|The same basic rules governing elections and decision-making
are followed in the constitution and operation of Bahá'í governing councils at the
national and international levels. National governing councils, known as National
Spiritual Assemblies, are formed whenever there is a sufficient base of local Bahá'í
communities in a given country or territory.
Accordingly, as the Faith has grown, so have the number of National
Spiritual Assemblies. In 1954, for example, there were just 12 National Spiritual
Assemblies. By 1992, there were 165 National Spiritual Assemblies around the world--in
nearly every country.
The same basic procedures outlined for the
election of local Spiritual Assemblies are followed in electing National Spiritual
Assemblies: no nominations are permitted, campaigning is forbidden, spiritual capacity is
emphasized, and those men and women who receive the most votes are elected.
In this case, however, the voters are
delegates to a national convention and they may vote for any adult Bahá'í residing in
the country. These delegates are chosen each year in a secret ballot by the adult
Bahá'ís who reside within specially defined electoral districts. The districts cover the
Just as the men and women serving on local
Spiritual Assemblies oversee Bahá'í community affairs within a municipal locality,
National Spiritual Assemblies are charged with guiding and coordinating Bahá'í
activities within a given country. Their tasks range from the initiation and
administration of large-scale social and economic development projects to book publishing;
from overseeing relations with their respective national governments to the coordination
of collaboration with other religious groups and non-governmental organizations.
The Universal House of
At the head of the Bahá'í administrative structure stands the Universal
House of Justice, the international governing council of the Bahá'í Faith. Composed of
nine individuals, the Universal House of Justice is elected every five years by the
combined membership of all of the world's National Spiritual Assemblies.
The process of election is much the same as
for local and National Spiritual Assemblies: there are no nominations, campaigning is
forbidden, and the nine persons who receive the most votes are elected. As with local and
national elections, voters are expected to consider only individuals of recognized ability
and spiritual capacity.
The entire election process is a powerful
expression of democratic ideals. Although it is an international institution, the
Universal House of Justice is nevertheless surprisingly close to the grassroots. The final
election of the Universal House of Justice is just three steps away from the local level:
every adult Bahá'í is eligible to participate in the election of a "district"
delegate; district delegates in turn elect the members of their respective National
Spiritual Assemblies; and the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies around the
world in turn elect the Universal House of Justice.
Bahá'u'lláh Himself established the institution of the
Universal House of Justice, and it occupies a unique position in the Bahá'í
administrative order. Bahá'ís understand that its decision-making on spiritual matters
is unerringly guided by God.
Bahá'u'lláh's teachings are the
foundation of Bahá'í belief and practice. The Universal House of Justice has the
authority to legislate on all matters which Bahá'u'lláh Himself did not address. If, for
example, the development of some future technology poses a moral question which was
unknown at the time of Bahá'u'lláh, it would fall to the
Universal House of Justice to determine how to address that question. In this way,
Bahá'ís believe, the Bahá'í Faith will continue to be guided by God until such time as
the next Manifestation of God appears--an event which Bahá'u'lláh
said will not occur before the passing of no less than a thousand years.
"The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men. The
ocean of divine wisdom surgeth within this exalted word, while the books of the world
cannot contain its inner significance." -- Bahá'u'lláh
It is important to note that, like members
of national and local Assemblies, individual members of the Universal House of Justice
have no power or authority on their own--however respected and honored as individuals they
may be. Only when they are gathered together, meeting officially as the Universal House of
Justice, are they considered to be divinely inspired. The cult of personality has been