The Local Spiritual Assemblycompiled by / on behalf of Universal House of Justice.
published in Bahá'í World, Vol. 18 (1979-1983), pages 554-567
Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1986
THE LOCAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY
1) The Institution and its SignificanceTHE institution of the Spiritual Assembly was created by Bahá`u'lláh and is an integral part of His Revelation, together with the teachings, principles, supplications, truth, and laws written in the Books and Tablets. It is the foundation stone of the new World Order, the establishment of which is the essential aim of the Bahá`í Faith. Through the loyalty of the believers who assist in the unfoldment of its latent attributes and powers, divine guidance and reinforcement is promised, and the forces of unity, justice, affection and fellowship are made to prevail over the negative elements which prey upon and destroy the civilization of an unbelieving age.
` . . . To it (Local Assembly)all local matters pertaining to the Cause must be directly and immediately referred for full consultation and decision. The importance, nay the absolute necessity of these Local Assemblies is manifest when we realize that in the days to come they will evolve into the local House of Justice, and at present provide the firm foundation on which the structure of the Master's Will is to be reared in future.' B.A., p. 37.
`In order to avoid division and disruption, that the Cause may not fall a prey to conflicting interpretations, and lose thereby its purity and pristine vigour, that its affairs may be conducted with efficiency and promptness, it is necessary that every one should conscientiously take an active part in the election of these Assemblies, abide by their decisions, enforce their decree, and co-operate with them wholeheartedly in their task of stimulating the growth of the Movement throughout all regions. The members of these Assemblies, on their part, must disregard utterly their own likes and dislikes, their personal interests and inclinations, and concentrate their minds upon those measures that will conduce to the welfare and happiness of the Bahá`í community and promote the common weal.' B.A., p. 41.
Formation of a Local Spiritual Assembly
When the requisite conditions exist, the local group of Bahá`ís are obligated to establish an Assembly. It is not an optional matter.
The requisite conditions are simple. They include the following:
1. There must be nine or more adult Bahá`ís in good standing resident in the community.
2. These Bahá`ís are to be declared and recognized believers, all meeting qualifications of faith laid down by the Guardian. If one or more members of the group are such newly-confirmed Bahá`ís that they are not yet recorded as believers by the National Spiritual Assembly, these new believers are to take a full part in the formation of the Assembly, subject to later determination of their Bahá`í status.
3. Each Local Assembly has a definite area of jurisdiction. In most cases the area is that of the civil boundaries of an incorporated village, town or city. An Assembly may also be formed by nine or more Bahá`ís who reside in the same township or county or unincorporated village.
Where the area of jurisdiction is a township, there must be nine or more adult Bahá`ís resident therein outside the limits of any incorporated town or city in the township, as each Bahá`í civil area must be separate and distinct from other areas where an Assembly might later be formed.
Where the area of jurisdiction is a county, the county itself must be small enough to permit all the believers to meet regularly. The county unit constitutes a Bahá`í area of jurisdiction only when in it there are nine or more Bahá`ís who have access to no smaller civil area such as township or permanent electoral district. Postal areas and school districts do not represent areas of jurisdiction for Bahá`í Assemblies.
At the present time there is only one date when Local Assemblies can be formedóApril 21 of any year. As the Bahá`í calendar consists of days which begin and end at sunset rather than midnight, the time to form an Assembly is
1 From The Bahá`í Community, Bahá`í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, 1963.
after sunset on April 20 and before sunset on April 21 except in special circumstances.
5. Where there are more than nine adult Bahá`ís, they form an Assembly by electing the nine members of the Spiritual Assembly. Where there are exactly nine adult Bahá`ís, they establish an Assembly by joint declaration, and all nine members must participate. The National Spiritual Assembly provides different types of report forms for these two methods and the group should apply for the proper form in advance.
(For further information refer to the following section on `The Annual Election and Organization.')
The Annual Election and Organization
`These Local Spiritual Assemblies will have to be elected directly by the friends, and every declared believer of 21 years and above, far from standing aloof and assuming an indifferent or independent attitude, should regard it his sacred duty to take part conscientiously and diligently, in the election, the consolidation and the efficient working of his own Local Assembly.' B.A., p. 39.
