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Old 03-16-2014, 10:23 AM   #1
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Trends in Baha'i Administration over time

As someone still new to the faith (hope the fast is going well, everyone!) and someone who has always been interested in history and political theory, I wonder if persons can describe at a practicable level how Baha'i democracy works in practice. I never really paid much attention to this aspect of the faith until now.

I attended my first election recently, before the fast began. I must confess I really did not know anyone so was unable to cast a proper vote for the Local assembly.

I realize that the faith has no campaigning, as of course, that is prohibited scriptually, but how does one really know who to vote for? I suppose at the local level that is somewhat easy as you ultimately know persons, but in the tiered method of elections, I suppose it would be rather difficult to know who one is voting for for a national assembly, much lest the Universal House of Justice. So, how does one get to know the candidates, especially when everyone is a potential candidate?

The cynic in me seems to think that, in any other context, say if a secular government was run in such a way, that would lend to an oligarchial system where those with such responsibilities tend to be kept in place by name recognition and their own momentum, which of course would continue to feed into the higher tiers. Perhaps that is meant that way for reasons of unity and stability, but it would seem from my limited point of view to lead to potential for stagnation as well.

I suppose my main question with this discussion, is a very simple, how does this work?
 
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Old 03-16-2014, 10:24 AM   #2
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And I should reply up front stating I hope this thread is not one that is taken out of context or causes hurt feelings. It really is out of curiosity. In for a penny, in for a pound, as they say, so i like to know how this new way of doing things I have accepted works.
 
Old 03-16-2014, 01:30 PM   #3
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Good morning noogan

These are very good questions. Now, maybe someone will find some very good answers

First, can I recommend you get a copy of "Light of Guidance" by Helen Basset Hornby. There are quite a few of your answers in that volume. On the assumption that you will end up with a copy, I will leave you to fnd the relevant quotes for the answers I think I can provide.

At the local level, we are strongly encouraged to get to know one another. Now, as friends, we should be associating with each other as friends. How otherwise does the local community obey the exhortation of Baha'u'llah to become the fingers of one hand, and all the ramifications and implications this holds. A good reason to go Home Visiting.

At the national level, I must admit to scratching my head. Some members of the community rise to prominence, not because they seek to do so but simply due to their dedication, committment and efforts. Never having been to National Convention even as a visitor even, I have no experiential background on this. Yet, the membership of the National Spiritual Assembly does change over time, so we know that Divine Guidance plays a large role.

Ditto for the international level, the Universal House of Justice.

As regards "The cynic in me...", that is not so cynical. But remember, it must be taken in consideration of the degree of the maturity of the community. The Administrative Order itself is still evolving in both the participants understanding of that Order, and the functions and roles taken on by that Order.I have watched this gentle transition over the last 40 years, and can see how, under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, the Order is being refined in function and purpose. But.....

People are still people. At this time, my own observation is that the incumbents tend to be returned year after year, purely because we are still learning the process, and it is often easier for people to take the easy path. This will change over time, as the spirit imbued in the Revelation of Baha'u'llah take greater effect, and the maturity of the adherents increases. At that time, even if the incumbents get returned it will be for the right reasons.

Another reason at the local level will often be that the choices are so limited. Of a community of, say, 20 people, their may only be nine, give or take, who are actually suited for service on the Local Spiritual Assembly. I know of one Assembly in a community of such a size at which only 8 members ever attended the meetings.

That said, have no doubt that the guiding Hand of God is still involved. In the example above, another person moved into that community, and was at the next election voted to the Assembly. People move out of an area, people move in, and my own view is that God has guided these moves for the betterment of the local communities.

With warm greetings

Romane
 
Old 03-16-2014, 01:35 PM   #4
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Another good morning, noonan

Related, albeit by extension rather than directly. I have drawn it from the "Extended Baha'i Glossary" (which must be considered a work-in-progress).

