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Spiritual Elections’ Are Not An Oxymoron For Baha’is
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Post Posted: Thu Jul 02, 2009 7:01 am 
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‘Spiritual elections’ not an oxymoron for Baha’is: April 20, 2009 - 12:00am

From April 23 to April 26, 171 Baha'i delegates in this country will gather at the Baha'i House of Worship for the North American Continent in Wilmette, Ill., to elect members to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. At the same time, Baha'i delegates in 181 other nations will gather to elect their National Spiritual Assemblies.

Convention

Delegates at the US National ConventionThe annual convention is held during the 12-day Festival of Ridvan, which commemorates Baha'u'llah's proclaiming in 1863 His mission as God's Messenger for this age. An exception to the timing of the convention occurs every five years when the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body the Baha'i Faith, is elected during the Festival of Ridvan. In those years - the next is 2013 - national elections are held in May.

As the Baha'i Faith has no clergy, the National Spiritual Assembly - and assemblies elected at the local, regional and international levels -- are charged, according to Baha'i writings, with the responsibility of being "channels of divine guidance, planners of the teaching work, developers of human resources, builders of communities, and loving shepherds of the multitudes." Those qualities are greatly needed, the Universal House of Justice says, because people everywhere are yearning for institutions that will "dispense justice, dispel oppression and foster an enduring unity between the disparate elements of society."

To those who equate elections with hard-ball partisan politics, the Baha'i Faith's system of spiritual administration may seem like an oxymoron. These skeptics might well examine how the Baha'i electoral system removes partisanship from the democratic process, thus increasing the likelihood that those elected are not bound by narrow interests, but rather seek the well being of the entire human race. At a time when trust in government is eroding everywhere in the world, and when the electoral process in many nations has become discredited because of endemic corruption, this new model of governance serves as an antidote to apathy, alienation and despair.

"Baha'i elections are a truly remarkable, spiritually uplifting experience," says Robert Stockman, a former delegate and professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago. "There's no campaigning, no nominations, no electioneering and no issue platforms." When platforms drive elections, Stockman says, "it's easy for candidates to twist facts and act in ways that aren't fair. And when elections are based on nominations and campaign speeches, it soon includes attempts to undermine support for rival candidates and question their integrity and humanity."

So, without campaigning, nominations or election platforms, how do Baha'i delegates know whom to vote for? First, the Baha'i writings say that Delegates may vote for any adult member of the Baha'i community. In short, if one is qualified to vote, one is eligible to be elected. In addition, guidelines have been provided in the Baha'i writings to assist the voters in making an informed decision. Before Baha'i elections the members of the Faith may discuss how they ought to vote but they must do so without referring to specific individuals. Arash Abizadeh, assistant professor of political science at McGill University in Canada, notes four distinct types of criteria mentioned in the Baha'i writings that voters should consider when casting their ballots in Baha'i elections:

* Qualifications of individual Assembly members. Voters should consider individuals that possess the qualities of "unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience."

* The collective makeup of the Assembly as a whole. Voters should consider qualities that reflect the makeup of the Assembly as a whole, such as the diversity of its membership. For instance, they should keep in mind advice from the Universal House of Justice to consider age distribution and ethnic and gender diversity in the Assembly.

* Changes in the individual makeup of the Assembly. No matter how excellent selections from a prior year may have been, it is always important for the voters to be on the lookout for making improvements to the Spiritual Assembly. Shoghi Effendi reminds voters who notice shortcomings in members of the Assembly that the annual election gives "the community a good opportunity to remedy any defect or imperfection from which the Assembly may suffer as a result of the actions of its members."

* Changes in the collective makeup of the Assembly over time. Shoghi Effendi also suggested that the collective quality of the Assembly should change and improve over time. Thus, beyond specific improvements in the individual makeup of the Assembly, there should be some turnover as well.
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On Saturday, April 25, after reflecting privately on the qualities of those they have in mind to elect, delegates to the U.S. Baha'i National Convention vote in silence in an atmosphere of prayer and meditation. "Delegates know and feel the significance; the hall reverberates with spirituality," Stockman says.


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