Sen's daily

March 23, 2013

“Without reference to individuals” : the Bahai community prepares to elect the Universal House of Justice

Pope-Benedict-XVI From the moment Pope Benedict announced his retirement, the names of possible successors were being discussed, along with ideas about the right kind of Pope to lead the Church in the years to come. A South American? An African? … It all makes for good press. Bahai elections, even the forthcoming election of the Universal House of Justice, are not so newsworthy.

The Bahai community has no clergy, in the sense of qualified religious experts who lead a religious community. Its affairs are administered by elected local and national “spiritual assemblies.” The members of the National Spiritual Assemblies administer the affairs of the community in their countries, and every five years they cast their votes for the members of the Universal (or International) House of Justice, which administers the global affairs of the Bahai community. They will do so again in April, 2013, at an international convention in Haifa, Israel.

At the local, national and international levels, the elections are conducted without candidates, or even any reference to particular individuals. The qualifications for electability in all these elections are well known:

… it is incumbent upon the chosen delegates to consider … the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience…
(Shoghi Effendi, letter of June 3, 1925, printed in Directives from the Guardian, p. 24)

On the face of it, we can tell the Press to move along, there’s nothing to see here. No personalities to dissect, nothing to discuss. If it was really that dull, I wouldn’t be writing about it either. But there’s more to the story. Shoghi Effendi has also said that, prior to an election to a Bahai institution, the friends should “discuss among themselves the requirements and qualifications for such a membership without reference or application, however indirect, to particular individuals.” (Letter to the Spiritual Assembly of Akron, Ohio, dated May 14, 1927).

But we know the qualifications for membership don’t we? And we are not to make references to particular individuals, who may or may not meet those requirements. So why does Shoghi Effendi call all the Bahais (not just the convention delegates) to discuss the requirements and qualifications for membership? Could he have forgotten that he had told us the qualifications, just two years earlier? That would be uncharacteristic, for he was systematic and meticulous by nature.

The answer I think is that, while he has told us the general qualifications which electors should always look for, in any situation, (unquestioned loyalty, selfless devotion, a well-trained mind, recognized ability and mature experience…), he was also aware that every national community has particular needs, and that the needs of one year may not be those of the following year, or of ten years later. What Shoghi Effendi asks us all to discuss must be the requirements of the hour.

In my opinion, one requirement for membership which the delegates to the international Bahai convention should weigh very heavily is the desirability that the members of the next Universal House of Justice should have long and fruitful experience as members of National Spiritual Assemblies. In any Bahai election, proven effectiveness on an Assembly is one important sign by which a person’s maturity and wisdom may be known. In the case of the forthcoming election of the Universal House of Justice, four other factors make experience on a National Spiritual Assembly especially important.

one black If the membership of the Universal House of Justice were to be drawn largely from experienced members of the National Spiritual Assemblies, this would strengthen the relationship between the National and International bodies, whose tasks after all lie in the same sphere of the Bahai Administration;

two-black It would provide the Universal House of Justice with members who have experience in implementing, in national communities with diverse patterns of development, the plans and policies which the Universal House of Justice enacts, and that would help to making those plans more relevant and practicable;

three black It would signal a fresh start, in comparison to the present situation in which members of the Universal House of Justice are drawn from the International Teaching Centre rather than from the ranks of national administrative bodies; and

