“New” National Spritual Assembly Members Elected

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

NSA US members 2013

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):

Karen McKye
Deloria Bighorn
Mehran Anvari
Judy Filson
Elizabeth Wright
Enayat Rawhani
Gordon Naylor
Susanne Tamas
Lisa Flynn

Canada NSA members 2013

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:

“As elections are by secret ballot only the education of the electorate can bring about changes on assemblies which often stagnate from lack of fresh blood…”
(From a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada – March 31st 1945)

Beyond an educated electorate there are other steps that can be taken. For example, both term limits and a modification to the form of voting can completely eliminate incumbency.

But first, it is important to keep fresh in our minds that Baha’i 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 time 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 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 flexibility. Only those with closed minds bereft of any sense of history or knowledge about the Faith 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, for example, is but one small idea put forward in the spirit of consultation. The concept by the way is much older than the America government which has popularized the concept in the world today. In fact, the concept of term limits as old as the idea of democracy itself: Athenian citizens could only serve in the boule for two consecutive terms or two maximum terms in a lifetime. The founding fathers of the United States “borrowed” 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 minded and enter into true Baha’i consultation about this issue.

For an interesting discussion of Baha’i elections, check out Sen McGlinn’s recent article: “Without Reference to Particular Individuals”

  • V A

    Not related to this post – Dear Baquia, I am trying to reach you at your bahairants email with no success. Vafa

  • Baquia

    Thank you for your message. I found your email, it was incorrectly filtered as spam. I have responded to your email message.

  • desirivans

    Good day Baquia,

    The state you are depicting is exactly the same for all Bahai elections all
    over the world.

    May be these are the only persons that the electors see as best to suit the
    seats.

    And since the Bahais are restricted to only a few hundreds in most communities
    and same persons who in every meeting and activity always have something to say
    put these individuals in a good position to be elected.

    Or the elected members consider themselves wiser and have the green light to
    monopolize these activities and put them again in position to be re elected.

    The keys i believe for a member to be elected depend on

    1. To take regularly part in talks and speeches during activities.

    That the only things that Bahais do the best.

    But i think The whole is spiritually ill-sick.

    desir.

  • Craig Parke

    This is what the Administrative Order of the Baha’i Faith at every level was SUPPOSED to be doing in the 32 years I was a totally dedicated Baha’i doing tasks at many levels Locally and Nationally to try to make the Faith be engaged and relevant to the real needs of the peoples of the World:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gAYCbnEZ4p8

    This is what the Administrative Order DID at every level:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-S-w8nZMds

    There were many people like me on that once hopeful Bridge in the second link when the fierce Top Down Fist came. As Peter Khan famously said on many occasions, there was no place in the Faith for free thinkers at any time and there never was and people that thought otherwise were greatly mistaken. The Faith wants people to turn their Souls over to the lifetime incumbents at the Top to tell them what to do in life at every moment.

    By 2004 I just could not take another step in that extremely limited Group Think Consciousness of the Universe. I will not sit in the same room with people like this. I just can’t. So that was the end of the road for me after 32 years of immense daily effort to try to help the Baha’i Faith. You cannot help something that takes one step forward and 10,000 steps back. But Baha’u’llah apparently covered the Fate of the current “Administrative Order” (Tm) in the Tablet of the Holy Mariner.

    I went back to my Sufi-Buddhist roots and I am now very happy. I am blessed to be a software engineer that has worked now going into the 4th Decade on the technologies we now call the Internet that enables every person on Earth to intimately communicate their most intimate thoughts with every other person on Earth. That ability for Intimate Global Planetary Communication is going ti end Group Think everywhere slowly over time..

    I Hail Thee O People on Tidings of Light! The Promised Day Has Come INDEED to end unaware entrenched idiots and morons from ever attaining power of any kind doing anything in any organization of any kind on this Planet Forever. That hour will eventually come via this Technology over the next 100 years. It will be fierce. Then the Spirit of the Baby Elephant and the Ocean will return to Mankind.

    Meanwhile, everyone who can think just keep posting.

  • carrollstraus

    Bauia– it is unseenmly for Baha’is to argue about such things, but for Baha’is the Universal House cannot be wrong– by definition is is not wrong. If you are a Baha’i this is the way it is.

  • sarmar

    love this blog and the quote! is it also that people are not only hostile to change but very much afraid of it too?
    How would community members react to a 22 year old on the assembly? Or to a member who hasn’t been part of the community for very long and isn’t very well known?
    Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • Baquia

    According to Baha’i administration:

    “Though the Guardian of the Faith has been made the permanent head of so august a body he can never, even temporarily, assume the right of exclusive legislation. He cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Bah??’u’ll??h’s revealed utterances.”

    The above suggests that not only can the UHJ be wrong, they can be so wrong as to “depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s” revelation.

    If you are interested in further exploration of this issue, see: Is the Universal House of Justice Infallible?

  • Baquia

    sarmar, even more important is how the rest of the NSA would react to such ‘an upstart’. After all, due to the entrenched incumbency they have known and worked with each other for decades.
    by the by, Lisa Flynn who was the youngest member of the Canadian NSA and only in her second year as member has been called to the BWC resulting in a by-election for the NSA – the third one is as many years.

  • InfantryVeteran

    The Baha’i election system mirrors the one found in many socialist countries. In Cuba, for example, citizens elect Municipal Assemblies. Members of Municipal Assemblies elect Provincial Assemblies who in turn elect the National Assembly. Leadership does not turnover much in Cuba, either.

  • lna

    When you become a Baha’i you are a servant of creation your
    payment will be your good deeds in this world and in the next so if anyone
    think of having pleasure in this tested world they are luck of divine knowledge
    so the remedy is to supplicate to God…… We have to beer and endure life on
    earth, this a first step in a long granny to God creation THINK CAREFULLY what
    you say! Your action will curse your delay……..