Question about canvassing

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brettz9
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Question about canvassing

Postby brettz9 » Sun Jan 13, 2008 11:30 pm

Hello all,

The Baha'i Writings prohibit canvassing, at least in the context of trying to garner votes for a particular individual candidate.

However, I'm very curious as to whether there is anything to prohibit canvassing an Assembly (or even a delegate) to urge or consider action on a particular idea.

I would be inclined to think it would not be prohibited (with some caveats), for a number of reasons:

1) multiple individuals, for example, can raise a question or write a letter to an Assembly, with no problem
2) The Baha'i community at the U.N. level is very supportive of NGO involvement in governance, and it would seem to make sense that it would be supportive of such informal associations within its own community (kind of like the grass-roots "teaching institute" concept which preceded training institutes, but not limited to teaching the Faith).

Granted, the typical procedure is to make a recommendation to one's Local Assembly and then the Assembly may forward the suggestion to National (which I seem to recall may even be required to forward copies of such suggestions to the House); this procedure is recommended (and really beneficial, including for the potential that the recommendation will get duly considered) if Baha'is would only take advantage of it. The exception to this, our Writings indicate, is when the Convention is in session, in which case, the delegates get a similar prominent opportunity to grab the National's attention.

Despite this regular procedure, and despite the fact that such appeals--if permitted--must of course, as according to our Writings, be respectful of the authority and final decision of the Assembly--I believe that appeals originating from a like-minded group of individuals--whether Baha'is with disabilities, Baha'is who are programmers, etc. etc.--could assist in informing the National Assembly of opinions and useful ideas within the electorate, as well as trends, and so on. The House urged the U.S. Nat. Assembly, a while back, as I recall, to solicit the opinions of the mass of Baha'is, but I wonder whether Baha'is are too shy because of such uncertainty about "canvassing" to take the initiative to make their opinions known in a collective way.

My sense is that there may be less involvement within the Baha'i community in promoting well-informed decision-making because of a lack of clarity on such boundaries (as, perhaps, in a similar vein, that there had been previous to the House of Justice's recent clarification that it is permissible and encouraged to discuss general aspects of qualifications of candidates before an election even while not discussing specific individuals--a very interesting potential discussion in and of itself for those who are interested).

Any thoughts? (respectful of the authority of our divinely-appointed institutions)

Brett

British_Bahai
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Re: Question about canvassing

Postby British_Bahai » Mon Jan 14, 2008 10:34 pm

brettz9 wrote:However, I'm very curious as to whether there is anything to prohibit canvassing an Assembly (or even a delegate) to urge or consider action on a particular idea.

I may not have thought about your post in enough detail, but in this instance id have to say yes... it has an element of dishonesty, dont you think?

Sorry if my post hasnt been in such a great depth as you originally wanted (im sure other people hold other opinions aswell)

brettz9
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Postby brettz9 » Tue Jan 15, 2008 6:47 am

BB, I don't see what's dishonest about finding others who support your thinking and collectively making your ideas and opinions known... I don't mean to suggest with this, however, the types of petitions which dispute an Assembly's decision (though perhaps even a letter urging the reconsideration of a decision might not be out of line if facts or arguments can be brought to light--and thus not always depending on going higher up the authoritative chain of authority when a disagreement of approach occurs) nor those which urge something clearly against the authoritative Baha'i teachings.

If by dishonest, you are understanding that I'm suggesting urging a delegate or Assembly to vote against their own conscience, that's not what I meant at all. The Baha'i system is special in that the elected are free to vote their consciences and are not indebted to those who elected them (due to the system which elects them). But I don't see what should be the harm in bringing issues to their attention. I would think this should help a delegate or Assembly to know what the population they are representing is thinking and feeling so they can make a more informed decision.

We are encouraged to propose recommendations at Feast which are to be considered by our Local Assembly and potentially up to our National one (and our unit conventions also offer such a chance). But my question is about doing so with others outside of the context of Feast--with those who may be distributed across the country or even world, but who share the same interests or expertise, etc.

Thank you, Richard, for your insights on this topic. Consultation is indeed essential to Baha'i unity.

I think the question might be to what extent local consultations can, on the one hand, offer a breadth of opinions which self-selected groups might not offer, and on the other hand, of not attempting to challenge the authority of (what we believe are) our dively-appointed institutions by adopting the common methods in society of forming coalitions (against another segment of the society or against their leaders) which by their nature are largely antithetical to unity and the emergence of a consciousness of our oneness (rather than partisan stereotyping and nastiness we see in the man-made systems of the world).