four black It would highlight the natural and fruitful relationship between the elected and appointed arms of the Bahai Administrative Order, a relationship which is obscured if all the members of the Universal House of Justice are drawn from the International Teaching Centre. The ITC then appears to resemble a line up of the papabile cardinals.

~~~

These considerations might also weigh in the minds of the members of the International Teaching Centre. Would it not be better for the development of the Bahai Administrative Order, if they were to ask the convention delegates not to elect them to the Universal House of Justice? There are good precedents for such a request. The first is the example of the Hands of the Cause, who by asking the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies not to vote for them (Ministry of the Custodians, p. 20) gave concrete expression to the separation of the spheres of authority and administration on the one hand, and of guidance and wisdom on the other hand. The separation of these two spheres was outlined by Shoghi Effendi in The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah as follows:

… these twin institutions of the Administrative Order of Baha’u’llah should be regarded as divine in origin, essential in their functions and complementary in their aim and purpose. … Acting in conjunction with each other these two inseparable institutions administer its affairs, coordinate its activities, promote its interests, execute its laws and defend its subsidiary institutions. Severally, each operates within a clearly defined sphere of jurisdiction; each is equipped with … instruments designed for the effective discharge of its particular responsibilities and duties. Each exercises, within the limitations imposed upon it, its powers, its authority, its rights and prerogatives. … Far from being incompatible or mutually destructive, they supplement each other’s authority and functions, and are permanently and fundamentally united in their aims.
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 148)

Similarly, the Universal House of Justice has decided that Counsellors, during their terms of office, are not “eligible for membership on national or local administrative bodies… ” (Wellspring of Guidance, pp. 141-142) and it has asked the members of the Auxiliary Boards to suggest to delegates at national convention, that it would not be desirable to elect them to the National Spiritual Assembly:

National Assemblies in whose areas of jurisdiction Board Members reside, should point out to the delegates at Convention that whilst teaching and administrative duties are not mutually exclusive, it is desirable that Auxiliary Board Members, whether for teaching or protection, be left free to concentrate on the work allotted to them… The following extract from the Guardian’s letter, written through his secretary, could be shared with the delegates for their guidance when casting their votes:

“Teachers of the Cause can surely become members of any Assembly or Committee. There should be no incapacity attached to them. But, Shoghi Effendi would just prefer to see them devote all their time to teaching and leave the administrative function for those who cannot serve as teachers. (Bahai News, October, 1932)

(From a letter of the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, November 25, 1963)

It would therefore be both permissible and laudable if the members of the International Teaching Centre were to tell the delegates that it would be preferable to leave them to devote themselves to their own functions, in their own sphere of action.

~~~~~

What do you think?

Without reference to particular individuals, post a comment about what you think are the requirements and qualifications for membership of the Universal House of Justice, in view of the needs of the community today. What House of Justice would you like to see emerge from the International Convention?

Short link: http://wp.me/pNMoJ-1FL

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14 Comments »

  1. Good thinking. I trust though that -under influence of conversations like this- we/the delegates will start voting differently then the last few times. The House of Justice has made comments in the direction that the seemingly coöptative aspect of the elections will disappears once the electors become more spiritually mature. Today we vote just for the ones we know. Getting to know one another on international level other then going on pilgrimage will be the fruit of the present institutes process. So then what you suggest will happen in an organic way, without the need a list of people not to vote for.

    Comment by Maartenkleijne — March 23, 2013 @ 08:50 | Reply

  2. For the past few decades, all new members of the House are elected from the ITC, and I suppose it will be no different this year. It seems to me that UHJ prefers “Selective Election” for the new members of their institution. It may sound similar to Guardian Council of Iran. The House appoints the counselors of ITC, and the delegates elect among the male members of the ITC. The last few elections were not what the Guardian intended, not a selective election,

    Comment by Abby Maleki — March 23, 2013 @ 12:44 | Reply

    • It looks like your comment was cut off in midstream Abby. It is true that the members of the UHJ have, in recent years, been drawn from the male members of the ITC, which therefore comes to look like a group of papabiles (electables). But this is up to the delegates at the national convention, and I doubt that it is what the UHJ wants. I think it is an unintended side-effect of the establishment of the ITC, which has had the effect of raising a few individuals at the world centre to prominence, to the extent that the merits of long-serving members and former members of the NSAs are overlooked.

      The delegates to the International Convention are not limited to voting for other delegates: they can vote for anyone eligible, including senior members of the appointed branch of the Bahai Administrative Order (although the Hands of the Cause wisely chose to declare themselves ineligible). Although the delegates are free in their choices, in reading the following words of Abdu’l-Baha, it appears to me that he expected the members of the National (or ‘Secondary’) Spiritual Assemblies, to choose the members of the Universal House of Justice primarily from their own ranks:

      By this House is meant the Universal House of Justice, that is, in all countries a secondary House of Justice must be instituted, and these secondary Houses of Justice must elect the members of the Universal one.
      (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 14)

      “At whatever time all the beloved of God in each country appoint their delegates, and these in turn elect their representatives, and these representatives elect a body, that body shall be regarded as the Supreme Baytu’l-‘Adl (Universal House of Justice).”
      (Cited by Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 84)

      By this House is meant that Universal House of Justice which is to be elected from all countries, that is from those parts in the East and West where the loved ones are to be found, after the manner of the customary elections in Western countries such as those of England.
      (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 19)

      Be that as it may, the Guardian certainly did intend that the two spheres of the Bahai Administrative Order should be distinct, separate and complementary, and the effect of having the UHJ members drawn from the ITC has been to merge the two institutions into a junior and senior level of the same body, as well as meaning that the UHJ lacks members with administrative experience.

