Greenbelt Interfaith News
    Washington News

    December 1997

    American Bahá'í Elections Mark New Era in the Faith
    By Heather Elizabeth Peterson
    Greenbelt Interfaith News

    On the anniversary of the birth of their prophet-founder, Bahá'u'lláh, Bahá'ís in the Washington area joined other American Bahá'ís in taking the next step in what they perceive as the formation of a divinely planned world order.

    To an outsider wandering into the home of Jerry and Trish Cott in College Park, Maryland, the meeting of four local Bahá'í communities would have appeared to be concerned with a mundane matter: the election of representatives to a regional council of the southern states. The November 11 elections in the United States were scheduled in order to create new regional councils to serve as intermediary bodies between national and local spiritual assemblies (elected administrative bodies having nine members). But to the Bahá'ís gathered in College Park, the event had more profound significance. Bahá'ís throughout the world believe that their government will eventually serve as the nucleus of a world order that will bring about universal peace. Thus the elections are seen by members of the faith as an important development, not only in their own government, but in the government of the world.

    James Sturdivant, chairman of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Greenbelt, observed afterwards that "as the hearts of the people are transformed by Bahá'u'lláh, we expect the impact to be global. The faith of Bahá'u'lláh will spread to the entire planet, whereas in the past, religious faiths have spread only to a region and not to the entire world. As an integral part, a world government will emerge which will herald the advent and lead to the establishment of a world order." He likened the worldwide spread of the Bahá'í Faith to the manner in which Christianity spread to the whole of the Roman Empire.

    The elections at the Cotts' house fell upon the Bahá'í holy day of the Birth of Bahá'u'lláh, which started at sundown on November 11, and took place through what the Bahá'ís described as "secret and sacred ballots." Following a worship service consisting of readings from sacred writings, prayers, and music, each community's local spiritual assembly departed to an individual room to vote; the remainder of each community, as well as members of other Bahá'í communities that are not large enough to elect assemblies, remained in the Cotts' family room.

    "College Park is going to meet in the office upstairs, and I think they're going to need to take about four chairs with them," said Jerry Cott. "Downstairs in the basement will be Prince George's County North; I think there's enough chairs down there for you now. Greenbelt, the office next to the front door, and Montgomery County East, the living room."

    Most of those left in the family room were children or young adults; they prayed in English and Persian and Arabic, through prayer books or through memory, reciting the prayers or chanting them. In the meantime, the assembly members, who came prepared with lists of names, prayed, briefly discussed the procedure, and voted independently for nine council members; the whole process took half an hour.

    Gradually, the assemblies returned to the family room; only one assembly continued to vote. "Does anyone know a song?" someone asked.

    Someone else replied, to much laughter, "How about that famous Bahá'í song, 'Bringing the Assembly from the Basement'?"

    The final assembly returned, and a trumpet fanfare was sounded to celebrate what one Bahá'í representative described as an event "portending changes of incomparable magnitude." But to many of the Bahá'ís present, it was merely business as usual – business, that is, done in their own unique manner.

    James Fischer, secretary of the Greenbelt assembly, said afterwards that the process of election was as important as the election itself. No nominations or electioneering take place in Bahá'í elections, he pointed out, and this influences what type of people are selected. "We will be picking people who are very capable but very humble," he said. "That's the Bahá'í process."

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    © 1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson
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