The Universal House of Justice requested the Research Department to prepare some guidelines for the development of distinctive Bahá'í communities. The House of Justice is now sharing with you a copy of this document entitled "Issues Concerning Community Functioning" with its attachment of extracts from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi on fostering the evolution of Bahá'í communities. The bedrock of Bahá'í adminis- tration is the community, and the health of the community depends on the proper functioning of its Local Spiritual Assembly.

It is left to your discretion to decide how to encourage Local Spiritual Assemblies to use this material, which could be a powerful tool in readying the growing numbers of Bahá'ís for the challenges of the Three year Plan that will be built on the enthusiasm and zeal engendered by the spirit of the Holy Year.

It is the prayer of the House of Justice in the Holy Shrines that the Blessed Beauty may aid the friends to deepen their understanding of the essentials of His Faith, and consolidate the basis of its institutions. (7 February 1993 on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies)


A memorandum prepared by the Research Department of the
Universal House of Justice

February 1993

A number of questions have recently been raised about how to assist malfunctioning local Bahá'í communities, specifically those communities that have difficulty in responding to the needs and problems of their members, whose Spiritual Assemblies are unable to reach decisions, are unwilling to entertain frank and open consultation and which fail to acknowledge the existence of problems within the community. As a contribution to the development of such communities, we offer the following comments.

1 Facilitating Change within the Bahá'í Community

Before addressing the issue of the kinds of steps that might be taken to bring about change within the Bahá'í community, it is useful to consider the Bahá'í perspective on the nature of change. Shoghi Effendi, in letters written on his behalf, underlines the evolutionary nature of the growth and development of Bahá'í communities. He characterizes the inevitable diffi- culties associated with the immaturity of both individual believers and institutions as "growing pains" which, he confidently affirms, will eventually be overcome, because of the perfection of the system introduced by Bahá'u'lláh. We cite, below, a selection of extracts from these letters:

With regard to the means of fostering change within a Bahá'í community, we attach a compilation of extracts from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. While these extracts do not deal specifically with strategies for assisting communities that are chronically malfunctioning, they do provide useful guidance concerning actions that can be taken to bring about change within Bahá'í communities. Before considering these approaches, it is useful to reflect on the fact that the implementation of any approach must be guided by the exercise of wisdom and patience, and the avoidance of an adversarial attitude in relation to the Assembly and the Bahá'í community. In Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, USA 1983 edition, p. 343, Bahá'u'lláh counsels the believers to avoid two extremes of behaviour in relation to the Faith. He states:

Note His emphasis on observing "the dictates of wisdom" and striving "to serve the best interests of the Faith".

Based on the attached extracts, there appear to be a number of actions which individual believers can take to foster the next steps in the evolution of the Bahá'í community. These include:

2. Consultation and Expression of Feelings

The view has been put forth that the open expression of feelings and honest expression of ideas are fundamental to productive Bahá'í consultation, and, further, that the Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) 12-Step programme can make an important contribution to honest and open communication. In this regard, guidance was sought concerning the expression of feelings in the course of consultation.

While there may well be similarities between elements of the process of consultation and the 12-Step programme, they differ in their overall goals. the intent of the open expression by the individual as practiced by A.A. is, by and large, to effect a healing and a release from the habit of drinking. Consultation, on the other hand, has as its object "the investigation of truth".

The distinction between the purpose of consultation and therapeutic endeavours is made explicit in the following extracts from letters written by or on behalf of the Universal House of Justice:

The honest expression of feelings in general communication requires wisdom and moderation. In Gleanings, Bahá'u'lláh counsels the believers thus:

And Shoghi Effendi, in a letter dated 5 July 1947 written on his behalf, makes the following statement about the importance of "balance in all things":

Concerning the open expression of feelings during consultat- ion, clearly the expression of feelings and the emotional tone of the interaction make an important contribution to the consultative process. In one of His talks 'Abdu'l-Bahá� describes "love and fellowship" as the "foundation" of "true consultation". He states:

...true consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love. Members must love each other in the spirit of fellowship in order that good results may be forthcoming. Love and fellowship are the foundation. )Promulgation on Universal Peace, 1982 edition, pp 72-73)

The Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá� that are cited in Bahá'í Administration: Selected Messages 1922-1923, 1980 edition, pp. 20-23, provide helpful guidance concerning the expression of feelings during consultation. For example:

For additional statements from the Writings which could be pertinent to the subject of the expression of feelings in the consultative process, reference could be made to Consultation: A Compilation.