      Comment by Sen — March 23, 2013 @ 18:33 | Reply

      • Dear Sen, I am aware of what the Writings say about elections and eligibility. In reality the situation is not as rosy as the Writings suggests. Many members of the NSAs in developing countries and probably in some developed countries know very few Baha’is outside their national communities. The most popular Baha’is internationally are members of the UHJ and members of the ITC. That is why members of the House always get reelected, and the newer members are from ITC. The House appoints like-minded individuals as counselors. And who ever among these counselors get elected to the House ensure the continuation of the present House policies, what I call as Selective Election.

        Comment by Abby Maleki — March 24, 2013 @ 16:43

  3. Dear Sen- I personally think that my opinion on this matter is not only irrelevant, but also inadvisable. It seems to me that the needs of the Baha’i community, on the international level especially, given the special protection under which the Universal House of Justice is said in the Writings to operate, are met by virtue of electors voting according to their heartfelt intuition about who would be the best possible people to hold this exalted position. I haven’t noticed actions of the House which contravene the best interests of the Faith. Have you? On what basis do you make this suggestion? What difference does it make from what previous body members of the House of Justice come, if their decisions after election are in the interest of the Faith and the Baha’i community?

    Comment by petussing — March 24, 2013 @ 04:37 | Reply

    • I am sure heartfelt intuitions are valuable Phillip, but I do not think they exclude the use of observation and reason. We cannot put our intuitions together to make a discussion, because intuitions are valid only to those who have them, and generally cannot be expressed in words. Yet the Guardian says that the friends should discuss among themselves the requirements and qualifications for membership. If you decline to have any opinions, you are bowing out of that discussion, which is your right, but you are not entitled to disparage those who do take it up.

      I think it makes a great deal of difference what experience and what skill sets the members of any elected body in the Bahai Administrative Order bring with them, and what experience and skills they and their institutions develop. If it were not so, we could elect virtuous babies, and expect God to guide them. But Shoghi Effendi, you will recall, includes “recognized ability and mature experience” among the characteristics which we should look for.

      The House of Justice has said that it is desirable that Auxiliary Board Members should be left free to concentrate on the work allotted to them, and not elected to National Spiritual Assemblies. What then would they think of an Assembly made entirely of former ABMs? But this is the situation in which the House of Justice presently finds itself. There is little they can do about it, unless and until the friends develop the maturity to distinguish between standing in the Faith and the experience and skills to meet a particular need. Many years ago there was a Bahai deepening film called “Birds of a Feather” about the functioning of an LSA. One of its messages was that an LSA functions best when its members have a diversity of skills and backgrounds, and when the tasks within the Assembly are allocated to those with the right character and skills for the job. The Assembly members were pictured as diverse birds. I think the skills and experience of a long-time NSA member would be valuable for the UHJ. In fact I think it would be a good thing if half a dozen, from different NSAs in different continents, could be elected. If you think otherwise, tell us about it and explain why.

      Comment by Sen — March 24, 2013 @ 06:06 | Reply

  4. Dear Sen,

    You indicate that while the findings of reason can be discussed, those of intuition are wordless. It seems to me that what is called for in Baha’i elections is the privileging of conscience. We have the following:

    “A believer has the right to vote for himself during the election time, if he conscientiously feels the urge to do so. This does not necessarily imply that he is ambitious or selfish. For he might conscientiously believe that his qualifications entitle him to membership in a Baha’i administrative body, and he might be right. The essential, however, is that he should be sincere in his belief, and should act according to the dictates of his conscience. Moreover, membership in an assembly or committee is a form of service, and should not be looked upon as a mark of inherent superiority or a means for self-praise.” http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/DND/dnd-256.html.utf8?query=qualifications&action=highlight#pg201

