The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

Dismissal of Chair of US NSA for Financial Improprieties
Dismissal of Judge James 
F. Nelson, Chair of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United 
States, in April, 1999.
April 6, 1999
Delegates to the 1999 Baha'i National Convention
Beloved Friends,
We deeply regret the necessity of informing you that James F. Nelson has been 
guilty of gross negligence in the performance of his duties as a member of the 
National Spiritual Assembly and that, although he has expressed his profound 
regret for the related occurrences, and has effected full restitution of the 
damage done, he has felt impelled, by his awareness of the high responsibility 
of the post in which he has been serving, to tender his resignation from the 
membership of the National Spiritual Assembly, and the National Spiritual 
Assembly has accepted this resignation.
At this painful moment the National Spiritual Assembly offers James Nelson its 
loving support and prayers.
Robert C. Henderson
cc: Continental Counselors serving tthe United States

  Date: Tue, 13 Apr 1999 09:14:15 -0700
  From: Steven Scholl 
  Subject: Nelson
  Here is all I know about the situation.
  Jim Nelson was helping an elderly Baha'i in Pasadena with her finances. I 
  believe he had some power to sign checks from her account for paying bills, 
  etc. She told Jim that she wanted her payment to the huquq [the 19% tax on 
  some income to be paid to the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel 
  according to Baha'i law] to be set up as an endowment rather than being a lump 
  sum payment. On her death, Jim placed the huquq funds from her accounts into a 
  new account under his name. This led to protests from the estate's executor 
  and prompted the NSA to go on the war path with claims of wrongdoing. I do not 
  know if the executor of the estate is a Baha'i or not.
  Since the huquq funds would be directed to Haifa, one can imagine why 
  [National Spiritual Assembly secretary-general Robert C.] Henderson would be 
  upset by Jim's action. Henderson has been accused in the past of mismanagement 
  of funds, of hijacking contributions earmarked to the World Centre into a 
  special NSA account, skimming off the interest and then at the end of the year 
  sending the principle along to Haifa. But this is purely personal speculation 
  on my part.
  This is the only thing I have heard in terms of "wrongdoing" on Nelson's part, 
  whereas Henderson's letter to the delegates refers to "related occurrences" in 
  the plural. As for restitution, I understand that the money never went 
  anywhere and, in the end, the funds were handled according to the wishes of 
  the deceased Baha'i in the way Jim was planning to set up in the first place.
  So, what does this all indicate? My take is that for years there has been 
  rivalries and factions on the NSA, especially between the West Coast Gang led 
  by the Nelsons (with Bill Davis and Juana Conrad) vs. the Henderson/Kazemzadeh 
  block. I have heard that in their rebuke to Nelson the NSA refered to his 
  "careless" behavior, while in the letter to the delegates they refer to "gross 
  negligence in the performance of duties." My view is that if the NSA was 
  sincere in their concern for Nelson and his spiritual growth, they would have 
  simply accepted his resignation and informed the delegates that after years of 
  service, Judge Nelson has resigned for health or personal reasons. The letter 
  to the delegates seems to me to be a blatant campaign maneuver. It seems aimed 
  at (1) publicly humiliating Jim Nelson and (2) helping guide the delegates in 
  their voting for a candidate from the Henderson/Kazemzadeh Good Old Boys 
  Network rather than from the now suspect Nelson Network.
  As someone who has dealt with Henderson and Kazemzadeh in the past and had 
  them use lies and slander in their attacks on my beliefs and behavior, this 
  latest outburst is not at all surprising and fits their modus operandi 
  perfectly. That is to say, the timing and the pure sleeziness of this blatant 
  political manuvering fits with their history of self-promotion combined with 
  vicious personal attacks against those who might threaten their grip of power 
  over the American Baha'i community.
  Having been absent from these Baha'i cultural wars now for several years, I do 
  find it fascinating that since many of us old "heretics" have either left the 
  faith, lost rights, or gone into the grand occultation of self-imposed exile 
  and inactivity, the leadership, at a loss for enemies, seems intent on feeding 
  on each other.
  Needless to say, it will be interesting how the delegates respond to this 
  news, whether they will back Henderson and Kazemzadeh by voting in one of 
  their cronies or protest this action by voting in a West coast candidate.
  Date: 4-14-99
  From: Juan Cole 
  Subject: Re: NSA elections
  Actually, early twentieth century Baha'is under `Abdul-Baha had perfectly 
  democratic elections, and were instructed to do it that way by `Abdul-Baha. 
