Assemblies - Taking Problems to

After learning about a problem that may require action, the Local Spiritual Assembly decides what information it needs, from what sources the information will be obtained, and how it will gather the information. The persons reported to have violated Bahá’í law, created disunity, or broken civil laws must be given the opportunity to present their side of the case.
(Universal House of Justice, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)

Assemblies are advised to ask any parties wishing to consult with it on any matter involving a dispute to agree in writing not to compel the Assembly to testify or produce records in any legal proceeding regarding the matter.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 19)

Assemblies should also keep in mind that although both parties in a dispute may be at fault, they are often not equally so and that one party may truly need the Assembly’s help in dealing with the other.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

If individuals with mental disorders are repeatedly writing letters or making phone calls to the Assembly, it may wish to appoint a liaison with a capacity to listen to interact with the individual. It may be helpful to assist people to clarify and focus their thinking by asking, “Why are you telling me that?” It is also possible to politely interrupt a flow of monologue that is unproductive.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 11)

If need for a therapist is indicated, the Assembly may wish to suggest that the person get a referral from his or her primary physician, if they do not already have someone they are seeing or would like to see. If the individual’s behavior seems to be so extreme that immediate assistance is required, the Assembly or its liaison may wish to contact a mental health crisis intervention unit or the police, as seems appropriate to the situation.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 12)

If the Assembly becomes aware of a problem that might be an indicator of mental illness or other disorder it should avoid suggesting that there might be a mental problem, as it is not qualified to make such a determination. Depending on the circumstances, it may wish to suggest that the person undergo a medical evaluation through his or her primary care physician or other health care practitioner.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 11)

If the individual believer is unable personally and prayerfully to resolve such a problem, he should, as each case may indicate, either himself refer to the Spiritual Assembly for guidance, or refer the believers to that institution. A Bahá’í who wishes to help his needy fellow-believer may do so by extending his assistance either personally, or impersonally through the Spiritual Assembly if he feels that this method will provide the means to objectively assess the real needs involved, or will maintain and preserve better relationship between him and the believer concerned.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 124)

If the person’s problems are affecting the community, the Assembly may wish to establish clear boundaries regarding his or her behavior in relation to itself, the community and, if necessary, to particular individuals within the community, with explicit consequences for violating the boundaries. If that approach is used, care should be taken to establish boundaries that are reasonable and consequences that are appropriate. If possible, this should be done in consultation and cooperation with the individual involved.
The Assembly may find it helpful to put the boundaries and consequences for violating them in the form of a written contract at the time of the agreement so that both the individual and the Assembly will have a copy. If possible, the actual wording should be agreed upon by both the individual and the Assembly. This will help to reduce confusion and minimize individual differences of perception in recalling what was decided when referring to the agreement in the future. Once consequences are specified, if the predetermined boundaries are violated, the Assembly must act to impose the consequences.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 11-12)

In attempting to aid parties in resolving disputes not involving allegations of abuse or suspected abuse, Assemblies may find it helpful to suggest that the parties examine separately their own roles and assumptions in the dispute, as well as the accuracy of the views of the other parties. The Assembly may also find it helpful to steer thinking away from extreme outcomes, worst-case scenarios or unrealistically optimistic scenarios, as those kinds of thinking tend to escalate apprehension between both parties, exacerbate the current situation, or set them up for future disappointments if they are unrealistically optimistic. It should assist the parties involved to consider moderate views based on facts rather than suppositions, speculation or fears. It may find that either or both parties need assistance in clarifying and separating facts from assumptions and/or opinions.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

In cases of mental disorders, the Assembly should make its decisions first in consideration of the benefit and welfare of the whole community and then in finding resources for the individual. Assemblies are encouraged to seek advice from local mental health professionals, including social service agencies, and qualified non-profit organizations concerning specific situations and to draw upon these resources in deciding upon any course of action.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 11)

In disputes between believers regarding personal matters, Assemblies should generally avoid accepting the word of either party before a thorough examination of the facts and without obtaining the comments of all parties. However, in situations of abuse, suspected abuse or allegations of abuse, the Assembly should, before taking any further action, refer immediately to Guidelines for Spiritual Assemblies on Domestic Violence: A Supplement to Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies for information on how to proceed.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

In every aspect of offering assistance to families or individuals, the Assembly must always bear in mind that it cannot, and must not, try to assume the role of therapist for which it is neither mandated nor equipped. It may be helpful in some circumstances, always with the prior consent of the individual involved, for the Assembly to provide general information to a therapist about the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 5)

In its interactions with an individual who suffers from mental disorder(s), the Assembly and its representatives should strive to be:
Kind without being either indulgent or patronizing
Observant without either condoning or judging, unless the Assembly is considering a matter that requires a judgment
Detached without being indifferent or lacking in empathy
Assertive about maintaining appropriate boundaries without being aggressive or intrusive
Alert for and prepared to confront domineering, intrusive, manipulative, or avoidant behaviors.
Prepared to contact private or public support services, if it appears that the individual might harm him/herself or others.
Encouraging and supportive of behavior that is in keeping with the teachings of the Faith.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 5)

Information should be gathered in the normal way. It is, of course, quite in order for the
Assembly to appoint a committee for this purpose. Indeed, this is often done in order to save the time of the Assembly.
(Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 26 August 1965)

