The Universal House of Justice
Updated: Nov 12, 2019
By the time of Shoghi Effendi's passing in 1957, the Faith had established the necessary broad base of national and Local Spiritual Assemblies, thus permitting the election of the Universal House of Justice, the international governing body envisioned by Baha'u'llah.
For Baha'is, the long-awaited establishment of the first Universal House of Justice on 21 April 1963 represented an event of transcendent importance. It had been conceived by Baha'u'llah, and invested by Him with the promise that it would be infallibly guided by God in its decisions.
The nine members chosen that year by secret ballot came from four continents, represented three major religious backgrounds (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim), and were of several different ethnic origins. Since that time, elections for the Universal House of Justice have been held every five years.
"Great is thy blessedness, O earth, for thou hast been made the foot-stool of thy God, and been chosen as the seat of His mighty throne." - Baha'u'llah
As the supreme institution of the Baha'i Faith, the Universal House of Justice took on the task of directing the growth and development of the worldwide Baha'i community. This was accomplished through a series of plans; each plan ran for from five to nine years and outlined a series of goals for expansion and recognition.
In 1963, worldwide Baha'i membership had reached 400,000. Baha'is lived in 11,000 localities and were organized into 56 national and regional communities. By 2016, there were some 7,000,000 Baha'is, residing in more than 116,000 localities, and organized into 171 national communities.
At the head of the Bahá'í administrative structure stands the Universal House of Justice, the international governing council of the Bahá'í Faith. Composed of nine individuals, the Universal House of Justice is elected every five years by the combined membership of all of the world's National Spiritual Assemblies.
The process of election is much the same as for local and National Spiritual Assemblies: there are no nominations, campaigning is forbidden, and the nine persons who receive the most votes are elected. As with local and national elections, voters are expected to consider only individuals of recognized ability and spiritual capacity.
The entire election process is a powerful expression of democratic ideals. Although it is an international institution, the Universal House of Justice is nevertheless surprisingly close to the grassroots. The final election of the Universal House of Justice is just three steps away from the local level: every adult Bahá'í is eligible to participate in the election of a "district" delegate; district delegates in turn elect the members of their respective National Spiritual Assemblies; and the members of all National Spiritual Assemblies around the world in turn elect the Universal House of Justice.
Bahá'u'lláh Himself established the institution of the Universal House of Justice, and it occupies a unique position in the Bahá'í administrative order. Bahá'ís understand that its decision-making on spiritual matters is unerringly guided by God.
"The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men. The ocean of divine wisdom surgeth within this exalted word, while the books of the world cannot contain its inner significance." - Bahá'u'lláh
Bahá'u'lláh's teachings are the foundation of Bahá'í belief and practice. The Universal House of Justice has the authority to legislate on all matters which Bahá'u'lláh Himself did not address. If, for example, the development of some future technology poses a moral question which was unknown at the time of Bahá'u'lláh, it would fall to the Universal House of Justice to determine how to address that question. In this way, Bahá'ís believe, the Bahá'í Faith will continue to be guided by God until such time as the next Manifestation of God appears--an event which Bahá'u'lláh said will not occur before the passing of no less than a thousand years.
It is important to note that, like members of national and local Assemblies, individual members of the Universal House of Justice have no power or authority on their own--however respected and honoured as individuals they may be. Only when they are gathered together, meeting officially as the Universal House of Justice, are they considered to be divinely inspired. The cult of personality has been entirely avoided.