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When the Institutions as “Loving Parents” Aren’t So Loving

Many people find comfort and assistance from spiritual leaders and faith communities during times of grief, loss or trauma.  In fact, many people have a history of turning to their clergy for support before they turn to mental health professionals.  In a Faith without clergy, many people have turned to the Baha’i Institutions for assistance and guidance.

Often people turn to the institutions looking for “loving parents”; expecting to find a safe environment and finding only more trauma.  This might happen when Assemblies (or individuals serving on them):

  • don’t respond when asked
  • progress is slow or appears to be blocked
  • aren’t understanding, encouraging or loving
  • need to grow and change themselves

Your letters have been read with great sympathy by the House of Justice. You have written eloquently about the pain and isolation felt by yourself and other believers, particularly women, when faced with a lack of response from those very Assemblies which Bahá’u’lláh has asked us to consider as loving parents. From such bodies, one longs for understanding and, beyond that, for encouragement and love. When we feel that this is missing, our own reactions may include feelings of disillusionment and alienation. In addition, there are other issues which arise within our communities which cannot be dealt with through a decision per se but which require, for their resolution, growth and changes of attitude on the part of the friends. When progress is slow or appears to be blocked, we may feel the urge to distance ourselves from the friends and the institutions, and despite our best intentions we may find ourselves almost involuntarily withdrawing into non-responsive, non-encouraging modes of our own. (Universal House of Justice, 25 October, 1994)

This can be very painful, especially if our own parents exhibited the same behaviours.

For more information on how to be a loving parent, please see:

The Role of Parents in Training Us to Be Obedient

At the same time, it can also be very healing for both sides.

As you know, there can be many reasons for Assemblies not to respond to the believers. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it is because the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth. Such a process can lead to tremendous development on both the individual and the collective levels. Sometimes we can facilitate this process of spiritual growth for individuals, and of maturation for Local and National Assemblies, by viewing these situations not as a problem but as opportunities for development. Taking part in this process should be a source of joy to us since we are, in effect, helping to build the kingdom of God on Earth. Nevertheless, patience is needed, particularly when it involves a subject that is close to our hearts, and when it seems that progress on the matter is lagging or has ceased entirely. We must maintain our confidence that the divinely ordained administrative system given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, and the inspiration of the Creative Word, will enable us to rise to these challenges.
(Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

Even so, this is never a justification for failing to help those experiencing abuse; or calling to account the person who is perpetrating it:

Recognizing that suffering may be the cause of spiritual development is never a justification for inflicting or ignoring abuse, failing to assist those who are suffering abuse, or failing to call to account one who is perpetrating abuse. But for those who have suffered abuse and are struggling to rebuild unity, to heal or transform themselves and their relationships, or to continue on in the face of intractable difficulties, it may be a source of courage and solace to know that such trials provide the opportunity for spiritual progress. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 134)

Those who are suffering at the hands of the oppressors are looking to our Baha’i communities for spiritual solutions and striving to understand and apply these solutions in their own lives.  They need the help of the Institutions.

Overcoming domestic violence is one of the urgent needs of this age and the suffering resulting from it may become the cause of seeking spiritual solutions to the problems of society and of striving with heart and soul to understand and apply those solutions to prevent further suffering. The hard-won wisdom such suffering and searching bring to the development of individuals, families communities, and institutions may be one of the most precious fruits of the mystery of suffering, inspiring and motivating the struggle towards creating healthier families for a happier and more peaceful world. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 135)

It’s important to understand why people experiencing trauma don’t want to take their problems to an Assembly.  It can be for a number of reasons, including: 

  • they may be embarrassed as it will indicate that they have been violated as a human being
  • they see things differently and may feel them more acutely
  • the human need for love and acceptance and the fear they will not get it
  • they feel it might bring shame to their families
  • they are frightened if they do, domestic violence will be even more severe
  • they may feel that the Assembly is not competent in dealing with these problems
  • the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth
  • the imperfec­tions of fellow-Bahá’ís can be a great trial to them
  • the remarks made by the Bahá’ís have hurt or depressed them
  • some Bahá’ís have been insensitive and unsupportive
  • some of the friends demonstrate immaturity
  • some Baha’is have said that you should seek to transcend psychological problems
  • they want to avoid the possible unhappiness or censure of family and friends that may result from carrying out decisions of the Assembly, particularly when issues of confidentiality limit or prohibit explanations
  • abusive practices are still being justified in the context of cultural norms and religious beliefs
  • one of the parties to the conflict is serving on the Local Spiritual Assembly

Often with cases of domestic violence, individuals do not take their problems to the Assembly for a number of reasons. They may be embarrassed to do so as it will indicate that they have been violated as a human being; they feel it might bring shame to their families; they are frightened if they do, domestic violence will be even more severe; or they may feel that the Assembly is not competent in dealing with this problem of theirs. There may be other reasons . . . Such a situation may arise if, for example, one of the parties to the conflict is serving on the Local Spiritual Assembly.  (Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia, dated April 12, 1990)

Strong ties often exist between members of the Bahá’í community that may make it very difficult to carry out decisions of the Assembly that may hurt, anger, or disappoint family or friends. It is understandable to want to avoid the possible unhappiness or censure of family and friends that may result from carrying out decisions of the Assembly, particularly when issues of confidentiality limit or prohibit explanations about such decisions.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 103)

Abusive practices against women have frequently been and are still being justified in the context of cultural norms, religious beliefs and unfounded “scientific theories” and assumptions. (Bahá’í International Community, Ending Violence Against Women, Statement to 51st session of UN Commission on Human Rights, March 1995)

The human need for love and acceptance often prevents victims from speaking out or even admitting that the abuse is taking place.  (Baha’i International Community, 1994 May 26, Creating Violence-Free Families)

As you know, there can be many reasons for Assemblies not to respond to the believers. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it is because the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

He was very sorry to hear that you have had so many tests in your Bahá’í life. There is no doubt that many of them are due to our own nature. In other words, if we are very sensitive, or if we are in some way brought up in a different environment from the Bahá’ís amongst whom we live, we naturally see things differently and may feel them more acutely; and the other side of it is that the imperfec­tions of our fellow-Bahá’ís can be a great trial to us.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 604)

You should not allow the remarks made by the Bahá’ís to hurt or depress you, but should forget the personalities, and arise to do all you can, yourself, to teach the Faith.  (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 462)

Concerning the attitude of some Bahá’ís, who seem at times to be insensitive and unsupportive, all we can do is to try to follow the patient example of the Master, bearing in mind that each believer is but one of the servants of the Almighty who must strive to learn and grow . . . Understanding this, and that the believers are encouraged to be loving and patient with one another, it will be clear that you too are called upon to exercise patience with the friends who demonstrate immaturity, and to have faith that the power of the Word of God will gradually effect a transformation in individual believers and in the Bahá’í community as a whole.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Advice given by well-meaning believers to the effect that you should seek to transcend psychological problems does not qualify as competent advice on what is essentially a medical issue.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

Sometimes it can be hard for an Assembly to understand why a seemingly healthy adult can “over-react” to someone’s tone of voice or lack of respect.  They may be vulnerable because of their life tests or past experiences.

Those who come from troubled backgrounds need our love and patience:

Great love and patience are needed towards new believers, especially those who have come from very troubled backgrounds.  (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 499)

It can be very difficult to participate in consultation when someone fears their ideas will be censured and/or their views belittled.

It (consultation) requires all participants to express their opinions with absolute freedom and without apprehension that they will be censured and/or their views belittled; these prerequisites for success are unattainable if the fear of violence  or abuse is present.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)

It’s at these times when we should not allow any acts of real or perceived tyranny to visit them:

The friends of God must be adorned with the ornament of justice, equity, kindness and love. As they do not allow themselves to be the object of cruelty and transgression, in like manner they should not allow such tyranny to visit the handmaidens of God. He, verily, speaketh the truth and commandeth that which benefitteth His servants and handmaidens.  (Baha’u’llah, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 379)

We should intervene on their behalf when conflict becomes heated:

…exert their efforts so that no differences may occur, and if such differences do occur, they should not reach the point of causing conflict, hatred and antagonism, which lead to threats. When you notice that a stage has been reached when enmity and threats are about to occur, you should immediately postpone discussion of the subject, until wrangling, disputations, and loud talk vanish, and a propitious time is at hand.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Consultation, p.98)

The important issue is always emotional safety and containment. If people push themselves too hard or too fast to do things outside their comfort zone, so that they become unsafe, it’s important to let them slow down, pull back, and respect their limitations.

Remember, these are psychological injuries and as such the healing process should be careful, protected and gradual. The last thing the psychologically injured person needs is more injury, particularly from the Institutions it turns to for support.

For more information, please see:

Understanding our Tests at the Hands of Other Baha’is

Appealing a Decision 

Everyone has the right to appeal:

If a believer feels that a serious injustice is being committed he has the right to appeal to the Universal House of Justice:

This (appeal) process is explained in Article XVIII of the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 63)

Mr. . . .  explained that it was felt that there is a seeming contradiction between the right of appeal to the Universal House of Justice and the right of a National Spiritual Assembly to make `final’ decisions on certain matters as stated in the National Bahá’í Constitution.  The House of Justice instructs us to explain that wherever `final’ jurisdiction is given to the Local or National Spiritual Assembly in its constitution there is a balancing provision.  For example: “Article IV of the Local Assembly By-Laws states:  ‘while retaining the sacred right of final decision in all matters pertaining to the Bahá’í community, the Spiritual Assembly shall ever seek the advice and consultation of all members of the community, keep the community informed of all its affairs, and invite full and free discussion on the part of the community in all matters affecting the Faith.’  Yet, Article III of those same Local By-Laws states:  ‘The Spiritual Assembly, however, shall recognize the authority and right of the National Spiritual Assembly to declare at any time what activities and affairs of the Bahá’í community of . . . are national in scope and hence subject to the jurisdiction of the National Assembly.’  And in Article II is stated:  “. . . the Spiritual Assembly shall act in conformity with the functions of a Local Spiritual Assembly as defined in the By-Laws adopted by the National Spiritual Assembly . . .”  With respect to those articles that accord final jurisdiction to the National Spiritual Assembly, there is the overriding provision of Article IX of the National By-Laws:  ‘Where the National Spiritual Assembly has been given in these By-Laws exclusive and final jurisdiction, and paramount executive authority, in all matters pertaining to the activities and affairs of the Bahá’í Cause in . . . , it is understood that any decision made or action taken upon such matters shall be subject in every instance to ultimate review and approval by the Universal House of Justice.’   It is clear, therefore, that the word ‘final’ is not used in an absolute sense.  It is, rather, an indication of the principle enunciated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that the believers should whole-heartedly and loyally support their Assemblies and abide by their decisions, even if they see them to be in error.  At the same time, the Assemblies have the duty to lovingly and frankly consult with those who are under their jurisdiction and, if a believer (or Local Assembly) feels that a serious injustice is being committed or the interests of the Faith are being adversely affected, he has the right of appeal.  When an appeal is made, the Assembly whose decision is being questioned should lovingly collaborate in the process and join with the appellant in submitting all relevant information to the higher body for decision.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, pp. 65-66) 

Your request for referral to the Universal House of Justice cannot be refused, nor should the referral be unduly delayed:

At the same time, if an appeal is turned down by the National Spiritual Assembly, the appellant’s request for referral to the Universal House of Justice cannot be refused, nor should the referral be unduly delayed.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 63)

This appeal is not a bother:

Be sure that your letter was not a bother to us.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 201)

If you feel that any communication is unclear, or if you have reason to feel that the information supplied to the Universal House of Justice was incomplete or erroneous, or if you note that conditions have changed since the question was posed, you may always write again and raise the issue for clarification.  (The Universal House of Justice to a Regional Spiritual Assembly dated 26 May 1993)

Before appealing, we must wholeheartedly obey the orders of the National Assembly:

When the local Assembly has given its decision in the matter, you then have the right of appeal, if you wish, to the National Spiritual Assembly for further consideration of your case. But before taking such an action it is your duty as a loyal and steadfast believer to whole-heartedly and unreservedly accept the National Spiritual Assembly’s request to enter into joint conference with your Local Assembly. You should have confidence that in obeying the orders of your National Assembly you will not only succeed in solving your own personal problems with the friends, but will in addition set a noble example before them.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 62)

The Bahá’ís are fully entitled to address criticisms to their Assemblies; they can freely air their views about policies or individual members of elected bodies to the Assembly, Local or National, but then they must wholeheartedly accept the advice or decision of the Assembly, according to the principles already laid down for such matters in Bahá’í administration).  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 81)

If you appeal, you remain without your rights while the appeal is being assessed:

If a believer advises you of an appeal to the Universal House of Justice against your decision to withdraw his voting rights, he remains without these rights while the merit of his appeal is being assessed by the House of Justice.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

You can also consult with the Counsellors:

When you have doubts and concerns about your own plans, confide in the Counsellors; when something they do causes you worry, talk to them in the proper spirit of Bahá’í consultation. Remember that they, like yourselves, are burdened with the work of the Cause and are beset with many concerns in its service, and they need your sympathetic understanding of the challenges they face. Open your hearts and your minds to them; regard them as your confidants, your loving friends. And be ever ready to extend to them your hand in support.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)

No one has the right to harass the Assembly in the hope or belief that it will change its decision:

Sometimes a believer will refuse to accept the decision of an Assembly and will repeatedly raise the same issue, consuming an inordinate amount of the Assembly’s time. Although every believer has the right to appeal a decision of the Assembly, none have the right to harass the Assembly in the hope or belief that it will change its decision to suit the individual’s viewpoint. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

How has this helped you understand this issue better?  What’s been your experiences?  Post your comments below.

Meeting with an Assembly

 

A believer is free to consult with the Assembly at any time, for any reason. Depending on the reason for the meeting and past experience with authority figures, this may be somewhat frightening. In order to help understand what to expect, let’s look at what the Writings say such a meeting should look like, both for Assembly members and for those meeting with them.

