The institution of the Hands of the Cause of God was created by Bahá’u’lláh and formally defined and established by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will and Testament. Under the direction of the Guardian, the functions of the institution were elucidated and elaborated. In due course, Shoghi Effendi brought into being the Auxiliary Boards for the Protection and Propagation of the Faith to serve the work of the Hands of the Cause and to ensure that their vital influence would permeate the Bahá’í community.
With the passing of Shoghi Effendi and the conclusion of the Universal House of Justice that it could not legislate to make possible the appointment of additional Hands of the Cause, it became necessary for it to devise a means of extending into the future the critical functions of protection and propagation vested in these high-ranking officers of the Faith. The first step in this development was taken in November 1964 when the Universal House of Justice clarified its relationship with the institution of the Hands by stating that “responsibility for decisions on matters of general policy affecting the institution of the Hands of the Cause, which was formerly exercised by the beloved Guardian, now devolves upon the Universal House of Justice as the supreme and central institution of the Faith to which all must turn.” At that time, too, the number of Auxiliary Board members was increased, and the Hands of the Cause in each continent were called upon to appoint one or more members of their Auxiliary Boards to act in an executive capacity on their behalf and in their name.
In June 1968 the Continental Boards of Counsellors were brought into being. This momentous decision was accompanied by several developments in the work of the Hands of the Cause: the services of such Hands as were previously assigned to continents became worldwide, each Hand operating individually in direct relationship to the Universal House of Justice; the Hands of the Cause ceased to be responsible for the direction of the Auxiliary Boards, which became auxiliary institutions of the Continental Boards of Counsellors; the Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land were given the task of acting as liaison between the Universal House of Justice and the Boards of Counsellors; and the working interrelationships between the Hands and the Boards of Counsellors were clarified. Reference was also made to the future establishment of an international teaching centre by the Universal House of Justice, with the assistance of the Hands Residing in the Holy Land. The International Teaching Centre was established in June 1973. That same year Auxiliary Board members were authorized to name assistants.
The existence of the institution of the Hands of the Cause, and subsequently of the Counsellors, comprising individuals who play such a vital role in advancing the interests of the Faith, but who have no legislative, executive or judicial authority, and are entirely devoid of priestly functions or the right to make authoritative interpretations, is a feature of Bahá’í administration unparalleled in the religions of the past. Bahá’u’lláh, and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after Him, invested both the elected institutions of the Faith and certain appointed individuals with the functions of protection and propagation.
Referring to the International Teaching Centre, the Universal House of Justice has stated that its establishment brought to fruition the work of the Hands of the Cause Residing in the Holy Land. The Teaching Centre is charged with the tasks of coordinating, stimulating and directing the activities of the Continental Boards of Counsellors and acts as liaison between them and the Universal House of Justice.
In the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice it is stated:
The institution of the Boards of Counsellors was brought into being by the Universal House of Justice to extend into the future the specific functions of protection and propagation conferred upon the Hands of the Cause of God. The members of these Boards are appointed by the Universal House of Justice.
In the same document the two Auxiliary Boards originally established by the beloved Guardian are described:
In each zone there shall be two Auxiliary Boards, one for the protection and one for the propagation of the Faith, the numbers of whose members shall be set by the Universal House of Justice. The members of these Auxiliary Boards shall serve under the direction of the Continental Boards of Counsellors and shall act as their deputies, assistants and advisers.
The International Teaching Centre
The International Teaching Centre has nine members appointed as International Counsellors by the Universal House of Justice from among all the adult believers in the world for a five-year term, each term starting on 23 May immediately following the International Bahá’í Convention. The Hands of the Cause of God have been permanent members of the Teaching Centre ever since its inception.
The work of the Teaching Centre is essentially corporate in character. Its responsibilities call on it to serve as a source of information and analysis for the Universal House of Justice and to provide guidance and resources to the Continental Counsellors. It is required to be fully informed of the situation of the Cause in all parts of the world and alert to possibilities for the expansion of the Faith, the consolidation of its institutions, and the development of Bahá’í community life. It has to analyse these possibilities in relation to global plans, anticipating needs worldwide and ensuring that the necessary resources become available to national communities. In this context, it gives particular attention to the development of human resources, helping communities increase their capacity to endow growing contingents of believers with spiritual insight, knowledge of the Faith, and skills and abilities of service.
The International Teaching Centre is invested with the mandate to watch over the security and ensure the protection of the Faith of God. It must investigate all cases of incipient Covenant-breaking—employing, as necessary, the services of the Continental Counsellors and their auxiliaries and evaluating their reports—and decide whether the offender should be expelled from the Cause, submitting the decision to the Universal House of Justice for its consideration. It follows a similar procedure for the reinstatement of a contrite Covenant-breaker. More broadly, it needs to be attentive to the spiritual health of the Bahá’í community, urging the Counsellors and their auxiliaries to strengthen the believers to resist the influence of both external and internal sources of opposition to the Cause, and to assist National and Local Spiritual Assemblies in resolving questions that could raise doubt about the integrity of the Faith and its Teachings.
