Baha’is Elect New National Spiritual Assembly Members

With Ridvan comes the National Baha’i Conventions as Baha’is everywhere around the world elect their new National Spiritual Members. Due to a systematic incumbency bias, the “new” NSA’s are more than likely exactly the same as the “old” NSA. That certainly is the case in North America.

US NSA members 2012

In the US, the delegates at the 14th Baha’i National Convention elected the following members (in descending order of votes):

Kenneth E. Bowers
Jacqueline Left Hand Bull
David F. Young
Muin Afnani
Juana C. Conrad
S. Valerie Dana
Fariba Aghdasi
Erica Toussaint-Brock
Robert C. Henderson

These were the same 9 individuals who were on the NSA previously. To illustrate just how much incumbency controls these elections, the first 5 members received the same order of magnitude of votes as last year (Kenneth E. Bowers the most, Jacqueline Left Hand Bull next, and so forth).

Canada NSA members 2012

In Canada, the “new” National Spiritual Assembly is:

Mehran Anvari (Vice-Chairperson)
Deloria Bighorn (Chairperson)
Judy Filson
Lisa Flynn
Karen McKye (Secretary)
Gordon Naylor
Enayat Rawhani (Treasurer)
Susanne Tamas
Elizabeth Wright

These individuals have been elected to the NSA for many years. Judy Filson and Enayat Rohani have been serving for more than 17 years consecutively. For the NSA as a whole, the average consecutive membership is between 9-10 years. This means that on average each person has been an NSA member for about 10 years continuously.

Lisa Flynn, the youngest and newest member of the NSA replaces Simon Grandy who was in turn also the youngest and newest member at the time of his election in 2010. Flynn was previously on the appointed arm of the administration serving as an assistant ABM.

One interesting note is from the official US Baha’i Unit Convention site which tells us that less than 25% of eligible voters participate in these important elections:
unit convention 2011 header

This low participation rate certainly exacerbates the existing incumbency bias and further reinforces it. As the same nine people are elected again and again, individual Baha’is feel an increasing sense of apathy which keeps the participation rate low.

For a more in-depth discussion of the current challenges of Baha’i elections, see last year’s article about the Canadian NSA and the US NSA elections.

  • Kratos

    They LOOK like nice people. Let’s hope they are. I’ve never seen them before by the way, I don’t live in the US.

  • rhapsodist

    Interesting… the 2011 Russian election had 4 new members (not all of
    whom served on instutitions). This year they kept the 4 who were new
    from last year, and one new member from Moscow (who was a regional
    counselor previously). Which means presently the Russian NSA has members
    from Saint-Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan, Chita (Siberia), and Sakhalin
    island. It’s a pretty diverse counsel and those cities span from Europe
    all the way across to the Pacific Ocean, within a stones throw of Japan.

    Should be interesting to see how the Baha’i community changes and grows in Russia over the next 5-10 years. 

  • Freethinker

    I once told someone who was not a Bahai’i about how great Bahai elections were.  He said “It has one flaw, it favors the incumbent”.  Of course, I immediately recognized he was right.  The next LSA I voted for people who were not on the assembly already.  I had to vote for inactive people but was not going to responsible for no change on the assembly.  The assembly would have looked pretty strange if everyone had the same I idea I did.  I wanted to support any other possible person who might be elected.  There was no change that year.  For our unit elections our unit has voted for the same person to represent us for 20 years.  I hear “she does such a great job, reporting”  I think, surely someone else in this unit of hundreds of people could do a great job one year!  I stopped voting in unit elections.  What’s the point!  I know who is going to be elected before the ballet’s even go out.  

  • Freethinker

    I now one of them well. She is really extraordinary in spirit.

  • Justice

    ” I now one of them well. She is really extraordinary in spirit.”

    I know one too, her first husband was there at the beginning ownership of McDonalds, shortly after, she was on the NSA and has remained there all through these years as the world moves further into corporation and globalization. Maybe one day the US NSA will be called The Coke and Burger National Spiritual Assembly of the West. I like to think that ‘all things work together for the good of the Source of All that Is, eventually’. However, a woman that serves an all male top governing  religion may not be as extraordinary as you suggest when the world is struggling for equality, harmony, balance, peace, and justice.

  • Freethinker

    We are not talking about the same person.  The person I knew felt a little guilty about getting assistance for her heating bill.  She didn’t quite have enough money to live on all the time.  I am not impressed by status or station and was a little annoyed by the adoration of her by those around me.  Once someone asked her a question controversial in our group, and her answer was profoundly healing to the group, regardless of their point of view, I was struck by the power of it.  It was the healing power of a person plugged in spiritually.   To judge all Bahai’s based on the rules of the House of Justice is a little unfair.  She has a spiritual requirement to serve on the NSA if elected.  One member of an LSA in a large community was elected after she was dead.  I learned this because our LSA was complaining about how the membership never changed.  It wasn’t the fault of the LSA however that the elections favor the incumbent.  

