Letter of a Counsel threatening a Baha'i Intellectual and Publisher

Letter of Counselor Stephen Birkland to a Baha'i Intellectual and Publisher

Continental Board of Counsellors
for the
Protection and Propagation of the Baha'i Faith in the Americas

16 July 1996

Mr. Steven Scholl
White Cloud Press
PO Box 3400
Ashland, OR 97520

Dear Mr. Scholl,

My purpose for attempting to meet with you personally was to seek some clarification through the latitude of discussion to the meaning of statements and comments you have posted to the Talisman list which seem contrary to the spirit and fundamental Teachings of the Baha'i Faith. It is not the mere fact that you hold these views, it is your action of propagating them that raises serious questions. Since your response to my request for a meeting with you imposed unacceptable conditions, I have decided to write you this letter so as to indicate the nature of the issues about which the Baha'i institutions are concerned. To illustrate this concern, brief references will be made to certain of your assertions, and I shall attach for your ready reference the full texts of your postings from which I quote.

Some of your statements seem to suggest that you do not accept, or perhaps understand, fundamental Baha'i beliefs. For example, you wrote in a posting dated 14 April 1996, "Just as we do not expect all Catholics to accept every papal pronouncement as unerring, I do not expect all Baha'is to agree, or should they need to agree, with everything that Baha'u'llah, Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi or the House of Justice says." In another posting (17 April 1996), you say, "The Aqdas reflects the sexual segregation and unequal status of women of that time and I don't believe in that sense that it will be the blueprint for a future society." Elsewhere (16 April 1996 posting), you raise certain "theological questions": "For example, does one need to share Abdu'l-Baha's views on the soul (where his categories are derived largely from Ibn Sina's medieval understanding) in order to be faithful? Does one have to believe in a personal God in order to be a Baha'i?" One of my expectations for our meeting was to find out how these opinions and queries should be understood in light of the authoritative statements of Baha'u'llah Himself concerning the concept of God, the nature of Baha'u'llah's Revelation, the authority of His successors, and the status of His Most Holy Book, and your motive for propagating them.

A number of other views expressed by you could be read in no other way than as ridiculing the application of essential Baha'i laws and belittling the Faith in relation to other religions. To mention just one, your 16 April 1996 posting states, "Not too many religions are as hung up about the technicalities of marriage as are Baha'is. Violation of marriage procedures is, I think, the number one cause for loss of Baha'i rights. And as I noted recently, the Catholic church, even in its most conservative and authoritarian modes, appears more flexible than current Baha'i administration when dealing with Catholics who disagree with official positions on birth control, abortion, the papacy, and the like."

Of particular concern to me are statements which attack the integrity of Baha'i institutions, including the Universal House of Justice; your long posting dated 15 May 1996 is the primary example of this. Therein, in references to the Supreme Institution of the Faith concerning the David Langness case, the following can be found: "In the House's letter of 10 April, old distortions and half truths are publicly declared"; "it is the Baha'i institutions who have acted in violation of their own clear policies and in violation of the foundational principles and values of the Baha'i sacred writings"; "the NSA and the House of Justice have taken certain passages from our appeals and twisted their meaning."

Furthermore, in that same letter, you say that a "culture of deceit has existed for some time now in the Baha'i faith"; you suggest that your concerns in this respect have already "gone beyond the Baha'i community through the participation of . . . non-Baha'is in the Talisman discussions", and report that you have also discussed this situation with your "Catholic, Jewish, and Buddhist colleagues, who are interested to hear about these developments which are so contrary to the public image of the Baha'i faith as a religion of tolerance, peace, compassion, and unity"; you seem to delight in going public with these matters saying, "I think it is good that this controversy is spilling outside of the Baha'i community"; and you mention, in what could be construed as a threat to the Baha'i institutions, that "One non-Baha'i on Talisman has already indicated that he plans to develop a story on these events for a prominent national magazine." All of this produces the impression that you would welcome the opportunity to disgrace the Faith in public.