The Continental Boards of Counsellors
Presently, five Continental Boards of Counsellors serve the five major regions of the world: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australasia and Europe. The term of office of the Counsellors and the precise boundaries of the region in which each Board operates are fixed by the Universal House of Justice, as is the number on each Board. The term of office—first established to begin on the Day of the Covenant, 26 November 1980—is currently five years.
Counsellors function as such only within the continental area of the Board to which they are appointed; should they move their residence out of that continent, they automatically relinquish their membership. The first obligation of Counsellors is to the work of their own Boards. However, they collaborate with the members of the other Boards who serve adjacent areas, and may carry out specific functions in continents other than their own when asked by the International Teaching Centre or directly by the Universal House of Justice.
Each Board of Counsellors holds a number of meetings during its term of service to consult on the various dimensions of its work in the propagation and protection of the Faith. Certain matters, such as the appointment of Auxiliary Board members and the allocation of funds, are decided by the entire Board. In the performance of other functions—for example, in providing stimulus to different components of the Bahá’í community in a particular zone in the continent—several Counsellors come together to consult and collaborate so that their abilities are used in a complementary fashion. Some duties, including the supervision and guidance of the Auxiliary Board members in an area, are generally performed by one Counsellor on behalf of the Board. In general, it should be borne in mind that, unlike other institutions of the Administrative Order, which must function as corporate bodies, Counsellors operate primarily as individuals. In handling most matters, they each have a wide range of possibilities available to them according to the flexibility inherent in their institution.
Fundamental to the work of the Counsellors is the understanding that all members of the Continental Board bear responsibility for the entire continent and need to familiarize themselves, to the extent possible, with the conditions of the Cause in the countries therein. Through periodic reports from individual Counsellors, the Board is kept abreast of developments in every area of the continent and is able to offer guidance to assist its members in the execution of their duties. Whereas no Counsellor is to be regarded as having exclusive responsibility for any one territory, the detailed familiarity acquired by each through close interaction with the National Spiritual Assembly and Auxiliary Board members in a particular area represents a valuable asset to all the Counsellors on the Board.
The members of the Auxiliary Boards are appointed from among the believers of each continent by the Continental Board of Counsellors for five-year periods beginning on the Day of the Covenant of the year following the appointment of the Counsellors themselves. They should be twenty-one years of age or older. The full membership of the Continental Board makes the appointments in consultation, which, if necessary, can be carried out by mail.
The members of an Auxiliary Board are responsible individually to the Board of Counsellors which appoints them. They do not themselves constitute a decision-making body. However, Auxiliary Board members may confer and collaborate with each other as long as care is taken not to depart from this principle.
Each Auxiliary Board member is assigned a specific territory, and although for practical purposes such a territory may coincide with a particular country or National Assembly area, there is no hard and fast rule that it must do so. Auxiliary Boards are continental institutions, and there need not be any correlation between the boundaries of the territories assigned to their members and national frontiers. Unless specifically deputized by the Counsellors, an Auxiliary Board member does not function as such outside the area to which he or she has been assigned. For obvious reasons, it is preferable for Auxiliary Board members to reside in the area they serve; however, if an area has no suitable candidate for this post, the Counsellors may decide to make an alternative arrangement.
When assigning areas to members of the Auxiliary Boards, the Continental Board of Counsellors ensures that the entire continental area is divided up among the members of each of the two Auxiliary Boards. That is to say, the Bahá’ís of any one locality are to have both a Protection Board member and a Propagation Board member to whom they can refer.
Assistants to Auxiliary Board Members
Each Continental Board of Counsellors authorizes individual Auxiliary Board members to appoint assistants. The correct designation is “assistants to the Auxiliary Board members” and not “assistants to the Auxiliary Board”. An assistant is appointed by an Auxiliary Board member to work in a specified area and functions as an assistant only in relation to that area. Assistants, like Auxiliary Board members, operate as individuals, not as a consultative body.
The duration of service of assistants is left to each Continental Board to decide for itself and need not be universally standardized. Auxiliary Board members may name some assistants for definite terms, others not. Appointments may be made for a limited period, such as a year or two, with the possibility of reappointment. In certain cases a Board of Counsellors may wish to permit Auxiliary Board members to name assistants for a particular project or projects, some of which may be of very short term.
