Disenrollment of Sen McGlinn (part one)

There's a few things I want to say about what's happened to Sen. I'll begin by stating the facts of the situation for those who are not aware of them.

On 14 November 2005, the Secretariat released a letter to all NSAs about Baha'i scholarship. You can read that letter on Baquia's blog Fahrenheit 145. In the letter, the Secretariat quotes a Baha'i scholar and states emphatically how this scholar has acted outside boundaries acceptable to the World Centre. Here's the relevant passage:

A different type of challenge arises when an individual or group, using the privilege of Bahá'í membership, adopts various means to impose personal views or an ideological agenda on the Bahá'í community. In one recent instance, for example, an individual has declared himself a "Bahá'í theologian, writing from and for a religious community," whose aim is "to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahá'í community, to enable Bahá'ís to understand their relatively new Faith and to see what it can offer the world". Assertions of this kind go far beyond expressions of personal opinion, which any Bahá'í is free to voice. As illustrated, here is a claim that lies well outside the framework of Bahá'í belief and practice.

The quote in this passage is from the foreword to Sen's newly released book Church and State. In the foreword, Sen says:

This book presents my own understanding of the Bahai teachings on some issues that are now critically important to the Bahai community and its relations with the world. ... I should declare at the outset that my stance is not that of a historian or academic scholar of the science of religion, but of a Bahai theologian, writing from and for a religious community, and I speak as if the reader shares the concerns of that community. As a Bahai theologian, I seek to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahai community, to enable Bahais to understand their relatively new faith and to see what it can offer the world. The approach is not value-free. ... the goal is a serious study that can aid the Bahai community and others to discover the potential for contemporary religious life which lies within the Bahai scriptures, rather than simply to repackage the Bahai Faith in a palatable form for present needs.

I'm not going to go into how the Secretariat has interpreted Sen's foreword. This has already been discussed at length by other commentators. For an excellent insightful analysis, see Karen's Thoughts.

Subsequent to the release of the 14 November letter to the NSAs, Sen received a letter informing him that he had been disenrolled from membership of the Baha'i community. The letter he received is worded very much like mine was:

Dear Mr. McGlinn,

The Universal House of Justice has advised us of its conclusion that, on the basis of your established pattern of behaviour and the statements you have published, you cannot properly be considered as meeting the requirements of Baha'i membership.

Accordingly, we have removed your name from our membership roll and have informed the Baha'i institutions concerned.

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the Netherlands

In response, Sen has completed another declaration card.

Discussion: justice and unity

I think one of the key spiritual principles underlying this case is:

"The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men. ... Were mankind to be adorned with this raiment, they would behold the day-star of the utterance, `On that day God will satisfy everyone out of His abundance,'(1) shining resplendent above the horizon of the world." Baha'u'llah: Words of Paradise in Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p 67

The principle is that the purpose of justice is the appearance of unity. Why is this? What is the link between justice and unity? I think the passage hints at the explanation. It is in the quote, "On that day God will satisfy everyone out of His abundance."

But another passage gives a good clue. It is that famous enigmatic passage about unity:

"Such exhortations to union and concord as are inscribed in the Books of the Prophets by the Pen of the Most High bear reference unto specific matters; not a union that would lead to disunity or a concord which would create discord. This is the station where measures are set unto everything, a station where every deserving soul shall be given his due. Well is it with them that appreciate the meaning and grasp the intent of these words, and woe betide the heedless." Baha'u'llah: Tablet of Maqsud in Tablets of Baha'u'llah, pp167-168

I think this quote makes the relationship between justice and unity clear. In essence, unity appears when everyone is given their due, accorded what is rightfully theirs. Unity isn't a condition where this fundamental requirement is overlooked. By this, I mean that unity isn't a situation where everyone is treated the same or expected to be the same. This will only lead to disunity. Justice must underlie unity; that is, everything must be in its correct station and everyone's true station—is, the measure allotted to them by the grace of God—must be recognised by all.

Another statement on this idea of giving everyone their due is found in Taraz 5:

"The fifth Taraz concerneth the protection and preservation of the stations of God's servants. One should not ignore the truth of any matter, rather should one give expression to that which is right and true. The people of Baha should not deny any soul the reward due to him, should treat craftsmen with deference, and, unlike the people aforetime, should not defile their tongues with abuse. In this Day the sun of craftsmanship shineth above the horizon of the occident and the river of arts is flowing out of the sea of that region. One must speak with fairness and appreciate such bounty. By the life of God! The word `Equity' shineth bright and resplendent even as the sun." Baha'u'llah: Ornaments in Tablets of Baha'u'llah, pp 38-39

In this passage, Baha'u'llah makes it clear that the stations of the servants must be protected and preserved. He immediately links this idea with seeing the truth of a matter. We should treat people with skills with deference and not abuse them. We must speak with fairness. This is equity, which shines on everyone.

In accordance with this principle, we must also treat learned people with deference:

"O people of God! Righteous men of learning who dedicate themselves to the guidance of others and are freed and well guarded from the promptings of a base and covetous nature are, in the sight of Him Who is the Desire of the world, stars of the heaven of true knowledge. It is essential to treat them with deference." Baha'u'llah: Tablet of the World in Tablets of Baha'u'llah, pp 96-97

And in another passage on the same theme, Baha'u'llah says that if we don?t treat these learned people with deference, then we have changed the favour of God. "They who disregard and neglect the divines and learned that live amongst them—these have truly changed the favor with which God hath favored them." (Gleanings 128)

It seems clear from the Secretariat's letter that the House believes Sen has been prompted by a base and covetous desire in his scholarship. I plan to deal with the evidence for this or, rather, the lack of it, in my next message on this subject.

I wanted to address here the assertion, stated with some alarm, that Sen is standing inside the community and claiming the authority to impose his views on others. The World Centre has felt it necessary to stamp out this imagined reality, in order to preserve the unity of the community. When I read this letter and see what the World Centre has done, I am left with an impression of what the World Centre imagines unity to be. Many argue that the House's view of unity is where everyone agrees with it. But it's also a view of unity where, more or less, everyone must be the same. There is no room for genius in it.

The point I wanted to make is that this is a misunderstanding of the nature of unity. As the quotes show, unity is about making sure that the favour with which God has endowed his servants is recognised and that learned ones take their rightful place in the community. Unity isn't about beating down any heads that happen to pop up. We must be just and acknowledge a person's gifts. No unity will result from shutting people up out of fear and the mistaken belief that this will keep the peace.

Sen's gifts are spiritual favours of God. They are recognised and extolled right now by those in the next world. If we reflect here on earth what is known in the Kingdom, we act in accordance with God's will and the good order of things. This is the condition that leads to the unity and tranquillity of the community.

Go to the original blog entry...