Calling the Meeting:

If a believer wishes to bring a matter to the Assembly’s attention he should do so explicitly and officially:

If a believer wishes to bring a matter to the Assembly’s attention he should do so explicitly and officially. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
The Assembly’s responsibility is to teach, not to lose time in settling disputes between Bahá’ís:

It is the sacred duty of the believers to teach, and one of the reasons for so painstakingly building up Assemblies is for them to promulgate the Cause of God, and not to lose their time in discussing details, settling disputes which should not have arisen between Bahá’ís, and generally losing themselves in personalities. (Shoghi Effendi, Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand, p.69)

One party may truly need the Assembly’s help in dealing with the other:

Assemblies should also keep in mind that although both parties in a dispute may be at fault, they are often not equally so and that one party may truly need the Assembly’s help in dealing with the other. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

Before the Meeting:

Before each meeting, the Assembly should agree on the purpose of the consultation, assemble the facts, and decide the questions and points to be discussed:

In advance of each meeting, the Assembly should agree on the purpose of the consultation, should assemble the facts, and decide the questions and points to be discussed or clarified during the meeting. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
We can’t assume that because a matter is known to individual members of the Assembly it is therefore before the Assembly itself:

. . . It should be clear to the believers that they are not justified in assuming that because a matter is known to individual members of the Assembly it is therefore before the Assembly itself. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

The Assembly can appoint someone to mediate:

The Assembly may wish to appoint a representative or representatives to mediate until the dispute is resolved or it becomes clear that resolution will not be forthcoming through consultation. If, after reasonable efforts to assist the parties, the dispute remains unsettled, the Assembly may withdraw in favor of civil proceedings or seek advice from the National Spiritual Assembly about how to proceed. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

There may be times when it’s preferable to assign counselling or advisory duties to individuals or committees:

Although Local Spiritual Assemblies are primarily responsible for counseling believers regarding personal problems, there may be times, when in the judgment of the National or Local Assembly, it would be preferable to assign counseling or advisory duties to individuals or committees. This is within the discretion of the Assembly. (Universal House of Justice, Consultation: A Compilation, p. 21)

Assemblies can invite experts to attend their meetings and explain their views, but they have no right to vote:

Concerning the attendance of certain individuals at the meeting of the Assemblies and at the invitation of that body. This, Shoghi Effendi considers to be as expert advice which is absolutely necessary for good administration. The members of the Assembly are not supposed to know everything on every subject, so they can invite persons, versed in that question, to attend their meetings and explain his views. But naturally he will have no right to vote. (Shoghi Effendi, Consultation: A Compilation, pp. 13-14)

During the Meeting:

Efforts should be made to help the person feel comfortable in the presence of the Assembly:

Interviews should be conducted with loving-kindness and tact, and efforts should be made to help the person being interviewed feel comfortable in the presence of the Assembly or its representatives. The Assembly members should be careful not to share their personal opinions during the interview. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Interpreters may be used when a member of an Assembly is unable to communicate with other members:

The House of Justice has instructed us to say that in cases where a member of an Assembly is unable to communicate with other members of that Assembly where a different language is employed, there is no objection to having an interpreter present at their meetings. However, the Local Assembly itself should approve the selection of the interpreter. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

During consultation with individual believers, the Assembly should observe the following principles: The impartiality of each of its members with respect to all matters under discussion; the freedom of the individual to express his/her views, feelings and recommendations; the confidential character of the consultation:

● The impartiality of each of its members with respect to all matters under discussion
● The freedom of the individual to express his/her views, feelings and recommendations
● The confidential character of the consultation (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

The Assembly ascertains the facts with the wholehearted cooperation of all concerned:

When an allegation is made that a believer has violated Bahá’í law, irrespective of the consequence in civil law, the process of investigation calls for a diligent and persistent effort by the Assembly to ascertain the facts, and for wholehearted cooperation of all concerned in the search for truth. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

It’s important for them to investigate or verify issues in order for truth to be discovered and understood.

.. . if there be no investigation or verification of questions and matters, the agreeable view will not be discovered neither understood. (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 406)

Suggest that they examine their own roles and assumptions and check the accuracy of the views they have of each other:

In attempting to aid parties in resolving disputes not involving allegations of abuse or suspected abuse, Assemblies may find it helpful to suggest that the parties examine separately their own roles and assumptions in the dispute, as well as the accuracy of the views of the other parties. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

Assist them to consider moderate views based on facts rather than suppositions, speculation or fears:

The Assembly may also find it helpful to steer thinking away from extreme outcomes, worst-case scenarios or unrealistically optimistic scenarios, as those kinds of thinking tend to escalate apprehension between both parties, exacerbate the current situation, or set them up for future disappointments if they are unrealistically optimistic. It should assist the parties involved to consider moderate views based on facts rather than suppositions, speculation or fears. It may find that either or both parties need assistance in clarifying and separating facts from assumptions and/or opinions. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

No one has to confess to anyone about anything:

On the subject of confession the Guardian’s secretary wrote on his behalf to an individual believer: “We are forbidden to confess to any person, as do the Catholics to their priests, our sins and shortcomings, or to do so in public, as some religious sects do. (Universal House of Justice, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 23)

If we want to admit to a wrong-doing, we are free to do so:

However, if we spontaneously desire to acknowledge we have been wrong in something, or that we have some fault of character, and ask another person’s forgiveness or pardon, we are quite free to do so. The Guardian wants to point out, however, that we are not obliged to do so. It rests entirely with the individual. (Universal House of Justice, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 23)

Guard against allowing wrangling between parties to take up an inordinate amount of its time:

In any case, it should guard against allowing wrangling between parties to take up an inordinate amount of its time. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

Assembly members don’t share their opinions during the interview:

The Assembly members should be careful not to share their personal opinions during the interview. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

When a member of an Assembly is meeting to discuss his peronal problems:

  • They have the right and duty to participate in all meetings of the Assembly
  • The Assembly cannot require a member to absent himself from a properly called Assembly meeting
  • If he wishes to absent himself while his own situation is being discussed he may do so
  • Should an Assembly, not being aware of this instruction, rule otherwise, the member must nevertheless obey the Assembly
  • If he conscientiously feels that an injustice has been done his remedy is to appeal the decision of the Assembly

Concerning the question of the presence of a member of an Assembly during the discussion of his personal problems, all members of a Spiritual Assembly have the right and duty to participate in all meetings of the Assembly. The Assembly cannot require a member to absent himself from a properly called Assembly meeting. Should an Assembly, not being aware of this instruction, rule otherwise, the member must nevertheless obey the Assembly. If he conscientiously feels that an injustice has been done his remedy is to appeal the decision of the Assembly. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Naturally, if one wishes to absent himself while his own situation is being discussed . . . there is no objection. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

It should also be understood that a member may wish to absent himself from a meeting at which subjects in which he is personally involved are to be discussed. In such cases he may do so unless the Assembly requires him to be present. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Finding the Truth:

Believers called upon to provide information should, if necessary, be reminded of the responsibility they bear to speak the truth and of the spiritual consequences of a failure to do so.

Believers called upon to provide information should, if necessary, be reminded of the responsibility they bear to speak the truth and of the spiritual consequences of a failure to do so. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá asserts:

Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also be acquired.(’Abdu’l-Baha, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 338)

Truth is not a compromise between opposing interest groups:

In this conception of the collective investigation of reality, truth is not a compromise between opposing interest groups. Nor does the desire to exercise power over one another animate participants in the consultative process. What they seek, rather, is the power of unified thought and action. (Universal House of Justice, Office of Social and Economic Development, Social Action, 26 November 2012, p. 13)

There are many aspects to truth, but in the end, truth is always one:

Truth has many aspects, but it remains always and forever one. (Άbdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 53-54)

As important as it is at other times, how much more important is it during statements made to divinely ordained institutions:

If this “holy attribute” should adorn the behavior of believers toward others, how much more should it characterize statements which a Bahá’í makes to a divinely ordained institution. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

With regards to finding truth, ‘Abdu’l-Baha explains there are 4 kinds of proofs:  Proofs are of four kinds: first, through sense perception; second, through the reasoning faculty; third, from traditional or scriptural authority; fourth, through the medium of inspiration. That is to say, there are four criteria or standards of judgment by which the human mind reaches its conclusions.  Each of these is faulty and inaccurate, but when combined they are complete:

Consequently, it has become evident that the four criteria or standards of judgment by which the human mind reaches its conclusions are faulty and inaccurate. All of them are liable to mistake and error in conclusions. But a statement presented to the mind accompanied by proofs which the senses can perceive to be correct, which the faculty of reason can accept, which is in accord with traditional authority and sanctioned by the promptings of the heart, can be adjudged and relied upon as perfectly correct, for it has been proved and tested by all the standards of judgment and found to be complete. When we apply but one test, there are possibilities of mistake. This is self-evident and manifest. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 253-255)

Decision Making:

Decisions are not made until after you’ve left the meeting:

The Spiritual Assembly should not make any final decision until the party or parties have left the meeting. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Establishing the facts of what was done, said, and understood will help the Assembly to see how much each person knows and enable it to address the situation more effectively:

When the Assembly or its representatives are faced with handling any dispute, it may be helpful to ask the persons involved to explain their understandings of what has happened. In situations where one person complains that another did not fulfill a commitment or a promise, the Assembly should find out whether the person has talked with the other person(s) about the lack of fulfillment and what was said. Establishing the facts of what was done, said, and understood will enable the Assembly to see immediately how much each person knows or does not know and enable it to address the situation more effectively and with less investment of its own time. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 19)

Avoid accepting the word of either party before a thorough examination of the facts and without obtaining the comments of all parties:

In disputes between believers regarding personal matters, Assemblies should generally avoid accepting the word of either party before a thorough examination of the facts and without obtaining the comments of all parties. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

Reaching Consensus:

No action should be taken that stifles the flow of consultation or forces premature decisions:

. . . no action should be taken that stifles the flow of consultation or forces premature decisions. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Everyone should be given the opportunity to express themselves fully:

In any case, all members should be given the opportunity to express themselves fully before decisions are made. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

When someone feels there are additional facts or views which must be sought before the vote, the Assembly can decide whether to allow it or not:

When it is proposed to put a matter to the vote, a member of the Assembly may feel that there are additional facts or views which must be sought before he can make up his mind and intelligently vote on the proposition. He should express this feeling to the Assembly, and it is for the Assembly to decide whether or not further consultation is needed before voting. (Universal House of Justice, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 21)

It’s important to try to understand the dissenting voices, because a thousand people may hold one view and be mistaken, whereas one sagacious person may be right:

Even a majority opinion or consensus may be incorrect. A thousand people may hold to one view and be mistaken, whereas one sagacious person may be right. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 72)

The Vote:

Only Assembly members can be present at a time when the Assembly is in the actual process of consultation with a view to reaching a decision:

It is permissible for any Spiritual Assembly to call in youth or anyone else for consultation on matters affecting the progress of the Cause. However, it is not permissible for anyone not a member of an Assembly to sit in on all sessions nor to be present at a time when the Assembly is in the actual process of consultation on a particular problem with a view to reaching a decision. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Or when a decision of the Assembly is being taken:

One of the fundamental principles of the Bahá’í Administration is that, other than the members of the Assembly, no one should be present when a decision of the Assembly is being taken. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

That includes members of other Institutions of the Faith:

It is a necessary practice that Assemblies meet with the Hands of the Cause, Counselors, Auxiliary Board members, or other individuals, and freely consult with them on different issues and even arrive sometimes at a joint conclusion; however, only members of an Assembly should be present when a final decision is taken. This principle applies, of course, to the functioning of other elected or appointed corporate bodies, such as Regional Bahá’í Councils. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Hopefully a decision will be carried unanimously:

If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87)

Indeed, it has ever been the cherished desire of our Master, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, that the friends in their councils, local as well as national, should by their candor, their honesty of purpose, their singleness of mind, and the thoroughness of their discussions, achieve unanimity in all things. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 80)

When a unanimous decision is not possible, a vote must be taken:

The ideal of Bahá’í consultation is to arrive at a unanimous decision. When this is not possible a vote must be taken. (Universal House of Justice, Consultation: A Compilation, p. 21)

Making a motion is not required but can be used:

Although the making of a motion is not required in Bahá’í consultation, it is frequently a useful mechanism and Bahá’ís are free to employ it. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

If anyone is conflicted about their vote, it would be better if they submit to the majority and make it unanimous:

Bahá’ís are not required to vote on an assembly against their consciences. It is better if they submit to the majority view and make it unanimous. But they are not forced to. (Shoghi Effendi, Consultation: A Compilation, p. 19)

There is no “abstaining” in Bahá’í voting:

Whenever it is decided to vote on a proposition all that is required is to ascertain how many of the members are in favor of it; if this is a majority of those present, the motion is carried; if it is a minority, the motion is defeated. Thus the whole question of “abstaining” does not arise in Bahá’í voting. A member who does not vote in favor of a proposition is, in effect, voting against it, even if at that moment he himself feels that he has been unable to make up his mind on the matter. (Universal House of Justice, Consultation: A Compilation, pp. 21-22)

Dissenting votes are not recorded:

There are no dissenting votes in the Cause. When the majority of an assembly decides a matter the minority, we are told by the Master, should accept this. To insist on having one’s dissenting vote recorded is not good, and achieves no constructive end. (Shoghi Effendi, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

If we’ve turned to God in prayer, the voice of the majority is the voice of truth:

And, when they are called upon to arrive at a certain decision, they should, after dispassionate, anxious and cordial consultation, turn to God in prayer, and with earnestness and conviction and courage record their vote and abide by the voice of the majority, which we are told by our Master to be the voice of truth. (Shoghi Effendi, in Consultation: A Compilation, pp. 13-14)

This decision is never to be challenged, and always to be whole-heartedly enforced:

. . . never to be challenged, and always to be whole-heartedly enforced. (Shoghi Effendi, in Consultation: A Compilation, pp. 13-14)

This is the only means that can ensure the protection and advancement of the Cause:

To this voice the friends must heartily respond, and regard it as the only means that can ensure the protection and advancement of the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, in Consultation: A Compilation, pp. 13-14)

The Decision:

If there are differences of opinion, a majority of voices must prevail:

. . . should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88)

If unanimity is not subsequently achieved, decisions are arrived at by majority vote. (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)

The decision becomes the decision of the whole Assembly, not just the majority:

As soon as a decision is reached it becomes the decision of the whole Assembly, not merely of those members who happened to be among the majority. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

An Assembly member can ask the Assembly to reconsider, but can’t force the matter:

He (a Spiritual Assembly member) can ask the Assembly to reconsider a matter, but he has no right to force them or create inharmony because they won’t change. (Shoghi Effendi, Consultation: A Compilation, p. 19)

Dissenting members should set a good example by sacrificing their personal views:

Specially those dissenting members within the assembly whose opinion is contrary to that of the majority of their fellow-members should set a good example before the community by sacrificing their personal views for the sake of obeying the principle of majority vote that underlies the functioning of all Bahá’í assemblies. (Shoghi Effendi, Consultation: A Compilation, p. 16)

After the Meeting:

If the dispute remains unsettled after reasonable efforts to assist, the Assembly may withdraw in favor of civil proceedings or seek advice from the NSA:

If, after reasonable efforts to assist the parties, the dispute remains unsettled, the Assembly may withdraw in favor of civil proceedings or seek advice from the National Spiritual Assembly about how to proceed. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

We can ask the Assembly why they made a certain decision and politely request them to reconsider, but then we have to leave it alone:

A believer can ask the Assembly why they made a certain decision and politely request them to reconsider. But then he must leave it at that, and not go on disrupting local affairs through insisting on his own views. This applies to an Assembly member as well. (Shoghi Effendi, The Local Spiritual Assembly compilation, p. 27)

Everyone must agree to support the outcome wholeheartedly:

Once a decision has been reached, all members of the consultative body, having had the opportunity fully to state their views, agree wholeheartedly to support the outcome. (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)

The Assembly members must have the courage of their convictions, but must also express whole-hearted and unqualified obedience to the well-considered judgment and directions of the majority of their fellow-members. (Shoghi Effendi, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 16)

But once the opinion of the majority has been ascertained, all the members should automatically and unreservedly obey it, and faithfully carry it out. (Shoghi Effendi, Consultation: A Compilation, p. 16)

The Bahá’ís are fully entitled to address criticisms to their assemblies; they can freely air their views about policies or individual members of elected bodies to the assembly, local or national, but then they must whole-heartedly accept the advice or decision of the assembly, according to the principles already laid down for such matters in Bahá’í administration. (Shoghi Effendi, The National Spiritual Assembly compilation, p. 35)

Even is a mistake has been made, acceptance and harmony are what’s important:

We all have a right to our opinions, we are bound to think differently; but a Bahá’í must accept the majority decision of his Assembly, realizing that acceptance and harmony — even if a mistake has been made — are the really important things. (Shoghi Effendi, The Local Spiritual Assembly compilation, p. 27)

If we do this, God will right the wrong:

.. . when we serve the Cause properly, in the Bahá’í way, God will right any wrongs done in the end. (Shoghi Effendi, The Local Spiritual Assembly compilation, p. 27)

If the community doesn’t obey, it undermines the institutions:

The Assembly may make a mistake, but, as the Master pointed out, if the Community does not abide by its decisions, or the individual Bahá’í, the result is worse, as it undermines the very institution which must be strengthened in order to uphold the principles and laws of the Faith. He tells us God will right the wrongs done. We must have confidence in this and obey our Assemblies. (Shoghi Effendi, The Local Spiritual Assembly, p. 27)

What if it Doesn’t Work?

