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Why Baha’is Don’t Participate in Partisan Politics

Rodney Richards | Oct 1, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Rodney Richards | Oct 1, 2020

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

The Baha’i teachings ask every Baha’i to abstain from participation in partisan politics and rise above its contentious, dis-unifying battles. Wow! What a tough task to follow in today’s hyper-polarized times, in fact at any time. 

Consider the Baha’i standard, expressed here by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith: 

the Faith with which the followers of Baha’u’llah stand identified is one which they firmly believe God has raised high above the storms, the divisions, and controversies of the political arena. Their Faith they conceive to be essentially non-political, supra-national in character, rigidly non-partisan, and entirely dissociated from nationalistic ambitions, pursuits, and purposes. Such a Faith knows no division of class or of party. It subordinates, without hesitation or equivocation, every particularistic interest, be it personal, regional, or national, to the paramount interests of humanity, firmly convinced that in a world of inter-dependent peoples and nations the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole, and that no abiding benefit can be conferred upon the component parts if the general interests of the entity itself are ignored or neglected.

Politics, political statements, and the words and actions of political leaders dominate our news outlets no matter the media, often producing much more heat than light. Social media – afire with rants against, or statements for, one political party or person or another in an endless streaming babble of conflicting views – continually fans those flames.

How can we get away from all of this contention? Rather, how do we elevate our thinking and actions above the divisiveness, the fractious back-and-forth, the endless pointless political wrangling? How do we stick to the issues themselves, rather than going to war over which political party will win? How do we peel back the onion to the layer of truth and find consensus and unity? How do we love all people, rather than just one political subset of them?

First, Baha’u’llah taught, we do everything we possibly can to free ourselves and our societies from prejudice – to bring about the unity of humankind. The Baha’i teachings say that prejudice – whether racial, religious or political – “destroys the edifice of humanity:”

… among the teachings of Baha’u’llah is, that religious, racial, political, economic and patriotic prejudices destroy the edifice of humanity. As long as these prejudices prevail, the world of humanity will not have rest. For a period of 6,000 years history informs us about the world of humanity. During these 6,000 years the world of humanity has not been free from, war, strife, murder and bloodthirstiness. In every period war has been waged in one country or another and that war was due to either religious prejudice, racial prejudice, political prejudice or patriotic prejudice. It has therefore been ascertained and proved that all prejudices are destructive of the human edifice. As long as these prejudices persist, the struggle for existence must remain dominant, and bloodthirstiness and rapacity continue. Therefore, even as was the case in the past, the world of humanity cannot be saved from the darkness of nature and cannot attain illumination except through the abandonment of prejudices and the acquisition of the morals of the Kingdom. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha

For Baha’is, obligated and exhorted to remain detached from the partisan fray, removing political prejudice requires the development of a higher sense of when not to jump in, especially when the world seems so caught up in a frenzy of partisan political discourse between opposing viewpoints. The Baha’i teachings say:

Speak thou no word of politics; thy task concerneth the life of the soul, for this verily leadeth to man’s joy in the world of God. Except to speak well of them, make thou no mention of the earth’s kings, and the worldly governments thereof.

So how do Baha’is deal with the issues and problems of the world if they don’t get involved in partisan politics? Concerned with injustice on one hand and the need for justice on the other, how do Baha’is speak out and act?

Actions speak louder than words and always have, and devoted Baha’is take many actions daily to fight injustice, to promote justice, and to foster the exact opposite of partisanship – world unity. Baha’is actively promote unity, love, justice, and accountability by spreading Baha’u’llah’s teachings of oneness.

Baha’is recognize that all of us, which includes every human being on the planet, have a connection to some form of government, some body of law, and some leader or a whole cadre of leaders and functionaries. In representative democracies, we vote for these leaders. The autocrats or kings or queens left in the world have varying degrees of power and authority over their subjects. Baha’is obey just governments, believing that the task of changing human society goes far beyond political structures and extends to the inner character and spiritual strivings of each person:

Members of the Baha’i community, wherever they reside, avoid engaging in partisan politics or meddling in political relations among governments, refraining at all times from becoming involved in the contest for worldly power. They have chosen this path in accordance with the teachings of their Faith, that they might focus their attention on working towards the greater goal of establishing a united and prosperous society. This choice is not intended as a criticism of any particular political party or of the approach taken by other groups. Needless to say, in following this path Baha’is categorically reject any form of sedition or recourse to violence.

