Thursday, February 24, 2005

Canadian Baha'i Threatened with Disenrollment

A friend of mine, Larry Rowe, is being threatened with the removal of his membership. From the letter the Canadian NSA sent him, it appears that his "crime" is objecting to the disenrollments of Michael McKenny and Alison Marshall. It's amazing that they should go after Larry, who is one of the nicest, non-confrontational posters out there. One of his favorite sayings is "There is no 'them'; there is only 'us'." But, as in the cases of the earlier disenrollments, the "fundamental Baha'i teaching" at issue is the infallibility of the UHJ -- Larry's eloquent defense of the even more fundamental teaching of the oneness of mankind counts for nothing in their eyes.

Here's the letter:

Dear Mr. Rowe,

The National Spiritual Assembly regrets that the pressure of other work has prevented an earlier response to your letters of 28 and 30 May 2004. The issues you have raised about two individuals who are no longer members of the Baha'i community, are familiar to us. The National Assembly had hoped that in asking Dr. Mohsen Enayat to visit you and discuss your perspectives in light of the related Baha'i principles, you might finds new ways of viewing the matter that were more in harmony with fundamental Baha'i beliefs. It appears that despite Dr. Enayat's efforts in person and in follow-up correspondence with you, the views you have held for several years remain unchanged.

The challenge before you remains one of accepting and upholding the divinely-conferred authority of the Universal House of Justice to take whatever decisions it finds necessary and timely. This is a fundamental principle of Baha'i belief and is an essential safeguard to the unity of the community. Should a person find that he can no longer accept the system of belief Baha'u'llah teaches, for whatever reason, he cannot be compelled by anyone else to do so or be prevented from making the decision to renounce it - nor would any discredit be associated with such a decision. What is not acceptable is to proclaim oneself a believer but persistently behave in a way that blatantly rejects fundamental teachings and risks undermining the unity of the community. Your insistence on your view of errors you allege the House of Justice has made, and your continued discussion of this matter with others, will leave the National Spiritual Assembly no alternative but to reconsider your membership status.

We hope the issue you face is clear and assure you of the National Spiritual Assembly's ardent prayers.

With loving Baha'i greetings,



It makes a person want to cry, or throw up, or something. The meeting mentioned with Dr. Enayat was represented to him as being an unofficial, friendly chat. I've heard this time and time again -- the Inquisition never announces itself as being an inquisition; they want you to pour out your heart so they can stomp on it. But what is so pathetic is that this lover of Baha'u'llah is considered "not a Baha'i" precisely *because* he believes in the unity of humankind, and is disturbed by the blatant injustices the House has committed against some of his fellow-believers.

Disenrollment is now the preferred way of dealing with dissidence over the Internet. Normal religions, you know, don't deprive people of membership for disagreeing with a decision or policy made by the leadership. I looked and looked for religions that did this, and those that do are at the cult-like end of the scale: Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, Eckankar, etc. The Baha'i Faith holds itself up as the hope of the world, yet it is busily throwing people out just like a minor cult. Even the very conservative Mormons are more tolerant of dissent that Baha'is are.

Some people have told me that there were disenrollments before Michael McKenny's in 1997, but this only came out after they started disenrolling Internet posters -- and I have not seen documentation to this effect, just stories. Earlier disenrollees were supposed to be largely people who got too involved in secular politics, particularly in Iran. But, for most of us, we spent years in the Faith believing that the only way a Baha'i got off the rolls was to explicitly renounce Baha'u'llah. Even resignation letters that still affirmed belief in Baha'u'llah were not accepted and the individual remained on the rolls. With the Internet, everything changed. Here are the Internet posters who have been disenrolled to date:

July 1997: Canadian fantasy writer Michael McKenny was a polite poster, who was deeply concerned about the issues of women's exclusion from the UHJ and censorship within the Faith. He met with his ABM, who encouraged him to write to the UHJ. A few months later, he was informed that his name had been removed from the rolls, after 25 years of membership.