  • childintime

    Oh no, not the same membership as last year! Aaaggghh! Run for your lives! It’s the mother of all conspiracies! Boy, what was God thinking? Giving us a World Order that is so flawed. Imagine, the Cause of God brought to its knees because He didn’t have the foresight to limit terms of membership. You would think that an Omniscient Being would have studied the American Constitution so He would have a clue as to how to build a perfect administration. Even the almighty Covenant cannot protect us from such folly. Surviving the passing of the Guardian with no successor was a walk in the park compared to this catastrophe. Wow! If we can’t change this, we’d better just scuttle the whole thing and wait for the next Manifestation to come and get it right. What does the House of Justice expect of us by not giving in to our wisdom and meeting our demands? Do they honestly think that instead we should resort to something like educating the believers in the electoral process, or encouraging more people to get involved of the work of the Cause so that the choices of the electorate will be augmented? Don’t they know that in America we prefer the fruitless quick-fix to the lasting benefits of hard work and perseverance? I mean, really – anyone knows that having the best people serve on an institution is far less interesting than seeing new faces all the time. After all, we can’t expect that much of our elected bodies anyway, because we are always disobeying their decisions, questioning their authority, and criticizing their suitability from the cowardly anonymity of cyberspace. So since we have thus hamstrung them, we might as well get some entertainment value out of the novelty of a revolving door policy. We really don’t get much fun out of consulting on the guidance they send us, but at least we could enjoy a good bit of gossip over the new faces and who might be on there next year. And let’s hope they fix this quickly, because there’s certainly so much else wrong with this Cause that we can bring to light through our keen and discerning vision, like getting women on the House of Justice, ensuring that each member of every institution is from a different race/class/religion/sex, finding ways to use DNA to genetically engineer a successor to the Guardian, petitioning God to make the next Manifestation a same-sex Black woman with a Harvard degree, offering monetary incentives for membership in the Faith, and nominating the originator of this puerile blog as God’s Supreme advisor so He can bloody well get it right from now on!

  • childintime

    Well, it looks as though dissenters aren’t allowed to post here. Hypocrisy wins again. Well done, Baha’i runts, or whatever you call yourselves.

  • Baquia

    Differing views are welcome, however personal insults are not. Due to the occurrence of spam comments are held in a moderation queue until approved (which may take a day or two depending on the availability of the moderator). Your kind patience is appreciated. Thank you.

  • Baquia

    Bahai Administration is an evolving organism. The one we see today in action around the world would not be recognized were we to travel back in a DeLorean to 1901. Most Baha’is do not realize that – for example- it took several decades for LSAs to be elected rather than appointed. And that even when they were democratically elected, only men were considered candidates.

    Baha’i Administration was in fact designed from the very beginning to be continuously modified and refined – recall that the Baha’i dispensation is for 1000 years and that the contingent needs of a constantly advancing civilization requires nothing less. It is only those with small minds bereft of any sense of history or knowledge about the Faith that cling to the only thing they know and the only thing they have experienced so far in their own lives – afraid that anything different is “bad”.

    The suggestion of term limits is but one small idea put forward by some in the spirit of consultation. The concept by the way is much older than America. It is as old as the idea of democracy itself – Athenian citizens could only serve in the boule for two consecutive terms or two maximum in a lifetime. The founding fathers were intelligent and swiped quite a bit from successful governing ideas from around the world and throughout history.

    There are other ideas and methods of course – alternative voting methods for example. The important thing is to be open and enter into Baha’i consultation about this issue – rather than shut down any discussion from the get-go by deriding it and calling it “gossip”. Such cheap theatrics are the refuge of the ignorant and are rather transparent – and equally futile.

  • Craig Parke

    The lifetime incumbent theoretician class of the Baha’i Faith that completely owns the Administrative Order Worldwide has essentially declared by demanding total Ruhiization of the Faith that the Teachings of Baha’u’llah must now catastrophically fail in every land. Anyone that envisions any other way of teaching the Faith is the enemy of God and must be cast out. The UHJ is indeed God and they have declared anyone who questions anything must immediately leave as Peter Khan stated on numerous occasions in many different ways. And still does so from beyond the grave as his speeches on CD are still required study in many Baha’i communities. God has, therefore, essentially declared tow the line or get out! Implement total catastrophic failure or get out! So many have left. There is no place for anyone who has any other ideas or any other system of personal initiative. I am going to report you to your local ABM for wasting time by posting on this forum. You should be out every weekend in your locality going door to door recruiting people to take the courses instead of giving any personal opinions you have here. You are displaying “self” and “passion” by giving your personal opinions here and if you keep it up you will most certainly “sink in their depths”. By not going door to door and recruiting people you are messing up people’s pie charts and bar graphs at the top. If you keep this up you should lose your voting rights to keep these people in lifetime incumbency. If they are not kept in lifetime incumbency, the Faith might start to succeed. That would not be good because God – in the form of the UHJ – has ordered that the Faith fail everywhere in the World. So PLEASE try to get a hold of yourself and do your part to achieve mind bending failure. I know if you focus and put your heart and mind to it YOU CAN DO IT! Now go forth and do your very best!

