The pot calling the kettle black: Part 3
Note: This is the third 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 chief argument that I have made in the preceding parts of this article is that racism and homophobia are not limited to the Grand Lodge of Georgia and Tennessee. Instead, I am of the opinion that racism and homophobia are present throughout the Craft and must be addressed with comprehensive and meaningful solutions provided by the various Grand Lodges.
This article originated due to the fact that there have been several posts on social media sites applauding the letters condemning the policies against homosexuals and African Americans in Georgia and Tennessee. While these letters represent a step in the right direction, they carry very little weight in terms of their ability to effect change within the fraternity. The position more or less taken by a few Grand Lodges largely amounts to, “While we condemn the actions of the Grand Lodge of Georgia and Tennessee, they are entitled to their opinion, but in our jurisdiction we welcome homosexual Brethren.”
To that I reply, “Awesome, but what about Brother Clark and his husband? They will not be permitted to visit your Lodges anytime soon because they were wrongly expelled from the fraternity.”
Furthermore, I would reply, “Tremendous! Surely, however, there is another homosexual Brother in Georgia or Tennessee who will have to conceal their life from a Brother for fear of prosecution and persecution. When they are charged and this whole process repeats itself in the eyes of the public how is the Craft going to look then? Are we going to have our spokesman Brother Chris Hodapp rush to our aid to grant more interviews in which he says, ‘Well, the decision is up to the Grand Lodge, but this type of behavior is considered repugnant by the vast majority of Freemasons?’”
Moreover, I would reply, “Excellent. Now, what exactly will happen when another Grand Lodge decides to follow the example of Georgia and Tennessee because they know that the only consequence is a stern letter from three Grand Lodges and the Scottish Rite? More stern letters?” If that happens, heaven forbid, then we are going to have a lot more to worry about than a black eye.
If you do not think the damage has been done in the fraternity, I can point to a 38 year old Past Master in Georgia who is demitting because of the action his Grand Lodge took. I can point to a number of worthy candidates who will never file a petition because our reputation has been tarnished. I can also point to a more recent situation where I visited a Lodge and an Entered Apprentice refused to go forward with his work because of what happened. Brethren, this is not a Georgia problem, this is not a Tennessee problem, this is a problem that will have ramifications across the Masonic world and the best that we have come up with is, “Well, the Grand Lodges have the authority to make those decisions, we cannot question that authority, but we can assure you that our Grand Lodge will not make a similar decision.”
Spare me. Spare us. Our fraternity is far better than that and we should expect more from it.
In fact, I am going to propose a far more meaningful and comprehensive response to what has occurred than what our Grand Lodges have offered. My response is one that makes it clear, in no uncertain terms, that there will be consequences if a Grand Lodge or any other Masonic body for that matter decides to engage in racism, prejudice, or homophobia. Brethren, the truth of the matter is that actions speak louder than words and the time has come to take action.
With that said, here is what I would have done if I were the Right Worshipful Grand Master of Pennsylvania.
- Issue an edict reforming the Masonic judicial process.
As I mentioned in the last part of this article , there are barriers that prevent Freemasons from being able to address the issue of unmasonic conduct. As the Right Worshipful Grand Master, I would eliminate those barriers in multiple ways.
First and foremost, all black balls would be able to be appealed to a panel of three District Deputy Grand Masters anonymously if there were suspicions as to why they were cast. The appeal would require the showing of cause as to why an individual believed that a black ball was unfairly cast. Upon receiving the appeal, a District Deputy would inform the Worshipful Master of it and give them 30 days to make their case. Abstract explanations as to why a vote was cast will not be sufficient. Instead, there must be a valid reason such as a criminal record or other hard proof that the person is unfit to join the fraternity. The District Deputies would then investigate the claims and if well founded would uphold the vote and the petitioner would be rejected. If, on the other hand, there is no evidence to support the casting of a black ball, then the District Deputies would have the power and authority to overturn the vote of the Blue Lodge, expunge the record of the vote, and order that the petitioner be initiated by a simple majority vote of the three. Furthermore, the petitioner would be given the status of Candidate at Large and have the option of pursuing membership at another Lodge. If the candidate chose to do so, then the Blue Lodge that they petitioned would have to turn over the initiation fee to the petitioner’s Lodge of choice and it would be credited toward their initiation fee and dues.