    “Regarding your questions concerning the advisability of changing the basis of the National Assembly’s election and confining it to the body of delegates or of limiting the term of office: He feels that as any such changes are of a radical nature and should therefore apply to the National Spiritual Assemblies 25 of other countries, they are inadvisable and premature, both for this reason and because of their very nature.
    “What is needed is to get the administration in its present form to run more efficiently and at the same time to build up a higher sense of the responsibility among the body of the believers. They should be encouraged to think more, not only about the qualifications of their elected bodies, but also about such things as you mention, the law of averages, the age and indisposition of some of the members, etc.
    “When we look back and see what the administration has accomplished in twenty-odd years, indeed what it has done in the last seven years, we see what strides forward have been made. Far greater tasks lie ahead, but the Guardian does not feel that the way to meet them is to change the present system but rather to perfect it by educating the believers and training them, holding more conferences, publishing more news for Bahá’ís, getting more people active.” http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/DG/dg-64.html.utf8?query=qualifications&action=highlight#gr2

    “To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority, is a flagrant violation of the spirit that animates the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. The consciousness of any division or cleavage in its ranks is alien to its very purpose, principles, and ideals. Once its members have fully recognized the claim of its Author, and, by identifying themselves with its Administrative Order, accepted unreservedly the principles and laws embodied in its teachings, every differentiation of class, creed, or color must automatically be obliterated, and never be allowed, under any pretext, and however great the pressure of events or of public opinion, to reassert itself. If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favor of the minority, be it racial or otherwise. Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth, be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, communist or capitalist, whether belonging to the Old World or the New, who either ignore, trample upon, or extirpate, the racial, religious, or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá’u’lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it. So great and vital is this principle that in such circumstances, as when an equal number of ballots have been cast in an election, or where the qualifications for any office are balanced as between the various races, faiths or nationalities within the community, priority should unhesitatingly be accorded the party representing the minority, and this for no other reason except to stimulate and encourage it, and afford it an opportunity to further the interests of the community. In the light of this principle, and bearing in mind the extreme desirability of having the minority elements participate and share responsibility 36 in the conduct of Bahá’í activity, it should be the duty of every Bahá’í community so to arrange its affairs that in cases where individuals belonging to the divers minority elements within it are already qualified and fulfill the necessary requirements, Bahá’í representative institutions, be they Assemblies, conventions, conferences, or committees, may have represented on them as many of these divers elements, racial or otherwise, as possible. The adoption of such a course, and faithful adherence to it, would not only be a source of inspiration and encouragement to those elements that are numerically small and inadequately represented, but would demonstrate to the world at large the universality and representative character of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, and the freedom of His followers from the taint of those prejudices which have already wrought such havoc in the domestic affairs, as well as the foreign relationships, of the nations.
    “Freedom from racial prejudice, in any of its forms, should, at such a time as this when an increasingly large section of the human race is falling a victim to its devastating ferocity, be adopted as the watchword of the entire body of the American believers, in whichever state they reside, in whatever circles they move, whatever their age, traditions, tastes, and habits. It should be consistently demonstrated in every phase of their activity and life, whether in the Bahá’í community or outside it, in public or in private, formally as well as informally, individually as well as in their official capacity as organized groups, committees and Assemblies. It should be deliberately cultivated through the various and everyday opportunities, no matter how insignificant, that present themselves, whether in their homes, their business offices, their schools and colleges, their social parties and recreation grounds, their Bahá’í meetings, conferences, conventions, summer schools and Assemblies. It should, above all else, become the keynote of the policy of that august body which, in its capacity as the national representative, and the director and coordinator of the affairs of the community, must set the example, and facilitate the application of such a vital principle to the lives and activities of those whose interests it safeguards and represents.” http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/ADJ/adj-2.html.utf8?query=qualifications&action=highlight#gr26

    Closely related to the qualifications of those who should be elected to Baha’i institutions, the Master wrote of the qualifications of an enlightened soul (http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/c/BWF/bwf-90.html.utf8?query=qualifications&action=highlight#gr1):

