NSA of Canada Funds Report For 2009

Sunlight is the best disinfectant so let’s see if we can allow some to fall onto a topic rather dank and musty for most Baha’is. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Canada has submitted their tax returns to the government of Canada and since this information is in turn public, let’s take a look to see what we can learn about how the NSA is spending the funds donated to them.

Please don’t take my word for anything and double check the numbers for yourself. You can see the T3010 Charities Tax Return filled out by the NSA by visiting the CRA charities website. Unfortunately Baha’is like me have to rely on this information because the NSA does not share information with them via normal Baha’i channels.

As you’ll see below, even within this legally enforced format, their disclosure leaves much to be desired and rather than provide answers, it delivers new questions. Below you’ll find some of the things that jumped out at me. Perhaps you’ll notice other points and if so, I’d welcome your comments.

Revenues
In the Revenue section of the “Statement of Operations” there is a clumsy error showing that simple arithmetic continues to challenge the Treasury department at the NSA of Canada.

(Statement of Operations)
Revenue:
T3010 Line #Total ($)
Total eligible amount of all gifts for which the charity issued tax receipts4500$6,688,533
Total amount received from other registered charities (excluding specified gifts and enduring property)4510$4,201,533
Total specified gifts from other registered charities 4520$89,124
Total other gifts received for which a tax receipt was not issued by the charity4530$1,086,582
Total interest and investment income received or earned4580$83,700
Gross proceeds from disposition of assets4590$3,280,443
Net proceeds from disposition of assets (show a negative amount with brackets)4600-MISSING-
Other revenue not already included in the amounts above4650$13,374
Total revenue (add line 4500, 4510 to 4580, and 4600 to 4650)4700$12,284,818
Total Revenue (est. by assuming net approximates gross proceeds)$14,267,583

Line 4600 is simply missing (empty cell rather than the word MISSING that I wrote above). If we assume that the total number ($12,284,818) entered in the T3010 is correct, then that implies a net proceed of $1,175,706 from the gross proceed of $3,280,443 – less than half. Of course, you and I are not privy to the actual accounting ledgers but can only go by what we’re given from the NSA. But that implied amount for the net proceeds is highly improbable as it would require an unfathomably exorbitant expense related to the sale of the assets. Much more likely is a clerical or human error.

So either the person who filled out this form made a mistake by calculating the net amount incorrectly and then compounded that mistake by excluding it from the form (only allowing us to calculate the amount via inference by deducting it out of the sum) or they made the mistake of not adding the net proceed amount correctly to approximate the gross proceed (somewhere close to $3 million) and then forgot to add it to the net revenue. In either case, the key word here is mistake and somewhere, someone made either one or several.

The next interesting tidbit is that total donations (however we finally calculate it) were significantly lower than the previous year – in 2008 the NSA reported total revenue of $16,277,836. For the past 10 years or so, the NSA built up quite a war-chest as almost every single year had positive net inflows (I know, I know, during those same years they were continuously screaming about deficits and shortfalls – that’s another story). To make up for the shortfall in 2009, it seems that the NSA dipped into its coffers and sold about $3 million worth of investments. This represents about 13% of its total 2008 liquid assets.

Chile Baha’i Temple
So what did they do with the money raised by donations from Baha’is and from the sale of their long term investments? The NSA decided to step up big time (or they were directed to by the UHJ/ITC) and sent the vast majority of their donations (and then some!) to help build the temple in Chile. In total, $12,988,273 was sent outside of Canada:

OrganizationAmount ($)
Total Activities outside Canada$12,988,273
NSA Baha'is of the US$59,150
NSA Baha'is of Chile$12,538,058
Various NSA's, Pioneering & Teaching$391,065

This is much more than the average ($4 million) for expenditures sent outside of Canada for the past 12 years and close to the highest amount sent outside Canada in 2004 – $14 million. But those funds were sent to Haifa. The fact that the NSA sold off a significant amount of their investment assets implies that this was done to pay for the ongoing construction costs and that they did so as directed by Haifa. This isn’t surprising as usually the most well off countries pay much more than the average share of such projects.

