This paper constitutes one believer’s attempt to objectively summarize the crux of the dilemma in which the Baha’i World found itself after the death of the First Guardian in 1957, and the genesis of the group of Baha’is who subsequently came together as the Tarbiyat Community. It is thoughtful and well-written, but nonetheless reflects a single individual’s understanding and, for brevity’s sake, cannot be comprehensive. In the spirit of independent investigation of truth, the Community plans to add other material and points of view to this web site in the future, and invites the reader who wants more information in the meantime to inquire directly by email, letter, or telephone.
Prepared by Dr. Galen Ewing
National House of Justice of the United States and Canada
Post Office Box 1424
Las Vegas, New Mexico 87701, USA
There have been many inquiries as to the distinction between the Baha’i World Faith, centered in Haifa, Israel, and Wilmette, Illinois, on the one hand, and the Tarbiyat Baha’i Community, centered in Las Vegas, New Mexico, U.S.A., on the other. This paper is an attempt to explain this difference. First, it is necessary to emphasize that the Tarbiyat Baha’i Community and the group known as the Baha’i World Faith do not differ in their fundamental beliefs and theology; they share the same Sacred Writings, and follow the same religious practices. It is essential to set the background by summarizing briefly the history of the Faith.
All major religions have predicted that another Prophet or Manifestation of God would arise in good time, to bring mankind a further revelation of God’s Word to serve as a guide for the present and future. This prophecy was fulfilled in double measure by the appearance in Iran (then Persia) of the Bab, followed shortly by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith. Baha’u’llah was persecuted by the civic and Islamic leaders of Iran, as a prominent member of the Babi Faith, which was considered to be apostate. It was while He was incarcerated in a foul dungeon in Teheran that Baha’u’llah Himself became aware of His true mission as a Manifestation of God. However, this was not announced to the Babi’s, nor to the world, for several years. Eventually, after many vicissitudes and much suffering, He and His family were imprisoned in the ancient crusader’s fortress in Acca, Palestine (now known as Akka, Israel). Here, and in the near vicinity, He spent the remainder of His life. His final two years were lived out under house arrest in the mansion of Bahji, a few miles north of Acca.
During His lifetime, Baha’u’llah authored a large number of writings, including many “tablets” or epistles addressed to specific individuals, and many prayers and shorter works. Baha’is believe all of these to have been divinely inspired or revealed. A great number of these writings, in English translation, have been compiled into book form, and are among the most treasured assets of the Baha’i Community.
Among the most significant works of Baha’u’llah is the Kitab-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book), which contains, in the flowery language of the time, a blue print for the conduct of the faithful and for the eventual civil government of mankind as well. In this and a related work called the Kitab-i-Ahd, He appointed His eldest son, Abdu’l-Baha, as the “Center of the Faith” to whom the faithful should turn after His (Baha’u’llah’s) passing. It was clearly set forth that Abdu’l-Baha would not share His Father’s station as a Divine Manifestation, but would rather be the “Perfect Exemplar” of the Faith, endowed with infallibility in the interpretation of His Father’s teachings.
Baha’u’llah departed this life in 1892, and Abdu’l-Baha, often known as “The Master”, assumed the leadership of the Faith. During His long ministry Abdu’l-Baha added many writings to those of His Father, and Baha’is consider them to have been divinely revealed. The position of Abdu’l-Baha was not unchallenged, but his opponents eventually all fell by the wayside and are not remembered.
Of greatest import for the Faith among the papers left by the Master is his Will and Testament. This remarkable document is considered to be an extension of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, in which the details of the plan for governance of the Faith and of the world are filled in. Three features in particular must be emphasized as leading to the present position of the Tarbiyat Community. These have to do with the establishment of a governing body to be known as the Universal House of Justice; with a body of persons known as the Hands of the Faith; and with the inauguration of the hereditary office of Guardian of the Cause of God. Abdu’l-Baha’s grandson, Shoghi Effendi, was named as the first Guardian of the Faith. Pertinent portions of the Will and Testament can be paraphrased as follows:
After the passing away of this Wronged One (i.e., Abdu’l-Baha) it is incumbent upon the believers to turn to Shoghi Effendi, as he is the sign of God, the Guardian of the Cause of God. He is the expounder of the words of God, and after him will succeed the firstborn of his lineal descendants.