    As to the seven qualifications (of the divinely enlightened soul) of which thou hast asked an explanation, it is as follows:
    KNOWLEDGE. Man must attain the knowledge of God.
    FAITH.
    STEADFASTNESS.
    TRUTHFULNESS. Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized.
    UPRIGHTNESS. And this is one of the greatest divine attainments.
    FIDELITY. This is also a beautiful trait of the heavenly man.
    EVANESCENCE or Humility. That is to say, man must become evanescent in God. Must forget his own selfish conditions that he may thus arise to the station of sacrifice. It should be to such a degree that if he sleep, it should not be for pleasure, but to rest the body in order to do better, to speak better, to explain more beautifully, to serve the servants of God and to prove the truths. When he remains awake, he should seek to be attentive, serve the Cause of God and sacrifice his own stations for those of God. When he attains to this station, the confirmations of the Holy Spirit will surely reach him, and man with this power can withstand all who inhabit the earth.

    He also wrote of the qualifications of the learned in A Traveler’s Narrative and in much detail in The Secret of Divine Civilization:

    “Concerning the qualifications of the doctors, He saith: ‘But amongst the lawyers he who guardeth himself, observeth his religion, opposeth his lust, and obeyeth the command of his Lord—it is incumbent on the people to follow him…’ unto the end. And if the King of the age will regard this utterance, which proceeded from the tongue of the recipient of divine inspiration, he will observe that those characterized by the qualities transmitted in the aforementioned tradition are rarer than the philosopher’s stone. Therefore the claim of every person pretending to science neither hath been nor is heard.” http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/TN/tn-4.html.utf8?query=qualifications&action=highlight#gr26

    “An authoritative Tradition states: “As for him who is one of the learned: he must guard himself, defend his faith, oppose his passions and obey the commandments of his Lord. It is then the duty of the people to pattern themselves after him.” Since these illustrious and holy words embody all the conditions of learning, a brief commentary on their meaning is appropriate. Whoever is lacking in these divine qualifications and does not demonstrate these inescapable requirements in his own life, should not be referred to as learned and is not worthy to serve as a model for the believers.” http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SDC/sdc-2.html.utf8?query=qualifications&action=highlight#fr11

    The Master likewise wrote of the qualifications of a physician, which bear similarity to those of an enlightened soul:

    “For the physician the first qualifications are: Good intentions, trustworthiness, tenderness, sympathy for the sick, truthfulness, integrity, and the fear of the Lord.” http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/TAB/tab-463.html.utf8?query=qualifications&action=highlight#gr3

    In this wider context, let us consider then the passage that is most often cited regarding the qualifications of those to be elected to Baha’i administrative office:

    “It would be impossible at this stage to ignore the indispensability or to overestimate the unique significance of the institution of the National Spiritual Assembly—the pivot round which revolve the activities of the believers throughout the American continent. Supreme is their position, grave their responsibilities, manifold and arduous their duties. How great the privilege, how delicate the task of the assembled delegates whose function it is to elect such national representatives as would by their record of service ennoble and enrich the annals of the Cause! If we but turn our gaze to the high qualifications of the members of Bahá’í Assemblies, as enumerated in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets, we are filled with feelings of unworthiness and dismay, and would feel truly disheartened but for the comforting thought that if we rise to play nobly our part every deficiency in our lives will be more than compensated by the all-conquering spirit of His grace and power. Hence it is incumbent upon the chosen delegates to consider without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration, the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience. May the incoming National Spiritual Assembly—the privileged and chosen servants of the Cause—immortalize their term of stewardship by deeds of loving service, deeds that will redound to the honor, the glory and the power of the Most Great Name.” http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/BA/ba-86.html.utf8?query=qualifications&action=highlight#pg88

    What is particularly arresting about this statement is that the electors are called upon to “consider without the least trace of passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration” and this summons appears to rule out showing preference to those with those whom one personally likes or dislikes (recalling Baha’u’llah’s call “He must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth.”), those one considers to have the most worldly management experience, to be financially secure and with few or no dependents, for these are all matters of “material consideration”, If “mature experience” were to imply years of experience serving the Baha’i community in an administrative capacity, then surely the Guardian would have encouraged electors to vote for members of National Spiritual Assemblies when electing the Universal House of Justice, and for members of Local Spiritual Assemblies when electing the National Spiritual Assemblies…but he did not…and neither did ‘Abdu’l-Baha or Baha’u’llah. On the contrary, “mature experience” is whatever the elector understands about a candidate, and that experience may be demonstrated (for the elector) in any number of ways that have nothing to do with serving on Baha’i administrative institutions. If “recognized ability” were to refer to services rendered in the Baha’i community, to Ruhi tutors, to cluster coordinators, to training institute coordinators, to AABMS, to ABMs, to Counselors, then why is this not stated more forthrightly as framed within Baha’i auspices? If “recognized ability” is seen as a spiritual attribute, it can be demonstrated to the elector in many ways besides such concrete services to the Baha’i community.