`Pending its (the Universal House of Justice) establishment,1 and to ensure uniformity throughout the East and throughout the West, all Local Assemblies will have to be re-elected once a year, during the first day of Ridván, and the result of polling, if possible, be declared on that day.' B.A., p. 41.
The annual meeting on April 21, called for the election of the Spiritual Assembly, provides the occasion for the presentation of annual reports by the Assembly and by all its committees.
The chairman of the outgoing Assembly prsides at this meeting.
The order of business includes:
Reading of the call of the meeting
Reading of appropriate Bahá`í passages bearing upon the subject of the election
Appointment of tellers
Distribution of ballots
Prayers for the spiritual guidance of the voters
The election by secret ballot
Presentation of annual reports
Tellers' report of the election
Approval of the tellers' report
Assembly members are elected by plurality vote. The believers receiving the nine highest votes on the first ballot are elected, unless two or more are tied for ninth place. In case of a tie, a second ballot is cast by those present, and on this ballot the voter is to write the name of one of those who are tied in the first ballot.
Contrary to the ways of the world, Bahá`í elections are approached in a spirit of prayer without preliminary electioneering or nominating of candidates. Before the ballots are cast, prayers should be read and all participating ask for guidance in selecting those best fitted to serve. In this regard the Guardian wrote:
` . . . Let us recall His [`Abdu'l-Bahá's] explicit and often-repeated assurances that every Assembly elected in that rarified atmosphere of selflessness and detachment is, in truth, appointed of God, that its verdict is truly inspired, that one and all should submit to its decision unreservedly and with cheerfulness.' B.A., p. 65.
` . . . the elector . . . is called upon to vote for none but those whom prayer and reflection have inspired him to uphold. Moreover, the practice of nomination, so detrimental to the atmosphere of a silent and prayerful election, is viewed with mistrust . . . Should this simple system (based on plurality) be provisionally adopted, it would safeguard the spiritual principle of the unfettered freedom of the voter, who will thus preserve intact the sanctity of the choice he first made . . .' B.A., p. 136.
`The newly-elected Assembly is called together by the believer who received the highest number of votes, or in case two or more members have received the same said highest number of votes, then by the member elected by lot from among those members; and this member shall preside until the permanent chairman is chosen.' By-Laws of a Local Spiritual Assembly, Art. VIII.
It is preferable to have the election of the officers of the Assembly immediately following the annual election or formation by joint declaration; however, all nine members of the Assembly must be given an opportunity to vote for the officers. In rare instances a meeting for the election of officers cannot be called because of inability on the part of one or more members to attend. In such cases, the best procedure is to elect or appoint immediately a temporary chairman and secretary to serve until such time as all members of the Assembly
1Written in 1923.
can be present to vote in person.
Permanent officers are elected by secret ballot and by majority rather than by plurality vote. (Plurality is the largest number; majority is the number greater than half, which, in this case, is at least five out of the nine.)
When an Assembly is organized, it is to report its formation and election of officers to the National Spiritual Assembly, together with whatever relevant facts may be necessary for recognition of the Assembly.
Dissolution of a Local Spiritual Assembly
Once elected or formed by joint declaration, an Assembly continues to exist until the next annual election or until the National Spiritual Assembly acts to declare the Assembly dissolved. This decision is not to be made by the members of the Local Assembly itself nor by any regional or national committee.
If the number of adult Bahá`ís in the community becomes less than nine, or other conditions arise which make it impossible for the Local Assembly to function, the facts should be reported to the National Assembly for final determination of the status of the Assembly.
