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A consummate union

Posted by Sen on May 22, 2009

I recently came across Bahai blog (whose owner prefers not to be named) that, as an example of the Bahai teachings, presented this passage from the old compilation Bahai World Faith:

He has ordained and established the House of Justice which is endowed with a political as well as a religious function, the consummate union and blending of church and state. This institution is under the protecting power of Baha’u’llah Himself.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, 247)

The issue of what is, and what is not, Bahai scripture is of general importance, so I am responding here.

Dear S.,

the text you cite from Bahai World Faith is not authentic. It is precisely for this reason that Bahai World Faith has passed out of use in the Bahai community: the book is a mixture of authoritative scripture and other materials we cannot rely on.

In this case, the source is a “pilgrim’s note” – that is, a report of what was said by Abdu’l-Baha, not a text he wrote. As regards such reports of talks, the Guardian’s secretary wrote in 1947 that:

Nothing can be considered scripture for which we do not have an original text. A verbatim record in Persian of His talks would of course be more reliable than one in English because He was not always accurately interpreted . . .
(Unfolding Destiny, 208)

In this case, there is no Persian record of these words being spoken, so what we have is simply what somebody said the interpreter said Abdu’l-Baha was saying.

In addition, the original report has been altered, and ideas are put in Abdu’l-Baha’s mouth with which he would certainly not agree. The version in Bahai World Faith comes from The Promulgation of Universal Peace, page 455, which is based on notes of the talk first published in Star of the West, Vol. 4, No. 15 (December 12, 1913). The original reads: SoW4-255

The eleventh teaching is the organization called, The House of Justice, which is endowed with a political as well as a religious aspect. It embodies both aspects, and it is protected by the Preserving Power of Baha’o’llah Himself.

In 1925 the editor of The Promulgation of Universal Peace, Howard MacNutt, revised this to read:

He has ordained and established the House of Justice, which is endowed with a political as well as a religious function, the consummate union and blending of church and state. This institution is under the protecting power of Baha’u’llah Himself. (Promulgation of Universal Peace, 455)

Clearly, the phrase about “church and state” is a corruption of the text: it is what Howard MacNutt teaches, not what Abdu’l-Baha teaches. MacNutt was one of a handful of early American Bahais who imposed theocratic thinking onto the Bahai teachings: I’ve discussed and quoted some of their writings in ‘Theocratic assumptions in Baha’i literature’ (pdf here) and, on this blog, in ‘how theocracy happened.’

StaroftheWestCDsThe older version of this talk by Abdu’l-Baha, in Star of the West, continues:

A Universal or World House of Justice shall be organized. That which it orders shall be the Truth in explaining the Commands of Baha’o’llah, and that which the House of Justice ordains concerning the Commands of Baha’o’llah shall be obeyed by all.

Which MacNutt revises to read:pupcover3

A universal, or international, House of Justice shall also be organized. Its rulings shall be in accordance with the commands and teachings of Baha’u’llah, and that which the Universal House of Justice ordains shall be obeyed by all mankind.

By removing the phrase “in explaining the Commands of Baha’o’llah,” MacNutt makes it appear that the Universal House of Justice has an unlimited authority, whereas the original says only that it has the authority to elucidate Baha’i laws.

I said above that MacNutt put ideas in Abdu’l-Baha’s mouth with which he would certainly not agree. How do I know that? Because Abdu’l-Baha wrote, for example:tdp cover

Should they place in the arena the crown of the government of the whole world, and invite each one of us to accept it, undoubtedly we shall not condescend, and shall refuse to accept it.” (Tablets of the Divine Plan, 51)

and, with specific reference to the House of Justice:

Abdu'l-Baha portraitThe signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs. Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection with material matters, and that its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs. This was also instructed (performed) in all Persia. (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha Abbas vol. 1, page 5)

Similar teachings can be found in the writings of Baha’u’llah and Shoghi Effendi. I have collected some of these in the compilation on Church and State on this blog. For example in the Lawh-e Ashraf, Baha’u’llah writes:

The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath ever regarded, and will continue to regard, the hearts of men as His own, His exclusive possession. All else, whether pertaining to land or sea, whether riches or glory, He hath bequeathed unto the Kings and rulers of the earth. From the beginning that hath no beginning the ensign proclaiming the words “He doeth whatsoever He willeth” hath been unfurled in all its splendor before His Manifestation. What mankind needeth in this day is obedience unto them that are in authority, and a faithful adherence to the cord of wisdom. The instruments which are essential to the immediate protection, the security and assurance of the human race have been entrusted to the hands, and lie in the grasp, of the governors of human society. This is the wish of God and His decree…. (Gleanings, CII 206-7)

and Shoghi Effendi writes:wob

Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.
(The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 66)

Although the text in The Promulgation of Universal Peace, page 455, is not authentic, and not in line with Bahai teachings, and should have been recognised as a pilgrim’s note by knowledgeable Bahais, it has been quite widely cited and used:
by Howard Colby Ives in a much-loved book, Portals to Freedom page 184
In The Baha’i World, Volume IX, 1940-1944, page 138, where it is included in a compilation of Baha’i Sacred Writings !
By the Universal House of Justice, in a letter to an individual dated June 27, 1987, which is reprinted in ,em>Messages from the Universal House of Justice, 1986-2001.
in a compilation called “The Essence of the Covenant” published by Palabra Publications in 2005.
– in a compilation ‘Regarding the Establishment of the Universal House of Justice’ which is part of the Compilation of Compilations Vol. I, pp. 319-66
in the “theme material” prepared by a national committee in the USA for use in state and regional summerschools, in 2005.

It seems to me very important that the Bahai community should pay more attention to the standards that Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi have set, as to what constitutes authentic Bahai scripture.

~~ Sen McGlinn
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4 Responses to “A consummate union”


    It explains how the West has changed politics. Theocracy is something the West left behind long ago. If Baha’i theocratic aspirations became public knowledge, the public opinion on them would turn negative. Most people who are slightly familiar with the faith (non-Bahais who study religions) would think that Spiritual Assemblies are private community dispute resolution organizations rather than seditious shadow governments.

    Also, why don’t Spiritual Assembly borders make no sense? Alaska and Hawaii are seperate from the rest of the United States for example. What about other unrecognized sovereign nations (de facto states) like Taiwan, Western Sahara, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nothern Cyprus, Palestine, Somaliland, Transnistria, etc? Will they be their own or part of the countries that claim them. What about the two Koreas that claim each other?

    What are the chances of Baha’is becoming the plurality in any given country, much less the whole world?

  2. Sen said

    The view that religion and politics are distinct and their institutions should be kept separate is not uniquely Western. Israel had its Kings and Prophets, tribal religions their chiefs and shamans, and the idea is explicitly formulated in Persian literature centuries ago. It is found in many places in the Quran.

    I have no knowledge of the future state of affiars in Transnistria etc. I do not deal with hypotheses about the future. I suggest you ask these questions from the One who knows such things.


    Thoeocracies include: Vaticun City, Tibet (in exile, but moving away from theocracy with the head of state being a Prime Minister appointed by the Dalai Lama), and various Islamic states.

    Saudi Arabia

    State religion not the same, but Islamic state do have some overlap. Will a Baha’i state be like a Buddhist-Christian model or an Islamic model?

  4. Sen said

    The list of theocracies is largely wrong. Iran is a theocracy, the other Islamic states mentioned are not, although in Pakistan and Somalia there are opposition movements with a theocratic agenda. The article’s definition of theocracy , “”Theocracy is the rule by people in positions of political authority all of whom share the same religious beliefs and preferences” is patently absurd. That would mean that all religiously homogeneous societies are theocracies! It would make America, Mexico and Canada theocracies, since almost all those in positions of political theocracy profess Christianity.

    Theocracy is a specific form of government, not a matter of the degree of common belief in the ruling class. In a theocracy, the state is governed by the religious institutions or by individuals who rule simply by virtue of their religious standing. The definition of theocracy used in your other article, on state religion, is the correct one: “State religions are official or government-sanctioned establishments of a religion, but neither does the state need be under the control of the church (as in a theocracy), …”

    There is no one “Islamic model” or “Buddhist-Christian model,” so your second question is pointless, except that it points to the corollary, that Bahai states, like any others, would be the product of historical circumstances, political practicalities (how large are religious minorities, how unified are they in vision and action?), the range of the cultural repertoire, and to some extent the political theologies current at the time among the Bahais.

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