    I’m glad you brought up this issue, because it is one that is generally mentioned in passing around the times of Baha’i elections, and not discussed in any detail or subjected to rigorous study. I hope that we may raise our own consciousness by regarding our present postings as just the beginning of a dialogue from which all of us may learn a great deal.

    Best, Peter

    Comment by Peter Terry — March 24, 2013 @ 15:34 | Reply

    • Thank you Peter,
      I agree with your last sentiment, and I hope the discussion will be ongoing. It is a field of study, and I hope what I’ve found will lead to further discoveries and analysis.

      Among the material you have found, I particularly like this:

      They should be encouraged to think more, not only about the qualifications of their elected bodies, but also about such things as you mention, the law of averages, the age and indisposition of some of the members, etc. (Directives from the Guardian, paragraph 64)

      One factor that might fall under “the law of averages” here is the bias towards electing incumbents. Briefly, all the institutions need new blood periodically. In relation to the Universal House of Justice, if all the delegates were to feel that 6 new members and 3 incumbents would give the right balance between continuity and renewal, and were to vote accordingly (each voting for only 3 incumbents), the effect would be that all 9 incumbents would be re-elected. This is because each delegate would give votes to 3 of the 9 incumbents, so on average the incumbents would get 1/3 of the possible votes each, while the 6 votes of each delegate for new blood, would be spread among the huge pool of non-incumbents.

      If the delegates — at national or international conventions — are aware of this arithmetic, they will also be aware that, if they do feel that the institution needs some new members, they should give all their 9 votes to people whom they consider would best fit the role of “new member.”

      Comment by Sen — March 24, 2013 @ 17:15 | Reply

  5. Thank you, Sen, for sharing these thoughts.

    I could imagine that someone selected to vote for the Universal House of Justice, perhaps for the first time, might imagine, “well, the infallible body of the Universal House of Justice selected xyz to be a member of the International Teaching Centre. Those people MUST be remarkable given that they were selected by this infallible body and therefore are among the most highly qualified candidates for being a member of the Universal House of Justice. I should strongly consider them first and foremost” That is only an imagining, of course,

    But is there a fault in that initial logic? How do you vet an entire world community? Acceptance as an ITC member is a pretty strong reference letter, isn’t it?

    I see this as yet another example of the struggle in faith communities between understanding what being faithful is and understanding what is critical thinking and finding how the two might be compatible. There is data to suggest critical thinking and faith may have difficulty cohabitating in some people. See:

    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6080/493

    B.

    Comment by Babak — March 24, 2013 @ 16:35 | Reply

    • Hi Babak,

      While one person might combine the character and skills to be both a counsellor or ABM, and to serve on an elected body, this is hardly the norm. The Faith works at its best, when people are doing the work that suits their character and skills. So we find the Guardian writing (through his secretary) that “Teachers of the Cause can surely become members of any Assembly or Committee. There should be no incapacity attached to them. But, Shoghi Effendi would just prefer to see them devote all their time to teaching and leave the administrative function for those who cannot serve as teachers. (Bahai News, October, 1932)

      So if the electors treat appointment to the ITC as a letter of reference, I think they’ve got it all wrong. The presumption should be that a person appointed to the ITC is best suited to working in the ITC, and should be left there.

      As for how the electors are to vet (survey) the entire community — that is impossible. However all the delegates at the international convention are serving members of National Spiritual Assemblies. They, and the recently retired members of NSAs, are the logical people to be considered as members of the UHJ. Moreover, those who serve as chairpersons and secretaries do have a “letter of reference” – their colleagues have found them capable. That gives quite a small pool of people. If the new UHJ was to be drawn primarily from among them, the proper relationships would be restored: the NSAs are the junior institution in relation to the UHJ, and the ITC and Counsellors are a separate and complementary body with different tasks, who need not have administrative skills or experience.

