trials of a voting baha’i

The recent Canadian election season offered me time to ponder and reflect about the Baha’i attitude regarding politics. I find it quite difficult to place myself within the Canadian political system, given Baha’u’llah’s command to refrain from involving oneself in partisan politics. (And living in Ottawa, you tend to hear a lot about politics no matter what time of year it is.) I’ve heard different things from many Baha’is about what forms of political involvement and expression are appropriate. The following quote from a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi pretty much sums up my take on the matter:

The Guardian wishes me to draw the attention of the friends through you that they should be very careful in their public utterances not to mention any political figures-either side with them or denounce them. This is the first fact to bear in mind. Otherwise they will involve the friends in political matters, which is infinitely dangerous for the Cause.

From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, January 12, 1933: Bahá’í News, No. 72, April 1933, p. 3 Lights of Guidance, p. 441

That’s why, for example, I leave my “Political Views” line blank on Facebook. It’s also why I never blog about political figures, either to compliment or criticise them, either to express. When I get emails from people criticizing this or that politician—yes, even unpopular ones (who shall remain nameless)—I kind of bristle, just like I would when hearing someone backbiting about a friend.

What do you think? Is it appropriate for Baha’is to openly express their hopes that one or the other candidate in a partisan election will win? Is the opposite appropriate? Why or why not? Oh, and here are a few links as fodder for discussion: Bahá’í Involvement in Politics (from bahai.org), The Spiritual Character of Baha’i Elections (from the Compilation of Compilations), a short Compilation on Criticism. (on that, since my lunch break is over, I’m out!)

10 thoughts on “trials of a voting baha’i

  1. I totally, completely agree with you. Right on. 🙂 The Writings are very clear on the subject…it is not appropriate for Baha’is to express their opinions on who they feel should win.

  2. You raise some very important and interesting questions. At our last general election in the UK (or perhaps it was the one before that), the National Assembly issued guidance to the friends to remind them that they are free to vote in elections, should they choose to do so, but they should be voting for individuals, based on their character and suitability to serve as an MP, rather than on party lines. The friends were advised not to tell canvassers who came to their doorsteps that “Baha’is don’t get involved in politics” or that “Baha’is don’t vote”. Neither of these statements is true. What Baha’is don’t engage in is partisanship, since our belief in unity and justice precludes partisanship, which can never solve the world’s problems.

    It is well worth reading the excellent “Beyond the Culture of Contest” by Michael Karlberg, published by George Ronald. Karlberg makes the point that current thinking conflates democracy and partisanship. But such a conflation is not a necessary one. We can conceive of (and no doubt practise) non-partisan democracy – in a way the Baha’i community already does this in its own elections.

    Another point: those of us who work for the Faith in the field of external affairs find ourselves interacting with the political and governmental realm all the time. We work with MPs from different parties, we engage in discussions about government policy (but from the standpoint of Baha’i principle). Such things were beyond thought for Baha’is twenty or thirty years ago. But as we grow in capacity and resources, it becomes a responsibility for individual Baha’is, the Baha’i community and the Baha’i institutions to contribute to the direction in which society is travelling.

    As the capacity of the Baha’i community evolves, so will our engagement in wider society. It’s inevitable – read the Ridván message 2008.

  3. This is quite timely given what is happening in the U.S. right now. I hear Baha’is openly endorsing the candidates they support all the time, sending me emails etc. I try to politely ignore these things because I don’t think it is my place to tell other Baha’is what they should do or not do. My experience though is that partisan/electoral politics is always divisive to talk about and evokes prejudice regardless of how enlightened a person believes that they are. It is almost addictive, once you start talking about various politicians, it becomes harder and harder not to do it. I recently heard a Baha’i saying that anyone who supported the candidate this person was not voting for didn’t have a brain. What kind of Baha’i commentary is that? Living according to Baha’i standards regarding partisan politics is a bit like chastity, it is something we are trying to do in a culture that almost universally preaches the opposite. It takes a lot of discipline to do but I’m beginning to see more and more the wisdom of refraining from such discussions. I also think that we have to learn how to articulate the principle involved in this practice so that people understand why we approach partisanship in this way.

  4. Good post brother.

    and I agree with all the comments below it.

    If you decide to vote, treat it like a Baha’i election as much as possible.

    Therefore keep your opinions between you, God and your ballot paper.

  5. For me, it is quite interesting to watch, observe and try to understand the system, specially when it is a system that will collapse. I personally do not vote because I don’t trust the system. How can I trust a system that teaches me to be against the other, or that makes the personal gain to be more important than the collective, or aims the growth of ego instead of the search for a common meaning for all?

    This is why, as a Bahá’í, I don’t vote.