Compensation
There are several important issues here with compensation. First of all, this is the first time ever that the NSA has actually followed the CRA laws and disclosed the total amount that it is paying in salaries and like compensation. They have also gone back and re-submitted this for the 2008 and 2007 returns (but not the previous years). For example, in the T3010 filings for the fiscal year 2004 there is $43,746 under “Management & Administrative Expenses” even though in another location they cite the total number of compensated employees at 45!

In any case, now that we finally have the information, it is very interesting. In total, the NSA spent $2,431,889 on compensation for the fiscal year 2009. That is a significant amount relative to the total donations received. Using their own total amount for donations received, then the NSA of Canada spent 20% of their total revenue on compensation.

The sum comes up to a huge amount if we divide by the 20 or so people who work full time or part time in Baha’i administration in Canada. Why 20? To start, we have 9 people on the NSA itself and then about 10 others who work at the National offices and other ancillary administrative work. It is a rough estimate, I’ll concede, but it will do for a back of the napkin calculation. So $2,431,889 divided by 20 is $121,594 – that’s a lot of money! That’s more than $10,000 every single month for one year, for 20 people. Wow.

Fortunately, the CRA requires charities to provide some more information regarding their compensation expenditures. They do not have to detail their compensation expenditures but only have to disclose how many full-time employees are within certain ranges:

Salary (Min)Salary (Max)Salary (Median)# PersonsTotal
Discrepancy$1,621,889
$1$39,999$20,0001$40,000
$40,000$79,999$40,0009$720,000
(NA)(NA)Part-Time3$50,000
Total Compensation$810,000
Total Compensation Reported to CRA$2,431,889

In the salary range of $1 – $39,999 the NSA has 1 full time employee. In the salary range of $40,000 – $79,999 the NSA has 9 employees (quite possibly the NSA members). And finally, there are 3 part time employees who received a total of $50,000 compensation in aggregate.

Let’s assume the maximum for each salary range. So for we have $40,000 plus 9 full time employees at $80,000 each and finally, $50,000. That is a total of $810,000.

Hmmmm…. notice anything? The total compensation for the salaried workers is $810,000 – giving them the benefit of the doubt and assuming the maximum point in the range – but the total compensation is $2,431,889. So there is more than $1,600,000 unaccounted for.

If we assume the median, rather than the maximum for the salary range, the difference is even larger. A very large amount of money is spent via expense accounts (including travel, short term accommodation, etc.) as well as salaries relative to the total budget of the NSA. Unfortunately, the NSA is not only reticent to share information when it comes to the annual report submitted to delegates at the National Convention, it is also reluctant to accurately fill out the CRA charities report as you can see. Or perhaps they are just incompetent and the calculator was being used by someone that day.

Well, that’s about it. If I notice anything else of import, I’ll mention it. But for now, let me know what you think. If you’re a Baha’i in Canada, have you ever tried to contact the NSA requesting more detailed financial information? I’ve spoken to a few Baha’is who tell me that their experiences with the Treasury department are slightly less interesting and fruitful than talking to sheetrock.

Oh and if any fellow Baha’i from the US knows how or where to access the 990 form for the NSA of the US, let me know. Thank you.

  • David

    The link to the CRA isn't working, but nonetheless by looking at a blank 'registered charity return' form its clear that based only on what you've provided its your addition that is off, not the Canadian NSA. First, you've mislabeled 4580 and 4590. 4590 should be gross proceeds, not 4580 (even without knowing the numbering, it should be clear that it's off just by seeing the figures as you present them don't make any sense). I'm not clear what you did for your math to be off, but did you perhaps interpret '4510 to 4580' as meaning 'add 4510 to 4580' and not, as it is meant, 'sum 4510 through 4580'? If you sum the correct lines the number basically work out. And I've no idea where you got the 14 million number in that graph.