Service on National, Regional and Local Administrative Bodies
All adult Bahá’ís, including Continental Counsellors and members of the Auxiliary Boards, are eligible to vote in elections for delegates or in elections for members of a Local Spiritual Assembly. The rank and specific duties of the Counsellors render them ineligible for service on local, regional or national administrative bodies. Auxiliary Board members are eligible for any elective office but if elected to such a post on a national, regional or local level must decide whether to retain membership on the Board or accept the post as they cannot serve in both capacities at the same time.
Whether elected to a Spiritual Assembly or a Regional Council, or as a delegate to the National Convention, a Board member should be allowed a reasonable length of time to make a choice and should feel no compulsion to decide immediately after the results of the election are announced. Membership on an Auxiliary Board would be regarded as a valid reason for resignation from an elected body.
While the closest relationship is to be fostered between the members of the institution of the Counsellors and the Spiritual Assemblies and their agencies, Auxiliary Board members are not appointed to committees, as voting or non-voting members. Certain agencies such as an Association for Bahá’í Studies, or a committee responsible for some aspect of social and economic development, which require professional expertise in their members, fall in a different category. Counsellors or Board members with the necessary professional skills may serve on these boards and committees, provided, of course, that such service does not interfere with their duties. By the same token, an Auxiliary Board member may have an employer/employee relationship with a National Spiritual Assembly, for example, as a public relations officer or as the administrator of an establishment belonging to the Assembly. It is also possible for a Counsellor to represent the interests of the Bahá’í community in relations with the authorities of a country on behalf of the National Assembly.
Intimate involvement in institute operations is a part of the evolving functions of Auxiliary Board members and, therefore, they may serve on boards or committees that oversee the affairs of training institutes. In serving as a member of such a body, an Auxiliary Board member has no consultative or decision-making privileges different from those of the other members. The participation of Auxiliary Board members in the institute work, of course, is not limited to membership on the boards of directors; many also serve as coordinators and act as teachers.
A National Spiritual Assembly, national committee, Regional Council or Local Spiritual Assembly may directly request an Auxiliary Board member, as it would any other believer, to perform such tasks as offering a course at a summer school or speaking at a conference. It is left to the discretion of the Board member to determine whether fulfilling the request would interfere with other commitments.
Believers can serve at the same time both as assistants to Auxiliary Board members and on Local and National Assemblies, Regional Councils and committees, and function as their officers. Thus, the appointment of a believer as a Board member’s assistant does not require the resignation of that person from other administrative bodies, nor does it, in and of itself, constitute a reason for accepting such a resignation. If an individual believes that there is a special reason for not accepting appointment as an assistant, he or she is, of course, free to draw the matter to the attention of the Auxiliary Board member concerned or to consult with the Spiritual Assembly.
Duties of the Continental Counsellors and Their Auxiliaries
The Continental Boards of Counsellors and National Spiritual Assemblies both have specific functions relating to the protection and propagation of the Faith. The duties of the Counsellors include directing the Auxiliary Board members, consulting and collaborating with National Spiritual Assemblies, and keeping the International Teaching Centre and thus the Universal House of Justice informed about the conditions of the Cause in their areas.
Counsellors have the duty to stimulate on each continent the expansion and consolidation of the Faith and to promote the spiritual, intellectual, and social aspects of Bahá’í life. The spiritual health of the community and the vitality of the faith of the individual, the strengthening of the foundations of family life, and the study of the Teachings receive special attention from the Counsellors and those called upon to assist them. They are likewise concerned with enhancing the capacity of the friends and their institutions to devise systematic plans of action, to execute them energetically, and to learn from experience in the course of building the world civilization envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh. In this context, promoting a culture of growth within the Bahá’í community is fundamental to the work of the Counsellors.
The Auxiliary Boards for Protection and Propagation have distinct functions. They do have certain tasks in common, however, especially in the area of deepening and consolidation. From the outset, the Guardian envisioned that the Auxiliary Boards would assist the Hands “in the discharge of their dual and sacred task of safeguarding the Faith and of promoting its teaching activities.” Among the tasks defined by the Guardian for the Auxiliary Board members are: to stimulate and strengthen the teaching work in cooperation with existing administrative bodies; to help activate weak centres, groups and Assemblies through their visits; to assist in the efficient and prompt execution of plans; to keep in touch with pioneers, helping them to persevere and pointing out to them the sacredness of their responsibility; to encourage individuals and Assemblies through correspondence and through visits; to impress upon the believers that the foundation of all Bahá’í activity is unity; to encourage the friends to contribute freely to the various Funds; and to bring to their attention the importance of individual effort and initiative. Further, Shoghi Effendi assigned to the Protection Board the specific duty of watching over the security of the Faith. Members of the Auxiliary Board for Protection, as experience shows, also assist in propagating the Cause, but focus much of their energies on deepening the friends’ knowledge of the Covenant and fostering a spirit of love and unity. Their efforts contribute significantly to the growth of the Bahá’í community, for the protection of the Faith is intimately linked to its propagation.