    But if the voting system obliges me to (in places like Brasil), under heavy consequences, I take the idea of voting in the person, as it was said by Barney. But, in places like Europe, where we don’t vote on the potential Head of the State, but on the party, how can I do that? The UK was a clear example of that: when Blair left Brown got in without ellections, because it’s nor one nor the other that ellectorat voted, but on Labour Party?
    So, once again, how can I, someone who believe in another type of system, cast a vote on something that is not so clear as it should?

  6. Thank you for writing this excellent post (and comments). I think it is essential that Baha’is clearly understand this subject. The misconception – as pointed out by Barney – that Baha’is do not get involved in politics and therefore do no vote is one that is unfortunately quite common and one that I have encountered many times (especially due to the fact that I have opted for a somewhat political degree at university). But as mentioned above, it is of course only the partisan type of politics that Baha’is should refrain from.

    I would very much welcome more thoughts on this subject and look forward to posts of a similar nature.

    Keep up the good work!

  7. My standard practice is not to discuss who I intend to vote for (unless it’s my daughter in which case I consider it a teachable moment to explain to her why I want to vote for so-and-so). I make it standard practice, also, to welcome other points of view and have no desire to engage in “how could you possibly vote for so-and-so” kinds of discussions. And I am not registered, of course, with any political party, happy to be one of those “independent” voters. Yet, I do have difficulty staying silent about the impact of current governmental policies for many issues because of the inherent injustices which such policies create. I find that it’s important in discussions to refer to the policies and not to a particular politician or his/her political party, when speaking critically about the impact of those policies. We need public discourse about many things, but we need to keep such discourse free from references to right/wrong, true/false, this party/that party. I try to stay focused on principles and how laws and policies can be improved by being grounded in lofty principles.

  8. I’ve had to ask myself some of these questions as a Baha’i practicing journalism. Desperate to understand my role of sharing facts and personal views with the public while not disparaging public officials, I turned to a fellow Baha’i professional journalist with years of experience, and he said largely Shoghi Effendi’s guidance on such matters was to do the best we can and figure it out along the way. I find his words about the role of journalists in society very inspiring and also open to new discoveries as we journey forward.

    It’s vital that we know the facts about what is happening in our world, where are leaders are guiding us, what their policies are, how society is impacted, and what we can do to improve this place and promote justice. Participating as a voter is one way to have a role, but it is not all we can do. Refraining from partisanship frees us, and can be an assistance in removing veils, trying to see things with greater objectivity and detachment, to the degree possible. The field of journalism is actually a great arena for practicing this, and many other fields and professions benefit from the same kind of detachment.

    Civic engagement is very much needed on behalf of the Baha’is, but purged from the distractions of political divisiveness; rather with the heat and passion of a love for humanity, justice, and collective advancement.

  9. I really appreciate this article and the insights in the commentary too! “Beyond the Culture of Contest” indeed makes for thought-provoking reading and Phillipe, I especially liked the comparison between partisan politics and chastity within a culture preaching the opposite. It can be tough to strike a balance between being anxiously concerned with the needs of the age in which we live, to be informed voters, and yet not get sucked into divisive and addictive debates by accusations of apathy. I also benefited from the reminder that it’s not my place to tell others what to do or not do :-).

  10. I’m a little late on this, but this is the exact specific reason that prevents me from becoming a Baha’i. Democracy and the Democratic Process is the apex of human progression, allowing real and true justice to manifest itself in the world. Not fully participating in such a process seems to run counter to almost everything else the Baha’i Faith stands for.

    I don’t speak ignorantly or out of hostility; I have done a great deal of research on the Faith and agree with the majority of its teachings. Some will say that it is not my business to agree or disagree and only to accept, but I cannot in good faith accept something that doesn’t not make perfect sense to me.

    I think of it this way: What if true democracy took hold in Iran, and via the Democratic Process tyranny toward Baha’is — and let’s say toward ALL peoples — was democratically repressed? Would this not be in line with Baha’i interests and, in fact, humanity’s interests? Then I think, what if Baha’is in Iran chose NOT to participate in such an election and the reverse outcome was achieved by a margin SMALLER than those Baha’is who were eligible to vote but not NOT? I also think, what if the politician who put forth and popularized such ideas did NOT become a politician because his Faith forbade it, and this outcome was decidedly not possible directly due to this inaction? This all goes well past your initial post, but I thought I would put it out there nonetheless.

    In a time where good and just ideas are required, as are truly gifted public officials who can champion them outside of the norm of the “typical” politician, I can’t reconcile the idea that Baha’is are not to take part in the political system, as I believe that many may have the ability to be catalysts for real and fundamental change, leading to benefits for great numbers of people.

    Let’s face it, the world will not become just without our participation, and the Democratic Process *IS* “our participation,” so forgoing it seems illogical and, hence, prevents me from becoming a full participant in what I otherwise see as a marvelous and beautiful religion.

    ps. I don’t mean this post as offensive in any way at all, and I hope this is evident within. I hope someone gives me some response that helps me see things how I do not, though I really can’t imagine it. Thank you.

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