Before I became a true Baha’i in 1997, I was a “Baha’i in good standing” (the “BIGS”) for 17 years, so I know that Sen McGlinn’s article “...a body of learned Baha’is,” reveals the open secret in the BIGS community that the “UHJ” with no Guardian has proven itself to certainly not be infallible in many things and many ways. The rank and file Baha’is could not understand how their supposedly infallible leadership (that must be free of criticism and questioning), could be so wrong.
The article is focused on one of many problems associated to the so-called “UHJ.” The entire article expresses angst over what can be done to remedy this problem of a fallible UHJ whose understanding of the Writings is evolving, for example it explains that:
”The ‘problem’ for the Bahais, is that it is clear from doctrine and practical observation that the Universal House of Justice, the head of the Bahai community, does not always understand the Bahai scriptures correctly. If there was a guarantee that it would always be correct, the Guardianship would have been unnecessary. The Bahais could simply have elected a house of justice, after the death of Abdu’l-Baha. But the understanding of the Universal House of Justice evolves through interaction with the community, and it may at a particular point be incomplete and even incorrect.
It seems to me that the BIGS are finally coming to terms with the fact that the “UHJ” they have is a man-made fallible elected body, in sharp contrast to the words of Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi about the divine Institutions under the infallible care of Baha’u’llah. Having erroneously abandoned the vision of the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha in which the Guardian is the living head of the Universal House of Justice, they seek a remedy for this.
“And now, concerning the House of Justice which God hath ordained as the source of all good and freed from all error, it must be elected by universal suffrage, that is, by the believers. Its members must be manifestations of the fear of God and daysprings of knowledge and understanding, must be steadfast in God's faith and the well-wishers of all mankind. By this House is meant the Universal House of Justice, that is, in all countries a secondary House of Justice must be instituted, and these secondary Houses of Justice must elect the members of the Universal one. Unto this body all things must be referred. It enacteth all ordinances and regulations that are not to be found in the explicit Holy Text. By this body all the difficult problems are to be resolved and the Guardian of the Cause of God is its sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that body. Should he not attend in person its deliberations, he must appoint one to represent him. Should any of the members commit a sin, injurious to the common weal, the Guardian of the Cause of God hath at his own discretion the right to expel him, whereupon the people must elect another one in his stead.” (Abdu'l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 14)
According to the Will and Testament of Abdu’l Baha; a true and real Universal House of Justice must be a body that combines being “elected by universal suffrage” and having a “sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that body,” that is “the Guardian of the Cause of God” which Shoghi Effendi said was indispensable:
“Without such an institution the integrity of the Faith would be imperiled, and the stability of the entire fabric would be gravely endangered. Its prestige would suffer, the means required to enable it to take a long, an uninterrupted view over a series of generations would be completely lacking, and the necessary guidance to define the sphere of the legislative action of its elected representatives would be totally withdrawn.” (Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha’u’llah)
Note that the guidance to define the sphere of legislative action is deemed necessary and without it the integrity of the Faith is imperiled, But McGlinn ignores this and focuses instead on this paragraph of the World Order of Baha’u’llah to justify his assertion that the authority of the UHJ is free of the Guardian’s control:
“Though the Guardian of the Faith has been made the permanent head of so august a body he can never, even temporarily, assume the right of exclusive legislation. He cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances. He interprets what has been specifically revealed, and cannot legislate except in his capacity as member of the Universal House of Justice. He is debarred from laying down independently the constitution that must govern the organized activities of his fellow-members, and from exercising his influence in a manner that would encroach upon the liberty of those whose sacred right is to elect the body of his collaborators.” (Shoghi Effendi WOB)
McGlinn twists the point made by Shoghi Effendi, that the Guardian is not a dictator and has no right to overturn the legislation of the UHJ. He ignores the fact that if the Guardian tells the members of the UHJ that their legislation contradicts his interpretation of the Writings, then the members of the UHJ must obey and accept the Guardian’s interpretation.
When the Guardian is present in the meetings there will not be a “conflict with the meaning" and it will not be possible “to depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterance” because they will receive “the necessary guidance to define the sphere of the legislative action.” But perhaps when the Guardian is not present and has appointed “one to represent him” then it may be necessary that he “insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterance.”
From the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha (emphasis added):
“The sacred and youthful branch, the Guardian of the Cause of God, as well as the Universal House of Justice to be universally elected and established, are both under the care and protection of the Abhá Beauty, under the shelter and unerring guidance of the Exalted One (may my life be offered up for them both). Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God; whoso disputeth with him hath disputed with God; whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him hath in truth deviated, separated himself and turned aside from God. May the wrath, the fierce indignation, the vengeance of God rest upon him! The mighty stronghold shall remain impregnable and safe through obedience to him who is the Guardian of the Cause of God. It is incumbent upon the members of the House of Justice, upon all the Aghsán, the Afnán, the Hands of the Cause of God to show their obedience, submissiveness and subordination unto the Guardian of the Cause of God, to turn unto him and be lowly before him. He that opposeth him hath opposed the True One, will make a breach in the Cause of God, will subvert His Word and will become a manifestation of the Center of Sedition. Beware, beware, lest the days after the ascension (of Bahá’u’lláh) be repeated when the Center of Sedition waxed haughty and rebellious and with Divine Unity for his excuse deprived himself and perturbed and poisoned others. No doubt every vainglorious one that purposeth dissension and discord will not openly declare his evil purposes, nay rather, even as impure gold, will he seize upon divers measures and various pretexts that he may separate the gathering of the people of Bahá."
In any event, McGlinn seeks to come up with a solution to the problem of a fallible UHJ, that perhaps the UHJ needs to find expert advisors to fill them in on the meaning of the Writings and other things they need to know, McGlinn notes that Baha’u’llah calls upon people to turn to “the learned ones in Baha” but then agonizes over what that might mean, but it is clear that this is something beyond mere secular scholars and experts.
He then quotes Shoghi Effendi to define the learned as the Hands of the Cause of God, and others who have an eminent position in the teaching work. They have no authority other than their persuasive knowledge and integrity, not power. Of course the UHJ should consult with the learned, but this certainly does not solve the problem.
McGlinn hints at “the general opinion of the mass of the believers,” as being an aid to remedy the UHJ’s fallibility, that he will discuss in the future apparently, Of course, the opinion of the mass of believers is certainly in play, since this must inevitably be indirectly reflected in the election of the UHJ by the representatives of the Baha’is.
The Baha’i Administrative Order is intended for a future society in which the mass of the believers will be much more spiritually advanced than we are today, because the effect of a Baha’i system on society will enrich and uplift the entire mass of the believers. It is precisely because a society of spiritually advanced souls having intuitive guidance from a life of prayer, meditation, and service in a spiritually advanced society, there will inevitably arise disputes of interpretation and understanding (since there will always be differences of advancement between individuals). The Guardianship is a beacon of light for such a society since there is an authorized Interpreter to settle disputes between spiritually advanced souls.
The problem for McGlinn and the BIGS is that they have denied the Guardian, and therefore they are deprived of the divine guidance they need.
The question is why are McGlinn and the BIGS trying so hard to find a man-made solution to solve the problem of the incompetence and illegitimacy of their “UHJ”? Why not simply return to the sacred provisions of the Will and Testament of Abdu’l Baha, and turn to the living Guardian of the Cause of God?
“We have a fixed time for you, O peoples. If ye fail, at the appointed hour, to turn towards God, He, verily, will lay violent hold on you, and will cause grievous afflictions to assail you from every direction. How severe, indeed, is the chastisement with which your Lord will then chastise you."(Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 214)