Brooklyn Refuses to Silence ‘Abdu’l-Bahá 1
THE CONTROVERSY JUST WOULDN’T go away. The Reverend Percy Stickney Grant had started it all by seating ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the Bishop’s chair at his Episcopal Church of the Ascension on April 14. It was now June, but the Churchman, the official publication of the Episcopal Church, seemed determined to flog the subject to death.
Reverend John H. Melish had written to the Churchman to defend Grant. The teachings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Melish argued, were essentially Christian, and that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, himself, was “‘by nature Christian,’ as his whole doctrine is that of love.” On June 13, the Church’s response showed up in the daily edition of the Independent.
“The question is,” The Churchman had printed, “What is the law of the Church, not, What is the character of Abdul Baha or the nature of his teaching.”
The Independent agreed. “Dr. Melish cannot defend himself,” its columnist wrote, “except by the bold reply of Peter to the Sanhedrim which forbade him to preach in the temple.” The Independent seemed to be saying that Episcopal pastors who welcomed ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to their churches could only justify it if they were willing to claim that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was equal to Christ.
But Brooklyn’s churches didn’t see it that way at all. John Howard Melish was one of their own. He was the Rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, an Episcopal Church on the northwest corner of Clinton and Montague Streets in Brooklyn Heights, a short walk west from Columbus Park and just south of the Brooklyn Bridge. The surrounding churches made their response clear on Sunday, June 16, 1912.
Talk at 309 West Seventy-eighth Street, New York 2
I desire distinction for you. The Bahá’ís must be distinguished from others of humanity. But this distinction must not depend upon wealth—that they should become more affluent than other people. I do not desire for you financial distinction. It is not an ordinary distinction I desire; not scientific, commercial, industrial distinction. For you I desire spiritual distinction—that is, you must become eminent and distinguished in morals. In the love of God you must become distinguished from all else. You must become distinguished for loving humanity, for unity and accord, for love and justice. In brief, you must become distinguished in all the virtues of the human world—for faithfulness and sincerity, for justice and fidelity, for firmness and steadfastness, for philanthropic deeds and service to the human world, for love toward every human being, for unity and accord with all people, for removing prejudices and promoting international peace. Finally, you must become distinguished for heavenly illumination and for acquiring the bestowals of God. I desire this distinction for you. This must be the point of distinction among you.
Diary of Juliet Thompson, 15 June 1912 3
On Friday, 15 June, I was with the Master alone for a while, and I brought up the name of Percy Grant. “He didn’t understand You the other day, my Lord. He thinks that You teach asceticism, that the spirit and the flesh are two separate things.”
“That is not what I said,” the Master replied. “I said that the spiritual man and the materialist were two different beings. The spirit is in the flesh.”
Saturday, June 15, 1912
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been invited to two large churches in Brooklyn and left New York at 10:00 a.m. Some of the Persian and American friends accompanied Him. At 11:00 a.m. the Unitarian Church was graced with His presence. As the carriage approached, we saw outside the church an announcement in large letters saying ‘The Great Persian Prophet, His Holiness ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, will speak at 11:00 a.m. in this church on the 15th sic of June.’ What created in us such a sense of wonder was that the pastor of the church had placed the sign announcing the prophethood of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on the door of his church! The moment the Master arrived, the pastor came out, and taking ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s arm with great reverence, accompanied Him to the pulpit. The Master’s address was on the degrees of oneness and unity. At the close of His talk, He chanted, with His hands uplifted and in a melodious tone, a prayer in eloquent Arabic that was translated sentence by sentence.
Afterwards, at the request of the pastor, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá visited the school, which is conducted in connection with the same church. Here, after the children sang and paid their respects to the Master, He encouraged them and spoke to them regarding their education.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá had lunch in Brooklyn at the home of Mr MacNutt. There He spoke to a gathering of the friends about the admonitions and exhortations [of Bahá’u’lláh, saying that they should be thankful for the bestowals and favors of God.
Later that day He went to the Congregational Church in Brooklyn. The gathering and setting of the church were impressive and magnificent and the breaths of the Holy Spirit were felt by all. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá left nothing undone in conveying the teachings of the Cause of God. He delivered a comprehensive address, speaking with authority and majesty on the freedom of conscience, the unity of religions, dogmatic imitations, the deprivation of people and the reality of Islam. He concluded by declaring the appearance of the Greatest Name and by explaining the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. Notwithstanding that the address was primarily about the truth of Islam, everyone came to Him to express their gratitude and thankfulness. Each person, pastors and professors, rich and poor, men and women, and especially representatives from the press, praised Him. No one offered a single objection. The pastor of the church was so earnest and overwhelmed by the love of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that he repeatedly requested the promise of another visit. Owing to the Master’s many engagements and little time, the invitation could not be accepted. On the following day, the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper published ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s address and a description of the gathering 4
’Abdu’l-Bahá in America, 1912-2012: Calling America to It’s Spiritual Destiny
Celebrating the Centenary: The Master in America
Curated by Anne Perry
- Menon, Jonathan. “Brooklyn Refuses To Silence ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.” 239 Days in America, 15 June 2012, https://239days.com/2012/06/15/brooklyn-refuses-to-silence-abdul-baha/. ↩
- ʻAbduʼl-Bahá. The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ʻAbduʼl-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Edited by Howard MacNutt. 2nd ed. Wilmette, Ill: Baháʼí Publishing Trust, 1982, 190. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/promulgation-universal-peace/14#331882631. ↩
- Thompson, Juliet. The Diary of Juliet Thompson. Edited by Marzieh Gail. 1st ed. 1947. Reprint, Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 1983, 311. https://archive.org/details/diaryofjuliettho0000thom/page/310/mode/2up. ↩
- ’Abdu’l-Bahá, and Mirza Mahmud-i-Zarqani. Mahmúd’s Diary: The Diary of Mírzá Mahmúd-i-Zarqání Chronicling ’Abdu’l-Bahá’s Journey to America. Edited by Shirley Macias. Translated by Mohi Sobhani. Oxford: George Ronald, 1998. https://bahai-library.com/zarqani_mahmuds_diary&chapter=4#section83 ↩