Saturday, June 6, 2009

Refining Utterance (67-75)

How are the friends to express themselves in relating to the institutions of the Faith?

67) "The friends must be patient with each other and must realize that the Cause is still in its infancy and its institutions are not yet functioning perfectly. The greater the patience, the loving understanding and the forbearance the believers show towards each other and their shortcomings, the greater will be the progress of the whole Baha'i community at large."

(From a letter dated 27 February 1943 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)

68) "We must realize our imperfection and not permit ourselves to get too upset over the unfortunate things which occur, sometimes in Conventions, sometimes in Assemblies or on Committees, etc. Such things are essentially superficial and in time will be outgrown."

(From a letter dated 17 March 1943 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)

69) "What the Master desired to protect the friends against was continual bickering and opinionatedness. A believer can ask the Assembly why they made a certain decision and politely request them to reconsider. But then he must leave it at that, and not go on disrupting local affairs through insisting on his own views. This applies to an Assembly member as well. We all have a right to our opinions, we are bound to think differently; but a Baha'i must accept the majority decision of his Assembly, realizing that acceptance and harmony—even if a mistake has been made—are the really important things, and when we serve the Cause properly, in the Baha'i way, God will right any wrongs done in the end."

(From a letter dated 19 October 1947 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)

70) "They (the believers) seem—many of them—to be prone to continually challenging and criticizing the decisions of their assemblies. If the Baha'is undermine the very leaders which are, however immaturely, seeking to coordinate Baha'i activities and administer Baha'i affairs, if they continually criticize their acts and challenge or belittle their decisions, they not only prevent any real rapid progress in the Faith's development from taking place, but they repel outsiders who quite rightly may ask how we ever expect to unite the whole world when we are so disunited among ourselves!

There is only one remedy for this: to study the administration, to obey the assemblies, and each believer seek to perfect his own character as a Baha'i. We can never exert the influence over others which we can exert over ourselves.

...They have to learn to obey, even when the assembly may be wrong, for the sake of unity. They have to sacrifice their personalities, to a certain extent, in order that the Community life may grow and develop as a whole."

(From a letter dated 26 October 1943 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)

71) "Speech is a powerful phenomenon. Its freedom is both to be extolled and feared. It calls for an acute exercise of judgment, since both the limitation of speech and the excess of it can lead to dire consequences. Thus there exist in the system of Baha'u'llah checks and balances necessary to the beneficial uses of this freedom in the onward development of society. A careful examination of the principles of Bahá'í consultation and the formal and informal arrangements for employing them offer new insights into the dynamics of freedom of expression."

(The Universal House of Justice,
Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 13)

72) '...How can there be the candor called for in consultation if there is no critical thought? How is the individual to exercise his responsibilities to the Cause, if he is not allowed the freedom to express his views? Has Shoghi Effendi not stated that “at the very root of the Cause ties the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views” ?

'The Administrative Order provides channels for expression of criticism, acknowledging, as a matter of principle, that “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 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 in his local community.” Correspondingly, the Assembly has the duty “to give careful consideration to any such views submitted to them.”

'Apart from the direct access which one has to an Assembly, local or national, or to a Counselor or Auxiliary Board member, there are specific occasions for the airing of one's views in the community. The most frequent of these occasions for any Baha'i is the Nineteen Day Feast which, “besides its social and spiritual aspects, fulfills various administrative needs and requirements of the community, chief among them being the need for open and constructive criticism and deliberation regarding the local Baha'i community.” At the same time, Shoghi Effendi's advice, as conveyed by his secretary, goes on to stress the point that “all criticisms of a negative character which may 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 community.”

'Clearly, then, there is more to be considered than the critic's right to self-expression; the unifying spirit of the Cause of God must also be preserved, the authority of its laws and ordinances safeguarded, authority being an indispensable aspect of freedom. Motive, manner, mode, become relevant; but there is also the matter of love: love for one's fellows, love for one's community, love for one's institutions.

'The responsibility resting on the individual to conduct himself in such a way as to ensure the stability of society takes on elemental importance in this context. For vital as it is to the progress of society, criticism is a two-edged sword: it is all too often the harbinger of conflict and contention. The balanced processes of the Administrative Order are meant to prevent this essential activity from degenerating to any form of dissent that breeds opposition and its dreadful schismatic consequences. How incalculable have been the negative results of ill-directed criticism.'

(The Universal House of Justice,
Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Baha'u'llah, pp. 14-15)

73) 'May not the existence of the Covenant be invoked again and again, so that such repetition may preserve the needed perspective? For, in this age, the Cause of Baha’u’llah has been protected against the baneful effects of the misuse of criticism; this has been done by the institution of the Covenant and by the provision of a universal system which incorporates within itself the mechanisms for drawing out the constructive ideas of individuals and using them for the benefit of the entire system. Admonishing the people to uphold the unifying purpose of the Cause, Baha’u’llah, in the Book of His Covenant, addresses these poignant words to them: “Let not the means of order be made the cause of confusion and the instrument of union an occasion for discord."'

(The Universal House of Justice,
Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 16)

74) "In terms of the Covenant, dissidence is a moral and intellectual contradiction of the main objective animating the Baha'i community, namely, the establishment of the unity of humankind."

(The Universal House of Justice,
Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 16)

75) "Let us all remember that the struggle of the infant Faith of God to thrive is beset with the turmoil of the present age. Like a tender shoot just barely discernable above ground, it must be nurtured to strength and maturity and buttressed as necessary against the blight of strong winds and deadly entanglements with weeds and thistles. If we to who whose care this plant has been entrusted are insensitive to its tenderness, the great tree which is its certain potential will be hindered in its growth towards the spreading of its sheltering branches over all humankind. From this perspective we must all consider the latent danger to the Cause of ill-advised actions and exaggerated expectations; and particularly must we all be concerned about the effects of words, especially those put in print."

(The Universal House of Justice,
Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Baha'u'llah, pp. 19-20)

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