    Looking at a blank form also makes it clear you've completely misunderstood the compensation reporting. Question 1b in Schedule 3 says “For the ten (10) highest compensated, permanent, full-time positions enter the number falling within each of the following annual compensation categories.” The ten highest paid include 9 people in the $40 to 79 thousand range, as well as whoever is the single highest paid person in the $1 to 39 thousand range. In other words, there could be any number of people in the lower range beyond the tenth highest paid person, i.e., the 11th highest paid person onward. The reporting is *not* saying there is only one employee in the 1 to 39k range, just that one employee in that range is one of the ten highest paid employees overall. Again, I can't see the actual form, but schedule 3 should tell you the number of employees, which would be better than just making up numbers.
    I can't say much else without seeing the actual CRA, but its pretty clear you did your calculations without reading the form very closely because the numbers you present don't say anything close to what you seem to think they do.

  • David

    I'm still looking this over and trying to transpose your incorrect labels to figure out what you did and where the 14 million number came from. If your claim is that net proceeds is basically the same as the gross proceeds and someone forgot to include it in the form, then the total revenue would be $15,443,289 (just sum all the revenue), not 14 million. Again, maybe you didn't sum the full rows only added part of the revenue? Besides the addition problem, is that what you're saying?

  • Baquia

    Allahu'Abha David, if you're unfamiliar with the T3010 form don't worry, it takes a while to learn the in's and out's. The Treasury Dept still hasn't figured it out, after all, so don't be too hard on yourself.
    I used the exact same labels as the T3010 forms and the exact numbers submitted by the NSA. The $14 million was arrived at by following the instructions on the form and adding the lines (4500, 4510 to 4580, and 4600 to 4650) with the only addition being that I used $3,280,443 for line 4600 (net proceeds).

    Here's a screengrab from the CRA website. btw, the link to the CRA works for me in several different browsers. Can you try a different browser and let me know if it works for you?

  • Baquia

    David, thanks for pointing out that error, I was editing the table and forgot to hit 'update' after I had fixed the transposition between the columns. It should be fixed now. You can double check for yourself by looking at the screengrab from CRA's website.

    re compensation, you've not only misread what I wrote but I think you're also missing the forest for the trees. The point is that the NSA is spending 20% of its revenue/donations on compensation. According to schedule 3 the avg salary paid is $54,000.

    But again, rather than arguing about a cent here or a cent there, my point is to look at the larger picture of how the funds are being spent.

  • David

    My confusion wasn't with the form – even if you use the 3,280,443 number as equaling net proceeds, the total sum is what I wrote, 15,443,289, not 14 million.

    $6,688,533 + $4,201,533 +$89,124 + $1,086,582+ $83,700+$3,280,443 +$13,374 = $15,443,289

    I agree, the issue is the larger story, but representing the numbers correctly is an essential foundation for that.

  • randyburns

    Baquia

    I would assume that the assets sold were the amount from the selling of the property of the Baha'i school. Was this the year that this property was sold? If so then there was probably a lien or mortgage on the property that would need to be paid off, the balance would be “net proceeds.”

    Cheers, Randy

  • David

    I don't think I misread what you wrote – the average can't possibly be $54,000 or anything close to it. There are 45 full-time employees and only 9 make more than 40,000 and none more than 80,000. No matter what the actual distribution within those categories is, the average isn't going to be remotely close to 54,000. You can't figure out average salary from Schedule 3 because it doesn't provide information about contractors or non-salaried reimbursements (which, if the Canadian NSA is like the American one, do a fair amount of for things like travel expenses).
    The comparison number isn't revenue, but rather expenditures (b/c, like most non-profits, the NSA is pulling money from assets and endowments that were not revenue from the given fiscal year). The total expenditures are reported as $19,888,513, of which compensation was 12%. Now that doesn't represent all overhead costs, but that would put the NSA in 'good but not great' territory.
    You can a sense of the range <a href=”http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=48″ here . I assume, however, that we are on the same page in wanting Baha'i administration not just to be good, but to be a model of efficiency.