Quote:
Ten Part Process

A ten-part process of divine revelation described by Shoghi Effendi. It began with Adam and is to end with the erection of the entire machinery of Bahá’u’lláh’s Administrative Order and the suffusion of the light of His Revelation, throughout future epochs of the Formative and Golden Ages of the Faith, over the entire planet.

The ten-part process, Shoghi Effendi writes, began
“with the planting in the soil of the divine will, of the tree of divine revelation, and which has already passed through certain stages and must needs pass through still others ere it attains its final consummation. The first part of this process was the slow and steady growth of this tree of divine revelation, successively putting forth its branches, shoots and offshoots, and revealing its leaves, buds and blossoms, as a direct consequence of the light and warmth imparted to it by a series of progressive Dispensations associated with Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muḥammad and other Prophets, and of the vernal showers of blood shed by countless martyrs in their path. The second part of this process was the fruition of this tree, ‘that belongeth neither to the East nor to the West,’ when the Báb appeared as the perfect fruit and declared His mission in the Year Sixty [1844] in the city of Shíráz. The third part was the grinding of this sacred seed, of infinite preciousness and potency, in the mill of adversity, causing it to yield its oil, six years later, in the city of Tabríz [1850]. The fourth part was the ignition of this oil by the hand of Providence in the depths and amidst the darkness of the Síyáh-Chál of Ṭihrán a hundred years ago [1852]. The fifth, was the clothing of that flickering light, which had scarcely penetrated the adjoining territory of ‘Iráq, in the lamp of revelation, after an eclipse lasting no less than ten years, in the city of Baghdád [1863]. The sixth, was the spread of the radiance of that light, shining with added brilliancy in its crystal globe in Adrianople [1863- 1868], and later on in the fortress town of ‘Akká [1868-1877], to thirteen countries in the Asiatic and African continents. The seventh was its projection, from the Most Great Prison, in the course of the ministry of the Centre of the Covenant [1892-1921], across the seas and the shedding of its illumination upon twenty sovereign states and dependencies in the American, the European, and Australian continents. The eighth part of that process was the diffusion of that same light in the course of the first, and the opening years of the second, epoch of the Formative Age of the Faith [1921-1953], over ninety-four sovereign states, dependencies and islands of the planet, as a result of the prosecution of a series of national plans, initiated by eleven national spiritual assemblies throughout the Bahá’í world, utilizing the agencies of a newly emerged, divinely appointed Administrative Order, and which has now culminated in the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh’s Mission. The ninth part of this process—the stage we are now entering [1953]—is the further diffusion of that same light over one hundred and thirty-one additional territories and islands in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, through the operation of a decade-long world spiritual crusade whose termination will, God willing, coincide with the Most Great Jubilee commemorating the centenary of the declaration of Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdád. And finally the tenth part of this mighty process [1963-] must be the penetration of that light, in the course of numerous crusades and of successive epochs of both the Formative and Golden Ages of the Faith, into all the remaining territories of the globe through the erection of the entire machinery of Bahá’u’lláh’s Administrative Order in all territories, both East and West, the stage at which the light of God’s triumphant Faith shining in all its power and glory will have suffused and enveloped the entire planet” (Messages to the Bahá’í World, pages 154-55).
With warm greetings

Romane

Last edited by Romane; 03-16-2014 at 01:39 PM.
 
Old 03-16-2014, 11:56 PM   #5
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The Bahai electoral system does lead to the re-election of most members, most of the time. This is because the pool of "who else to vote for" is very large, so even if most of the voters are dissatisfied with most of the incumbents, their votes for non-incumbents will be diffused across a large number of electables. If each very dissatisfied voter votes for just one incumbent "for continuity's sake", those votes will still be enough to return all or most of the incumbents. Change is possible only where (a) there is a vacancy (b) a non-member of the assembly becomes so prominent in the community that the votes for change concentrate on him or her, or (c) there are a large number of dissatisfied voters who see this dynamic and understand that to get even a partial change in membership, they must vote for no incumbents.