Extracts from Letters Written on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi on Fostering the Development of Bahá'í Communities

1. Individual Example

You must not make the great mistake of judging our Faith by one community which obviously needs to study and obey the Bahá'í teachings. Human frailties and peculiarities can be a great test. But the only way, or perhaps I should say the first and best way, to remedy such situations, is to oneself do what is right. One soul can be the cause of spiritual illumination of a continent. Now that you have seen, and remedied, a great fault in your own life, now that you see more clearly what is lacking in your own community, there is nothing to prevent you from arising and showing such an example, such a love and spirit of service, as to enkindle the hearts of your fellow Bahá'ís.

He urges you to study deeply the teachings, teach others, study with those Bahá'ís who are anxious to do so, the deeper teachings of our Faith, and through example, effort and prayer, bring about a change. (30 September 1949 to an individual) [1]

The remedy to Assembly inharmony cannot be in the resigna- tion or abstinence of any of its members. It must learn, in spite of disturbing elements, to continue to function as a whole, otherwise the whole system would become discredited through the introduction of exceptions to the rule.

The believers, loving the Cause above all else and putting its interests first, must be ready to bear the hardship entailed, of whatever nature they may be. Only through such persistence and self-sacrifice can we ever hope to preserve on the one hand our divine institutions intact, and on the other force ourselves to become nobler, better instruments to serve this glorious Faith. (20 November 1941 to an individual) [2]

Regarding your question about the need for greater unity among the friends there is no doubt that this is so, and the Guardian feels that one of the chief instruments for promoting it is to teach the Bahá'ís themselves, n classes and through precepts, that love of God, and consequently of men, is the essential foundation of every religion, our own included. A greater degree of love will produce a greater unity, because it enables people to bear with each other, to be patient and forgiving. (7 July 1944 to an individual, Bahá'í News February 1943, p.3) [3]

2. Assisting the Local Spiritual Assembly

Meantime we must do all we can to strengthen and support the Local and National Assemblies by exercising great care in the elections, so as to secure the return of the wisest and most suitable members, then by loyal co-operation and obedience. If we disapprove of their decisions we must be careful to avoid discussing such matters with other believers who have no authority to put them right. We must put our views frankly before the Assembly itself and only in the case of not getting a satisfactory reply appeal to the National Assembly, if it is a question of the conduct of the Local Assembly, and to Shoghi Effendi if the National Assembly is concerned. (4 March 1925 to an individual)_ [4]

The situation in..., about which the National Spiritual Assembly has already written him in detail, has very much grieved and afflicted his heart as he is convinced that nothing short of complete unity among the friends, whether in their individual or collective labours, particularly in these days of administrative organization and development in the Cause, can ensure the steady progress of the Faith in that centre. There is no task more urgently necessary that the assurance of perfect harmony and fellowship among the friends, especially between the Local Assemblies and individual believers. The Local Assemblies should inspire confidence in the individual believers, and these in their turn should express their readiness to fully abide byu the decisions and directions of the Local Assembly. The two must learn to co-operate, and to realize that only through such a co- operation can the institutions of the Cause effectively and permanently function. While obedience to the Local Assembly should be unqualified and whole-hearted, yet that body should enforce its decisions in such a way as to avoid giving the impression that it is animated by dictatorial motives. The spirit of the Cause is one of mutual co-operation, and not that of a dictatorship.

