Friday, July 9, 2010

The Great Importance of Shunning Covenant-breakers



And now, one of the greatest and most fundamental principles of the Cause of God is to shun and avoid entirely the Covenant-breakers, for they will utterly destroy the Cause of God, exterminate His Law and render of no account all efforts exerted in the past.  (The Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 20)

A unique feature of the Baha'i Faith is that the successorship--the leadership following the passing of the Founder of the Faith--is written, clear, and unmistakable.  Since the whole function of the Baha'i Faith is to unite the human race, the instrument of unity cannot itself be allowed to fragment.  The "Covenant"--the written declaration of the Successorship--maintains the unity of the Baha'i community, preventing pretenders to leadership, termed "Covenant-breakers," from dividing and misleading the community.  In His Last Tablet to America Abdu'l-Baha repeatedly calls on the Baha'is to entirely shun the company of the violators of the Covenant.  Though in general shunning of others is contrary to the spirit of the Baha'i teachings, in this one instance it is called for, and it has succeeded in maintaining the unity and integrity of the Baha'i community.  In the course of this lengthy and emphatic tablet, He quotes extensively from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, and also includes a verse from the Gospel in which Jesus commanded His followers to sever their hands and pluck out their eyes if they “offend” them.

What does Jesus Christ mean, when He counsels His believers to pluck out their eyes, and sever their hands?  In the Gospel of Matthew, his words are recorded:

But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. (Matthew 18:6-9)

The Greek word here translated as “offend” is skandalon, which is a type of animal trap, and literally means to trap or trip up, and, according to Strong's Bible Concordance figuratively means to entice to sin or apostasy.

Growing up as a Catholic, I understood this verse to be an admonition to not allow the gifts of God to become an enticement to lead us astray.

There is another meaning, another kind of “cutting off” of hands, that Abdu'l-Baha uses:  Removing from the life of the community—shunning—those who would mislead the people.  Quoting Baha'u'llah, He writes:

Again He says: "Say, O my friend and my pure ones! Listen to the Voice of this Beloved Prisoner in this Great Prison. If you detect in any man the least perceptible breath of violation, shun him and keep away from him." Then He says: "Verily, they are manifestations of Satan."
     In another Tablet, He says: "And turn your faces to the Great Countenance for before long the foul odors of the wicked persons will pass over these regions. God willing, you may remain protected during these days."
     In the 18th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, 6th to 9th verses, His Holiness Christ says: "But whosoever shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offenses, for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh. Wherefore if thy hand or thy feet offend thee, cut them off and cast them from thee; it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee."
(Abdu'l-Baha, "Last Tablet to America," Baha'i World Faith, p. 431)

From the context, we can see that Abdu'l-Baha is here using this verse from the Gospel as support for His warning to shun the company of the Covenant-breakers, and to expel them from the community of believers.  This verse says to pluck out the “eye” that misleads, and to cut off the “hand” that misleads. 

In general, the eye and the hand are viewed as invaluable organs and limbs, and in Gleanings Section XCIII Baha'u'llah states that we protect our eyes as we guard our own lives. That which was once most valuable – the hand and the eye – if they become changed, and instead of helping the human organism they threaten its life, they must be severed.

There was an instance in 2003 of a young man named Aron Ralston who was hiking in a canyon in Utah.  His arm became wedged under a boulder, trapping him and making it impossible for him to move.  Having exhausted his supply of water, he realized he was going to die.  After three days in this condition, he experienced a sense of joy when he realized he could save his life by cutting off his own right hand.  He did so, and survived.  Here is his picture after his healing. This is an instance where an organ that is generally highly treasured, has changed, and threatened death, and the person's was saved by severing it.  The same can be true for the body of the Cause of God.

Baha'u'llah has compared learned and distinguished believers to “eyes” and to “hands”:

Those divines, however, who are truly adorned with the ornament of knowledge and of a goodly character are, verily, as a head to the body of the world, and as eyes to the nations. The guidance of men hath, at all times, been, and is, dependent upon such blessed souls.
(Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 16)

The divine who hath seized and quaffed the most holy Wine, in the name of the sovereign Ordainer, is as an eye unto the world. Well is it with them who obey him, and call him to remembrance.
(The Proclamation of Baha'u'llah, p. 79)

Erelong shall We raise up, through the aid of Thy hand, other hands endued with power, with strength and might, and shall establish through them Our dominion over all that dwell in the realms of revelation and creation. Thus will the servants of God recognize the truth that there is none other God beside Me, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. With these hands, moreover, We shall both bestow and withhold, though none can understand this save those who see with the eye of the spirit. (Baha'u'llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, paragraph 1.31)

Baha'u'llah has compared the learned to the “eyes” of the body of the community, and its greatest helpers as “hands,” and the Master has written in His Last Tablet to America that there may be circumstances when the “eyes” and the “hands” may need to be severed.  The expulsion of the Hand of the Cause Mason Remey is an example of this cutting off of the hand. As Abdu'l-Baha said in His Will, “cast” such a person “out from the congregation of the people of Baha and in no wise accept any excuse from him.”
(The Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 12)

The same principle is seen when a learned person is compared to a fruit-bearing tree; but if the person misuses his knowledge, then there is but one use for that wood:

The spiritually learned must be characterized by both inward and outward perfections; they must possess a good character, an enlightened nature, a pure intent, as well as intellectual power, brilliance and discernment, intuition, discretion and foresight, temperance, reverence, and a heartfelt fear of God. For an unlit candle, however great in diameter and tall, is no better than a barren palm tree or a pile of dead wood.
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 33; cited by the Universal House of Justice in its letter of 8 February 1998 to an individual, concerning those who misuse scholarship to assault the Covenant)

This reminds me of another statement in the Persian Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah, #79:

O Son of Desire!
How long wilt thou soar in the realms of desire? Wings have I bestowed upon thee, that thou mayest fly to the realms of mystic holiness and not the regions of satanic fancy. The comb, too, have I given thee that thou mayest dress My raven locks, and not lacerate My throat.


