Non-adversarial decision-making

The way non-adversarial decision-making (a.k.a. “consultation”) seems to work within the Baha’i administration is for a Baha’i administrative body to consult privately about a problem, then to decide on an action that has maximum impact.

When the New Zealand National Spiritual Assembly was deciding how to deliver the news to Alison Marshall that she had been removed from membership in the Baha’i community, here’s what it was thinking.

From National Spiritual Assembly Baha’is New Zealand
Minutes No. 32/156 Telephone meeting of 18 March 2000:

… 3.1.3 The National Spiritual Assembly discussed the concept of hand-delivering the letter. Another option could be to post the letter, and then have Peter telephone a day or two later to talk to Steve Marshall. We do not want to undermine the potency of the letter by reducing its shock value to them.
Chronology of events leading to Alison’s expulsion

Clearly, “non-adversarial” has a special meaning within the Baha’i Faith.

Within sport, for example, it’s understood that non-adversarial sports encourage co-operation, competing with yourself and win-win, whereas adversarial sports encourage competition, competing with others and win-lose. But if sports bodies adopted the “Baha’i” non-adversarial method, the result might look a bit like this:

Maximum on-field shock value obtained
Maximum on-field shock value obtained

No one expects the inquisitorial system

“The administrative bodies of the Bahá’í Faith at all levels use a distinctive method of non-adversarial decision-making, known as consultation.”
Consultation

Apparently, the phrase more commonly used by the rest of the world for non-adversarial judicial decision-making  is “inquisitorial system”:

“Inquisitorial System
This article is about the inquisitorial system for organizing court proceedings. This is not to be confused with the system of religious courts established by the Roman Catholic Church for the prosecution of heresy. For this see: Inquisition.”
Wiki: Inquisitorial System

The Wiki article goes on to say:

“An inquisitorial system is a legal system where the court or a part of the court is actively involved in determining the facts of the case, as opposed to an adversarial system where the role of the court is solely that of an impartial referee between parties.”

It’s possible there is no valid comparison to be made between Baha’i judicial decision-making and civil judicial decision-making, and this has been argued in various places. For example, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of New Zealand wrote:

In terms of decision-making required when Baha’i membership is at issue or when infringements of Baha’i law are of concern to the institutions, decisions are made based on Baha’i principles. The Baha’i administration is non-adversarial in nature and works in subtle ways. There can be no comparison with the terminology used in legal proceedings in the community at large. For example, Baha’i institutions do not lay any ‘charge’ against an individual believer, and there is no necessity for giving ‘direct notice’ to the individual. Similarly, the concept of a ‘case to be heard’ is foreign to the Baha’i administration. It is at the discretion of the Baha’i administrative body to act as it sees fit in full accordance with the Baha’i principles. … 9.4 Attempts by a National Spiritual Assembly to correct misunderstandings about the Faith by individual believers can be achieved in a variety of ways. The NSA does not employ the practice of formally approaching an individual before making a decision in every instance. There are many occasions when the deficiencies in understanding of individuals are addressed in a general, all-embracing way with the whole community (for instance, the presentation of community classes dealing with particular issues) rather than singling out individuals for specific attention.
Expulsion

Now, I would have thought that Baha’i principles did indeed require that Alison be consulted prior to having her membership removed, but apparently the National Spiritual Assembly believed otherwise. Or it simply did as it was told, then rationalised its behaviour afterwards.

The moral of the story: “When using the inquisitorial system, try to avoid acting like the Spanish Inquisition.”

consult