      Comment by Sen — March 24, 2013 @ 16:51 | Reply

  6. [Sen posting on behalf of Mahdad]

    As I understand it Sen makes two points. First, that the electors should go beyond the general qualification statement by the Guardian and discuss specific qualifications needed at any given time (based on the requirement of the specific time) and second that the NSA members’ qualifications, as potential candidates, match what the needs of the future House members are more so than the ITC members.

    About 4-5 years ago the NSA of US when sending out the election package to the delegates included a paper written by Arash Abizadeh (an academic in Canada) regarding the first point Sen raised. The gist off the paper, as I now recall without going back to it, is in confirmation of Sen’s point; at least I think it is. This was a surprising material in the official election package and one that I understood was approved or initiated by the House. I found it refreshing and very helpful and my hope was that it would lead to some change to the way delegates went about their responsibilities.

    The second point relates to self exclusion of a group of individuals from being considered for election to the House, namely members of ITC. I think this point is more problematic because it presupposes that the members of the ITC come to the position with no experience in the elected wing of the administration. That is often not necessarily true, although I find Sen’s expression that the ITC members should disqualify themselves (whether they could or not is another question) in line with the spirit of the House elections shown to us by the Hands, whose example is truly compelling.

    What I took from the research paper I mentioned previously and the possible reasons that the House would wish the US delegates to read it, as well as subsequent letters that have occasionally sent out by the research department prior to each Ridvan, is the desire to have the electorate be truly informed and educated about the responsibility of whom to elect, and it would not be sufficient to just read a couple of general passages from the Guardian prior to casting a vote. Much more work, including detailed consultation with others, is required.

    My last observation is that even though such detailed consultation regarding the specific qualifications may be needed by the electorate, such consultation should be limited to and kept to those who actually cast a vote otherwise we get into the corruption of the political systems we see around where self appointed pressure groups decide what qualifications should be relevant and with the help of publicizing those thoughts we are back into electioneering.

    Dear Sen, I hope I have not mangled the intent of your article.
    Regards,
    Mahdad

    Comment by Sen — March 24, 2013 @ 20:37 | Reply

  7. Interesting and thought provoking blog. Thanks.

    It seems to me that members of the ITC are mostly elected because they are known by the majority of the delegates. How can a NSA member fulfill her/his obligation to use the Guardian’s criteria for voting when she/he has no opportunity of knowing the other Baha’is well enough to ascertain that they have the prerequisite qualifications? So in all sincerity and honesty they vote for those whom they know well enough. May be in the future, with more available funds, there will be more international meetings and conferences to allow better interaction to enable potential delegates to become better informed of potential candidates character and capabilities. Frankly, under the current situation I feel more comfortable with an ITC member being elected to the UHJ than some NSA member who might look good to the other delegates without being proven.

    Comment by Rabrish — April 3, 2013 @ 16:55 | Reply

    • An NSA member who has served for some time and has been chosen as chairperson or secretary by his colleagues is “proven”, in administrative affairs, in a way that a Counsellor is not, for a good counsellor does not not necessarily make a good Assembly member, or vice versa. Nor is it hard for delegates to get to know these people to some extent, since most of the NSA members (but not recently retired members who should also be considered) attend the weeek-long international convention, and voters are only looking at the male NSA members. That means about 100 to 200 of the male delegates can be said to have prima facie proven themselves in the administrative sphere. I do not mean to say that only those 100 or 200 are papabile, because there are for example counsellors who have experience on an NSA but are not delegates, and there are recently retired NSA members, but the pool is not huge. Moroever it is not simply a question of finding the “best” person, in an abstract sense. As they do when voting for local and national Assemblies, delegates at a Bahai convention also have to consider, and discuss without reference to personalities, the needs of the day, as these affect the desirable make-up of the institution. Is it desirable to have some younger members? to have someone from Africa? from South America? someone who is internet-savvy (at least in the US, internet teaching accounts for a large share of enquiries and enrollments, and internet communications account for a large share of the problems!). In fact, according to Shoghi Effendi, it is not only the delegates who are supposed to discuss “the requirements and qualifications for such a membership.” The delegates can hear what other people think is needed, by way of getting a balance in the membership, emphasising particular themes and providing the House with particular skills and backgrounds to draw on, then they can make their individual decisions. My input, for what it is worth, is that what we need most is a House of Justice with members who have long and fruitful experience on a National Spiritual Assembly. Second to that, it would be nice if there was a South American, a North American, an African, an Indian and an Iranian who has been living in Iran itself — if such a thing is possible. These I think are the areas of either critical growth, or critical problems.

