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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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"... 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)
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.
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."