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Requesting re-enrolment

In response to a question, I’m posting one of my applications to be enrolled in the Bahai community, and the response. It’s not interesting in itself, but it makes the difference between dis-enrolment and the loss of voting rights clear. When voting rights are removed a definite reason is given, relating to a breach of Bahai law, there’s counseling before hand, and the person knows what to do to get their voting rights back. Being dis-enrolled is something different: so far as I know it is for life, it’s not for breaking Bahai law, and it seems to relate to the kind of person one is, rather than what one has done.

Here’s the 2007 letter of application :

17 March 2007

To: NSA of the Bahais of the Netherlands

Dear friends,

I do not want to burden the National Assembly with repeated requests, but I would like to say again that I would like to be a member of the Baha’i community, and so far as I can foresee that will always be my desire. I hope the Assembly will inform me if this should ever be possible, or if there is anything I can do to speed the process.

I would also like to assure the Assembly that I have no intention, ever, of establishing a caste with ecclesiastical prerogatives that could impose its authority upon the thought and behaviour of the believers.

With best wishes
Sen McGlinn

and the reply:

Den Haag, 30 juli 2007
Geachte heer McGlinn,
In uw brief van 17 maart jl. heeft u gevraagd opnieuw te worden ingeschreven als lid van de baha’i-gemeenschap.
De gronden waarop de nationale Geestelijke Raad de beslissing heeft genomen u het lidmaatschap te ontzeggen zijn onveranderd gebleven. Daarom delen wij u hierbij mij dat uw verzoek niet zal worden ingewilligd.

Met vriendelijke groet,
de National Geestelijke Raad

which translated says, You have asked to be enrolled once more in the Bahai community. The grounds for the NSA’s decision to deny you the membership have not changed. Therefore we will not comply with your request.

===

A year earlier, a letter I wrote to my NSA on another matter included a postscript:

17 February 2006..
I sincerely hope that I will at some stage be found to meet the requirements of membership of the Bahai community. So long as this is not possible, I hope the Assembly will regard me as friend of the community, and that our relations should be at the very least correct. I have not criticised the National Assembly of the Netherlands, or the Universal House of Justice, in relation to my disenrolment, and I would hope that the Bahai institutions too can refrain from attacks on my character or speculations about my motives

The last part of that was in response to an undated letter, supposedly from the NSA of the Netherlands (I think it is not authentic), which says :

“His immediate request for re-enrolment – only two days after having received the letter of the Dutch National Spiritual Assembly about his removal from the membership rolls – clearly indicates that Mr. McGlinn has no regard for the basic requirements of Bahá’í membership. It further illustrates his lack of regard for the seriousness of the decision of the National Spiritual Assembly. His application for membership is not honored.”

This ‘letter’ was posted on the internet, but by a person who at the time had been conducting an intensive campaign of slander against me (which continued intermittently into 2011): I think it most unlikely that the NSA of the Netherlands would in fact be discussing my disenrolment with an American Bahai with no position in the Bahai community, in English with American spelling and no trace of Dutch sentence structure.

===

I applied again in March 2010:

from: Sen McGlinn,
Stuyvesanthof 48; 2315 AE, Leiden
The Netherlands
sen.sonja@casema.NL [2013 address: senmcglinn@gmail.com]

To: Universal House of Justice; secretariat@bwc.org
Copy to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the
Netherlands; nsa@bahai.nl

22 March 2010

Dear friends,

In 2005 I was removed from the membership rolls of the Bahai community by the Universal House of Justice. I would like to apply again to be enrolled in the community, and also to ask for some clarification about the meaning of enrollment and disenrollment. I ask this for myself, and also to assist some the friends who feel some uncertainty on this score. In response to one of those who have asked me about this, I have written:

“So far as I understand it – and this is something the UHJ might
clarify – being on the membership rolls is meant to be like voluntary membership of an association, which is a free choice on both sides. There seem to be no procedures or reason required for taking away membership or not giving it in the first place. No explanation is given. It́s like the coach deciding who doesń’t make the cut.”