Authority and Functions
The Local Spiritual Assemblies are `invested with an authority rendering them unanswerable for their acts and decisions to those who elect them; solemnly pledged to follow, under all conditions, the dictates of the "Most Great Justice" that can alone usher in the reign of the "Most Great Peace" which Bahá`u'lláh has proclaimed and must ultimately establish; charged with the responsibility of promoting at all times the best interests of the communities within their jurisdiction, of familiarizing them with their plans and activities and of inviting them to offer any recommendations they might wish to make; cognizant of their no less vital task of demonstrating, through association with all liberal and humanitarian movements, the universality and comprehensiveness of their Faith; dissociated entirely from all sectarian organizations, whether religious or secular; assisted by committees annually appointed by, and directly responsible to them, to each of which a particular branch of Bahá`í activity is assigned for study and action; supported by local funds to which all believers voluntarily contribute . . .' G.P.B., p. 331.
The various functions of the Local Spiritual Assembly, and its nature as a constitutional body, are duly set forth in Article VII of the By-Laws of the National Spiritual Assembly, and more definitely defined in the By-Laws of a Local Spiritual Assembly approved by the National Spiritual Assembly as recommended by the Guardian. Each Local Spiritual Assembly of the United States, whether or not legally incorporated, is to function according to those By-Laws, and all members of the local Bahá`í community shall be guided and controlled by their provisions.
An essential function of Local Spiritual Assemblies is to act as intermediaries between the local communities and the National Spiritual Assembly. The Local Assembly is, therefore, the proper medium through which local Bahá`í communities can communicate with the body of their national representatives.
Appointment of Committees
In the appointment of committees, only those committees needed to carry out the activities of the community are necessary. Such committees are appointed by the Assembly from among the entire membership of the community, have specific functions to perform, and are responsible to the Assembly who will xercise constant and general supervision over their work. Before making appointments, it is usually beneficial to discuss the specific abilities, aptitudes and personal wishes of the members under consideration in relation to the tasks which are to be performed by the committees.
A meeting of the Spiritual Assembly is valid only when it has been duly called, that is, when each and every member has been informed of the time and place. The general practice is for the Assembly to decide upon some regular time and place for meetings throughout the Bahá`í year, and this decision when recorded in the minutes is sufficient notice to the members. When the regular schedule cannot be followed, or the need arises for a special meeting, the secretary, on request of the chairman, or, in his absence or incapacity, of the vice-chairman, or of any three members of the Assembly, should send due notice to all the members.
The procedure for the calling of the Annual
Meeting is outlined in Article XI of the By-Laws of a Local Spiritual Assembly.
The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, attraction to His Divine Fragrances, humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude to His exalted Threshold. Should they be graciously aided to acquire these attributes, victory from the unseen Kingdom of Bahá shall be vouchsafed to them. In this day, assemblies of consultation are of the greatest importance and a vital necessity. Obedience unto them is essential and obligatory.B.A., p. 21.
The first condition is absolute love and harmony amongst the members of the Assembly. They must be wholly free from estrangement and must manifest in themselves the Unity of God, for they are the waves of one sea, the drops of one river, the stars of one heaven, the rays of one sun, the trees of one orchard, the flowers of one garden. Should harmony of thought and absolute unity be non-existent, the gathering shall be dispersed and that Assembly be brought to naught.
The second condition:--They must when coming together turn their faces to the Kingdom on High and ask aid from the Realm of Glory. They must then proceed with the utmost devotion, courtesy, dignity, care and moderation to express their views. They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one's views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden. The honoured members must with all freedom express their own thoughts, and it is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the thought of another, nay, he must with moderation set forth the truth, and should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority. It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced.
In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and unity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness . . . If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation that proceed from the Evil One . . . Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the centre of Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of spirit. `Abdu'l-Bahá. B.A., pp. 22-23.
Recommended Agenda and Procedure
Since order is an important characteristic of the Bahá`í Faith, Bahá`ís should conduct their business in an orderly manner.
The following agenda is suggested for meetings of the Local Spiritual Assembly:
Reading and approval of minutes of previous meeting.
Report of Secretary (or Corresponding Secretary) including correspondence of interest and concern to the body of the believers, and any and all recommendations duly adopted by the community at the last Nineteen Day Feast.
Report of Treasurer.
Report of Committees.
New business, including conferences with members of the community and with applicants for enrolment as members of the community.
