Many people find comfort and assistance from spiritual leaders and faith communities during times of grief, loss or trauma. In fact, many people have a history of turning to their clergy for support before they turn to mental health professionals. In a Faith without clergy, many people have turned to the Baha’i Institutions for assistance and guidance.
Often people turn to the institutions looking for “loving parents”; expecting to find a safe environment and finding only more trauma. This might happen when Assemblies (or individuals serving on them):
- don’t respond when asked
- progress is slow or appears to be blocked
- aren’t understanding, encouraging or loving
- need to grow and change themselves
Your letters have been read with great sympathy by the House of Justice. You have written eloquently about the pain and isolation felt by yourself and other believers, particularly women, when faced with a lack of response from those very Assemblies which Bahá’u’lláh has asked us to consider as loving parents. From such bodies, one longs for understanding and, beyond that, for encouragement and love. When we feel that this is missing, our own reactions may include feelings of disillusionment and alienation. In addition, there are other issues which arise within our communities which cannot be dealt with through a decision per se but which require, for their resolution, growth and changes of attitude on the part of the friends. When progress is slow or appears to be blocked, we may feel the urge to distance ourselves from the friends and the institutions, and despite our best intentions we may find ourselves almost involuntarily withdrawing into non-responsive, non-encouraging modes of our own. (Universal House of Justice, 25 October, 1994)
This can be very painful, especially if our own parents exhibited the same behaviours.
For more information on how to be a loving parent, please see:
At the same time, it can also be very healing for both sides.
As you know, there can be many reasons for Assemblies not to respond to the believers. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it is because the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth. Such a process can lead to tremendous development on both the individual and the collective levels. Sometimes we can facilitate this process of spiritual growth for individuals, and of maturation for Local and National Assemblies, by viewing these situations not as a problem but as opportunities for development. Taking part in this process should be a source of joy to us since we are, in effect, helping to build the kingdom of God on Earth. Nevertheless, patience is needed, particularly when it involves a subject that is close to our hearts, and when it seems that progress on the matter is lagging or has ceased entirely. We must maintain our confidence that the divinely ordained administrative system given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, and the inspiration of the Creative Word, will enable us to rise to these challenges.
(Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)
Even so, this is never a justification for failing to help those experiencing abuse; or calling to account the person who is perpetrating it:
Recognizing that suffering may be the cause of spiritual development is never a justification for inflicting or ignoring abuse, failing to assist those who are suffering abuse, or failing to call to account one who is perpetrating abuse. But for those who have suffered abuse and are struggling to rebuild unity, to heal or transform themselves and their relationships, or to continue on in the face of intractable difficulties, it may be a source of courage and solace to know that such trials provide the opportunity for spiritual progress. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 134)
Those who are suffering at the hands of the oppressors are looking to our Baha’i communities for spiritual solutions and striving to understand and apply these solutions in their own lives. They need the help of the Institutions.
Overcoming domestic violence is one of the urgent needs of this age and the suffering resulting from it may become the cause of seeking spiritual solutions to the problems of society and of striving with heart and soul to understand and apply those solutions to prevent further suffering. The hard-won wisdom such suffering and searching bring to the development of individuals, families communities, and institutions may be one of the most precious fruits of the mystery of suffering, inspiring and motivating the struggle towards creating healthier families for a happier and more peaceful world. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 135)
It’s important to understand why people experiencing trauma don’t want to take their problems to an Assembly. It can be for a number of reasons, including:
- they may be embarrassed as it will indicate that they have been violated as a human being
- they see things differently and may feel them more acutely
- the human need for love and acceptance and the fear they will not get it
- they feel it might bring shame to their families
- they are frightened if they do, domestic violence will be even more severe
- they may feel that the Assembly is not competent in dealing with these problems
- the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth
- the imperfections of fellow-Bahá’ís can be a great trial to them
- the remarks made by the Bahá’ís have hurt or depressed them
- some Bahá’ís have been insensitive and unsupportive
- some of the friends demonstrate immaturity
- some Baha’is have said that you should seek to transcend psychological problems
- they want to avoid the possible unhappiness or censure of family and friends that may result from carrying out decisions of the Assembly, particularly when issues of confidentiality limit or prohibit explanations
- abusive practices are still being justified in the context of cultural norms and religious beliefs
- one of the parties to the conflict is serving on the Local Spiritual Assembly
