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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Church and State – 3: Shoghi Effendi, establishment

This is a series of three postings on Talisman in April 2010, not saying anything new but useful as an illustration of the kind of attacks the Bahai Faith is open to, if the friends are not clear about the Bahai teachings on church and state. The web page hosted on “angelfire” that AA has got his material from is called “Errors and contradictions in the Baha’i writings” which says clearly enough what its purpose is.

On 15 Apr 2010 AA wrote:

> The UHJ is bound by the Will and Testament — i.e. by the
> interpretations of Shoghi Effendi, which advocate Theocracy.

What?? Shoghi Effendi sought rather to re-educate the theocratists in the
[Bahai] community (mainly in the USA), who were wanting to turn the Bahai Faith
into a progressive political movement. The quote you begin with is a good

“We must build up our Bahá’í system, and leave the faulty systems of
the world to go their own way. We cannot change them through becoming
involved in them, on the contrary they will destroy us.

“The Guardian does not think any part of this statement of his is
suitable for publication in the Press. The less ‘politics’ is
associated in any way with the name Bahá’í, the better. It should
always be made clear that we are a religious non-political
community working for humanitarian ends

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National
Teaching Committee for Central America, July 3, 1948)

The angelfire site you mention
is not honest – it makes Shoghi Effendi read like a theocratist, by
selective quotation. For example it quotes the first paragraph above and
omits the second. That’s slander by scissors, not meaningful argument.
It’s not a technique that an honest person would use.

The site on angelfire is also selective in what it quotes. It doesn’t
include those passages in which Shoghi Effendi directly argues against the
theocratic views held by some in the Bahai community of his day. It does
not, for example, include this emphatic and unambiguous ruling, in Shoghi
Effendi’s own words:

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.
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 65)

Another quote it overlooks is the one where Shoghi Effendi looks
forward to “the formal and complete separation of Church from State” in
Iran, (Bahai World vol. 3 1928-1930, page 119), and the one written on his
behalf that says “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic
body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Baha’i
” (30 October 1951, in Messages to Canada 23 (page 151 in the
1998 edition), and the one in his own hand telling the Bahais to “be on
their guard lest the impression be given to the outside world that the
Baha’is are political in their aims and pursuits or interfere in matters
that pertain to the political activities of their respective governments.

..” (13 November 1931 to an individual believer, Compilation of
Compilations vol II, p. 420).

Nor does that site mention things which Shoghi Effendi wrote that are
glaringly inconsistent with theocratic views. For example, when Shoghi
describes the machinery of civil government, advocated by Baha’u’llah and
Abdu’l-Baha, he leaves no room for the Houses of Justice to play any
government role:

The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a
climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish,
recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and
establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this
fundamental principle of its life…. the establishment of a world
commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are
closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state
members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals
that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. This
commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it, consist of a world
legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of
mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component
nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the
life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and
peoples. A world executive, backed by an international Force, will
carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by,
this world legislature, and will safeguard the organic unity of the
whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its
compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise
between the various elements constituting this universal system. …

A world federal system, ruling the whole earth … a system in which
Force is made the servant of Justice, whose life is sustained by its
universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common
Revelation — such is the goal towards which humanity, impelled by the
unifying forces of life, is moving. (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order
of Baha’u’llah, p. 202-4)

No House of Justice supplanting the government there – but this is
Shoghi Effendi’s vision of a far future when the whole global federal
system would be “sustained by … its allegiance to one common

The most that can be said is that there are some sections in his
writings which, taken out of context, can be used to support a
theocratic reading. The letter on his behalf referring to ‘the Bahai
theocracy’ is an example. The Guardian’s secretary says:

What the Guardian was referring to was the Theocratic systems, such as
the Catholic Church and the Caliphate, which are not divinely given as
systems, but man-made and yet, having partly derived from the
teachings of Christ and Muhammad are, in a sense, theocracies. The
Baha’i theocracy, on the contrary, is both divinely ordained as a
system and, of course, based on the teachings of the Prophet
Himself… Theophany is used in the sense of Dispensation…”
(Directives from the Guardian 78-9, letter dated 1949 )

It is evident that the secretary is replying to a question, and is
explaining a reference in an earlier text by Shoghi Effendi himself. To
understand the answer, we need to locate the text being discussed. We can
also see that the definition of ‘true theocracy’ here is ‘a system derived
from the teachings of a prophet,’ while the Catholic church and the
Caliphate are only ‘in a sense’ theocracies, thanks to the elements of
authentic Christian and Islamic teachings they embody. It is not stated
that theocracy is a system of governing a country!