The flexibility and ease with which the Counsellors and Auxiliary Board members can respond to a perceived need in the community—such as the need for encouragement, explanation of plans, deepening in the Teachings, protection of the Covenant—are notable elements of their functioning. This flexibility enables them to operate as occasions demand, whether it is in giving counsel at a meeting, advising an individual in private, helping the friends to understand and obey a ruling of the Spiritual Assembly, or dealing with issues of the Covenant. In all these settings they are able to draw attention to relevant Texts, to impart information, explore situations, and acquaint themselves with conditions in ways not always possible to a Spiritual Assembly. They are able then to share with Spiritual Assemblies, as deemed necessary, ideas, analyses, perceptions and advice, which inevitably enhance the ability of these Assemblies to serve their communities. Where Local Assemblies are new or weak, Auxiliary Board members encourage them to organize their work. In all cases, they rally the local believers in support of the Assembly’s initiatives.
As to the role of the assistants, they have the general responsibility of aiding the Auxiliary Board members to carry out their functions. The nature of their contribution, however, is reflected in the range of specific tasks assigned to each by the Auxiliary Board member whom he or she assists. The precise character of such tasks is determined by the Board member’s perception of the needs and potential of the communities that he or she serves, and it is in this context, for the most part, that the orientation and guidance of assistants become significant.
Collaboration with National Spiritual Assemblies
The relationship of the Continental Boards of Counsellors to National Spiritual Assemblies is one of loving cooperation between two institutions of the Faith that are serving the same ends and are eager to see the same divine confirmations descend upon the efforts of the friends to promote and firmly establish the Cause. It is an evolving relationship that becomes richer as the two institutions face the challenge of building Bahá’í communities and witness with pride the onward march of the Faith.
As Continental Counsellors and National Spiritual Assemblies work together to ensure the expansion and consolidation of the community, the National Assemblies make all the necessary executive decisions and take responsibility for their implementation. The Counsellors bring to their functions a continental perspective which, when offered to the Assembly in the form of counsel, advice, recommendations, suggestions or commentary, enriches the latter’s understanding, acquaints it with a broader experience than its own, and encourages it to maintain a world-embracing vision.
As appointees of the Universal House of Justice, the Counsellors assist the Head of the Faith to broaden the base, foster the strength and ensure the security of the National Spiritual Assemblies and the institutions and communities under their jurisdiction. Through the Auxiliary Boards, the Counsellors spread the benefits of their functions to the Local Spiritual Assemblies and the grassroots of the community.
The Counsellors, in the discharge of their responsibilities, support the initiatives adopted by a National Spiritual Assembly, initiatives that often arise from joint deliberations of the two institutions. The Auxiliary Board members explain to the friends the nature and purpose of these initiatives, motivate them to rise and respond to the call of the Assembly, and encourage them to persist in unified action. The Counsellors, of course, have a wide latitude in determining in what manner their institution will carry out these tasks.
A crucial feature of the work of the Counsellors that enables them to offer valuable advice to the National Spiritual Assemblies is their aloofness from administrative details, a freedom that allows them to concentrate on the vital issues of the Cause. Care must be exercised, however, that this aloofness does not give rise to extreme situations. Counsellors should not become inhibited from expressing their views to the National Spiritual Assemblies on administrative matters, and National Spiritual Assemblies should not feel restricted in availing themselves of the opportunity of consulting the Counsellors on such issues.
The Counsellors have not only the right but the obligation to deliberate with, advise, and offer suggestions to the National Spiritual Assemblies in the discharge of their specific functions. They alert National Assemblies to any problems or tendencies in the Bahá’í community which they feel require attention. Their concern in this respect extends to the very functioning of the National Assemblies. If the Counsellors notice serious departures from administrative or other principles in the work of a National Spiritual Assembly or its agencies, they are to consult with the Assembly about the matter and suggest corrective action. This they must do irrespective of any apprehension that such a step might give rise to tension between the two institutions.
The attitude of the Counsellors and the National Spiritual Assemblies towards each other is not motivated by a legalistic application of the rules of their functional relationship. The discharge of joint responsibilities is only possible within the framework of the spiritual requisites for all successful Bahá’í relationships. Interactions between the two institutions flourish in an atmosphere of love and according to the dictates of genuine respect. Bahá’u’lláh’s admonition is highly instructive in this regard; He says: “Abase not the station of the learned in Bahá and belittle not the rank of such rulers as administer justice amidst you.”