    But

  • Baquia

    Randy, you could be right – it would be helpful if the NSA had actually filled out line 4600. The Maxwell property was sold in 2008 I believe and the asking price was closer to $6 million at a time when the real estate market, especially Vancouver was white hot so I doubt that they would have reduced it by half.

  • randyburns

    If the property was sold for six million then there might have been loans to be paid off.

    If that is the case then the 3 plus million may represent the amount that should be on line 4600 and it was put on the previous line by mistake.    No way to tell since neither amount is included in the total below.

    Do you know when the last semester was at the school?  The admin salaries could include school employees or the employees and staff of other institutions that they may support.  In the US report this is probably listed under General Administration expense and totals $16 million including the publishing trust (about one million).

    Cheers, Randy

  • Baquia

    I believe the school was shut down after they finished the school year (summer) of 2008.

    re the US, do you have access to their 990 form?

  • Baquia

    David, you are adding line 4530 ($1,086,582) this is incorrect as it is not part of the calculation – please see the instructions in line 4700:

    Total revenue (add line 4500, 4510 to 4580, and 4600 to 4650)

  • Pingback: construction safety topics | CONSTRUCTION

  • randyburns

    The annual report has a Treasurer's report which probably includes everything you have on Canada and perhaps a bit more.  Its in PDF format if you want me to send it to you.  I'm not sure that US laws require the same things as Canadian laws, but it used to be that Baha'is could inspect the actual details of the financials at a Chicago law firm (per US law).  Of course you had to travel to Chicago to do this.

    Randy

  • http://bahaisonline.net/ Steve Marshall

    Hi Baquia and David. I'd get you to look at the annual returns of the New Zealand NSA. Unfortunately, they're not yet lodged with the New Zealand Charities Commission:

    http://www.register.charities.govt.nz/Charities

    I don't know what's holding that up.

  • David

    Like I wrote above, '4510 to 4580' means sum all of the rows in between (i.e.,4510, 4520, 4530, and 4580) – not 4510+4580
    You can verify this on page 16 of the instruction manual for the form where it reads:
    “Line 4700 – Total revenue. Add lines 4500, 4510, 4530, 4570,
    4580, and 4600 to 4650, and enter the total on line 4700.”
    http://www.cnpm.ca/PDF%20Files/t4033a-07e.pdf

  • http://www.sonjavank.blogspot.com sonjavank

    I think the theme of this blog Baquia is important, even though I disagree that anything is amiss in terms of money not adding up. It seems that the 3 areas you mentioned are most likely due to either the limits of the form (it only allows for the mention of 20 employees, whereas there could be more, for example) or lack of information provided. It could be that the person filling it in, didn't understand how to fill in the info, or didn't have the info or that the form didn't allow for elaboration.

    Your blog raises a more important issue for me, that of having open books and providing one's own annual report, open to all. I was at this website (http://www.hikurangi.org.nz) (a New Zealand charity to promote action on climate change for a better way of life) and what struck me, apart from the positive energy of the design of the website was this statement:
    “We are proud to share with you our first Annual Report.”

    Such a burst of openness would make me want to contribute to this cause! So,why are Bahai organizations so secretive about sharing their annual reports? If they did, they could then explain things, share, empower and be empowered instead of relying on the limitations of forms imposed by things such as government agencies.
    The annual report I looked at on this website is very brief, but the surrounding text contains more information and I feel given that they have been so open, that I could even write and ask for details. I think Bahais should be able to do this, but I know that if I wrote such a letter to my LSA or NSA, it would be met with suspicion, so I wouldn't. So even though I am sure that there's nothing to hide, because such information is not offered openly, it suggests otherwise.

    I realise that Bahais might think that spending energy on making such a report is a waste of time or that those doing this are already overworked etc..
    But the bigger picture is that if an organization is open, then it is inviting, then it enables participation. Then there are more people involved and from that more funds in order to pay for this openness (if that is the bottleneck). Would it hurt, for example, if non-Bahai saw such information? Does it hurt the organization I mentioned above if I as a non-New Zealand resident, look at their annual report?