A Spiritual Assembly in maintaining its three-fold function of a body given (within the limits of its jurisdiction) an executive, a legislative and a judicial capacity, is charged with responsibilities for initiating action and making decisions. Its meetings, therefore, revolve around various definite matters which require deliberation and collective decision, and it is incumbent upon the members, one and all, to address themselves to the chairman on the subject under discussion and not introduce matters irrelevant to the subject.
Bahá`í principles of consultation and majority rule are requisite characteristics in Bahá`í Administration, and represent radical departures from the generally accepted rules of parliamentary procedure. In Bahá`í Assembly action, the chairman takes part in the discussion, and a majority decision becomes unani-
mous and binding upon all. There is no minority opinion in Bahá`í Administration; the decision of the majority is the decision of all.
Every subject or problem before an Assembly is most efficiently handled when the following process is observed:
First, ascertainment and agreement upon the facts;
Second, agreement upon the spiritual or administrative principle which is involved;
Third, full and frank discussion of the matter, leading up to the offering of a resolution;
Fourth, voting upon the resolution.
A resolution, or motion, is not subject to discussion or vote until duly made and seconded. It is preferable to have such resolution clear and complete in itself, but when an amendment is duly made and seconded, the chairman shall call for a vote on the amendment first and then on the original motion. An amendment must be relevant to, and not contravene, the subject matter of the motion. Only one motion should be considered at a time. The procedure for handling motions is:
1. Statement of motion
3. Discussion of the motion
5. Announcement of the result of the voting.
Ammendments are to be voted on before the main motion. Motions can be ammended only once, by one of the following actions: adding, striking out, inserting, striking out and inserting, substituting, dividing.
An action may be agreed upon by the Assembly without going through the formality of making a motion and voting upon it; however, if the agreement is not unanimous the question must be put to a vote.
The chairman, or other prsiding officer, has the same right and responsibility as other members of the Assembly for discussing and voting upon all matters being considered by the Assembly.
Discussion of any subject before the Assembly may be terminated by a motion duly made, seconded and voted, calling upon the chairman to put the matter to a vote or to proceed to the next matter on the agenda. The purpose of this procedure is to prevent any member or members from unnecessarily prolonging the discussion beyond the point at which full opportunity has been given to all members to express their views.
A motion to adjourn is always in order and has priority over all other motions except the motion to fix the time of the next meeting. The motion to adjourn is not debatable and cannot be amended. It requires a majority vote. Before voting, however, the presiding officer should point out items of unfinished business on the agenda, so that the members will know whether to vote for or against adjournment at that moment.
A motion may be withdrawn by the mover, provided no one objects, and before a vote has been taken.
When the Assembly has taken action upon any matter, the action is binding upon all members, whether present or absent from the meeting at which the action was taken. Individual views and opinions must be subordinated to the will of the Assembly when a decision has been made. A Spiritual Assembly is an administrative unit, as it is a spiritual unit, and therefore no distinction between `majority' and `minority' groups or factions can be recognized. Each member must give undivided loyalty to the institution to which he or she has been elected.
Any action taken by the Assembly can be reconsidered at a later meeting, on motion duly made, seconded and carried. This reconsideration, according to the result of the consultation, may lead to a revision or the annulment of the prior action. If a majority is unwilling to reconsider the prior action, further discussion of the matter by any member is improper.
Vacancies on Assembly
The Assembly has a responsibility in filling a vacancy caused by the inability of any member to attend the meetings. `It is only too obvious that unless a member can attend regularly the meetings of his Local Assembly, it would be impossible for him to discharge the duties incumbent upon him, and to fulfil his responsibilities as a representative of the community. Membership in a Local Spiritual Assembly carries with it, indeed, the obligation and capacity to remain in close touch with local Bahá`í activities, and ability to attend regularly the sessions of the Assembly.' Letter from Shoghi Effendi, 16 Feb. 1935.
When a vacancy on an Assembly involves
also one of its officers, the Assembly vacancy is filled in the usual manner by election at a special meeting of the local Bahá`í community, after which the entire Assembly elects the new officer.
