JoAnn Gometz

Writing | Editing | Content Strategy

Why I Practice Political Noninvolvement

This seems like a really appropriate point at which to address this topic. My friends in Canada have spent the last 78 days (give or take a couple) in a national election campaign that has led to a change in the parliamentary majority and prime minister. The length of this event was, I understand, second only to the whopping 96-day campaign of 1872. At the same time, my American friends are (depending on how you count) either six months or three years into a campaign that will conclude with the nation's presidential election in another 12 months and two weeks.

"Are you going to watch the debates?" a friend asked me recently. One of the two major political parties was holding another in a series of televised events among its own potential candidates that evening. I replied with vehemence in the negative, which, as one would expect, triggered her to ask, "Why?" The answer is that I live in New York state, one of 11 states where only voters registered with a political party can vote in the primaries, or as I like to refer to them, "the semi-finals," which determine who will actually populate the "real" ballot next fall. 

As a Bahá’í, I don't belong to a political party. And my opinion is that there is no need to track the details until I know which candidates will be running in the general election, or "the finals," when I can cast a vote along with others who registered without joining a party. I would likely approach things differently if I lived an hour's drive to the east, where my friends in Vermont can vote in primaries without a party affiliation.

When we vote in civil elections, Bahá’ís are supposed to cast our ballot based on the merits of the individual (as best we can discern them), rather than on a person or party's "platform." And we are expected to be obedient to the government wherever we live, as long as we can do so without denying our faith or breaking religious laws. 

Bahá’ís focus on unity and bringing people together. In the past, and even in the present, people of many religions have aligned themselves with political or social causes and then sought validation for their arguments in holy books. Bahá’ís are explicitly cautioned against taking that path because it leads to division among people. In fact, we aren't even supposed to discuss political affairs among ourselves or with anyone else.

It's this detachment, in the most positive sense, from politics, parties and their accompanying interests that allows me to feel a kinship with Bahá’ís all over the world. We usually don't come at issues from the same perspective. Our backgrounds and personal experiences determine the way we approach everything. But we're ultimately pursuing the same goal, so we find ways to overcome and even appreciate our own differences. 

(Can you see why I am so certain about the baselessness of the political charges against Jamál Khánjání and the six other Bahá’ís serving 20-year sentences with him? Every Bahá’í around the world is bound by this same law.)