If consultation among the first group of people assembled endeth in disagreement, new people should be added:

If consultation among the first group of people assembled endeth in disagreement, new people should be added, after which persons to the number of the Greatest Name, or fewer or more, shall be chosen by lot. Whereupon the consultation shall be renewed, and the outcome, whatever it is, shall be obeyed. If, however, there is still disagreement, the same procedure should be repeated once more, and the decision of the majority shall prevail. He, verily, guideth whomsoever He pleaseth to the right way. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 136)

When there is any infringement of Bahá’í rights, or lapse in the proper procedure, it’s our duty to take the matter up with the Assembly concerned, and, if not satisfied, then with the National Spiritual Assembly:

Whenever there is any infringement of Bahá’í rights, or lapse in the proper procedure, the friends should take the matter up with the Assembly concerned, and, if not satisfied, then with the National Spiritual Assembly. This is both their privilege and their duty. (Shoghi Effendi, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Have you ever met with an Assembly? What was your experience? How has this helped you understand the issue differently? Post your comments below!

Removal of Administrative Rights – Process Undertaken by the NSA

Who Removes Administrative Rights?

The National Spiritual Assembly itself:

For the present only the National Assembly may deprive a believer of his administrative rights and this authority should not be given to Local Spiritual Assemblies.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 55)

Furthermore, any decision involving a believer’s administrative rights is to be made by action of the Assembly itself.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

It’s a weighty responsibility, which requires mature understanding and judgement:

Applying these principles requires mature understanding and judgement and great love for one’s fellow men.  It is a weighty responsibility which rests upon the shoulders of the members of Spiritual Assemblies.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 500)

Overview 

Before removing administrate rights, the NSA has the duty to:

  • confer with the individuals in a loving manner to help them overcome the problem
  • warn them that they must desist
  • issue further warnings if the original warnings are not followed

. . .  it is the duty of the National Assembly, before exercising this sanction, to confer with the individuals involved in a loving manner to help them overcome the problem; second, to warn them that they must desist; third, to issue further warnings if the original warnings are not followed; and finally, if there seems no other way to handle the matter, then a person may be deprived of voting rights.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 50)

Theirs is not the duty to pry into personal lives but to create positive environments

In discharging their educational responsibilities towards the body of the believers, the institutions of the Faith need to bear in mind how little is accomplished when their efforts are reduced to repeated admonitions or to dogmatic instruction in proper conduct. Rather should their aim be to raise consciousness and to increase understanding. Theirs is not the duty to pry into personal lives or to impose Bahá’í law on the individual but to create an environment in which the friends eagerly arise to fulfil their obligations as followers of Bahá’u’lláh, to uphold His law, and to align their lives with His teachings.  (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)

No “Baha’i Police”

Assembly should develop a warm and loving relationship so that it can most effectively nurture and encourage us to a deeper understanding of the teachings, and assist us to follow the Bahá’í principles in our personal conduct:

The aim of any Spiritual Assembly should be to develop a warm and loving relationship with the believers in its community, so that it can most effectively nurture and encourage them in the acquisition of a deeper understanding of the teachings, and can assist them to follow the Bahá’í principles in their personal conduct. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Assemblies should strive to become loving parents rather than harsh, judgmental and punitive:

The Assembly should aspire to being regarded by the members of the community as a loving parent, wise in its understanding of the varying degrees of maturity of those entrusted to its care, compassionate in dealing with the problems which arise as a result of any shortcomings, ever prepared to guide them to the correct path, and very patient as they strive to effect the necessary changes in their behaviour. Such an approach is far removed from the harshly judgmental and punitive approach which so often characterizes the administration of law in the wider society. The Bahá’í application of justice, firmly rooted in spiritual principle and animated by the desire to foster the spiritual development of the members of the community, will increasingly be seen as a distinctive and highly attractive feature of the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Reasons for Sanctions

The motives behind removing someone’s administrative rights is not to condemn and punish but to assist him to bring his behaviour into conformity with the Teachings and also to protect the community:

The principal motive is not to condemn and punish the individual but to assist him, if necessary, to bring his behaviour into conformity with the Teachings and also to protect the community.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

It’s hoped that the person will see that his behaviour is in violation of the teachings, endeavour to rectify his conduct, and be welcomed back into the community:

It should be the hope and prayer of the Assembly that the believer who has been administratively expelled from membership in the Bahá’í community will come to see that his behaviour is in violation of the teachings, will endeavour to rectify his conduct, and will thus open the way to being welcomed back into the community so that he can lend his support to the vital and glorious task of establishing the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Reporting an Offense to the Assembly

Individuals must be loving, forgiving and overlook each other’s faults:

In their relationships with one another individual believers should be loving and forgiving, overlooking one another’s faults for the sake of God.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 498-499)

The Spiritual Assemblies are the upholders of the Law of God.

The Spiritual Assemblies are the upholders of the Law of God. They are embryonic Houses of Justice. The education of a child requires both love and discipline; so also does the education of believers and the education of a community. One of the failings of Bahá’ís, however, is to confuse these two roles, individuals behaving like little Spiritual Assemblies, and Spiritual Assemblies forgetting that they must exercise justice. (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 498-499)

There is no fixed rule to follow:

While it can be a severe test to a Bahá’í to see fellow believers violating Bahá’í laws or engaging in conduct inimical to the welfare and best interests of the Faith, there is no fixed rule that a believer must follow when such conduct comes to his notice. A great deal depends upon the seriousness of the offence and upon the relationship which exists between him and the offender.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

If you’re not sure whether to report an offense or not, consult with the LSA or Auxiliary Board:

If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’í’s misconduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or Assistant.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith, it should be immediately reported:

If the misconduct is blatant and flagrant or threatens the interests of the Faith the believer to whose attention it comes should immediately report it to the Local Spiritual Assembly. (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Once it is in the hands of the Assembly it’s no longer your problem:

Once it is in the hands of the Assembly the believer’s obligation is discharged and he should do no more than pray for the offender and continue to show him friendship and encouragement – unless, of course, the Spiritual Assembly asks him to take specific action.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

When the Situation is not grave enough to report

There are several steps you can take:

  • ignore it altogether
  • foster friendly relations
  • tactfully drawing him into Bahá’í activities hoping he will spontaneously improve his patterns of conduct
  • tactfully draw the offender’s attention to the teachings

Sometimes, however, the matter does not seem grave enough to warrant reporting to the Spiritual Assembly, in which case it may be best to ignore it altogether. There are also other things that can be done by the Bahá’í to whose notice such things come. For example he could foster friendly relations with the individual concerned, tactfully drawing him into Bahá’í activities in the hope that, as his knowledge of the teachings and awareness of the Faith deepens, he will spontaneously improve his patterns of conduct. Or perhaps the relationship is such that he can tactfully draw the offender’s attention to the teachings on the subject.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Don’t pry into his affairs or tell him what to do:

But here he must be very careful not to give him the impression of prying into a fellow-believer’s private affairs or of telling him what he must do, which would not only be wrong in itself but might well produce the reverse of the desired reaction.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

No hard and fast rules

Some things are between us and God, others may require some form of sanction:

There are certain teachings and exhortations the observance of which is solely between the individual and God; the non-observance of other laws and ordinances incurs some form of sanction. Some of these violations incur punishment for a single offence, while others are punished only after repeated warnings have failed to remedy the violation. (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Every case is different:

It is not possible to establish a single rule applicable automatically and invariably. Every case is different, and there is more than one variable consideration to take into account, for example, the circumstances of the individual, the degree to which the good name of the Faith is involved, whether the offence is blatant and flagrant. (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Everyone has particular circumstances which must be taken into account:

The House of Justice does not feel that it is appropriate, at this time, to attempt to define a detailed procedure of steps to be taken in carrying out such an investigation. Every case is different and every individual has his or her own particular circumstances which must be taken into account. In reviewing the procedure proposed to you, it is apparent to the House of Justice that there may well be circumstances in which this would not be the best course of action. Likewise, the process to be followed for the investigation may only become apparent progressively, and could not be outlined at the beginning. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

There is no formal set of procedures to be applied universally:

The Administrative Order has not adopted a formal set of procedures to be applied universally in the Bahá’í community for dealing with infringements of Bahá’í law. Rather, the National Spiritual Assembly in its operation is guided and constrained by the Teachings and committed to protect and preserve the rights of both the individual and the community.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

 

Each Case on its own Merit

In deciding whether or not to remove voting rights, every case should be considered on its merits and in light of the particular circumstances.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

The degree to which a community should be active or passive towards a believer who is deprived of his voting rights depends upon the circumstances in each individual case. Obviously, it is desirable that such a person should come to see the error of his ways and rectify his condition. In some cases friendly approaches by the Bahá’ís may help to attain this; in other cases the individual may react more favourably if left to his own devices for a time.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 60)

Fact Finding

Removal of administrative rights can’t be done without a diligent and persistent effort to investigate and review of the facts:

There is no justification for the suspension of a believer’s administrative rights pending investigation and review of the facts of the matter in which he is involved. As we have repeatedly stated, the application of sanctions is a very serious action and should be imposed only in extreme cases. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

Acquaint themselves with the facts before passing judgement:

Hence, while there is no fixed procedure for the discovery of facts necessary for the adjudication of a case, it is a matter of principle that Assemblies must, before passing judgement, acquaint themselves, through means they themselves devise, with the facts of any case.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Regardless of the consequences of civil law, the Assembly must ascertain the facts:

When an allegation is made that a believer has violated Bahá’í law, irrespective of the consequence in civil law, the process of investigation calls for a diligent and persistent effort by the Assembly to ascertain the facts. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Facts can be ascertained in a variety of ways:

  • all the facts can be supplied by a few members
  • the facts may be common knowledge
  • it may be necessary to obtain further facts
  • the Assembly may appoint Assembly or community members to gather the facts on its behalf

When consulting on a matter an Assembly may find that all the facts can be supplied by a few members of the Assembly or that the facts may be common knowledge to the members. At times, it may be necessary to obtain further facts. The Assembly may appoint Assembly or community members to gather the facts on its behalf. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

It’s important for them to investigate or verifiy issues in order for truth to be discovered and understood.

… if there be no investigation or verification of questions and matters, the agreeable view will not be discovered neither understood.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 406)

Avoid accepting the word of either party before a thorough examination of the facts and without obtaining the comments of all parties:

In disputes between believers regarding personal matters, Assemblies should generally avoid accepting the word of either party before a thorough examination of the facts and without obtaining the comments of all parties. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

Determining Flagrant and Blatant is the job of the Assembly:

It is not the business either of the believers or of the Spiritual Assemblies, to pry into the lives of individual friends to ascertain the degree to which they are living up to the standards of the Cause. Only if misbehaviour becomes blatant and flagrant does it become a matter for action, and then it is a matter for action by the Assembly and not by individuals. Even then the Assembly must be loving and patient, and exhort the believer to follow the Path of the Cause, but, if he persists in openly and flagrantly flouting Bahá’í law the Assembly has no alternative to ultimately depriving him of his voting rights.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 498-499)

In all such cases it is for the Assembly to determine at what point the conduct is blatant and flagrant or is harmful to the name of the Faith. They must determine whether the believer has been given sufficient warning before the imposition of sanctions.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

We have a responsibility to speak the truth:

The process of fact finding requires wholehearted cooperation and truth before a divinely ordained institution:

. . . the process of investigation calls for . . . wholehearted cooperation of all concerned in the search for truth. Believers called upon to provide information should, if necessary, be reminded of the responsibility they bear to speak the truth and of the spiritual consequences of a failure to do so. `Abdu’l-Bahá asserts:

Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness, progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also be acquired.

