Okay, I'm taking a really deep breath...
Quite a ways off topic, but I'm seizing the opportunity to ask a real Bahai woman about an issue that prevented me from joining the faith myself (when I was looking into it some years ago). And that is the deal with the highest council being proscribed for male membership only. How do you deal with that? Is it an issue for you? Were you born into this faith?
First of all, I have to make it clear that I'm responding to Mr. Follymacher's question from my viewpoint. What I have to say relates to how Angela Shortt sees the Baha'i Faith, and should not be construed as an official statement. I have links on the left hand side of this blog to the official Baha'i web sites where anyone can get more information. I say this because we, meaning Bahai's, really believe in independent investigate of the truth, and that a person in this age has the ability to seek the truth about God and spirituality through prayer, meditation, consultation with others and sincere, dedicated reading of sacred Scriptures from all of the major relitions. We have no clergy, so no one of us can claim expertise in the Baha'i Faith or other religious matters. We all, however, learn from each other. Seeking God through independent investigation is no lightweight venture, in my opinion. For me, it's the most important journey of my life, and I am always learning.
Having said that, I believe Mr. Follymacher's question involves the Universal House of Justice, which is part of the Baha'i World Centre located in Haifa, Israel. The members of the Universal House of Justice are nine representatives from different parts of the world, (yes, they are all men) who are elected to provide service to world. Not just Baha'is, but the world at large. I emphasize the word service because not one of them has any individual power. The Universal House of Justice has nothing to do with power and influence, which is what most of us associate with elected officials. By themselves, the members of the Universal House of Justice are pretty much ordinary guys. Special in their own ways, but none of them have, nor do they seek, that celebrity hyper-wattage power that is afforded to most politicians, athletes or entertainers. They are elected to work diligently to help bring about spiritual prosperity (shout out to Malik, I LOVE that term!) to this planet. No fanfare, no limelight. Just work, and lots of it.
How do they go about doing this work? I can only share what I have heard during talks given by Hooper Dunbar, current member of the Universal House of Justice, and former member Douglas Martin. I saw Hooper Dunbar give a talk in Davis, California not long after his election to the Universal House of Justice in 1988, and Douglas Martin (who retired in 2005) lead a discussion of the Baha'i Faith at the San Francisco Baha'i Center last year. On their own, they appeared to be just guys...men who certainly have individual thoughts and opinions. But both men said the same thing (almost two decades apart) about their experiences as members of the Universal House of Justice. They have no idea what comes over them as individuals when the Universal House is in session. After prayer and meditation, their individual egos merely cease to exist, and the sense of connection to the other members is profound. There's discussion, but no arguments. No power-plays, sycophantic dealings or disruptive grandstanding. They consult with each other, gather information, pray at each step of the meeting, and come to a decision. In unity. No egos. Just unity.
Both men admitted that in their own lives, they don't always operate like that. None of us do. Our own personal agendas and egos dictate our actions, and those often collide with the desires and actions of others. It's a wonder that anything gets done, if you think about it. But as a body, the Universal House simply doesn't operate like that. It can't. The job of helping humanity realize its full spiritual potential is much too important to leave to the machinations of ego-centric, power-mad people. (Remember, this is Angela's view, not the Baha'i Faith as a whole.)
Now, about the fact that the Universal House of Justice consists of only men, not women. It's not a problem for me. The House of Justice is not about money, power and respect, the usual suspects in the game of politics, business and far too often, religious institutions. In fact, the way the Universal House of Justice is mandated to conduct its business appears to be completely contrary to how the money, power, respect game is played. The men are asked to COMPLETELY subsume their egos, forget about their personal concerns and connections, and submit themselves to the Will of God. How many men do you know who are willing to do that? Not many. In our world, everyone seems to be playing a prescribed roles for the cameras, nothing more.
To me, this is a huge lesson for mankind. We can't continue to play the game by the same power-hungry games by the same good ole'boy rules because THEY HURT PEOPLE. People are dying every minute because there are those who refuse to give up their positions of influence and allow the people of the world to freedom, justice, and a way of life that is of their liking. Look at CNN for an hour (I don't, by the way because it's the same old, same old.) What do you see? People hurting, their livelihoods threatened by poverty, disease, starvation, and civil war. Behind all of those problems is a group of men who hold the prize. They are the puppet masters, or so they fancy themselves. This worldwide system of business as usual is not working for the rest of us. The Universal House of Justice offers a different model to mankind, should it choose to accept the gift. It will never be enforced. Mankind must willing choose leadership and leaders who are totally submissive to the Will of God, and have no desires for personal gain.
You might say that since men are required to go through a process of humility, that there is, an implication that women, by and large, already recognize that this process is necessary. This is an assumption on my part. As a woman, I've noticed that when women decide to move out competitiveness and concentrate on doing whatever tasks are set before them, they can operate quite well as a group. There is little jockeying for leadership, unless the women adopted the hierarchal model. When that happens, there's no difference between men and women. But I've attended meetings (a lot lately, as a matter of fact) where we have a job to do, and even though we laugh and take a few detours along the way, we still operate as a unified group.
Could it be that instinctively, when male competitiveness is removed from a woman's consciousness, that she understands the need to unified action? It's certainly an idea worth consideration. And maybe that is the lesson that the Universal House of Justice puts before the world. Men can operate in unity, too. Again, this is merely my opinion.
When viewed from this perspective, I have absolutely no problem with the fact that the Universal House of Justice is comprised of men. In fact, I welcome this change in the way men have conducted their affairs on this planet. It's about time.
As for the question about being born into a Baha'i family, the answer is no. I was raised Baptist/Protestant. The slash is there because my father was in the Air Force, and some of the places where we were stationed had no Baptist churches, at least none that would allow Black people. So we attended the Protestant services on base. I am the first member of my family to become a Baha'i, but I am not the last. My son Marc and my daughter Chenelle are both Baha'is although Chenelle is undergoing her journey through the valley of Search right now. It's all good, though. That's what is wonderful about being a Baha'i--we agree to go on a spiritual journey, but we get to decide how we traverse the hills and valleys.
Let me know if this post has not answered your questions. I would be more than happy to respond to more questions, and if I don't have an answer, I can look up the information or call upon my friends (ahem, Phillipe, Liz, Barney, Malik...anyone out there?) for their knowledge and wisdom.
Hey, help a Baha'i sister out, folks! I can't do all the talking about this! :)