I can imagine various other ways of understanding the significance of being enrolled, in relation to being a Bahai. I would like to be able to respond to such questions in terms acceptable to the Universal House of Justice, and I think some clarification of the thinking of the Universal House of Justice would be helpful for the whole community, especially if disenrollment is intended to be a life-time situation, meaning that disenrolled Bahais will be a permanent part of the Bahai scene.

Secondly, could the Universal House of Justice say whether disenrollment is a form of sanction for breaching Bahai law. I think that it is not, since the term `sanction’ has not been used, but a clear statement would be helpful. Bahais have thought that disenrollment is a more severe form of the removal of voting rights, and have been quite imaginative in thinking of what sins might have merited it!

Thirdly, I have asked my National Spiritual Assembly twice, whether the Universal House of Justicés letter of 17 May 2009, which allows “those who are close to the Faith” to attend Feasts where the programme is appropriate, means that I could attend some local Feasts by arrangement with the Local Spiritual Assembly. I have not received an answer, perhaps the Universal House of Justice could make a ruling.

To the best of my knowledge, I fulfill all the requirements for membership of the Bahai community. I would like to renew my previous invitations to the Universal House of Justice and to the International Teaching Centre, initially written in December, 1997, and repeated in 2007: “If the Teaching Centre should have any such concerns in the future, please feel free to request an explanation at the time, on a case-by-case basis.” I have not had a reply to this nor later invitations, so I wish to assure you that this invitation still stands.

With best wishes
Sen McGlinn.

As of today, July 15 2012, I have received no answer, and I no longer expect one.

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12 Responses to “Requesting re-enrolment”

  1. Michael said

    Sen, I’m really sorry that this has happened to you. I wonder if your application for re-enrollment was ever considered. Personally, my trust in the institutions has been totally destroyed by their failure to abide by Baha’i principles and directives from the Universal House of Justice. As long as Assemblies are allowed to “do their own thing”, the Faith will not progress.

  2. Michael said

    When you write to institutions which have formed a negative opinion of you, you should not expect a reply. This applies even if you have followed the appropriate procedure.

  3. Sen said

    Hi Michael; unwise or corrupted Assemblies can do a lot of harm to individuals, which can sometimes be reversed by going to the National Assembly or the ABM. It can take years for the signals to be heard by enough ears for action to be taken. Persevere and hope. In the longer term, I think improvement will come from more opennness in processes and our instutional culture, rather than the better implementation of UHJ directives by the Assemblies.

    In my case, I am not particularly harmed, but my expulsion and the various reasonings offered for it do spread confusion in the community, particularly for those who know me and my work. The credibility and standing of the Administrative Order suffers, which is a loss for the whole community. The prestige of the AO is a “social capital” that belongs to us all. I would like to reverse the situation, and I’ve done what I can.

  4. hasanelias said

    I totally agree that some members of Bahai institutions could be corrupted, this has happen, it is happening, and will happen in the future. These people are not spiritual at all, but they sometimes manipulate others and could manipulate the whole assembly.

    I personally don’t see any problem with you Sen, you has contributed a lot with your works and translations, also with apologetical works and news about the faith in islamic countries, you are one of the few that explain other Bahais about Persian/Arabic terms in the original writings without cost and with a spirit of service.

    So, I don’t see any reason for your dissenrolment. The UHJ decides about what should be done. I wonder how do you see their decision of your disenrolment? Is it covered with infallibility? Thanks in advance.

  5. Hasan said

    Sen is just like other great Baha’i scholars, but he is a human being which has his own ideas, being so, nobody is compelled to accept his views. In the Iqan it is written: “man can never hope to attain unto the knowledge of the All-Glorious, can never quaff from the stream of divine knowledge and wisdom, can never enter the abode of immortality, nor partake of the cup of divine nearness and favour, unless and until he ceases to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets”.

  6. Sen said

    Indeed Hasan: nobody is compelled to accept anyone else’s views, and my findings are just what I have found, so far. The great thing about a blog is that feedback can alter the picture. Some postings on this blog have “revised” in the header or at the bottom of the text, because changes were required as I learned more. This is the nature of the evidence-based search we call “science” — it is always subject to revision as new evidence arrives, and the interpretation of the evidence is always disputable.