The Spiritual Assembly, as a permanent body, is responsible for maintaining all minutes of its meetings, important records and correspondence, and financial records throughout its existence as a Bahá`í institution. Each officer, therefore, on completing his or her term of office, shall turn over to the Assembly all records and files pertaining to the business of the Assembly. A permanent record of minutes is of special importance and necessity when an Assembly is incorporated, because situations could arise which would make it necessary to produce the minutes for inspection by state authorities.
Other items which would be of historical interest in the future should be kept in the local archives.
It is vitally important that each Local Spiritual Assembly maintain a complete file of Bahá`í News and the U.S. Supplement for reference on various directives regarding laws and procedures, teaching suggestions, and other pertinent information. It should also maintain and keep up to date a file of all special instructions and statements from the National Spiritual Assembly dealing with matters of permanent value.
Minutes are the permanent official record of the meeting taken by a secretary. If the community is large and the Assembly handles a great amount of business, a recording secretary may be elected to record the minutes. The minutes should include all essential details, such as the election of the Assembly and its officers at the beginning of each year, by-elections for filling vacancies on the Assembly occurring during the year, attendance of all members at its meetings, new enrolments and transfers, marriages and deaths.
All carried motions are recorded in the minutes. The minutes should be written in such a way as to provide sufficient background to understand the reasons for the motions and decision, but the entire discussion does not need to be recorded. It is not necessary to record names of individuals making and seconding motions or making comments during the discussion. Names are of importance, however, when the minutes record reports given on special assignments or situations, or when assignments are given to particular individuals. If a decision is adopted by common consent without the formality of a motion, even this decision should be clearly stated by the chairman and recorded in the minutes so that there is no question as to what action was agreed upon by the group.
Correspondence should be listed in the minutes. Copies of important outgoing correspondence, in addition to the incoming letters, should be kept for the files.
Record should be made in the minutes of consultation with individuals meeting with the Assembly, whether requested by the individual or the Assembly.
Minutes should be written or typed legibly. They should be corrected and approved by the Assembly before they become a matter of permanent record.
Records of Nineteen-Day Feasts need include only the recommendations made by the community to be presented to the Local Spiritual Assembly, with the background necessary for understanding them.
Minutes of Assembly meetings are not read at the Nineteen-Day Feasts; only the actions taken by the Assembly which concern the community affairs are reported at Feasts. The judgement of what should be shared at the Feasts belongs to the Local Spiritual Assembly.
Local Assemblies having fifteen or more active adult believers in the commun ity are authorized to effect legal incorporation.
To do so the matter should be presented at a Nineteen-Day Feast and a recommendation adopted which expresses the desire of the community that the Spiritual Assembly be legally incorporated.
The Bahá`í World volumes reproduce many local Certificates of Incorporation which supply models for consideration by the Assembly's attorney. What is incorporated is the Spiritual Assembly, not the entire community. The community is associated with the instrument through the annual election of the Local Spiritual Assembly and the Spiritual Assembly's author-
ity to enroll new believers and determine the membership list.
The Articles of Incorporation are to make proper reference to the Central Figures of the Faith and to the National Spiritual Assembly. If necessary, the National Assembly on request will provide an example of how this is to be done.
Before the Incorporation papers are recorded, a copy is to be sent to the National Spiritual Assembly for final approval. After recording, three photostatic copies of the recorded Artricles are to be sent to the National Spiritual Assembly, together with a photograph of the nine Assembly members.
Incorporation must be preserved in accordance with the manner prescribed by state law.
The institution of the Nineteen-Day Feast provides the recognized and regular occasion for general consultation on the part of the community, and for consultation between the Spiritual Assembly and the members of the community. The conduct of the period of consultation at Nineteen-Day Feasts is a vital function of each Spiritual Assembly.
From words of `Abdu'l-Bahá: The Nineteen-Day Feast was inaugurated by the Báb and ratified by Bahá`u'lláh, in His Holy Book, the Aqdas, so that people may gather together and outwardly show fellowship and love, that the Divine mysteries may be disclosed. The object is concord, that through this fellowship hearts may become perfectly united, and reciprocity and mutual helpfulness be established. Because the members of the world of humanity are unable to exist without being banded together, co-operation and helpfulness is the basis of human society. Without the realization of these two great principles no great movement is pressed forward. B.W., Vol. XII, p.298.