The manner in which interactions between the Continental Counsellors and their auxiliaries, on the one hand, and National Assemblies and their agencies, on the other, take place is regulated in order to maintain dynamic interdependence. Just as Counsellors have direct consultative relations with National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, so do they have direct relations with Regional Bahá’í Councils. Counsellors can deputize an Auxiliary Board member to meet with a National Spiritual Assembly for a particular purpose, but not as a regular practice. They can also authorize the Board members to meet with Regional Councils as needs dictate. National and Local Spiritual Assemblies cannot give any directions to Auxiliary Board members, much as they depend upon their vital services. If a National Spiritual Assembly wishes an Auxiliary Board member to undertake a specific service as a Board member, it must convey its request to the Counsellors. With the approval of the Counsellors, Regional Councils may seek the views of Auxiliary Board members serving their regions on all aspects of their work. If the National Spiritual Assembly agrees, it may also be advisable from time to time for an Auxiliary Board member to meet with a national committee to consult on the situation in an area. But this, too, should not be done on a regular basis. Counsellors for their part do not normally communicate directly with national committees.
These few limitations on the mode of interaction enhance collaboration between the institution of the Counsellors and Spiritual Assemblies. They ensure that the energies and time of the Auxiliary Board members are not diffused as a result of their engagement in the administration of teaching. Thus, the dangers of two extreme situations are avoided: one in which the Auxiliary Board member gradually takes over the direction of a national committee, and the other whereby he or she is sent hither and thither at the direction of the committee or the Assembly as a mere travelling teacher.
The effective discharge of their responsibilities by both the Counsellors and the National Spiritual Assemblies calls for regular and frequent exchange of information. The National Spiritual Assembly is in contact with all the elements of its community through national committees, Regional Councils, Local Spiritual Assemblies, and other agencies. The Auxiliary Board members also have direct contact with Local Spiritual Assemblies, groups, and individual believers and thus keep current with developments in the community. Naturally, both institutions welcome all the information that they regularly receive from each other. Direct exchange of information between National Assemblies or their committees and the Auxiliary Board members is highly desirable. Reports that contain only news and information can be shared freely among them. However, recommendations by a Board member requiring action by a National Assembly or its agencies need to be referred to the Counsellors, who may share them in their entirety with the National Assembly, or modify or reject them.
At the outset of the work of the year or at times when new plans are being formulated, it is often useful to arrange for consultations between the Auxiliary Board members and the National or Regional Teaching Committees or Regional Councils before these plans are given final definition. A highly fruitful practice has developed in many parts of the world whereby members of a number of institutions and agencies of a country, or a region thereof, come together in a meeting of consultation to reach a common vision for the growth of their community and discuss strategies for action. These “institutional meetings” help to steer the friends away from thinking merely in terms of the mechanics of projects and to infuse their plans and subsequent action with the spirit of the Faith. They do much to reinforce the confidence of the institutions in devising the teaching strategies that will best serve the needs of their respective regions and in mobilizing the support of the Local Assemblies and the believers.
Regular contact with Local Spiritual Assemblies in the area assigned to an Auxiliary Board member is an indispensable requirement of his or her functioning. In most areas, frequent consultations are only possible through assistants. The nature of these consultations, of course, depends on the tasks that the assistant is carrying out on behalf of the Auxiliary Board member.
Involvement in the operation of a training institute, by both Counsellors and Auxiliary Board members, has to be considered in a special light. Institutes are regarded as centres of learning, and their character harmonizes with, and provides scope for the exercise of, the educational responsibilities of the Auxiliary Board members. These centres offer the Counsellors and Board members immediate access to a formal means of educating the believers, in addition to other avenues available to them such as conferences, summer schools, and meetings with the friends. The Counsellors and National Spiritual Assemblies need to consult on the details of their collaboration in overseeing the budgets and the functioning of training institutes and in planning programme content, developing curricula, and delivering courses. When a board of directors is named, its membership is decided upon by the National Spiritual Assembly in consultation with the Counsellors and with their full support
The Individual and the Community
The authority to direct the affairs of the Faith locally, nationally and internationally is divinely conferred on elected institutions. The power to act, however, resides primarily in the entire body of the believers. This power is unlocked at the level of individual initiative and at the level of collective volition. If the Cause is to realize Bahá’u’lláh’s purpose for humankind, every institution of the Faith must be concerned with the release of power in both these expressions, as they are with ensuring the wise administration of the community’s affairs. The institution of the Counsellors is particularly charged with this vital task and is endowed with the capacity to accomplish it.
A distinguishing characteristic of Bahá’í life is the spirit of servitude to God. To labour in the arena of service, the individual draws upon his love for Bahá’u’lláh, the power of the Covenant, the dynamics of prayer, the inspiration and education derived from regular study of the Holy Texts, and the transformative forces that operate upon his soul as he strives to behave in accordance with the divine laws and principles. Therefore, these are all themes of an ongoing relationship between the Auxiliary Board members and the believers.
