Tuesday, May 1, 2018

What is International Convention?

“What’s International Convention?”

My 13-year-old son and I were having breakfast the other day, chatting on this and that, when out popped this question. It was one I had not given much thought to over the years. The difficulty, of course, was to explain these things in ways that he would grasp. It was easier now that he was a junior youth, but still a challenge.

“Do you remember the Unit Convention we had a few months ago?” I asked.

“Yeah. That was where we elected someone to go to the National Convention, right?”

“Right. But, do you remember, we did something else there too.” This was so often overlooked I wanted to make sure he remembered this part of it.

“Well, we consulted on some questions while we waited for the results.”

“That’s true, but this isn’t just something that we did as an aside. It is an integral part of the Convention.” I sat back into my chair, settling in for an in-depth talk with my son about the election process within the Bahá’í Faith.

“In the Writings,” I said, “it says that the National Convention has a ‘twofold function of electing the body of the National Spiritual Assembly, and of offering any constructive suggestions in regard to the general administration of the Cause…’ This applies to the Unit as well as the International Convention. Consultation and election. Whatever works on one level of the Cause also works on other levels.”

He thought about that for a minute, and then asked, “Have you ever been to one?”

“To an International Convention? Nope. I’ve never had that bounty. I would love to be an observer, but they don’t have them. Actually, that is a difference between them. The National Convention has observers who can watch, but only the delegates can participate in the discussion on the floor. That’s something that makes the Unit Convention unique: we can all contribute to the consultation.”

“Does that mean that they’re all alike? The Unit, National and International Conventions?”

“Kind of. They all have the same basic function, just on the different levels, either local, national or global. While the first two happen every year, though, the International Convention only happens every five years.”

“How does the election happen, anyway?”

“Well, something to consider is an interesting point found in the bylaws of the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice. They say that ‘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.’”

“Oh, so we can look to the International and National Conventions as a model for our Unit Convention.”

“Yes,” I replied, encouragingly, curious to see what he would add.

“So we could have quiet music, for example, to help people remember to keep this prayerful attitude?”

“Perhaps. It says silent, too, but that’s a good point. Maybe we could try to keep in mind other ways we can help remind people of this.”

He was silent himself for a moment before asking, “What does consultation look like at the International Convention?”

“Great question. What do you think it would look like?” I usually respond like that when I have no idea how to answer his questions.

“I remember at the Unit Convention someone from one neighbourhood had a question, and someone from another area was able to share their experience. I suppose it would be the same. A more advanced country in one field would be able to share their experiences, and perhaps gather new ideas, too?”

“Like our reflection meetings? That makes sense to me, but honestly, I have no idea.”

“I bet they would all be amazing at sharing their learnings”, he said, remembering some poignant examples from a recent gathering, “and not just go on and on with all the details of their stories.”

“Probably”, I said, laughing, knowing I tend to ramble a bit when sharing.

“Who gets to vote at these International Conventions?”

“Great question. The members of our National Assembly have the wonderful bounty of casting their votes there. Just like the delegates from our unit vote for the nine members of the National Assembly at the National Convention, so, too, the members of the National Assembly vote for the nine members of the Universal House of Justice.”

“So only members of National Assemblies can be elected?”

“Not at all. They can vote for whomever they are inspired to, so long as they are over 21 and are a Bahá’í in good standing. Remember, there is no nomination or electioneering in the Baha’i community, so people vote for who they already know.”

“But how do they know who to vote for?”

“Well, the criteria are the same for all elections: unquestioned loyalty, selfless devotion, a well-trained mind, recognized ability and mature experience. It’s just that on the national or global level, but it’s still the same basic pattern.”

“It sounds like participating in the Unit Convention gives us a taste of what the International Convention is like.”

“Pretty much,” I agreed. “I mean, there are some obvious differences, but the pattern is the same. It’s like prayer. Praying at home is wonderful, but do you remember how powerful it was to say our prayers in the Shrines last year on pilgrimage?”

“Oh, wow. So, International Convention must really be out of this world.”

“Yeah, I would think so.”

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