  7. Sen said

    In response to comment 4 from Hasan:

    The infallibility of the House of Justice is problematic. This does not mean that I, and other Bahais, question or reject the doctrine of the infallibility of the House, although the accusation has often been made when the issue is discussed. The infallibility of the House of Justice is clearly stated in Some Answered Questions, and only ignorance or idiocy would reject it. To say it is problematic just means that it has been “problematized” by questions about (1) its content/meaning and (2) its scope. Udo Schaeffer for example has proposed a very limited scope for the infallibility of the House of Justice, applying only to “legislation” which he defines by reference to western constitutional law, without considering its meaning in the Bahai texts in the original languages and in the middle-eastern religio-political tradition. But if he says the scope is limited, he implies that its content is maximal, but again without reference to scriptures.
    For Udo’s work see:
    https://bahai-library.com/schaefer_infallible_institutions

    I take the opposite view: I think legislation is covered by infallibility, and define legislation very broadly as the whole work of promulgating the cause of God – or even the work of the angels, to include good works not directly related to the Bahai Faith. This is based on a study of the word pair tanfidh and tashri`, which appear in the Will and Testament and other places in Abdu’l-Baha’s writings. The second is translated as legislative and refers to the actions of organized religion in society, i.e., that which implements the “law” or “path” of religion, the sharia. That ranges from morality to children’s education, from publishing religious texts to administering the affairs of the religious community. I have discussed the instances where this word pair appears in the Writings here:
    https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/2009/10/29/executive-and-legislative/

    But if the scope of the infallibility of the House of Justice is, in my view, very broad, what is its content? In my view it does not mean “never making a mistake”, in part because its decisions are based on the available information, which may be wrong and will always be incomplete. Nor, I feel, does it mean making the best decision possible in the circumstances, because that is something that cannot be ascertained, emptying the doctrine of meaning. Clearly Abdu’l-Baha meant something substantial. Nor does it mean “having authority,” because the LSA and NSA have authority, without any need to be called infallible. That reading would make infallibility a redundant appendage. In my view the content of infallibility, at all levels, from the Most Great Infallibility of the Manifestation to the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice, relates to a particular kind of authority not given to the LSA and NSA: the authority to change the sharia in its broadest sense. It is the authority to change the qiblah from Jerusalem to Mecca – an example mentioned by Baha’u’llah. Or the authority to rule that in some circumstances, parental permission is not required for marriage.

    To return to your question: is the decision to disenroll me covered by infallibility? It might be. From my own construction of the meaning of infallibility, I would say that it does not *seem* to intend or effect any change in the sharia, so I would say no, unless the purpose was to signal the right of the House of Justice to make authoritative interpretations of the Bahai scriptures and say whose views are contrary to their authoritative interpretation. That would be a big change, but it raises other questions and is probably not the intent of the decision, so we can leave that aside.

    The original decision does appear to have involved misinformation – deliberately created by selective quotation – as to my views. I know this from a confidential memo leaked to me by someone who – presumably – felt the decision to be so unjust as to warrant sharing something confidential. This made it appear to some that I intended “establishing a caste with ecclesiastical prerogatives that could impose its authority upon the thought and behaviour of the believers” – an idea so ludicrous in itself and so contrary to my actual views and intent that it does not deserve a reply.

    But the House now knows that that presentation of my views was not just incorrect, it was a nasty smear job. If the House was unhappy with the way my disenrollment has worked out for the community, they could review the decision, for example by responding to my requests for re-enrollment and “open door” invitations such as “If the Teaching Centre should have any such concerns in the future, please feel free to request an explanation at the time, on a case-by-case basis.” Since they have not responded, we must assume that, in the eyes of the House of Justice, my disenrollment today is serving some good purpose, and since neither you nor I know the facts or the purpose, we can only assume that this is so.

