Charles Mason Remey (May 15, 1874 – February 4, 1974) was a prominent and controversial American Bahá'í who was appointed in 1951 a Hand of the Cause, and president of the International Bahá'í Council. He was the architect for the Bahá'í Houses of Worship in Uganda and Australia, and Shoghi Effendi approved his design of the unbuilt House of Worship in Haifa, Israel.
When Shoghi Effendi died in 1957, he died without explicitly appointing a successor Guardian, and Remey was among the nine Hands of the Cause elected as an interim authority until the election of the first Universal House of Justice in 1963. However, in 1960 Remey declared himself to be the successor of Shoghi Effendi, and expected the allegiance of the world's Bahá'ís. Subsequently, he and his followers were declared Covenant breakers by the Hands. They reasoned that he did not fulfill the qualifications set forth by Abdu'l-Bahá in His Will and Testament. Remey lacked a formal appointment from Shoghi Effendi, an appointment which needed to be confirmed by the rest of the Hands, and that the office was confined to male descendants of Bahá'u'lláh, the Aghsan, which Remey was not. Almost the whole Bahá'í world rejected his claim, but he gained the support of a small but widespread group of Bahá'ís. His claim resulted in the largest schism in the history of the Bahá'í Faith, with a few groups still holding the belief that Remey was the successor of Shoghi Effendi. Various dated references show membership at less than a hundred each in two of the surviving groups.
Born in Burlington, Iowa, on May 15, 1874, Mason was the eldest son of Rear Admiral George Collier Remey and Mary Josephine Mason Remey, the daughter of Charles Mason, the first Chief Justice of Iowa. Remey’s parents raised him in the Episcopal Church. Remey trained as an architect at Cornell University (1893–1896), and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France (1896–1903) where he first learned of the Bahá'í Faith.
As a Bahá'í
With a background in architecture, Remey was asked to design the Ugandan and Australian Bahá'í Houses of Worship which still stand today and are the mother temples for Australasia and Africa respectively. Upon the request of Shoghi Effendi, he also provided designs for a Bahá'í House of Worship in Tehran, for Haifa, and the Shrine of `Abdu'l-Bahá, however only the Haifa temple was approved before the death of Shoghi Effendi, and none have so far been built.
Remey traveled extensively to promote the Bahá'í Faith during the ministry of `Abdu'l-Bahá. Shoghi Effendi recorded that Remey and his Bahá'í companion, Howard Struven, were the first Bahá'ís to circle the globe teaching the religion.
A prolific writer, Remey wrote numerous published and personal articles promoting the Bahá'í Faith, including `Abdu'l-Bahá – The Center of the Covenant and the five volume A Comprehensive History of the Bahá'í Movement (1927), The Bahá'í Revelation and Reconstruction (1919), Constructive Principles of The Bahá'í Movement (1917), and The Bahá'í Movement: A Series of Nineteen Papers (1912) are a few of the titles of the many works Remey produced while `Abdu'l-Bahá was still alive. Remey's life was recorded in his diaries, and in 1940 he provided copies and selected writings to several public libraries. Included in most of the collections were the letters `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote to him.
According to Juliet Thompson's diary, `Abdu'l-Bahá suggested that she marry Remey, and in 1909 asked her how she felt about it, reportedly requesting of her: “Give my greatest love to Mr. Remey and say: You are very dear to me. You are so dear to me that I think of you day and night. You are my real son. Therefore I have an idea for you. I hope it may come to pass...He told me He loved Mason Remey so much,” Thompson writes, “and He loved me so much that he wished us to marry. That was the meaning of His message to Mason. He said it would be a perfect union and good for the Cause. Then he asked me how I felt about it.” They did not marry, although Thompson anguished over her decision, which she felt would cause ‘Abdu’l-Baha disappointment. In 1932 he married Gertrude Heim Klemm Mason (1887-1933), who subsequently died a year later.
