October 18, 2020

The Missionary as Historian: William Miller and the Baha’i Faith – by Douglas Martin

A review of William McElwee Miller’s THE BAHA’I FAITH: ITS HISTORY AND TEACHINGS (S. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1974), 358 pages, appendices, index. 

“We are dealing ... not with what we would like to believe, but with historical facts established beyond a doubt which we cannot but accept.” — William Miller 

William McElwee Miller is a man with an obsession. Although by profession a Presbyterian clergyman, and for forty years employed in that Church’s missions in Persia, Rev. Miller has focused a great part of his energies as a writer and as a public lecturer on the subject of the Bahá’í Faith. The two books he has written are both on that topic (1), as are a third work on which he collaborated with the Reverend E. E. Elder, (2) and a number of articles published in the religious press. His most recent book, ‘The Baha’i Faith: Its History and Teachings’ may be fairly regarded as the final flowering of this lifetime preoccupation. 

To say this should not suggest that Rev. Miller regards his subject with any affection. He briefly acknowledges that the Baha’i Faith has become a worldwide religious force to be taken seriously. In speaking of The Bahá’í World, the fourteen-volume summary of the Faith’s activities since 1925, he says: “Whoever peruses [these volumes] ... will be impressed by the fact that the Bahá’í Faith is indeed a world Faith.” He groups it in this respect with Christianity and Islam, whose “field is the world.” (3) Such a judgment is in itself no small admission. In his initial assessment, written in 1931, Rev. Miller dismissed the Bahá’í Faith as “a dying movement,” a minor “sect” which was on the point of disappearing entirely from the world scene: “It is only a matter of time until this strange movement ... shall be known only to students of history.” (4) His latest book would, therefore, have benefited greatly from even a brief explanation of so startling a change of mind. 

What has not changed is Rev. Miller’s very negative view of the youngest addition to the world’s religions. Essentially, the Bahá’í Faith which he pictures for his readers is a product of a century-long conspiracy conceived by persons of the basest character and motive. Its present-day followers (whose own spiritual life Rev. Miller assesses as in no way distinguished) are entirely deceived as to their Faith’s real nature. Its laws and teachings are either superficial, harmful, or irrelevant to mankind’s needs. Its administrative order is “a dictatorship.”