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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Elections in Baha’u’llah’s World Order

Posted by Sen on January 30, 2009

One of the friends asked three questions:

1. After the World Order of Baha’u’llah is established and the World’s legislative & executive branches of government are arms or derivatory institutions of the Universal House of Justice (which appears to be the case from my readings) will non-Baha’is have the opportunity to vote for the National Assemblies that elect the House of Justice? Alternatively, can/will the Universal House of Justice be elected in some other way?

2. Will the World Legislature and/or Executive be elected or appointed by the Universal House of Justice? Alternatively, is the Universal House of Justice to become the World Executive? If elected, will only Baha’is have the right to vote?


What may happen in the future is in the hands of God. We cannot foresee it, but we can understand the principles involved in Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi’s vision of the future. In various places in the Bahai Writings we find details on the election of the Tribunal, the House of Justice and the Legislature.

gavelAs for the International Tribunal, when ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace at The Hague in 1919 he said:

…the Supreme Tribunal which Bahá’u’lláh has described will fulfil this sacred task with the utmost might and power. And His plan is this: that the national assemblies of each country and nation—that is to say parliaments—should elect two or three persons who are the choicest of that nation, and are well informed concerning international laws and the relations between governments and aware of the essential needs of the world of humanity in this day. The number of these representatives should be in proportion to the number of inhabitants of that country. The election of these souls who are chosen by the national assembly, that is, the parliament, must be confirmed by the upper house, the congress and the cabinet and also by the president or monarch so these persons may be the elected ones of all the nation and the government. From among these people the members of the Supreme Tribunal will be elected, (Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, p. 306, except that I have used the revised translation of this Tablet from the World Centre in 1985, in which ‘men’ has been changed to ‘persons’.)

So for the International Tribunal, all the people of a country elect the parliament, the parliament elects a few delegates depending on the country’s population, and the delegates from all the countries elect the members of the tribunal from among their own number. Because of the last provision, the delegates must themselves be experts in international law and politics. This is logical: the Supreme Tribunal is intended to be an institution of expertise, so it must be elected out of and by experts.

ungenassyAs for the World Legislature: Shoghi Effendi has said that the members of the legislature should be “elected by the people in their respective countries and [their] election shall be confirmed by their respective governments.” (World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 41), although Baha’u’llah says, in respect to the gathering which is to establish (and presumably maintain) world peace, that it would be “preferable and more fitting that the highly-honored kings themselves should attend such an assembly.” (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 31) This looks rather like a two-chamber structure, with one chamber elected directly by the people and the other consisting of government representatives.

So for the World legislature, we have direct election by all the people of a country, of their country’s representatives. Again, this is logical: the world legislature is intended to be an institution of representation, and to have the consent and support of the people, and to answer to the people, so each member must be directly elected by the people.

uhjbuildingAs for the election of the National Assemblies and the Universal House of Justice, Shoghi Effendi writes:

In one of His [Abdu’l-Baha’s] earliest Tablets, … the following is expressly recorded:—
“At whatever time all the beloved of God in each country appoint their delegates, and these in turn elect their representatives, and these representatives elect a body, that body shall be regarded as the Supreme Baytu’l-’Adl (Universal House of Justice).”

These words clearly indicate that a three-stage election has been provided by ‘Abdu’l-Baha for the formation of the International House of Justice, and as it is explicitly provided in His Will and Testament that the “Secondary House of Justice (i.e., National Assemblies) must elect the members of the Universal One,” it is obvious that the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies will have to be indirectly elected by the body of the believers in their respective provinces. In view of these complementary instructions the principle, … has been established requiring the believers (the beloved of God) in every country to elect a certain number of delegates who, in turn, will elect their national representatives (Secondary House of Justice or National Spiritual Assembly) whose sacred obligation and privilege will be to elect in time God’s Universal House of Justice. (Bahai Administration, p. 84

So the Bahais, and only the Bahais, are to elect delegates, these delegates are to elect the National Assembly, out of all the eligible Bahais, and the National assemblies are to elect the Universal House of Justice, again out of all the Bahais. Similarly, only adult enrolled Baha’is can vote for the Local Spiritual Assemblies:aqdas

…it is of the utmost importance that in accordance with the explicit text of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book, in every locality, be it city or hamlet, where the number of adult (21 years and above) declared believers exceeds nine, a local “Spiritual Assembly” be forthwith established. To it all local matters pertaining to the Cause must be directly and immediately referred for full consultation and decision. The importance, nay the absolute necessity of these local Assemblies is manifest when we realize that in the days to come they will evolve into the local Houses of Justice, and at present provide the firm foundation on which the structure of the Master’s Will is to be reared in future. (Baha’i Administration, page 37)

Since this is an interpretation by the Guardian of the Aqdas, it cannot be changed. There is another passage which specifies that only Baha’is can vote for the delegates, and only Bahais can be elected to the National Spiritual Assembly:

The friends then in every locality where the number of adult declared believers exceeds nine must directly elect its quota of secondary electors assigned to it in direct proportion to its numerical strength. These secondary electors will then, either through correspondence, or preferably by gathering together, and first deliberating upon the affairs of the Cause throughout their country (as the delegates to the Convention), elect from among all the friends in that country nine who will be the members of the National Spiritual Assembly.
This National Spiritual Assembly,… obviously assumes grave responsibilities, for it has to exercise full authority over all the local Assemblies in its province, and will have to direct the activities of the friends, guard vigilantly the Cause of God, and control and supervise the affairs of the Movement in general. (Baha’i Administration, p. 40)

electionFrom this it is clear that participation by non-Baha’is in the elections of the local, national and international Houses of Justice is impossible. Nor is there any reason for people who are not Bahais to wish to vote, since the National Assembly, according to this text, is responsible for “the affairs of the Cause,” and the Local Spiritual Assembly according to the previous quote has the same mandate. Why would anyone not part of the Bahai community be interested in voting for or serving on such a body? Moreover, participation in Baha’i consultation carries with it a commitment to abide by and support the results of the consultation. This can be expected of an enrolled Bahai, but not of anyone else.

Since the Bahai elected bodies are not intended to be institutions of expertise, it is logical that the delegates are not limited to electing these bodies from among the delegates. And since they are not intended to be institutions of representation, it is logical that they are not directly elected, except at the level of the Local Spiritual Assembly. And since their responsibility is for the affairs of the Bahai community, naturally only Bahais can vote. For all three institutions, the methods of election are not arbitrary, but reflect the different function of each institution and the intended character for each.

uhjmembersThe next question was:

3. Once the Universal House of Justice has legislated certain laws, under what circumstances can these laws then be changed? Can once-approved laws be abrogated or changed by a succeeding Universal House of Justice (or even by the same one prior to the expiration of its term)?

`Abdu’l-Baha dealt with this in his Will and Testament, page 20:willtestament

It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book. Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself. Inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same. Thus for example, the House of Justice enacteth today a certain law and enforceth it, and a hundred years hence, circumstances having profoundly changed and the conditions having altered, another House of Justice will then have power, according to the exigencies of the time, to alter that law. This it can do because these laws form no part of the divine explicit Text. The House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.

So while the decisions of the Universal House of Justice have same effect as the text of Scripture, they, unlike the interpretations of the Guardian, do not become part of the sacred text. This means they can be changed. In the words of Shoghi Effendi:

Such is the immutability of His revealed Word. Such is the elasticity which characterizes the functions of His appointed ministers. The first preserves the identity of His Faith, and guards the integrity of His law. The second enables it, even as a living organism, to expand and adapt itself to the needs and requirements of an ever-changing society. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, page 23)

Since the Will and Testament says that The House of Justice initiates and abrogates its own laws, there is no reason to think that a law is unchangeable during the term of particular members of the institution.

exclamationexclamation2Now, to return to the first question: you said, “the World’s legislative & executive branches of government are arms or derivatory institutions of the Universal House of Justice.”

I think this is a less than adequate rendering of the relationship. One might rather think of the one as the body, the other as the soul, of the World Order. The Bahai Faith is not a body-denying religion: the body, the physical creation and the civil institutions of the world order have their own dignity, the world government institutions are just as much created by and supported by Baha’u’llah as are the Houses of Justice. In fact in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, page 203, where Shoghi Effendi describes the governing institutions of the world commonwealth of nations, he leaves out the Universal House of Justice! This points to the fact that the Universal House of Justice is not in any sense a government institution or court, but it also shows that the civil institutions are worth a serious description by the Guardian: government institutions are not a lesser or despised organ, as in most Christian theologies of the state, but rather have the full dignity of a divinely-ordained institution.

I suspect that the process in which the two learn to work together closely may be a long one – like the cooperation between the National Spiritual Assemblies and the Counselors, which has not always been smooth and productive (see the 1994 letter of the UHJ to the NSA of the United States). In the latter case, one reason for a less than productive relationship may have been a tendency of the friends in general to assume that all other institutions are ‘derivatory’ or ‘arms’ of the elected Baha’i institutions.

diversityIt takes all kinds of different organs to make the body work, and an organ which even imagines that it is the boss has missed the point of organic unity, and so misunderstood its own role and nature as well as those of the other organs. There is no boss in a body. And even if all the organs of the Bahai community are in some sense ‘subordinate’ to the greatest institution (the Mashriq’ul-Adhkar), this is not because they are arms of it, in the sense of doing what they are told, but because they are emanations of it, worldly manifestations of the spirit of the Mashriq’ul-Adhkar. Like the English monarchy, the Baha’i World Order model is one in which the highest institution has no administrative function, but every claim to respect, and that is why it can serve as a collective centre, drawing the other institutions into its sphere of sacredness so that all are acting, in their various ways and spheres, in the same spirit. This is much healthier (more organic) than a monist and hierarchical model of social unity where one institution can command the others and coordinate their activities in a mechanical way.

~~ Sen McGlinn
Short link to this page: http://tinyurl.com/worldorderelections
Even shorter: http://wp.me/pcgF5-fN
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