Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Hope For Democracy

The author, near the seat of the Universal House of Justice, December 2006. What a great day that was!

In a few days, Baha'is from around the world representing a cross-section of the human race will gather in the Holy Land for the kind of electoral process that gives me hope for democracy. No loud-mouth pundits, sigh-inducing scandals, negative ads, virtual non-stop half-truths and outright lies, promises that won't be kept, saxophone playing, bowling or similar foolishness or win votes, exaggerated tales of sniper fire or ritualistic public condemnations of friends and associates. Just an unfettered, private choice of one's leadership in an atmosphere of prayer. Now that's something that makes you want to "get out the vote". Check it out:
"HAIFA, Israel
22 April 2008 (BWNS)

A global election process that began with people in 100,000 cities and villages around the world will culminate on 29 April when delegates gather here to elect the international governing body of the Baha'i Faith. Representatives of some 170 nations will cast ballots for the nine members of the Universal House of Justice, which has its seat at the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa. The election is held every five years. Baha'i elections are distinctive in that there are no nominations, no campaigning, and no discussion about which individuals should be elected. The delegates to the International Baha'i Convention - members of all the Baha'i national governing bodies around the world - vote by secret ballot for the nine people they believe best suited for membership on the supreme institution of their Faith. The Baha'i writings state that voters should try to choose people "of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience."" (Read all about it)

A few days ago, our local Baha'i community elected the members of our Spiritual Assembly in process similar to what will unfold in Israel in a few days. In preparation for the election, I spent several months thinking about who I wanted to vote for. Not even my wife had any idea who I was thinking of (and she would never ask). That's the level of sacredness and freedom involved in Baha'i elections. All year I closely observed Baha'is in my community, searching for those spiritual qualities "selfless devotion", "a well-trained mind", "recognized ability" and "mature experience". I would make a list of who I was thinking of voting for, cross it out and throw it away, make another list over and over again. Even up until the day of the election I was pondering my vote, praying over my vote. As I understood it, participating in this election was one of the most important things I would do all year as a Baha'i. As a Baha'i, I participate fully in civil elections (though I don't join political parties) but in all honesty it's the vote I cast in Baha'i elections that I have the most confidence actually makes a difference in my life. It is the sweetest expression of liberty I get to experience, period. I look forward to the day (perhaps in my life-time) when I will feel similarly about voting in civil elections, when the process is freed from the limitations of partisanship, mass media manipulation, and just plain silliness. Like most Americans, I'll head into that booth in November and make a choice, which is my duty. Then I'll go home and start getting ready for the next Baha'i election, full of hope for democracy.