Waco has deep Christian roots, but other religions, such as the Bahá’í Faith, also have a longstanding history in Central Texas.
The Bahá’í Faith was first established in Iran in 1863 by Bahá’u’lláh who taught that religion is progressively revealed by one god through messengers of god. These messengers, including Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, and Bahá’u’lláh, are the founders of the major world religions throughout history. Bahá’ís believe these major religions are fundamentally unified, though they varied in social practices and interpretations over time. Three core principals establish the basis of Bahá’í teachings: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humanity.
The Bahá’í Faith has been an active part of religious and social life in America since the late 1800s. The faith was further bolstered when Abdu’l-Bahá, eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh and leader of the Bahá’í Faith after his father’s passing, visited the United States and Canada. Abdu’l-Bahá arrived in New York City on April 11, 1912, and travelled to cities around the country, including Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. In his talks nationwide, Abdu’l-Bahá challenged Americans to move beyond tolerance, embrace diversity completely, and demolish racial barriers in all areas of life. By 1956, there were roughly seven thousand members of the Bahá’í Faith in the United States.
In the late 1950s and early sixties, the Bahá’í Faith made its way to Waco, Texas. Several Bahá’ís from the Dallas area travelled to Waco in an effort to expand the faith in Central Texas. Among those in this group were Harry Craig, Howard Meking, Paul Pethed, and Jack McCants. McCants, a native of Palestine in East Texas and former Methodist ministered, joined the Bahá’í Faith in 1959 and went on to become a prominent member of the faith. He was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly, the nine-member governing body of the Bahá’í Faith in the United States, in 1996.
After the Bahá’í Faith was established in Waco, the community ebbed and flowed through the sixties, seventies, and eighties, with members numbering at high points in the upper teens. Waco Bahá’ís gathered in homes for devotions, monthly feasts prescribed on the Bahá’í calendar, and Bahá’í holy days—including Naw-Rúz, the Bahá’í New Year, and the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. Early Waco Bahá’ís included Mary Mosely, Willie Jeans Edwards (who was introduced to the Bahá’í Faith by Amos Gibson, one of the members of the First Universal House of Justice), Louise and Gilbert Rocker, and Bill Irving.
In the 1990s, the Bahá’í Faith saw considerable growth and visibility in Waco. Several Bahá’í families moved to the Waco area, including Fuad and Brenda Khozein and Tim and Jo Welter. As an outgrowth of their annual celebration of Race Unity Day, Waco Bahá’ís began sponsoring Race Unity Forums to establish a dialogue on race relations in Waco. The first of these events was held on June 14, 1992. The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Waco, First Baptist Church NBC, El Calvario Presbyterian Church, and Seventh & James Baptist Church, all of Waco, served as sponsors. This was one of the first events centered on race relations held in Waco, which brought together several community members, including representatives from the Waco Police Department, Western Heights Baptist Church, First Baptist Church NBC, and El Calvario Presbyterian Church. Waco area Bahá’ís would go on to sponsor several more Race Unity Forums throughout the 1990s, along with workshops aimed at tackling racism and a continuing education class on racism at McLennan Community College in 1994. These early efforts sparked community interest and further dialogues on race relations, which would later lead to the formation of the Waco Community Race Relations Coalition in 2001. Today, several Bahá’í members serve on the board and are involved with coalition activities.
The growth of the Waco-area Bahá’í community (up to thirty members by the mid-1990s) and an interest in becoming more visible in Waco led to the development of the Waco Bahá’í Center. After a location was chosen and extensive renovations, the building was rented and later purchased in the late 1990s. The Waco Bahá’í Center, located at 2500 Bosque Boulevard in Waco, was formally dedicated on October 29, 1995, becoming a location for Bahá’í and community events.
In the 2000s, The Greater Waco Interfaith Conference (formally known as the Conference of Christian and Jews) invited area Bahá’ís to participate, alongside individuals representing Islam, Hinduism, and Jainism living in Waco. Through the years, Bahá’ís have held positions on the board, including as acting president. The purpose of the Greater Waco Interfaith Conference is to promote harmony, understanding, cooperation, and respect among the variety of faith tradition and the surrounding areas.
As of 2017, about twenty Bahá’ís worship in Waco and in China Spring, where the McLennan County Bahá’ís were established in the 2000s. They continue to be involved in community organizations and activities, and regularly host events to raise awareness about the Bahá’í Faith.