Friday, January 22, 2010

Unit Convention

I have had a few people ask me, in recent weeks, about the Unit Convention and how it works.  Well, that's not quite true.  Some of the questions have been more on the order of how Baha'i elections work on the national or international level, and I just equate this with the Unit Convention.

You see, dear Reader, many of us understand how it works on the local level and are able to explain this to our friends, but we just don't quite get how it works beyond that.  As usual, I won't pretend that I have an accurate understanding, or claim to give an official representation.  I only offer my own perspective, and how I see it.

First, let me say that I believe it is of extreme importance that we understand how our administration functions to such a degree that we can explain it to the skeptic.  In a letter written on behalf of the Guardian, we read, "...moral issues which were clear a half century ago are now hopelessly confused and, what is more, thoroughly mixed up with battling political interests. That is why Bahá'ís must turn all their forces into the channel of building up the Bahá'í Cause and its administration. They can neither change nor help the world in any other way at present. If they become involved in the issues the governments of the world are struggling over, they will be lost. But if they build up the Bahá'í pattern they can offer it as a remedy when all else has failed."

What is this pattern?

I think one part of it is the way in which we elect our administrators.

As you know, we have no campaigning and no form of electioneering.  We can vote for any Baha'i over the age of 21, who is in good standing.  We cast our votes based on a few criteria of character: unquestioned loyalty, selfless devotion, a well-trained mind, recognized ability and mature experience.  Recent guidance from the World Centre has added a few more to that list.  Those five comprise the qualities for our short list, but in a community of a few hundred, we will find dozens who fit the bill.  Once we have narrowed it down to those few dozen, then we should take into consideration such factors as age, gender, racial or cultural background, in order to ensure as wide a diversity as possible (we still only seem to ever have two genders represented).

Compiling this short list is not a task to be done in just a few minutes, or in an hour or two.  You may recall a previous post in which I spoke about spending months compiling this list.  Fortunately the criteria do not change from election to election.  They are always the same (which is why we often see Assembly members elected as delegates for the National Convention).

As the year progresses, I am always looking out for those charcteristics in my fellow community members.  I check out what they say at the Feast, see what they're doing in their neighbourhoods, ask for their advice in my own services, and just generally get to know them.  Sure enough, throughout the year, I am continually impressed with the qualities they are showing (and questioning the ones I am showing).

When it comes time for the Unit Convention, that time when we elect our delegates to go to the National Convention to consult and also to elect our National Spiritual Assembly, I already have a good idea who I might vote for.

Then comes the election.  This is a moment whose sanctity is covered in the constitution of the Universal House of Justice itself.  Under the fourth by-law, they say "A silent and prayerful atmosphere shall prevail during the election so that each elector may vote for none but those whom prayer and reflection inspire him to uphold."

Isn't that beautiful?  How often do we see an election that is conducted silently and prayerfully?  Well, as a Baha'i, at least a couple of times a year.

This helps us see how the Baha'i electoral process works in the local level, but what about nationally, or even globally?

For that, I turn to my own experience.

There is a woman in my neighbourhood who does some of the most incredible work.  She knows everyone, helps us all, and is truly an inspiration to each of us who meet her.  I would, in a heartbeat, vote for her for some neighbourhood position, except that she is not a Baha'i.  But if she were, she would be ideal.

And yet she would suffer if she were elected on a city-wide level.  That is just not her sphere of activity.  Her movement, her world, is in the neighbourhood alone.

Then there are a few other friends of mine who are also exemplarly qualified  for service and they do work on the national level.  Their work and their interests carry them to that level.  They know Baha'is all over the place and see them regularly.  It is only natural that, as they meet more and more Baha'is in other communities, their name would begin to appear in votes for the National Asembly.

But they are only known in Canada.

Then there are those few souls who move most naturally on the global scale.

Year in and year out, people all over the world see them in their daily life.  They are watched in their actions.  They are known for their great qualities, tireless service, and steadfast dedication.  These are those precious souls that might be considered for service at a higher level.

I do not believe it is a coincidence that election for the National Assembly is done by the delegates, for those delegates tend to be the ones who are already acting at that broader level of service.  They already have some idea of the other people who are serving at that level and can cast an informed vote.

And I'm sure it is also of no coincidence that the members of the National Assemblies are the ones who elect the Universal House of Justice, for who better is aware of what is happening globally than those magnificent souls who are serving as the members of the nascent Secondary Houses of Justice.

But it all begins here, at the local level, with the Unit Convention.  In just a few weeks I will go to my local Baha'i Centre and, in a silent and prayerful room, cast my vote for the delegates I am most inspired to "uphold".  And they shall take my prayers to the National Convention.

It truly is a miracle, this Administrative Order, and I know I need to keep studying it to gain a better appreciation of what "God hath wrought".


  1. I really appreciated this connecting the dots approach towards creating a grand picture of the workings of the electoral process in the Administrative Order. Thank you, Mead. Lisa

  2. Thanks for sharing. I will share your blog post on my Facebook page today and would invite your sharing as well. My question is why are only 18% of the Bahai's voting and how we can raise that number by next year?

  3. I'd never really understood why we don't all vote for the National assembly or the Universal House. But your explanation really makes sense. Thanks!

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  5. Here are a few quotes on how we may get to know our fellow believers in the area toward making suitable choices:

    As far as indirect elections...These are not only beneficial for the sake of how people are most likely to be informed about those in their area. It is also a protection against demagogy and the uninformed voters who choose them, as well as the tyranny of the masses. See , , and for some quotes along these lines.