The sacred and youthful Guardian, as well as the Universal House of Justice, are both under the protection of the Abha Beauty (an often-used appellation for Baha’u’llah). Whatsoever they decide is of God; …whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him, hath in truth deviated, separated himself, and turned aside from God…
It is incumbent upon the Guardian to appoint during his lifetime the person who is to become his successor, so that differences will not arise after his passing. “He that is appointed must manifest in himself detachment from all worldly things, must be the essence of purity, must show in himself the fear of God, knowledge, wisdom, and learning.” Thus, should the firstborn of the Guardian not manifest these qualities, then the Guardian must choose another branch to succeed him. (By the word branch it is generally understood that the Master intended to denote a lineal descendant of Baha’u’llah.)
The Hands of the Cause must be nominated and appointed by the Guardian. All must be under his shadow and obey his command. The body of the Hands of the Cause is under the direction of the Guardian of the Cause. The Hands must elect from their own number nine persons that shall at all times be occupied in the work of the Guardian. These nine must give their assent to the choice of the one whom the Guardian has chosen as his successor.
The Universal House of Justice must be elected by universal suffrage. By this body all difficult problems are to be resolved. The Guardian of the Cause of God is its sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that body. Should he not attend in person its deliberations, he must appoint one to represent him… 1
Upon the passing of Abdu’l-Baha in 1921, Shoghi Effendi assumed the Guardianship according to the dictates of the Will and Testament. Until his death in 1957 he led the Faith with indefatigable zeal. He directed the expansion of the faith into many parts of the world where it had not previously been known, and fostered its growth and consolidation in the United States and other areas where it had already gained a foothold. Under his leadership Spiritual Assemblies were created on a local and national basis around the world. These bodies, he stated, were to become Houses of Justice as they grew to maturity. He instituted an International Baha’i Council, which was the “forerunner” of the Universal House of Justice. He appointed twenty-seven prominent Baha’is to the rank of Hand of the Cause.
Events Following the Passing of Shoghi Effendi
The death of Shoghi Effendi occurred in London, following a very brief illness, and was a great surprise and shock to everyone. His funeral and burial were conducted immediately in London, in accordance with Baha’i law.
The Hands of the Cause assembled in conclave at the Bahji nine days following the passing. At the time the late Guardian’s desk was opened and his papers searched for a will, but none was forthcoming. Hence the Hands appeared to have no direction to follow in the matter of his successor. This lack of specific guidance is the initial source of the grave difficulties to follow that eventually led to the formation of the Tarbiyat Baha’i Faith as a separate entity.
That the Hands expected to find a Will designating a successor is evidenced by an announcement in the Jerusalem Post for November 8, 1957, which said in part: “A successor to the Guardianship of the Baha’i Faith was nominated by the late Shoghi Effendi Rabbani in his will, and the name will be announced by the elders of the faith when they meet here (Haifa) within a few weeks…” However, the same paper on November 28 reports: “The 27 Hands of the Cause of the Baha’i Faith, who assembled at the world centre of the faith here, today announced that they have elected nine of their members to conduct and protect the affairs of the faith from the Centre …” The nine hands were listed, and included Charles Mason Remey and Ruhiyyih Khanum Rabbani, the widow of Shoghi Effendi.
According to a report by Mason Remey, at the suggestion of Ruhiyyih Khanum and with no objection voiced by the other Hands in the assembly, no minutes were taken and no record kept of the deliberations at this Bahji Conclave. It would appear that three alternative scenarios are possible in the attempt to reconstruct events at and following the Conclave: 1) It is possible that Shoghi Effendi died intestate. On the evidence of his character and his strict adherence to the precepts and commands of Abdu’l-Baha and of Baha’u’llah, it seems highly improbable that Shoghi Effendi would have neglected such an important duty. 2) It is possible that Shoghi Effendi did in fact write a Will, but that it had been lost or destroyed prior to the search of his papers during the conclave. We have no evidence on this point, save to point out that he was meticulously careful about business details. 3) The only other alternative is the unpleasant one of assuming that a Will was indeed among his papers, but that it was suppressed, either secreted or intentionally destroyed, by those Hands who were conducting the search.
