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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:
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.
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.
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.