    If Bahais need Bahai principles as a rationale, there's not only the Bahai principle of equality – that is, knowledge enables empowerment and that in turn is one road towards equality but there's also the Bahai principle of unity in diversity. How can we have this if we don't know how other Bahai communities use their funds? As a member of another community perhaps, we too could have a local library fund so we all could share books, or funds for children's classes instead of asking the parents to pay, or funding for other community events from the community rather than being sponsored by individuals, or do things in other ways.

    I choose not to give any money to the Bahai funds directly via the fund. (I do it by supporting projects and individuals directly where I can see where my money goes and from that the affect.) After years of not knowing what happened to my donations to the fund (apart from knowing that most likely, some of it went towards buildings in Haifa), I've decided this is the best use of my money.

    This reminds me of Roger Prentices' blog (http://processbahai.wordpress.com) where he raises the question: shouldn't Bahai leadership be the best in the world plus something more? I'd encourage all treasurers to make your books open and celebrate your annual reports! Be the best and more. Invite openness. There's nothing to hide and some viewer just might even contribute with a nifty way to lighten your load.

    Thanks Baquia for a first step on the road towards open annual reports.

  • peyamb

    “So,why are Bahai organizations so secretive about sharing their annual reports?”
    It's not being secretive Sonja. It is the paternalistic attitude of Bahai administration. We are supposed to trust our leaders for the sake of unity. Just like a child is supposed to accept whatever the parent tells them to do, and not ask questions; because the parents know best and to keep the unity of the family. This is the basic platform of Bahai administration- it is not responsible to the Bahais (who pay their wages), but rather just to God. It's a system that really is easy to abuse. And if anyone questions the lack of openess, then they are branded a trouble maker. The only option really is what you (and I have done for years)- just not pay their wages anymore, but rather help whatever direct project we want to help.

  • David

    I can't speak for any other countries, but the annual report by the American NSA is readily available on the administrative website (for American Baha'is only) and it is exponentially more detailed than you one link to (as well as the information gleaned from the CRA). Whether it should be made available to the general public is another question, but all those eligible to give to the Fund can easily see it.

  • David

    Baquia, if you haven't done so, it might be worth spending a few minutes googling the annual reports of other comparable religious organizations and charities just to get a sense of the level of detail they report (and comparing things like percent of expenditure on compensation). I think we all agree we'd like the Baha'is to be a model and the ones setting the standard, but I feel like the conversation might be enhanced by being grounded a little more in what the current standard actually is – does anyone actually provide the kind of information you'd like? How do what the Baha'is do compare to other, similar, groups?

  • peyamb

    Well cool. This must be new, because I don't remember such openess when I used to give to the fund. I don't think anyone knew the salaries and perks of the NSA members back in the 80's and 90's. It certainly wasn't reported in the American Bahai.

  • http://larand.net/ Larry

    It's not exactly the same thing, but the Orthodox Church in America's Diocese of the West is extremely transparent:
    http://dowoca.org/2010/2009-financial-reports/

    And the final 2009 budget for the entire OCA is available here:
    https://docs.google.com/viewer?url=http://www.o

    Please note that these materials are readily available to the general public, and are not restricted to church members.

  • Baquia

    Sonja,
    I agree with your sentiments. I wish the Baha'i administration at all levels was transparent and open, and not just when it comes to the financial aspect of the community. Secrecy and selective disclosure is not a sign of a healthy organization. I know people in the Baha'i community who have contacted the NSA and the treasury and have never received a response back to their questions. This is just wrong.

    Is something amiss? I don't know. I certainly hope not but truthfully, we can't really know without a third party audit of the books.

    As far as I know, the NSA does not pay to have its books audited. I know this is an extra expense but given that we have already seen financial fraud on a national level in Italy recently, I don't think it is something that should be dismissed outright.

