Delegates to the 1999 Baha'i National Convention
We deeply regret the necessity of informing you that James F. Nelson has been guilty of gross negligence in the performance of his duties as a member of the National Spiritual Assembly and that, although he has expressed his profound regret for the related occurrences, and has effected full restitution of the damage done, he has felt impelled, by his awareness of the high responsibility of the post in which he has been serving, to tender his resignation from the membership of the National Spiritual Assembly, and the National Spiritual Assembly has accepted this resignation.
At this painful moment the National Spiritual Assembly offers James Nelson its loving support and prayers.
NATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLY OF THE BAHA'IS OF THE UNITED STATES
Robert C. Henderson
cc: Continental Counselors serving tthe United States
Jim Nelson was helping an elderly Baha'i in Pasadena with her finances. I believe he had some power to sign checks from her account for paying bills, etc. She told Jim that she wanted her payment to the huquq [the 19% tax on some income to be paid to the Universal House of Justice in Haifa, Israel according to Baha'i law] to be set up as an endowment rather than being a lump sum payment. On her death, Jim placed the huquq funds from her accounts into a new account under his name. This led to protests from the estate's executor and prompted the NSA to go on the war path with claims of wrongdoing. I do not know if the executor of the estate is a Baha'i or not.
Since the huquq funds would be directed to Haifa, one can imagine why [National Spiritual Assembly secretary-general Robert C.] Henderson would be upset by Jim's action. Henderson has been accused in the past of mismanagement of funds, of hijacking contributions earmarked to the World Centre into a special NSA account, skimming off the interest and then at the end of the year sending the principle along to Haifa. But this is purely personal speculation on my part.
This is the only thing I have heard in terms of "wrongdoing" on Nelson's part, whereas Henderson's letter to the delegates refers to "related occurrences" in the plural. As for restitution, I understand that the money never went anywhere and, in the end, the funds were handled according to the wishes of the deceased Baha'i in the way Jim was planning to set up in the first place.
So, what does this all indicate? My take is that for years there has been rivalries and factions on the NSA, especially between the West Coast Gang led by the Nelsons (with Bill Davis and Juana Conrad) vs. the Henderson/Kazemzadeh block. I have heard that in their rebuke to Nelson the NSA refered to his "careless" behavior, while in the letter to the delegates they refer to "gross negligence in the performance of duties." My view is that if the NSA was sincere in their concern for Nelson and his spiritual growth, they would have simply accepted his resignation and informed the delegates that after years of service, Judge Nelson has resigned for health or personal reasons. The letter to the delegates seems to me to be a blatant campaign maneuver. It seems aimed at (1) publicly humiliating Jim Nelson and (2) helping guide the delegates in their voting for a candidate from the Henderson/Kazemzadeh Good Old Boys Network rather than from the now suspect Nelson Network.
As someone who has dealt with Henderson and Kazemzadeh in the past and had them use lies and slander in their attacks on my beliefs and behavior, this latest outburst is not at all surprising and fits their modus operandi perfectly. That is to say, the timing and the pure sleeziness of this blatant political manuvering fits with their history of self-promotion combined with vicious personal attacks against those who might threaten their grip of power over the American Baha'i community.
Having been absent from these Baha'i cultural wars now for several years, I do find it fascinating that since many of us old "heretics" have either left the faith, lost rights, or gone into the grand occultation of self-imposed exile and inactivity, the leadership, at a loss for enemies, seems intent on feeding on each other.
Needless to say, it will be interesting how the delegates respond to this news, whether they will back Henderson and Kazemzadeh by voting in one of their cronies or protest this action by voting in a West coast candidate.
The problem with the current situation is not merely that the voting records of the NSA members are completely unknown. It is that the activities and policies of the NSA as a whole are almost completely unknown! What exactly do these people do? What policies have they made? What effect have the policies had? Have they been good for the growth of the community, numerically and spiritually? Without knowing the answer to this question, how can the delegates even begin to vote intelligently? Though, as we have seen, the very rules of the elections leave them with little potential impact.
We know that there were about 48,000 adult Baha'is with good addresses in the US in 1978. There are now about 60,000. In the meantime 12,000 Iranians immigrated. This means that there has been no growth in over twenty years. *None*. Of course, hundreds if not a few thousands of people have come in during the past two decades, but enormous numbers of them have gone right back out. Would any CEO who had not increased his earnings a single penny over twenty years be reappointed by the board?
The exclusivistic policies of Mr. Henderson, who is frankly mean-spirited, have contributed enormously to this Great Stagnation. He was the one who cracked down on Dialogue magazine in such a nasty way. He bullied Baha'i travel agents in 1991, for the Lord knows what reward from the corrupt Corporate Travel Consultants. He agitated behind the scenes for a crackdown on firstname.lastname@example.org. He has chased travel teachers out of the country, seeing them as an electoral threat should they become successful. I have no idea about the propriety of Jim Nelson's book-keeping practices, but surely for Henderson to publicly smear him after Jim served on the NSA 1971-1999, in circumstances where Nelson cannot even publicly defend himself, is the height of sleaze. Henderson has arranged for himself to live rent free free in a 9-bedroom mansion (having the Bourgeois studio knocked down to build it, against UHJ instructions) with free Baha'i maids and gardeners, and his main business seems to be bullying Baha'is into silence behind the scenes. And I fully acknowledge that he is probably acting rationally given the way the Baha'i system is structured.
So, I think all these things are related: the fact that the Baha'i faith in the US has been going nowhere fast for decades; the fact that the electoral system seems to elect the ambitious and greedy (and paranoid) to the top offices; the fact that even initially upright people are made perpetual incumbents, exposing them to the temptations of absolute power held for decades and corrupting them; the fact that the electoral system provides an incentive for the incumbents to slap down and chase out potential competitors; the fact that it would not be in the incumbents' interest for the faith to expand, become more open, attract a lot of new voters who might rock the boat.
Term limits would go a long way toward solving all these problems. In fact, why not have staggered elections for 4-year terms? You could elect 5 members in 2000 and 4 in 2002. People who don't serve as long as Nelson did might not become tempted to act high-handedly. They wouldn't face reelection and so would have no reason to fear being unseated by active young folks.
Counselor Fred Schechter, one of the people who falsely accused me, once told a friend of mine that anyone who becomes active in the faith will be attacked (by the faith's officials, it is implied). We hadn't at the time realized that Schechter intended to *act* on this observation!
This is a dysfunctional system, folks. There are ways in which it destroyed Dan Jordan (forcing him to live a lie and to resort to secret trysts), Allen Ward, and now Jim Nelson--not to mention the spiritual harm it has wreaked on the Baby Boom intellectuals who were enticed in with promises of tolerance and justice (!!!).
When Glenford Mitchell had become a huge pain in the ass as NSA secretary and was finally elected off it to the UHJ, everyone breathed a big sigh of relief. And when Henderson came in, the word was that he was a good guy, and we were all relieved. And then in a few short years he demonstrated that he was an even bigger pain in the ass than Mitchell had been. Even dumping Henderson wouldn't solve the problem. The *system* creates the Hendersons and the Nelsons. If anyone cared about the fortunes of the faith as opposed to the size of their marble offices, they would fix the system.