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A Profile of the Bahá'í Faith and its Worldwide Community

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bullet.gif (837 bytes) The Bahá'ís
bullet.gif (837 bytes) Unity in Diversity
bullet.gif (837 bytes) Bahá'u'lláh
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) Social and Moral
Teachings
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) Spiritual Beliefs of
the Bahá'í Faith
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) A System for
Global Governance
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) A Century of
Growth and
Expansion
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) New Approaches
to Old Problems
bullet1.gif (837 bytes) Towards the New
World Order

A System of Global Governance

The Bahá'í Administrative Order

Following a framework set down by Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'í communities conduct their business through a distinctive system of freely elected governing councils that challenge commonly accepted ideas about the inherent limitations of democracy.

To describe the twentieth century in a phrase, it has been a single, long experiment in global governance.

Underlying the most dynamic movements, conflicts and institutions of the last 90 years has been a key question: how shall humanity govern itself?

By early in the century, absolute monarchy had been rejected; the First World War dismantled its remaining institutions. The Second World War settled the question of fascism and led to the end of colonialism. Now, the most ambitious experiment of all, communism, has been equally discredited.

Only democracy remains. But what kind of democracy?

Although clearly superior to other systems so far tried, democracy as practiced today is nevertheless undergoing its own convulsions. In the West, despite its successes, the multi-party system seems increasingly to reveal its limitations. In many countries, the corruption, mud-slinging, negative campaigning, vote pandering and indecisiveness have lead to voter apathy on a scale that threatens the integrity of the whole system.

In the East, new democratic experiments are threatened by a host of problems and forces, including a lack of experience, ages-old ethnic tensions, and varying cultural expectations.

Growing numbers of people today wonder whether any form of government is really viable any longer.

On the periphery of this debate is the extraordinary alternative suggested by the worldwide Bahá'í community. Following an administrative framework set down by Bahá'u'lláh, the community conducts its business through a distinctive system of freely elected governing councils that challenge commonly accepted ideas about democracy and the possibilities for achieving genuine justice.

The system combines the best elements of grassroots democracy with a facility for planet-wide coordination. It promotes the selection of leaders with integrity and has built-in checks against corruption. Its underlying principles strike a singular balance between individual freedom and the collective good.

Although many of its elements are similar to other practices for democratic election, administration and governance, when viewed as a whole the Bahá'í system stands in sharp contrast. The election process, for example, excludes any form of campaigning, electioneering or nominations. Yet it offers every individual elector the widest possible choice of candidates.

The decision-making process used by Bahá'í councils in their deliberations is also distinctive; its method is non-adversarial and seeks to build community consensus in a manner that unites various constituencies instead of dividing them.


The Administrative Order

Indeed, the idea that there exists a divine pattern for the continuing administration of the Bahá'í Faith is as important to the definition of Bahá'í belief and practice as are the spiritual and social doctrines of Bahá'u'lláh.

This governance system is called the "administrative order." It is viewed as both a system for conducting the affairs of the Bahá'í Faith itself and as a promising model that can be easily adopted by other institutions of administration and governance.

"In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness." -- Bahá'u'lláh

Founded on a common set of electoral and decision-making principles, the system is organized around a set of freely elected governing councils which operate at the local, national, and international levels. This hierarchy devolves decision making to the lowest level practicable--thereby providing a unique vehicle for grassroots democracy--while at the same time providing a level of coordination and authority that makes possible cooperation on a global scale.


The local Assembly

At its foundation, the Bahá'í administrative order rests on the local Spiritual Assembly, a community governing council elected each year in every community where there are nine or more adult Bahá'ís. It is worth describing in some detail the operation of the local Spiritual Assembly, as many of its features are reflected at the national and international levels.

Typically, the reach of the local Spiritual Assembly is defined by the municipal boundaries established by the government. In other words, all Bahá'ís who live within the boundaries of a particular village, town, city, parish, or governing district are considered to be within the jurisdiction of the local Spiritual Assembly of that locality.

The local Spiritual Assembly is elected each year by secret ballot. In April, all adult Bahá'ís in the given community gather for an election. Those who cannot personally attend are encouraged to submit absentee ballots. After a period of prayer and meditation, each adult then writes down nine names: the names of those nine individuals that he or she feels are best qualified to administer the affairs of the community.

The qualities such individuals should possess are spelled out quite clearly in the Bahá'í writings. Those participating in the election should consider "the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience."

Perhaps the most surprising aspect to this process is the absence of a prepared ballot or of any system of nominations. Instead, every adult Bahá'í in the community is eligible for election to the local Spiritual Assembly.

Those elected to the Assembly need not receive a majority of votes; rather, the nine individuals who receive the highest number of votes are selected. Since everyone in the community is, in essence, up for election, individual voters have the opportunity to vote according to their conscience with an absolute freedom of choice. Accordingly, individuals with a recognized maturity, experience and humility tend to be elected--instead of simply those who might be bold or egotistical enough to run for office.

Although this system defies political convention, it is surprisingly effective in practice. The whole emphasis of the Bahá'í electoral system is to bring forth leaders who possess qualities of selflessness, intellectual capacity and wisdom.

At the present time, local Spiritual Assemblies oversee a wide variety of activities--activities that comprise the essence of Bahá'í community life. These activities include the education of children, devotional services, study classes, discussions, social events, the observance of holy days, marriages, divorces, and funeral services. Many local Spiritual Assemblies around the world also oversee ongoing small-scale educational, economic or environmental development projects.

Local Spiritual Assemblies also supervise the Nineteen Day Feast, which as noted earlier, is the cornerstone of community activity. [See page 12] And, although the Assembly is ultimately the final source for authoritative decision-making in the community, the institution of the Feast provides an important component of grassroots governance. continues continues


"Excerpted from The Bahá'ís, a publication of the Bahá'í International Community."


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Photo from page 40
The Seat of the Universal House of Justice on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel.

Photo from page 42
A Bahá'í election in Thailand.

Photo from page 42
A local Spiritual Assembly meets in the Philippines.

 

 


 

 

 

 

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