The Nineteen-Day Feast has been described by the Guardian as the foundation of the World Order of Bahá`u'lláh. It is to be conducted according to the following programme: the first part, entirely spiritual in character, is devoted to the reading of Bahá`í prayers and selections from the Bahá`í sacred Writings; the second part consists of general consultation on the affairs of the Cause; the third part is the material feast and social meeting of all the believers, and should maintain the spiritual nature of the Feast.
In selecting the readings for the devotional part of the Feast the friends may be guided by the instructions printed in Bahá`í News quoting the following excerpt from a letter to a believer from the Guardian through his assistant secretary dated 27 April 1956, `The Writings of the Báb and Bahá`u'lláh can certainly be read at any time at any place; likewise the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá are read freely during the spiritual part of the Feast. The Guardian has instructed that during the spiritual part of the Feast, his own writings should not be read. In other words, during the spiritual part of the Feast, readings should be confined to the Writings of the Báb, Bahá`u'lláh and to a lesser extent, of the Master; but during that part of the Feast the Guardian's writings should not be read. During the period of administrative discussion of the Feast, then the Guardian's writings may be read. Of course, during the administrative part of the Feast there can be no objection to the reading of the Writings of the Báb, Bahá`u'lláh or `Abdu'l-Bahá.' Bahá`í News, Jan. 1959.
Bahá`ís should regard this Feast as the very heart of their spiritual activity, their participation in the mystery of the holy utterance, their steadfast unity one with another in a universality raised high above the limitations of race, class, nationality, sect, and personality, and their privilege of contributing to the power of the Cause in the realm of collective action.
Only members of the Bahá`í community and visiting Bahá`ís from other localities may attend these meetings. Young people between fifteen and twenty-one years of age, who have declared their acceptance of the qualifications of membership in the Faith are considered as members although they are referred to as Bahá`í youth. Children up to age fifteen, of Bahá`í parents, may also attend the Nineteen-Day Feasts.
Regular attendance at the Nineteen-Day Feast is incumbent upon every Bahá`í, illness or absence from the city being the only justification for absence. Believers are expected to arrange their personal affairs so as to enable them to observe the Bahá`í calendar.
Order of Business for the Consultation Period
The chairman or other appointed representative of the Spiritual Assembly presides during the period of consultation.
The Spiritual Assembly reports to the community whatever communications have been received from the World Centre and the National Spiritual Assembly, as well as other correspondence of concern to all believers of the community. This does not necessarily mean that all communications must be read in full at the Feast.
A matter of vital importance at this meeting is consideration of national and international Bahá`í affairs, to strengthren the capacity of the community to co-operate in promotion of the larger Bahá`í interests and to deepen the understanding of all believers concerning the relation of the local community to the Bahá`í world community.
The Assembly likewise reports its own activities and plans, including committee appointments that may have been made since the last Feast, the financial report, arrangements made for public meetings, and in general shares with the community all matters that concern the Faith. These reports are to be followed by general consultation.
Provision is to be made for reports from committees, with discussion of each report.
The meeting is to be open for suggestions and recommendations from individual believers to the Local Spiritual Assembly on any matter affecting the Cause. Such recommendations must be adopted by majority vote of the community membership present before constituting a resolution to be considered by the Local Spiritual Assembly.
Through this means individual Bahá`ís find in the Nineteen-Day Feast the channel through which to make suggestions and recommendations to the National Spiritual Assembly. These recommendations are offered first to the local community, and when adopted by the community come before the Local Assembly, which then may in its discretion forward the recommendations to the National Spiritual Assembly accompanied by its own considered view.
Upon each member of the community lies the obligation to make his or her utmost contribution to the consultation, the ideal being a gathering of Bahá`ís inspired with one spirit and concentrating upon the one aim to further the interests of the Faith.
Bahá`í visitors attending the Feast do not take part in the consultation of the community unless invited to do so.
