The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

Shunning > Menu

rom: <>
Subject: Re: Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Freedom of Conscience
Date: Sunday, February 14, 1999 1:50 AM

Dear JayLiz:
My position when I was enrolled was that avoiding (not shunning) schismatics
was socially justified for the sake of maintaining unity, with schismatics
defined as individuals who claimed or followed those who claimed to be
Guardians after Shoghi Effendi.  On the other hand, I had CBs in class and I
taught them just like anyone else, saw them in office hours, etc.  One wrote
a rather good paper on Secret of Divine Civilization.  But I wouldn't have
invited that student out for coffee unless I was doing so for the whole
Unfortunately, the very existence of a category of 'covenant breakers' and
the practice of shunning has created a dynamic where all Baha'is are always
on heresy trial at the hands of the conservatives in the community.  Just as
inspectors at uranium mines have geiger counters to measure radiation, these
rightwing Baha'is have covenant-monitors.  They constantly shine them on you
and your words to detect if any covenant-breaking is coming from you.  And
they define covenant-breaking as thinking for yourself rather than slavish
obedience to the 'institutions.'
When a conference was held at Wilmette in 1995 on the Kitab-i Aqdas, a number
of Baha'i academics gave papers on it to a general Baha'i audience.  A number
of Baha'is accused them informally of being 'covenant breakers.'  Here, the
term appears to have meant that the academics' understanding of the
significance of the Most Holy Book differed from that of the rightwing
Baha'is.  A number of the speakers were very hurt by these accusations.  This
sort of thing is not atypical, but rather has become routine and even taken
hold in administrative practice to some extent, as we saw on the old
I consider this second use of 'covenant breaking' charges and threats of
shunning against ordinary, loyal Baha'is to be pathological, and feel it is
extremely damaging to the fortunes of the community.  It means that the
lowest common denominator defines orthodoxy, and anyone with an original idea
is liable to being attacked and insulted and threatened.  I think some
rightwing Baha'is, like Birkland, actually make their careers on
covenant-baiting, sort of the way Richard Nixon made his early career by
communist-baiting.  There is a very real parallel between American
McCarthyism and the mindset of the covenant-infected (it is sort of a
disease).  I think a very large number of people have left the Baha'i faith
over covenant-baiting, whether because they were victims of it or because
they disapproved of it when they saw it happen to others.  Since these people
tend to simply disappear into the crowd, we never hear back from them about
their disappointments.
It is my feeling that unless this Baha'i McCarthyism can be put aside and
overcome, the Baha'i community in this country is unlikely ever to amount to
cheers    Juan
In article <7a56o6$9as$>, wrote:
> Hello Dr. Cole,
> In article <7a4l5t$r7q$>,
> wrote:
> >
> >
> > Dear Jayliz:
> >
> > `Abdul-Baha was facing a temporary and extraordinary situation in which a
> > serious and plausible schism had developed among Baha'u'llah's sons.  He
> > dealt with it the only way he knew how, by urging his partisans to avoid
> > partisans of the schismatics.  He did not intend for this practice to become
> > a permanent feature of Baha'i life (when's the last time you met a partisan
> > of Mirza Muhammad `Ali?)!
> Okay, notwithstanding the actions of certain Baha'is who may have the wrong
> idea about who exactly ought to be shunned, should actual Covenant-breakers
> today -- not those who have certain views about the Administrative Order or
> rulings about the Universal House of Justice -- still be shunned (i.e.
> 'Orthodox' Baha'is, Baha'is under the provisions of the covenant, etc., who
> we do run into frequently on the 'Net)?
> I mean, the House of Justice can't rule that 'Abdul-Baha's statement was only
> referring to a temporary situation (because that would be interpretation, no?)
> can it? And it can't rule that we no longer have to shun Covenant-breakers
> because it has explicitly been ordered in the W&T, can it?
> Peace,
> JayLiz
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Juan Cole
History, U of Michigan
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