It is the responsibility of Bahá’í Assemblies to decide when individual interests should be subordinated to those affecting the collective welfare of the community. But, as already stated, the interest of the individual should always be safeguarded within certain limits, and provided they do not seriously affect the welfare of the group as a whole.
(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 120)

It should also be understood that a member may wish to absent himself from a meeting at which subjects in which he is personally involved are to be discussed. In such cases he may do so unless the Assembly requires him to be present.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 180)

Local Assemblies may suggest mental health counseling or support groups but should confine their own work with individuals to issues of personal spiritual transformation, understanding and application of spiritual principles, adherence to Bahá’í laws, functioning within the Bahá’í community and firmness in the Covenant. In some states, such as California, it is possible that an Assembly may be subject to legal action for attempting to provide counseling in cases of mental disorders.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 5)

No member may be required to leave the meeting, even though personally involved in
the matter to be discussed, although any member may ask permission to be absent from such discussion, and the decision whether or not to grant such permission rests with the Assembly itself.
(Universal House of Justice, 18 Nov. 1973, cited in Hawaiian Bahá’í News, #82)

Occasionally, disputes may involve manipulation or lying. The Assembly must weigh each situation carefully, as skilled manipulators are often able to mislead others and get away with and continue their behavior by matching every true statement with a false allegation. Examples of this might be when both parties accuse each other of the same thing or when one party accuses the other of being a liar to confuse the Assembly. This may lead the Assembly to feel that it cannot determine the truth or that neither party is being truthful.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

Once it is in the hand of the Assembly the believer’s obligation is discharged and he should do no more than pray for the offender and continue to show him friendship and encouragement—unless, of course, the Spiritual Assembly asks him to take specific action.
(Universal House of Justice, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)

Once it is in the hands of the Assembly the believer’s obligation is discharged and he should do no more than pray … unless, of course, the Spiritual Assembly asks him to take specific action.
(Universal House of Justice, Removal of Administrative Rights, 1993)

Once the Assembly determines what questions are to be asked and who is to be contacted, it may request individuals to appear before it, send a representative or representatives (who need not be Assembly members) to meet with the person, or gather information by mail or telephone. Assemblies with large Bahá’í communities have also found it helpful to appoint committees or task forces on personal status to assist them in gathering background information. Since they must receive information of a sensitive nature, members of such committees and task forces should be trustworthy, and able to maintain confidences.
(Universal House of Justice, NSA USA - Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)

Sometimes a believer will refuse to accept the decision of an Assembly and will repeatedly raise the same issue, consuming an inordinate amount of the Assembly’s time. Although every believer has the right to appeal a decision of the Assembly, none have the right to harass the Assembly in the hope or belief that it will change its decision to suit the individual’s viewpoint.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

The Assemblies should evidence not even the least trace of dictatorial assertiveness, but should remember that most of the sins of the believers are the signs of immaturity. These friends should be nursed and assisted into a fuller understanding of their responsibilities as Bahá’ís and encouraged to conduct themselves in a Bahá’í manner.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 34)

The Assembly may wish to appoint a representative or representatives to mediate until the dispute is resolved or it becomes clear that resolution will not be forthcoming through consultation. If, after reasonable efforts to assist the parties, the dispute remains unsettled, the Assembly may withdraw in favor of civil proceedings or seek advice from the National Spiritual Assembly about how to proceed. In any case, it should guard against allowing wrangling between parties to take up an inordinate amount of its time.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 21)

The divinely ordained institution of the Local Spiritual Assembly operates at the first levels of human society and is the basic administrative unit of Bahá’u’lláh’s World Order. It is concerned with individuals and families whom it must constantly encourage to unite in a distinctive Bahá’í society, vitalized and guarded by the laws, ordinances and principles of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation. It protects the Cause of God; it acts as the loving shepherd of the Bahá’í flock.
(Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, par. 141.13)

This is just one more reason why we should endeavor to support, strengthen the foundations, and foster the development of Local Spiritual Assemblies so that they may become rallying points of the friends and the true shepherds of the Divine flock.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 124)

While respectful acknowledgment of the feelings, circumstances and perceptions of an individual is an essential component of a productive relationship, ownership and responsibility for the interpretation and resolution of his or her problems must remain with the individual. It is not the Assembly’s role to interpret, explain, excuse, criticize or solve an individual’s problems however sympathetic the members of the Assembly may be. It is the responsibility of the individual*, within the context of spiritual transformation and, if needed, with the aid of trained professionals and support groups specially constituted for that purpose, to acknowledge, interpret, analyze, and resolve his or her own life issues, whatever they may be.
(USA- NSA, Guidelines for Local Spiritual Assemblies, Chapter 14, p. 5)

You enquire further about the principles governing the presence of a member of the
National Assembly when a matter concerning him or her personally is being discussed. The first principle to bear in mind is that every member of an Assembly has an absolute
and incontrovertible right to be present at every meeting of that body and to be fully
informed of every matter coming before it. The second principle is that of detachment in consultation. The members of an Assembly must learn to express their views frankly, calmly, without passion or rancour. They must also learn to listen to the opinions of their fellow members without taking offence or belittling the views of another. Bahá’í consultation is not an easy process. It requires love, kindliness, moral courage and humility. Thus no member should ever allow himself to be prevented from expressing frankly his view because it may offend a fellow member; and, realizing this, no member should take offence at another member’s statements. The third principle is that if a believer feels that he has been done an injustice by the Assembly, he should appeal the decision in the normal way.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 180)