You even go so far in that letter as to insinuate that the Baha'i institutions, including the House of Justice, are corrupt, calling attention to what you describe as a "very strong statement from Abdu'l-Baha on how those in authority within the Baha'i community are vulnerable to the disease of corruption by power." You refer to and "even sterner" warning from the Master, citing a statement (What deviation can be more complete than falsely accusing the loved ones of God!) from His Will and Testament concerning actions of Covenant-breakers, and in the context of this statement, you say, "it is very clear that an even more blistering campaign of gossip is being carried out by the House of Justice and some of the Counsellors." In light of what Baha'u'llah and Abdu'l-Baha have explicitly stated about the Universal House of Justice, how can a Baha'i, in all good conscience, assume such an attitude toward that Body as has been portrayed in your letter?

In the e-mail of 22 May 1996 which you addressed jointly to the Universal House of Justice, the National Spiritual Assembly and me, you attempted to justify the contents of that letter by saying that it was not your intent to attack these institutions, the reason you gave for your letter was that a "dear friend of mine lost his Baha'i rights over actions that I had knowledge of and I wanted to make clear what I knew of this case." Again you wrote, "It was not my intent to undermine or harm the faith, but rather my hope was that this information would be helpful and allow the friends to better understand what is taking place within the administration order by individual members of the institutions." In this regard, I wanted to explore what you meant by "information," given your remarks about the House of Justice and your personal accusations against members of the institutions. I was also hoping to discuss the proper procedures an individual should follow in protesting actions of Spiritual Assemblies and their members.

While your feeling, even if passionately expressed, for a friend who had just lost his Baha'i administrative rights is understandable, the content and tone of your letter grossly exceeded the boundaries of civility. That such a communication could have been addressed to the Supreme Institution of the Faith by one who considers himself a Baha'i is astonishing to me, and the reasons you have given for having written it are not a sufficient excuse. But even more troubling is your treatment of the Faith in your various postings as merely one of a number of religious denominations, many of which you presume are doing much more for the world than the Cause of Baha'u'llah. Your attitude in this respect has the effect of whittling down the Baha'i Faith in what appears to be a cavalier disregard of its historic stature as the outcome of the latest revelation from God.

Your professed belief in Baha'u'llah, as clearly expressed in your 22 May email, is incomprehensible to me, since so much of what you have said previously is contemptuous of basic practices prescribed in the Baha'i writings, and your statements belittle the efforts of the Baha'i institutions to uphold such fundamentals. Indeed, the incompatibility of this profession with the views you have propagated through Talisman is such that, if you were today to advance such views of this kind in support of an application for enrollment in the Baha'i Faith, no Baha'i Assembly would accept your application or regard you as fulfilling the basic requirements for Baha'i membership set out by the Guardian:

"Full recognition of the station of the Forerunner, the Author, and the True Exemplar of the Baha'i Cause, as set forth in Abdu'l-Baha's Testament; unreserved acceptance of, and submission to, whatsoever has been revealed by their Pen; loyal and steadfast adherence to every clause of our Beloved's sacred Will; and close association with the spirit as well as the form of the present day Baha'i administration throughout the world--these I conceive to be the fundamental and primary considerations that must be fairly, discreetly and thoughtfully ascertained before reaching such a vital decision."

The foregoing would have been among the major points of my discussion with you. It would have been my duty as a Counsellor charged with the responsibility for protection of the Faith and of its individual members, including yourself, to have attempted to show you in such a discussion how your words could be construed as being in conflict with the Covenant and to warn you against the potential spiritual danger they imply. Since I did not have the opportunity to meet with you, please consider yourself as being so warned now.

With sincerity and concern,


Stephen Birkland, Member
Continental Board of Counsellors in the Americas

cc: ITC, Cont. Board of Counsellors in the Americas, US NSA

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