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UHJ to Pinna, June 2006

[This letter is in response to one from Daniela Pinna, online here]

Bahá’í World Centre • P.O. Box 155 • 31001 Haifa, Israel


12 June 2006
Transmitted by email: Daniela Pinna Italy

Dear Bahá’í Friend,

The Universal House of Justice has received your email letter dated 21 May 2006, and we have been asked to convey the following in response. Your inquiry about the decision concerning the Bahá’í membership of Mr. Sen McGlinn contains quotations on a number of topics, such as the importance of knowledge and the role of learned individuals in this dispensation. The House of Justice feels that the objections you raise could be resolved if you were to conduct an equally thorough review of the complementary statements in the Writings that shed light on the process of the acquisition and use of knowledge, admonish the learned, and set out the provisions of the Covenant that safeguard the integrity of the Faith. Every individual has the right to hold and express personal views. This does not mean, however, that whatever is said is consistent with the Bahá’í Teachings. Bahá’u’lláh has established the criteria for understanding and practicing His Faith, and no one who professes to be a Bahá’í can systematically propagate personal interpretations that violate these criteria. An individual who insists upon a personal view in an effort to change the essential character of the Faith places himself outside the circle of Bahá’í belief. Concerns with Mr. McGlinn’s actions have nothing to do with his treatment of topics such as church and state; yet, the extent that he uses these themes as a vehicle to justify and broaden his presumed authority to “criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahá’í community” cannot be ignored. You have also inquired about the decision of the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States not to market the books of Kalimát Press through Bahá’í agencies in that country. Individuals and institutions have not been prevented from purchasing Kalimát’s books or from keeping them in their libraries. Rather, the National Assembly has simply decided that Bahá’í agencies will not sell them. The use of the word “boycott” in this connection misrepresents the action taken by the National Assembly. The general policy in this regard, well known to Bahá’í institutions and publishers of Bahá’í books, is that even after a text is reviewed, publishers do not have the right to expect that a National Spiritual Assembly, through its Publishing Trust or any other agency, will stock, promote or advertise the publication or offer it for sale.

With loving Bahá’í greetings,
Department of the Secretariat

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11 Responses to “UHJ to Pinna, June 2006”

  1. Okay, this solves the mystery for me. Not that it answers every question. Just the question about what impelling reason there could have been for removing you from the membership. What you’ve been doing has crossed whatever line the House of Justice is drawing for how far it will allow the integrity of the Faith to be undermined by the behavior of its members. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s anything wrong with what you’ve been doing. Just that the House of Justice doesn’t agree for you to do it as a member.

  2. Sen said

    Which still leaves the question for you – if Sen was removed because he was too X, why did the UHJ not remove all the other Bahais who are even more eXy than Sen? I’m not an exceptional Bahai, except that being disenrolled has made me an exception. Tens of thousands of Bahais have personal views and express them, some are quite strange. If the letter to Daniel Pinna was the UHJ’s only statement, I would conclude that I was disenrolled because they thought “theology” and “theologian” were a claim to authority. As if a theologian was a priest by another name. By now they must have realized that “theology” is just the study of the Bahai teachings, and theologians are people who do it systematically, critically, and in dialogue. They have probably also realized that I do understand the criteria that determine authoritative Bahai beliefs, and actually apply them, quite diligently. That is where theology begins: by specifying the authoritative sources, and studying them.

    I do not think the letter to Daniela Pinna represents the whole of the UHJ’s thinking, even at the time (2006). If that was what it was all about, they could simply have asked me what I meant by “theology” and “criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahá’í community,” and I could have explained, as I did when I was asked about it on Bahai Rants.

  3. This clarifies for me what the House of Justice said to Daniella:

    “Beyond contention, moreover, is the condition in which a person is so immovably attached to one erroneous viewpoint that his insistence upon it amounts to an effort to change the essential character of the Faith. This kind of behaviour, if permitted to continue unchecked, could produce disruption in the Bahá’í community, giving birth to countless sects as it has done in previous Dispensations. The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh prevents this. The Faith defines elements of a code of conduct, and it is ultimately the responsibility of the Universal House of Justice, in watching over the security of the Cause and upholding the integrity of its Teachings, to require the friends to adhere to standards thus defined.”

    – The Universal House of Justice, in a letter to an individual, 8 February 1998

    I don’t see any reason not to take that at face value, as the reasoning behind your removal.

    Some key points for me, in the view of the House of Justice, are:
    – So immovably attached to one erroneous viewpoint that your insistence upon it amounts to an effort to change the essential character of the Faith.
    – Using the themes in your writings as a vehicle to justify and broaden your presumed authority.
    – Behavior that could produce disruption in the Baha’i community and give birth to countless sects.

    All of that can be disputed of course, but I don’t see any reason not to take it at face value, as the reasoning behind your removal. I agree, there might be many Baha’is insisting on their viewpoints in efforts to change the essential character of the Faith, and trying to justify and broaden their presumed authority, or at least appearing to do so. In fact, I’m one of them. I’m insisting on some unpopular viewpoints of my own and trying to change the character of the Baha’i community, I’ve repeatedly caught myself trying to pass myself off as some kind of authority, and what I do has often caused disruption. There might be multitudes of Baha’is doing that.

    The House of Justice doesn’t try to correct everything it sees Baha’is doing wrong, but obviously it does draw some lines. Specifically in the case of behavior that could produce disruption, giving birth to sects, it isn’t entirely clear to me where the line is, but I can certainly see more faction-producing potential in what you’re doing, than in what I’m doing, so I don’t see any reason to question what I see the House of Justice saying about its reasoning behind your removal.

