Legislating (Masonic) Morality

November 7, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

At the time of this writing, there are a dozen US states in which the AF&AM Grand Lodges do not recognize, or extend amity to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodges located within those same states. All of those states are in the part of the US that is generally called “the South,” as they correspond to the states that seceded from the Union during our Civil War back in the 1800s. It seems that every week I read a diatribe from a (usually anonymous) commenter on a blog or web group that the Grand Lodges in those Southern states are “racist” for not recognizing their Prince Hall counterparts, and that they should move with the times, and come into the 21st Century.

And truly, while there is no room for racism in our Craft, it certainly seems that there must be a lot of room for intolerance, impatience, and arrogance; because I see those characteristics displayed quite frequently by the brethren who demand that these Grand Lodges fall in line with the other 38 states. More recently, I’ve even seen a new blogger who has drafted legislation – purely as a thought experiment or conversation point (I hope) – calling for the other states to drop recognition of at least one of these recalcitrant Grand Lodges. I must say that while I applaud the spirit of my brothers who would like to see recognition across all the Grand Lodges in the US, I am astounded and appalled at the behavior that I’ve seen them display toward that end.

Personally, I have no knowledge as to why the last dozen Grand Lodges have not yet extended recognition, nor do I know if indeed, talks are already in the works. I do know that recognition is a highly politically charged issue, not only for the AF&AM Grand Lodges, but also for the MWPH Grand Lodges as well; and it occurs to me that the demands and threats from the sidelines can’t possibly make things happen more smoothly. I’m going to leave aside the ethical considerations of threatening our sister Grand Lodges with the withdrawal of recognition, and focus on a point that I have not seen discussed elsewhere.

If the Grand Lodge of any of those states suddenly recognized the MWPH Grand Lodge of that state, what, I ask you, would actually happen? Would Prince Hall Masons – assuming, of course, that they reciprocate the recognition – suddenly stampede to sit in AF&AM lodges? That seems unlikely to me, and why would they? For the benefit of watching an AF&AM lodge pay some bills and plan the next fish fry? Perhaps for all of you to pat each other on the back after a speech about how great it is to sit in lodge together… and then to perhaps do it all over again in six months or a year? What’s the point of that? Most Masons don’t want to sit in their own lodges if all they’re going to do is argue about the phone bill and have some coffee and donuts afterward.

I’m going to be blunt here: the underlying issue isn’t the recognition itself; there are dozens of unrecognized jurisdictions around the US, mainly groups that have splintered off from a mainstream Grand Lodge. The underlying issue is that the people on the sidelines see the recognition issue as a factor of racism and discrimination. Prince Hall Grand Lodges tend to have mainly (but not exclusively) black members, while AF&AM tend to have mainly (but not exclusively) white members.

Without some insight into the politics and workings of these Grand Lodges, it’s impossible to determine if this is true, even in part. But even so, what do those clamoring from the sidelines expect that immediate recognition of the MWPH Grand Lodges would accomplish? Do they think that a stroke of a pen will end racism in their states? Isn’t that akin to legislating morality?

The real issue is that we sometimes expect our Grand Lodges to “fix” some problem that in actuality should be dealt with at the Blue lodge level – or sometimes even at the individual level.

For the brothers who have been demanding recognition, how many of you have had joint fellowship nights with your Prince Hall brethren? Obviously you can’t sit in lodge together, but that shouldn’t stop you from having dinner together. How many of you have planned a joint event, like a picnic, or a friendly barbecue and horseshoe match? And why stop at dinner? Masonry being about working, how many of you have held joint community service events in your area? Perhaps a joint Child ID event, or a blood drive hosted by two lodges? Here’s an idea: a Masonic weekend in which handy members of the local PH and AF&AM lodges lend their talents and energy to a Habitat for Humanity project?

Any of those have got to be better for jurisdictional relations than sitting in a stuffy lodge room.

The bonds of trust and friendship are not forged by the signatures of Grand Masters on some pile of papers; they are formed by getting together, face to face, side by side, and working at something useful. They are formed by meeting on the level, and by doing things that you both have an interest in doing.

Too often, when faced with a problem in the Fraternity we look at our Grand Lodge as if it were an adversarial organization. We demand that “they” should do something – when we aren’t demanding that “they” should stop doing something. We forget that we, ourselves, are the Grand Lodge, and that the Grand Lodge officers take their cues from what the members of the Craft say and do. If your Grand Lodge officers don’t hear or see any interest at the Blue lodge level, they certainly aren’t going to have any motivation to move the issue along at the Grand Lodge level.

This doesn’t mean that I think those clamoring from the sidelines should stop raising the issue; change moves with the glacial speed in Masonry, and sometimes we need people to help us keep track of our progress (or lack thereof). But instead of expending so much energy in anonymous rantings, perhaps we would all be better served if they put those energies toward promoting true brotherhood in a more constructive manner.

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