While both the Catholic Church and the Caliphate have at times
exercised the power of civil government, this was not the case when
Shoghi Effendi was writing. The last of the several caliphates that
might be referred to here is the caliphate claimed in the late
Ottoman empire by the Sultan, according to which he would be the
spiritual leader – not ruler – of the world’s Muslims. On the several
occasions when Shoghi Effendi refers to the end of the Caliphate in his
writings, he is referring to this spiritual caliphate. Its abolition, two
years after the abolition of the Sultanate, was a renunciation of the idea
of a pan-Islamic union that the Sultans had fostered. So it is clear that
the theocracies, including the Bahai theocracy, that the Guardian’s
secretary is referring to here are systems of leading and guiding a
religious community
, they are not systems of government.

If we try to locate the earlier passage from Shoghi Effendi that the
secretary is explaining, two possibilities present themselves. The earlier
is in his 1934 letter, ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah, a letter that is
entirely devoted to explaining the principles underlying the Bahai
Administrative Order, and in particular the relationship between the
hereditary guardianship and the elected Houses of Justice. He says:

The Baha’i Commonwealth of the future, of which this vast
Administrative Order is the sole framework, is… not only unique in
the entire history of political institutions, but can find no parallel
in the annals of any of the world’s recognized religious systems. No
form of democratic government; no system of autocracy or of
dictatorship, whether monarchical or republican; no intermediary
scheme of a purely aristocratic order; nor even any of the recognized
types of theocracy, whether it be the Hebrew Commonwealth, or the
various Christian ecclesiastical organizations, or the Imamate or the
Caliphate in Islam – none of these can be identified or be said to
conform with the Administrative Order … (The World Order of
Baha’u’llah 152)

The letter continues in this vein for some time (and is well worth
reading). It compares and contrasts the Bahai Administrative Order to
democracy, autocracy, ecclesiastical government (with the examples of the
Papacy and the Imamate), and aristocratic and hereditary government. It is
not describing a system of governing a country or a world, but the system
of “the Baha’i Commonwealth,” a commonwealth in the sense Gibbon refers to
the Christian commonwealth, operating and growing within the pagan Roman
Empire, and having control of its own “temporal affairs,” (The Decline and
Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter 15 section V). The passage refers to the
Bahai Commonwealth and “The Administrative Order” and cannot be made to
apply to the institutions of the world political order in the commonwealth
of nations envisioned by Baha’u’llah and explained by Shoghi Effendi in
‘The Unfoldment of World Civilization,’ quoted above, which has no room
for a House of Justice in its government machinery.

The second passage about theocracy that the secretary may have been
asked to explain is in Shoghi Effendi’s review of the first century
of the Babi and Bahai history, God Passes By (1944). This echoes his
earlier statement, more briefly:

The Administrative Order … is … unique in the annals of the
world́s religious systems. … Nor is the principle governing its
operation similar to that which underlies any system, whether
theocratic or otherwise, which the minds of men have devised for the
government of human institutions. Neither in theory nor in practice
can the Administrative Order of the Faith of Baha’u’llah be said to
conform to any type of democratic government, to any system of
autocracy, to any purely aristocratic order, or to any of the various
theocracies, whether Jewish, Christian or Islamic which mankind has
witnessed in the past. (God Passes By 326-327)

These are the only two instances in which Shoghi Effendi uses the
word theocracy in connection with the Bahai Faith, and both refer to its
internal organisation as a religious community, not to its theories about
the organisation of the state.

Another thing the angelfire site “overlooks” is Shoghi Effendi’s work as a
translator. If he was harbouring some secret theocratic agenda, would it
make any sense for him to have selected and translated Baha’u’llah’s
emphatic endorsements of civil government, in Gleanings?

CXV. The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the
government of the earth upon the kings. ..

CXXVIII. Dispute not with any one concerning the things of this world and
its affairs, for God hath abandoned them to such as have set their
affection upon them…
. CXXXIX: “..your Lord hath committed the world and
the cities thereof to the care of the kings of the earth
,” and so on:
Gleanings for example. There is no doubt from this, that Shoghi Effendi
thoroughly understood Baha’u’llah’s political thought and wished the
Bahais in the West to understand it as well.

