They don’t like the aggression

Kate Kelly’s excommunication letter, June 23 2014:

“The difficulty, Sister Kelly, is not that you say you have questions or even that you believe that women should receive the priesthood. The problem is that you have persisted in an aggressive effort to persuade other church members to your point of view and that your course of action has threatened to erode the faith of others. You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them while remaining in full fellowship in the church.”

The Department of the Secretariat to The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of New Zealand, 19 April 2000:

“Mrs. Marshall has chosen to aggressively promote her misconceptions in defiance of efforts to provide her with essential Baha’i teachings which correct them. She has made a series of statements that stand totally in contradiction to the authoritative texts of the Baha’i writings. These assertions, which she disseminated to an international audience, were of such concern to a number of Baha’is that the matter was brought to the attention of the Universal House of Justice.”

Horton hears a whoso

Horton hears a who book coverSooner or later, every Bahai gets to hear a whoso. I heard quite a few in the Dunedin community just after Alison was removed from membership. Listen in, and you might hear one, too.

“The sacred and youthful branch, the Guardian of the Cause of God, as well as the Universal House of Justice to be universally elected and established, are both under the care and protection of the Abhá Beauty, under the shelter and unerring guidance of the Exalted One (may my life be offered up for them both). Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God; whoso disputeth with him hath disputed with God; whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him hath in truth deviated, separated himself and turned aside from God. May the wrath, the fierce indignation, the vengeance of God rest upon him!”
The Will And Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

When you hear a whoso, it’s because a sour kangaroo has objected to the small people having a voice.

“Humpf!” humpfted a voice. ‘Twas a sour kangaroo.
And the young kangaroo in her pouch said “Humpf” too.
“Why, that speck is as small as the head of a pin.
A person on that?… Why, there never has been!”
Horton Hears a who

A covenant

Let me talk about a covenant.

No, I promise to make it interesting, and this isn’t Covenant with a capital C. It’s a covenant between the leaders and the rest of us. It’s an often-unspoken understanding that leadership involves doing a lot of listening, consulting and making changes as well as just plain making smart decisions.

The Baha’i Faith requires a lot of its followers. For example, there’s a requirement to wholeheartedly support a decision even when people don’t agree with it. So that’s one half of the covenant—an agreement by those who are led, not only to be obedient, but also to be supportive—even when they don’t buy the idea.

The other half of the covenant is that leaders must act like servants—”trustees of the Merciful One”, as Baha’u’llah puts it. He’s turned top-down into bottom-up: Leaders are charged with the responsibility of being responsive to the needs of the community and putting them first.

Radical, huh? Baha’u’llah seems to be saying, and I may be reading too much in here, LSA members should be less concerned about what the NSA thinks of a decision than what the community thinks of it.

In theory, the Bahai Faith has a very devolved decision-making process. In theory, ideas expressed

  • at the feast, or
  • to a local assembly, or
  • to delegates to national convention,

filter up through the system—some reaching as far as the House.

In theory, an individual will have opportunities to appeal any decision, because it will come from their local assembly, or occasionally their national assembly—and thus can be appealed at least once, but usually twice.

Unfortunately, the Baha’i Faith has become very top-down and one-size-fits-all:

  • Feast has become a vehicle for the NSA to promote its latest programme,
  • Bahais are removed from membership by the House with no recourse to appeal, and
  • any ideas that don’t fit the current narrow Ruhi framework don’t get anywhere.

Result: Individuals feel manipulated and disempowered. I think it’s because the covenant (the little one) has been somewhat forgotten.

We support human rights for all people we approve of

gratuitous image stolen from an unrelated websiteThe Bahais of Springfield, Missouri, have just responded to a questionaire from the city’s task force on sexual orientation and gender identity. Here are the questions, and the Assembly’s responses:

  1. Do you agree that the Springfield City Code should be amended to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance? No
  2. Would your answer reflect the majority of members in your congregation? Yes
  3. If the task force finds that there is discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity in housing, employment, and/or public accommodations in Springfield, would you support adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance? No
  4. Would your answer reflect the majority of members in your congregation? Yes


Yet in 2011 the Bahais of Springfield presumably got the following advice from the House, via the US NSA:

In attempting to reconcile what may appear to be conflicting obligations, it is important to understand that the Bahá’í community does not seek to impose its values on others, nor does it pass judgment on others on the basis of its own moral standards. It does not see itself as one among competing social groups and organizations, each vying to establish its particular social agenda. In working for social justice, Bahá’ís must inevitably distinguish between those dimensions of public issues that are in keeping with the Bahá’í Teachings, which they can actively support, and those that are not, which they would neither promote nor necessarily oppose. In connection with issues of concern to homosexuals, the former would be freedom from discrimination and the latter the opportunity for civil marriage. Such distinctions are unavoidable when addressing any social issue. For example, Bahá’ís actively work for the establishment of world peace but, in the process, do not engage in partisan political activities directed against particular governments.

As Bryan Donaldson over at Baha’i Coherence puts it:

The prominent reference here is that with regards to homosexuals, “freedom from discrimination” can be actively supported…

It’s a bit like the Islamic Republic of Iran, which seems to support human rights only for those people it approves. The Springfield Assembly needs to show that the Bahais are above that.

Vote Male

Vote Male booth
My booth outside the Haifa International Convention Centre.

