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It’s election season again, which always generates both discussion and confusion about what Bahá’ís can and can’t do, so I thought I’d delve into the Bahá’í Writings to help find some answers.

Why Would We Want to Get Involved in Politics?

We’re desperately searching for solutions to social and economic problems:

The desperate search for solutions to the social and economic problems afflicting these countries is tempting people, in increasing numbers, to indulge in partisan political activities; the indigenous Bahá’ís should refuse to be drawn into such divisive pursuits.  (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 153, 1996 – Australia, the Cook Islands…)

We think we can somehow aid our fellows better by some activity outside the Faith:

It is often through our misguided feeling that we can somehow aid our fellows better by some activity outside the Faith, that Bahá’ís are led to indulge in politics. This is a dangerous delusion. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 31-32)

What is the Bahá’í standard?

Conversation:

We can’t speak a word of politics:

O handmaid of the Lord! Speak thou no word of politics.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 92-93)

We can’t assign blame, take side, further designs, or identify ourselves with any system prejudicial to the best interests of the world:

In such controversies they should assign no blame, take no side, further no design, and identify themselves with no system prejudicial to the best interests of that world-wide-Fellowship which it is their aim to guard and foster. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)

We can’t either side with or denounce any political figures:

The Guardian wishes me to draw the attention of the friends through you that they should be very careful in their public utterances not to mention any political figures-either side with them of denounce them. This is the first fact to bear in mind. Otherwise they will involve the friends in political matters, which is infinitely dangerous for the Cause.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 441)

We can’t express support or opposition for a candidate during an election:

During an election season, however, an incumbent is often an electoral candidate and neither support nor opposition should be expressed for the candidacy.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)

We can’t be drawn into what might become divisive debates on governmental policies:

As many of you are aware from media reports, on Friday 7 September the Government of Canada announced that it had closed its Embassy in Tehran and declared all Iranian diplomats in Canada personae non gratae, requiring that they leave the country within five days. The National Spiritual Assembly seeks your assistance in advising the Bahá’í community that Bahá’í institutions have no comment to make on the government’s decision, which concerns relations between states.  It will also be helpful to remind the friends to scrupulously avoid being drawn into what may become divisive debates surrounding this issue, recalling the guidance of the beloved Guardian: “Let them (the Bahá’ís) refrain from associating themselves, whether by word or by deed, with the political pursuits of their respective nations, with the policies of their governments and the schemes and programs of parties and factions.”  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, To all Local Spiritual Assemblies, 11 September 2012)

Political Involvement:

We can’t associate with the political pursuits of our countries, with the politics of their governments and the schemes and programs of parties and factions:

Let them refrain from associating themselves, whether by word or by deed, with the political pursuits of their prospective nations, with the politics of their governments and the schemes and programs of parties and factions. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)

We can’t actively support an individual who has announced his candidacy for political office:

Active support of an individual who has announced his candidacy for political office is not permissible to Baháís. (Universal House of Justice, May 25, 1992)

We can’t express support for one political candidate over another:

Bahá’u’lláh has written that “He Who is your Lord, the All-Merciful, cherisheth in His heart the desire of beholding the entire human race as one soul and one body.”; The mere self-characterization of candidates as opponents of one another is inconsistent with this approach, let alone the much more censurable practices now taken for granted in political campaigns. Thus, it is clear that a Bahá’í would not express support for one political candidate over another.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)

We can’t provide written and oral endorsements, praise or criticize a candidate or post a candidate’s photo on a social media site:

Written and oral endorsements, together with praise or criticism of a candidate, would fall into this category. Nor would he or she take actions that could be easily interpreted, during the electoral season, as support for one candidate over another, such as the posting of a candidate’s photo on a social media site. The National Assembly is confident that the friends will take this guidance to heart, given the following standard set by Shoghi Effendi: “Absolute impartiality in the matter of political parties should be shown by words and by deeds.” (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)

We can’t seek political power; accept governmental political posts; affiliate themselves with political parties; become entangled in partisan issues, or participate in programmes tied to the divisive agendas of any group or faction:

Bahá’ís do not seek political power. They will not accept political posts in their respective governments, whatever the particular system in place, though they will take up positions which they deem to be purely administrative in nature. They will not affiliate themselves with political parties, become entangled in partisan issues, or participate in programmes tied to the divisive agendas of any group or faction.  (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)

We can’t allow ourselves to become the tools of unscrupulous politicians:

Let them beware lest they allow themselves to become the tools of unscrupulous politicians, or to be entrapped by the treacherous devices of the plotters and the perfidious among their countrymen. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)

We can’t be party to any instigation to overthrow a government or interfere in political relations between the governments of different nations:

Bahá’ís will not be party to any instigation to overthrow a government. Nor will they interfere in political relations between the governments of different nations.  This does not mean that they are naive about political processes in the world today and make no distinction between just and tyrannical rule.  (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)

What Can We Do?