Moreover, in The Promised Day is Come from page 70 onwards, Shoghi
Effendi made his own compilation to refute the idea that Bahais
advocate or anticipate the definite extinction of the institution of
.” We can see that Shoghi Effendi is not talking about monarchy as
a particular form of government, but about ‘kingship’ as a symbol for
civil government in any form, because he precedes his compilation with a
quotation from Baha’u’llah: “One of the signs of the maturity of the world
is that no one will accept to bear the weight of kingship. Kingship will
remain with none willing to bear alone its weight
.” When ‘kingship’ is borne collectively,
it is constitutional rule in some form. Moreover the
first selection in Shoghi Effendi’s compilation on the topic is from
Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, in which Baha’u’llah says:

“Regard for the rank of sovereigns is divinely ordained, as is
clearly attested by the words of the Prophets of God and His chosen
ones. He Who is the Spirit [Jesus] – may peace be upon Him – was
asked: ‘O Spirit of God! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or
not?’ And He made reply: ‘Yea, render to Caesar the things that are
Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’

Caesar is not a King, in the literal sense, since the position was
not hereditary: rather ‘Caesar’ and ‘kingship’ are being used as
metonyms for worldly government, which includes monarchs and
sovereigns, but also other forms of worldly government.

Again, it must be said. If Shoghi Effendi had some secret theocratic
agenda he did not want to commit to writing, why would he translate
Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, and, in The Promised Day is Come, quote
Baha’u’llah’s words about Caesar and God? Why would he translate and
distribute Baha’u’llah’s Iqan, the second part of which is devoted to the
theme of the two sovereignties, spiritual and temporal?

There’s only one passage in all that Shoghi Effendi wrote that could be
construed as support for a theocratic position, if one was willing to
overlook all his anti-theocratic work cited above.

Not only will the present-day Spiritual Assemblies be styled
differently in future, but they will be enabled also to add to
their present functions those powers, duties, and prerogatives
necessitated by the recognition of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, not
merely as one of the recognized religious systems of the world, but as
the State Religion of an independent and Sovereign Power. And as the
Bahá’í Faith permeates the masses of the peoples of East and West, and
its truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples of a number of the
Sovereign States of the world, will the Universal House of Justice
attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise, as the supreme organ
of the Bahá’í Commonwealth, all the rights, the duties, and
responsibilities incumbent upon the world’s future super-state.
Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 6-7

The background to this is a book published in 1929 by Ruth White, Is the
Bahai Organization the Enemy of the Bahai Religion
?. As you can tell from
the title, Ruth White was in conflict with the Bahai Administration and
with Shoghi Effendi. She had among things claimed that the Will and
Testament of Abdúl-Baha was forged. Whités view was that the elected
Spiritual Assemblies were for mission purposes and had no authority to
govern the Bahai community, while the Houses of Justice were an entirely
different institution of worldly government. The distinction hinged on the
two different names used for the institution. In response, Shoghi Effendi

That the Spiritual Assemblies of today will be replaced in time by the
Houses of Justice, and are to all intents and purposes identical and
not separate bodies, is abundantly confirmed by ‘Abdul-Baha Himself.
… For reasons which are not difficult to discover, it has been found
advisable to bestow upon the elected representatives of Baha’i
communities throughout the world the temporary appellation of
Spiritual Assemblies, a term which, as the position and aims of the
Baha’i Faith are better understood and more fully recognized, will
gradually be superseded by the permanent and more appropriate
designation of House of Justice. (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 6)

For Shoghi Effendi, the two institutions are “to all intents and
purposes identical
” and the name will be changed back to House of
Justice when the Bahai Faith is better understood – not when there is some
change in the institution itself!

