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Pitchforks into ploughshares

March 4, 2016 6 comments

Freemasons that have been online in the last few weeks have been discussing the news item that the Grand Lodge of Tennessee expelled two active members of the fraternity for the presumed violation of the Masonic Code, which prohibits, in part, homosexual behavior.

I would like to take the opportunity to mention that I’m very disappointed at the open displays of intolerance and outright prejudice.

No, I’m not talking about Tennessee, or Georgia, or the other Grand Lodges which have made similar noises. I’m talking about the comments that I’ve been seeing all over social media from other members of the fraternity who do not support the decision.

Look, brothers, I get it. Perhaps you have worked through your own prejudices about different things, or perhaps you grew up without understanding how people can have those ideas. And you understand that Freemasonry is one of the few social institutions that allows men from various classes and cultures to meet together without the concern for titles, labels, or other forms of prejudice, and you are angry that some Grand Lodges (or at least, their officers) do not seem to interpret the purpose of the society in the way that you do. torches-pitchforks

But many of you are simply lashing out, and your righteous indignation is not helping your cause. Over the last couple of weeks, I have seen some of you use terms like “hayseeds,” “morons,” “bigoted,” “idiots,” and sadly, much worse. I’ve seen accusations that the members of those states have forgotten — or never knew — their Masonic duties. I’ve seen many of you suggest that those Grand Lodges are not worthy of recognition, that all enlightened Grand Lodges should immediately rescind any agreements of amity with them. And I’ve seen some of you suggest things much more crude.

Is this how Freemasons should act toward anyone, especially each other?

Most of us have a charge in our obligations to “whisper good counsel” to an errant brother, to help to set him aright “in the most tender manner.” The idea behind this is that taking somebody aside to talk to them is generally more helpful than screaming epithets from a distance. It’s not just Freemasonry, it’s a factor of human nature. You can not teach people tolerance and respect by failing to display it in your own behavior.

The Grand Lodges of other jurisdictions have already been discussing the situation, and some, as you know, have released statements regarding their position. Instead of continuing to insult (because that’s what you are doing) your brothers in other states, it would be more useful to turn your energies toward letting your own Grand Lodge know what you think. And please, let’s treat our fellow Masons in Tennessee, Georgia, and elsewhere with respect and consideration. You may not agree with their opinion, but ranting at them on the internet is not the best way to demonstrate what tolerance should be about.

After all, when was the last time you changed your mind on some issue because somebody called you an idiot?

 

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News Item: “Tennessee Freemasons Oust Married Gay Couple, Threaten Supporters with Suspension”

February 24, 2016 12 comments

From Tennesee’s WKNO 9:00 am news article:

“Tennessee Freemasons Oust Married Gay Couple, Threaten Supporters with Suspension”

Readers will remember when we discussed this several weeks ago: Bro. Dennis Clark and his married partner Bro. Mark Henderson have been expelled from the Grand Lodge of Tennessee because they violated the rules:

According to the constitution, members are not supposed to “engage in lewd conduct. To promote or engage in homosexual activity. To cohabit immorally in a situation without the benefit of marriage.”

Now, there’s no arguing with this. They are homosexuals. They got (legally) married. It’s against the Tennessee Masonic Code, and they are in violation.

Mark G Window

Stained Glass G, restored by Bros. Henderson and Clark.

But it really does make you wonder about the situation. Dennis Clark and Mark Henderson were, to all appearances, honest, active, and hard-working Freemasons. I haven’t run across any behind-the-scenes complaints about  either of them; as far as I can tell, Clark was very active in lodge, and in several other appendant bodies. Why would the Grand Lodge of Tennessee opt to discipline, and ultimately expel them, for violations of the code, when they could have easily ignored the situation until such time as the rules could be changed? The Grand Lodge convenes in March, and presumably legislation could have been drafted to present at that time.

More, why pick on two active brothers for that violation, when it would be presumably easy to find brothers cohabiting with partners, or violating any other of the rules?

By 2:30 pm, the WKNO news item was picked up by The Raw Story, an internet news magazine. In less than 2 hours, it managed to get almost 600,000 “likes” on Facebook, which means that the idea “The Masons don’t let gays in,” will be what people think of. The general public has no idea that every US state has their own rules, they will just remember something about some gay guys getting kicked out — for being gay.

Even more troubling, though, is the report that the Grand Lodge has essentially issued a gag order on all members, forbidding them from discussing this situation with the public — including online venues.

Grand Master Phillip Hastings, the current leader of Tennessee’s freemasons, did not respond to multiple interview requests. Last November, he outlined the organization’s position of silence in an open letter sent to lodges:

“Brethren, this Masonic matter is to be handled by the Grand Lodge of Tennessee within the State of Tennessee and any further un-authorized discussion on this matter outside of the Tennessee Masonic fraternity will be considered a Masonic offense and will be dealt with accordingly,” Hastings wrote.

Naturally, this hasn’t stopped Masons from other jurisdictions from discussing the situation. While there are mixed opinions, depending upon which forum or Facebook group one reads, the majority of Freemasons online (typically a younger demographic), disagree strongly with the decision.

Paul Rich, a scholar of Freemasonry, says that the society was originally founded as a safe haven for ideas and Enlightenment values.

“It largely eliminated sectarian references and welcomed diversity. Because of that, it attracted prominent people and made an important intellectual contribution,” Rich says, adding that America’s regional ideologies are affecting that spirit. “The Northern lodges are having difficulties being associated with all of this.”

