citizen and when we fight things like the climate crisis we’re all in. We need to do it together.
My shirt says, “So powerful is the light of unity. They can illuminate the whole earth.” This is from Bahá‘u’lláh again Bahá‘u’lláh said that he was the promised one of all faiths and that he had come to unite the world into something called the most great peace and the most great peace is coming.
It’s coming for all of us and when we lean into that most great peace and there’s many different angles to lean into it from, we can understand how to solve our world’s problems. We cannot do it separately, we cannot solve a global climate crisis by each doing our own thing. We cannot solve political crises by each doing our own thing. We have to work together and we cannot eliminate these long-term problems like racism and sexism by each doing our own thing by dividing into tribes. We cannot do it by blaming the other. There is no other; rather everything must be enveloped by love justice and equity for every human being. And we must recognize the nobility of every human being and the equality of every human being under God. And when we do that, not if, when we do that we will have peace and prosperity for all of us.
Thank you very much.