  • childintime

    Has anyone who posts on this site actually read the guidance concerning qualifications for Baha’i election? It seems not, otherwise there would be no need for these posts. It is quite clear to me what I must consider when I vote, and incumbency is a NON-ISSUE. It is, as far as I know, not even mentioned in the Writings, apart from its connotation as a duty or responsibility. Do you people all really believe that the Master or the Guardian were so naive that they would have overlooked such a concern if, in fact, it was one? Serving for long years is not a liability, otherwise one begins to question why the authority of the Faith was vested in people such as ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. Why not take it further and ask why God didn’t share the role of Manifestation – reveal Himself to a different person every two or three years until the job was finished. Maybe Baha’u’llah was running out of steam after that long exile, why not let some young buck take over for awhile?
    Who knows, perhaps you all came from families where you changed parents every so often because the old ones became jaded or complacent. God knows most Westerners seem to look at their spouses in that light, hence the current pathetic state of marriages.
    If you are unsatisfied with the state of your community, may I suggest you consider the membership more than the “leadership”? It is entirely a question of deepening your fellow believers, and not implementing policy changes. All government is a mere reflection of the population, that is where you should be focussing your efforts.
    I always consider the five qualities mentioned by the Guardian, and then look at secondary considerations like age, gender, culture, race, and reputation. And if the person or people who BEST COMBINE those qualities has been serving for 100 years, it is entirely irrelevant.
    Please stop trying to model the Cause of God after the American politic.
    And may I suggest a re-read of the Kitab-i-Ahd? It is interesting that only two paragraphs of that document deal with the question of succession and authority. The remainder is devoted to the behaviour of the believers, and is clearly calling us to unity, which is the only thing that can ensure the protection of the Covenant. I fail to see how this site represents unity in any way – in fact it undermines that unity. However well intentioned, it will only lead to anarchy. This is clearly described in many passages in the Writings. As an example, I refer you to “The Worst Enemies of the Cause Are In the Cause”, Star of the West, Vol. VI, No. 6 (Rahmat 1, 71 / June 24, 1915). If, after reading that, you are inclined to persist, then there is no hope.

  • childintime

    Sorry, I didn’t know that. Thank you for clarifying.

  • Norramon

    Well Craig,I suppose that you have been to Sweden / Scandinavia and studied the development of the faith here and how our administration is working! And i suppose you have missed to read the messages from the UHJ since you have missed that they over and over again has pointed out that the Ruhi-method is NOT the one and only way to teach the Faith but it is a large-scale approach that even makes individuals with less academic background, less self-centered minds and lower self-esteem capable of participating in the process of creating a new world order. We can see in Finland, Norway and Sweden that the Ruhi-process really works and also that some individuals are creative to teach in other ways based on their personal skills. The Ruhi process has here helped individual Baha’is to become more involved in serving the society they are living in. Personally i am one of those that teach the Faith in a different way, through developing an art garden based on spiritual concepts. But i really support the Ruhi method. IT WORKS!

  • Craig Parke

    Great then! It looks like Finland, Norway, and Sweden will be the first to have tens of millions of people join the Faith. Keep up the good work!

  • nayman

    One thing Manifestations of God are not good at is creating
    sharia. On spiritual matters they are great but somehow the signals from the Creator
    get mixed up or the mirror gets a little clouded when the sharia stuff comes
    through to Manifestations. No,
    Manifestations are not good at sharia, family matters and creating
    organizations that humans can function well and happily in. Now Bahaullah had
    it right to keep the concept of the House of Justice simple and not too well
    defined. Unfortunately AbdulBaha, great in spiritual matters and exposition,
    not only did not have family values (and to be sure the rest of the family
    should be held accountable for this failure) unity and harmony down pat but was
    not good with the human organization thing. Definitely AbdulBaha had impeccably good intentions with his organizational
    ideas and the expansion of what the House of Justice should be. He thought he was doing the right thing. This
    was just not his strength and some might say his credentials as a historian
    were not solid as well. Still we have the Bahai organization and it will take
    for those members of it to one day with the grace of God to get it right, to
    step up to the plate and realize that the Creator wants them to look at
    everything with justice and kindess and realize that it is not only
    Manifestations and Mysteries of God that can arrive at the truth but plain old
    humans with good intentions and common sense.

  • Amado

    Dear Child in Time – Let’s be careful about thinking that we can be rude if we are right! What’s “puerile” about the consummate scholarship of this blog? It IS, however, childish to call names… Yes, there are several little things that we are going to have to adjust to make the Bahai Faith work well enough. You’ve parodied them, but there is no good reason, for example, not to include women on the House of Justice. Are you absolutely sure that the “enemies within”, the tares sown with the wheat, are the ones practicing independent investigation of truth, and not the fundi apologists?

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  • EllaBelleAces

    I know the youngest member personally. She is a breath of fresh air filled with light, and love, and a calm, steady, bright personality that is incredibly refreshing to be around.

  • Jim Murray

    Maybe you should spend more time studying the guidance on elections, and less time blowing your horn on the internet.