    It is important to not only be fair and transparent but to appear so. Openness is not only refreshing, it is conducive to unity. My goal in writing the article above is to bring the topic to light and stoke a constructive dialogue on how the financial state of the NSA is shared (or not) with the community.

    If I am to be accused of attacking anything, it is the forces of opacity that seek to hide the activities of the institutions behind a veil of secrecy. While legitimate sounding arguments can be brought to support such secrecy, the ultimate effect is harmful to the community, both in the short and long term.

  • Baquia

    Thanks Larry, that is an interesting model. They certainly are providing much more detail. I strongly believe that the NSA would find that the community would see themselves as a true 'partner' if it were treated as an adult. Right now the NSA or rather the Treasurer and the staff at the Treasury provide the community with as little information as possible. The default policy seems to be no information, and some if forced (like the T3010 forms) instead of ALL information like the church you linked to.

  • Baquia

    David, I haven't done an exhaustive study of other charities and other religious groups. I have looked at a small sample and as you would expect, there is a continuum of transparency and reporting detail. Some give very basic information or none at all, referring you to the authorities while others not only include the basic information that they must legally report to the government, but go above and beyond that with much more detail and a written commentary as way of explanation.

    My personal wish is that the Baha'i administration would be at the vanguard and practice excellence. Not to satisfy my curiosity for accounting detail but because I truly believe that this would contribute to building a more united, effective and happy community.

    So pointing to others and claiming that because they aren't doing a good enough job we don't have to even try…. well, I think we both agree that is rather childish. We've heard time and time again that the institutions of the Faith are on a process of maturation. I think that is wonderful – if it were actually happening. I have yet to see a significant attempt to grow and stretch. To respond to feedback, suggestions, and helpful hints and nudges. All I've seen has been a dogged tenacity to maintain the status quo at all cost.

    But maybe I've just been incredibly unlucky in my dealings with the institutions. I certainly hope that others have had better luck.

  • Baquia

    That tends to happen when someone is using the only abacus in the office. I think you should send them your spare quipu Steve. I mean Stephen.

  • Baquia

    David, there are a total of 45 full time employees, and 10 of them have been detailed as above and using the maximum we arrive at a total compensation of $810,000 (including part time employees).

    That leaves $1,621,889 which was spent on the other 35 employees. That works out to an avg of slightly over $46,000 per person.

    If we use the median instead of giving the NSA the benefit of the doubt and using the max. range. Then the total of the 10 highest paid full time employees and the part time employee compensation is: $430,000 leaving a tad over $2 million. Divided by the remaining 35 employees that is an avg compensation of $57,000.

    You left off your comment above truncated with “But…” please go on and finish your thought.

  • David

    To be clear, it doesn't include salaries.

  • David

    Again, the $2,431,889 for compensation is *not* just the salaries of the 45 full-time employees. It includes all sorts of other things (e.g., honoraria) but most importantly benefits (e.g, pension, health insurance, income tax). Unless you know the value of these other things you *cannot* make the calculations you keep trying to do. You're trying to solve an equation with a missing variable.

    But more importantly, just based on plain old math it should be clear that the average salary can't be anywhere close to $57,000 (or $54,000 like you wrote before). *There were only 9 out of 45 employees who made more than $39,000!* Or, put another way, 36 out of 45 employees made LESS than $39,000. No employee made more than $79,000. Even without knowing the value of non-salary compensation we can still at least one thing – there is literally no mathematical way that the average salary is as high as write.

    The 'But' somewhere came from a failed html tag close.

  • David

    “So pointing to others and claiming that because they aren't doing a good enough job we don't have to even try…. well, I think we both agree that is rather childish.”
    I have to call strawman here – no is claiming anything close to this. Personally I made it quite clear already I also want the Baha'is to be a model and that right now we are not one (which, fwiw, I do not think means having the most numbers publicly available).