And indeed, most of the arguing online seems to be based on the disagreement of whether homosexuality is an immoral behavior. It’s not something that will be settled easily. Unfortunately, in the meantime this is just one more reason that Freemasonry will continue to look like a dinosaur club.

More Disciplined Behavior

February 9, 2016 Leave a comment

Back in September 2015, the online Masonic community was up in arms over the edict (since then voted into the Masonic Code) of the then-Grand Master of Georgia, in which he declared:

“Masonic Code section 77-108 shall be hereby amended to add that: Homosexual activity with anyone is prohibited conduct subjecting the offender to Masonic discipline.”

What ended up getting lost in the commotion was the news, originally reported by Chris Hodapp, that the Grand Lodge of Tennessee was in the middle of initiating a trial against WB Dennis Clark of Park Avenue Lodge No. 362, apparently for violating Masonic conduct in the Tennessee Masonic Code of co-habitation. The underlying issue is that WB Clark is actually married to his male partner, and the Grand Master is implying that WB Clark is engaging in homosexual behavior, which is also against the Tennessee Masonic Code.  trial-at-the-old-bailey[1]

Now, there is no question that homosexual behavior (q.v.) is prohibited by Tennessee Masonic Code; it’s right in the same sections that also prohibit Gambling, Drunkeness, Pornography, Use of Profanity, and yes, Co-Habitation; all actions for which nobody else seems to be under suspension.

WB Clark, following up with the results of the Masonic trial which he alleges his lodge was forced into having, left a comment on my post about the subject, and agreed to allow me to post it.

 

Good evening, Gentlemen. Here is an update on case 15-05, Grand Lodge of Tennessee v Brother Dennis Robert Clark. On January 30, 2016, GM Philip Dwight Hasings convicted my partner and me of offenses against the Grand Lodge, i.e., our marriage was an offense because it implied we would also have an intimate relationship. The rationale the Grand Master uses to conflate lewd behavior and marriage is astonishing in an organization that prides finds its roots in enlightened reason and rational thought.

It is impossible to describe the feeling of being rejected by the same lodge we both worked so hard to rebuild. After investing thousands of hours rebuilding Park Avenue Lodge #362 in Memphis and tens of thousands of dollars, after serving openly and happily to repair it and make the lodge a better place to be and a place to spend time for our brethren and our families, there is no way to describe the sense of rejection at the hands of my own brothers. Indeed, several of the officers were at our Blessing; they ate our food, danced to our music, enjoyed a day at our farm, and took communion with us. And now, not one of them will stand and speak for us. They are waiting until March to call a vote to remove some language from the constitution.

In Tennessee, we say, “Everything that is vicious and cruel and oppressive it (Freemasonry) reprobates.” It doesn’t say to wait till the next Grand Lodge meeting to take a vote. Still, not one has stood up to say, “Stop! No more.” Some of these men I helped financially, many have come to my house for fellowship meals. They have come at my invitation to our Cathedral to celebrate Easter and Christmas. And now, they have vanished into nothingness. My former brothers, this is the stuff that Tennessee Freemasonry is made of. Mark and I are fallen soldiers in this war against bigotry but I am hopeful that the good brothers in Tennessee will right the ship and wrestle power away from those who would stand proudly on a decision that does nothing but stain the reputation of a Fraternity that I have loved.

Anyone who is interested in WB Clark’s response to the original allegations can view the PDF here.

I don’t know if the experience will sour WB Clark, his partner, and the dozens, or perhaps hundreds of gay Masons in the state on Freemasonry, but I hope that they understand that changes in Freemasonry, like with any other organization, must happen from within.

But let’s also keep in mind that while Freemasons understand (for the most part) that jurisdictions all have their own rules, the general public — you know, those people who read the Dan Brown books, and watch those History Channel specials — have no idea how the Society works. When the public starts hearing that “The Masons will kick you out if you’re gay” — and they will, of course, because these stories are already making the rounds on social media — they aren’t going to think to themselves “Oh, never mind, it’s just those guys in Georgia.” No, they will associate this with the entire fraternity in the US. Freemasonry, already fighting a reputation as an “old man’s club,” will soon be fighting a reputation as an “old dinosaur’s club.”

Freemasonry, as a society, does not need to be on the forefront of social change. It does not need to be waving a banner for whatever popular movement happens to be in the public eye. There are times when it is actually good to be conservative in actions or outlook. But societal change is going to happen. We don’t need to lead the march, but it would be nice not to appear that we are being dragged along, kicking and screaming.

 

Edit: An update from WB Clark:

“Update: I have learned that there will be a meeting tonight (10 Feb 2016) to decide what to do about Tennessee Master masons who have “liked”, commented favorable, or have been otherwise critical of Grand Master Hasting’s decision to convict. Be advised that if you are a Master Mason in Tennessee, you might want to remove comments or “likes”. There are still six long weeks left till the Grand Lodge meets on March 23-24 at 100 North 7th Street in Nashville, TN. Be there and use your voice.”

My blog article was posted in 4 or 5 different Facebook groups, and has been seen by hundreds, perhaps thousands of Masons around the US and UK judging from the visitor stats of the last couple of days. We also discussed it a bit on The Masonic Roundtable last night. WB Clark also has dozens of responses on his own FB page. This issue won’t be easily swept under the rug.

That said, I would urge Masons, especially from that jurisdiction, to think before they head for the pitchforks and torches, so as not to screw up any chance that Bro. Clark might have at being reinstated.

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