The secretary of the Assembly records each resolution adopted by the community, as well as the various suggestions advanced during the meeting, in order to report these to the Spiritual Assembly for its consideration. Whatever action the Assembly takes is to be reported at a later Nineteen-Day feast.
It should be borne in mind that the consultation period of the Nineteen-Day Feast is not the time for the Local Spiritual Assembly to consult and make decisions.
Matters of a personal nature should be brought to the Spiritual Assembly and not to the community at the Nineteen-Day Feast. Concerning the attitude with which believers should come to these Feasts, the Master has said, You must free yourselves from everything that is in your hearts, before you enter.
In this Cause, consultation is of vital importance, but spiritual conference and not the mere voicing of personal views is intended . . . Antagonism and contradiction are unfortunate and always destructive to truth . . . The purpose is to emphasize the statement that consultation must have for its object the investigation of truth. He who expresses an opinion should not voice it as correct and right but set it forth as a contribution to the consensus of opinion, for the light of reality becomes apparent when two opinions coincide . . . `Abdu'l-Bahá. P.U.P., p.72.
`The principle of consultation, which constitutes one of the basic laws of the Administration, should be applied to all Bahá`í activities which affect the collective interests of the Faith for it is through co-operation and continued exchange of thoughts and views that the Cause can best safeguard and foster its interests. Individual initiative, personal ability and resourcefulness, though indispensible, are, unless supported and enriched by the collective experience and wisdom of the group, utterly incapable of achieving such a tremendous task.' Shoghi Effendi, Bahá`í News, Nov. 1933.
`Shoghi Effendi firmly believes that consultation must be maintained between the
National Spiritual Assembly and the entire body of the believers, and that such consultation, while the Convention is not in session, can best be maintained through the agency of the Local Assemblies, one of whose essential functions is to act as intermediaries between the local communities and their national representatives. The main purpose of the Nineteen-Day Feast is to enable individual believers to offer any suggestion to the Local Assembly which in its turn will pass it to the National Spiritual Assembly. The Local Assembly is, therefore, the proper medium through which local Bahá`í communities can communicate with the body of the national representatives.' Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 18 Nov. 1933.
`Let us also remember that at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views . . .
`Let us also bear in mind that the keynote of the Cause of God is not dictatorial authority but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation. Nothing short of the spirit of a true Bahá`í can hope to reconcile the principles of mercy and justice, of freedom and submission, of the sanctity of the right of the individual and of self-surrender, of vigilance, discretion and prudence on the one hand, and fellowship, candour, and courage on the other.' B.A., pp. 63-64.
At this crucial stage in the history of our Faith it seems advisable to emphasize to each Local Assembly an important principle of administration which has been too frequently overlooked. This principle establishes the National Assembly as the court of appeal from decisions of Local Assemblies when protested by one or more members of the community as unjust or as not conforming to the actual facts.
A court of appeal is not responsible for determining the facts but only for reviewing the local decision based upon the facts assembled by the Local Assembly itself. On receiving an appeal the National Spiritual Assembly will send a copy of it to the Local Assembly and request its opinion. When this is received the case will be studied in the light of the facts presented to the National Assembly and a final decision made. The National Assembly can decide only upon the facts presented to it; therefore, when a matter is submitted to it, all obtainable facts, together with supporting documentary evidence should be included. The National Assembly's decision, whether approving or disapproving the original decision of the Local Assembly, will be communicated to both the Local Assembly and to the person or persons who made the appeal.
This procedure is in accordance with both the national and local By-Laws.
Any complaint received by the National Assembly from a member or members of a local community who have not first submitted their complaint to the Local Assembly will be returned to those making the protest, with a copy of the letter being sent to the Local Assembly for information. In such case the Local Assembly is to call the person or persons in for consultation and act upon the complaint.