Second, ANY member would be permitted to bring charges against ANY other Lodge or member anonymously on the basis of racial, prejudicial, or homophobic conduct. The charges would be filed with the District Deputy who may assign any member of his district to visit the Lodge and investigate the claims. If the claims are verified, then the District Deputy will either have the power to bring charges against the individual or the entire Lodge depending on the nature of the infraction. If racism, prejudice, or homophobia is found to be systemic within the Lodge and the Lodge is convicted, the District Deputy Grand Master under the authority of the Right Worshipful Grand Master would have the power to confiscate the Charter of the Lodge. Furthermore, every member that participated in such conduct would be subject to expulsion from the fraternity upon conviction.
Third, in terms of discovery, the District Deputy would have to produce the statements made by the anonymous Brother and his investigator. The Lodge and member would reserve the right to serve interrogatories through the District Deputy in order to confront their accuser. The accuser must respond to the interrogatories within 30 days and they must be served upon the Defendant.
Fourth, all decisions made by the District Deputies may be appealed to the Right Worshipful Grand Master.
- Grand Lodges that engage in homophobic or racist conduct will no longer have fraternal ties with the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania
As the Right Worshipful Grand Master of Pennsylvania, it is not enough for me to write a letter condemning racist, prejudicial, or homophobic conduct. Instead, I have a duty and a responsibility to lead by example within the Masonic world.
The first thing that I would do is issue an edict prohibiting Masons from the Grand Lodge of Georgia and the Grand Lodge of Tennessee from visiting Blue Lodges under my jurisdiction effective immediately based on the decisions made by their Lodges that reflect poorly on the Craft.
Next, I would propose that the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania sever fraternal ties with the Grand Lodge of Georgia and the Grand Lodge of Tennessee until the edicts are reversed, until they pass legislation that bringing charges of unmasonic conduct on the basis of race, religion, and sexual orientation are strictly prohibited, publicly disavow their current position, expunge and dismiss any and all cases that have been brought against any Brethren on the basis of race, sexual orientation, or religious belief, and reinstate the Brethren that have been expelled and grant them life membership.
- Proposing to bring back the Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging and issuing an edict waiving residency requirements for Brethren who have been the victims of racial, homophobic, and religious policies, and declaring any and all decisions rendered against those Brethren by their respective Grand Lodges void and unenforceable within my jurisdiction.
One of the peculiarities of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania is that the full title of the Grand Lodge is The Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons in Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging. While the official title of the Grand Lodge is a mouthful, many people wonder what Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging means.
Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging means that Lodges affiliated with the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania extended beyond its borders at one point in history. In fact, the Grand Lodge had chartered Lodges in the Dominican Republic, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina, and most notably for our present purposes Georgia. In fact, the website for the Grand Lodge of Georgia notes that a Lodge known as Hiram Lodge #42 was Chartered by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania on the basis that they disapproved of the work being done by Solomon’s Lodge #1 in Savannah.
Furthermore, one of the unique things about the Right Worshipful Grand Master of Pennsylvania is that he can unilaterally issue edicts without putting them to a vote and his edict is absolute. In a book titled The Exemplar, Right Worshipful Past Grand Master Carpenter states, “It may be of great interest for Pennsylvania Freemasons to know that the inherent powers of the Right Worshipful Grand Master are unequaled throughout the Masonic World. There is no appeal of the decisions or actions of the Right Worshipful Grand Master of Pennsylvania. It has been stated many times that his power is frightening.”
