Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

No clergy?

In a discussion on theologyweb, on October 3 2009, one of the participants said:

… it’s jumping to a huge conclusion to argue that because people [ie, some clergy] do not live up to the standards of their religions that we should eliminate all clergy.

My response:

Baha’u’llah agrees with you, to a large extent:

Those divines, however, who are truly adorned with the ornament of knowledge and of a goodly character are, verily, as a head to the body of the world, and as eyes to the nations. The guidance of men hath, at all times, been, and is, dependent upon such blessed souls. We beseech God to graciously aid them to do His will and pleasure. He, in truth, is the Lord of all men, the Lord of this world and of the next.
( Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 16)

And Abdu’l-Baha says:

“It is essential that scholars and the spiritually learned should
undertake in all sincerity and purity of intent and for the sake of God
alone, to counsel and exhort the masses and clarify their vision with that
collyrium which is knowledge.” The Secret of Divine Civilization 39

and Shoghi Effendi (the ‘Guardian’, the official theologian among
other roles) says:

or should it be thought for a moment that the followers of Baha’u’llah either seek to degrade or even belittle the rank of the world’s religious leaders, whether Christian, Muslim, or of any other denominations, should their conduct conform to the professions, and be worthy of the position they occupy. “Those divines,” Baha’u’llah has affirmed, ” . . . who are truly adorned with the ornament of knowledge and of a goodly character are, verily, as a head to the body of the world, and as eyes to the nations. The guidance of men hath, at all times, been and is dependent upon these blessed souls.” And again: “The divine whose conduct is upright, and the sage who is just, are as the spirit unto the body of the world. Well is it with that divine whose head is attired with the crown of justice, and whose temple is adorned with the ornament of equity.” And yet again: “The divine who hath seized and quaffed the most holy Wine, in the name of the sovereign Ordainer, is as an eye unto the world. Well is it with them who obey him, and call him to remembrance.” (The Promised Day is Come 110-111)

This is just a small sample from a large body of Bahai Writings about the
role of the divines and learned. When Bahais say that we have no clergy,
this is a Reader’s-Digest version of something more complex. As we can see
above, it does not mean that ‘divines’ have no further role, or that
religious learning itself is given no value. In the Bahai community,
however, authority has been taken from the learned and given to elected
councils, just as democracy transfered power from the monarch to the
parliament. Shoghi Effendi quotes Baha’u’llah :

No wonder that Bahá’u’lláh, in view of the treatment meted out to Him by the sovereigns of the earth, should, as already quoted, have written these words: “From two ranks amongst men power hath been seized: kings and ecclesiastics.” Indeed, He even goes further, and states in His Tablet addressed to Shaykh Salman: “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. That day will be the day whereon wisdom will be manifested among mankind.
(The Promised Day is Come, 71)

The principle of a religious community living under authority is
retained in the Bahai Faith, but the authority is no longer exercised by
learned individuals (Rabbi and Ulama) or by specially consecrated priests
(Catholicism, Zoroastrianism, Levites), it is exercised by ordinary
believers in consultation: the Spirit’s guidance for the community is
given through the process of their consultation, rather than to the
individuals. That means that the vital role of the “divines … who are
truly adorned with the ornament of knowledge and of a goodly character” –
in society and in the religious community – is exercised privately and
personally, without any office of authority.


Related content:
Compilation on the learned
What is theology, and what’s it good for ? (2008)
The knower as servant (response to Paul Lample) (2008)
Knowledge: project or process? (2009)

and in the email archive:

Scholarship and review in the Bahai community (1990)
Scholars in the Bahai Community 1 (1996)
Scholars in the Bahai Community 2 (1996)
Foreword to ‘Church and State’ (2005; see the section on the limits of theology)
Theology – 2005-12-03
Theology 2005-10-17
Theology 2005-10-21
Theology – 2005-12-03
Theologians, the learned and the wise (2006)
Theology 2006-02-13
Theology 2007-01-01
Theology 2008-06-03
Church, State, experts, consensus (Oct. 2009)
Theology – a defence (2009)
Theology 2009-10-00
Bahai Studies and the academic study of religion” (2010?)
Method and focus in my Church and State (2010?)

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