Brett

BruceDLimber
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Postby BruceDLimber » Wed Jan 16, 2008 9:51 am

portmanteau wrote: (The Universal House of Justice, 1989 Jun 21, 'Dialogue', 'A Modest Proposal' etc.).


Hi!

Do you know if this article is available online, and if so, where?

I looked on bahai-library, but it doesn't seem to be present there.

Thanks! :-)

Bruce

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Postby British_Bahai » Wed Jan 16, 2008 9:57 am

BruceDLimber wrote:
portmanteau wrote: (The Universal House of Justice, 1989 Jun 21, 'Dialogue', 'A Modest Proposal' etc.).


Hi!

Do you know if this article is available online, and if so, where?

I looked on bahai-library, but it doesn't seem to be present there.

Thanks! :-)

Bruce

umm... isnt this the bad magazine!? the one thats made by the "reform" bahais or something?
when i searched for Dialogue, Google gave me the option of viewing some covenant breakers websites, and this suddenly jogged my memory.

by the way, brett, i did want to reply to your post but ive been a bit busy.
what i wanted to say was short anyway, but basically i misinterpreted what you said.

brettz9
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Postby brettz9 » Thu Jan 17, 2008 7:46 am

Hello portmanteau and all,

portmanteau wrote:you also said:
"I would think this should help a delegate or Assembly to know what the population they are representing is thinking and feeling so they can make a more informed decision."

Which is not true, as the Baha'i model is not a representative form of government. The members of an assembly meet in a prayerful attitude to determine God's will in a matter, not the will of the majority of the local Baha'is. Big difference, IMO.

Thus, bringing matters before them as the opinion of a number of people misses the mark... the LSA or NSA is not to be swayed from their decisions, nor persuaded in a particular matter, by opinion polls.


While the Baha'i model of governance is not limited to a democratic form (it also blends, the other forms, monarchic and oligarchic, as Shoghi Effendi implies, but without their faults)**, it does have this component. You should find quite a number of references in the Writings to Baha'i representatives. What else is a representative but someone who represents? It doesn't mean that they surrender their consciences to the masses, since as the passage from the Writings we are probably both thinking of states:

the members of the Universal House of Justice, it should be borne in mind, are not, as Bahá'u'lláh's utterances clearly imply, responsible to those whom they represent, nor are they allowed to be governed by the feelings, the general opinion, and even the convictions of the mass of the faithful, or of those who directly elect them.

(World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 153)


...but, as Shoghi Effendi writes, in a letter on his behalf, "The only way that society can function is for the minority to follow the will of the majority." (Directives from the Guardian, http://www.bahai-library.com/writings/s ... c-145.html ).

Here's even more direct evidence of this:

The duties of those whom the friends have freely and conscientiously elected as their representatives are no less vital and binding than the obligations of those who have chosen them. Their function is not to dictate, but to consult, and consult not only among themselves, but as much as possible with the friends whom they represent.

(Baha'i Administration, p. 64)


Without an understanding of the public and issues (with help from their own experts too, of course), one cannot just expect that the representatives will magically have their consciences inspired to do intelligent things.

But I'm not talking about mere poll-taking here (though might have a good role too, in light of the above as well). I'm talking about learning about the ideas and opinions of specific segments of society--those with expertise for example in certain areas, and for those who wish to offer an idea--not to push it.

The injection of new ideas into any society inevitably causes a ferment. If the structure of the society itself is designed to take advantage of such ideas in a way that will not disrupt its functioning and that enables it to absorb the positive ones and discard or modify those that are harmful, it can benefit immensely from the process.

In the Bahá'í community methods and mechanisms are provided within the Administrative Order to elicit and make the best use of the ideas and hopes of individual believers in ways that enrich the pattern of Bahá'í life without disrupting the community. There may be many occasions on which individual believers are permitted or even encouraged by their Assembly to promote their ideas, but independent attempts by individual Bahá'ís to canvass support for their views among their fellow believers are destructive of the unity of the Cause. To attempt, in opposition to the institutions of the Faith, to form constituencies for certain proposals and programmes may not necessarily lead to Covenant-breaking, but it is a societal factor for disruption against which the Covenant is designed to protect the Faith. It is the process by which parties are formed and by which a religion is riven into contending sects.