If this “holy attribute” should adorn the behaviour of believers toward others, how much more should it characterize the statements which a Bahá’í makes to a divinely ordained institution.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

We must cooperate fully with the Assembly:

The prospect of a believer’s displaying an attitude of hostility, when being interviewed by a Spiritual Assembly or its representatives who are seeking to determine the facts of the matter, is abhorrent. All believers are strongly enjoined to have the utmost respect for the Assemblies, to cooperate fully with them, and to support their decisions. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

If anyone acts hostile towards them, the Assembly should appeal to him for cooperation and remind him of the administrative consequences of his actions:

An Assembly enquiring into a matter should not allow itself to be deterred by the hostility of a believer who is withholding relevant information; it should appeal to him for cooperation, remind him forcefully of his responsibilities and, in extreme cases such as threats made to the investigators, warn him of the administrative consequences of the persistence of his deplorable conduct.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Meeting with the Assembly

Efforts should be made to help the person feel comfortable in the presence of the Assembly:

Interviews should be conducted with loving-kindness and tact, and efforts should be made to help the person being interviewed feel comfortable in the presence of the Assembly or its representatives. The Assembly members should be careful not to share their personal opinions during the interview.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

The Assembly ascertains the facts with the wholehearted cooperation of all concerned:

When an allegation is made that a believer has violated Bahá’í law, irrespective of the consequence in civil law, the process of investigation calls for a diligent and persistent effort by the Assembly to ascertain the facts, and for wholehearted cooperation of all concerned in the search for truth. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

No one has to confess to anyone about anything:

On the subject of confession the Guardian’s secretary wrote on his behalf to an individual believer: “We are forbidden to confess to any person, as do the Catholics to their priests, our sins and shortcomings, or to do so in public, as some religious sects do.   (Universal House of Justice, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 23)

If we want to admit to a wrong-doing, we are free to do so:

However, if we spontaneously desire to acknowledge we have been wrong in something, or that we have some fault of character, and ask another person’s forgiveness or pardon, we are quite free to do so. The Guardian wants to point out, however, that we are not obliged to do so. It rests entirely with the individual.  (Universal House of Justice, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 23)

Assembly members don’t share their opinions during the interview:

The Assembly members should be careful not to share their personal opinions during the interview.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Decisions are not made until after you’ve left the meeting:

The Spiritual Assembly should not make any final decision until the party or parties have left the meeting. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Warnings

Warnings are issued first, before rights are removed:

…before anyone is deprived of their voting rights, they should be consulted with and lovingly admonished at first, given repeated warnings if they do not mend their immoral ways, or whatever other extremely serious misdemeanour they are committing, and finally, after these repeated warnings, be deprived of the voting rights.  There are, however, many different ways in which this is applied, depending upon the nature of the offence and the situation in each case.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

Education, counseling and warnings are needed:

For example, when there is an isolated but serious offence, such as that of a Bahá’í woman who indulges in one act of immorality as a result of which she gives birth to a child out of wedlock, this is no grounds for the removal of administrative rights. But the Assembly, when it learns of the situation, should certainly arrange for the believer to be met and consulted with, to ascertain her attitude to the situation. If she has no regret for the offence and indicates that she feels free to repeat it in future, she will need to be educated in the teachings, counselled and, if she does not change her attitude, to be warned that a continuation of such actions would cause forfeiture of her administrative rights. If, however, she is contrite and is determined to lead a moral life henceforth, there would be no question of sanctions. The same course would be followed with the man involved, if he were a Bahá’í. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Another example would involve, not a single offence, but a continuing course of behaviour, such as flagrant and continuing violation of the law prohibiting the consumption of alcoholic beverages. In such a situation the Assembly should explain the law to the believer, urge him to obey it, encourage and assist him and warn him if necessary. If the response in favourable there would, again be no need to deprive him of his administrative rights, but, if the believer is obdurate or continues in his course of misbehaviour, he should according to the circumstances of each case, be warned and warned again, with increasing severity and a time set for him to rectify his conduct. If this produces no amelioration, he would have to lose his administrative rights. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

A third example involves the taking of a definite step which violates a clear law with which the believer is familiar. In this instance, the Assembly may conclude that the believer had been warned repeatedly of the consequences of such behaviour through statements in widely circulated Bahá’í publications or in the deepening which a member of the community might reasonably be expected to have received. Into this category would fall the offenses against the Bahá’í requirement of parental consent to marriage, and the violations of law about which general warnings have been given in your newsletter.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

You should vigilantly watch over and protect the interests of the Bahá’í community, and the moment you see that any of the … Bahá’ís … are acting in a way to bring disgrace upon the name of the Faith, warn them, and, if necessary, deprive them immediately of their voting rights if they refuse to change their ways. Only in this way can the purity of the Faith be preserved. Compromise and weak measures will obscure the vision of its followers, sap its strength, lower it in the eyes of the public and prevent it from making any progress.  (Shoghi Effendi, Compilation of Compilations, v2, p. 114)

Only when someone ignores admonishments, persists in misconduct and knowingly and consistently violates the law, would an Assembly consider applying administrative sanctions:

Only in circumstances where a believer, ignoring all admonishments, persists in misconduct and knowingly and consistently violates the law, would it be necessary for the Assembly to consider applying administrative sanctions—this, after warning the individual of the consequences of his or her continued disregard for the teachings. The decision in such matters is left to the National Spiritual Assembly, which is to proceed with the utmost care and circumspection. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)

Patience is Needed

Be extremely patient and forbearing:

Over and over again the beloved Guardian urged Assemblies to be extremely patient and forbearing in dealing with the friends. He pointed out on many occasions that removal of administrative rights is the heaviest sanction which Assemblies may impose at the present time.   (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Love and patience are needed towards new believer:

Great love and patience are needed towards new believers, especially those who have come from very troubled backgrounds, but ultimately they too have to learn the responsibilities they have taken upon themselves by accepting Bahá’u’lláh and must uphold the principles that Bahá’u’lláh has revealed. If they do not do so, how can the condition of mankind be improved? Some people accept the Faith, not as a response to the divine Summons to God’s service, but as a way to find love and happiness and companionship and understanding for themselves. At the beginning this is only natural, for people are sorely in need of such spiritual strengths, but if such people do not soon progress to the point where they are more concerned about what they can do for God and His Cause than what it can do for them, they will surely become disillusioned and drift away. Arousing in the hearts of the friends the enthusiasm and spirit of selfless service that will carry them over this transition is one of the most fundamental aspects of deepening and consolidation. Deepening is far more a matter of developing a spiritual attitude, devotion and selflessness than it is of acquiring information, although this, of course, is also important.  ( Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 498-499)

Loving forbearance is often called for in the place of harsh measures

He feels that your Assembly must keep before its eyes the balance specified by Bahá’u’lláh, Himself, in other words, justice, reward and retribution. Although the Cause is still young and tender, and many of the believers inexperienced, and therefore loving forbearance is often called for in the place of harsh measures, this does not mean that a National Spiritual Assembly can under any circumstances tolerate disgraceful conduct, flagrantly contrary to our Teachings, on the part of any of its members, whoever they may be and from wherever they may come…  (Shoghi Effendi, Compilation of Compilations, v2, p. 114)

Be patient and forbearing with indigenous people – focus on education:

Particularly in the application of these laws to indigenous people should you be patient and forbearing.  The emphasis should be on education rather than on rigid enforcement of the law immediately.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, pp. 383-384)

Patience towards those who are striving to change practices and attitudes

Such an attitude of forbearance, restraint, and patience towards believers who are striving to change practices and attitudes acquired in the years before they entered the sanctuary of the Cause of God should not blind a National Assembly to the fact that, at this stage in the development of the Faith, there may well be some believers in the community whose behaviour necessitates that they be treated in a firm and uncompromising manner. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Better to provide proper deepening

We think it would be much better for the National Assembly to provide for the proper deepening of the friends and in a loving and patient manner attempt to instill in them a respect for Bahá’í laws. Rash action can dampen the zeal of the community, and this must be avoided at all costs.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)

Dispassionate counselling over an extended period is generally required

Should the conduct of a believer become so blatant as to attract the attention of the Assembly, it would want, after gaining a relatively clear picture of the issues, to offer loving but firm advice to the friend involved. In most cases it is necessary, in the first instance, to determine to what extent the believer understands the Faith and its standards. Dispassionate counselling, not infrequently over an extended period, to assist the individual concerned in gaining an appreciation of the requirements of Bahá’í law is generally required. So, too, is patience needed, and he or she should be given sufficient time to bring about a change. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)

Follow the Middle Way

Intervention in any specific case needs, of course, to be carried out with the utmost delicacy and wisdom. Such cases present themselves when the breach of Bahá’í law is public and flagrant, potentially bringing the Faith into disrepute and damaging its good name, or when the individual demonstrates a callous disregard for the teachings and the institutions of the Faith, with harmful consequences for the functioning of the Bahá’í community. In these circumstances, Spiritual Assemblies should follow a middle way: They should not adopt a passive approach, which would be tantamount to condoning behaviour contrary to the teachings and which would undermine the imperative to obey Bahá’í law in the eyes of the members of the community. Neither, however, should they act rashly or rigidly to enforce the law, imposing administrative sanctions arbitrarily. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)

Help people draw closer to the Faith while protecting it from negative influences:

The Assembly, often aided by the Counsellors or the members of the Auxiliary Boards, may have to help the individual reflect on his or her particular circumstances, apply relevant principles, and explore available options. In deciding on what approach to take, the Assembly should be guided by the understanding that its objective is to assist the friends to draw closer to the Faith while taking care to protect the Bahá’í community from the negative influence of those who have no intention of adhering to its standards. When a believer demonstrates an allegiance to the Cause and a willingness to rectify the situation, continued patience and loving guidance are in order. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)

Decision Taken Reluctantly

This is the heaviest sanction, short of ex-communication:

…he feels that all National Spiritual Assemblies should bear in mind that this is the heaviest sanction we possess at present in the Faith, short of ex-communication, which lies within the powers of the Guardian alone, and is consequently a very weighty weapon to wield.  He considers that under no circumstances should any Bahá’í ever be suspended from the voting list and deprived of his administrative privileges for a matter which is not of the utmost gravity. By that he means breaking of laws, such as the consent of parents to marriage, etc., or acts of such an immoral character as to damage the good name of the Faith.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

Decision taken reluctantly when the Bahá’í community or its reputation in the eyes of the public must be protected:

It is clear that the removal of voting rights is a serious action which an Assembly should take reluctantly when the circumstances require that the Bahá’í community or its reputation in the eyes of the public must be protected from the effects of an individual’s behaviour, and where the authority of the laws of the Faith must be upheld. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Resorted to only when absolutely necessary:

The deprivation of a person’s voting rights should only be resorted to when absolutely necessary, and a National Spiritual Assembly should always feel reluctant to impose this very heavy sanction which is a severe punishment. Of course sometimes, to protect the Cause, it must be done. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 61)

Be cautious so it isn’t abused:

The Guardian however, wishes the National Assemblies to be very cautious in using this sanction, because it might be abused, and then lose its efficacy.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 50)

Used only when there is no other way to solve the problem:

It should be used only when there seems no other way to solve the problem.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 50)

The friends must be nursed and assisted, for their ‘sins’ are mostly those of immaturity:

As he already told you in a previous communication he feels that your Assembly should not deprive people of their voting rights unless the matter is really very grave; this is a very heavy sanction, and can embitter the heart if lightly imposed, and also make people think we unduly resort to pressure of a strong nature. The friends must be nursed and assisted, for they are still mostly immature spiritually, and their ‘sins’ are those of immaturity! Their hearts are loyal to the Cause, and this is the most important thing.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)

Ignorance of Baha’i Law can be a Valid Excuse

Newly declared believers may be ignorant of Baha’i law:

At the present time, when Bahá’í laws are being progressively applied throughout the world, and when many Bahá’í communities include a large proportion of newly declared believers, National Spiritual Assemblies are authorized to accept ignorance of the Bahá’í law as a valid excuse for failure to adhere to its provisions when an Assembly is convinced that such ignorance existed. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Care should still be taken to avoid the unwarranted exoneration of behaviour contrary to the teachings:

However, care should be taken to avoid the unwarranted exoneration of behaviour contrary to the teachings, in applying Bahá’í law.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Great wisdom is required since those guilty of flagrant misconduct may attempt to escape the administrative consequence of his behaviour through claiming ignorance:

The Universal House of Justice has stated that, in matters concerning the deprivation of voting rights, an Assembly should bear in mind that, at the present time, when Bahá’í laws are being progressively applied and a sizeable proportion of a community consists of newly declared believers, an Assembly may accept ignorance of the Bahá’í law as a valid excuse when it is convinced that such ignorance existed; great wisdom is required in the application of this provision, since it is not unknown for a believer guilty of flagrant misconduct to attempt to escape the administrative consequence of his behaviour through a fervent but spurious claim of ignorance of the law.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Circumstances which would render the believer exempt from administrative sanctions include lack of understanding of the spirit of the law:

The situation described in your letter . . . represents a special case in which the individual concerned “knew the letter of the law” but “may have been totally ignorant of its significance or binding effect” due to her “almost immediate loss of contact with the Bahá’í community for a number of years” following her declaration, and during which period she married without fulfilling the Bahá’í requirements . . . it appears that the believers involved in the violation of Bahá’í marriage laws, regarded themselves as Bahá’í, were aware of the law, and had a degree of understanding of its significance. It is unrealistic to withhold the application of sanctions on the grounds that a believer does not have a true grasp or understanding of the law; a Bahá’í who has such a comprehension would find abhorrent the prospect of violating the law, while the very act of failing to adhere to the provisions of the law would disclose a lack of true understanding and would thus render the believer exempt from administrative sanctions.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

We should not confuse true believers with those who are not quickened with the spirit of faith, have some ulterior motive, or are indifferent to the damage they may do the Cause:

…we should not confuse the true believers with those who are not quickened with the spirit of faith, have some ulterior motive, or are indifferent to the reputation they have personally, and the damage they may do the Cause in the eyes of the public. There is all the difference in the world between these two categories, and your Assembly must be ever watchful and ready to take action when necessary.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Making the Decision

Assemblies are called upon to apply these laws with justice and consistency and to avoid compromise:

The Assemblies are called upon to apply these laws with justice and consistency, and to avoid any compromise which could weaken respect for the law or could gradually erode that sense of discipline which should distinguish the Bahá’í community at a time when the rule of law is being discredited and disdained in the wider society.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Decide how much weight to give to each factor:

The purpose of the administrative sanction should be borne clearly in mind in deciding how much weight to give to factors such as the passage of time, the extent to which the individual concerned has experienced an adverse reaction in the Bahá’í community, the degree of suffering and contrition exhibited by the believer whose status in being questioned, his stature in the Bahá’í community or the wider society, and media publicity of his delinquent behaviour. While there is room for compassion, this should not deflect you from giving due consideration to the responsibility you bear to protect the community and its good name, and to uphold the authority of Bahá’í law. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Factors to be kept in mind include:

  • the passage of time
  • the extent to which the individual concerned has experienced an adverse reaction in the Bahá’í community
  • the degree of suffering and contrition exhibited
  • his stature in the Bahá’í community or the wider society
  • media publicity of his delinquent behaviour

Decisions are not made with the person in the meeting:

The Spiritual Assembly should not make any final decision until the party or parties have left the meeting. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Only Assembly members can be present at a time when the Assembly is in the actual process of consultation with a view to reaching a decision:

It is permissible for any Spiritual Assembly to call in youth or anyone else for consultation on matters affecting the progress of the Cause. However, it is not permissible for anyone not a member of an Assembly to sit in on all sessions nor to be present at a time when the Assembly is in the actual process of consultation on a particular problem with a view to reaching a decision.    (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Or when a decision of the Assembly is being taken:

One of the fundamental principles of the Bahá’í Administration is that, other than the members of the Assembly, no one should be present when a decision of the Assembly is being taken.   (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

That includes members of other Institutions of the Faith:

It is a necessary practice that Assemblies meet with the Hands of the Cause, Counselors, Auxiliary Board members, or other individuals, and freely consult with them on different issues and even arrive sometimes at a joint conclusion; however, only members of an Assembly should be present when a final decision is taken. This principle applies, of course, to the functioning of other elected or appointed corporate bodies, such as Regional Bahá’í Councils.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Turn to God in Prayer and record their vote:

When an Assembly comes to the point where it must make a decision in the face of conflicting assertions and insistent denials, it might well recall advice of the Guardian:

..when they are called upon to arrive at a certain decision, they should, after dispassionate, anxious, and cordial consultation, turn to God in Prayer, and with earnestness and conviction and courage record their vote…  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Hopefully a decision will be carried unanimously:

If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87)

If there are differences of opinion, a majority of voices must prevail:

. . .  should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88)

If unanimity is not subsequently achieved, decisions are arrived at by majority vote.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)

There may be times when an Assembly may decide to leave the individual to go his or her own way:

There may be times when an individual who shows complete indifference to the counsels of the institutions and firm resolution in his or her desire to maintain the status quo has no apparent interest in engaging in the life of the Bahá’í community. In such a case, provided that his or her conduct has no significant bearing on the good name of the Faith, the Assembly may decide to leave the individual to go his or her own way, neither insisting on continued contact nor feeling obliged to impose sanctions. Equally, however, the Assembly need not be anxious about quickly removing the name of the individual from its rolls, given that circumstances change and a person may, over time, decide to mend his or her ways and return to participate in the life of the community.  (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)