    I do not know whether the actual decision to disenroll me, and Alison Marshall previously, and others since, was made by the House of Justice in consultation. The House of Justice has written :

    “As to whether there is a distinction between correspondence from the World Centre that has been signed “The Universal House of Justice” and that signed on behalf of the Secretariat: In brief, the manner in which each of these letters is prepared depends upon the contents of the letter. Drafts of letters which contain newly formulated policies are consulted upon and approved during a meeting of the House of Justice; correspondence dealing with previously enunciated policies, or with matters of a routine nature, are prepared, as delegated by the House of Justice, by its Secretariat and initialed by at least the majority of the members of the House of Justice before being dispatched. All letters written over the signature of the Department of the Secretariat are authorized by the Universal House of Justice.” (From a letter on behalf of the House of Justice, 22 October 1996 – note that procedures may have changed in the intervening 20 years.)

    Abdu’l-Baha’s explanation in Some Answered Questions makes it clear that individual members of the House are not covered by infallibility:

    … the members of the House of Justice are not essentially infallible as individuals, but
    the body of the House of Justice is under the protection and unerring guidance of God: this is
    called conferred infallibility.
    (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions New Translation)

    Therefore a letter that is circulated to the majority of the members for their individual opinions is not covered by the House’s infallibility, and the question of what “infallibility” means and what its scope is does not arise. I strongly suspect that this is what happened in my case.

  8. Dear Sen,

    Many thanks for the links to your blog. What you’ve written about re-enrolment, etc, makes interesting reading. My opinion – which has been shaped by the actions of the institutions over the past few years – is that nothing is made clear. Arbitrary decisions are made by dishonest institutions who cannot be bothered to uncover the truth. When we object and ask for a review, they either don’t reply or they give the impression that their decision is the only correct one, even though it’s been proved otherwise.

    Kind regards,

    Michael Reeve ________________________________

  9. Sen said

    Some would say that we need a proper bureaucracy with standard operating procedures, transparency guaranteed by a right to demand documents, the right to know the charges and evidence raised against one, a right to respond, and so forth. I am sceptical about the benefits of that in the religious sphere, or in voluntary organisations generally, although I heartily endorse them in government. The thing is, governments have a monopoly by definition, whereas someone who is disastisfied with a voluntary organisation can leave and join another or start another. In the case of the Bahai faith, starting another is not a real option, for a believer, but being unenrolled is, so the human rights argument that makes due process and transparency vital in the government sphere is not so pressing in the case of the Bahai Faith or voluntary organisations generally.

    A letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi makes just this distinction between governmental bodies and the Bahai Faith :

    “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.” (Messages to Canada, 276)

    The disadvantages of procedures and proceduralism are evident, especially in the case of religious organisations that have developed heresy trial systems. The community would also benefit from greater transparency and proper review of decisions: what I am saying is that a balance point has to be sought. I would argue that it should be sought mainly in terms of improving the organisational culture in the institutions of the administrative order, and the key to that (in my opinion) is to reform the International Teaching Centre, for example by appointing only women or by making the Counsellors ineligible for election to the House of Justice. This reform would also reform the relationship between the NSAs and the UHJ. I have discussed this in a post on this blog:
    https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/without-reference-to-particular-individuals/

    I am at heart a gradualist, not a revolutionary. Perhaps, after reform of the ITC, procedural changes would also appear necessary. If the changes are generated by a system which itself has a more healthy organisational culture, they are more likely to be implemented well.

  10. Aaron said

    Sen If you believe in Baha’u’llah’s station then this isn’t just a “voluntary” association with an organization and It is simply a matter of basic justice that everybody has the right to know and respond to charges being leveled against them. Regardless of the facts, this is absolutely shameful for an institution that professes to be the Universal House of Justice. At the very least you should be told specifically what your supposed error was so that you have the opportunity to repair yourself from it if you so desire, which apparently you do–how is anything other than that justice? And what does Baha’u’llah say? Of all things, Justice is the most precious in his sight.