The reasons for the temporary change of name are “not difficult to
discover.” The change was made in a letter from Abdul-Baha to one of the
local spiritual assemblies in America, which had been published at the
beginning of Volume 1 of Tablets of Abdul-Baha (3rd edition in 1919) and
would have been very familiar to the members of the National Spiritual
Assembly to whom this latter was addressed. Abdul- Baha writes:

The 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 Abdul-Baha v1, 5)

After pointing to Abdul-Baha’s tablet changing the name of the House of
Justice so that its non-political character would be clearer, and having
demonstrated that the House of Justice and the Spiritual Assembly are one
and the same thing, Shoghi Effendi looks towards the future, to
demonstrate (against Ruth White’s claims) that the Bahai Faith can and
would be organised:

Not only will the present-day Spiritual Assemblies be styled
differently in future, but they will be enabled also to add to their
present functions those powers, duties, and prerogatives necessitated
by the recognition of the Faith of Baha’u’llah … as the State
Religion of an independent and Sovereign Power. And as the Baha’i
Faith permeates the masses of the peoples of East and West, and its
truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples of a number of the
Sovereign States of the world, will the Universal House of Justice
attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise as the supreme organ
of the Baha’i Commonwealth all the rights, the duties, and
responsibilities incumbent upon the world’s future superstate. [The
World Order of Baha’u’llah 6: punctuation has been altered to match
Shoghi Effendi’s manuscript (Bahai National Archives, Wilmette)]

He says that the Bahai Faith will be recognized as “the State
Religion” of at least one country, and there are similar references
in The Advent of Divine Justice page 14 and in God Passes By, Chapter 24.
So we need to be clear that the establishment of religion does not mean
theocratic government, or even non-separation. Establishment is a
constitutional agreement between the state and one or more religious
organizations to place the relationship between them on a long-term
footing, and thus beyond the vagaries of day-to- day politics.
Establishment is only possible if the church and the state are two
separate and distinct institutions, so that they can recognize and affirm
one-another. It is a contract between government and religion as partners.

In the first sentence of the passage we are considering, the Bahai
Faith attains the stage of becoming “the State Religion” in a country and
as a result adds additional “powers, duties, and prerogatives.” What those
might be depends on the terms of the establishment and the nature of the
government. They could include the power of solemnizing marriages and
divorces, the duties of burying unclaimed bodies of no known religious
affiliation and providing chaplain’s services, in prisons and the armed
forces, to those of no religious affiliation, the prerogative of having
seats in the House of Lords alongside the Bishops, or reading prayers at
the opening of Parliament.

The second sentence reads:

And as the Baha’i Faith permeates the masses of the peoples of East
and West, and its truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples of
a number of the Sovereign States of the world, will the Universal
House of Justice attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise as
the supreme organ of the Baha’i Commonwealth all the rights, the
duties, and responsibilities incumbent upon the world’s future

What has changed in the situation envisioned in the second sentence? The
Faith has become more widely accepted and the Universal House of Justice
has come into being as the supreme institution of a Bahai Commonwealth.
Note that it is not the supreme institution of the state, or of the
super-state. The process of recognition and establishment has occurred in
a number of the Sovereign States of the world, and it will then be
incumbent on the world’s future super- state to enable the Universal House
of Justice, which is the supreme organ of the Bahai Commonwealth, to
attain to certain rights, duties, and responsibilities. What rights duties
and responsibilities? Isn’t the phrase here parallel to the “powers,
duties, and prerogatives” of the established religion at the national
level? That indicates that Shoghi Effendi expected the superstate first to
recognise, and then “establish” (reach an agreement of establishment with)
the Universal House of Justice.

If Shoghi Effendi was intending to say that the Bahai administrative
institutions should become the governments of nations (which God
forbid), the decisive change in the role of the Universal House of Justice
would come when one National Spiritual Assembly had become the government
in one nation. But what is said is that the Bahai Faith will first become
the State Religion of one power and then, as more countries become Bahai
States, the Universal House of Justice will come to exercise some function
that the superstate is obliged to grant or recognise. One might understand
this to be the role of government, but this would be incompatible with the
letter of Abdul-Baha to which Shoghi Effendi pointed in the preceding
paragraph, saying that the House of Justice does not have political or
judicial functions. It would also involve an unexplained contradiction
because of the different memberships and electoral methods that are set
out in the Bahai scriptures for the Universal House of Justice and the
institutions of world government. It seems more logical, in the light of
the progressive structure of the paragraph, to suppose that Shoghi Effendi
expected us to understand that it would be something analogous to the
“State Religion,” but at a global level. There is no term for the state
religion of a super-national commonwealth, and for lack of an agreed
terminology, the sentence is less clear than it might be.

