Baha’is in the United States recite a prayer for America written by ‘Abdu’l-Baha more than 100 years ago. ‘Abdu’l-Baha is the Baha’i leader who visited North America in 1912 (my essay on ‘Abdu’l-Baha appeared in Interfaith Voices, Sept. 15, 2015).
That prayer appeals to God to “Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious. Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world.”
This prayer does not praise America for its accomplishments but it calls on Americans instead to raise their awareness of the oneness of humanity and to promulgate world peace. By so doing, America will become glorious and praiseworthy. Some would say that our country, steeped as it was in racism and undemocratic practices, needed this encouragement more than did others. This prayer is about hope.
When Baha’is began reciting these words in the early years of the 20th century, the laws protecting freed slaves following the Civil War had been replaced by Jim Crow laws that would deny African-Americans the rights of citizens. These laws lasted well into the 1960s.
In addition, women would not gain the vote until 1920. Child labor was universal, with children as young as 8 working 10 hours a day, six days a week. Our country was still recovering from a devastating civil war and about to enter World War I.
Was this peace?
Was the U.S. government truly “just?” No, not with Jim Crow flourishing and limited suffrage. Still, the potential for justice existed in embryonic form in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
Is America today any closer to realizing those promises?
Yes, we are. Here are a few markers — (see the online version of this essay for links)
• In 1945, San Francisco hosts representatives of 50 nations to draw up the United Nations charter. Created to maintain peace and security, to develop friendly international relations, and foster international cooperation, the U.N. has managed to survive and spread its ideals all around the world. Source: http://www.un.org/en/charter-united-nations/
• Universal suffrage in 1965 ends poll taxes and other barriers, protecting the sacred right to vote, and marking the end of Jim Crow.
• International researchers in 2003, led by an American geneticist, complete the human genome project, which then-U.S. President Clinton called “the language in which God created life.” The ethics of this project require that all the scientists around the world who are involved agree to provide immediate access to the data, and that no patents of any sort will be filed on the DNA sequence. In other words, the human genome will never become a commercial, for-profit venture. Ever. For the full story, see Dr. Francis Collins’ 2006 book "The Language of God."
• In 1969, the U.S. military creates ARPANET. Skip ahead to 1990, and the “World Wide Web” first appears; in 1995 it opens to the public. You know the rest. Source: https://intetics.com/blog/a-simple-history-of-the-internet
• And in philanthropy, today’s Americans give far more to charity than citizens of 33 other industrialized nations (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2017). Source: goo.gl/zFuA1H
In these newly troubling times, we Americans still have much to celebrate. I hope these and other successes encourage us to fulfill that early call — that our country will become glorious and praiseworthy, uniting under the banner of the oneness of humanity.