It is easy to get caught up in the excitement of the current election in the USA, but I feel that it is important to be very clear about how I, as a Baha’i, discuss these matters. I decided to write this post after several conversations with friends, reading the news, and observations about the confusion that seems to exist among some Baha’is regarding this issue. These are obviously my personal opinions, and if you want more background I would recommend doing your own research (try downloading Ocean). If you are not a Baha’i, I hope this clarifies some points about how I, personally, respond to political discussions, as well as the nature of Baha’i elections.

I try to apply the principles of a Baha’i election (for which we have very clear guidance) to my attitude toward civil politics.

Bahá’í community life thus makes it a duty for every loyal land faithful believer to become an intelligent, well-informed and responsible elector, and also gives him the opportunity of raising himself to such a station. And since the practice of nomination hinders the development of such qualities in the believers, and in addition leads to corruption and partisanship, it has to be entirely discarded in a Bahá’í elections.”

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, February 4, 1935)

Baha’i elections are carried out by secret ballot and votes are confidential. Therefore, if I would not say something in reference to a Baha’i election, then I would not say it in reference to a civil election. For example, I would NOT say, “I think one of the members of the Local Spiritual Assembly should be re-elected.”, or “I think so-and-so’s policies are really great, people should vote for them.”

“As regards the non-political character of the Faith,… The friends may vote, if they can do it without identifying themselves with one party or another. To enter the arena of party politics is surely detrimental to the best interests of the Faith and will harm the Cause. It remains for the individuals to so use their right to vote as to keep aloof from party politics, and always bear in mind that they are voting on the merits of the individual, rather than because he belongs to one party or another. The matter must be made perfectly clear to the individuals who will be left free to exercise their discretion and judgement.

 (From a letter written on the behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, March 16, 1933)

The focal point of the Baha’i Faith is the unification of mankind, and unfortunately the majority of society’s political processes are fundamentally divisive.

The central importance of the principle of avoidance of politics and controversial matters is that Bahá’ís should not allow themselves to be involved in the disputes of the many conflicting elements of the society around them. The aim of the Bahá’ís is to reconcile viewpoints, to heal divisions, and to bring about tolerance and mutual respect among men, and this aim is undermined if we allow ourselves to be swept along by the ephemeral passions of others. This does not mean that Bahá’ís cannot collaborate with any non-Bahá’í movement; it does mean that good judgment is required to distinguish those activities and associations which are beneficial and constructive from those which are divisive.

 (The Universal House of Justice, 2003 Jan 12, Taking Positions on Political Decisions of Governments)

There are, of course, a lot of issues facing the world, and as Baha’is we are asked to be an active part of the world around us. We are also exhorted to uphold a high standard, and that includes our speech and how we express our personal opinions. I do think that it is my duty to exercise my right to vote (as long as I don’t have to state party affiliation), and I plan on doing so.

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  1. Thank you, Sholeh ! Among other things, I will pray during this Baha’i Fasting season that we American Baha’is will come to gain an even greater understanding of this important teaching of the Baha’i faith; that our fellow-Americans will see the futility and destructiveness of partisan politics; and that we can continue to serve our fellow human beings, and usher in the unity of humankind, by demonstrating the living organic laboratory of the Baha’i community life. big hugs from across the ocean, b

  2. Thanks, Sholeh for your perspective. As a new Baha’i, I’m still trying to get my sense of this issue. I have been politically active in the past, though, mysteriously, never showed interest in volunteering for anyone’s campaign or getting involved in party politics. Right now, the negative campaigning really is getting to me. I haven’t experienced a Baha’i election yet, so I don’t know to what extent the Faith really does provide an alternative. I’m always struggling between speaking out for justice on one hand, and not being divisive and judgmental on the other hand. I can see how religion and politics has often been an ugly mixture, and yet there’s times when I feel I can’t be silent…

  3. Steve, it isn’t something that comes easily to lifelong Baha’is, even. We’re still figuring it out. Here is some recommended reading, if you haven’t read them already:

    Will & Testament of Abdu’l-Baha:

    Secret of Divine Civilization

    If you want more detail as to the physical properties of Baha’i election and administration, you can try “Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities”…this is a REALLY long compilation with a lot of detail, basically a handbook for Local Spiritual Assemblies. I like using Ocean and typing in “election” and going to the above mentioned compilation, as well as “Principles of Baha’i Administration”.

    I hope this helps you, at least start the process of understanding it all…but let me know if you need more information/have questions. We’re all learning!