Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Who belongs? – 2

This was on Bahai-studies ( bahai-st@list.jccc.edu ) in April 2010, where one of the participants (not the one I am replying to here) had said that a certain Bahai who had been disenrolled was not a Bahai. That raised the question discussed below, which begins with something personal but leads on to general thinking.

First post:

—–

… I appreciate [that] the relationship between being a Bahai and being a
member is puzzling: I get quite a few queries about it. I’ve asked
the UHJ if they could clarify, in a letter on 22 March 2010:

“.. I would like to apply again to be enrolled in the community, and also
to ask for some clarification about the meaning of enrollment and
disenrollment. I ask this for myself, and also to assist some the friends
who feel some uncertainty on this score. In response to one of those who
have asked me about this, I have written:

“So far as I understand it – and this is something the UHJ might
clarify – being on the membership rolls is meant to be like
voluntary membership of an association, which is a free choice on both
sides. There seem to be no procedures or reason required for taking
away membership or not giving it in the first place. No explanation is
given. It́s like the coach deciding who doesńt make the cut.”

I can imagine various other ways of understanding the significance of
being enrolled, in relation to being a Bahai. I would like to be able to
respond to such questions in terms acceptable to the Universal House of
Justice, and I think some clarification of the thinking of the Universal
House of Justice would be helpful for the whole community, especially if
disenrollment is intended to be a life-time situation, meaning that
disenrolled Bahais will be a permanent part of the Bahai scene.

Secondly, could the Universal House of Justice say whether
disenrollment is a form of sanction for breaching Bahai law. I think that
it is not, since the term `sanctioń has not been used, but a clear
statement would be helpful. Bahais have thought that disenrollment is a
more severe form of the removal of voting rights, and have been quite
imaginative in thinking of what sins might have merited it! …”

I’ll post the UHJ’s answer on one of the information tabs on my blog.

Sen
——

On 16 Apr 2010 at 19:28, XX wrote:

> Have they responded yet? I wasn’t sure if you were
> indicating they had responded already or will in future.

———
Reply:

No, they haven’t responded. It’s early days yet. The previous time I
applied to be re-enrolled (without additional questions), it was about 6
months before the reply arrived. This time I’m hoping for some explanation
of their thinking about community membership, not just with respect to
past events but also into the future. It could take a while.

For several generations we’ve taken it for granted that being a Bahai also
entails being enrolled as a member of the community, except in the case of
Covenant-breakers. That’s not the way it was before enrollment existed,
it’s not the way it works today in some countries, and it might not be the
way of the future.

In a society with many Bahais, and where the Bahai Faith is accepted as a
mainstream religion, I can imagine several possibilities:

– The ‘hindu model’ : current trends with regard to multiple core
activities and the expectation that being Bahai should be more than
just one aspect of one’s life continue, and could lead to enrollment
becoming an additional choice that some Bahais make, for example when
they’ve reached a stage in their life when they can devote themselves to
Bahai activities. This model links enrollment to intensive service.

– Annual enrollment : a pre-ridvan period in which Bahais in an area put
their names down, from which the Assembly selects those eligible to have
voting rights, which would also be those able to attend Feast in the
coming year. This model links enrollment to administrative rights, voting
and being elected.

– Enrollment as such is abandoned, since the number of real Bahais is so
great that one or two trouble-makers pretending to be Bahai could not have
a real effect, and because decentralisation means that the Bahais at Feast
are also your neighbours. A soft social control replaces the mechanism of
a membership list, at least so long as you are in your own local area.

– The Catholic model: the importance of enrollment for full
participation in the fellowship and work of the community, which is
vital to the individual’s spiritual well-being, is given a new
emphasis, so that becoming a Bahai continues to entail becoming
enrolled, for most people.

– The rule of the elect: the masses don’t bother to enroll, but those who
feel they have a particular capacity to serve in the administrative work,
and those whose families have always been active in administrative work,
do. This would be tempered (one hopes) by periodic enrollment drives to
get more Bahais to participate. This is the only one of my models that is,
I think, undesirable. It is the way it works out in democracies that have
voting registration rather than making voting compulsory for all citizens:
the less educated and less integrated classes and communities are less
likely to register, so that politics is dominated by people whose
interests lie with the status quo. How can this outcome be avoided?

As you might guess from the above, I’m not just thinking from my
personal situation which has problematised enrollment for me, I’ m
also thinking about writing a book on the Bahai community and its
institutions, and this question of the meanings of memberships is at the
heart of it. It’s relatively easy to write about the Assemblies and the
Mashriqs and the schools and scholars and service to the wider community –
but what is the population that lives in our model village? Who belongs?
And – whatever the answer may be – where do the Bahai Scriptures or the
example set by Abdu’l-Baha tell us that?

Regards
Sen

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