Guidance, 16 May 2013
To the delegates gathered at Bahá’í National Conventions
Dear Bahá’í Friends,
The Eleventh International Convention, recently concluded, offered all who were present a glimpse of the promise of Bahá’u’lláh to unite the peoples of the world. More than a thousand members of one hundred and fifty seven National Spiritual Assemblies attended, and nearly five hundred more, including those from an additional fourteen countries, participated in the election by mail. This diverse group of women and men, a veritable cross section of humanity, evinced, in their participation in the electoral process and subsequent contributions to the Convention consultations, a spirit of sanctity and love, a unity of thought and purpose, and a consecration to the collective enterprise of applying the healing message of Bahá’u’lláh that earned our deep admiration. No doubt, the members of your National Assembly, or the Counsellors, will share with you the joyous fellowship they experienced and the insights they gained during the productive days spent in the Holy Land.
You now gather in National Conventions to carry out your own sacred responsibilities in the Bahá’í Administrative Order. Foremost is the election of the members of your National Assembly, when you will choose individuals who can meet the pressing requirements of the progress of the Cause at the present stage of its development. Our letter dated 25 March 2007 was intended to strengthen the Bahá’í electoral process, and we urge you to give renewed consideration to its salient points. In the features and outcomes of this electoral process that distinguish it from contemporary practices we find not limitations, but dawning points of profound implication. The delegates, as well as the generality of the believers, uphold the purity of Bahá’í elections, scrupulously avoiding electioneering or discussion of who should or should not be a member, even when specific names are not mentioned; for not only does the Guardian prohibit reference to particular personalities, but he also states that “we should refrain from influencing the opinions of others.” Collectively, the friends strive to purge themselves of every trace of worldly tendencies — pursuit of personal ambitions, promotion of individuals, contest, and partisanship — which can corrupt and distort an election’s spiritual character. Delegates are obliged to become “intelligent, well-informed and responsible” electors so as to “be able to make a wise choice at the election time”. They enjoy the unfettered right to choose from among all those eligible, whether it be to retain members or to select new ones. The community wholeheartedly embraces the result of the election, confident that the delegates have cast their ballots for those for whom prayer and reflection have inspired them to vote.
Within the administrative arrangements of the Bahá’í community there are a number of spaces that allow for the exchange of views, including cluster reflection gatherings, institutional meetings, and the Nineteen-Day Feast. The National Convention is another such occasion, but unique in that it brings together the National Assembly and elected representatives from all parts of the country. The conduct of this consultative dimension of the Convention calls for thoughtful attention.
Shoghi Effendi stated that the National Convention should “fulfil the functions of an enlightened, consultative and co-operative body that will enrich the experience, enhance the prestige, support the authority, and assist the deliberations of the National Spiritual Assembly.” Although delegates are to offer their views in a full, frank, and unhampered manner, he advised that time not be spent on problems of secondary importance and that disruptive forces, “which are but the outcome of human passion and selfishness,” should be resisted. Instead, the Guardian expected those assembled to “approach their task with absolute detachment” and “concentrate their attention on the most important and pressing issues” in order to obtain a “deeper and broader vision of the Cause through an increase in the spirit of unity and of whole hearted co-operation.” “The unfettered freedom of the individual should be tempered with mutual consultation and sacrifice,” he explained, “and the spirit of initiative and enterprise should be reinforced by a deeper realization of the supreme necessity for concerted action and a fuller devotion to the common weal.”
Throughout the community, as the processes of the Divine Plan have become more and more complex, the nature of discussions on matters pertaining to growth and development of the Faith has evolved. A distinctive conversation is carried out, sometimes formally and often informally, at various levels and in different configurations. In every setting, each participant, whatever the nature of his or her service, provides a particular contribution and takes away fresh insight. From this rich set of interactions about experience unfolding within the Plan’s framework for action, consensus on strategies and plans emerges naturally. Among institutions, discussions flourish in an atmosphere of love and genuine respect, and unity of thought is readily achieved. And in settings such as cluster reflection meetings and gatherings of tutors, children’s class teachers, or animators of junior youth groups arranged by the training institute, aspects of decision making related to expansion and consolidation are taken up by the body of the believers, enabling planning and implementation to become more responsive to local circumstances. This conversation of the Bahá’í world, grounded in allegiance to Bahá’u’lláh and safeguarded by firmness in His Covenant, increasingly transcends the habits of speech characteristic of an age preoccupied with trivial or misdirected interests. With time, accrued experience, and continued guidance, this ongoing conversation comes to be distinguished by a more worthy etiquette of expression and gradually clarifies ambiguities, expands participation, airs concerns, strengthens bonds of love and association, refocuses endeavour, reconciles differences, resolves problems, and contributes to happiness and well-being.
Your consultations with the National Assembly at the Convention take place within the context of the larger set of relationships that bind the Plan’s three protagonists and must increasingly reflect the features of this distinctive conversation. Each year the Riḍván message sets the stage for the discussions at Convention by conveying a sense of the current progress of the Bahá’í world and the work that lies ahead. Your contribution, though free and frank, is not characterized by insistence on personal opinion. While there may be a wide range of important topics, attention to the progress of the Five Year Plan and the requirements of its remaining years cannot be neglected. You bring to the Convention insights gleaned from the conversation unfolding within your region. In this way, you enrich the perspective of the National Assembly and become informed of its hopes, challenges, and aims. You enhance your own understanding of the affairs of the Cause from a national perspective and rededicate yourself to the community’s common enterprise.
We are pleased to witness the promising advances in the deliberations at National Conventions in recent years, and it is our ardent prayer that you may arise to achieve the high aims set forth by the Guardian for this vital institution of the Cause.
[signed: The Universal House of Justice]
In its letter dated 21 July 1985 to all National Spiritual Assemblies, the Universal House of Justice provided guidance regarding the election of delegates to a National Convention on the basis of electoral units, and thus introduced a uniform method of electing delegates to National Conventions throughout the world.
It is expressly recorded in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Writings that these National Assemblies must be indirectly elected by the friends; that is, the friends in every country must elect a certain number of delegates, who in their turn will elect from among all the friends in that country the members of the National Spiritual Assembly.
One of the signs of the breakdown of society in all parts of the world is the erosion of trust and collaboration between the individual and the institutions of governance. In many nations the electoral process has become discredited because of endemic corruption.