The role of the individual is of unique importance in the work of the Cause. It is the individual who manifests the vitality of faith upon which the success of the teaching work and the development of the community depends. Bahá’u’lláh’s command to each believer to teach His Faith confers an inescapable responsibility which cannot be transferred to, or assumed by, any institution of the Cause. It is incumbent upon the individual to seize opportunities, form friendships, build relationships, and win the cooperation of others in common service to the Faith and society. The individual must convert into action the decisions made by consultative bodies.
Stimulating individual initiative is one of the paramount duties of the Auxiliary Board members, a duty they can perform with the help of assistants they must carefully select, train and nurture. It involves constant encouragement of the friends, evoking the valour of the heroes of the Faith and bringing to their attention the importance of exemplifying in their lives the glory of the Teachings. It calls for fervent and moving appeals to the believers to be the cause of unity and harmony at all times, to attract receptive souls to the Cause, to teach them, nourish their faith and lead them to the shores of certitude. It requires building confidence and changing fear and hesitation into courage and perseverance. It asks of the Board members and those they serve alike to forget their own weaknesses and fix their reliance on the power of divine confirmations. Further, it implies accompanying the friends in their endeavours as they develop the capabilities of effective service.
The role of the training institute in the development of these capabilities can hardly be overemphasized. The Auxiliary Board members are to use this powerful instrument to change passive acceptance of the Faith into a passion for teaching. As they generate enthusiasm, they need to help guide it into channels of systematic endeavour. It is in this context of systematic action that fostering sound individual initiative and promoting united collective action become two complementary aims ever engaging the Auxiliary Board member.
One of the greatest challenges before all the institutions of the Faith during this Formative Age is the development of local communities, communities that are characterized by tolerance and love and guided by a strong sense of purpose and a collective will. It is these communities that serve as the environment in which the capacities of all components—men, women, youth and children—are developed and their powers are multiplied in unified action.
At the heart of the community must function a strong Local Spiritual Assembly. When a community is blessed with such an institution, the earnest collaboration between the Auxiliary Board members and the Local Assembly generates the dynamics of a joyous and active life conducive to spiritual transformation and systematic growth. Together, while each works within the sphere of activity assigned to it, these institutions create an atmosphere of learning and disciplined behaviour, characterized by patience and forbearance toward mistakes. They build and maintain unity of thought and action in an environment free of excessive criticism, of backbiting, of conflict and contention, which at the same time welcomes the expression of concern on the part of every believer. Through wise counsel and loving support, they educate the friends to hearken to the Assembly’s decisions and to align their behaviour with the exigencies of harmonious community life.
An essential feature of the culture that the two institutions strive to create is a transformed attitude towards material means. Bahá’í life, whether individual or collective, should be marked by generosity of spirit. The Auxiliary Board members promote this spirit as they educate the members of the community about the funds of the Faith, instilling in them the desire to give sacrificially and helping them to experience its liberating effects.
Both the Auxiliary Board member for Protection and the Auxiliary Board member for Propagation take it upon themselves to ensure that proper attention is devoted to the various components of the community. They see to it that current impediments to the full participation of women in the larger society are, one by one, removed from the Bahá’í community. They nurture the habits of scholarship among the friends and the spirit of tolerance that it needs in order to flourish. They keep before everyone’s eyes the imperative of the spiritual education of children and do everything in their power to help establish and maintain regular classes for the children. And, with complete confidence in the capacity of youth for heroic service to the Cause, they assist them in realizing their full potential as vital agents for the expansion of the Faith and the transformation of society.
It is clear that such a formidable set of responsibilities cannot be discharged properly by one or two individuals in relation to a growing number of local communities. It is here that the significance of the freedom given the Auxiliary Board members to name assistants for a wide variety of tasks, to direct them and to lovingly supervise their activities becomes evident. Oftentimes, the work of the Board members is not carried out in the context of communities that enjoy the leadership of a mature Spiritual Assembly. In a community where the Local Assembly is at the very early stages of its development, the role of the assistants in promoting the establishment of study groups, devotional meetings, classes for the spiritual education of children, and the Nineteen Day Feast is even more crucial. Further, the Auxiliary Board members give attention to strengthening the Local Spiritual Assemblies, helping them to master the art of consultation, to gain confidence in making decisions, to adhere courageously to principle, and to learn how to mobilize the friends in unified action.
This challenging conception of the work of the Auxiliary Board members calls for a fundamental departure from limited assumptions about social order which, in the world today, determine administrative theory and practice. For it aspires to infuse every act, individual and collective, with spiritual meaning. It places the sacred at the heart of community life, making it the focus of all reflection on activity. Great indeed is the power latent in any unified Bahá’í community no matter how small it may initially be, no matter how meager the resources available to it. Great, too, are the confirmations that descend on the Auxiliary Board members and their assistants as they selflessly dedicate themselves to releasing this power.
