A primer on unit convention consultation

When a Durham, North Carolina, believer expressed dismay that unit convention attendees had not been encouraged to offer ideas for the elected delegate to carry to National Convention, the Local Spiritual Assembly responded with a letter to the believer.

For its concepts and language, the Durham Assembly drew on guidance from the Unit Convention Planning Guide, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies and compilations from the Bahá’í World Center. It also included quotations from Shoghi Effendi that have not been reproduced here.

The letter, in part, reads:

“… there are some principles we wish to share with you that may clarify certain principles that govern Bahá’í conventions. ...

“Recommendations that come from electors attending the unit convention are directed to Bahá’í institutions and not to delegates. They are for the National Spiritual Assembly and the Regional Bahá’í Council. Recommendations are sent directly to the National Spiritual Assembly in the unit convention secretary’s report and minutes, thereby avoiding a six-month delay until the National Convention is held. The Unit Convention Planning Guide from the National Spiritual Assembly also directs the convention secretary to send to any Local Spiritual Assemblies any suggestions or recommendations that apply to them. …

“Elected Bahá’í representatives, whether as members of Assemblies or as delegates, do not receive their mandate from those who elect them. This is a new characteristic of Bahá’í Administration that varies significantly from current forms of democratic governments. …

“A corresponding principle is that elected delegates have unrestricted freedom to exercise their right to consult on matters and issues based on their own conscience and prayerful reflections. This unrestricted freedom allows for delegates to function independently ... and frees them from limitations on what they can contribute during the consultation at the National Convention. Just as the consultation from delegates at National Convention is advisory in nature and not binding on the National Spiritual Assembly, the consultation at unit convention is similar; while it informs the elected representatives or delegates, it is not binding. …

“Of course, another principle governs the relationship between those elected and those who elect them: elected representatives should engage, consult open-mindedly with and not stand aloof from those who have elected them; loving service is the underlying attitude of those elected. The Guardian describes the spirit of unity and service required by those who are elected to serve on Assemblies, the spirit of which might be applied to any elected Bahá’í role. …

“[Aside from] … conventions, Bahá’í Administration encourages recommendations to the National Spiritual Assembly, and other institutions, at any time from any individual or community [such as through] the Nineteen Day Feast. … The friends are not limited in any way from communicating with the National Spiritual Assembly. …

“Finally, although 171 delegates can be seated at National Convention there is no guarantee all delegates can address their comments to the Convention. Even if a delegate were to bring an issue from her/his unit convention, though not obliged to do so, she/he may not have the opportunity to share it with the body of delegates. ... To accommodate this reality, there is a delegate computer center in Foundation Hall for delegates to write their suggestions to the National Spiritual Assembly. Many delegates utilize this form to communicate their views, thoughts and suggestions to the National Spiritual Assembly ..., and these suggestions are sent directly to the National Spiritual Assembly. …”

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