      Comment by Sen — April 3, 2013 @ 18:44 | Reply

  8. Thank you for this blog..

    In my opinion, I don’t think electors should automatically limit themselves to any group – NSA’s members or ITC or any other – but only focus on the qualities specified by Shoghi Effendi for membership on institutions. Of course, experience on other such bodies may, or may not, assist in one’s assessment of “mature experience” or “recognized ability” but should only be used insofar as it may relate to their knowledge and reflection on the character and capabilities defined by the Guardian.

    I imagine that that as time goes by a wider pool of believers will be known and considered as suitable for election to all levels of elected bodies. As in most things, we are not fully mature in the process at this time. At present it is a difficult task for electors at the international convention (NSA members) to know a wide number of believers who have distinguished themselves in a way suitable for membership on the House of Justice, simply because there is not a great amount of activity in the international arena for such knowledge to exist. That is likely why members of the International Teaching Centre have in recent years been so often considered by the electors. But in the past others were elected, including many officers of National Assemblies during the 60’s to 80’s and, of course, male members of the Guardian-appointed International Baha’i Council in the first election in 1963.

    I think that in the future more institutions and agencies will evolve on an international level and there will be a wider knowledge of suitable individuals available to electors. It is knowledge that is important here, because the international elections are very challenging without it. The spiritual nature of Baha’i elections has removed many of the components that have traditionally been used to inform electors – nomination, candidature, canvassing, electioneering, etc – and calls for a body which assembles only a few days once every five years, coming from virtually every country on the planet, prohibits any reference to personalities, and asks them to participate in what is described as an act of devotion, with emphasis as much, if not more, on the rarefied “atmosphere” in addition the mechanics and procedure. It is a wonder how the system works as it does, but it is divinely inspired, curently in its infancy, which will surely mature. Intelligent reflections as are on this blog can surely assist in such ongoing maturity.

    How to increase the knowledge of suitable individuals for election to Baha’i office should, in my opinion, be more of our reflection, rather than merely endorsing one particularly arena of experience over another. As the House of Justice wrote: “Inevitably, in any form of election, worthy individuals fail to be elected simply because they are not widely known. This is true in the system that uses nominations and electioneering as it will be in the Bahá’í system….The purpose is that those who are elected to an Assembly should be the most worthy for this service; this does not and cannot mean that all those who are worthy will be elected…..It is expected that in the future .. there will be very large numbers of individuals who have the qualities which make them fit for service on Spiritual Assemblies. Of these only a few can be elected at any one time. It is also expected that, through training and experience in the process and spirit of Bahá’í elections, the members of the electorate will have raised their consciousness of their responsibility to vote for only those who satisfy the requirements that the Guardian has outlined. They will, therefore, see it as their continuing duty to familiarize themselves with the character and abilities of those who are active in the community so that, when the time for an election comes, they will already have some idea of the people from among whom they must make their choice.” (16 November 1988 to the International Teaching Centre)

    On a different note, in the above blog – which I found to be very thoughtful – there is reference to a passage in World Order of Baha’u’llah about “two inseparable institutions” which seems to imply that it refers to the “rulers and learned,” or what we sometimes call the elected and appointed, (Assemblies on the one hand and Counsellors and Board Members on the other). The assumption is, therefore, that since the ITC is on the other side, and the quotation states that “each operates within a clearly defined sphere of jurisdiction,” that it would therefore be appropriate to exclude ITC members from consideration on the House of Justice in the same manner as Counsellors are for National Assemblies. This might well be true if the quotation was in fact referring to the Counsellors as distinct from elected institutions. However, the references cited refers to the institutions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice. And since we know that had it been possible to continue the institution of the Guardianship, he would have been a member of the Universal House of Justice, it is also clear that his “defined sphere of jurisdiction” would not have precluded his service the House of Justice.

    Comment by Stephen — April 19, 2013 @ 08:23 | Reply


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