Guidance and Assistance required before and after a decision is made:

While the Assembly should always be concerned about matters which might affect the good name of the Faith, it should be remembered that a believer involved in such matters is entitled to the understanding of the Assembly and may need its guidance and assistance both before and after any decision regarding sanctions is made.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

Notifying the Community

The NSA can decide whether to notify the community; how to do it; and whether to include the reasons:

It is within the discretion of a National Spiritual Assembly to decide whether to notify the community when a believer has been deprived of his administrative rights; the Assembly is also free to decide how such a notification is to be made, and whether or not the reasons for the deprivation are to be disclosed. Such decisions might be made with regard to the purposes which would be served by such an announcement, and the benefit to the community of such knowledge. If a believer advises you of an appeal to the Universal House of Justice against your decision to withdraw his voting rights, he remains without these rights while the merit of his appeal is being assessed by the House of Justice; it would generally be preferable not to make an announcement to the community about his loss of voting rights while the appeal is being considered, but special circumstances, such as the imperative need to protect the Bahá’í community from his actions, could compel you to do otherwise.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Refrain from Gossip and Backbiting, as these can harm the Faith and cause more damage than the original offence:

Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offence.  (Universal House of Justice, in USA-NSA:  Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Support the Decisions:  Even if the Assembly is wrong, we have to sacrifice our personalities and learn to obey for the sake of unity:

They have to learn to obey, even when the Assembly may be wrong, for the sake of unity. They have to sacrifice their personalities, to a certain extent, in order that the community life may grow and develop as a whole. These things are difficult – but we must realize that they will lead us to a very much greater, more perfect, way of life when the Faith is properly established according to the administration.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, no. 1469)

Even if errors are made, we must wholeheartedly support the Assembly’s decision:

Undoubtedly errors are made and will continue to be made, but the more the friends are united and wholeheartedly support their Assemblies, the sooner will these mature in their decisions and actions, outgrow their mistakes, and become strong magnets for the Faith.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages of the Universal House of Justice, p. 498-499)

If we don’t abide by its decisions, it will undermine the institutions:

The Assembly may make a mistake, but, as the Master pointed out, if the Community does not abide by its decisions, or the individual Bahá’í, the result is worse, as it undermines the very institution which must be strengthened in order to uphold the principles and laws of the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 81)

If we undermine the Institutions, criticize their acts and challenge or belittle their decisions, we prevent progress in the Faith’s development and repel outsiders:

The Guardian believes that a great deal of the difficulties from which the believers … feel themselves to be suffering are caused by their neither correctly understanding nor putting into practice the administration. They seem – many of them – to be prone to continually challenging and criticizing the decisions of their Assemblies. If the Bahá’ís undermine the very bodies which are, however immaturely, seeking to co-ordinate Bahá’í activities and administer Bahá’í affairs, if they continually criticize their acts and challenge or belittle their decisions, they not only prevent any real rapid progress in the Faith’s development from taking place, but they repel outsiders who quite rightly may ask how we ever expect to unite the whole world when we are so disunited among ourselves! There is only one remedy for this: to study the administration, to obey the Assemblies, and each believer seek to perfect his own character as a Bahá’í. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, no. 1469)

If we are obedient, God will right the wrongs done:

He tells us God will right the wrongs done. We must have confidence in this and obey our Assemblies.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 81)

How has this helped you understand the requirements of the NSA in these situations?  Post your comments below!

 

Removal of Administrative Rights – Reasons and Losses

Overview

The Bahá’í approach to the administration of the laws of the Faith is fundamentally different from that used by non-Bahá’í judicial bodies:

The Bahá’í approach to the administration of the laws of the Faith is fundamentally different from that used by non-Bahá’í judicial bodies in the investigation of alleged behavioral delinquencies. This difference arises from the spiritual nature of the Assembly’s deliberations, the importance of a prayerful attitude, the due weight given to the preservation of the unity and integrity of the Bahá’í community, and the distinctive character of Bahá’í law as a means for individual spiritual development.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Removal of rights is a serious sanction, which isn’t undertaken lightly.  There is a process which includes:

  • they should be consulted with
  • lovingly admonished
  • given repeated warnings
  • be deprived of their voting rights

Before anyone is deprived of their voting rights, they should be consulted with and lovingly admonished at first, given repeated warnings if they do not mend their immoral ways, or whatever other extremely serious misdemeanor they are committing, and finally, after these repeated warnings, be deprived of their voting rights.  (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, p. 51)

Circumstances may arise where the offence is so serious that immediate action is required by the National Assembly to protect the Faith.

Circumstances may arise where the offence is so serious that immediate action is required by the National Assembly to protect the Faith.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

The general basis for the deprivation of voting rights is gross immorality and open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith, and disregard for the laws of personal status:

The general basis for the deprivation of voting rights is of course gross immorality and open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith, and disregard for the laws of personal status; and even then it is the duty of the National Assembly, before exercising this sanction, to confer with the individuals involved in a loving manner to help them overcome the problem; second, to warn them that they must desist; third, to issue further warnings if the original warnings are not followed; and finally, if there seems no other way to handle the matter, then a person may be deprived of voting rights. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, pp.50-51)

This deprivation remains in force until the believer repents:

This deprivation remains in force until such time as the believer repents of his actions and is able to satisfy the Spiritual Assembly that he has rectified his behaviour.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p.363)

Reasons a Person Could Lose their Administrative Rights

Disgraceful Conduct Injuring the Faith

A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: disgraceful conduct, flagrantly contrary to our Teachings . . . conduct which is disgracing the Cause  . . .  seriously injuring the Faith in the eyes of the public through his conduct . . .   (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Disregard For and Flagrantly Breaking The Laws Of God

A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . . disregard for the laws of personal status . . .   flagrantly breaking the laws of God . . .  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

If the acts of immorality are not generally known and are discoverable only on investigation, a serious question is raised as to whether this immorality is ‘flagrant’. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)

Criminal Offenses

Turning now to your questions: you have enquired about believers convicted of an offence in the civil courts. As you know the Bahá’í institutions do not have a responsibility to enforce the criminal laws of a nation, although they do quite properly exhort the believers to obedience to government, which includes obedience to its laws. Violations of criminal law are handled by the civil courts of a country and enforced by its civil administration. The fact that a believer has been charged with a criminal offence, or is suspected of having committed such an offence, or is convicted by the court, should not automatically result in the application of Bahá’í sanctions. Each case is to be considered on its own merits, and in the light of the aforementioned considerations pertaining to the effect on the Bahá’í community and its reputation. For example, an Assembly would be most unlikely to consider imposition of sanctions on a Bahá’í convicted of violating the laws regulating automobile traffic flow, but it might well consider that a person known to be a Bahá’í convicted of selling narcotic drugs had brought disgrace to the name of the Faith and damaged its reputation before the public.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

We have carefully reviewed your letter of April 18, 1967 inquiring about the attitude to be adopted by your National Assembly regarding believers who have been charged with criminal offences, suspected to have committed such offences, or convicted by the court. The principle to bear in mind is that each case falling in any of the aforementioned categories should be considered separately and on its own merits. No hard and fast rule should be applied. If the believer’s actions conspicuously disgrace the Faith and such actions seriously injure its reputation, the National Assembly may in its discretion apply the sanction of deprivation of voting rights.  We feel that the Assembly should exercise its utmost wisdom when depriving believers of their administrative privileges, each case should be considered on its individual merits, and it should be realized that the application of Bahá’í sanctions is not an automatic action in response to a verdict of the court.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

When an Assembly is aware that a believer is charged with a criminal offence, normally it should not pass judgment on the matter until a decision has been given in the courts, at which time it would consider whether it should impose administrative sanctions. There may be cases, however, when an Assembly is justified in taking certain actions to protect the interests of the Cause. Generally, the Assembly would regard the decision of the court as being valid in determining whether or not the Bahá’í was guilty of the stated offence, and would not undertake its own independent investigation. However, there may be special circumstances associated with a particular case, or with the reputation of the civil judicial system, which would incline an Assembly to decide that the verdict of the court should not be accepted as a basis for Bahá’í administrative action without further investigation by the Assembly; it is left to the Assembly to make that determination.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Political And Ecclesiastical Activities

The same sanction (deprivation of voting right) should apply to those who persistently refuse to dissociate themselves from political and ecclesiastical activities. This is a general principle which is being maintained throughout the Bahá’í world, and the believers throughout the East are already aware of the absolute necessity of refusing any political or Moslem ecclesiastical office.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)

Your understanding and attitude regarding participation in politics is correct, namely, you immediately warn and quickly remove the voting rights, as such prompt action is necessary to protect the interests of the Faith.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)

Membership In Masonic, Theosophical, Rosicrucian, And Similar Secret Societies

The following two principles should help to guide your Assembly in dealing with the problems of Bahá’í membership in Masonic, Theosophical, Rosicrucian, and similar societies:

(1) Formal affiliation with and acceptance of membership in organizations whose programs or policies are not wholly reconcilable with the Teachings is not permissible to the friends.

(2) The friends should not become members of secret societies.

Your Assembly is advised to carefully inform the friends of these principles and to deepen them in their understanding and appreciation of them. Having made certain that all friends, especially those directly concerned, have been so deepened, your Assembly should then set a time limit by which the friends must obey your directive to withdraw their membership in the organizations. Each case will have to be considered on its own merits. Some of the friends may have to fulfill certain commitments as officers before they can withdraw with honor. The time limit should make allowance in such cases.

Whereas persistence in membership in these and in similar organizations is ample ground for deprivation of voting rights, your Assembly is advised to give sufficient time for each of the friends to be thoroughly deepened, and to comply with the principles before any disciplinary action is taken.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

Immorality

A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . . gross immorality . . . acts of such an immoral character as to damage the good name of the Faith . . .  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

In other cases, such as those involving flagrant immorality, the removal of voting rights should be resorted to only in rare cases.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)

Any blatant acts of immorality on the part of the Bahá’ís should be strongly censured; the friends should be urged to abandon such relationships immediately, straighten out their affairs, and conduct themselves as Bahá’ís; if they refuse to do this, in spite of the warnings of the Assembly, they should be punished through being deprived of their voting rights. The N.S.A. is empowered to settle such cases of flagrant immorality without referring them to the Guardian.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

The National Spiritual Assembly should distinguish between its functions as an adviser and counsellor of the friends and its role as the enforcer of Bahá’í Laws. For example, it is quite in order for the Assembly to advise a believer to consult a psychiatrist or any other doctor, if it feels this is necessary, but such advice should not be linked with any deprivation of voting rights which may have to be imposed for flagrant immorality. You may feel it advisable to give such advice to a person who is being deprived of his voting rights, but the two actions should be clearly separate–one is administrative, the other is advice given for the person’s own good which he may or may not accept as he wishes.  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Generally, administrative rights should not be suspended because of the birth of a child out of wedlock. The questions to be considered are whether the party is guilty of blatant and flagrant immorality, whether such conduct is harming the Faith, and whether the believer has refused or neglected to improve her conduct despite repeated warnings.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 58)

Regarding the question you asked him about one of the believers who seems to be flagrantly a homosexual—although to a certain extent we must be forbearing in the matter of people’s moral conduct because of the terrible deterioration in society in general, this does not mean that we can put up indefinitely with conduct which is disgracing the Cause. This person should have it brought to his attention that such acts are condemned by Bahá’u’lláh, and that he must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make efforts to overcome this affliction, which is corruptive for him and bad for the Cause. If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his voting rights taken away. The Guardian does not think, however, that a Bahá’í body should take it upon itself to denounce him to the Authorities unless his conduct borders on insanity.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)

Regarding those whose conduct is immoral, the matter should first be referred to the Local Spiritual Assembly. Whether the believer is a member of the Local Assembly or not, he should be first lovingly exhorted, then warned and required to rectify his conduct. If the conduct of the believer does no improve and continues to be a disgrace to the Faith, the National Spiritual Assembly, may decide merely to remove him from the membership of the Local Assembly, if he is a member of it, or to apply the full sanction of depriving him of his voting rights, depending upon the circumstances in each case. It is impossible and unwise to lay down a general ruling to cover all circumstances.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

In case of immoral conduct one offence is generally not enough to incur this heavy penalty, but only after patient counselling and in the face of flagrantly immoral conduct or blatant misbehavior should it be invoked.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

Regarding those whose conduct is immoral, the matter should first be referred to the Local Spiritual Assembly. Whether the believer is a member of the Local Assembly or not, he should be first lovingly exhorted, then warned and required to rectify his conduct. If the conduct of the believer does not improve and continues to be a disgrace to the Faith, the National Spiritual Assembly may decide merely to remove him from the membership of the Local Assembly, if he is a member of it, or to apply the full sanction of depriving him of his voting rights, depending upon the circumstances in each case. It is impossible and unwise to lay down a general ruling to cover all circumstances.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

In case of immoral conduct one offence is generally not enough to incur this heavy penalty, but only after patient counselling and in the face of flagrantly immoral conduct or blatant misbehaviour should it be invoked.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

If heavy sanctions are applied to certain acts of immorality, he also observed, “it is only fair to impose equally heavy sanctions on any Bahá’ís who step beyond the moral limits defined by Bahá’u’lláh,” which would obviously, given the circumstances of humanity today, “create an impossible and ridiculous situation.” (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)

Marriage without Consent of Parents

A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . . breaking of laws, such as the consent of parents to marriage . . .  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

In some cases it is clear that there is no alternative to the removal of voting rights as in the case of marriage without the consent of parents. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)

Non-Baha’i or Civil Marriage

In connection with your question regarding the case of Mr. Mrs.… and their daughter, the Guardian considers that your Assembly did quite right to deprive all three of their voting rights. Their conduct in carrying out a Moslem marriage in the circumstances set forth by you in your letter, and contrary to Bahá’í law, are most reprehensible, to say the least, and if such actions are not strongly censured by the Bahá’ís, other friends may be encouraged in moments of weakness, to err.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

Bahá’ís who go to the church and are married as Christians must also of necessity be deprived of their voting rights.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)

… if a Bahá’í has a civil marriage ceremony only, he is subject to loss of his voting rights. If the Assembly is satisfied that such a couple is repentant, their voting rights may be restored on condition that they have the Bahá’í ceremony.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 53)

In cases involving only the civil ceremony, voting rights may be restored if the Assembly feels that the believer is truly repentant and wishes to comply with the Bahá’í law previously broken. The civil marriage ceremony itself is not contrary to Bahá’í law, and therefore the dissolution of the civil marriage is not a pre- requisite to restoration of voting rights. In such cases the Bahá’í marriage ceremony may take place if the parents now give their consent to the marriage and the Assembly is satisfied that the consent has been genuinely and freely given and is not conditioned by the fact that the parties have already had a civil ceremony on the condition that it be performed.  Should … apply for restoration of his voting rights, and should your Assembly feel that he is truly repentant, you should offer assistance in arranging the other details including helping him to obtain the consent of parents.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 58-59)