February 1999: Frederick Glaysher, owner of the site Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience was quietly dropped from the rolls. He was a fairly strident poster, but deserves credit for having the largest collection of documents about administrative injustices on the web. Glaysher was never informed of his disenrollment, and the knowledge only became public when someone checked out his status in Willmette. Up until his recent attempt to start a Baha'i splinter group, Fred continually insisted that he was a "Baha'i in Good Standing" since the administration never informed him otherwise.

March 2000: Alison Marshall, a New Zealand mystic and poet, was removed from the rolls, most likely because of her lack of belief in UHJ infallibility, although her stance on women's exclusion was also mentioned in the records. Details of her story can be found on her website. Alison maintains her faith as an unenrolled Baha'i, and as I pointed out recently, she is still teaching the Faith. She had been a member of the Baha'i Faith for 20 years.

Besides these, there are several posters on liberal groups that have been investigated and/or threatened with punitive action.

'Abdu'l-Baha' prohibited the very similar Muslim practice of "takfir", where a Muslim is declared an unbeliever. (The main difference is, of course, that in Islam, this carries the death penalty.) The practice is actually controversial in Islam, precisely for the same reason 'Abdu'l-Baha' objected to it: it is divisive. What the Baha'i administration has done is create a situation where there are Baha'is on the inside, and Baha'is on the outside. They no longer define "Baha'i" as "a believer in Baha'u'llah", but as "a believer in the infallibility of the UHJ" -- something that Baha'u'llah never even taught! (The issue of infallibility, of course, could make up an essay in itself. In fact, here is one such essay.)

The second thing that's wrong is that the UHJ has no scriptural authority to interpret the Teachings, yet they are throwing Baha'is off the membership rolls for disagreeing with their interpretations.

Finally, in some of these case, there was no warning whatsoever that any kind of sanction was being considered against them. Michael, being the first, certainly had no reason to expect this would happen to him. Fred wasn't even notified when he was removed, much less given any warning that it would happen. Alison was specifically told that the "internal opposition" on the Internet was not a problem in New Zealand, so she was lulled into a false sense of security. Larry appears to be the first one who was specifically warned that his membership is in danger.

Finally, there is no way to defend one's self against this kind of attack. They say "You don't accept fundamental Baha'i teaching". The accused says "But, here this is, right in the Writings of Baha'u'llah!" They say "Tough. You don't see it our way, you're out." So, who cares about what Baha'u'llah said; it's what the UHJ says that matters, right?

I can't see how anybody can look at what Alison or Larry has written and say with a straight face that they aren't Baha'is.


Anonymous said...

"The National Spiritual Assembly regrets that the pressure of other work has prevented an earlier response to your letters of 28 and 30 May 2004."

They reply to him NINE MONTHS LATER!

Wow! Completely breathtaking administrative skill!

Anonymous said...

It sounds like if you are a disenrollee of the Bahai faith, at least you are in good company! ("No one expects the Spanish Inquisition" ;-P) ;-))

Anonymous said...

Baha'i Angst,

Well said! A class action lawsuit along these lines might have just the right touch! In the post Enron world can't "boards" of corporations (what Baha'i institutions are in the civil law?) be held personally accountable for mismanagement too in any lawsuit settlements?

This would focus consultation wonderfully. If people won't be spiritually responsible for their actions, let them be materially responsible! You bully people in the name of your dysfunctional religious corporation and you are going to lose your house, your car, your bank account for your kid's college tuition.

I think if Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l Baha were alive now they would be doing a class action lawsuit on their own insane followers.

Neurosis that took 300 years in Christianity or Islam to show up in the organization, showed up in the Baha'i Faith right away. I believe this is the Will of God/ess.

I believe the current sorry closed organizational neurosis started in 1988. In just 17 years on this Disney ride we are now at the brink of catastrophe.

What happens when the organization disenrolls every thinking person in the Faith? What happens then?

Anonymous said...