  4. I was just thinking that I’ve often seen popular Baha’i celebrities, including members of the House of Justice, deliberately taking advantage of celebrity worship to promote views and interests of their own, views and interests which sometimes appall me. The difference I see is that, possibly, their behavior doesn’t have the same potential to disrupt the community and split it into factions.

    I’m not sure you’re doing anything that Baha’i celebrities never do, but apparently the House of Justice doesn’t see enough faction-producing potential in what they do, to remove any of them them from the membership. If you think that gives some people unfair advantages, I agree.

  5. Sen said

    There is little possibility that the behaviour of an individual will lead to the formation of factions, although it could be disruptive. Certain speakers come into vogue for a while and pass out of vogue when the audiences have heard what they have to say, or they become exhausted by the travelling involved in speaking at conferences, giving workshops, and the like. Individuals who hold an official position and are able to secure the endorsement of institutions with authority are a danger, because of the authority behind them and the possibility of continuity over a number of years. However in the long term, the Writings are our reference point. The community will sooner or later turn back to the Bahai writings and judge all that history afresh, discarding what is unscriptural. What then have the people who do such things achieved? A little glory followed by dust.

  6. Sen said

    If the 1998 letter was applicable in my case Jim, the House of Justice could simply have asked me to change my behaviour in some respect. The 1998 letter does not mention disenrollment, but of a code of conduct that must be adhered to. The first step obviously is tell whoever is breaching the code, what the code is and what they must do or stop doing.

    As for faction-forming, until I was disenrolled I was not notable and had no following. Afterwards I had to rebuff some who wanted to form a group around me, and I did so. From memory one email exchange went
    “We’re with you Sen”
    “And I’m with the House of Justice, where does that leave you?”
    “With the House of Justice.”

    As for erroneous viewpoints, I could guess that they have incorrectly attributed to me some strange idea about the authority of scholars. It could be something else entirely, since I have written on many topics. As I have explained previously, they cannot say what it is they think I think or why they think it is erroneous, as this would put them in the position of defining Bahai teachings.

  7. As I see it, asking you to change your behavior would have needlessly restricted your freedom, and impoverished your contributions to human progress. This way gives you *more* freedom. I think if you reflect on some things you yourself have said in your writings, you’ll see the unwisdom of the House of Justice dictating specifically what you should or shouldn’t be doing.

    What you’re saying about not specifying what they think is erroneous, makes sense to me.

    All things considered, it looks to me like the House of Justice was trying to stop the feuding, and in your case possibly to keep it from starting up again. The problem is not only in the behavior of the liberators, it’s also, and possibly even more, in the opposition it stirs up.

  8. I see lots of room for honest and conscientious disagreement here, but for myself, I see the House of Justice saying that it’s trying to prevent the creation of sects, and I don’t see any reason to read any more into its actions than that.

  9. I just realized I might be on a different page from you altogether. What I’m saying has nothing to do with the motives and intentions of the *members* of the House of Justice. Any or all of them might be trying to censor and repress some views, or whatever else anyone might imagine they’re trying to do. Or not. That has no relevance for me whatsoever, in trying to understand the aims and purposes of the House of Justice. My only interest in understanding its aims and purposes is to practice and promote the loving devotion to its interests that I see as part of following Baha’u’llah.

  10. I’m trying now to resist the temptation to keep speculating about the reasons for your removal. Now I have some other things on my mind.

    1. It occurs to me that the House of Justice might value your work very much, and might love you very much.

    2. I want to tell you, for whatever it might be worth coming from someone as enamored of the House of Justice and as devoted to its interests as I am, that I personally see no harm in promoting the theology that I see you promoting, and I see a lot of value in your work, for me, for the Faith and for the world. In just the week or two that I’ve been studying your writings, I’ve found some wonderful insights that I think will improve my service to the Faith and to humanity, and which have already helped improve my behavior on the Internet. Also, what you do looks less damaging, less divisive and far less malicious to me, than some behavior I’ve seen in other Baha’i authors who are still members.

    3. The best way I see for you to respond to your removal is, as I think you’ve said, not to worry about it, and to just go on with your work.

  11. Sen said

    So far as I am aware, I was never part of any feuding, or particularly controversial. Some people have taken it on themselves to try to refute my Church and State thesis, but that came after my disenrollment, as a way of justifying the House’s decision, and it has died away without responses from me, as the force of my arguments and the amount of evidence I assembled has sunk in. My dissertation research may not be all correct, or all that can be said on the topic, but it is the best published account available as of now.

    On the other hand, if someone has to be disenrolled, by way of a signal, it might as well be me. I’m not complaining: I have not particularly suffered, and I am still able to serve the Faith in ways that meet people’s needs and match my inclinations and capacities. You are right that asking me to change my behaviour might have restricted my freedom, depending of course on what I was asked to stop, and whether I was actually doing it. I cannot imagine any instruction that the House might actually issue being a problem for me: this is like the question of whether Bahais would obey if their LSA told them to murder someone: a moral dilemma that exists only in a parallel universe where such things actually occur. The House is not going to tell me or anyone else to do something fundamentally immoral. But giving me any instructions to change my behaviour might have made other Bahais fear that they too would be getting detailed prescriptions. Naturally the House of Justice has to be thinking of the end in the beginning:

    Yet those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, because they see the end in the beginning, see peace in war and friendliness in anger.
    (Baha’u’llah, Seven Valleys, p. 15)

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