Shoghi Effendi is saying that the Bahai Faith, with its National
Houses of Justice or National Assemblies, first becomes the state
religion in a number of countries and then the Universal House of
Justice has rights, duties, and responsibilities in the world
superstate, because it is the supreme organ of the Bahai
Commonwealth. Surely these unspecified rights and responsibilities of the
Universal House of Justice must be analogous to those of an established
religion in a nation.

One more comment is in place, regarding the Guardian’s words:

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 countrýs constitution, much
less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the
government of their respective countries

Some have supposed that ‘while’ here indicates a temporary condition,
allowing for the possibility that the Bahais, once they have perfected
their administration, will violate the provisions of their country’s
constitution, or worse. This reading is due simply to a lack of
familiarity with English grammar. ‘while’ can be used to link two thing in
either a temporal or a logical opposition. For example, ‘While I
understand your point, I cannot agree,’ does not mean that when I cease to
understand, I will agree.

What Shoghi Effendi says here is very emphatic: the “much less”
construction seems to mean that allowing the Bahai administrative
institutions to supersede national governments would be worse than a
violation of the national constitution. It certainly rules out the
suggestion that, while the Bahai institutions might not be politically
ambitious and are not seditious, they could accept temporal power if it
were freely offered to them. Shoghi Effendi’s rejection of that
possibility is as emphatic as Abdul-Baha’s was, in the Tablets of the
Divine Plan:

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)

~ Sen

On 17 Apr 2010, CC wrote:

> But I must say the concept of the Baha’i Faith being a “State Religion”
> somewhere on Earth as the big Door Number One just does not make any
> sense to me. … What would a “State Religion” do as a contribution to
> anything? “States” themselves are, I believe, completely passe in the
> Internet Age. … Will the Baha’i Faith as the “State Religion” make
> sure everyone has universal health care and make sure Wall Street is
> regulated? I am trying to get this?

Shoghi Effendi’s thinking on this was framed in terms of the
development of Christianity in the Roman Empire. In his Persian
letters he refers in a couple of places to reaching a stage analogous to
Constantine’s recognition of Christianity, without going into what that
would entail.

There’s one close parallel to these passage in his Persian letters,
[in his English writings] here:

This present Crusade, [will] contribute effectually to the
acceleration of yet another process … which will carry the
steadily evolving Faith of Baha’u’llah through its present stages of
obscurity, of repression, of emancipation and of recognition … to
the stage of establishment, the stage at which the Faith of
Baha’u’llah will be recognized by the civil authorities as the state
religion, similar to that which Christianity entered in the years
following the death of the Emperor Constantine, a stage which must
later be followed by the emergence of the Baha’i state itself,
functioning, in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance
with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy, the
Mother-Book of the Baha’i Revelation, a stage which, in the fullness
of time, will culminate in the establishment of the World Baha’i
Commonwealth, functioning in the plenitude of its powers, and which
will signalize the long-awaited advent of the Christ-promised Kingdom
of God on earth — the Kingdom of Baha’u’llah — mirroring however
faintly upon this humble handful of dust the glories of the Abha
Kingdom. (Messages to the Baha’i World – 1950-1957, p. 155)

Shoghi Effendi had no doubt done his own study of the history of
Christianity, but he would also be familiar with Abdu’l-Baha’s words about
the effects of Constantine’s ‘establishment’ of Christianity (ie making it
the state religion):

For example, the first person to establish public clinics throughout
the Roman Empire where the poor, the injured and the helpless received
medical care, was the Emperor Constantine. This great king was the
first Roman ruler to champion the Cause of Christ. He spared no
efforts, dedicating his life to the promotion of the principles of the
Gospel, and he solidly established the Roman government, which in
reality had been nothing but a system of unrelieved oppression, on
moderation and justice.
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 85)

From this, I think Shoghi Effendi would envision that when the Bahai Faith
becomes a state religion, its values would infuse society and be expressed
in government institutions. Those values, expressed through the political
sphere, might well lead to more regulation of the financial sector, but I
imagine he would think that the mechanism of regulation could not achieve
much unless accompanied by a transformation of minds and collective

Dispensaries, health care and the care of aged, and schools and
higher institutions, are intended to be institutions of the Bahai
community, whether it is established or not. Establishment might
or might not have an effect, depending on the specific terms of each
national establishment agreement. Based on the UK model, which
Baha’u’allah and Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi knew of, the powers and
duties of the Bahai Faith as a state religion could include the power of
solemnizing marriages and divorces, the duties of burying unclaimed bodies
of no known religious affiliation, the provision of chaplaińs services,
in prisons and the armed forces, the prerogative of having seats in the
House of Lords alongside the Bishops or an equivalent right to speak on
legislation in the making, and ceremonial functions such as reading
prayers at the opening of Parliament.

