Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Church and state – dispensationalism, establishment

To: baha’i Studies
Subject: questions about kings and defence
Mon, 25 Mar 2002 10:38:26 -0800

Hi XX.

The reason I asked whether you had the laws of the Aqdas
regarding kings and rulers in mind, was to hint that you
*should* have them in mind. I am of course aware that there
are passages in Shoghi Effendi’s writings which, taken in
isolation, could be taken to mean that the Baha’i
Administrative Order would assume the functions of the
superstate — but not if one reads them in the light of Shoghi
Effendi’s clarification in WOB 66, ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Treatise on
Governance, and Baha’u’llah’s Iqan, Kitab-i Aqdas, Kitab-i
‘Ahd, Lawh-i Maqsud, Lawh-i Ashraf, Lawh-i Dunya and so on.
I have already posted a list of sources from Gleanings, and
extracts from the Aqdas, and you will have no trouble in
finding more. The principle of the two sovereignties that is first
stated in the Iqan permeates all of Baha’u’llah’s thinking: one can no
more understand the Baha’i Faith without it, than one could leave out
say the oneness of humanity or the relativity of religious truth.
Shoghi Effendi selected some of the most emphatic statements of this
principle for Gleanings, and he assumes that his readers will have
grasped it. If you do take firm hold of it, and read Shoghi Effendi’s
writings and the other Writings in that light, you will see that the
Writings are consistent, and also that the kind of government and
society they refer to looks remarkably attractive and contemporary. It
is one you could go out into the modern world and unashamedly teach,
whereas if you think that our real aim is to build up the institutions
of world government and support our national governments for a while
and then abolish them at both levels — well, you can either practice
a little dissimulation in your teaching work, or just stop teaching.
Because nobody out there today is going to buy that recipe —
theocracy has been demonstrated to be the worst of all possible forms
of government, and the separation of church and state to be essential
to good governance in every field and every society.

If you will try to read the Writings in the light of the principle
that God endorses both the religious order AND the political order,
with two separate sovereignties, you will see that the apparent
contradictions in the Writings melt away. Just as the Counsellors
function in a different way to the Assemblies, the Government
functions in a different way to the Houses of Justice, and each is
able and authorised to do things that the other is not. The verses
which appear to be contradictory, are simply explaining principles
which apply only in the religious order, or only in the political
order. To give another example: one might take Shoghi Effendi’s
statements about the right of the individual to earmark donations, and
find that this contradicts what the Writings say about the
Huquq’u’llah. Does this mean that the fund and its laws is to be
abolished and replaced by the Huquq’u’llah? That the Huquq’u’llah
refers only to a future state of society and the Fund is what we have
now? That the Huquq’u’llah was a law referring to a Middle Eastern
context and it is no longer relevant? That what we give to the Huquq
is not a donation? That the freedom of the individual is temporary and
will eventually be replaced by coercion? You can imagine endless
variations, parallelling the arguments you have seen and heard in the
Baha’i community to justify the idea that the Administrative Order
should replace the governments.

The appeal to first-this-then-that arguments is an implicit
acknowledgement that the Baha’i teachings do endorse
worldly government, do speak of a world federal government
and its legislature, judiciary, and executive, their modes of
election, powers and duties, and that none of this is
compatible with [what is said about] the equally scriptural institutions of the
Guardianship and the House of Justice, with their
corresponding national and local equivalents, methods of
election, duties and memberships. People who suppose a
that the Faith cannot be talking about separate religious and
political institutions then turn this picture on its side:


O – O



that is, they turn the constitutional separation of church and
state into a temporal separation, as a way out of the
indisputable fact that both sets of institutions are ordained in the
Writings. But this would entail abolishing political institutions
which Baha’u’llah has endorsed. Only a Manifestation could do that.