Shoghi Effendi has provided this authoritative interpretation of that verse:

The expression "tend My raven locks, and not wound My throat" is an allegorical warning by Bahá'u'lláh against the misuse of anything bestowed by Him on the world.
(From a letter dated 6 September 1937 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi; included in the Compilation on the Hidden Words prepared at the Baha'i World Centre)

The comb has a proper function, and it can also be misused to cause injury.  Likewise, the hand and the eye are valuable to the human organism, but if misused, can do great harm.  The same is true with knowledge, and its possessors; knowledge is a great gift, but if it is misused, the community must be protected.

Baha'u'llah writes of this in the Surih of the Temple:

Great is the blessedness of that divine that hath not allowed knowledge to become a veil between him and the One Who is the Object of all knowledge, and who, when the Self-Subsisting appeared, hath turned with a beaming face towards Him. He, in truth, is numbered with the learned. The inmates of Paradise seek the blessing of his breath, and his lamp sheddeth its radiance over all who are in heaven and on earth. He, verily, is numbered with the inheritors of the Prophets. He that beholdeth him hath, verily, beheld the True One, and he that turneth towards him hath, verily, turned towards God, the Almighty, the All-Wise.
      O ye the dawning-places of knowledge! Beware that ye suffer not yourselves to become changed, for as ye change, most men will, likewise, change. This, verily, is an injustice unto yourselves and unto others. Unto this beareth witness every man of discernment and insight. Ye are even as a spring. If it be changed, so will the streams that branch out from it be changed. Fear God, and be numbered with the godly. In like manner, if the heart of man be corrupted, his limbs will also be corrupted. And similarly, if the root of a tree be corrupted, its branches, and its offshoots, and its leaves, and its fruits, will be corrupted. Thus have We set forth similitudes for your instruction, that perchance ye may not be debarred by the things ye possess from attaining unto that which hath been destined for you by Him Who is the All-Glorious, the Most Bountiful.

(Baha'u'llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 48, paragraphs 1.88-1.89)
 

The most grievous example of disobedience to the command to shun the Covenant-breakers, was the family of `Abdu'l-Baha Himself, who disobeyed Shoghi Effendi's instructions to cease all contact with the Covenant-breakers.  As the late member of the Universal House of Justice Adib Taherzadeh writes:
 

Every member of the Master's family knew well that the old Covenant-breakers were all deadly enemies of the Master and of the Faith and were to be shunned as He had directed. They had not associated with them during the lifetime of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and they did not do so in the early years of Shoghi Effendi's ministry. It did not take very long, however, before secret ties were established between the old Covenant-breakers and certain members of the Master's family. As if a virus had attacked, the disease of Covenant-breaking spread and eventually infected all the surviving members of that noble family, sparing no one. This grievous downfall occurred because of their disobedience to the commandment to shun the Covenant-breakers.
(The Child of the Covenant, p. 305)

An example of the importance of complete avoidance of Covenant-breakers is shown here.

6 comments:

  1. "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink....Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
    1 Corinthians 12:12, 13, & 27

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  2. What would you say to a believer who is choosing to live with her partner, before marriage and would there be a shunning that would be guided by the local spiritual assembly

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  3. Dear Michele: I am sorry to learn that you have misunderstood the difference between breaking a Baha'i law, and breaking the Covenant-- and the difference is profound. When a person violates the laws of God, as you are describing, she causes herself great loss, and Baha'u'llah seeks to protect us from such loss. As Baha'u'llah wrote in paragraph 147, page 72, of the Most Holy Book, "Keep ye the statutes and commandments of God; nay, guard them as ye would your very eyes, and be not of those
    who suffer grievous loss." If a violation of the laws is knowing and long-standing and a public scandal and harmful to the interests of the Faith, then the National Spiritual Assembly-not the Local-- can deprive a person of his or her administrative rights, also known as membership rights, also known as voting rights. This involves loss of such privileges not only of voting in Baha'i elections, but of being elected and serving on Assemblies and as a teacher of the Faith in official capacity; of going on Pilgrimage, of having a Baha'i wedding, of giving to the Fund, of attending Feast or international conferences. However, he or she is not shunned. This person can attend events that non-Baha'is can come to, and can associate with the friends.
    Covenant-breaking is an absolutely different matter, having nothing to do with immorality or violation of Baha'i laws. Covenant-breaking is turning against the Head of the Baha'i Faith. A person can obey all the laws of God, and yet violate the Covenant. And only Covenant-breaking, which is declared only by the Universal House of Justice, invokes shunning. Fortunately, Covenant-breaking is a very rare event, not even once a year in the entire American Baha'i community. I only know of two or three in the past decade. Shunning is absolutely not a response to the situation you describe. I urge you to ask your Auxiliary Board member for protection for guidance and explanation, in the difference between deprivation of administrative rights, and violation of the Covenant. And if you are an American Baha'i, I urge you to read the column in the current issue of The American Baha'i about the value of obedience to the laws of God.
    Brent

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  4. i would have read this if you use an easier to read font..thanks..

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  5. Thank you for the feedback.
    OK I have increased the font size. Unfortunately in this blog software program I only have a few choices of font size, and I think this one is too large, you felt the earlier one was too small and there's nothing available in between. Anyway, I'll be glad to give this one a try and see if it's easier for you and others.
    Brent

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