“The religious ideal is the soul of all plans for the good of mankind. Religion must never be used as a tool by party politicians. God’s politics are mighty, man’s politics are feeble.” — Abdu’l-Bahá, quoted by Lady Blomfield in The Chosen Highway
A key principle of the Bahá’í Faith is non-involvement with partisan politics. This comes directly from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh and Abdu’l-Bahá. Per the guidance of Shoghi Effendi, we are not to register with political parties. The reason for this should be crystal clear after a moment of thought, given deep importance of creating unity rather than a “them and us” mentality among diverse individuals and groups.
Bahá’ís are encouraged to vote and to be active and engaged when it comes to social issues; as Bahá’u’lláh has eloquently put it, we are to be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age we live in. But, we are not to involve ourselves in partisan politics or publicly support one political candidate over another. We are, however, to be supportive of our government. This does not mean that we agree with every policy or attitude, tacitly or overtly. It does mean that we are not to engage in subversive acts or involve ourselves with movements aimed at subverting our elected government.
This is such an important principle of faith that the Universal House of Justice—the global administrative body of the Bahá’í Faith—dismantled the entire elected administrative system of the Iranian Bahá’í community when the Iranian government declared Bahá’í institutions subversive and unlawful.
It is not easy to be engaged in social issues without getting dragged into political discussions but, like anything, it becomes easier with practice. I find myself listening to the barrage of political speech with an ear to winnowing out the partisan … er …. rhetoric and getting at the social issues beneath and within.
This is a lot of work, but it’s worthwhile, I think, and it saves one from the extremes of infusing religion with partisan political … um … stuff and completely disengaging from what’s going on in the world.
There was a discussion online at the beginning of the nomination process about a news story in which a conclave of evangelical Christian leaders were deciding which conservative candidate to back for the upcoming presidential election. One of the gentlemen commented—with a resigned air—that they had to choose from among the available field of candidates since Jesus Christ wasn’t running.
That gave my rational faculties a serious yank. And, after comparing notes with some of my colleagues, I find I’m not alone in my perplexity. Let’s stop and think about this for a moment, seriously. Let’s say Jesus was not only running for president, but was elected. What’s the first thing He’d do?
When He declared His mission in the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus did it by quoting a passage from Isaiah. Here, then, is the beginning of Jesus’ “campaign speech”:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. — Luke 4:18-20, King James Version (KJV)
Further statements about peacemaking, meekness, kindness, and loving our fellow humans enough to treat them as we would like to be treated elaborate on this theme. One of His most emphatic statements on His social policy comes as He describes judging the “righteous” and the “cursed”. To the righteous, He says:
For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. — Matthew 25:35, 36
“When did we do that?” they ask, to which He replies:
Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. — Matthew 25: 40
It doesn’t go so well for the other guys.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. — Matthew 25: 41-45
Taken as a body of divine policy, it’s pretty clear that if Jesus were president, He’d favor such ideas as healthcare for all, the sharing of wealth, keeping money from exercising undue influence, tolerance of people who are considered “other” because of their ethnic origins, religion, or social status. He was, after all, the original “bleeding heart.” He’d also be swift to show compassion and slow to punish or make war, advising that those who were without sin should cast the first stone (in other words, nobody), and that those who were smitten should turn the other cheek and learn to love even their enemies.
In short, President Yehoshua-ben-Yosef might well enact policies that would be anathema to many who invoke His name. As at least one political cartoonist has suggested, Jesus would almost certainly find Himself faced with a recall election. The only question is: how long it would take.
A friend I was chatting with said she’d raised this issue with acquaintances who espoused both deep social conservatism and evangelical beliefs. Their contention, she said, was that while it was true Jesus required His followers to do such things, He never said that a government should do them.
An interesting disconnect, that. Almost as if they had forgotten the words of a tall, thin American president who said, after a horrific and divisive civil war that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
So, then, our government is “of” us, “by” us, and “for” us. To put it Pogo style: We have met the government and it is us. Does it not make sense then that it should reflect our hopes and virtues, rather than our fears and hatreds?
There’s also the Constitution of the United States, which states:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
What do these words mean, if not that we, the people, are to forge a just, tranquil and free society in which we protect and promote the “general welfare” of ALL?
Now, it seems to me that the government of a democratic republic is our proxy. If our job as individuals is to take care of the poor, heal the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the naked, then that’s also our proxy’s job.
I’d like to suggest that as we navigate this election season, we seriously consider expecting government to reflect our virtues rather than our vices, and get to work on that “more perfect union”.