Formulation and Implementation of Plans
With the opening of the fourth epoch of the Formative Age, a procedure was activated whereby national plans are formulated in joint consultation between National Spiritual Assemblies and Continental Counsellors. This development ensures two significant benefits:
It enables each institution to draw on the experience and insight particular to the other, thereby making available to the planning process two distinct channels of information from two levels of Bahá’í administration; and it also assures to the Counsellors a necessary familiarity with the background, rationale, and content of national plans, which as a matter of principle they are expected to support.
Creating a national plan involves far more than consultation between the Counsellors and the National Assembly. Excellent results can be achieved, for example, by holding consultative meetings among the various institutions in a country and with the active supporters of the Faith to discuss fully the possible provisions of the plan and their implications. Once the major elements of the national plan have been identified, it is desirable for the planning process to move quickly to the regional level, and subsequently to the level of smaller areas and finally to the local community. The balance that can be achieved in this process between nationally sponsored campaigns and grassroots efforts is a necessary condition for success.
National plans, formulated in the context of the global plans of the Faith, serve as the framework within which the friends can undertake action. Through them, National Assemblies not only set goals to be pursued by themselves and their agencies, but also give direction to the believers, define for them priorities and areas of action, and elicit from them wholehearted response to the directives of the Universal House of Justice. Accordingly, they adopt measures to provide resources—literature, pioneers and travelling teachers, regional and national events, and funds as required—to support the initiatives of the friends.
The plans of action that Regional Councils, Area Teaching Committees and Local Spiritual Assemblies devise in the ensuing process need to go beyond the mere enumeration of goals to include an analysis of approaches to be adopted and lines of action to be followed. Indeed, at this level, planning and implementation must go hand in hand. If learning is to be the primary mode of operation in a community, then visions, strategies, goals and methods have to be re-examined time and again. As tasks are accomplished, obstacles removed, resources multiplied and lessons learned, modifications have to be made in goals and approaches, but in a way that continuity of action is maintained.
The involvement of the Auxiliary Board members in this process of design and implementation is multifaceted. They contribute to deliberations in which the worldwide aims and accomplishments of the Faith are analysed, the condition of society and the forces operating within it are examined, opportunities and needs are detected. They bring their knowledge of the Faith to bear on consultations that generate shared vision and strategies for growth. Their familiarity with the friends and their talents, particularly as these are developed through the efforts of the training institute, enables them to draw attention to the characteristics of plans of action that are realistic and within the grasp of the believers. The network of assistants they each can name provides them with the means for stimulating activity at the local level and following it to completion. And above all, the love and respect in which they are held create for them the opportunity to act as standard-bearers and lead the community in action.
Occupied as it is in the promotion of spiritual and material civilization, the institution of the Counsellors is naturally concerned with the multiplication and management of material means. The Counsellors have a keen interest in all the funds of the Faith, and the Auxiliary Board members make every effort to educate the believers, new and old, on the spiritual significance of contributing to the Fund. They also help develop in the various institutions and agencies of the community the capacity to expend funds in a judicious and effective manner. When a National Assembly requires subsidy from the Bahá’í International Fund to meet its annual expenses, the Universal House of Justice asks for the comments of a Counsellor who works closely with that Assembly. The Counsellors also have at their disposal a number of subvention funds which enable them to supplement the finances of National Spiritual Assemblies when there are special needs or opportunities that cannot otherwise be met.
As to the expenses of the institution itself, in a message dated 6 April 1954, the Guardian called for the initiation of five Continental Bahá’í Funds. These Funds, now well established, support the activities of the Counsellors and their auxiliaries—their travels and their administrative expenses—and are managed each by one member of the Board appointed the Trustee of the Continental Fund by the Universal House of Justice.
One of the inestimable bounties of contributing to the funds of the Faith is the opportunity it provides to respond to the call of Bahá’u’lláh to deputize others who may teach in one’s stead. Deputization funds have been established at all levels—local, national and international—to provide a link between those wishing to deputize and those eager to arise and serve in the teaching field. The International Deputization Fund is administered by the International Teaching Centre, which receives recommendations from the Continental Counsellors with respect to its allocation. In its 1996 Riḍván message, the Universal House of Justice stated that deputizing a teacher serving a training institute is one means of fulfilling such responsibility, and it opened up the possibility of contributing through the Continental Fund for this purpose. Auxiliary Board members and their assistants who operate at the grassroots of the community are in an ideal position to motivate the believers to respond to the call for deputization and to provide them with detailed information about current needs, making their presentations immediately relevant to the interest of the friends.
The pivot of the oneness of humankind is the power of the Covenant, and this power quickens every distinguishing element of Bahá’í life. It is in the context of this unique characteristic of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation that the institution of the Counsellors approaches its sacred duty to protect the Faith. Auxiliary Board members, particularly those assigned to protection, have to be ever conscious of the imperative need for a centre on which all must focus: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the Centre of the Covenant and His designated successors, the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice.