So the Hands of the Cause were faced with a dilemma. According to the Will and Testament, they can only exist as a body under the direction of the Guardian of the Cause of God, under his shadow and obeying his command. But there was no Guardian! By the nearly unanimous decision of the Hands present (24 out of 25), it was decided to declare the office of Guardian not only vacant, but badah. Mason Remey has explained that the Persians used the word badah to signify the failure of the promise of the Word of God as given by a Manifestation or Prophet. They say that even God changes His plan and intent at times and that we must accept this and act accordingly.
As Mason Remey has pointed out, the great danger in the doctrine of badah is that we humans, desiring to do something contrary to the Sacred Writings, may declare that the pertinent statements are badah, even though they are actually still valid. Indeed, on the face of it, badah is impossible if we accept the premise that the Word of God can only be promulgated to the world by one of God’s Divine Manifestations. Hence anything contradicting the plan outlined by Baha’u’llah and filled out in detail by Abdu’l-Baha must be in error, at least until another Manifestation shall appear, which Baha’u’llah has assured us will not take place for a full thousand years.
Thus one must conclude that the institution of the Guardianship is still mandatory, and is only temporarily vacant. According to this view, the Guardianship is “in occultation”, in much the same sense that Shi’ah Muslims contend that the station of Imam is in occultation.
The one Hand of the Cause present at the Bahji conclave who objected to the pronouncement of badah against the Guardianship was Charles Mason Remey. He took a vigorous stand in the matter, maintaining that the immediate duty of the Hands was to institute a search for a second Guardian, and if none were found, to serve merely as caretakers until such time as the second Guardian should make himself known and assume his station. This stand soon made him persona non grata among his colleagues, and he felt it necessary to leave the organization of the Hands of the Cause and go into voluntary exile.
For three years Mason Remey privately circulated to the Hands letters informing them in no uncertain terms of the error of their ways, and pleading with them to reaffirm the institution of the Guardianship. The final letter in this series was entitled “A Last Appeal to the Hands of the Baha’i Faith; a Private and Secret Document to be read only by the Hands of the Faith; by Mason Remey, Hand of the Faith and President of the International Council Appointed by the Beloved Guardian of the Faith; 1960”. All this, however, had no effect on the Hands, save to provoke Ruhiyyih Khanum into an apparent attempt to discredit Remey as soon as his views were made public. In effect, she intimated that he was becoming senile. He was, indeed, quite elderly (he died in 1974 at the age of 100 years) and much of his later writing was admittedly less than lucid.
In 1960, Mason Remey issued a public proclamation entitled “Announcement to the Hands of the Faith…” The gist of this document is to the effect that since Shoghi Effendi had appointed him, Mason Remey, to the presidency of the International Baha’i Council, and since that Council was intended to become in due time the Universal House of Justice, and since the Universal House of Justice was to be presided over by none other than the Guardian of the Cause of God, this can only mean that Shoghi Effendi had taken this means of informing the Baha’i world that Mason Remey was Guardian-Designate. Thus in Mason’s reasoning, his appointment as President of the nascent Universal House of Justice was not merely a temporary assignment to represent the Guardian in the latter’s absence, but rather tantamount to spiritual successorship to the actual station of Guardian.
If Shoghi Effendi had indeed intended to name Mason as his successor, he certainly devised an obscure way of carrying it out. It is possible, nevertheless, that in the lack of an appropriate heir from the blood line of Baha’u’llah, he felt it necessary to make some kind of appointment that he did not want to publicize. This would be particularly understandable if he recognized the potential for division among the believers regarding succession to the Guardianship in the apparent absence of qualified heirs. Unfortunately the evidence is not available that will clarify Shoghi Effendi’s intentions in this matter.