(The Universal House of Justice, 1989 Jun 21, 'Dialogue', 'A Modest Proposal' etc)


Thank you for this passage.. I think this sheds some more light on the question. The context of that sentence (and we are told not to take any sentence out of context) does say "To attempt, in opposition to the institutions of the Faith, to form constituencies for certain proposals and programmes", so I think there may still be some small room for doubt, though the sentence you emphasize does seem to be significant in having been unqualified. However, might not even a joint Baha'i magazine or online Baha'i interest group, be interpreted if taken in its strictest sense as canvassing "support for their views among their fellow believers"? The context seems to be opposition to the Assemblies. Can't meetings of Baha'is, such as at a specific conference, draft letters to the institutions? I'm still not certain of this 100%, though that does give something strong to consider.

Regardless of the answer to this question, I guess one helping factor is an active leadership which seeks out the opinions of those it represents (as discussed above and as the May 19th letter urges, in the case of NSAs, through attention to the delegates' opinions) as well as a greater sense of freedom for initiative:

A new burst of energy would accrue to the operation of the Three Year Plan if the friends, both individually and collectively, could feel a greater sense of freedom to engage in a wide range of activities originating with themselves. Even if you are doing nothing deliberately to discourage such freedom, their accumulated expression of institutional disapproval, however derived, and their fear of criticism are, to a considerable extent, inhibiting their exercise of initiative.

(Universal House of Justice, May 19, 1994 http://bahai-library.com/published.uhj/ ... etter.html )


Also, when institutions at any level react with a knee-jerk old-world bureaucratic impulse to say no to new ideas, etc., it will perhaps also be likely that some inevitable frustration with the process will take place (though hopefully with radiantly acquiescent obedience to our divinely ordained institutions). I don't think it will be very practical if every movement (like the NGO's I was talking about) had to (or felt they had to) wait for permission from their institutions before doing anything (I'm not talking about avoiding seeking counsel, especially in certain areas necessitating it).

Also, the engagement of leaders should be enhanced, I would think by the electorate's intelligent choice of leaders. As this interesting recent letter from the House states:

While there should be no mention of personalities in connection with Bahá'í elections, it is quite appropriate for believers to discuss the requirements and qualifications for membership in the institution to be elected. Shoghi Effendi offers clear guidance on this point: "I feel that reference to personalities before the election would give rise to misunderstanding and differences. What the friends should do is to get thoroughly acquainted with one another, to exchange views, to mix freely and discuss among themselves the requirements and qualifications for such a membership without reference or application, however indirect, to particular individuals." Among the "necessary qualities" specified by the Guardian are those "of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience". With a heightened awareness of the functions to be performed by the elected body, the believer can properly assess those for whom a vote should be cast. From among the pool of those whom the elector believes to be qualified to serve, selection should be made with due consideration given to such other factors as age distribution, diversity, and gender. The elector should make his choice after careful thought over an extended period before the actual election.

(Letter from the House of Justice at http://bahai-library.com/file.php5?file=uhj_2007_3_25 )


and in the same vein, for the electorate to realize that while we must obey our institutions, the choice of persons can make a big difference:

We should never for a moment consider our election or non-election to Baha'i bodies as indicative of the good pleasure or otherwise of God, as it may be due to any number of different reasons, all of them purely human.

(Letter on behalf of the Guardian, http://www.bahai-library.com/guardian/marzieh.gail.html )


And of course, greater participation in Feast and conventions is urged and can enhance the quality of ideas spreading through (and up).

best wishes,
Brett

**
This new-born Administrative Order incorporates within its structure certain elements which are to be found in each of the three recognized forms of secular government, without being in any sense a mere replica of any one of them, and without introducing within its machinery any of the objectionable features which they inherently possess. It blends and harmonizes, as no government fashioned by mortal hands has as yet accomplished, the salutary truths which each of these systems undoubtedly contains without vitiating the integrity of those God-given verities on which it is ultimately founded.

(World Order of Baha'u'llah, pp. 152-153 at http://www.bahai-library.com/writings/s ... l.html#152 )

brettz9
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Postby brettz9 » Thu Jan 17, 2008 8:07 am

Here's one more quote in a similar vein to that above:

He was very happy to see that changes had been made in membership of the N.S.A. this year, not from any reasons of personality, but because change itself is good and brings a fresh outlook into the discussions of any assembly. He was also pleased to see that these changes involved more younger people being on the N.S.A.; with the tremendous amount of work which this . . . Plan is going to involve, this will be a great help to the older members of that body.

