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The Baha’i Administrative Order begins with the individual Baha’i, who tries to live life in accord with the spiritual, social and practical guidance found in the Baha’i writings.

It begins with a real love for Baha’u’llah, and, it follows with love for every human being—a love that transcends personal feelings and emotions, a kind, cooperative, understanding and caring love, one that puts the other person first:

Love and unity are the needs of the body politic today. Without these there can be no progress or prosperity attained. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 171.

This means respect and attention to the needs of every human being. How can an administrative order, a system of governance, evince those lofty principles?

The Baha’i administrative order answers that question by being founded on such respect and love.

Baha’is have no clergy, which means that all decisions rest in the hands of democratically-elected bodies as the local, regional, national and international levels. At the local jurisdictional level, according to the civil boundaries where they live, Baha’i adults vote annually by secret ballot, with no nominations, electioneering or campaigning. They choose the members of their Local Spiritual Assembly from everyone in the community. The Local Spiritual Assembly helps members of the community in any way possible, observing Baha’i guidelines and laws and helping their community—both Baha’i and everyone else—in its spiritual growth and development.

When Baha’i Assemblies meet, the principle of frank and honest consultation guides the art of discussion, with unity as its goal:

In this Cause consultation is of vital importance, but spiritual conference and not the mere voicing of personal views is intended. … consultation must have for its object the investigation of truth. He who expresses an opinion should not voice it as correct and right but set it forth as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide. A spark is produced when flint and steel come together. Man should weigh his opinions with the utmost serenity, calmness and composure. Before expressing his own views he should carefully consider the views already advanced by others. If he finds that a previously expressed opinion is more true and worthy, he should accept it immediately and not willfully hold to an opinion of his own. By this excellent method he endeavors to arrive at unity and truth. … Therefore, true consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 72-73.

Baha’i consultation is to be undertaken with the utmost love, sincerity, and unity. Its participants must come together in a prayerful attitude, seeking assistance from the Realm of Glory, expressing their thoughts freely, surrendering all attachment to their individual opinions, and giving fair-minded and careful consideration to the views of others, in an effort to reach consensus. – The Universal House of Justice, 19 May 2009.

Consultation governs the discussions of members of all Baha’i Assemblies and even the Universal House of Justice, the global governing body of the world’s Baha’is.

The aim of any Spiritual Assembly should be to develop a warm and loving relationship with the believers in its community, so that it can most effectively nurture and encourage them in the acquisition of a deeper understanding of the teachings, and can assist them to follow the Baha’i principles in their personal conduct. The Assembly should aspire to being regarded by the members of the community as a loving parent, wise in its understanding of the varying degrees of maturity of those entrusted to its care, compassionate in dealing with the problems which arise as a result of any shortcomings, ever prepared to guide them to the correct path, and very patient as they strive to effect the necessary changes in their behavior. Such an approach is far removed from the harshly judgmental and punitive approach which so often characterizes the administration of law in the wider society. The Baha’i application of justice, firmly rooted in spiritual principle and animated by the desire to foster the spiritual development of the members of the community, will increasingly be seen as a distinctive and highly attractive feature of the Revelation of Bahaullah. – The Universal House of Justice, to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia.

Every year, Baha’is in districts that include several local communities vote to send representatives, who vote in accordance with their own conscience, to a National Convention, where delegates elect the nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly, which governs the affairs within its jurisdiction. All members of the district are eligible to vote and be voted for.

Seat of the House of Justice

Seat of the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel.

At the global level, the members of those National Spiritual Assemblies come together every five years to elect the nine members of the Universal House of Justice, the supreme governing body of the Baha’i Faith.

This basic framework forms a unique kind of government, neither democratic nor republican, neither despotic or autocratic. Its localized decision-making bodies insure that it remains decentralized, as Abdu’l-Baha recommended. At each lower lever, an appeal process exists for both individuals and LSA’s to appeal decisions made. This appeal process can reach the Universal House of Justice, the final arbiter. The institutions all function as helpmates, trying to find the best solution according to the spiritual and societal guidance in the Baha’i writings for both individuals and institutions.

But it is, as they say, the spirit that counts. A spirit of loving-kindness permeates Baha’i administrative decisions, even though they may seem contrary to someone’s view, they are intended to serve the needs of a well-balanced, fair society.

Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, summed it up:

… [Baha’is] must never mistake the Baha’i administration for an end in itself. It is merely the instrument of the spirit of the Faith. This Cause is a Cause which God has revealed to humanity as a whole. It is designed to benefit the entire human race, and the only way it can do this is to reform the community life of mankind, as well as seeking to regenerate the individual. The Baha’i Administration is only the first shaping of what in future will come to be the social life and laws of community living. – quoted by the Universal House of Justice in a letter to the Baha’is of the United States, 19 May 1994.