I’m off to Haifa for a week to be part of the activities surrounding the 11th International Bahá’í Convention in Haifa. No, I won’t be one of the more than 1000 delegates, but I will be assisting them carry out their sacred responsibilities.

Those delegates come from all over the world and my job will be to remind them of the important stuff, so that their vote counts. That’s got to be pretty important, right?

You will be assimilated

Keith Farnan poster detail“We welcome everyone”

“Except gays”

“Oh no. We welcome gays… …except as members”

“And obese people.”

“No, I’m sure that’s not right.”

“Well, I read a blog entry where…”

“Oh yes, I read that too. But we do welcome obese people who want to be thin.”

“Yeah, we welcome everyone, But you’ve got to want to be straight, and thin…”

“…and apolitical, and…”

“This is getting complicated. How about: ‘We welcome everyone, but you’ve got to want to be just like us.'”

“That’s right, and we call it ‘unity in diversity'”

“Yes, we take diversity and turn it into unity.”

Loyal apposition

Moojan Momen
Moojan Momen

About a week ago I posted a comment on a blog entry over at Iran Press Watch: the Baha’is in response to Moojan Momen’s article – A Show-Trial of Seven Leading Baha’is of Iran

My comment was:

“Moojan Momen is writing about the possibility of show trials against the Baha’is, who are regarded as apostates by the authorities in Iran, yet he has written a defamatory article — Marginality and apostasy in the Baha’i Community — about people he regards as apostates within his own Baha’i community.

The comment wasn’t posted, so I wrote to ask why:

Hi Neysan,

I realise that you reserve the right to delete or edit any comments as you see fit, but I would appreciate knowing what it was about my recent comment that caused it to be deleted.

I just need to know the rules so I can abide by them.

Here’s the reply I got:

From: Neysan Zölzer – IPW
Subject: Re: [Iran Press Watch: The Baha’is]
To: Steve Marshall

Dear Steve,

Your comment is not related to the persecution of the Baha’is in Iran. You are welcome to write comments regarding the topic of our site.

Kind regards,

It was so good to have that cleared up. I had started off by discussing the persecution of the Baha’is, but had gone off on a tangent and ended up discussing the persecution of the Baha’is.

Asymmetric warfare

The title has probably put a few people off. I’m really just talking about “asymmetric differences of opinion” or, at most, “asymmetric conflict”. However, I’ll stick with the more familiar phrase.

Here’s a definition:

“Asymmetric warfare originally referred to war between two or more belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly. Contemporary military thinkers tend to broaden this to include asymmetry of strategy or tactics; today “asymmetric warfare” can describe a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other’s characteristic weaknesses. Such struggles often involve strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare, the “weaker” combatants attempting to use strategy to offset deficiencies in quantity or quality. Such strategies may not necessarily be militarized. This is in contrast to symmetric warfare, where two powers have similar military power and resources and rely on conventional warfare tactics that are similar overall, differing only in details and execution.”

Do Baha’is use such strategies? Yes they do. Here’s John Walbridge offering some excellent strategic advice on a list called Majnun in 1996:

We have hit on a winning strategy, I think:

  1. Avoid direct confrontations whenever possible.
  2. If attacked, as in ****’s case, indicate that we are prepared to stand our ground and make trouble.
  3. Get information and ideas into circulation.
  4. Keep the heat on whenever it can be done without direct confrontations.
  5. Do not allow ourselves to be painted as bad Baha’is.
  6. Give the powers-that-be a graceful way out of their problems.

Majnun post

The Baha’i administration responded strongly to that strategy:

“The nature of the problem which your activities were creating for the Baha’i community were clarified when you accidentally posted to the . . . forum a private message apparently intended for a smaller group of participants, identified by you as “Majnun.” You cannot be unaware of the sense of betrayal experienced by your fellow Baha’is, who had believed themselves engaged in a scholarly exploration of Baha’u’llah’s purpose, when they read a statement which appeared to lay out a cynical “winning strategy” designed to use the . . . forum to spread disinformation, attack the United States National Spiritual Assembly, and bring the administrative processes of the Cause into discredit.”
Letter of Counselor Stephen Birkland to a Baha’i Academic

Yet the Baha’i community is not averse to using the exact same strategies when dealing with opponents more powerful than itself.

The Baha'is of Egypt have offered a compromise in which their ID cards have "--" or "other" entered in the religious classification field.
The Baha'is of Egypt have offered a compromise in which their ID cards have "--" or "other" entered in the religious classification field.

Take, for example, the conflict Egyptian Baha’is find themselves in. They currently have to make a choice between denying their religion or denying their citizenship and they want to change that. So the Baha’is are going with their strengths. They are:

  • relying on the rule of law
  • keeping the heat on while being non-confrontational,
  • standing their ground when attacked
  • successfully mounting and attracting a global public campaign
  • offering the opposition a graceful way out of their problems

The strategy appears to have the support of the House:

“…you must stand firm and persevere in your effort to win affirmation of this right. To do less would be to deprive the authorities in Egypt of the opportunity to correct a wrong which has implications for many others, no less than for yourselves. Moreover, to relent would be to disregard the moral courage of those organizations, media, and persons of goodwill who have joined their voices to yours in the quest for a just solution to a serious inequity.”
The Univeral House of Justice, 21 December 2006, to the Baha’is of Egypt

So why was John Walbridge berated for putting the same strategy into words?

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
– Mohandas Gandhi