However that may be, Mason Remey did in fact state his claim to the Guardianship. By way of explanation, he interpreted the “other branch” referred to by Abdu’l-Baha in his Will and Testament to mean another physical bloodline among the spiritual descendants of Baha’u’llah. At the same time he released his previous writings from the stipulation of secrecy initially appended to them. Though no figures are available, it is apparent that a considerable body of Baha’is, perhaps several thousand the world over, were unhappy with the actions of the Hands and chose to follow Mason Remey. His supporters in the United States elected a “National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the USA Under the Hereditary Guardianship”. Among those elected to this body, an American Baha’i named Reginald (Rex) King was named to the position of secretary. (Also under Mason’s leadership were groups in Argentina, Cameroun, France, Italy, Pakistan, and Switzerland.)
As the years wore on, Mason Remey appeared to be less and less rational. Not wanting to make the same mistake that Shoghi Effendi had, of not announcing the name of his successor for all to know, Mason did publicly name a successor. Subsequently, perhaps having forgotten this, he named another person to this station. The two persons so named were Joel B. Marengella and Donald A. Harvey. Each of these accepted the assignment, and, so far as we are aware, to this day each maintains that he is the rightful Guardian of the Cause of God. Each apparently has a body of supporters, but their numbers are unknown.
The Station of Rex King
Rex King was a Baha’i of long standing, having been active in committee work and teaching under the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States prior to the passing of Shoghi Effendi. He had also been a Baha’i pioneer and teacher in Alaska and elsewhere. Rex had had personal correspondence with Shoghi Effendi, and following the Guardian’s death, Rex felt strongly that the Hands were in error in their action terminating the Guardianship as an institution and in their attempts to stamp out independent investigation of truth with respect to Mason Remey and others.
Hence Rex was moved to support Mason’s claim to the Guardianship. As Mason Remey grew older, however, it became evident to many people, including Rex, that his utterances were becoming incompatible with the office of Guardian. He made several untenable “interpretations” of the sacred writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha. Such interpretations are the prerogative of the Guardian, but in no event can he contradict a statement from the Holy Writings, as Mason did. Therefore Rex King, accompanied by two other believers, traveled to Florence, Italy, in 1969, to visit Mason Remey. He wanted to ascertain the state of Mr. Remey’s physical health and to discuss the meaning of his apparently conflicting interpretations. As a result of that visitation, Rex King concluded that Mason Remey was no longer the Guardian.
Mason had created a Second International Baha’i Council, named Joel B. Marengella as its president, and then without warning dissolved that body. This appointment follows essentially the same pattern by which Mason himself had assumed the station of Guardian, hence Rex acknowledged Joel as Third Guardian, as did other members of the Guardianship community at the time.
Within the space of a few years history began to repeat itself. Joel Marengella proceeded to make a number of inadmissable “interpretations” of the Writings. These events, and other additional factors that need not be recounted here, convinced Rex and others that Joel, too, had ceased to fulfill the requirements of the office of Guardian.
As a result of these occurrences, and supported by several dreams that Rex interpreted as constituting mystical contact with the Master, Rex King was led to announce on January 15, 1973 that he was rightfully assuming the station of Regent of the Cause of Baha’u’llah. It is interesting that in his announcement he refers to Mason Remey and to Joel Marengella as the Second and Third Guardians, respectively. He claimed the regency with the understanding that he, as Regent, was not endowed with infallibility, as is a Guardian, and that he was not qualified to interpret the Writings. However, he claimed to be given clarity of sight to recognize the next true Guardian, when that individual should make himself known. A considerable number, but not all, of the Baha’is who had formerly acknowledged Joel Marengella as Guardian, expressed their support of Rex King as Regent.