It does not matter which level one is discussing here, national
or international. The theme of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s ‘Treatise on
Governance’ is that God guides humanity by establishing two
‘fundamental forces’, religious and governmental. These are
forces in the sense of metaphysical principles, like yin and
yang. They are manifest throughout the physical world, and at
all periods of history, because the visible world is the mirror of the
spiritual world. And in fact if we look back through history, one of
the first differentiation of functions is between the religious
specialist (shaman, priest, witchdoctor) and the temporal leader. And
the first “civilizations” (ie urban polities) that emerged into
history about 4000 BC are marked by the differentiation of two
normative orders, of politics and religion. You can see why countries
that have abolished the independence of the political order (Iran, the
Mahdi state of Sudan, Afghanistan) have degenerated so rapidly. They
have tried to set up a system which cuts across the lines of harmony
that underlie the universe. This is not a new Baha’i teaching:
Baha’u’llah cites the ‘render unto Caesar’ verse of the New Testament
and the ‘authority’ verse of the Qur’an to show that the two
sovereignties always has been the will of God, and he says it always
will be:

O ye the loved ones and the trustees of God! Kings are
the manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of the
might and riches, of God. Pray ye on their behalf. He
hath invested them with the rulership of the earth and hath
singled out the hearts of men as His Own domain.
Conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His
Book. This is a decree of God in this Most Great
Revelation. It is divinely preserved from annulment and
is invested by Him with the splendour of His confirmation.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 220-221)

One might wonder what precisely is preserved from
annulment here – conflict and contention in general, or conflict and
contention with those invested with the rulership of the earth, or the
whole previous passage? Since the passages before and following
refer to the relationship of the believers to the Kings (and of the
Houses of Justice to the Kings, if one takes ‘trustees of God’ as
being addressed to the Houses of Justice), I am inclined to think
that the ‘decree preserved from annulment’ is both the division of
the universe into two distinct spheres and any conflict and
contention aiming to upset this divine order. The ‘contention’ that
is ‘categorically forbidden’ could be by the loved ones or trustees
seeking to establish a theocracy, but a government which interfered
with freedom of religion and conscience would also be in ‘conflict’
with this principle (because the heart is God’s ‘Own domain’).

I think that the differentiation of church and state is so
fundamental a principle that it will not be changed even a new
Manifestation. To begin with, look at the compilation Shoghi
Effendi prepared, on the continuity of Kingship, in the
Promised Day is Come, page 71 and following. It was
presumably directed against the theocratists among the
Bahais of his own day. I won’t quote it all here, it is too long. But
just the mass of citations from the Baha’i writings Shoghi Effendi
summons here is one reason for thinking this is too fundamental a
principle to ever be revoked. Could one imagine, for example, that a
future Manifestation would teach racial inequality or that the
woman’s place in the kitchen? I suggest everyone interested look at
this section of PDC. One example of the texts he cites:

“In the Lawh-i-Sultan Baha’u’llah further reveals the
significance of kingship: “A just king is the shadow of God
on earth. All should seek shelter under the shadow of his
justice, and rest in the shade of his favor. This is not a
matter which is either specific or limited in its scope
that it might be restricted to one or another person,
inasmuch as the shadow telleth of the One Who casteth it.
… “

Most important, we could look at World Order of Baha’u’llah
, because in that passage there is not only a perfected
world federal system, but this system is also sustained by its
allegiance to one common Revelation. The system is mature
in other respects as well – force is the servant of justice,
science and religion have learned to cooperate, all men
adhere to one common faith, national rivalries have ceased,
etc.. So it represents an end-picture. I don’t think you can
find anything in the Writings which refers to a stage beyond
this. But clearly the institutions in that world federal system
are not the same as those of the Baha’i Administrative Order:
the electoral methods are incompatible, there is a separation
of legislative, executive and judicial functions, the use of force is
sanctioned, the ‘members’ are states rather than individuals or
Baha’i communities and we know from other writings that representation
on the world legislature is to be on a national basis and proportional
to population (the UHJ does not have members which represent nations
at all). So one has to conclude that at this stage – so far as one can
see into the future – the government and the Baha’i administrative
order are separate, but united by allegiance to ‘one common