Voting:

We can vote in civil elections, as long as we do not have to identify ourselves with any party in order to do so:

Bahá’ís vote in civil elections, as long as they do not have to identify themselves with any party in order to do so. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)

We can keep the candidate who we vote for strictly confidential:

The candidate for whom a Bahá’í votes remains a strictly private matter.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)

We can vote for those who believe in God:

Also from the Suriy-i-Muluk: “Know thou for a certainty that whoso disbelieveth in God is neither trustworthy nor truthful. This, indeed, is the truth, the undoubted truth. He that acteth treacherously towards God will, also, act treacherously towards his king. Nothing whatever can deter such a man from evil, nothing can hinder him from betraying his neighbour, nothing can induce him to walk uprightly.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Baha’u’llah v 2, p. 313)

Jobs:

We can take up positions which are purely administrative in nature:

. . . they will take up positions which they deem to be purely administrative in nature. (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)

We can distinguish between such posts and functions as are either diplomatic or political from those that are purely administrative and which under no circumstances are affected by the changes and chances of political activities and party governments:

It is their duty to strive to distinguish, as clearly as they possibly can, and if needed with the aid of their elected representative, such posts and functions as are either diplomatic or political from those that are purely administrative in character, and which under no circumstances are affected by the changes and chances that political activities and party government, in every land, must necessarily involve. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)

Conversation:

We can speak well of politicians:

Except to speak well of them, make thou no mention of the earth’s kings, and the worldly governments thereof.   (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 92-93)

We can respect those, particularly women, who choose to pursue political aspirations or to engage in political activity:

At the same time, Bahá’ís respect those who, out of a sincere desire to serve their countries, choose to pursue political aspirations or to engage in political activity.  (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)

So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease… (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 135)

We can rise above all particularism and partisanship, vain disputes, petty calculations and transient passions:

Let them rise above all particularism and partisanship, above the vain disputes, the petty calculations, transient passions that agitate the face, and engage the intention, of a challenging world. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)

We can engage in public discourse on issues of general concern to society, based on Bahá’í principles such as global climate change, race unity, the advancement of women, global prosperity etc.

Notwithstanding the guidance above, the friends are encouraged to engage in public discourse on issues of general concern to society, many of which are also addressed by political candidates. Our contributions should be based on Bahá’í principles rather than partisan viewpoints. Material related to issues as varied as global climate change, race unity, the advancement of women, and global prosperity, produced under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice and various National Spiritual Assemblies, is readily available to assist the friends in such discussions.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)

We can spread the blissful tidings of the Kingdom of God; demonstrate the influence of the Word of God; tell of abiding joy, spiritual delights and godlike qualities; and of f the blowing of the spirit of life into the body of the world:

Rather, confine thine utterance to spreading the blissful tidings of the Kingdom of God, and demonstrating the influence of the Word of God, and the holiness of the Cause of God. Tell thou of abiding joy and spiritual delights, and godlike qualities, and of how the Sun of Truth hath risen above the earth’s horizons: tell of the blowing of the spirit of life into the body of the world.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 92-93)

Bahá’í Involvement:

We can acquire a more profound insight into the nature of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, which offers a pattern for a future society:

[We] should strive to acquire a more profound insight into the nature of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, which offers a pattern for a future society distinguished by justice and unity, far removed from the contention of competing political interests.  (The Universal House of Justice, Ridván 153, 1996 – Australia, the Cook Islands…)

We can stand firmly and unreservedly for the way of Bahá’u’lláh:

Let them affirm their unyielding determination to stand, firmly and unreservedly, for the way of Bahá’u’lláh, to avoid the entanglements and bickerings inseparable from the pursuits of the politician, and to become worthy agencies of that divine policy which incarnates God’s immutable Purpose for all men.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)

We can pray and be well-wishers of elected governmental officials:

Bahá’ís are the “well-wishers” of the [elected governmental office holders], praying that they may be guided to take action for the betterment of society; but believers must be strictly neutral in connection with [electoral candidates]. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, To the American Bahá’í community, September 14, 2012)

We can sacrifice our political pursuits and affiliations and wholeheartedly and fully support the divine system of Bahá’u’lláh:

The world situation is so confused and moral issues which were once clear have become so mixed up with selfish and battling factions, that the best way Bahá’ís can serve the highest interests of their country and the cause of true salvation for the world, is to sacrifice their political pursuits and affiliations and wholeheartedly and fully support the divine system of Bahá’u’lláh.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 444)

We can shape our lives and regulate our conduct so that no charge secrecy, fraud, bribery or intimidation may be brought against us:

Let them so shape their lives and regulate their conduct that no charge secrecy, of fraud, of bribery or of intimidation may, however ill-founded, be brought against them. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 448)

We can build up our Bahá’í system, and leave the faulty systems of the world to go their own way:

We must build up our Bahá’í system, and leave the faulty systems of the world to go their own way. We cannot change them through becoming involved in them; on the contrary they will destroy us.  (Shoghi Effendi, Wellspring of Guidance, p. 134-135)

 Why Don’t We Get Involved?