    You write want more transparency “because I truly believe that this would contribute to building a more united, effective and happy community.” This is a hypothesis, and I think a reasonable one. The point of looking at the current models and standards is to see if there is in fact evidence for this hypothesis, and for generating more fine-grained conjectures about what kinds of transparency might do this, what unintended consequences there might be and so on. And let me say that while this is a complex issue and there are good arguments for transparency for its own sake, the hypothesis seems quite tenuous to me – there seems to be in America at least a negative correlation between the fastest growing religions (which in general have the most satisfied members) and financial transparency. Mormons, for one, report absolutely nothing, even to their own members
    Jehovah's Witnesses do not either
    The Seventh Day Adventist's, in contrast, are quite good.
    Church of God, by some estimations the largest Pentecostal group, has nothing on their website
    Catholics, who are growing fast mostly b/c of immigration, were to me surprisingly only. The don't have a national body, so here is the Diocese in my area.
    Again, lots of good reasons for transparency for its own sake, but I think links to things like community growth or happiness or even giving (Mormons and Witnesses are two of the most charitable) are tenuous.

  • David

    To be clear, I also would like more transparency because if done correctly it engage the community more, and we don't do a great job of that now. I also don't think this can be boiled down to having the most numbers publicly available.

  • David

    I suspect this level of detail is not unrelated to the unfortunate recent history of OCA

  • http://larand.net/ Larry Anderson

    (I'm the same one who posted as Larry, I just wasn't logged in)

    David, you're absolutely right. What you might be missing is that the recent financial wrongdoing, had it taken place in the Baha'i Faith, would have gone unrecognized.

    I came into the OCA at the time the scandal was at its peak. As a former Baha'i, I couldn't be prouder of the way my church handled it. A problem emerged, and the people were indignant; the people handled it. Unlike the extreme deference to the UHJ and the Counselors I saw as a Baha'i, Orthodox Christians feel very free to criticize their bishops when necessary and to push until things are resolved (see ocanews.org for the gory details). It doesn't mean we don't respect the office; it means we're not going to put up with shenanigans forever.

    The church is more than the hierarchy; the church is the entire body of believers, and as a cradle Orthodox friend of mine said, “the trouble always starts when the men in hats think they're the ones in charge.” Because the people would not accept stonewalling any longer, we ended up with a new Metropolitan to lead the church, with the old one placed under severe restriction, and a new culture of transparency. Not that it's perfect by a long shot–it's not. But it's a huge improvement, it's getting better, and there are lessons to be learned from the whole experience, if one is willing to look.

    And now, since the OCA is way off-topic for this blog, I now return you to your regularly scheduled Baha'i ranting. :-)

  • Baquia

    Every single religious organization has similar 'unfortunate' events like these. The question is, how do you avoid them? and how do you respond to them when they do happen? The recent Italian scandal and the response leaves MUCH to be desired.

  • Baquia

    David, a hypothesis? hardly. My position flows from the writings of the Guardian:

    “Let us also bear in mind that the keynote to the Cause of God is not dictatorial authority, but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation. Nothing short of the spirit of a true Baha'i can hope to reconcile the principles of mercy and justice, of freedom and submission, of the sanctity of the right of the individual and of self-surrender, of vigilance, discretion and prudence on the one hand and fellowship, candour and courage on the other.

    “The duties of those whom the friends have freely and conscientiously elected as their representatives are no less vital and binding than the obligations of those who have chosen them. Their function is not to dictate, but to consult, and consult not only among themselves, but as much as possible with the friends whom they represent. They must regard themselves in no other light but that of chosen instruments for a more efficient and dignified presentation of the Cause of God. They should never be led to suppose that they are the central ornaments of the body of the Cause, intrinsically superior to others in capacity or merit, and sole promoters of its teachings and principles. They should approach their task with extreme humility, and endeavour by their open-mindedness, their high sense of justice and duty, their candour, their modesty, their entire devotion to the welfare and interests of the friends, the Cause, and humanity, to win not only the confidence and the genuine support and respect of those whom they should serve, but also their esteem and real affection.”