The institutions of the world government, summarized in WOB
202-4 but described in many places in the Writings, are firmly
fixed in the Writings of Baha’u’llah, `Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi
Effendi, and in the absence of a Guardian or any way to
appoint one, there is no-one now with the authority to change
them, or to say authoritatively that any change which
happened by accident (alien invasion!) was the will of God
and supplanted the authority of these institutions. So we are
stuck with the separation of church and state for this
dispensation, and I think there is at least an implication that
this, and the law of marriage, the oneness of humanity and
some other most fundamental principles will never change.

Now, if we have established clearly the framework of
fundamental principles, we can turn to what you found in the
writings of Shoghi Effendi:

> 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 … 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 super-state. (Shoghi Effendi: World Order of
> Baha’u’llah, Pages: 6-7)

This says that the Baha’i Faith will become the established
religion, in the first place of some countries. This may be
difficult to teach in the US, but one can point for example to
the present United Kingdom and Denmark, which everyone will
concede are hardly illiberal societies, and which have
established churches. Then point out that the Pilgrim fathers
came from Leiden — where the practice of religion was free —
and went to America to set up their own little theocracies
where religion definitely was not free. This is more or less the
opposite of how the story appears in the founding myths of America,
but it is the historical truth. In brief, the idea of “establishment”
has become a bogey man in the US because it has been wrapped up in
these myths, and if people can step back from that, they may see that
establishment does not necessarily entail any civil privileges for
believers, any coercion of belief, or even a unique status: a state
could have two established religions, just as it can have two official
languages. The virtue of putting the relationship between the state
and the main religious organisations into the constitution
(‘establishing’ it ) is that it cannot be affected by the government
of the day — or by prospective governments on the campaign trail.
That is why one does not see politicians playing the religion card, or
churches endorsing particular parties, in the UK and Denmark, but you
do see this happening in the US. Establishment can be a bad thing,
going all the way to the burning of Catholics/Protestants under
successive English monarchs. But if it is done well, a constitutional
stipulation of the rights and duties of the major religious
organisations has the virtues of “good fences make good neighbours” —
once the lines are clear, the two types of institutions can work
together without friction.

OK, so in the first sentence we have the Baha’i Faith as an
established religion at the national level. That may be difficult to
sell, but if the US friends do their homework on the issue (and I
don’t pretend to teach them US history — they can no doubt do it
better than I) they will be able to sell this at least to some
seekers. At this stage the Assemblies are renamed Houses of Justice,
and they get extra powers, duties, and prerogatives. I have already
discussed these in a previous posting, under the two headings of those
relating to services provided directly to the state, and those
provided to the citizenry on behalf of the state. The particular
powers duties and prerogatives will depend on what particular services
are required, in each nation at each time. Army chaplaincy, burials,
prayers at the inauguration/coronation, religious education in
schools, maintaining houses of worship, social welfare functioning,
counselling etc. We have indications in the Writings of a very broad
potential scope of operation, and the rest is a matter of negotiating
an arrangement appropriate to the time, place and political culture.

Then, when this has occurred in a number of the Sovereign
States of the world, it will be incumbent on the world’s future
super-state to enable the Universal House of Justice, which is
the supreme organ of the Baha’i 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? Then the “rights duties and responsibilities” must be those of
the established religion of the world federal government, and they
will be whatever rights duties and responsibilities are entailed by
the religious services which the Faith provides at that time. For
instance, if there is a world military force available to the
international executive to subdue any state the breaks international
law, are you going to have one chaplaincy (perhaps with specialists
for particular religious traditions), or 101 separate ones for all the

I have only dealt with the first of your quotes, and I will look at
the others to see if there is something to be addressed there. I
suspect however that they will all prove to be self-explanatory,
providing one keeps the big picture in mind


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