As a form of government, it would be too rigid to work, but (a) it is balanced by the more nimble institution of the Learned, and (b) the leadership of a religious community is something different to a government: the community's needs and challenges do not change so rapidly, and religion itself serves as a force for continuity and stability (in most societies, most of the time). So what would not be desirable in a civil government, may be just the ticket in a religious community. A letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi explains:
Quote:
“The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Bahá’í community; consequently it works, according to its own procedure, best suited to its needs. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, 276)
 
Old 03-17-2014, 03:41 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noogan View Post
.

I attended my first election recently, before the fast began. I must confess I really did not know anyone so was unable to cast a proper vote for the Local assembly.
it would be completely impossible for anyone to "to cast a proper vote for the Local assembly" "recently, before the fast began", since ALL local spiritual assemblies MUST be elected ONLY on the first day of Riḍván.
 
Old 03-17-2014, 07:38 AM   #7
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Assemblies are elected at Ridvan but, as I understand it if a community, at any time during the Bahá'í year, rose in numbers from below 9 to above nine, for example with a couple of declarations, then an election would be held and an assembly formed. Anyone, please correct me if I am wrong?
 
Old 03-17-2014, 08:48 AM   #8
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Greetings!

For the record, the title of the mentioned book is Lights of Guidance.

Regards,

Bruce
 
Old 03-17-2014, 11:15 AM   #9
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Thank you all for the interesting answers. Randaljazz it just happened to work out as it did because someone had recently moved away who had been on the assembly. I should have made that clear, but in fairness my experience is limited.

I will look for the book Lights of Guidance.
 
Old 03-18-2014, 12:57 AM   #10
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@noonan--apologies, without excuse or explanation.
 
Old 03-18-2014, 01:03 AM   #11
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from "Developing Distinctive Bahá'í Communities":

"In developing the Administrative Order, the Guardian established the First Day of
Riḍván as the day when all Local Spiritual Assemblies should be elected. During his
own lifetime, this practice was followed as the number of Local Assemblies steadily
grew to over one thousand.
In the subsequent two decades the Faith expanded greatly, especially in the rural
areas of the world, often remote and difficult to reach. In view of this development,
the Universal House of Justice decided in 1977 that, in certain cases, when the
local friends failed to elect their Spiritual Assembly on the First Day of Riḍván,
they could do so on any subsequent Day of the Riḍván festival. This permission did
not apply to all localities, but to those that, in the judgment of the National
Spiritual Assembly, were particularly affected by such factors as illiteracy, remoteness, and unfamiliarity with concepts of Bahá’í administration. The House
of Justice also gave permission at the beginning of the Five Year Plan for
Assemblies being formed for the first time to be elected at any point during the
year."
Letter from the Universal House of Justice, dated December 26, 1995, to the Conference of the
Continental Boards of Counselors
 
Old 03-18-2014, 01:08 AM   #12
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QUALIFICATIONS FOR ASSEMBLY MEMBERSHIP
It is incumbent upon the chosen delegates to consider without the least trace of
passion and prejudice, and irrespective of any material consideration, the names of
only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature
experience.
Letter from Shoghi Effendi, to the Bahá'í Convention, dated June 3, 1925, Bahá’í Administration, p. 88

If we but turn our gaze to the high qualifications of the members of Bahá’í
Assemblies … we are filled with feelings of unworthiness and dismay, and would
feel truly disheartened but for the comforting thought that if we rise to play nobly
our part, every deficiency in our lives will be more than compensated by the allconquering
spirit of His grace and power.
Letter from Shoghi Effendi, dated June 3, 1925, to delegates and visitors to a Bahá'í Convention,
Bahá’í Administration, p. 88

In regard to your question about qualifications of delegates and Assembly
members: the qualifications which he outlined are really applicable to anyone we
elect to a Bahá’í office, whatever its nature. But these are only an indication, they
do not mean people who don’t fulfill them cannot be elected to office. We must
aim as high as we can.
Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated October 24, 1947, to a National Spiritual Assembly,
in Extracts from the Guardian’s Letters on the Spiritual Character of Bahá’í Elections, p. 3