Often with cases of domestic violence, individuals do not take their problems to the Assembly for a number of reasons. They may be embarrassed to do so as it will indicate that they have been violated as a human being; they feel it might bring shame to their families; they are frightened if they do, domestic violence will be even more severe; or they may feel that the Assembly is not competent in dealing with this problem of theirs. There may be other reasons . . . Such a situation may arise if, for example, one of the parties to the conflict is serving on the Local Spiritual Assembly. (Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia, dated April 12, 1990)
Strong ties often exist between members of the Bahá’í community that may make it very difficult to carry out decisions of the Assembly that may hurt, anger, or disappoint family or friends. It is understandable to want to avoid the possible unhappiness or censure of family and friends that may result from carrying out decisions of the Assembly, particularly when issues of confidentiality limit or prohibit explanations about such decisions. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the United States, Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence, p. 103)
Abusive practices against women have frequently been and are still being justified in the context of cultural norms, religious beliefs and unfounded “scientific theories” and assumptions. (Bahá’í International Community, Ending Violence Against Women, Statement to 51st session of UN Commission on Human Rights, March 1995)
The human need for love and acceptance often prevents victims from speaking out or even admitting that the abuse is taking place. (Baha’i International Community, 1994 May 26, Creating Violence-Free Families)
As you know, there can be many reasons for Assemblies not to respond to the believers. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it is because the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)
He was very sorry to hear that you have had so many tests in your Bahá’í life. There is no doubt that many of them are due to our own nature. In other words, if we are very sensitive, or if we are in some way brought up in a different environment from the Bahá’ís amongst whom we live, we naturally see things differently and may feel them more acutely; and the other side of it is that the imperfections of our fellow-Bahá’ís can be a great trial to us. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 604)
You should not allow the remarks made by the Bahá’ís to hurt or depress you, but should forget the personalities, and arise to do all you can, yourself, to teach the Faith. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 462)
Concerning the attitude of some Bahá’ís, who seem at times to be insensitive and unsupportive, all we can do is to try to follow the patient example of the Master, bearing in mind that each believer is but one of the servants of the Almighty who must strive to learn and grow . . . Understanding this, and that the believers are encouraged to be loving and patient with one another, it will be clear that you too are called upon to exercise patience with the friends who demonstrate immaturity, and to have faith that the power of the Word of God will gradually effect a transformation in individual believers and in the Bahá’í community as a whole. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
Advice given by well-meaning believers to the effect that you should seek to transcend psychological problems does not qualify as competent advice on what is essentially a medical issue. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
Sometimes it can be hard for an Assembly to understand why a seemingly healthy adult can “over-react” to someone’s tone of voice or lack of respect. They may be vulnerable because of their life tests or past experiences.
Those who come from troubled backgrounds need our love and patience:
Great love and patience are needed towards new believers, especially those who have come from very troubled backgrounds. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 499)
It can be very difficult to participate in consultation when someone fears their ideas will be censured and/or their views belittled.
It (consultation) requires all participants to express their opinions with absolute freedom and without apprehension that they will be censured and/or their views belittled; these prerequisites for success are unattainable if the fear of violence or abuse is present. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)
It’s at these times when we should not allow any acts of real or perceived tyranny to visit them:
The friends of God must be adorned with the ornament of justice, equity, kindness and love. As they do not allow themselves to be the object of cruelty and transgression, in like manner they should not allow such tyranny to visit the handmaidens of God. He, verily, speaketh the truth and commandeth that which benefitteth His servants and handmaidens. (Baha’u’llah, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 379)
We should intervene on their behalf when conflict becomes heated:
…exert their efforts so that no differences may occur, and if such differences do occur, they should not reach the point of causing conflict, hatred and antagonism, which lead to threats. When you notice that a stage has been reached when enmity and threats are about to occur, you should immediately postpone discussion of the subject, until wrangling, disputations, and loud talk vanish, and a propitious time is at hand. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Consultation, p.98)
The important issue is always emotional safety and containment. If people push themselves too hard or too fast to do things outside their comfort zone, so that they become unsafe, it’s important to let them slow down, pull back, and respect their limitations.
Remember, these are psychological injuries and as such the healing process should be careful, protected and gradual. The last thing the psychologically injured person needs is more injury, particularly from the Institutions it turns to for support.