The believers should have confidence in the directions and orders of their Assembly, even though they may not be convinced of their justice or right. Once the Assembly, through a majority vote of its members, comes to a decision the friends should readily obey it. Specially those dissenting members within the Assembly whose opinion is contrary to that of the majority of their fellow-members should set a good example before the community by sacrificing their personal views for the sake of obeying the principle of majority vote that underlies the functioning of all Bahá'í Assemblies. (28 October 1935 to an individual) [5]

The Assemblies ave been established to administer the affairs of the Cause with authority. the believers have the right to vote for whoever they please. If they do not like their Assembly's acts, they must, for the sake of the unity of the Faith, abide by its decisions. The individual has the right to make suggestions, to protest, but he has no right over the Assembly; his force is his vote. If one of the friends is dissatisfied over the local situation he should nevertheless co- operate with his Spiritual Assembly and do all he can to help it. He can pray for it, he can show through his own deeds a noble Bahá'í example. the system is perfect, but if the instruments are imperfect we must still uphold the system, knowing God will watch over and protect His Cause, and that such conditions are only temporary and will pass away as the Cause grows and the Bahá'ís mature.

He urges you not to lose heart, and never to stop serving the Faith. No matter what the attitude of others may be, it cannot exonerate you from showing the right attitude; your duty is to God, and you should rest assured in the end He will solve all these problems. (14 November 1948 to an individual) [6]

Over and over, in going through the correspondence he received from your Assembly, he was struck by the fact that the friends acted so unadmistratively. Instead of taking up their accusation and problems and criticisms with their Local Assembly, or the National Assembly, they spoke to individuals or individual members of the Assembly, or they refused to meet with the Assembly. the first thing a believer should do is to turn to an Assembly -- that is why we have Assemblies! He feels this trouble would never have arisen if the Bahá'ís utilized their Assemblies as they should. One of the healing remedies Bahá'u'lláh has given to a sick world is the Assembly (which in future will become a House of Justice); its members have very sacred and heavy responsibilities, its power to steer the Community, to protect and assist its members is likewise very great. (30 June 1949 to a National Spiritual Assembly) [7]

3. Recommendations to Institutions

Now with reference to your last dear letter in which you had asked whether the believers have the right to openly express their criticism of any Assembly action or policy: It is not only the right, but the vital responsibility of every loyal and intelligent member of the Community to offer fully and frankly, but with due respect and consideration to the authority of the Assembly, any suggestion, recommendation or criticism he conscientiously feels he should in order to improve and remedy certain existing conditions or trends ion his local community, and it is the duty of the Assembly also to give careful conside- ration to any such views submitted to them by any one of the believers. the best occasion chosen for this purpose is the Nineteen Day Feast, which, besides its social and spiritual aspects, fulfils various administrative needs and requirements of the Community, chief among them being the need for open and constructive criticism and deliberation regarding the state of affairs within the local Bahá'í Community.

But again it should be stressed that all criticism and discussions of a negative character which result in undermining the authority of the Assembly as a body should be strictly avoided. for otherwise the order of the Cause itself will be endangered, and confusion and discord will reign in the Commun- ity. (13 December 1939 to an individual) [8]

Regarding the matter of Mrs. ...and the inharmony that seems to exist among certain of the friends in...: when Bahá'ís permit the dark forces of the world to enter into their own relation- ships within the Faith they gravely jeopardize its progress; it is the paramount duty of the believers, the Local Assemblies , and particularly the National Spiritual Assembly to foster harmony, to set aside every personal sense of grievance -- justified or unjustified -- for the good of the Cause, because the people will never embrace it until they see in its community life mirrored what is so conspicuously lacking in the world: love and unity.

The Bahá'ís are fully entitled to address criticisms to their Assemblies; they can freely air their views about policies or individual members of elected bodies to the Assembly, Local or national, but then they must whole-heartedly accept the advice or decision of the Assembly, according to the principles already laid down for such matters in Bahá'í administration. (13 may 1945 to a National Spiritual Assembly) [9]


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