The Bahá’í goal of establishing the unity of humankind includes our support for the organization of the countries of the world in a global federal system and requires a re-orientation of how each element of society views and interacts with each other:

In contrast, the Bahá’í goal of establishing the unity of humankind includes not only our support for the eventual organization of the countries of the world in a global federal system, but requires a re-orientation of how each element of society; individuals, families, civic organizations, towns, racial and ethnic groups, classes, and nations; views and interacts with all other elements of society.  (NSA-USA, to the American Bahá’í Community, September 14, 2012)

Non-involvement in politics is not intended as a statement expressing some fundamental objection to politics in its true sense; indeed we understand that humanity organizes itself through its political affairs:

The approach adopted by the Bahá’í community of non-involvement in such activity is not intended as a statement expressing some fundamental objection to politics in its true sense; indeed, humanity organizes itself through its political affairs.  (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)

We view government as a system for maintaining the welfare and orderly progress of a society, and we observe the laws of the land in which we reside:

In this connection, they view government as a system for maintaining the welfare and orderly progress of a society, and they undertake, one and all, to observe the laws of the land in which they reside, without allowing their inner religious beliefs to be violated.  (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)

Society is disintegrating so rapidly that moral issues, which were clear a half century ago, are now hopelessly confused and mixed up with battling political interests:

What we Bahá’ís must face is the fact that society is disintegrating so rapidly that moral issues which were clear a half century ago are now hopelessly confused and, what is more, thoroughly mixed up with battling political interests. That is why Bahá’ís must turn all their forces into the channel of building up the Bahá’í Cause and its administration. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 31-32)

The divisive nature of politics runs counter to the belief that unity is essential to the progress of civilization:

The divisive nature of politics runs counter to the fundamental Bahá’í belief that unity is essential to the progress of civilization. (NSA-USA, to the American Bahá’í Community, September 14, 2012)

The near paralysis of elected governments bears witness to the enervating effects of partisanship:

The near paralysis of elected governments today, not just at the national level, but with growing frequency at the state and local levels, bears witness to the enervating effects of partisanship. (NSA-USA, to the American Bahá’í Community, September 14, 2012)

We can’t seek to establish patterns of thought and action that give expression to the principle of oneness yet engage in activities which reinforce an entirely different set of assumptions about social existence:

Within the framework traced out by the above ideas, then, it is possible to consider the second dimension of the Bahá’í community’s efforts to contribute to the advancement of civilization: its involvement in society at large. Clearly what Bahá’ís see as one aspect of their contribution cannot contradict the other. They cannot be seeking to establish patterns of thought and action that give expression to the principle of oneness within their community, yet engage in activities in another context which, to whatever extent, reinforce an entirely different set of assumptions about social existence.  (Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá’ís of Iran, 2 March 2013)

Promoting someone’s candidacy over that of other competitors is an act of partisanship, which is inimical to the principles of the Faith:

Even if the person is not attached to a political party, the very fact of promoting his candidacy over that of other competitors is an act of partisanship, which is inimical to the principles of the Faith.  (Universal House of Justice, May 25, 1992)

The political realm pertains only to the Rulers of those matters: it has nothing to do with the souls who are exerting their utmost energy to harmonizing affairs, helping character and inciting (the people) to strive for perfections:

If any person wishes to speak of government affairs, or to interfere with the order of Governors, the others must not combine with him because the Cause of God is withdrawn entirely from political affairs; the political realm pertains only to the Rulers of those matters: it has nothing to do with the souls who are exerting their utmost energy to harmonizing affairs, helping character and inciting (the people) to strive for perfections. Therefore no soul is allowed to interfere with (political) matters, but only in that which is commanded.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 407)

Our task concerns the life of the soul, for this leads to our joy in the world:

Thy task concerneth the life of the soul, for this verily leadeth to man’s joy in the world of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 92-93)

The Bahá’ís would find themselves arousing antagonism instead of love

If the institutions of the Faith, God forbid, became involved in politics, the Bahá’ís would find themselves arousing antagonism instead of love. If they took one stand in one country, they would be bound to change the views of the people in other countries about the aims and purposes of the Faith.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 444)

If we build up the Bahá’í pattern, we can offer it as a remedy when all else has failed:

They can neither change nor help the world in any other way at present. If they become involved in the issues the governments of the world are struggling over, they will be lost. But if they build up the Bahá’í pattern they can offer it as a remedy when all else has failed.  (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 31-32)

We cannot change them through becoming involved in them; on the contrary, they will destroy us:

We must build up our Bahá’í system, and leave the faulty systems of the world to go their way. We cannot change them through becoming involved in them; on the contrary, they will destroy us.  (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 31-32)

Instead of changing the world or helping it, we would become lost and destroyed:

By becoming involved in political disputes, the Bahá’ís instead of changing the world or helping it, would themselves be lost and destroyed.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 444)

How has this helped you understand what we can and cannot do; and why?  Post your comments below!