Concerning the qualifications of the members of the spiritual assembly; there is
a distinction of fundamental importance which should be always remembered in
this connection, and this is between the spiritual assembly as an institution, and
the persons who comprise it. These are by no means supposed to be perfect, nor
can they be considered as being inherently superior to the rest of their fellowbelievers.
It is precisely because they are subject to the same human limitations
that characterize the other members of the community that they have to be elected
every year. The existence of elections is a sufficient indication that assembly
members, though forming part of an institution that is divine and perfect, are
nevertheless themselves imperfect. But this does not necessarily imply that their
judgment is defective. For as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has repeatedly emphasized Bahá’í
assemblies are under the guidance and protection of God. The elections, specially
when annual, give the community a good opportunity to remedy any defect or
imperfection from which the assembly may suffer as a result of the actions of its
members. Thus a safe method has been established whereby the quality of
membership in Bahá’í assemblies can be continually raised and improved. But, as
already stated, the institution of the spiritual assembly should under no
circumstances be identified with, or be estimated merely through, the personal
qualifications of the members that compose it.
Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated November 15, 1935, to an individual believer in
The Local Spiritual Assembly, compiled by the Universal House of Justice, pp. 9−10

Benefits of Electing New Members
Shoghi Effendi has never said that the members of the National Assembly have to
be renewed partially every year. The important thing is that they should be
properly elected. It would be nice if there should be new members elected, for new
blood always adds to the energy of the group and will keep up their spirit. But this
depends entirely upon the will of the delegates as represented in the result of their
voting.
Letter written on behalf of the Guardian, dated April 27, 1932, to an individual believer, in Bahá'í
News, No. 67, October 1932, p. 4, in Lights of Guidance, no. 63
He was very happy to see that changes had been made in membership of the
N.S.A. this year, not from any reasons of personality, but because change itself is
good and brings a fresh outlook into the discussions of any assembly. He was also
pleased to see that these changes involved more younger people being on the
N.S.A.; with the tremendous amount of work which this … Plan is going to involve,
this will be a great help to the older members of that body.
Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, dated May 21, 1946, to an individual believer, in The
Compilation of Compilations, Vol. II, no. 1449
 
Old 03-18-2014, 01:10 AM   #13
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Developing Distinctive Bahá'í Communities

answers to many admin-type questions.

available online.
 
Old 05-04-2014, 04:38 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sen McGlinn View Post
The Bahai electoral system does lead to the re-election of most members, most of the time. This is because the pool of "who else to vote for" is very large, so even if most of the voters are dissatisfied with most of the incumbents, their votes for non-incumbents will be diffused across a large number of electables. If each very dissatisfied voter votes for just one incumbent "for continuity's sake", those votes will still be enough to return all or most of the incumbents. Change is possible only where (a) there is a vacancy (b) a non-member of the assembly becomes so prominent in the community that the votes for change concentrate on him or her, or (c) there are a large number of dissatisfied voters who see this dynamic and understand that to get even a partial change in membership, they must vote for no incumbents.

As a form of government, it would be too rigid to work, but (a) it is balanced by the more nimble institution of the Learned, and (b) the leadership of a religious community is something different to a government: the community's needs and challenges do not change so rapidly, and religion itself serves as a force for continuity and stability (in most societies, most of the time). So what would not be desirable in a civil government, may be just the ticket in a religious community. A letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi explains:
Some good point made, as always. To this I would add the the method of holding Baha'i elections (ie., the mechanics of voting) is not specified in the writings, and so can be changed by the House of Justice.
 
Old 05-05-2014, 11:09 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jcc View Post
Some good point made, as always. To this I would add the the method of holding Baha'i elections (ie., the mechanics of voting) is not specified in the writings, and so can be changed by the House of Justice.
Dear Jcc you make an interesting point here.......(ie., the mechanics of voting) is not specified in the writings, and so can be changed by the House of Justice.

A strong possibility, as I feel many do not follow the rules of voting as they are now, sadly
 
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