The pot calling the kettle black: Part 1
Note: This is the first of a three-part article from a brother who wishes to remain anonymous. The online discussions of the past few weeks prompted him to write about his experiences, and what he would do if it were in his power to promote changes.
I saw some of his writing elsewhere, and asked if I could use some of his ideas; he responded by filling in some details and presenting what you see here. While I don’t necessarily agree with him on all points, he does make an interesting case for why Grand Lodges should remove recognition from those states that do not practice what the membership believes to be the higher ideals of our society. I’m presenting this as some food for thought.
The car ride home was one of the most awkward journeys that I have ever taken. My girlfriend at the time sat there silently and I was unable to find the words to explain to her what had just happened. The truth of the matter was that I was embarrassed, angry, and ashamed. I always thought of and spoke highly of the men that formed the rank and file of Freemasonry and never hesitated to speak of my membership in the Craft with pride.
Earlier in the evening, we drove out to my Lodge to participate in Ladies Night. It was a chance to show the women in our lives why Freemasonry was special to us. We had dinner, a meeting, and then after the meeting we headed over to the Grotto to share a beer with the Brethren who met on the same night, as was our monthly tradition. Good conversation was had, beer was drunk, and all were having a good time. As members gradually left a man approached my table and sat down. I introduced myself, I introduced my girlfriend, and he introduced himself as the Monarch of that particular Grotto. I told him about the fact that the Grotto was very important to my Great Grandfather and that I hoped to follow in his footsteps. I told him how he had tried to join the Shrine but was rejected because he was a Jew and instead joined the Grotto for fellowship.
In most instances, I would assume that most Masonic leaders would be proud of hearing that their organization stood for what was right. This one was the exception to the rule. What followed was a torrent of anti-Semitic remarks directed towards me and I was told that Jews were not welcome in his beloved Grotto.
I finished my beer, picked up my tailcoat, put it on, and walked down the hallway with my girlfriend. One of the Brothers from my Lodge happened to be walking down the hallway and saw that I was visibly upset and shaken. He asked me, “What happened?” At first, I did not want to tell him about it. I had dealt with anti-Semitism previously in my life and knew that it was best to keep my mouth shut rather than to speak up about it. To the credit of the Brother, he persisted and I finally told him what happened. He told me that it was not the first time it happened and that another member of my Lodge who happened to be married to an African American had racial comments directed toward him by the same man. I will always have a high opinion of the Brother who spoke with me that night. He called numerous times to make sure that I was doing all right and I finished out my year as an officer in three separate bodies while making sure to never step foot in the Grotto again.
So you might ask what happened to the Monarch? The answer was absolutely nothing. He finished his year as Monarch, got his honors for serving, and is, as far as I know, still a member of the fraternity.
As for me, I ended up apologizing to my girlfriend and attempting to explain to her that not all Freemasons were like the Monarch. Furthermore, I apologized to her for being a Jew because if I were not a Jew than she would have never had to witness what had occurred. I was embarrassed and ashamed by the men and organization I had held in such high regard. When I finished my commitments as an officer, I chose not to take on any new positions. Furthermore, I did not return to Freemasonry for nearly four years.
I would not be surprised if the vast majority of Brethren would be disturbed and a bit sickened after reading my story. Many of those Brethren would say what many Masons told me in the aftermath of the incident after having learned of it. They would say well if you belonged to such and such Lodge or so and so Grand Lodge that would have never have happened because we would not tolerate it. The next Monarch of that Grotto even came up to me and said that some sort of agreement had been reached where he was allowed to finish his year but no longer permitted to return. Furthermore, he told me that he was sorry and that I was welcome in the Grotto.
Even though I have no doubt of the sincerity of his apology, it came nearly six months later. Even then, part of me still believes that a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was a 23 year old Past High Priest, held multiple offices, belonged to several appendant bodies, and was very active in the fraternity. Needless to say, I do not think that I will be joining the Grotto in my lifetime.
The saddest thing of all is that my story represents just one of many. I could tell you about the Lodge Secretary who did not turn in minutes or reports to Grand Lodge for over three months, got a call from a female employee of the Grand Lodge questioning why they had not received the documentation, and his response that it was her fault because she probably had not been with a man lately. I could tell you about the Blue Lodge and Royal Arch Chapter where you hear racial epithets and jokes more often than the words “so mote it be”. I can tell you about a District Deputy that was not only present when those racial epithets and jokes were made but more than happily joined in making them alongside the Brethren. I can tell you that when I asked another Brother how I should respond to it, they told me that I needed to lighten up and that no one would believe me over a District Deputy.
Now, I know that many of you are mulling this over and are wondering where this occurred. I would be willing to bet that many of you have already pulled out your map of the United States and have your fingers pointed well below the Mason Dixon Line. I would be willing to wager that many of you have narrowed it down to one of two jurisdictions. The first on many of your minds would undoubtedly be the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Georgia owing to the fact that they prosecuted a Worshipful Master for allowing an African American to join their ranks and in light of the edict that was recently ratified that forces homosexual Brethren to remain in the closet. The second would likely be the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Tennessee because they expelled two more than worthy Brethren as a result of their marriage. So in which of these two Grand Lodges did the events that I have described occur?
The Grand Lodge that they occurred in was the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.
Like so many other Brethren, I have followed recent events in the Grand Lodge of Georgia and the Grand Lodge of Tennessee and am thoroughly disgusted and embarrassed by what has occurred. At the same time, I have also taken notice of the fact that so many other Masons from those jurisdictions have stood up to the edicts and have defended their Brethren.
In fact, all of the members that defended our African American Brother Victor Marshall in Atlanta ultimately persevered. Today, he is a Past Master and in spite of some members best attempts to prevent him from joining the Scottish Rite he became a member of that body. No one remembers the fact that it was one or two black balls against a vast majority of favorable votes that prevented Brother Marshall from joining the Scottish Rite. No one remembers that the Sovereign Grand Inspector General refused to allow racially motivated voting to carry the day in Atlanta.
Not many in the Masonic world know what happened the day that Georgia Freemasons ratified the Grand Masters edict outlawing homosexuality. Many of them are not aware of the fact that the room was evenly split on the issue. Not many know of the fact that the vote was close enough to warrant a hand count, but that it was ultimately pushed through without one by the Most Worshipful Grand Master.
Instead, what is remembered is that Georgia Freemasons are racist and homophobic.
The same could be said for the Grand Lodge of Tennessee.
I want to make it clear that I am not defending the Grand Lodge of Georgia or the Grand Lodge of Tennessee. The fact that there were enough members that enabled those edicts to be passed is shameful, embarrassing, and unmasonic to say the least. The argument that I have made and will continue to make in the next part of this article is that while Brethren are quick to point out the black eye given to Freemasonry by the Grand Lodge of Georgia and the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, they are largely unaware or turn a blind eye toward similar unmasonic conduct at home. Furthermore, while it is easy to condemn the policies of Grand Lodges through letters detailing policies of equality, it is not enough. Instead, Freemasonry will continue to suffer from the twin specters of racism and homophobia until Grand Lodges take meaningful and comprehensive steps to ensure that it will no longer have a place in the fraternity. As it stands, I am of the opinion that while recent events have brought attention to the issues of racism and homophobia within the Craft, the truth is that these same issues occur throughout the fraternity regardless of jurisdiction and until reform is made the opinions of the various Grand Lodges concerning Georgia and Tennessee are no different than the pot calling the kettle black.