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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!