I have a twitter account which I regularly check for mentions of "Bahai". Most of the mentions are from Baha'i's posting inspiration quotes and links to blog posts, or updates regarding the situation in Iran. Some however are from skeptical onlookers who take a negative view of the Faith. One tweeter in particular seemed to have special vitriol for the Baha'i Faith, which he mentioned as being hypocritical, especially regarding gender equality and homosexuality. I went to his blog and read through his posts, one of which can be found here. While reading through them, I thought of two things. 1) much of his argument against the Baha'i Faith is based on an incomplete understanding of the teachings and history of both the Baha'i Faith and other faiths. 2) however, based on the intellectual standards of post-modern liberal democracies, some of his arguments are rational and fair. And, I suspect, they will become more and more common as the Baha'i Faith makes its way into the public consciousness. As Baha'is we will have to be especially careful not to think about and argue the merits of our faith based upon a dichotomous worldview. Paul Lample, a member of the Universal House of Justice, describes it this way in his excellent new book "Revelation and Social Reality".
"Observers may seek to impose a liberal-fundamentalist dichotomy (or relativist-foundationalist) when assessing the development of the Baha'i Faith. So too, without caution, the tension between liberal and fundamentalist influences can enter the Baha'i community, shaping attitudes and understanding, and ensnaring Baha'i's in competing claims made about the nature of Revelation, of knowledge, and of truth. Legitimate questions, posed out of context, create the illusion of irreconcilable differences
What will be required, it seems to me, is an exerted effort on our part to not get sucked into a defensive mode of apologetics. Instead we should change the nature of the conversation that accounts for their particular concern but places it in the context of truth discovery through consultation. Paul Lample continues...
Rejecting the false dichotomy of liberalism and fundamentalism, therefore, does not impose uniformity or diminish the diversity of views within the Baha'i community; rather, it preserves the entire spectrum of individual interpretation as an asset in the search for truth. All views are welcome save those that persist in extremes of orthodoxy or irresponsible freedom, since these extremes are in themselves threats to the process of free investigation...In consultation, there is the freedom to say what one thinks and the freedom to give up one's opinion after hearing the ideas of others. In this way, diverse views are harmonized to achieve unity of thought and action"
Ultimately, the process of free investigation must be channeled through consultation to achieve unity, which in turn is ultimately grounded in divine revelation.
Update: Per responses on the last sentence, let me restate what I meant.
Ultimately, the result of an individuals free investigation must be channeled through consultation to achieve unity....