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
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.
NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY OF THE BAHA'IS OF THE UNITED STATES
Robert C. Henderson
cc: Continental Counselors serving tthe United States
Date: Tue, 13 Apr 1999 09:14:15 -0700
From: Steven Scholl
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.
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
email@example.com. 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
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.