I do not think the state is passe in the internet age. Geographical
organisation is still best for some functions, for its hard to send
goods by internet, or control water levels, or provide security on
the streets. What is happening is that the state, which in the modern age
became the umbrella organisation over society itself, is shrinking back to
its natural position as one organ of society, alongside religion, science,
the economy, the ecological system, and others: interracting with each of
them, but not dominant as it was in the modern age.

~~ Sen

On 17 Apr 2010, AA returned, saying:

> The point I am making is: Shoghi Effendi advocates theocracy and
> political non-involvement in clear contradiction to Baha’u’llah.

If he did advocate both, that would be [self-]contradictory. I think you
have misunderstood him.

> Shoghi Effendi even goes as far as saying, “We
> cannot change them [existing political systems] through becoming
> involved in them; on the contrary, they will destroy us.” Why would a
> Baha’i holding political/governing office “destroy us”!?

Ah! You are assuming that "we” here refers to every individual Bahai. But
what if it meant, the Bahai institutions cannot become involved in
politics? Then this statement would be perfectly consistent with his
ruling that the Bahai administration cannot replace government, that
we are a religious non-political community working for humanitarian
ends,” that “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic
body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Baha’i
community…”. and so on – I’ve quoted these previously. The separation of
church and state lies at the core of Shoghi Effendi’s thinking, and of the
Bahai teachings, in part for reasons of justice but also because when
religious institutions become entrapped in politics, religion itself is
the victim: it is discredited, the religious community often splits, the
religious institutions forget their true role.

[AA writes]

> Shoghi Effendi also claims:
>”According to the exhortations of the Supreme Pen and the
> confirmatory explanations of the Covenant of God Baha’is are in
> no way allowed to enter into political affairs under any
> pretense of excuse; since such an action brings about disastrous
> results and ends in hurting the Cause of God and its intimate
> friends.” — Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 56
> I am yet to find any place where Baha’u’llah forbids Baha’is from entering
> politics. This appears to be a lie on Shoghi Effendi’s part.

Again, I think you have misunderstood him. He was battling throughout his
life against Bahais who wanted the Bahai Assemblies to become political
bodies. You have given examples from the writings of Baha’u’llah, here’s
another one from Abdu’l-Baha that is closer in wording to what Shoghi
Effendi says above:

The fact is, that the functions of the religious leaders and the
duties of experts in religious law are to keep watch over spiritual
matters and to spread abroad the virtues of the Merciful. Whenever the
leaders of the manifest religion, the pillars of religious law, have
sought a role in the political sphere, have issued opinions and taken
control, the unity of the believers in the one true God has been
dissolved, and schisms have encompassed the community of the faithful.
( )

Shoghi Effendi certainly envisioned individuals Bahais entering
politics. After all he cites Baha’u’llah’s words “How great is the
blessedness that awaiteth the king who will arise to aid My Cause in My
Kingdom,” in The Promised Day is Come, and in the same book he interprets
the words in the Aqdas, “Whoso followeth his Lord, will renounce the world
and all that is therein” as referring to “the king who will profess His
[Baha’u’llah’s] Faith. At a more lowly level, he also anticipates Bahais
voting and being elected to public office, for two letters written on his
behalf say,

The Baha’is will be called upon to assume the reins of government when
they will come to constitute the majority of the population in a given
country, and even then their participation in political affairs is
bound to be limited in scope unless they obtain a similar majority in
some other countries as well. (19 November 1939)

The Baha’is must remain non-partisan in all political affairs. In the
distant future, however, when the majority of a country have become
Baha’is then it will lead to the establishment of a Baha’i State. (19
April 1941)

(both cited in The Universal House of Justice, 1995 Apr 27,
Separation of Church and State)


~ Sen
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