Given the power that I would have as Right Worshipful Grand Master and historic precedent, I would propose that we bring back the tradition of the Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging. If the vote were approved at a meeting of the Grand Lodge, then I would immediately issue an edict stating that any Blue Lodge in Georgia or Tennessee that disagreed with the edicts of the Grand Lodge of Georgia or Tennessee could surrender their charter to me and would immediately be granted a new Charter under the jurisdiction of the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania provided that they adopted legislation that bringing charges of unmasonic conduct on the basis of race, religion, and sexual orientation are strictly prohibited, publicly disavow their current position, expunge and dismiss any and all cases that have been brought against any Brethren on the basis of race, sexual orientation, or religious belief and would be entitled to keep their ritual and customs which are distinct from those in Pennsylvania. Alternatively, if they did not wish to be affiliated with the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and wished to form an independent Grand Lodges, then their Grand Lodges would be immediately recognized by the Grand Lodge upon declaring their existence and would receive whatever aid was necessary from the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in order to form provided that similar legislation was passed at the inception of the new Grand Lodges.
Furthermore, I would use my power of making a Mason at Sight to admit any Brother who was a victim of racial, homophobic, or religious misconduct leading to their expulsion, their records would be immediately cleared, the residency requirement to join the Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania would be waived, and they would be permitted to join effective immediately free of charge and until their Grand Lodges removed the obstacles to their membership and rescinded their policies.
As one can see, my policies are very broad and truly make a statement that racism, homophobia, and prejudice will not be tolerated by the Craft. On a local level, I provide the mechanisms necessary in order for investigations to occur, charges to be brought, and the barriers to be broken down that prevent unmasonic conduct from being reported. On the Grand Lodge level, I would use the power vested in me to give other Grand Lodges the courage to stand up to the policies of the Grand Lodge of Georgia and Tennessee while aiding and assisting Brethren who were victims of those policies.
Under my edicts, my Grand Lodge would not issue a letter simply condemning racism and prejudice. My Grand Lodge would begin the process of isolating Georgia and Tennessee from the rest of the Masonic world because of the inherently unmasonic decisions that they have rendered. When their Blue Lodges either joined my Grand Lodge or formed their own Grand Lodges that would receive immediate recognition, they would know that they had a true Masonic friend in Pennsylvania that upheld the virtues and principles of equality in the fraternity above all else.
Instead of the public seeing little action, they would see a precedent set that if you tarnish the reputation of the fraternity with racist or homophobic edicts, then there is a price to pay in the form of severe consequences. Those consequences would not only be severe enough to make every Mason within my jurisdiction think twice about engaging in racial, homophobic, or prejudicial conduct, but they would have a devastating impact on Grand Lodges who engaged in such conduct.
If other Grand Lodges followed my example, then Georgia and Tennessee would have no choice but to reverse their edicts and overturn the convictions that have been entered against Brethren on the basis of race, religion, and sexual orientation due to the sheer amount of pressure exerted on them. Moreover, we would not have to throw in the towel and say, “Well, there is not much we can do about it,” when we face the media. Additionally, no other jurisdiction would even consider enacting such policies by the time it was said and done because they know that my jurisdiction will act against it. If we responded with edicts and actions similar to the ones proposed, then the discussions that we are having about Georgia and Tennessee would not be concerned with how they are tarnishing the reputation of the fraternity. Instead, we would be enhancing the reputation of the fraternity by taking a firm stand that inequality does not have a place in a Blue Lodge or any Grand Lodge. Simply put, if we do not take action, then the public sees us as being just as much a part of the problem.
I have chosen to remain anonymous owing to the fact that I no longer live in Pennsylvania. Instead, I now live in one of the jurisdictions that have passed the edict against homosexuals. Although I am saddened by the fact that no Grand Lodge has chosen to act, I fully intend on joining a Lodge in this jurisdiction, making my way to the East, and gaining the ability to vote against the current policies of the Grand Lodge. I fear that if my identity is exposed that I will have problems joining a local Lodge with the hope of making positive change. I hope, however, that my series of articles will cause you to see the problem of inequality within the Craft, that you will demand that action be taken within your respective Grand Lodges, and become an active part of making a change within the fraternity that live up to our ideals of equality within our ranks.