For more information, please see:
Appealing a Decision
Everyone has the right to appeal:
If a believer feels that a serious injustice is being committed he has the right to appeal to the Universal House of Justice:
This (appeal) process is explained in Article XVIII of the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 63)
Mr. . . . explained that it was felt that there is a seeming contradiction between the right of appeal to the Universal House of Justice and the right of a National Spiritual Assembly to make `final’ decisions on certain matters as stated in the National Bahá’í Constitution. The House of Justice instructs us to explain that wherever `final’ jurisdiction is given to the Local or National Spiritual Assembly in its constitution there is a balancing provision. For example: “Article IV of the Local Assembly By-Laws states: ‘while retaining the sacred right of final decision in all matters pertaining to the Bahá’í community, the Spiritual Assembly shall ever seek the advice and consultation of all members of the community, keep the community informed of all its affairs, and invite full and free discussion on the part of the community in all matters affecting the Faith.’ Yet, Article III of those same Local By-Laws states: ‘The Spiritual Assembly, however, shall recognize the authority and right of the National Spiritual Assembly to declare at any time what activities and affairs of the Bahá’í community of . . . are national in scope and hence subject to the jurisdiction of the National Assembly.’ And in Article II is stated: “. . . the Spiritual Assembly shall act in conformity with the functions of a Local Spiritual Assembly as defined in the By-Laws adopted by the National Spiritual Assembly . . .” With respect to those articles that accord final jurisdiction to the National Spiritual Assembly, there is the overriding provision of Article IX of the National By-Laws: ‘Where the National Spiritual Assembly has been given in these By-Laws exclusive and final jurisdiction, and paramount executive authority, in all matters pertaining to the activities and affairs of the Bahá’í Cause in . . . , it is understood that any decision made or action taken upon such matters shall be subject in every instance to ultimate review and approval by the Universal House of Justice.’ It is clear, therefore, that the word ‘final’ is not used in an absolute sense. It is, rather, an indication of the principle enunciated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that the believers should whole-heartedly and loyally support their Assemblies and abide by their decisions, even if they see them to be in error. At the same time, the Assemblies have the duty to lovingly and frankly consult with those who are under their jurisdiction and, if a believer (or Local Assembly) feels that a serious injustice is being committed or the interests of the Faith are being adversely affected, he has the right of appeal. When an appeal is made, the Assembly whose decision is being questioned should lovingly collaborate in the process and join with the appellant in submitting all relevant information to the higher body for decision. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, pp. 65-66)
Your request for referral to the Universal House of Justice cannot be refused, nor should the referral be unduly delayed:
At the same time, if an appeal is turned down by the National Spiritual Assembly, the appellant’s request for referral to the Universal House of Justice cannot be refused, nor should the referral be unduly delayed. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 63)
This appeal is not a bother:
Be sure that your letter was not a bother to us. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 201)
If you feel that any communication is unclear, or if you have reason to feel that the information supplied to the Universal House of Justice was incomplete or erroneous, or if you note that conditions have changed since the question was posed, you may always write again and raise the issue for clarification. (The Universal House of Justice to a Regional Spiritual Assembly dated 26 May 1993)
Before appealing, we must wholeheartedly obey the orders of the National Assembly:
When the local Assembly has given its decision in the matter, you then have the right of appeal, if you wish, to the National Spiritual Assembly for further consideration of your case. But before taking such an action it is your duty as a loyal and steadfast believer to whole-heartedly and unreservedly accept the National Spiritual Assembly’s request to enter into joint conference with your Local Assembly. You should have confidence that in obeying the orders of your National Assembly you will not only succeed in solving your own personal problems with the friends, but will in addition set a noble example before them. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 62)
The Bahá’ís are fully entitled to address criticisms to their Assemblies; they can freely air their views about policies or individual members of elected bodies to the Assembly, Local or National, but then they must wholeheartedly accept the advice or decision of the Assembly, according to the principles already laid down for such matters in Bahá’í administration). (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 81)
If you appeal, you remain without your rights while the appeal is being assessed:
If a believer advises you of an appeal to the Universal House of Justice against your decision to withdraw his voting rights, he remains without these rights while the merit of his appeal is being assessed by the House of Justice. (Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)
You can also consult with the Counsellors:
When you have doubts and concerns about your own plans, confide in the Counsellors; when something they do causes you worry, talk to them in the proper spirit of Bahá’í consultation. Remember that they, like yourselves, are burdened with the work of the Cause and are beset with many concerns in its service, and they need your sympathetic understanding of the challenges they face. Open your hearts and your minds to them; regard them as your confidants, your loving friends. And be ever ready to extend to them your hand in support. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
No one has the right to harass the Assembly in the hope or belief that it will change its decision:
Sometimes a believer will refuse to accept the decision of an Assembly and will repeatedly raise the same issue, consuming an inordinate amount of the Assembly’s time. Although every believer has the right to appeal a decision of the Assembly, none have the right to harass the Assembly in the hope or belief that it will change its decision to suit the individual’s viewpoint. (USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)
How has this helped you understand this issue better? What’s been your experiences? Post your comments below.