The Theology of Church and State in the Bahá'í Order:
Analytical Foundations for a Rational Synthesis of Scientific, Traditional, and Religious Cosmologies

By Sen McGlinn

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #9
Bahá'í National Center: Wilmette, Illinois, USA
March 29 – April 1, 1996
(see list of papers from #9)

    Because the Bahá'í Faith offers a definite model for both the political and spiritual transformation of the human world, it is liable to be criticized and evenfeared on the sensitive issue of the ideal relation that it proposes between religious and political institutions. The question is made even more current by the republication, in the framework of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, of Bahá'u'lláh's statement that: "All matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice ..."1

    Will the Bahá'ís eventually set up a church state? The widespread fear of any political system run on religious principles, and the present growth of the Faith, make it essential that the Bahá'í teachings on this be better understood. We also need to understand the theory behind our relationship with the state in general. Is the civil state no more than a temporary, perhaps necessary evil? Or is it an institution mandated by God? Is the principle of obedience to the civil authorities which at present governs our behavior a short-term tactic adopted during the period in which we have no political power, or a permanent principle?

    This paper will approach this question by making a broad survey of the principles involved as we find them in the Bahá'í writings. I have selected three 'landmarks' which are easily memorable and which seem to me to sum up the fundamental principles involved:
    1. Shoghi Effendi said that the Bahá'ís should not allow their Bahá'í administration to supersede national governments.2

    2. Bahá'u'lláh says that God has given the task of government to kings and rulers, while the cities of men's hearts are reserved for God.3

    3. The civil and religious administrations of a Bahá'í social order are distinct but not separate: they are organs of one body, whose distinct natures are required so that they can work together in a 'harmony of forces'.4
    My selection of these points as typifying the relationship between church and state will be justified with an analysis of is the "pattern of the New World Order." The administrative order is an organic system, characterized by division into separate organs, each with its own intrinsic nature and mode of operation, and each organ requiring the others. This conception of organic unity will then be applied to the relationship between state institutions and the Bahá'í Administrative Order, and the divine charter of government will be briefly outlined.

    1. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book, page 9 1, also in the "Eighth Ishraq," Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 128.

    2. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 66: "Theirs is not the purpose, _to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country's constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries."

    3. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CXV, "The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings... That which He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men's hearts..."

    4. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, pp. 14-15: "This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them. The legislative body must reinforce the executive, the executive must aid and assist the legislative body so that through the close union and harmony of these two forces, the foundation of fairness and justice may become firm and strong..."

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