Marrying Within the Year Of Patience

…no sanctions should be imposed merely because the believer has commenced a civil action for divorce before the expiration of the year of patience. However, the believer will be subject to sanctions if he should marry a third party within the year of patience, not only because it is a violation of the year of patience itself, but also because even though a civil divorce has been granted, the Bahá’í divorce cannot be granted until the end of the year of patience. For this reason no marriage is possible during the running of the year of patience unless the parties to the divorce re-marry each other again in a civil ceremony.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 52)

Swearing To Bring Up Children In Another Religion

As the Guardian pointed out…, no Bahá’í can conscientiously swear to bring up his children in another religion; and of course he has no right to lie; therefore it becomes impossible for him to make such a promise on his marriage to a non-Bahá’í. Any Bahá’í doing this should be deprived of his voting rights; and, as he has already made plain before, Bahá’ís who go to the church and are married as Christians must also of necessity be deprived of their voting rights.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)

Violent and Abusive Behaviour

Violent or abusive behavior is a serious violation of Bahá’í law. Depending upon the circumstances, the National Spiritual Assembly may apply the sanction of removing an offender’s Bahá’í administrative rights.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 115)

It is important to note, however, that individuals who wish to present their views should do so in a way compatible with the Bahá’í spirit of consultation. It sometimes happens that a believer insists on expounding his views at Bahá’í meetings, and frequently disrupts such gatherings, and may even display such behaviour in the presence of non-Bahá’ís. If he stubbornly persists in this conduct, despite exhortations and warnings given to him by the proper Bahá’í institutions, he will somehow have to be prevented from taking the law into his own hands and jeopardizing Bahá’í interests. When differences such as these arise, it is important that frank and loving consultation between the person concerned and the Local Spiritual Assembly, and if need be the National Spiritual Assembly, should take place, or perhaps the institution of the Counsellors could help resolve the problem.  (Universal House of Justice, 7 February 1993, “Issues Concerning Community Functioning”)

Flagrant In Taking Alcoholic Drinks

In the case of a believer who continues to take alcoholic drinks, the Assembly should decide whether the offence is flagrant, and, if it is, should try to help him to understand the importance of obeying the Bahá’í law. If he does not respond he must be repeatedly warned and, if this is unsuccessful, he is subject to loss of his voting rights. In the case of an alcoholic who is trying to overcome his weakness the Assembly must show especial patience, and may have to suggest professional counselling and assistance. If the offence is not flagrant, the Assembly need take no action at all.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 51)

Gossip

We realize that a great problem is presented by gossip when it occurs in Bahá’í communities, and the poison it can instill into the relationship between the friends. However, deprivation of voting rights is usually of little help in such circumstances and should be resorted to only after other remedies have been tried and failed.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)

 Open Opposition To The Administration

A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believers administrative rights only for such matters as: . . .  open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith . . .  (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

 Mental Illness or Incapacity 

In rare cases, administrative rights might be removed in cases where:

  • a person with mental incapacity due to such conditions as accidental brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and mental retardation
  • a person is unbalanced, and is admittedly proved to be so
  • a person with an abnormal mental condition
  • a person who is suffering from a mental illness with a certification of insanity by medical authorities or who is confined in a mental hospital

Believers with mental incapacity due to such conditions as accidental brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia and mental retardation may be relieved of the responsibility to vote or undertake other administrative duties:

Mental incapacity may include such conditions as accidental brain injury, Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias associated with aging and other intellectual disabilities, and mental retardation. Limitations on the administrative rights of mentally incapacitated individuals may be conferred in some cases and is intended not as a sanction but as a relief of the responsibility to vote or undertake other administrative duties.  (USA Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 15, p.16)

The withdrawal of administrative rights from a person who is suffering from a mental illness is not a sanction, but merely a recognition of the fact that the believer’s condition renders him incapable of exercising those rights:

The withdrawal of administrative rights from a person who is suffering from a mental illness is not a sanction, but merely a recognition of the fact that the believer’s condition renders him incapable of exercising those rights.   (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

This could also involve non-receipt of Bahá’í newsletters, inability to attend Nineteen Day Feasts, etc:

Again, depending upon the kind of mental illness, such suspension of voting rights may or may not involve non-receipt of Bahá’í newsletters, inability to attend Nineteen Day Feasts, etc. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

This would normally be dependent upon a certification of insanity by medical authorities or confinement in a mental hospital:

From this you will see that the mental incapacity must be very serious for this step to be taken, and would normally be dependent upon a certification of insanity by medical authorities or confinement in a mental hospital.    (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

Assemblies must investigate every case that arises, consult with experts, and with the National Spiritual Assembly:

Regarding persons whose [mental] condition has not been defined by the civil authorities after medical diagnosis, the Assembly on the spot must investigate every case that arises and, after consultation with experts, deliver its verdict. Such a verdict, however, should, in important cases, be preceded by consultation with the National Spiritual Assembly. No doubt, the power of prayer is very great, yet consultation with experts is enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh.   (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

If these experts believe that an abnormal case exists, the withholding of voting rights is justified:

Should these experts believe that an abnormal case exists, the withholding of voting rights is justified. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

Only in rare cases when a person is actually unbalanced, and is admittedly proved to be so, should the right of membership be denied him:

Regarding the interpretation of mental unfitness, this is not the same as being physically incapacitated. By the latter is meant a condition much more serious than any temperamental deficiency or disinclination to conform to the principle of majority rule. Only in rare cases when a person is actually unbalanced, and is admittedly proved to be so, should the right of membership be denied him. The greatest care and restraint should be exercised in this matter.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 54)

Loss of Right of Parenthood:

In addition, there are certain situations in which Bahá’ís can lose their right of parenthood (thereby not being allowed to give consent to marriage.  This could arise when:

  • a parent has committed incest
  • the child was conceived as a consequence of rape
  • a parent consciously fails to protect the child from flagrant sexual abuse.
  • a father neglects to educate his child

He (Bahá’u’lláh) has indicated that under certain circumstances, the parents could be deprived of the right of parenthood as a consequence of their actions. The Universal House of Justice has the right to legislate on this matter. It has decided for the present that all cases should be referred to it in which the conduct or character of a parent appears to render him unworthy of having such parental rights as that of giving consent to marriage. Such questions could arise, for example, when a parent has committed incest, or when the child was conceived as a consequence of rape, and also when a parent consciously fails to protect the child from flagrant sexual abuse.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Violence and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children)

In some cases it is permissible under the law of God either for the parents or for the children to disown the other, to deprive the other of certain rights, to sever family ties and to renounce their responsibilities. However, the law thereof is to be decided by the Universal House of Justice.  (Shoghi Effendi, quoted in a letter of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, 19 Jan, 2010)

Should a father neglect this most weighty commandment laid down in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas by the Pen of the Eternal King, he shall forfeit rights of fatherhood, and be accounted guilty before God. Well is it with him who imprinteth on his heart the admonitions of the Lord, and steadfastly cleaveth unto them. God, in truth, enjoineth on His servants what shall assist and profit them, and enable them to draw nigh unto Him.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 138)

Resigning to Avoid Sanctions

We cannot escape administrative expulsion by the ruse of resigning from the Faith in order to break its law with impunity:

As you know, a believer cannot escape administrative expulsion by the ruse of resigning from the Faith in order to break its law with impunity. However, the Assembly should be satisfied that there was indeed such an ulterior motive behind the withdrawal. A believer’s record of inactivity and his general attitude to the Faith may well lead the Assembly to conclude that his withdrawal was bona fide, even though immediately succeeded by marriage, and in such a case the withdrawal may be accepted.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

To do so is to dissimulate one’s faith:

To deny that one is a Bahá’í while one still believes in Bahá’u’lláh is not withdrawal, it is dissimulation of one’s faith, and Bahá’í law does not countenance the dissimulation of a believer’s faith for the purpose of breaking the law.  If a believer who did not like a particular law were to be permitted to leave the community to break the law, and then rejoin with impunity, this would make a mockery of the Law of God… It is abundantly clear from his letters that he has continually believed in Bahá’u’lláh, that he knew the law that marriage is conditioned on the consent of parents, that he dissimulated his faith in order to be able to break this law with impunity. He must, therefore, be regarded as a Bahá’í without administrative rights.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57)

It is completely inconsistent for a Bahá’í under any circumstances whatsoever, to indicate they are anything but a Bahá’í, regardless of what the result may be:

The Beloved Guardian has directed me to write you concerning information which he has just received of your having indicated in your application for permanent residence in…, that you were Protestants—and you did not indicate in any way that you were Bahá’ís.  The Guardian has instructed me to inform you that he is shocked and surprised to receive this news, and this action meets with his disapproval. He said that if advance information had been given that such action must not be taken under any circumstances; then there would be only one thing he could do and that would be removal of voting rights.  Certainly such action in the future would result in immediate removal of voting rights.  In Persia, even during the period of persecution, when life was in danger, and complete freedom offered to those who indicated they were Muslims and not Bahá’ís, the Guardian not only deprived anyone who did not openly declare his Faith of his voting rights, but even indicated they were Covenant breakers.  Thus you will see that it is completely inconsistent for a Bahá’í under any circumstances whatsoever, to indicate they are anything but a Bahá’í, regardless of what the result may be.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 61)

What is included in Loss of Rights?

When a person loses his full voting rights, he is still considered a Baha’i, but not in good standing.

It follows, therefore, that a believer can continue calling himself a Bahá’í even though he may cease to be a voting member of the community.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

He can be debarred from:

  • serving on a Local Spiritual Assembly
  • attending the consultative portion of the 19 Day Feast
  • voting in elections
  • contributing to the Fund
  • holding office or serving on committees
  • representing the Faith in Public
  • used as a teacher or speaker in programs sponsored by Bahá’ís
  • attending International Conferences
  • receiving newsletters and other bulletins whose circulation is restricted to Bahá’ís
  • having a Baha’i marriage
  • marrying a Bahá’í in good standing
  • a Bahá’í pilgrimage
  • receiving credentials (which imply that he is a Bahá’í in good standing

It is also quite permissible for a National Spiritual Assembly to debar an individual believer from serving on a Local Spiritual Assembly without removing his or her voting rights and they may also debar a believer from attending the consultative part of a Nineteen Day Feast. You may also debar a believer from voting in elections without imposing all the other administrative sanctions involved in administrative expulsion.  There are, of course, other sanctions than those mentioned in the above extract which can be imposed, such as debarring a believer from contributing to the Fund, debarring such a believer from serving on committees, debarring him from representing the Faith in public.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Justice, p. 55)

One who has lost his voting rights is considered to be a Bahá’í but not one in good standing. The following restrictions and limitations apply to such a believer:

He cannot attend Nineteen Day Feasts or other meetings for Bahá’ís only, including International Conferences, and therefore cannot take part in consultation on the affairs of the community.

He cannot contribute to the Bahá’í Fund.

He cannot receive newsletters and other bulletins whose circulation is restricted to Bahá’ís.

He cannot have a Bahá’í marriage ceremony and therefore is not able to marry a Bahá’í.

He may not have a Bahá’í pilgrimage.

Although he is free to teach the Faith on his own behalf, he should not be used as a teacher or speaker in programs sponsored by Bahá’ís.

He is debarred from participating in administrative matters, including the right to vote in Bahá’í elections.

He cannot hold office or be appointed to a committee.

He should not be given credentials (which imply that he is a Bahá’í in good standing).  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 61)

Full removal of administrative rights should be reserved for the most severe and intractable cases:

Full removal of administrative rights should be reserved for the most severe and intractable cases, especially when the protection of the community becomes a concern. The wise use of partial sanctions thus provides the Assembly with another means of strengthening the individual and the community. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)

Youth Can Also have their Rights Removed

With reference to the question in your second letter as to what disciplinary action can be taken against youth who are not of voting age, it must be remembered that the removal of his voting rights is administrative expulsion. In addition to being deprived of his right to vote, the believer cannot attend Feasts or other meetings for Bahá’ís only; cannot contribute to the Fund; or, cannot have a Bahá’í marriage ceremony. The restrictions against voting would become operative when the young offender reaches voting age.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 59)

Association with those who have lost their rights should be on a formal basis:

While it is not forbidden for the friends to associate with the individual, yet their association should be on a formal basis.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 50)

Marriage to someone who’s lost their rights:

A Bahá’í deprived of his voting rights cannot be married in a Bahá’í marriage ceremony; a Bahá’í in good standing cannot marry a Bahá’í who has lost his voting rights; the marriage of a Bahá’í who has lost his voting rights does not fall within the jurisdiction of a Bahá’í administrative institution.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

Laws of personal status, such as divorce:

A Bahá’í who has lost his administrative rights is administratively expelled from the community and therefore is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Spiritual Assembly in the matter of laws of personal status, such as divorce, unless, of course, he is involved in such a matter though having a Bahá’í spouse in good standing from whom the divorce is taking place. His observance of such laws is a matter of conscience and how would into be subject to further sanctions for non-observance of Bahá’í laws during the periods he is without voting rights.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 58)

Partial Sanctions can also be administered:

It is also quite permissible for a National Spiritual Assembly to debar an individual believer from serving on a Local Spiritual Assembly without removing his or her voting rights and they may also debar a believer from attending the consultative part of a Nineteen Day Feast. You may also debar a believer from voting in elections without imposing all the other administrative sanctions involved in administrative expulsion.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 55)

In some cases, partial sanctions may be adequate, allowing the Assembly to deal with a situation in a flexible manner. For example, if the hope is to reawaken in the individual a desire to participate in community life, full sanctions may be counterproductive; an appropriate partial sanction, such as suspending his or her right to be elected to an Assembly, may prove sufficient, for, in any event, it would not be reasonable for a person who flagrantly violates Bahá’í law to be in a position to govern the affairs of the community. Restricting the believer from other forms of service—for instance, acting as a tutor of a study circle or as a children’s class teacher—may also be considered . . . The wise use of partial sanctions thus provides the Assembly with another means of strengthening the individual and the community. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)

The Rights That Are Not Denied

Loss of Administrative Rights is not Expulsion

Concerning your question as to the status of those individuals whom the Local Assembly or the National Spiritual Assembly have considered it necessary to deprive of the voting right and to suspend from local meetings and gatherings: Such action which Local and National Assemblies have been empowered to take against such recalcitrant members, however justified and no matter how severe, should under no circumstances be considered as implying the complete expulsion of the individuals affected from the Cause. The suspension of voting and other administrative rights of an individual believer, always conditional and therefore temporary, can never have such far-reaching implications, since it constitutes merely an administrative sanction; whereas his expulsion or ex-communication from the Faith, which can be effected by the Guardian* alone in his capacity as the supreme spiritual head of the Community, has far-reaching spiritual implications affecting the very soul of that believer.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

The former as already stated, is an administrative sanction, whereas the latter is essentially spiritual, involving not only the particular administrative relationship of a believer to his Local or National Assembly, but his very spiritual existence in the Cause.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

But in case he is excluded from the body of the Cause by an act of the Guardian he ceases to become a believer and cannot possibly identify himself even nominally with the Faith.   (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 56)

Or a violation of civil rights

What is at stake is the participation of the individual in those aspects of community life internal to the body of the followers of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings, not his or her civil rights. (Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, April 2013)

Although generally speaking a believer deprived of his voting rights is not restricted except as stated above, the following privileges have been expressly stipulated as not denied:

  • He may attend the observances of the nine Holy Days.
  • He may attend any Bahá’í function open to non-Bahá’ís.
  • He may receive any publication available to non-Bahá’ís.
  • He is free to teach the Faith as every individual believer has been enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh to teach.
  • Association with other believers is not forbidden.
  • He may have the Bahá’í burial service if he or his family requests it, and he may be buried in a Bahá’í cemetery.
  • Bahá’í charity should not be denied him on the ground that he has lost his voting rights.
  • Bahá’í institutions may employ him, but should use discretion as to the type of work he is to perform.
  • He should have access to the Spiritual Assembly

Although generally speaking a believer deprived of his voting rights is not restricted except as stated above, the following privileges have been expressly stipulated as not denied: He may attend the observances of the nine Holy Days. He may attend any Bahá’í function open to non-Bahá’ís. He may receive any publication available to non-Bahá’ís. He is free to teach the Faith as every individual believer has been enjoined by Bahá’u’lláh to teach. Association with other believers is not forbidden. He may have the Bahá’í burial service if he or his family requests it, and he may be buried in a Bahá’í cemetery. Bahá’í charity should not be denied him on the ground that he has lost he voting rights. Bahá’í institutions may employ him, but should use discretion as to the type of work he is to perform. He should have access to the spiritual Assembly.   (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 62)

What has been your experience?  How has this helped you understand this topic better?  Post your comments below!