(Written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, in The National Spiritual Assembly, p. 18, cited in Developing Distinctive Bahá'í Communities)

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Postby BruceDLimber » Thu Jan 17, 2008 8:12 am

Hi!

The original "modest proposal" document was published by a certain specific individual or small group of individuals who were non-conformist to say the least! I won't go so far as to call them enemies of the Faith, but what they've said definitely puts them outside the norm.

My impression is that the document being quoted here is the House of Justice's reply or refutation of that original statement--hence its value to the rest of us and my request for information about its availability.

Regards, :-)

Bruce

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Postby British_Bahai » Thu Jan 17, 2008 5:49 pm

BruceDLimber wrote:Hi!

The original "modest proposal" document was published by a certain specific individual or small group of individuals who were non-conformist to say the least! I won't go so far as to call them enemies of the Faith, but what they've said definitely puts them outside the norm.

My impression is that the document being quoted here is the House of Justice's reply or refutation of that original statement--hence its value to the rest of us and my request for information about its availability.

Regards, :-)

Bruce

That makes sense (see my earlier post above)
I remember reading sometihng about this online somewhere.

brettz9
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Postby brettz9 » Thu Jan 17, 2008 8:41 pm

an individual bringing a matter to the attention of the duly elected bodies is far different than an individual calling upon the Baha'is en masse to bring a matter forward. The first is initiative, the second is dissension and ultimately divisive, IMO.


Even if the quotation you cite does mean that no canvassing of any ideas is permitted (as opposed to just those which oppose the institutions), the quotation itself doesn't consider the act itself as dissension--it states that it can lead to that. Of course, if that is the case, it doesn't make a difference as far as our actions--if we're not supposed to do it, we don't do it; but my point is that it is not unreasonable to want to consider doing such a thing. Not everyone who has an idea has an idea to try to appeal something which is contrary to the Faith or to exalt themselves. Note that the mechanism to raise suggestions at Feast means that other individuals are present and can offer suggestions, expand upon the idea, say 'yeah, that's a good idea, I like it too' or whatever. The individual is not required to privily report any ideas they have to the LSA! My sense was that there ought to be some means of consultation with parties from outside the institutions and which are not necessarily located at the local (or delegate) level and where the dialogue is not necessarily initiated by the institutions.

Let's say, for example, we're a group of medical professionals, and we feel that there are enough of us motivated to start a hospital and have the idea to set it up next to one of the Houses of Worship. Are you suggesting that in an email list of medical professionals, I couldn't suggest this idea to see if others agreed with me, and then contact the institutions about it?

Brett

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Re: Question about canvassing

Postby David Bowie » Sun Aug 17, 2008 11:12 am

Hi, Brett, I am afraid this is another late response to your question. The following extract from a letter of the House of Justice seems to bear on several of the points made in other replies.

David
"The House of Justice sees no objection to consultation among the delegates of a region prior to the Convention, if they wish to undertake this. Indeed, one of the important functions of a Regional Convention, at which the delegates are elected, is for the delegates to consult with the believers present so that they may be familiar with their views and interests in preparation for their own participation at the National Convention. As you know, any believer at the National Convention can request a delegate to put forward a point for him, and the delegate is free to do this if he so wishes; likewise, there would be no objection to one delegate's speaking on behalf of all the delegates from his region to save time, if they and he agree.

On the other hand, one must remember that the National Convention is a national Bahá'í institution, and that every delegate should have in the forefront of his mind the interests and needs of the Cause throughout the nation, not merely those of the region from which he happens to have been elected. All these details are secondary matters, not covered in the National Bahá'í Constitu¬tion, and therefore it is for the National Spiritual Assembly to make decisions where they are called for. In one country the delegates may be mature enough to have prior consultation in regional groups; in another it might indeed lead to "caucusing" or other undesirable developments. The National Spiritual Assembly must ensure that not merely the letter but also the spirit of Bahá'í elections and consultation is upheld."

(On behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, October 26, 1983. Lights of Guidance, 1988 edition, reference #65)

brettz9
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Re: Question about canvassing

Postby brettz9 » Sun Aug 17, 2008 1:52 pm

Now that is very interesting, thank you! Any more up your sleeve? :)

best wishes,
Brett

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Re: Question about canvassing

Postby BritishBahai » Sun Sep 07, 2008 6:05 pm

Jonah, is there any way in which you can re-do this site again, please?
Practically all threads are half-missing because people's posts arent there

The above is a prime example
:-?
"I have desired only what Thou didst desire, and love only what Thou dost love"


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