When it comes to elections, Baha’is decline party invitation

Baha’is, like other U.S. citizens, will cast their vote in the upcoming general election, but they won’t be campaigning or promoting particular candidates for office.

Partisan politics is not permitted in the Baha’i Faith, whose members strive to contribute to building a unified society in which problems are peacefully resolved through consultation, a non-adversarial form of collective decision-making.

In accordance with Baha’u’llah’s exhortation to “be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in,” Baha’is are encouraged to be informed of the issues of the day and to participate in elections where they are not required to declare a party affiliation.

Their choice of candidate, however, is based not on partisan considerations, but on their personal judgment of the character and merits of the individuals running for office and their capacity to make the most valuable contribution to society.

The partisan political process divides people, says Edward Price, a longtime Baha’i who lives in the Chicago area. “And since the Baha’i Faith is all about creating unity,” he says, “our Teachings tell us to remain aloof from partisanship.”

At times Baha’is do take positions on public policy issues or support legislation when a clear spiritual principle is at stake, for example in civil and human rights issues. Indeed, over the years Baha’is have been at the forefront of social action on issues such as racial equality, advancement of women and stewardship of the earth.

Phyllis Edgerly Ring, columnist on UPI's Religion and Spirituality forum

Phyllis Edgerly Ring, columnist on UPI's Religion and Spirituality forum

Baha’is further promote the Faith’s core principle of unity by voting in Baha’i elections, which are “sacred events, clothed in prayer, nurtured in reflection, conducted in quiet,” writes Phyllis Edgerly Ring, a New Hampshire Baha’i, in her latest weekly column on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality forum.

There is no clergy in the Baha’i Faith and the affairs of the community are administered through nine-member elected governing bodies at the local, national and international levels.

In these elections, there’s no campaigning and no nominations. Rather, the individual voter, in the privacy of his own mind and unfettered by any external influences, votes for the individuals he or she thinks is best suited to serve on an elected Baha’i governing body.

Being elected to a Baha’i institution is not so much an opportunity to govern as it is to serve. Being elected is a sacred duty. As the Universal House of Justice says, “We must not allow ourselves to forget the continuing, appalling burden of suffering under which millions of human beings are always groaning — a burden which they have borne for century upon century and which it is the mission of Baha’u’llah to lift at last.

“The principal cause of this suffering, which one can witness wherever one turns, is the corruption of human morals and the prevalence of prejudice, suspicion, hatred, untrustworthiness, selfishness and tyranny among men.

“It is not merely material well being that people need. What they desperately need is to know how to live their lives — they need to know who they are, to what purpose they exist, and how they should act toward one another.

“And once they know the answers to these questions they need to be helped to gradually apply these answers to everyday behavior.

“It is to the solution of this basic problem of humanity that Baha’is are encouraged to direct the greater part of their energy and resources.”

“Of course, no Baha’i would ever claim to live up to these ideals perfectly,” Ms. Ring concedes, “but in the 30 years I’ve been privileged to experience the Baha’i election process, I’ve seen its real viability as a model of governance truly of the people, by the people and for the people.”

Reprinted with permission from the Baha’is of the United States (see January 2008 issue of U.S. Baha’i News)