15 Comments

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  • rodney Richards
    Jan 08, 2019
    Aaron, thanks for further clarifications and understandings, and yes, all Bahais are enjoined to engage humanity in discourse on religion and God, at one time solely a priestly function. Their other function was to interpret for the laity the meaning of Scripture, which is forbidden in the Baha'i Faith. Yes, we offer opinions and are free to express what Scripture means for us, but that's where it ends because true meaning comes from one's one heart and soul. Also, Bahaullah's injunction, "All power hath been seized from kings and ecclesiastics," has unique implications on this labeling as well.
  • Robert Green
    Jan 05, 2019
    Assembly's learn to keep the lawyers in check and that let's the faith grow. they also learn to be more patient and compassionate in the application of the laws so as to be nurturing and not punitive. I love the progress I see, might even start being nicer again. just because of the progress I see demonstrated by this post itself :)
  • Robert Green
    Jan 05, 2019
    Such an approach is far removed from the harshly judgmental and punitive approach which so often characterizes the administration of law in the wider society. The Baha’i application of justice, firmly rooted in spiritual principle and animated by the desire to foster the spiritual development of the members of the community, will increasingly be seen as a distinctive and highly attractive feature of the Revelation of Bahaullah. – The Universal House of Justice, to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Australia.
  • Robert Green
    Jan 05, 2019
    The aim of any Spiritual Assembly should be to develop a warm and loving relationship with the believers in its community, so that it can most effectively nurture and encourage them in the acquisition of a deeper understanding of the teachings, and can assist them to follow the Baha’i principles in their personal conduct. The Assembly should aspire to being regarded by the members of the community as a loving parent, wise in its understanding of the varying degrees of maturity of those entrusted to its care, compassionate in dealing with the problems which arise as a result of any ...shortcomings, ever prepared to guide them to the correct path, and very patient as they strive to effect the necessary changes in their behavior.
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  • Robert Green
    Jan 05, 2019
    I love this but don't think we just focus enough attention on how much practice we yet need with the principles of consultation. we present as experts yet mimic still the old world order in practice.
    • rodney Richards
      Jan 05, 2019
      Robert, Practice will get us to Carnegie Hall one day, and consultation will be as natural as breathing. We are not there yet as a whole of mankind, but as leaven we are showing others the benefit of consultation and it has revolutionized discourse at all levels - think teamwork in business, conferences, and meetings that now that place in the millions, all geared toward sharing one's thoughts and opinions. What makes Baha'i consultation different is the self-imposed detachment from ideas -- a goal we have yet to obtain universally but are headed towards.
  • Tom Holte
    Jan 04, 2019
    You haven't included the role of the Regional Baha'i Councils.
    • rodney Richards
      Jan 05, 2019
      Good point, to be a follow-on Post, as the institution of the learned is very important to the Baha'i Administrative Order.
  • Haleh Ighani-Rabani
    Jan 04, 2019
    Having been an active member of my the Baha'i Faith, and in my humble opinion, unlike priests who run their perish individually and are funded by their members to carry out their duties, the members of our Baha'i institutions are elected by secret vote based on their spiritual service in the community and are not paid for their voluntary service. Also, there's no campaigning involved in these elections. Furthermore, contributions in the Faith are voluntary and only accepted from the Baha'is. I would argue that these simple basic facts are enough to view the difference between our administrative bodies versus ...the station of priesthood.
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    • Aaron Siering
      Jan 07, 2019
      Yes, it is surprising but neither do priests in at least Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. The priest's job is to provide the sacraments for the sanctity of the laity--in other words to make saints. . . . And just like in the congregation as a whole there are informed priests and not so informed priests. What really drives the understanding of religion from a Catholic/Orthodox perspective are the saints. One is under no compulsion to listen to a priest especially when he doesn't really know what he talking about and speaking against the tradition of the Church (which is written ...in the testimony of the saints).
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    • rodney Richards
      Jan 05, 2019
      Also, Bahai's have no status in the sense that what they say according to the explicit texts has no power to compel others to follow.
  • Aaron Siering
    Jan 04, 2019
    Another way to think about it is that Baha'i Administrative Order is, itself, a clergy, a nation of Priests if you will. I would argue that this might be a better way to think about it because it demarcates better the commitment of being part of the Administrative Order, as it is on par with the sacraments of Holy Orders or Marriage in Catholicism. In fact, saying that the Baha'i's have no clergy may even be thought of as disingenuous once one has discovered what they've got themselves into. It is a way of falsy presenting the religion as more ...liberal or "new age" than it actually is or conversely could also just be theologically sloppy.
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    • Aaron Siering
      Jan 07, 2019
      Rodney, yes this is a multifaceted question, and there are many ways one can look at what it means to be a preist; but I would still argue that when one looks at the progressive covenants of the Abrahamic faith that the priest's essential role is to be a mediator between the world and God. To say that the Baha'i Faith has no clergy might be attractive to persons who are cynical about organized religion, but it doesn't speak to those Jews and Christians who really know their own faith well. The Baha'i Faith attracts many of the former but ...only slightly from the later, and until it does its impact on the global discussion about religion will continue to be limited and largely confined to the far corners.
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    • rodney Richards
      Jan 05, 2019
      Aaron, its hard not to compare the Administrative Order to current sacerdotal orders, but according to the clear texts, especially the Central Figures and the Guardian, individual Baha'is, even those elected or those learned people, have no standing to compel others to follow them, which, I think, is the central difference and another reason why the Administrative Order is unique. In the end, it is clear we are all servants.
    • Collin Csuy
      Jan 04, 2019
      Good point, Aaron. Since Abdu'l-Baha indicated that we each have a franchise to teach, all who teach are pastors or perhaps physicians for the sicknesses in our global community.