The pot calling the kettle black: Part 2
Note: This is the second 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.
In the previous part of this article, I argued that the statements that have come forth from Grand Lodges distancing themselves from the edicts of the Grand Lodge of Georgia and the Grand Lodge of Tennessee were the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle black. That argument will undoubtedly ruffle the feathers of some of the Brethren who view the policies and principles of their Grand Lodge as superior to those of Tennessee and Georgia when it comes to equality. In deference to those Brethren who may disagree with my argument, I believe that your Grand Lodges are different and understand your argument because there is a difference.
What makes the Grand Lodge of Georgia and the Grand Lodge of Tennessee unique is the fact that persecution for race and sexual orientation has occurred at the hands of the Most Worshipful Grand Master of each jurisdiction. The racism and prejudice, therefore, is far more deeply embedded than it is in other jurisdictions and is overt in nature. My argument, therefore, is not that all Grand Lodges endorse racism. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I believe that the vast majority of Grand Lodges have similar views to the ones that issued statements speaking out against it in California, Utah, and the District of Columbia. Instead, what I am suggesting is that one does not have to look nearly as far to find racism and prejudice at the local level where it is more easily concealed.
Furthermore, I want to make it clear that my argument is not one where I am attempting to paint Freemasonry with a broad brush. Instead, I am simply arguing that there is a significant minority of individuals and Lodges within the fraternity with racist and prejudicial views. In some places, such as Pennsylvania, you will not necessarily see racism and prejudice at a meeting of the Grand Lodge or during a visitation by a District Deputy Grand Master. Moreover, the vast majority of Lodges that you visit will not have an issue with race or sexual orientation. Instead, you are far more likely to see it from a small Lodge in a rural area that does not receive a lot of visitors and only after they become comfortable with you and assume that you share similar views. In the case of the Lodge that I spoke of in the previous part of this article, it becomes quite clear that the deck is stacked against you as well. Even if you wanted to pursue charges of unmasonic conduct against them, it is impractical due to the fact that you are largely outnumbered in that particular Lodge. The argument, therefore, is one where I am saying that a problem involving race and prejudice exists in the fraternity beyond the borders of Georgia and Tennessee and to think otherwise would be either highly optimistic on your part or naïve.
With that in mind, the primary reason that Brethren direct their disgust at the racism and homophobia in the fraternity toward the Grand Lodges of Georgia and Tennessee is simply due to the fact that it has been made public for the world to see. While that is a bold statement on my part, let us examine it in greater detail.
One of the cases that I have already referred to was the case of Brother Victor Marshall in Atlanta. As we are aware, one needs to complete the Blue Lodge degrees prior to petitioning the Scottish Rite. When Brother Marshall, an African American, became a Master Mason, charges were brought against the Worshipful Master of his Lodge for raising an African American. Once the Grand Master signed off on those charges, then it became readily apparent that racism was present at the highest levels within the Grand Lodge. Even though the charges never resulted in a conviction, Brother Marshall along with another Brother from his Lodge, were denied admission from the Scottish Rite on multiple occasions thereafter. Now, if the charges against the Worshipful Master had never been filed and the black balls had come against a white and African American brother, it is possible that the discussion of racism would never have taken place owing to plausible deniability despite the signs that the fix was in. The reason for that is due to the fact that the Scottish Rite could have simply said that they rejected members from multiple races. With the charges authorized by the Grand Lodge, however, the true reason for the black balls was never in doubt. While admittedly the Scottish Rite would have had a weak argument under suspicious circumstances, the possibility that no one in the Craft would speak out about it would arguably be higher due to the fact that we are naturally reluctant to levy such a heavy allegation against our fellow Brethren without a smoking gun being present. Unfortunately, in the case of Georgia, we not only saw the smoking gun but also the bullet being fired from it by the Grand Master.
The racism and homophobia that occurs at the local levels of the fraternity, however, largely remains ignored. There are multiple reasons for that.
For instance, in my case, it would have been highly unlikely that I would have gained admission into the fraternity if the Lodge that I petitioned held anti-Semitic views. That was never likely to be the case because the Lodge that I petitioned was widely known for being a Lodge that was largely made up of Jews. In fact, I have a Masonic Bible from the 1970’s from the Lodge prior to it merging that only contains the Old Testament, which illustrates the Jewish character of that particular Lodge. As a result, Freemasons that do not visit other Lodges are unlikely to come across this problem.
Even then, the system of voting is such that one must merely provide a “Masonic” reason as to why a petitioner is being rejected. To the credit of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, an edict was issued dispensing with this requirement and replaced with a standard requiring three or more black balls for rejection. While some purists of the fraternity are undoubtedly critical of some of our Grand Master’s more progressive edicts, I find this one to be well founded. If a committee makes a case as to why someone is not fit for the fraternity, then there is no doubt that more than three black balls will be accrued. At the same time, the edict had the effect of silencing the loose cannons that had their own agendas for rejecting candidates. Nevertheless, as most jurisdictions require only one black ball, any myriad of reasons could be presented as to why a candidate should be rejected. One may say something as simple as, “I do not think he possessed the good character requisite of a man who seeks admission into the Craft,” and that will often be the beginning and the end of the argument.
Next, if we are dealing with a Grand Lodge that observes Mackey’s Landmarks, then it is near impossible for a member of another Lodge to confront racism. According to Mackey, the sixteenth Landmark is that, “No Lodge can interfere in the business of another Lodge or give degrees to Brethren of other Lodges.” With that in mind, lets suppose that you visit another Lodge and view unmasonic conduct. Even though you observed the racism, you would be hard pressed to bring charges against that Mason because of the fact that you are not entitled to do that as a member of another Lodge. That is simply because masonic charges and trials would fall under the purview of that Lodge.
Finally, if you are dealing with a Lodge that is overtly racist it often becomes an issue where you are outnumbered. Even if you lived in a jurisdiction that would allow you to bring charges, it is likely that there would be a slew of witnesses testifying to the fact that your allegations are false. Other times, you are not in a position with enough authority to bring charges. In the Brother Marshall’s case, charges were brought by a Worshipful Master in the Grand Lodge of Georgia against the Worshipful Master of Brother Marshall’s Lodge in order to take the case to the Grand Lodge of Georgia and out of the Blue Lodge where it clearly would not have succeeded. In my case, it would have likely been my word against a Monarch of the Grotto. At the Blue Lodge level, it would have been my word against the Worshipful Master, the Senior Warden, the Junior Warden, along with several appointed officers and Past Masters. When you are faced with those odds, it is no wonder that charges are brought or you are told to lighten up and let it go even though the matter is far from trivial.
The end result is that we unfortunately have created a system where it is difficult for those who witness or are the victim of persecution to defend themselves. There are some that want to believe that the ills of homophobia and racism are confined to the Grand Lodge of Tennessee and the Grand Lodge of Georgia. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case.
Furthermore, if one wants to take action against a Brother who engages in unmasonic conduct, they are likely to face an uphill battle. First, it is extraordinarily difficult for a Brother to prove that another Brother acted out of malice when casting his vote without staining his own reputation in the process. Second, even if racist or homophobic behavior is observed, it is highly difficult for a Brother to bring charges against another Brother when they are clearly outnumbered. Third, there are institutional barriers in place, such as Mackey’s Landmarks, that often prevent a Brother from bringing a case against another Brother for unmasonic conduct stemming from racist or prejudicial behavior. Finally, we have a number of Brethren who encourage those who are persecuted to let it go and move on from what occurred rather than confronting it.
In the next section of this article, I will be presenting solutions for the problems that I have discussed in this section.