Under Shoghi Effendi
Remey lived for some time in Washington, D.C., in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1950 Remey moved his residence from Washington, D.C., to Haifa, Israel, at the request of Shoghi Effendi. In January 1951, Shoghi Effendi issued a proclamation announcing the formation of the International Bahá'í Council (IBC), representing the first international Bahá'í body. The council was intended to be a forerunner to the Universal House of Justice, the supreme ruling body of the Bahá'í Faith. Remey was appointed president of the council in March, with Amelia Collins as vice-president, then in December 1951 Remey was appointed a Hand of the Cause.
After Shoghi Effendi
When Shoghi Effendi died in 1957, Remey and the other Hands of the Cause met in a private Conclave at Bahjí in Haifa, and determined that he hadn't appointed a successor. During this conclave the Hands of the Cause decided that the situation of the Guardian having died without being able to appoint a successor was a situation not dealt with in the texts that define the Bahá'í administration, and that it would need to be reviewed and adjudicated upon by the Universal House of Justice, which hadn't been elected yet. Remey signed a unanimous declaration of the Hands that Shoghi Effendi had died "without having appointed his successor".
Three years later, in 1960, Remey made a written announcement that his appointment as president of the international council represented an appointment by Shoghi Effendi as Guardian, because the appointed council was a precursor to the elected Universal House of Justice, which has the Guardian as its president.
He also attempted to usurp the control of the Faith which the Hands had themselves assumed at the passing of Shoghi Effendi stating:
It is from and through the Guardianship that infallibility is vested and that the Hands of the Faith receive their orders...I now command the Hands of the Faith to stop all of their preparations for 1963, and furthermore I command all believers both as individual Bahá'ís and as assemblies of Bahá'ís to immediately cease cooperating with and giving support to this fallacious program for 1963.
He claimed to believe that the Guardianship was an institution intended to endure forever, and that he was the 2nd Guardian by virtue of his appointment to the IBC. Almost the whole Bahá'í world rejected his claim, although he gained the support of a small but widespread group of Bahá'ís. One of the most notable exceptions to accept his claim were several members of the French National Spiritual Assembly, led by Joel Marangella, who elected to support Remey. The Assembly was consequently disbanded by the Hands. The remaining 26 Hands of the Cause unanimously expelled him from the community. Remey himself declared that being the Guardian gave him the exclusive right to declare who was or wasn't a Covenant-breaker, and that those who opposed him and followed the Hands of the Cause were Covenant-breakers.
Under the Hereditary Guardianship
Among the Bahá'ís who accepted Mason Remey as the Second Guardian of the Cause of God, several further divisions have occurred based on opinions of legitimacy and the proper succession of authority. Most of his long-term followers were Americans, who distinguished themselves as "Bahá'ís Under the Hereditary Guardianship". In his later years Remey made confused and contradictory appointments for a successor, which resulted in further divisions among his followers dividing among several claimants to leadership. When Remey died his followers split into rival factions with each believing in a different Guardian. Donald Harvey (d.1991), was appointed by Remey as "Third Guardian" in 1967. Joel Marangella was president of Remey's "Second International Bahá'í Council" claimed in 1969 to have been secretly appointed by Remey as Guardian several years earlier, whose followers are now known as Orthodox Bahá'ís. Another of Remey's followers, Leland Jensen (d. 1996), who made several religious claims of his own, formed a sect known as the Bahá'ís Under the Provisions of the Covenant following Remey's death; he believed that Remey was the adopted son of Abdu'l-Baha, and that Remey's adopted son Joseph Pepe was the third Guardian.
From 1937 to 1958, Remey spent most of his fortune designing and building an underground mausoleum in Virginia as a memorial to his family called the “Remeum". It was replete with bas relief, statues, tombs, alcoves and reliefs depicting the lives of saints. The complex had electric chandeliers, ventilation and plumbing and, never finished because of legal issues, was frequently vandalized over the years.
On February 4, 1974, Mason Remey died at the age of 99.
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