In discharging their obligations related to protection, the Counsellors and Auxiliary Board members endeavour to nourish the roots of certitude, fan the flame of an all-embracing love in the hearts of the friends, combat the age-old habit of conflict and contention and fortify bonds of friendship and unity, promote adherence to principle and the ethical standards enshrined in the Teachings, raise the believers’ sight above the limitations of self-centredness that they may dedicate their energies to the welfare of the human race, and strengthen their allegiance to the Order of Bahá’u’lláh. Helping the believers to meet high moral standards does not require prying into their private lives. The nature of this responsibility is essentially educative. The loving advice Board members offer Local Assemblies, on the one hand, and the warm fellowship they and their assistants cultivate with the friends, on the other, are ready means through which they are able to advance this educational process. The cumulative effect of these efforts, combined with the benefits the friends derive from formal courses, for instance those offered by the training institute, contributes greatly to the creation of healthy and vibrant local communities. This educational process includes the imposition of sanctions by the Spiritual Assemblies, whenever it becomes absolutely necessary. In such cases the advice of the Counsellors and Auxiliary Board members to the Assembly can be of particular value.
Although deepening the friends’ understanding of the Covenant and increasing their love and loyalty to it are of paramount importance, the duties of the Auxiliary Board members for Protection do not end here. The Board members must remain ever vigilant, monitoring the actions of those who, driven by the promptings of ego, seek to sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of the friends and undermine the Faith. In general, whenever believers become aware of such problems, they should immediately contact whatever institution they feel moved to turn to, whether it be a Counsellor, an Auxiliary Board member, the National Spiritual Assembly or their own Local Assembly. It then becomes the duty of that institution to ensure that the report is fed into the correct channels and that all the other institutions affected are promptly informed. Not infrequently, the responsibility will fall on an Auxiliary Board member, in coordination with the Assembly concerned, to take some form of action in response to the situation. This involvement will include counselling the believer in question; warning him, if necessary, of the consequences of his actions; and bringing to the attention of the Counsellors the gravity of the situation, which may call for their intervention. Naturally, the Board member has to exert every effort to counteract the schemes and arrest the spread of the influence of those few who, despite attempts to guide them, eventually break the Covenant.
The need to protect the Faith from the attacks of its enemies may not be generally appreciated by the friends, particularly in places where attacks have been infrequent. However, it is certain that such opposition will increase, become concerted, and eventually universal. The writings clearly foreshadow not only an intensification of the machinations of internal enemies, but a rise in the hostility and opposition of its external enemies, whether religious or secular, as the Cause pursues its onward march towards ultimate victory. Therefore, in the light of the warnings of the Guardian, the Auxiliary Boards for Protection should keep “constantly” a “watchful eye” on those “who are known to be enemies, or to have been put out of the Faith”, discreetly investigate their activities, alert intelligently the friends to the opposition inevitably to come, explain how each crisis in God’s Faith has always proved to be a blessing in disguise, and prepare them for the “dire contest which is destined to range the Army of Light against the forces of darkness”.
Coordination and the Provision of Resources
The work of the Counsellors and their deputies is distinguished by the complementarity and interplay of two capacities. On the one hand, the members of this institution have the latitude as individuals to observe, to analyse, to arrive at conclusions, and to formulate advice to others and plans of action for themselves. On the other hand, the worldwide activity of these officers of the Faith displays a coherence that is in consonance with the continual guidance of the Universal House of Justice. This coherence is achieved through ongoing interaction between the Continental Counsellors and the International Teaching Centre.
In coordinating, stimulating and directing the Continental Boards of Counsellors, the Teaching Centre makes available to them a number of resources. These include the services of individuals with specific expertise, as well as several funds—for deputizing pioneers and travelling teachers, for subsidizing literature, for assisting teaching projects and growth programmes, for supporting the operations of training institutes—which the Teaching Centre allocates either directly for a project or in lump sums to be expended at the discretion of the Boards of Counsellors. The provision of these resources enables the institution of the Counsellors to assist the believers to respond to the exigencies of a dynamic and expanding community.
A resource made available to the Counsellors by the International Teaching Centre and through them to the community at large is an accumulating store of wisdom born of experience—the experience of a highly diverse community dedicated to the creation of a new civilization. Through the network of Counsellors, Auxiliary Board members and assistants, the Teaching Centre can observe the workings of individual and collective endeavours, analysing their methods and approaches, and introducing the conclusions it draws into the processes of the systematic growth of the Faith. Thus in the institution of the Counsellors we have a system through which the lessons learned in the remotest spots on the globe can be shared with the entire body of the believers, enriching consultation, stimulating experimentation and inspiring confidence that the great enterprise in which the Bahá’í world is engaged is assured of success.