It’s election season in Canada. Last time a federal election came around I was too busy to write anything, although in previous years I took a few moments to lament over the excesses wrought by electioneering, and to highlight the Bahá’í principle of non-involvement in partisan politics. It should be clear to anyone who’s read into the principles of the Bahá’í Faith that Bahá’ís are forbidden to engage in partisan politics. But what does that mean for us, really? When election day rolls around, how are we supposed to vote in a non-partisan way? Is there such a thing? Is it just better to avoid voting entirely? Just what can we do, anyway?
First off, it’s pretty clear that Bahá’ís can and do participate in their country’s elections; that is, Bahá’ís can and do vote. In a recent letter, the Universal House of Justice noted that “Bahá’ís vote in civil elections, as long as they do not have to identify themselves with any party in order to do so.” Thankfully, in Canada, this is currently the case—I vote as a citizen of my country, not as a member or supporter of a party. An American Bahá’í asked ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to clarify whether the Bahá’í prohibition on partisan political activity extended to voting, and this was His reply:
“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.”
So if we can and should participate in the election of our country’s officers, then how can we do so without involving ourselves in partisan politics? Below are a few ideas that might serve as an inspiration to all of us who struggle with this question.
- Vote for people, not parties. Get to know the party platforms, yes, but also get to know the people who you’re called to elect. Learn about them, and determine who they are—not just what kind of promises they’re making, but also their character.
- Apply Shoghi Effendi’s guidance regarding Bahá’í elections. Research your vote in a prayerful, spiritual atmosphere, as if it was a sacred duty. Vote only for those who possess the necessary characteristics of service—including “unquestioned loyalty”, “selfless devotion”, “a well-trained mind”, “recognized ability” and “mature experience” (Bahá’í Administration, p. 88).
- Keep your ballot a secret. Keep your voting choices (and non-choices) strictly confidential, and avoid speaking for or against any party or candidate. If people come canvassing at your door asking for your support, tell them that the content of your vote is a private matter—and wish them well.
- Pray for, and show respect towards those who choose to pursue political aspirations. This could be a hard one, since it seems to be common to show disrespect towards politicians for their misbehaviour. But many people enter the arena of politics out of a sincere desire to serve their country, and as long as they continue to show that same sincerity and to serve to the best of their ability, they should be able to count on the respect and the well-wishes of the people. We should remember ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s exhortation: “Except to speak well of them, make thou no mention of the earth’s kings, and the worldly governments thereof.” (Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 92-93)
- Refrain from arguing over partisan matters. The goal of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation is the realization of the unity and oneness of humankind. Engaging in arguments about which party or candidate is better or worse can only cause disunity and division. The Universal House of Justice said it so well: “Let them rise above all particularism and partisanship, above the vain disputes, the petty calculations, transient passions that agitate the face, and engage the intention, of a challenging world.” (Lights of Guidance, p. 448)
- Engage in public discourse on issues of general concern to society, drawing from Bahá’í principles. Far from being disengaged, Bahá’ís are encouraged to engage themselves in constructive discourse on issues that are of concern to society. While we should clearly avoid basing our arguments on partisan viewpoints and so-called “talking points”, we can draw directly from Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, an ocean of insight that contains within it the solution to so many of the world’s ills. I find the statements of the Bahá’í International Community on various topics are especially helpful to study in this regard.
Interested in reading more about the Bahá’í attitude on politics, and why exactly we don’t become involved in partisan political activity? Author and blogger Susan Gammage has put together a wonderful compilation on Bahá’í involvement in politics that you should definitely read through. Edify your soul (and then don’t forget to vote).