An essential function of the Local Spiritual Assembly is the maintenance of unity and devotion among the believers. As `Trustees of the Merciful' the Spiritual Assembly must be selfless and impartial, considerate of the rights of the individual, but firm and steadfast in upholding the vital truths of the Revelation and obedience to its institutions. Therefore, they must discriminate between situations which are transient and trivial and those which threaten to disrupt the community. A distinction is to be made between personalities who cause disturbances because they lack grounding in the basic Teachings and attitudes of the Bahá`í life, and those who deliberately cause trouble because in their hearts they do not accept the principle of authority as vested in the Manifestation, or in the institutions of the Bahá`í world community.
The Local Assembly is responsible for dealing with all local problems, but can call upon the National Spiritual Assembly for advice if necessary.
The National Assembly, in any case involving two or more local communities, however, acts directly and deals with the problems as the court of original jurisdiction, since no Local Assembly has authority outside its own civil area.
`The authority of the National Spiritual Assembly is undivided and unchallengeable in all matters pertaining to the administration of
The Faith throughout the United States, . . . therefore, the obedience of individual Bahá`ís, delegates, groups and Assemblies to that authority is imperative and should be wholehearted and unqualified. He is convinced that the unreserved acceptance and complete application of this vital provision of the Administration is essential to the maintenance of the highest degree of unity among the believers, and is indispensable to the effective working of the administrative machinery of the Faith in every country.' Letter from Shoghi Effendi through his secretary, Bahá`í News, July 1934.
`As the progress and extension of spiritual activities is dependent and conditional upon material means, it is of abosolute necessity that immediately after the establishment of Local as well as National Spiritual Assemblies, a Bahá`í Fund be established, to be placed under the exclusive control of the Spiritual Assembly. All donations and contributions should be offered to the treasurer of the Assembly, for the express purpose of promoting the interests of the Cause, throughout that locality or country. It is the sacred obligation of every conscientious and faithful servant of Bahá`u'lláh who desires to see His Cause advance, to contribute freely and generously for the increase of that Fund. The members of the Spiritual Assembly will at their own discretion expend it to promote the Teaching Campaign, to help the needy, to establish educational Bahá`í institutions, to extend in every way possible their sphere of service. I cherish the hope that all the friends, realizing the necessity of this measure will bestir themselves and contribute, however modestly at first, yowards the speedy establishment and the increase of that Fund . . .' B.A., pp. 41-42.
`We must be like the fountain or spring that is continually emptying itself of all that it has and is continually being refilled from an invisible source. To be continually giving out for the good of our fellows undeterred by the fear of poverty and reliant on the unfailing bounty of the Source of all wealth and goodóthis is the secret of right living.' Shoghi Effendi, Bahá`í News, Sept. 1926.
`As the activities of the American Bahá`í community expand, and its worldwide prestige correspondingly increases, the institution of the National Fund, the bedrock on which all other institutions must necessarily rest and be established, acquires added importance, and should be increasingly supported by the entire body of believers, both in their individual capacities, and through their collective efforts, whether organized as groups or as Local Assemblies. The supply of funds, in support of the National Treasury, constitutes, at the present time, the lifeblood of these nascent institutions you are labouring to erect. Its importance cannot, surely, be overestimated. Untold blessings shall no doubt crown every effort directed to that end.' M.A., p. 5.
`In connection with the institution of the National Fund . . . I feel urged to remind you of the necessity of ever bearing in mind the cardinal principle that all contributions to the Fund are to be purely and strictly voluntary in character . . .' B.A., p. 101.
`Moreover, we should, I feel, regard it as an axiom and guiding principle of Bahá`í administration that in the conduct of every specific Bahá`í activity, as different from undertakings of a humanitarian, philanthropic, or charitable character, which may in future be conducted under Bahá`í auspices, only those who have already identified themselves with the Faith and are regarded as its avowed and unreserved supporters, should be invited to join and collaborate.' B.A., p. 182.
A statement from the National Treasurer is included in an issue of the Bahá`í News each year, setting out the various fundsó-international, national, and localówith instructions for making contributions to each of them.
2) By-laws of a Local Spiritual Assembly
The following is the standard format for By-Laws used in the United States by Local Spiritual Assemblies. These are normally submitted to the proper state authority with the Articles of Incorporation to establish an Assembly of nine elected Bahá'ís as a legal entity.