  During WW I when there was conflict over whether to support the war effort or 
  adopt a pacifist stance, hawks like Mason Remey organized a campaign for the 
  NSA in 1917 in which they captured it and reversed the previous pacifist 
  policy! Older Baha'is spoke of the times when Republican and Democratic 
  Baha'is wouldn't speak with one another.
  The problem with the current situation is not merely that the voting records 
  of the NSA members are completely unknown. It is that the activities and 
  policies of the NSA as a whole are almost completely unknown! What exactly do 
  these people do? What policies have they made? What effect have the policies 
  had? Have they been good for the growth of the community, numerically and 
  spiritually? Without knowing the answer to this question, how can the 
  delegates even begin to vote intelligently? Though, as we have seen, the very 
  rules of the elections leave them with little potential impact.
  We know that there were about 48,000 adult Baha'is with good addresses in the 
  US in 1978. There are now about 60,000. In the meantime 12,000 Iranians 
  immigrated. This means that there has been no growth in over twenty years. 
  *None*. Of course, hundreds if not a few thousands of people have come in 
  during the past two decades, but enormous numbers of them have gone right back 
  out. Would any CEO who had not increased his earnings a single penny over 
  twenty years be reappointed by the board?
  The exclusivistic policies of Mr. Henderson, who is frankly mean-spirited, 
  have contributed enormously to this Great Stagnation. He was the one who 
  cracked down on Dialogue magazine in such a nasty way. He bullied Baha'i 
  travel agents in 1991, for the Lord knows what reward from the corrupt 
  Corporate Travel Consultants. He agitated behind the scenes for a crackdown on He has chased travel teachers out of the country, seeing 
  them as an electoral threat should they become successful. I have no idea 
  about the propriety of Jim Nelson's book-keeping practices, but surely for 
  Henderson to publicly smear him after Jim served on the NSA 1971-1999, in 
  circumstances where Nelson cannot even publicly defend himself, is the height 
  of sleaze. Henderson has arranged for himself to live rent free free in a 
  9-bedroom mansion (having the Bourgeois studio knocked down to build it, 
  against UHJ instructions) with free Baha'i maids and gardeners, and his main 
  business seems to be bullying Baha'is into silence behind the scenes. And I 
  fully acknowledge that he is probably acting rationally given the way the 
  Baha'i system is structured.
  So, I think all these things are related: the fact that the Baha'i faith in 
  the US has been going nowhere fast for decades; the fact that the electoral 
  system seems to elect the ambitious and greedy (and paranoid) to the top 
  offices; the fact that even initially upright people are made perpetual 
  incumbents, exposing them to the temptations of absolute power held for 
  decades and corrupting them; the fact that the electoral system provides an 
  incentive for the incumbents to slap down and chase out potential competitors; 
  the fact that it would not be in the incumbents' interest for the faith to 
  expand, become more open, attract a lot of new voters who might rock the boat.
  Term limits would go a long way toward solving all these problems. In fact, 
  why not have staggered elections for 4-year terms? You could elect 5 members 
  in 2000 and 4 in 2002. People who don't serve as long as Nelson did might not 
  become tempted to act high-handedly. They wouldn't face reelection and so 
  would have no reason to fear being unseated by active young folks.
  Counselor Fred Schechter, one of the people who falsely accused me, once told 
  a friend of mine that anyone who becomes active in the faith will be attacked 
  (by the faith's officials, it is implied). We hadn't at the time realized that 
  Schechter intended to *act* on this observation! 
  This is a dysfunctional system, folks. There are ways in which it destroyed 
  Dan Jordan (forcing him to live a lie and to resort to secret trysts), Allen 
  Ward, and now Jim Nelson--not to mention the spiritual harm it has wreaked on 
  the Baby Boom intellectuals who were enticed in with promises of tolerance and 
  justice (!!!).
  When Glenford Mitchell had become a huge pain in the ass as NSA secretary and 
  was finally elected off it to the UHJ, everyone breathed a big sigh of relief. 
  And when Henderson came in, the word was that he was a good guy, and we were 
  all relieved. And then in a few short years he demonstrated that he was an 
  even bigger pain in the ass than Mitchell had been. Even dumping Henderson 
  wouldn't solve the problem. The *system* creates the Hendersons and the 
  Nelsons. If anyone cared about the fortunes of the faith as opposed to the 
  size of their marble offices, they would fix the system.
  cheers Juan