By Scott Raymond
Politics. Like it or not, it’s been with us since time immemorial and seems to be as much a part of being human as is having five fingers on each hand.
But the Baha’i Faith is indeed a religion for “the people from the future,” as more than one observer has called us, and Baha’u’llah left us with both a process and an understanding that is far beyond any known human institution when it comes to the election of administrative bodies.
What is a Baha’i election? Why do we have them? Baha’i’s have elections in order to elect an administrative body, Any locality (village, town, city) that has nine or more adult members will, once a year, elect an administrative body known as a Local Spiritual Assembly that handles the nuts and bolts affairs of that community (our Assembly here in Portland always pays the rent on time and has a great eye for the occasional piece of furniture they pick out for our central building.)
Keep in mind that in the Baha’i Faith there is no clergy. None. Never has been, never will be. A Spiritual Assembly acts as an administrative body for a community. They make functional decisions for a community only as an administrative entity. As individuals, members of an Assembly have no more or less power or authority than any other member of a community. Additionally, any member or group of members in a community can approach an Assembly with questions, issues or recommendations regarding the affairs of a community.
Now here’s the good part. There’s no campaigning. There’s not even recommending. It’s prohibited in our religion. As part of our culture, we never discuss or even mention a person or persons we think might serve well on an Assembly. Each individual community member votes for nine people whom they consider to have the best capacity to serve. In an annual community meeting that centers around both open and silent prayer and reflection, we are encouraged to vote our hearts and minds as to who we think has the best capacity to serve.
We use exactly the same process once a year to elect delegates who vote for a National Spiritual Assembly. These delegates attend a national convention where the same principles of non-discussion apply.
Once every five years, National Spiritual Assemblies use the same process to elect the Universal House of Justice.
This prohibition against campaigning extends into our secular lives as well, as Baha’i’s are never allowed to run for, or accept any office that is based in partisan politics, although we are encouraged to participate as responsible members of society by exercising our right to vote in governmental elections. Baha’i’s can accept governmental and judicial positions that are not determined by election and do not function at an individual party level.
How can this all be a next step in the progression of human systems? For us, it’s done several things. Baha’u’llah repeatedly told us that the principle of establishing true unity among all peoples is our birthright, as well as our duty. He was not referring to centralized, homogenized forms of rule, but to a true recognition of the fact that the human race is one. Sharing and helping each other, recognizing each others dreams, aspirations, trials and tribulations, that kind of recognition is a good thing. Secondly, His teachings have helped us to largely negate our own egos (it’s an ongoing process, believe me.) Serving on a Spiritual Assembly is not done for the sake of self-aggrandizement, but in the spirit of service to others. Selfless service to others is one of the founding principles of all faiths, including ours.
The Spiritual Assembly in Portland can even help you find out more about how this all works. Since our religion is based on serving all peoples, not just members of the Baha’i religion, you can contact them at any time with questions, issues, or even recommendations!