  • Barb Ruth-Wright

    Hi Sonja,

    You say that “I know that if I wrote such a letter to my LSA or NSA, it would be met with suspicion, so I wouldn't.” That, for me, illustrates the fatal flaw of the Baha'i Faith, as it now stands. Perhaps when that flaw is addressed properly, the Faith will be vigorously renewed. The vital and necessary (for growth) input and intellectual participation of the believers is stifled. We live in a stuffy room, with no one to open the windows and let fresh air in (except for forums such as this, of course…)

    Barb

  • David

    The Guardian provides a broad standard of expected virtue here, not a specific dictate about particular accounting practices. Like so much of the Revelation, it is up to us to figure out what it means in practice specific to our own time and place – and clearly we have a long way to go to live up to this lofty ideal. But you simply cannot claim that this passage provides some specific prescription for the degree of public disclosure that NSAs should make nor the effects it would have. If the meaning of the Writings were as self-obvious as you seem to suggest (if say, we did not have to use judgment to figure out which acts are or are not modest or humble) than this wouldn't be an issue at all, we could do away with the need for consultation all together and just be done with it.

  • David

    Hi Larry – so my knowledge of what is happening in the OCA is very limited, mostly from a few articles that came out around 2006 when things seemed to be coming to a head, which I gather may be around the time you talk about coming into the church? I'm curious if there was already a culture of things like Orthodox Christians for Accountability or if that emerged mostly after the stonewalling by the Church? It unfortunately seems like it usually takes some sort of crisis to make these sorts of changes, as well as the presence of people willing to push for them. I can certainly imagine this would be something that if handled poorly could have long term negative consequences but if handled well could be very strengthening. I think Baquia's question below is right on – how do you do the strengthening while avoiding the crisis? Do you think OCA would have gotten where it is without it?

  • David

    I would be surprised if the Canadian NSA does not have an outside auditor. The American NSA uses outside accounting firms, as well as a group of Baha'i financial advisers. LSAs have to have two people who are not the treasurer provide an audit every year, unless the community brings in a certain amount of money (used by 250,000), in which case they must hire a public accountant. The NSA also does its own audits of selected LSAs – somewhat randomly as far as I know.

  • Baquia

    David, that is a straw man argument since consultation is a pivotal component of our Faith. The Guardian writes about “candour”, “win the confidence and genuine support”, “not dictatorial authority but consultation”, etc. If the relevance and application of the guidance is not clear to you does not mean that it is not clear.

  • Baquia

    Brace yourself then David.

  • lalilulelulz

    if you have a question about the Canadian NSA's accounting or accounting procedures ask them. send them a letter. you can also ask to see there balance sheet. this might ease your paranoia.

  • Baquia

    They do not answer.

    btw please let's be civil and not hurl insults like 'paranoia' – I could easily stoop to that level and call you ignorant and ask that you become better informed. But I won't.

  • lalilulelulz

    you have already stooped to insult buy saying stuff like, ?there is a clumsy error showing that simple arithmetic continues to challenge the Treasury department at the NSA of Canada.” and because of that i didn't think you would be so easily offended. For that i am dreadfully sorry, please except my apology. i was merely using the word for rhetorical effect and meant no permanent harm nor did I mean it suggest you had any sort of mental illness.

    i can agree to be civil if you’re are seriously offering that.

    you never mentioned trying to contact them in your article, you only asked if other Baha'is tried to contact the NSA. and mentioned that you have “spoken to a few Baha’is who [told you] that their experiences with the Treasury department [were] slightly less interesting and fruitful than talking to sheetrock.”

    thats not exactly hard-hitting investigation.

    So i am very interested.
    are you now saying that you did try to contact them?
    if so how did you try to contact them?
    did you call them email them or send them a letter?
    who did you talk to?
    Why did you wait till now to mention it?
    just wondering.

  • http://bryantmaroney.podbean.com/ Seventh day Adventist

    nice post, thanks!

  • Pingback: Baha’i Chile Temple Construction: Math Challenge | Baha'i Rants

  • Pingback: NSA of Canada Funds Report for 2010 | Baha'i Rants