Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

enrolled vs unenrolled

On Talisman9, there was a question about the meaning of enrollment and membership in the Bahai community:

> It just seems to me that the integration between being a Baha’i and
> being in communion with the Administrative Order that apparently is part
> and parcel of this Faith is of a kind that is different than in other
> religious traditions.

My answer, 11 October 2009:

It is different, and it’s hard to sum up the differences.

My position is peculiar because I was removed from the membership
rolls by a decision of the UHJ, and have applied several times to be
re-enrolled without success. There are only a few Bahais in this position,
but even by that handful of expulsions the UHJ has created a new category,
the unenrolled Bahai, that didn’t have any formal existence before – at
least not in the eyes of the Bahai administration.

However, leaving my own peculiar position aside, the belief-
membership relationship in the Bahai faith is unique for several
reasons. In the first place, the Administrative Order has a clear
charter in the Bahai scriptures and functions according to the letter of
that charter – even if living up to the spirit is always a struggle. For
example, the electoral method for the institutions is laid down by
Abdu’l-Baha in writing, and they are given authority over all Bahai
matters within their jurisdictions. That cannot be said of any church or
organisation in any other religion.

Moreover there is only one legitimate Bahai Administrative Order;
there is no option to join the one of your choice.

Moreover, the Faith is intended not just to lead us to personal
enlightenment, but to sow and tend the seeds that will grow to a new world
civilization. That is not an assignment one can attempt as a loner.

On the other hand, in some Christian churches the church as
organisation is the ark of salvation, from original sin, the
prospects for those outside the boat are thought to be pretty grim.
That’s not the case in Bahai – the Faith (not the administrative
order, but the Faith as a whole) is the ark of salvation in a
positive sense, a vehicle for getting us there. It does not have a
metaphysical, sacerdotal dimension:

“the whole machinery of assemblies, of committees and conventions is to be regarded as a means, and not an end in itself; that they will rise or fall according to their capacity to further the interests, to coordinate the activities, to apply the principles, to embody the ideals and execute the purpose of the Bahá’í Faith.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 9)

This is a low-church ecclessiology, and it creates the possibility
that in a place or time, where the machinery is not serving its
intended purpose, it may be legitimate to work outside it — in the
hope that it will eventually “rise” after the “fall.”

Moreover, the Administrative Order is not the Faith as a whole. There were
Bahais before there was an Administrative Order, there are Bahais in
places where there is no administration, and there are Bahais who by
choice or UHJ decision are not on the membership rolls of the AO. The
Administrative Order is just one of the organs of the Bahai Faith as a
whole. The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is “the crowning institution in every Baha’i
community.” (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 108), and this
institution is open to all. That means that not being on the
administrative rolls does not really mean that one is not part of the
Bahai community. And of course we make our own communities: on-line
communities, local communities of friends, groups that study the writings
together or engage in social service. We construct our Bahai identities in
these overlapping communities, each for himself.

At the end of this, it’s hard to say whether boundaries and
membership in the Bahai community have a tighter or looser
relationship to self-identification as a Bahai.

Sen
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