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May 1, 2011

Question: Does your faith impact your voting preference?

I must admit to being somewhat of a reluctant voter after following the electoral campaign. The conflicted, self-defeating strategies we have been witnessing beg for new and creative solutions by politicians themselves.  

However, the Bahá’í Faith does offer guidelines for voting in civil elections. Two are mentioned here. First, the Bahá’í community carefully avoids any form of divisive partisanship. This is coherent with the Bahá’í Faith’s spiritual philosophy whose bedrock teaching is “unity” (not uniformity) in all its forms. While Bahá’ís may and do vote, they do not belong to political parties.

Bahá’í organic and institutional unity would be seriously damaged were members of the community to engage in political partisanship. No political party, whatever its policy or programs, is in full harmony with the Bahá’í teachings and spiritual practice. Consequently, our first loyalty is to the Bahá’í Faith and its teachings, rather than party politics.

This position does not prevent Bahá’ís from cooperating, on a consultative basis, with whatever government is in power on human rights, education, social justice, women’s, development and poverty issues. Bahá’ís are not anti-government, but loyal citizens of the government in power.  

A second relevant principle would be, roughly stated, vote for the individual, not the party. While this view runs contrary to political practice that adheres rigidly to party lines, it does underscore the point that the Bahá’í voter should not blindly align herself with any one party. This guideline demands a character assessment of those running for office.  

Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957), the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, and the authorized interpreter of its teachings, wrote to the Bahá’ís of the United States and Canada:  “As regards the non-political character of the Faith... The friends may vote, if they can do it without identifying themselves with one party or another. To enter the arena of party politics is surely detrimental to the best interests of the Faith and will harm the Cause. It remains for the individuals to so use their right to vote as to keep aloof from party politics, and always bear in mind that they are voting on the merits of the individual, rather than because he belongs to one party or another” (letter of March 16, 1933). - Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen May 1, 2011
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