12 August 2010

The Advantages of not having Clergy

The New York Times has a recent article on the growing health problems of clergy. I think it really highlights the wisdom behind Baha'i efforts to raise up human resources for spiritual leadership at the grassroots.

Often when Baha'is speak of the Baha'i Faith's practice of not having clergy, they describe it as the liberation of ordinary believers from the corrupt and over-domineering influence of priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, etc. But there's way more to it than that, to the extent that that's even a problem. Spiritual leadership is far too important to be placed on the shoulders of just a handful of individuals. When a community of many hundreds of people get the idea into their heads that one or two of them should be in charge of guiding the flock, then individuals do not develop the ability to take charge of their own spiritual growth or to help friends and family walk their own path of faith. Thus, the whole weight of the community falls onto the clergy. And as the New York Times article helps illustrate, clergy just can't keep up.

On another note, as I was searching online for a picture to use in this post, I came across this blog entry about the Roman collar. Before I joined the Baha'i Faith I was on the path towards the Catholic Priesthood. And as I read the post, and the quote from Pope Benedict XVI on the side, I realized the extent to which I still feel a personal connection to these issues. I'm a Baha'i to the core, but reading these sorts of things brings back a lot of fond memories.


  1. Mr. Cat,
    Thank you for the thoughtful post. Yes, it seems that even more than resisting possible oppression of the 'rule of the few', the abolishing of any kind of priesthood in the Baha'i Faith is more about - in the stage of emerging spiritual-maturity of the human race - encouraging us all to become more responsible for our own spiritual development and accompanying each other in such development. It is perhaps something close to that original ideal found in the Protestant Reformation of the 'priesthood of all believers', yet - caught in old habits - pastors, ministers, vicars and such seemed to replace in a few the spiritual leadership of the Catholic priesthood. The challenge for Baha'is and anyone who joins with us in this wonderful opportunity to build more spiritual families, neighborhoods, and communities is that - while striving to work in concert with the guidance we receive through elected (Universal House of Justice, Spiritual Assemblies) and appointed (Continental Counselors, Auxiliary Board, Area Teaching Committee) institutions of our Faith, not to look upon those individuals serving in those institutions to be primarily responsible in doing such work or for being at fault or to praise for one's own work of developing spiritual qualities, habits of remembrance of God, and being of service to others. In other words, we have to grow past the very human tendency to want to delegate responsibility to those we see as being more competent than ourselves in a certain regard. At the same time, if we find oneself to be stronger in a certain ability of service than another, we have to resist the habit of doing it fully on behalf of others; rather in a partnered posture of learning, to accompany each other to learn to do it ourselves, better.

  2. Mr. Cat,

    AS a Baha'i of many decades, I've come to grips with the notion that the Faith has "no clergy". Well, this is true in the sense that no one person is given the same kind of spiritual role as Christian clergy. But in terms of spiritual leadership and the carrying out of religious administrative decisions, the Faith does in fact have that kind of clergy, though we prefer not to use the term "clergy".
    Indeed, the Faith's elected and appointment officials have in most regards the same authority that traditional Christian clergy have.
    So to say to anyone we, the Baha'is, have no clergy, as if to say we have to only follow the dictates of our Faith's teachings and are not responsible before any agency, would be misleading.