The delegates of the 15th Baha’i National Convention elected the new members of the NSA for the United States. But to be fair, they are not all that new. Basically every single previous member was re-elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the US (in descending order of votes received):
Kenneth E. Bowers
Juana C. Conrad
David F. Young
Jacqueline Left Hand Bull
S. Valerie Dana
Robert C. Henderson
Likewise, the delegates of the National Convention in Canada re-elected the exact same individuals to serve on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada (in descending order of votes received):
Sadly, this pattern of electing the same people again and again has been going on for some time. The individuals on the NSA of Canada, for example, have on average 10 years of consecutive membership! And if there is any change, it is rare and small with one or perhaps two people changing at a time. In fact, over the past 16 years there has never been one instance of more than two individuals being changed in one year.
The results of this are apathy on the part of the general Baha’i community. The results of the election are a foregone conclusion before they take place and as such they are of no interest to the average Baha’i. And as apathy takes hold and less and less people vote, the effect of incumbency intensifies even further in a vicious cycle.
Apart from this negative effect on the community, the institution itself suffers as cliques form and individuals create and protect fiefdoms within their purview. Old time members naturally are more comfortable with old ideas and hostile to new ones. Even the wisp of fresh air brought in by the election of one new individual is overpowered by the musty stench of incumbency wafting from the other eight. And so, fresh ideas and insights are forfeit as group think takes hold.
Is there a way out of this quagmire? Yes, of course! But while it is simple it is not necessarily easy because many Baha’is today are more concerned with maintaining the status quo than addressing the shortcomings of community. The advice of the Guardian on the importance of “fresh blood” is disregarded in favor of not rocking the boat:
Last year the ITC sent a team around to world to document the success of four Baha’i communities in implementing the core activities. This film was released during the international Baha’i convention and has become a central focus of attention and conversation for Baha’is around the world. A reader of this blog, Rowland, mentioned the video recently in the post about the election of the UHJ. In case you haven’t yet, I invite you to watch the video. I wanted to briefly share my thoughts on it and what it means from a broader perspective about the Baha’i worldwide community.
At first glance the video is quite uplifting because it showcases examples of community development where Baha’is have had a meaningful and positive impact. For example, in India we are shown how the institute process has lead some villagers to soften their deep-seated male chauvinism and to question the cultural norm of ‘castes’. It seems all very wonderful! Apparently the Baha’i community has discovered community development. More than that, it comes across as if the Baha’is have invented community development.
The truth is that the contributions of Baha’is around the world is miniscule compared to everything else out there, both in terms of manpower and in terms of resources; and it comes very late. Nevertheless it is praiseworthy and should be acknowledged as such. At the same time, it is important to maintain perspective and realize that there are other groups doing amazing work out there light years ahead of the Baha’i community and that we can learn much from them. This, I would submit, is the more appropriate tone to strike, rather than one of triumphalism and chest-beating “overstatements of the Baha’i experience”.
This year’s annual Ridvan message from the Universal House of Justice can be summarized with just a few words: “Keep Calm and Ruhi On”.
More on this and the recently released video, Frontiers of Learning, in the coming days. Until then, you’ll find the complete Ridvan message below:
A few days ago National Spiritual Assembly members from around the world gathered in Haifa at the 11th International Baha’i Convention to elect the members of the Universal House of Justice. The occassion also marked the 50th anniversary of the first election of the institution in 1963.
The new members of the Universal House of Justice are (in order of votes):
Paul Lample, Firaydoun Javaheri, Payman Mohajer, Gustavo Correa, Shahriar Razavi, Stephen Birkland, Stephen Hall, Chuungu Malitonga, and Ayman Rouhani.
The two vacancies made available due to the retirement of Dr. Farzam Arbab and Kiser Barnes were filled by Chuungu Malitonga and Ayman Rouhani. Not surprisingly, the new kids on the block were International Teaching Center Counsellors and they got the least votes. The other seven incumbents were easily re-elected as has been the trend since the creation of the institution.
See below for an updated historical membership infographic for the Universal House of Justice.
Chuungu Malitonga Previously Mr. Malitonga was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of Zambia. He served on the NSA until November 2008 when he was appointed a Continental Counsellor and subsequently promoted on March 2010 to the ITC. He was appointed to the International Teaching Center (along with Praveen Mallik from India) to replace the vacancies created in that institution by the election of Stephan Birkland and Stephen Hall to the UHJ in the 2010 by-election.
Ayman Rouhani Previously Dr. Ayman Rouhani was a Continental Counsellor for Asia (since 2005). In 2008 he was appointed to the ITC along with eight other Bahai’s – see full list below.
Due to several factors, the Universal House of Justice that we have today is one which we haven’t seen before. It is both young and blindered.
I say a ‘young’ Universal House of Justice both in the sense of age as well as in the degree of seniority in membership. The member with the most seniority is Javaheri with 10 years (having been elected in 2003). In aggregate, the current membership of the Universal House of Justice has been in that post for only 3.4 years.
The UK government’s Office for National Statistics has released data for the 2011 census. The census data for Wales and the UK shows a surprisingly large influx of foreigners, especially from Poland. Among the various datasets, the religious make up of Wales and the UK continues to show a predictable transformation.
Christianity, while by far the largest religious affiliation, continues to decline:
The number of residents who stated that their religion was Christian in 2011 was fewer than in 2001. The size of this group decreased 13 percentage points to 59 per cent (33.2 million) in 2011 from 72 per cent (37.3 million) in 2001.
In contrast, the Muslim population has been growing at an annual rate of 5.75% and reached a total of 2,706,066 – approaching 5% of the total population of UK and Wales.
Also increasing are those who identify as ‘no religion’ or atheist. Only 29,267 self-identified as atheist but a much larger group had no religious affiliation:
The size of the group who stated that they had no religious affiliation increased by 10 percentage points from 15 per cent (7.7 million) in 2001 to 25 per cent (14.1 million) in 2011.
Adherents of the Baha’i Faith increased to 5,021 from 4,645 in the 2001 census. If my math is correct, that is an annual 0.78% growth per year. Put more simply, between 37-38 new Baha’is have been added per year since 2001. I’m not sure that you can call that ‘growth’ but it is slightly higher than the general population growth of 0.70% per year.
Within the ‘alternative religion’ category, the Baha’i Faith is eclipsed by two satirical entries: Jedi and Heavy Metal. Jedis are a fictional religious group within the Star Wars universe but they number in the hundreds of thousand. Heavy Metal (music) religion adherents were 6,242.
For more information, see the 2011 interactive religion data map for the UK.