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105. When a Religious Leader dies...

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

The Heads of the Anglican and Catholic Churches

In a previous post I observed how many of our forebears were quite likely killed in a religious war due to contention over leadership. These conflicts may seem distant concerns until we consider the numbers of wars fought both presently and historically for this reason. Because the role of a monarch, leader, pope or ruler carries so much power and influence, the event of their passing holds great significance.

This can be clearly seen in the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth who was not only Head of the Commonwealth - embracing 1/3 of the planet's people - but also of the Anglican Church; an unusual example of leadership embracing both the political and divine.

Succession can be fraught with danger, not just immediately but sometimes for centuries into the future. These events carry so much power and authority for the would-be leaders anointed to continue a holy figure's mission into the future. It has also been a dangerous time for the followers connected with His mission, who can expect retribution from those who felt adversely affected in some way by their leader's teachings.

The smooth transition that is presently taking place as one Head of the Commonwealth passes over to another underscores its mature evolution.

For Bahai's who followed the process of confirming the Queen's successor, it serves to demonstrate the importance of the divine covenant which determines and confirms a divine successor. In the past this has often been the reason for the splintering of the original divine teaching of predecessors into denominations, which even today are the cause of active warfare in parts of the planet.

Successions are of many kinds, like the birth right of the “first-born” child in Jewish law or the eldest son or daughter to a kingly throne. Hence, the great media interest in the marriage status of Prince Charles, successor to the English throne, and his choice of wife.

Some situations require an election to select a candidate by the vote of the majority, such as the highly publicized selection of Popes, carried out by a conclave of his associates, with the successful choice of candidate being symbolized by a puff of smoke over the Vatican.

In religion the roles of God’s chosen Messengers are considered as theological appointments by Divine Decree, such as the call of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad and Baha'u'llah who were divinely appointed to their office in this manner.

However, when succession is disputed the consequences are grave. Both Moses (who preceded Jesus Christ by some 1300 years) and Jesus faced rejection over their claimed rights to be a 'prince and a judge over Israel'. Some six centuries later, Muhammad succeeded to the high office previously held by Jesus, immediately causing dispute over His station. Each event was, and remains to this day, highly contentious.

"...religion must be conducive to love of all, the cause of fellowship, unity and light. If it be the cause of enmity, bloodshed and hatred, its nonbeing is better than its being, its nonexistence better than its existence." - Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace

Two thousand years ago when the disciples jointly arose in grief-filled anticipation of the execution of Christ, the matter of His successor simultaneously became a subject of contention. Today the Catholic Church claims a unique leadership role for the disciple Peter, 'the rock upon which He would build His church', believed to have been named by Jesus as head of the Apostles and a focus of their unity, and who later become the first Bishop of Rome. The rift between Catholic and Protestant simmers even to today.

Muhammad is considered by Muslims as the natural successor to Christ, Who is the most mentioned figure in the Quran. Muhammad's succession became the central issue that split the Muslim community in the first century after His passing, and even today the matter causes violent contests between the two Shia and Sunni branches of Islam.

The core institution of a covenant between God and humanity finds expression in all Faiths, and underpins all Baha'u'llah's teachings upholding the principle of unity. It is a covenant that clearly defines future successor-ship, and must be accepted by all believers.

It was to avoid disunity that the Will of Baha'u'llah clearly delineated as successor His son Abdu'l-Baha. Later, the passing of Abdu'l-Baha again caused the matter of succession to become paramount, creating a source of disunity among those few who refuted His Covenant and Testament.

Abdu'l-Baha nominated as successor, His grandson Shoghi Effendi. However, as a result of Shoghi Effendi's unexpectedly early and childless death the position was, as decreed, passed to a future divinely established, elected body, the Universal House of Justice.

Today many sincere seekers the planet over have felt caught in a contest of confusion between God's Will and that of man. For this reason, truth-seekers the world over will be guided by the words of Abdul-Baha that religion must be conducive to love of all, the cause of fellowship, unity and light;

"Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth; it should give birth to spirituality, and bring light and life to every soul. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it would be better to be without it... Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion." --- Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks part Two.

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