While eschewing partisan political activity, Baha’is are to vigorously engage in constructive public discourse and in a wide range of social endeavours aimed at the betterment of the world and the progress of their respective nations. They undertake such activities with humility, discernment and respect for prevailing laws and social conditions, in a spirit of learning and in collaboration with like-minded groups and individuals, fully confident in the power inherent in the principle of unity in diversity and in the efficacy of mutual aid and cooperation. The Universal House of Justice, from a letter to an individual Baha’i, 22 January 2010.

Every Baha’i and every Baha’i institution focuses on the inseparable goals of building a united humanity and a united worldwide society.

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Comments

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  • Tom Halstead
    Oct 5, 2020
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    Cool! Nothing "outside" of the Character Quotient of our own soul matters. There are no "others."
  • Oct 1, 2020
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    However voting is a civic duty in a democracy. Abdu’l-Baha wrote
    "... In the United States it is necessary that the citizens shall take part in elections. This is a necessary matter and no excuse from it is possible. My object in telling the believers that they should not interfere in the affairs of government is this: That they should not make any trouble and that they
    should not move against the opinion of the government, but obedience to the laws and the administration of the commonwealth is necessary. Now, as the government of America is a republican form ...of government, it is necessary that all the citizens shall take part in the elections of officers and take part in the affairs of the republic."
    (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v2, p. 342)
    Read more...
  • Trute Resound
    Jan 6, 2020
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    Hi Rodney, I sent you an email. I am a Bahai' and I appreciate your perspective and the quotes. By the Bahai' principle "Independent Investigation of truth" I find it difficult to reconcile the strictness of some of these doctrines, even when spoken from our sacred Master with that principle in mind. I have a friend who shares the same political views as I do, because of partisan politics. They are due to the other Bahai' principle that states "Elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty." Money really is the root of most evil. Even Jesus thought so when ...he toppled the trading tables in the Synagogue in Jerusalem and said "Ye shall not do this in my Father's house!" Simplified: Do not stir up controversy.
    Read more...
  • rodney Richards
    Jan 6, 2020
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    Jack, thanks for your perception, But I don't know you or you know me except through these few words or perhaps other of my articles. i can say i am on the Environmental commission of my Township and take an active roll on our Green Team and environmental activities. I can say I was a trained court dispute resolution mediator for 24 years. I can say I read Time and The Week cover to cover to stay abreadst, and am a National Public Radio listener and member. I can say all that but that's not who I am. I care ...what goes on in our world and speak out as I am able and moved to do so. Most of all I can say I try to keep an open mind, and don't accept things blindly. I am still learning. Thanks to discourses like these, I hope that continues.
    Read more...
    • Oct 1, 2020
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      "While eschewing partisan political activity, Baha’is are to vigorously engage in constructive public discourse and in a wide range of social endeavours aimed at the betterment of the world and the progress of their respective nations."
      This is the crux of the message. We must be activists for social change without identifying ourselves with the purely political stances of a party or movement. Racism, injustice, poverty, materialism—these are not political issues & as a Baha'i i consider it my duty to resist the trend of politicizing and there trivializing these crucial human rights issues when I discuss them with others ...in any situation.
      Read more...
  • Mark David Vinzens
    Jan 6, 2020
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    O Thou kind Lord! This gathering is turning to Thee. These hearts are radiant with Thy love. These minds and spirits are exhilarated by the message of Thy glad tidings. O God! Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious. Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world. O God! This American nation is worthy of Thy favors and is ...deserving of Thy mercy. Make it precious and near to Thee through Thy bounty and bestowal.
    Read more...
    • Oct 1, 2020
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      The prayer is not authentic, Mark. There are authenticated Persian notes of what Abdu'l-Baha said on that occasion, and they don't resemble what we have in the "prayer for America." In general, the interpreters and note-takers and editors of Abdul-Baha in America tended to be selective and spin his words to make him more appreciative of American society than he appears in the Persian notes.
      There's an article on "this great American democracy" on my Bahai Studies blog with further explorations of the various quotes in which Abdu'l-Baha refers to "American democracy."
  • Robert Moldenhauer
    Jan 5, 2020
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    It is indeed admirable. The mixing of religion and partisan politics has always been toxic for both sides. Theocracy always ends up destroy both.
  • Samandar Samari
    Jan 5, 2020
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    Mr Rodney- Many thanks for this article, I was waiting for something like this for over 5 years as I see sadly a few who do not know dozens of Bahai laws.... and NSa have to keep reminding and surely it is tough on young people and many potential rebels who accept 90% of what is on offer .
  • Robert Sewell
    Jan 5, 2020
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    These goals are definitely among the most imperative ideals of the Faith. It will forever be the challenge for those who suffer at the hands of injustice and bigotry...
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