"What happens when the organization disenrolls every thinking person in the Faith?"Why, someone is just going to have to turn out the lights. However, I suspect that the lights will already have been turned out well before then.


"The National Assembly had hoped that in asking Dr. Mohsen Enayat to visit you and discuss your perspectives in light of the related Baha'i principles, you might finds new ways of viewing the matter that were more in harmony with fundamental Baha'i beliefs."
(Letter from the NSA of Canada to Larry)
Doesn't the AO just love to use passive voice in its correspondence? This sentence from the NSA is so passive that it's unclear whether Larry or the NSA asked Enayat to visit Larry. Technically, I think the NSA is saying that Larry ordered the meeting. Perhaps he'd like to correct that error. Better still, in a gesture of obedience to the institutions, Larry could agree to accept that he called for the meeting with Enayat, not the NSA.

Anonymous said...

Someone sounding a lot like Craig said:
What happens when the organization disenrolls every thinking person in the Faith? What happens then?There are no more thinking people in the Faith. With rare exceptions, those who are left have chosen to drink the Kool-Aid.

Anonymous said...

Just read the Michael McKenny stuff, via your link.

His wife 'suggested' the UHJ tell Michael if his removal from the bahai register is temporary, if he can be a bahai but not vote, etc... They reply, suggesting she encourage him to put aside any involvement with the bahai community and focus on other religious interests. She then, in her analysis of his their comments, thinks they still have not stated whether his removal is temporary/not.

Actually, they were making it blatantly clear that he's not welcome back whatever he does... "Tell him to look elsewhere for any religious involvement, cos he's not welcome here." That, pretty much, was the angle they were (I think) coming from.

Re... "I showed her two quotes from that talk by 'Abdu'l-Baha so timely posted by Eric where the Master praises liberalism." Which talk is he referring to? Do you know, Karen?

Would appreciate someone making it clear to me.

Karen said...

Well, first off, I'm not quite sure where your quote comes from -- I'm assuming one of the documents in the McKenny material. "What Eric posted" is likely to have been sometime in 1997 -- during the worst-archived period of Baha'i cyberspace.

This would be further complicated by the fact that 'Abdu'l-Baha' made many statements that support both liberalism and freedom of expression.

So, I'm afraid this is a long-winded way of saying "Sorry, I don't know."

You are quite correct that none of those disenrolled has been given any indication that they would be welcome to re-enroll, even under the condition that they change the opinions that got them into trouble. Even those who lose voting rights, and are declared covenant-breakers have the option of repentance. This does not appear to be the case with disenrollees. To date, none of those disenrolled has ever tried to regain their membership status. Simple membership status isn't worth the hassle; one can just go ahead and live one's Baha'i life without the administration.

Anonymous said...

Future Ex-Baha'i said...

Someone sounding a lot like Craig said:

"What happens when the organization disenrolls every thinking person in the Faith? What happens then?"

There are no more thinking people in the Faith. With rare exceptions, those who are left have chosen to drink the Kool-Aid.

Future Ex-Baha'i,

Yes. You have blown my cover! But being "anonymous" kind of excites me so I am going to go with that for a while yet!

Like I am now a Zorro like figure in cyber space. My fantasy. One of those narrow eye masks and all dressed in black. Riding into town and having my horse rear on it's hind legs in the town square, then riding off at a gallop. So everyone indulge me. My "anonymous" fantasy!

You have a way with words, Future Ex.

Yes. I guess "drink the Kool-Aid" has an appropriate ring to it now. Like that time has come and even gone. And I was on a diet and was trying to stay away from the high calorie refined white sugar and somehow avoided the paper cup handed to me by someone with that 10,000 yard vacant stare.

But now I find I am back in line shuffling up to the punch bowl and this time I fully know what is going on. Things don't look good.

Anonymous said...

When did Baha'u'llah tell us that whatever the UHJ thinks just IS in fact just? I don't think he's ever spoken of mortals who are always right about everything. And I do not think that doubt could endanger the unity of a community. It is doubt that makes us think. Without thinking, what are we?