    Something seems to have seriously gone wrong here that brings doubt on the legitimacy of the whole AO. At this point as a Catholic and spiritual seeker, I am not sure if the Baha’i AO even legitimately represents the Baha’i Faith. Right or wrong that is the damage that comes from the lack of transparency on display here. To paraphrase Baha’u’llah what oppression could be greater than to seek the truth and not know where to turn for it? This type of scandal just seems to make a mockery of the whole Baha’i Covenant, which is tragic to me beyond belief. It seems that we might have to wait for the next Manifestation before humanity will be blessed with AO responsive to the cause of God–and for persons like myself, it means maybe I should put the whole question truth of Baha’u’llah’s claims to rest and remain within the sphere of Christianity.

  11. Sen said

    I think it would be quite wrong for the Universal House of Justice to specify individuals’ doctrinal errors: the House is not the Pope ! It does not have doctrinal authority, and cannot (and does not) give authoritative interpretations of the Bahai teachings. It says what has to be done, it ensures unity in action, while unity of doctrine –so far as that is necessary– is ensured by turning to the Bahai writings and the authoritative interpretations given by the Guardian and Abdu’l-Baha. These two together, the Guardian and the House of Justice, are “the administrative order.” The separation of the powers, interpretation and administration, within the Bahai Administrative Order is comparable to the separation of the legislative, judicial and executive branches in civil government: it’s a great step forward in the administration of religious communities, and one that I think other communities will to some degree adopt. The third “power” in the Bahai case is the House of Worship, which paradoxically has no power. It is concerned with worship, and with motivating service to others. This three-part structure means that no-one is (should be) excluded from worship because of a doctrinal dispute or administrative differences, it means that differences in ways of worship do not lead to a split in the community’s action in the world, and so on.
    I do not think one, or a hundred, miscarriages undermines the legitimacy of the structure as a whole, because that legitimacy rests on the words of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha who mandated the House of Justice, House of Worship and Guardianship. The House of Justice says quite forthrightly that its decisions depend on the information provided to it, and that it can change its decisions based on new information. Yet every community needs an administrative head whose word is final : one cannot have everything up in the air until perfect information is achieved, or nothing would ever get done.
    Remaining within Christianity may well be the path for you, but not because Christianity has institutions whose records are unblemished, or whose scriptural mandate is clearer. It may be your path because “every every soul has its particular aspiration.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 212) Abdu’l-Baha Abdu’l-Baha says:

    … the breezes of Christ are still blowing; His light is still shining; His melody is still resounding; His standard is still waving; His armies are still fighting; His heavenly voice is still sweetly melodious; His clouds are still showering gems; His lightning is still flashing; His reflection is still clear and brilliant; His splendor is still radiating and luminous; and it is the same with those souls who are under His protection and are shining with His light.
    (Some Answered Questions, 152)

    and in another place:

    “… the body of Christ was crucified and vanished, but the Spirit of Christ is always pouring upon the contingent world, and is manifest before the insight of the people of assurance. (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 193)

    At the mystical level, the differences between the religious communities — including the Bahai community as one of the many — are non-existent. Baha’u’llah writes:

    … wert thou to soar in the holy realm of “God was alone, there was none else besides Him,” thou wilt find in that Court all these names utterly non-existent and completely forgotten. Then will thine eyes no longer be obscured by these veils, these terms, and allusions. (Kitab-e Iqan)

    He is speaking here of terms such as “first” “last” and “seal”, but this truth applies equally to “most recent” and “for this age.”

    Not only do the past religions still have their share of the Spirit, their institutions still have a future, although they like all other social institutions have to adapt to a globalising world and a postmodern society. Shoghi Effendi writes:

    Such institutions as have strayed far from the spirit and teachings of Jesus Christ must of necessity, as the embryonic World Order of Baha’u’llah takes shape and unfolds, recede into the background, and make way for the progress of the divinely-ordained institutions that stand inextricably interwoven with His teachings. The indwelling Spirit of God which, in the Apostolic Age of the Church, animated its members, the pristine purity of its teachings, the primitive brilliancy of its light, will, no doubt, be reborn and revived as the inevitable consequences of this redefinition of its fundamental verities, and the clarification of its original purpose.
    (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 185)

  12. Many thanks, Sen! I’ll read the more recent posts on your blog.

    kind regards,

    Michael Reeve

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