Decision Making for Individuals and Families

Individuals – By Themselves

If you have a decision in front of you, give it the full consideration it deserves:

May the Beloved help you in forming the right decision, and spare you the anxiety and suffering which too hasty action in such matters inevitably produces. You should give this question, which is of such vital concern to your future, the full consideration it deserves, and examine all its aspects carefully and dispassionately.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 446)

You have several options available to you:

  • You can make your own decision after prayer and weighing all the aspects of it in your own mind
  • You can seek the council of individual friends or of professional counsellors such as your doctor or lawyer
  • Where several people are involved, such as a family, you can gather together those who are affected
  • You can ask a group of people to consult together
  • If it is a matter that affects the interests of the Faith you should consult with the appropriate Assembly or Auxiliary Board

When a believer has a problem concerning which he must make a decision, he has several courses open to him. If it is a matter that affects the interests of the Faith he should consult with the appropriate Assembly or committee, but individuals have many problems which are purely personal and there is no obligation upon them to take such problems to the institutions of the Faith; indeed, when the needs of the teaching work are of such urgency it is better if the friends will not burden their assemblies with personal problems that they can solve by themselves. “A Bahá’í who has a problem may wish to make his own decision upon it after prayer and after weighing all the aspects of it in his own mind; he may prefer to seek the council of individual friends or of professional counsellors such as his doctor or lawyer so that he can consider such advice when making his decision; or in a case where several people are involved, such as a family situation, he may want to gather together those who are affected so that they may arrive at a collective decision. There is also no objection whatever to a Bahá’í asking a group of people to consult together on a problem facing him.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179)

You should pattern your decision according to the Teachings:

Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain this objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented towards service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Jun 05, Detailed Legislation on Moral Issues)

You can write a letter to yourself:

The Master spoke of the many letters He had answered that morning and of the packages still unopened. Mr. Kinney said: “I will write Your letters for You!”  Our Lord: “Very good; very good. Write a letter and answer it yourself. Look into your heart and see the answer. The answer is what is written on the tablet of your heart. That which is written upon paper is subject to corruption and various accidents, such as consumption by fire and moth, but that which is inscribed on the tablet of the heart is imperishable and everlasting. A day will come when all My communications upon paper — all My writing – will be effaced. But that which I have inscribed upon the hearts will not be effaced. There is no end to it. For I write the Word of the Love of God upon the hearts, and the Word of God is eternal.”  (The Diary of Juliet Thompson)

You can pray for assistance to those who have passed on:

In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 96)

You can listen to the small voice inside you:

When you wish to reflect upon or consider a matter, you consult something within you. You say, shall I do it, or shall I not do it? Is it better to make this journey or abandon it? Whom do you consult? Who is within you deciding this question? Surely there is a distinct power, an intelligent ego. Were it not distinct from your ego, you would not be consulting it. It is greater than the faculty of thought. It is your spirit which teaches you, which advises and decides upon matters. Who is it that interrogates? Who is it that answers? There is no doubt that it is the spirit.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 242-243)

Before going to bed, you can wash your hands and face, put on clean clothes and pray:

When thou desirest and yearnest for meeting in the world of vision; at the time when thou art in perfect fragrance and spirituality, wash thy hands and face, clothe thyself in clean robes, turn toward the court of the Peerless One, offer prayer to Him and lay thy head upon the pillow. When sleep cometh, the doors of revelation shall be opened and all thy desires shall become revealed.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 104)

You can repeat this prayer nineteen times:

Thou seest me, O my God, detached from all save Thee and cleaving unto Thee. Guide me, then, in all mine affairs unto that which profiteth me for the glory of Thy Cause and the loftiness of the station of thy loved ones.  (Baha’u’llah, Majmú‘iyi-Alvá-i-Mubárakiy-i-arat-i-Bahá’u’lláh (Tihrán: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 132 B.E.), page 9)

And then pay attention to your dreams:

As to your moving to another city: Meditate thou, perform the ablution and pray to God before sleeping; and whatever the Merciful One may inspire unto thee at the time of revelation in a dream, that will be consistent with obtaining thy wishes.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 629-630)

Then reflect on the matter and do whatever comes to your mind:

Let him then reflect upon the matter and undertake whatever cometh to mind.  (Baha’u’llah, Majmú‘iyi-Alvá-i-Mubárakiy-i-arat-i-Bahá’u’lláh (Tihrán: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 132 B.E.), page 9)

You can also use the 5 Steps of Prayer for Solving Problems:

The below five steps were suggested by the beloved Guardian Shoghi Effendi to a believer as a means of finding a solution through the use of prayer.  This statement belongs to the category of statements known as “pilgrims notes”, and as such has no authority, but since it seems to be particularly helpful and clear it was felt that believers should not be deprived of it.

1st Step: Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.

2nd Step: Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.

3rd Step: Have determination to carry the decision through. Many fail here.  The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.

4th Step: Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle, or the right book will be given to you. Have confidence and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the 5th step.

5th Step: Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you.

Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it. Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need.  But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered? How true are these words “Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered” and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out.  (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 91).

 Consultation inside Families:

Consultation is not just for the Institutions of the Faith:

Bahá’u’lláh also stressed the importance of consultation. We should not think this worthwhile method of seeking solutions is confined to the administrative institutions of the Cause.   (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 383)

It can also occur within families:

The Local Spiritual Assembly, however, is not the only institution or agency to which the friends may turn for consultation on personal matters. Such consultation could be held with members of one’s family, with friends, or with experts.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 110)

One of the keys to the strengthening family unity is loving consultation:

The relationship between husband and wife must be viewed in the context of the Bahá’í ideal of family life. Bahá’u’lláh came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family. Therefore, one must believe that the Faith is intended to strengthen the family, not weaken it, and one of the keys to the strengthening of unity is loving consultation. The atmosphere within a Bahá’í family as within the community as a whole should express ‘the keynote of the Cause of God’ which, the beloved Guardian has stated, ‘is not dictatorial authority but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation’  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 220)

Family consultation can be a panacea for domestic conflict, if done this way:

Family consultation employing full and frank discussion, and animated by awareness of the need for moderation and balance, can be the panacea for domestic conflict.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 383)

All family members including children should be included:

It is suggested that you include her and perhaps your younger children in family consultations. As Bahá’ís we understand the importance of the consultative process and we should not feel it is to be used only by the Spiritual Assemblies.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 454)

Consultation should be frank and loving:

The relationship between husband and wife must be viewed in the context of the Bahá’í ideal of family life. Bahá’u’lláh came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family. Therefore, one must believe that the Faith is intended to strengthen the family, not weaken it, and one of the keys to the strengthening of unity is loving consultation. The atmosphere within a Bahá’í family as within the community as a whole should express “the keynote of the Cause of God” which, the beloved Guardian has stated, “is not dictatorial authority, but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 413)

There can’t be a majority vote when only two people are consulting:

In any group, however loving the consultation, there are nevertheless points on which, from time to time, agreement cannot be reached. In a Spiritual Assembly this dilemma is resolved by a majority vote. There can, however, be no majority where only two parties are involved, as in the case of a husband and wife.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 415)

In making decisions, neither should dominate the other:

Wives should not attempt to dominate their husbands, nor husbands their wives….  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 383)

When agreement can’t be reached, there are times when the husband and the wife should defer to the wishes of the other:

You have asked, however, for specific rules of conduct to govern the relationships of husbands and wives. This the House of Justice does not wish to do, and it feels that there is already adequate guidance included in the compilation on this subject. For example the principle that the rights of each and all in the family unit must be upheld, and the advice that loving consultation should be the keynote, that all matters should be settled in harmony and love, and that there are times when the husband and the wife should defer to the wishes of the other. Exactly under what circumstances such deference should take place, is a matter for each couple to determine….         (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 385)

A relationship governed by the principles of consultation should be devoid of the use of force to compel obedience to one’s will:

It is also evident from Bahá’í teachings that no husband should subject his wife to abuse of any kind, and that such a reprehensible action is the antithesis of the relationship of mutual respect and equality enjoined by the Bahá’í writings — a relationship governed by the principles of consultation and devoid of the use of force to compel obedience to one’s will.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 458)

Through consultation men and women learn many skills:

Through consultation, women and men together learn to gather facts, to identify relevant principles, to express their ideas clearly, to listen respectfully to the opinions of others, and to arrive at a decision that everyone can support.  (Baha’i International Community, Report on Rural Poverty Alleviation Efforts in Asia and the Pacific, Focusing on Activities for Disadvantaged Women)

The process is as important as the achievements:

Because this approach to consultation is at the core of any Baha’i project, the process is as important as the achievements; the changes in attitudes as important as the development of skills; the intellectual, spiritual and emotional growth of the trainees as important as the economic growth of the community.  (Baha’i International Community, Report on Rural Poverty Alleviation Efforts in Asia and the Pacific, Focusing on Activities for Disadvantaged Women)

Baha’is men can show the world that aggression and the use of force can be eliminated and replaced by cooperation and consultation:

Bahá’í men have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world around them a new approach to the relationship between the sexes, where aggression and the use of force are eliminated and replaced by cooperation and consultation.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Violence and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children)

The most important thing is unity:

Regarding your other question concerning the strained relationship between you and your mother-in-law and what you can do to alleviate the situation, we feel you should, with the help and consultation of your  husband, persevere in your efforts to achieve unity in the family.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 411)

When unity is present in a family, their affairs are conducted easily, the make progress and prosper.  They enjoy comfort and ranquility and their position is assured:

Note ye how easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquillity, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all. Such a family but addeth to its stature and its lasting honour, as day succeedeth day.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 278)

If a couple is unable to resolve their problems through consultation, they can turn to their Local Spiritual Assembly and/or marriage counsellors:

When a Bahá’í wife finds herself in such a situation and feels it cannot be resolved through consultation with her husband, she could well turn to the Local Spiritual Assembly for advice and guidance, and might also find it highly advantageous to seek the assistance of competent professional counsellors.  (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 458)

Individuals and Couples – Meeting with a Group

Before the Meeting:

Before each meeting, everyone should agree on the purpose of the consultation, assemble the facts, and decide the questions and points to be discussed:

In advance of each meeting, the Assembly should agree on the purpose of the consultation, should assemble the facts, and decide the questions and points to be discussed or clarified during the meeting. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

 During the Meeting:

Everyone should examine their roles and assumptions and if a couple, check the accuracy of the views they have of each other:

In attempting to aid parties in resolving disputes not involving allegations of abuse or suspected abuse, Assemblies may find it helpful to suggest that the parties examine separately their own roles and assumptions in the dispute, as well as the accuracy of the views of the other parties. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

They may need assistance to consider moderate views based on facts rather than suppositions, speculation or fears:

The Assembly may also find it helpful to steer thinking away from extreme outcomes, worst-case scenarios or unrealistically optimistic scenarios, as those kinds of thinking tend to escalate apprehension between both parties, exacerbate the current situation, or set them up for future disappointments if they are unrealistically optimistic. It should assist the parties involved to consider moderate views based on facts rather than suppositions, speculation or fears. It may find that either or both parties need assistance in clarifying and separating facts from assumptions and/or opinions. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

Finding the Truth:

Everyone should be reminded of the responsibility they bear to speak the truth and of the spiritual consequences of a failure to do so.

Believers called upon to provide information should, if necessary, be reminded of the responsibility they bear to speak the truth and of the spiritual consequences of a failure to do so.   (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá asserts:

Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues. Without truthfulness progress and success, in all the worlds of God, are impossible for any soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also be acquired.(’Abdu’l-Baha, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 338)

With regards to finding truth, ‘Abdu’l-Baha explains there are 4 kinds of proofs:

Proofs are of four kinds: first, through sense perception; second, through the reasoning faculty; third, from traditional or scriptural authority; fourth, through the medium of inspiration. That is to say, there are four criteria or standards of judgment by which the human mind reaches its conclusions.

Each of these is faulty and inaccurate, but when combined they are complete:

Consequently, it has become evident that the four criteria or standards of judgment by which the human mind reaches its conclusions are faulty and inaccurate. All of them are liable to mistake and error in conclusions. But a statement presented to the mind accompanied by proofs which the senses can perceive to be correct, which the faculty of reason can accept, which is in accord with traditional authority and sanctioned by the promptings of the heart, can be adjudged and relied upon as perfectly correct, for it has been proved and tested by all the standards of judgment and found to be complete. When we apply but one test, there are possibilities of mistake. This is self-evident and manifest.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 253-255)

Reaching Consensus:

Everyone should be given the opportunity to express themselves fully:

In any case, all members should be given the opportunity to express themselves fully before decisions are made.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

If anyone needs additional facts, take time to gather them:

When it is proposed to put a matter to the vote, a member of the Assembly may feel that there are additional facts or views which must be sought before he can make up his mind and intelligently vote on the proposition. He should express this feeling to the Assembly, and it is for the Assembly to decide whether or not further consultation is needed before voting.  (Universal House of Justice, in Consultation: A Compilation, p. 21)

It’s important to try to understand any dissenting voices, because a thousand people may hold one view and be mistaken, whereas one sagacious person may be right:

Even a majority opinion or consensus may be incorrect. A thousand people may hold to one view and be mistaken, whereas one sagacious person may be right.   (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 72)

The Vote:

Hopefully a decision will be carried unanimously:

If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87)

Indeed, it has ever been the cherished desire of our Master, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, that the friends in their councils, local as well as national, should by their candor, their honesty of purpose, their singleness of mind, and the thoroughness of their discussions, achieve unanimity in all things.  (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 80)

When a unanimous decision is not possible, a vote must be taken:

The ideal of Bahá’í consultation is to arrive at a unanimous decision. When this is not possible a vote must be taken.  (Universal House of Justice, Consultation: A Compilation, p. 21)

If there are differences of opinion, a majority of voices must prevail:

. . .  should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88)

If unanimity is not subsequently achieved, decisions are arrived at by majority vote.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)

If we’ve turned to God in prayer, the voice of the majority is the voice of truth:

And, when they are called upon to arrive at a certain decision, they should, after dispassionate, anxious and cordial consultation, turn to God in prayer, and with earnestness and conviction and courage record their vote and abide by the voice of the majority, which we are told by our Master to be the voice of truth.  (Shoghi Effendi, in Consultation: A Compilation, pp. 13-14)

The Decision:

Everyone must agree to support the outcome wholeheartedly:

Once a decision has been reached, all members of the consultative body, having had the opportunity fully to state their views, agree wholeheartedly to support the outcome.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1988 Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 7)

Even is a mistake has been made, acceptance and harmony are what’s important:

We all have a right to our opinions, we are bound to think differently; but a Bahá’í must accept the majority decision of his Assembly, realizing that acceptance and harmony — even if a mistake has been made — are the really important things.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Local Spiritual Assembly compilation, p. 27)

If we do this, God will right the wrong:

.. . when we serve the Cause properly, in the Bahá’í way, God will right any wrongs done in the end.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Local Spiritual Assembly compilation, p. 27)

If consultation among the first group of people ends in disagreement, new people should be added using this process:

If consultation among the first group of people assembled endeth in disagreement, new people should be added, after which persons to the number of the Greatest Name, or fewer or more, shall be chosen by lot. Whereupon the consultation shall be renewed, and the outcome, whatever it is, shall be obeyed. If, however, there is still disagreement, the same procedure should be repeated once more, and the decision of the majority shall prevail. He, verily, guideth whomsoever He pleaseth to the right way.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 136)

How has this helped you understand the issue differently?  Post your comments below!

