Baha'is embrace democracy, but shun campaigning
Thursday, October 26, 2000
By JEFFERY HUFFINES
Every four years the American people engage in the ultimate act of faith for a democracy: the election of a person to occupy the highest office in the land.
Unfortunately, it is a faith that is put to the test for many people even before they get to the voting booth because of the unrestrained partisanship of the campaign trail that sells candidates to the highest bidder and trivializes serious issues beyond recognition.
Although democracy has been embraced at least in name by a majority of countries in the world since the end of the Cold War, partisan politics, regardless of party or country, continues to wreak havoc on the body politic. The rhetoric of divisiveness and antagonism, together with the cynicism and apathy it produces, remains much the same.
Members of the Baha'i faith, the second most widespread religion in the world, with 5 million followers from more than 2,000 tribes, races, and ethnic groups, have a radical solution to the problem of partisan politics. Baha'is as a matter of moral principle refuse to campaign for political office or help others to do so.
As a religious community, Baha'is are not unique in eschewing any form of political endorsement or engagement in party politics as a strictly non-partisan organization.
What is perhaps unique is that while exercising the right to vote as a civic obligation, individual Baha'is refuse to participate in the political theater of party politics, with its nominations, electioneering, and campaign funding that have long been such familiar features of democratic life.
Moreover, the culture of opposition, propaganda, adversarial debate, and pandering associated with partisan politics brings out the worst aspects of human ambition and ego. Baha'is believe that such practices are fundamentally divisive and, hence, contrary to their primary goal of establishing a unified, harmonious society.
In this respect, Baha'is throughout the world participate in democratic elections without party affiliation. Baha'is vote on the merits of the individual, rather than because he or she belongs to one party or the other.
The prohibition against party membership is premised on the conviction that party politics, despite impressive contributions to human progress in the past, is no longer capable of achieving the unity of purpose required for society to meet the complex needs that its increased maturity now demands.
Baha'is shun the ambitious pursuit of power and refuse to sacrifice principle for political expediency, in the belief that moral means must justify moral ends if praiseworthy results are to be achieved.
This is not to say that Baha'is do not believe in public service. Quite the contrary.
Baha'is sponsor social and economic development projects throughout the world and work with other organizations at every level in the promotion of human rights, the status of women, global prosperity, and moral development. Baha'is seek to work with others to build a community whose concept of leadership includes trustworthiness, wisdom, and willingness to sacrifice for the common good, with its highest expression being service to humanity.
In so doing, individual Baha'is are free to to accept governmental appointments and to hold public office as long as they are not forced to declare party allegiances or to campaign for office against others.
Baha'u'llah, the prophet-founder of the Baha'i faith, who was exiled and imprisoned for nearly 40 years during the latter half of the 1800s by the despots who ruled the Persian and Ottoman empires, created a system of governance unique in religious history.
He made voting the very means for choosing the leadership of the religious community he founded. In place of clergy who have traditionally guided the faithful in most religious communities, Baha'is elect the membership of local and national councils every year by secret ballot in an atmosphere of prayer, and without nominations or campaigning. Those councils are responsible for the administration and spiritual guidance of the Baha'i community.
Today there are more than 12,500 local councils in more than 190 countries, whose national councils gather every five years in Haifa, Israel, to elect the Baha'i international governing council, the Universal House of Justice.
Jeffery Huffines is the chairman of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Teaneck. He works in New York as the U.N. representative for the Baha'is of the United States.
©Copyright 2000, Bergen Record Corp.