Subsequently, after much further though and prayer, Rex became convinced that neither Mason Remey nor Joel Marengella had in truth ever been Guardians. This was largely because of the lack of lineal descendancy from the Holy Family. In the case of Joel, clearly if Mason had not been a Guardian, Joel never could have been. (The same logic applies to the claim of Donald Harvey to the Guardianship.) Furthermore, the International Baha’i Council could be considered to be an interim organization, intended to exist only until the Universal House of Justice should be activated. Hence Mason, as president, was actually fulfilling the function of a regent, not a Guardian. As a result of all these factors, Rex King came to the realization that he was in actuality the Second Regent, Mason Remey having been unknowingly the First Regent of the Cause of Baha’u’llah since the death of Shoghi Effendi.
Rex King made due provision in his Will for the continuance of the regency. He passed from this life, the victim of an apparent heart attack, April 1, 1977, near Baltimore, Maryland. By the terms of his Will, the office passed to a Council of Regents, consisting of his sons Theodore, Eugene, and Thomas, and his daughter-in-law, Ruth Lopez-King. They are, as of this writing, continuing the governance of the Faith along the lines established by the Second Regent.2
The Present State of the Tarbiyat Baha’i Community
The Council of Regents assumes ultimate direction of the faith on a world-wide basis, but does not concern itself routinely with day-to-day operations. It sits at the National Center, located in Tarbiyat, San Miguel County, New Mexico.3 The National Center consists physically of sixty-five acres of ranch land, nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo range of the Rocky Mountains. It includes a substantial building for administration and worship (constructed mostly by members of the Faith), a ranch house refurbished for use as a guest house, and several residences.
Under the Council of Regents, the governance of the Tarbiyat Baha’i Community operates through Houses of Justice. The National House of Justice of the United States and Canada convenes regularly at the National Center. Local Houses of Justice may exist wherever at least nine believers live in proximity to each other.
The regency considers itself to be a temporary regime, its function being to maintain the integrity of the Cause of Baha’u’llah until such time as the Second Guardian makes himself known and claims his rightful office. In the meantime the believers teach the Faith and support the concept of the institution of the Guardianship. A few words must be said regarding the relations between the Tarbiyat Baha’i Community and the Baha’i World Faith. In the first place, as mentioned at the start of this article, we have no differences in our fundamental beliefs; we are all followers of Baha’u’llah. However, the “Sans-Guardians”, as we call them, do not recognize the existence of the Tarbiyat Community.
In fact, soon after the death of the first Guardian, the Hands assumed the prerogative to declare “covenant-breaking” and to excommunicate believers (a right Shoghi Effendi had always reserved to himself alone). They then commenced to remove from the Faith anyone who questioned their actions, especially the discontinuance of the Guardianship.
Membership figures are not published for either group, but the Wilmette/Haifa organization is much larger than the Tarbiyat Community. Members of the Tarbiyat Community, being apostate in the eyes of Wilmette, are not welcomed there.4 Nevertheless, we do from time to time visit the Wilmette Temple, and also the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, but without identifying ourselves as Tarbiyat Baha’is. After all, both of these buildings were constructed and dedicated prior to the death of Shoghi Effendi, and are the property of all Baha’is, whether the present custodians recognize this or not.
In contrast, the Regents have not asserted the right to declare covenant breaking. The Tarbiyat Baha’i Community welcomes Sans-Guardian Baha’is and others to meet with us and investigate our stance on the Guardianship. As the Regents have repeatedly stated, our community exists to uphold the validity of the Covenant, and its principle defender, the Guardianship.
Tarbiyat Baha’is look forward to the day when the second Guardian arises to reestablish the spiritual leadership of the Faith and reunite its followers under one banner: the Cause of God. In that day there will be no more difference between our communities. The Faith will once again move forward with the Covenant of Baha’u’llah made whole and its sacred institutions restored.
That is our goal. We invite you to join with us.
1 Paraphrased from the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha.
2 Ruth Lopez-King resigned from the Council of Regents in 1993 and was replaced by Marny Whiteaker.
3 The name Tarbiyat has not yet found its way onto the maps of New Mexico.
4 At one time the Wilmette leaders attempted to bar legally the use of the word “Baha’i” by other groups. The court found the name to be in the public domain.