 

Newsletter – on the Covenant

Welcome to the Month of Speech 172

In this issue – the Covenant

A Covenant Unique in the Spiritual Annals of Mankind

Baha’u’llah and His Covenant – What Bahá’ís Believe 

Compilation on the Covenant

How The Covenant In The Baha’i Faith Creates And Maintains A Unified Religious Community

Learning—and Living—the Baha’i Covenant

Meeting the true Bahá’í – ‘Abdu’l-Baha

The Bahá’í Covenant – a Brief Overview

The Covenant – on Bahaikipedia

Understanding the Bahá’í Covenant 

Covenant – Day of

Holy Day Program for the Day of the Covenant

Stories for the Day of the Covenant

What Baha’is Celebrate on the Day of the Covenant

The Day of the Covenant

The Day of the Covenant

The Day of the Covenant Trivia Quiz

Featured Story:

‘Abdu’l-Baha appoints Lua Getsinger the Herald of the Covenant

Mrs. Gibbons, a Bahá’í, had written the Master before His coming to the United States, requesting that her own daughter be allowed to paint His portrait. In His reply He consented to this request and added, according to Mrs. Gibbons, that Juliet Thompson would paint a portrait of Him. Juliet Thompson had long dreamed that she would paint the face of Christ.

During the month of June, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá allowed Juliet Thompson to paint His portrait
telling her to paint His “Servitude to God”. She completed it over the course of six sittings which took place over multiple days in different rooms. Juliet remembered that fourth sitting on June 19th because of an extraordinary experience she and Lua Getsinger had on that day.

As the Master prepared to sit for the portrait, He turned to Lua Getsinger who was also in the room and told her in Persian that these sittings made Him sleepy. He sat down and closed His eyes. Juliet studied Him but found that she could not begin painting because ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s countenance reflected the dignity and peace of the Divine Realm.

Then, as though awakened by the Holy Spirit, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá opened His eyes and with great power said:

“I appoint you, Lua, the Herald of the Covenant. And I AM THE COVENANT, appointed by Bahá’u’lláh. And no one can refute His Word. This is the Testament of Bahá’u’lláh. You will find it in the Holy Book of Aqdas. Go forth and proclaim, ‘This is THE COVENANT OF GOD in your midst.’”

A great joy seemed to fill Lua while Juliet wept at witnessing this extraordinary moment of spiritual force flowing through the Master. Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá became quiet again. The Holy Spirit receded, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the man re-emerged. He smiled at Juliet and told her that she must stop crying since she would not be able to paint through tears.

In the afternoon of that same day He sent Lua Getsinger downstairs to speak about the
Covenant to the visitors waiting there. When He went down later, He read from
Bahá’u’lláh’s Tablet of the Branch and spoke with great power on the Covenant.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá designated New York City, the “City of the Covenant”. (The Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Malaysia –Feast of Kamal 2012)

Featured Prayer:

Tablet of the Branch

He is Eternal in His Abha Horizon!

Verily, the Cause of God hath come upon the clouds of utterances and the polytheists are in this day in great torment! Verily, the hosts of revelation have descended with banners of inspiration from the heaven of the Tablet in the name of God, the powerful, the mighty! At this time the monotheists all rejoice in the victory of God and His dominion, and the deniers will then be in manifest perplexity.

O ye people! Do ye flee from the mercy of God after it has encompassed the existent things created between the heavens and earths? Beware lest ye prefer your own selves before the mercy of God, and deprive not yourselves thereof! Verily, whosoever turneth away therefrom will be in great loss. Verily, mercy is like unto verses which have descended from the one heaven, and from them the monotheists drink the choice wine of life, whilst the polytheists drink from the fiery water; and when the verses of God are read unto them, the fire of hatred is enkindled within their breasts. Thus have they preferred their own selves before the mercy of God, and are of those who are heedless.

Enter, O people, beneath the shelter of the Word! Then drink therefrom the choice wine of inner significances and utterances; for therein is hidden the kawther of the glorious One — and it hath appeared from the horizon of the Will of your Lord, the merciful, with wonderful lights.

Say: Verily, the ocean of pre-existence hath branched forth from this most great Ocean. Blessed, therefore, is he who abides upon Its shores, and is of those who are established thereon. Verily,this most sacred temple of Abha —the Branch of Holiness— hath branched forth from the Sadratu’l-Muntaha. Blessed is whosoever sought shelter beneath it and is of those who rest therein.

Say: Verily, the branch of command hath sprung forth from this root which God hath firmly planted in the ground of the will, the limb of which has been elevated to a station which encompasses all existence. Therefore, exalted be He for this creation, the lofty, the blessed, the inaccessible, the mighty!

O ye people! Draw nigh unto It, and taste the fruits of its knowledge and wisdom on the part of the mighty, the knowing One. Whosoever will not taste thereof shall be deprived of the bounty, even though he hath partaken of all that is in the earth — were ye of those who know.

Say: Verily a word hath gone forth in favor from the most great Tablet and God has adorned It with the mantle of Himself, and made it sovereign over all in the earth and a sign of His grandeur and omnipotence among the creatures; in order that, through it, the people shall praise their Lord, the mighty, the powerful, the wise; and that, through it, they shall glorify their creator and sanctify the self of God which standeth within all things. Verily, this is naught but a Revelation upon the part of the wise, the ancient One!

Say: O people, praise ye God, for its Manifestation, for verily it is the most great favor upon you and the most perfect blessing upon you; and through Him every moldering bone is quickened. Whosoever turns to Him hath surely turned unto God, and whosoever turneth away from Him hath turned away from My beauty, denied My proof and is of those who transgress. Verily, He is the remembrance of God amongst you and His trust within you, and His manifestation unto you and His appearance among the servants who are nigh. Thus have I been commanded to convey to you the message of God, your Creator; and I have delivered to you that of which I was commande His messengers, and then His holy servants.

Inhale the fragrances of the Ridvan from His roses and be not of those who are deprived. Appreciate the bounty of God upon you and be not veiled therefrom — and, verily, We have sent Him forth in the temple of man. Thus praise ye the Lord, the Originator of whatsoever He willeth through His wise and inviolable Command!
Verily, those who withhold themselves from the shelter of the Branch are indeed lost in the wilderness of perplexity; and are consumed by the heat of self-desire, and are of those who perish.

Hasten, O people, unto the shelter of God, in order that He may protect you from the heat of the Day whereon none shall find for himself any refuge or shelter except beneath the shelter of His Name, the clement, the forgiving! Clothe yourselves, O people, from the dart of doubts and superstitions, and that ye may be of those who are assured in those days wherein none shall ever be assured and none shall be firmly established in the Cause, except by severing himself from all that is possessed by the people and turning unto the holy and radiant outlook.

O ye people! Do ye take unto yourselves the Jebt as a helper other than God, and do ye seek the Taghoot as a Lord besides your Lord the almighty, the omnipotent? Forsake, O people, their mention, then hold the chalice of life in the Name of your Lord, the merciful. Verily, by God, the existent world is quickened through a drop thereof, were ye of those who know.

Say: In that Day there is no refuge for any one save the command of God, and no salvation for any soul but God. Verily, this is the truth and there is naught after truth but manifest error.

Verily, God hath made it incumbent upon every soul to deliver His Cause according to his ability. Thus hath the command been recorded by the finger of might and power upon the Tablet of majesty and greatness.

Whosoever quickens one soul in this Cause is like unto one quickening all the servants and the Lord shall bring him forth in the day of resurrection into the Ridvan of oneness, adorned with the Mantle of Himself, the protector, the mighty, the generous! Thus will ye assist your Lord, and naught else save this shall ever be mentioned in this day before God, your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers.

As to thee, O servant, hearken unto the admonition given unto thee in the Tablet; then seek the grace of thy Lord at all times. Then spread the Tablet among those who believe in God and in His verses; so that they may follow that which is contained therein, and be of those who are praiseworthy.

Say: O people, cause no corruption in the earth and dispute not with men; for, verily, this is not worthy of those who have chosen in the shelter of their Lord a station which shall indeed remain secure.

If ye find one athirst, give him to drink from the chalice of Kawtha and Tasneen; and if ye find one endowed with an attentive ear, read unto him the verses of God, the mighty, the merciful, the compassionate! Unloose the tongue with excellent utterance, then admonish the people if ye find them advancing unto the sanctuary of God; otherwise abandon them unto themselves and forsake them in the abyss of hell.

Beware lest ye scatter the pearls of inner significance before every barren, dumb one. Verily, the blind are deprived of witnessing the lights and are unable to distinguish between the stone and the holy, precious pearl.

Verily, wert thou to read the most mighty, wonderful verses to the stone for a thousand years, will it understand, or will they take any effect therein? No! by thy Lord, the merciful, the clement! If thou readest all the verses of God unto the deaf, will he hear a single letter? No! Verily, by the beauty, the mighty, the ancient!

Thus have We delivered unto thee some of the jewels of wisdom and utterance, in order that thou mayest gaze unto the direction of thy Lord and be severed from all the creatures. May the spirit and glory rest upon thee, and upon those who dwell upon the plain of holiness and who remain in the Cause of their Lord in manifest steadfastness! (Baha’u’llah)

Note:

This rendering of the “Tablet of the Branch” (available originally in Baha’i World Faith) has been referred to as “rather poorly translated” in a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in Light of Divine Guidance, vol. I, p. 65. However, an authoritative translation has been added as an overlay to the text that gives the more up-to-date and authoritative translation made by Shoghi Effendi for that passage as published in the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. For more information please read this article 

To read a study guide to this Tablet

Featured Video:

Baha’i Basics — The Eternal Covenant

This first video gives us a basic overview of God’s eternal covenant, using easy to understand analogies. It was put together by the USA-Baha’i Newsreel

In the second video, we hear some comments taken from a talk given in New Zealand in 2006, on the Power of the Covenant, by former member of the Universal House of Justice Mr. Ali Nakhjavani.

Featured Book:

 

I’ve read lots of material on the Covenant and on the one hand, while the succession of authority is clear, the more I read the more confused I get! I was pleased to see that The Covenant and You by John Kolstoe answers these questions:

  • Is mankind finally able to overcome its incompetence and shortcomings that have so weighed it down in the past?
  • Aren’t we the same bunch that have messed things up before?
  • Is there something new to combat the viruses that have plagued the human race: anger, jealousy, greed, materialism, the love of leadership, and so on?

When people like you and me choose to walk in the light of the Covenant:

  • A shift in human affairs is started.
  • The shortcomings and foibles that have corrupted political systems and religions for eons gradually lose their power.
  • The foundation is laid for peace and security on this war-torn planet.
  • The world draws closer to fulfilling the Báb’s promise.
  • Mankind comes into harmony with the latest Word from God.

For more information and to buy the book

Featured Coach:

This month I’d like to introduce you to Leyla Tavernaro Haidarian, a Life Coach and Media & Communications Specialist who would love to closely guide you through the process of designing your personal strategy and improving your quality of life, especially when life takes uncertain turns.

She places great emphasis on deconstructing false dichotomies, bringing various seemingly conflicting interests into a coherent oneness of purpose and complementarity. Her approach includes embracing the uncertainties of life and business so you can succeed at a deep level.

To visit her home page

To listen to Leyla’s Life Secrets 

To follow her on Facebook 

To follow her on Twitter 

To find her on Linkedin 

To find her on Instagram 

Featured Business:

 

This month we feature the unique graphic designs of Finnish designer Joe Paczkowski, whose work I have been encouraging on Facebook for some time. Check out the images in his various galleries which can be used for personal non-commercial purposes, perhaps to embellish your devotional, teaching and administrative materials.

If you like to colour, he has contributed to my favorite “Virtues Meditation Mandalas Coloring Book”, which has been billed as a “Spiritual Stress-Reducing Coloring Book for All Ages”.

And if you like to wear your art, check out his silk scarves and stoles. My favourite is the 9 pointed star scarf!

To see more of his products (including mugs, mobile phone and laptop skins, tote bags, T-Shirts, art prints and more). I’m going to order one of his duvet covers!

To follow him on Facebook

To see him on Pinterest 

To follow him on Behance 

Our Readers Write:

As always, thank you Susan and hope you are recovering well. (Sammy Gila)

I am so sorry for what has happened to you… I pray and supplicate the Blessed Beauty for your full recovery to continue with your wonderful work. (Manijeh Mizadini)

Thank you for sending me more material. How is your health? is everything getting well now? I felt so sorry for that. i can only pray for you. May Bahaullah spirit is always with you. I wish you to be better fast. Thank you very much for everything it is very helpful. (Graciana Herculano)

So very sorry to hear that you needed screws and a plate. Will be adding your name to my list for healing – we say it each Wednesday morning devotional. Hope folks are rallying around to help you as you get adjusted to this new and ‘so much slower’ way of life! (Jane Graves)

My response:

Thanks everyone for your prayers and kind wishes! I have 8 screws and plate my ankle is having to learn to bend around ! Every day I celebrate small victories! God willing, I’ll be walking again by Christmas!

Thanks to all who write in! Your encouragement really keeps me going!

By the way, I accept donations! If you like the materials in these newsletters and on my website, please consider making a donation. Your help and feedback is GREATLY appreciated, to defray the costs of making these available to you!!! There’s a PayPal “Donate” Button at the bottom of every page on my website. Thank you!!!

See you next month! Hope it’s a month filled with light!