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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.

The Lodge Network

April 1, 2015 11 comments

The Grand Lodge Annual Communication is coming up shortly — a little late this year, and hopefully not as contentious as the Semi-Annual session back in October. I expect to be attending the parties and gatherings the previous night, and I’m hoping that I can get enough time from work to attend to actual meeting the next day.

One of the items that has been overlooked in last year has been the quiet success of the first internet-only lodge in Connecticut, and quite possibly in the entire US. Similar to Castle Island Virtual Lodge, our new lodge has no physical presence, which means that it embodies one of the other connotations of the word “lodge:” not the building, but the membership.unmounted07

While you might think that the lack of need for a building would make it pretty easy to set up an internet lodge, it has, in fact, taken well over a year of planning, researching, and developing by a small group of some of the more progressive members of our fraternity. One of the issues was finding a secure network platform that would allow more than two dozen visitors. While several of the Grand Lodge committees meet online, they usually do so via Google Hangouts, which is limited in the number of video connections.

The most difficult part of the process was not the website, but convincing other Freemasons that not only is an internet lodge more than just a novelty, but that it can be a good alternative to the conventional lodges. CIVL has long since proved that the security of such a lodge is viable, but there were several other issues that needed to be resolved. Not surprisingly, most of those were the non-technical issues.

By far, the most contentious issue was that of degree work. Lodge members, not being able to be in the same room together for degree work, recorded some of the best ritualists in the state performing all three degrees, plus the various lectures and charges. Those videos are stored on a secure server, with DVD copies. Candidates, after having paid their degree fees, will then receive a pass code to download each degree, or, if desired, to have a DVD delivered in Netflix style. They can then watch the degree ceremony, after which they will have the opportunity to prove themselves before going on to the next degree.

Those opposed to such an arrangement insist that video degrees will lack the personal touch that helps conventional lodge members to bond. Another point is that having a candidate simply sit through a screening would take away from the initiatory experience, and leave the candidate with little reason to return.

On the other hand, proponents of virtual degrees point out that the videos are much better quality than the work seen in most lodges, and that if a candidate has a large screen TV with a home theater setup, the experience might well be superior to the conventional way. Another point is that the One Day Classes have already removed the participatory nature of the degrees by presenting them as a spectacle; if one can become a Mason by watching others on a stage, then why can’t one become a Mason by watching others on a video screen?

Scottish Rite officials have declined to comment, but have been rumored to be watching the situation closely. Likewise, the Grand Lodges of several states have quietly contacted the officers of our new lodge with questions about scripting and producing similar videos for use at their One Day degree festivals.

Fortunately, the progressive minded thinking for which our Grand Lodge has been known prevailed. Connecticut has two research lodges, a European Concept lodge, and now, an internet lodge, which will (hopefully!) be announced at the upcoming Grand Lodge session.

For those interested in what our modern and forward-thinking brothers have been working on:


Network Lodge No. 502 AF&AM
Welcome to the Freemasonry of the Future!


Categories: Grand Lodge, Internet, Lodge Tags: ,

The Craftsmen’s Paradox – Redux

March 12, 2015 1 comment

My post on the Masonic version of the Abilene Paradox — which I named the Craftsmen’s Paradox, since I’m the guy writing about it — generated a not-unsurprising amount of feedback on Facebook, Reddit, and in various PMs and emails. I was surprised at first, but I’ve come to realize that (in conformance with the sociological aspects of this flavor of groupthink) the One Day Classes have been around for going on twenty years now, so the big conversations are long since over; we don’t realize that there is a new generation of Masons coming in this way, and the lodges have a new generation of officers who apparently aren’t questioning their own Grand Lodges. 

While not every state still uses the ODCs, it’s interesting to see the justifications are almost always the same: it makes it easier for busy men, younger men with families, or men about to be deployed in the military service. Likewise, the handful of statistical surveys always present the same conclusion, i.e., that the men raised in the ODCs are retained or active in the Society at about the same rate as those who come in the conventional way.

So, there are a small class of candidates who would find this helpful, and they tend to be just as active (or alternately, tend to drop out with the same frequency) as the members coming in with the regular degree system. Yet, there are obviously quite a few men who are being dragged into the ODCs — quite possibly more than those for whom it would be desirable. This again raises the question: Are ODCs a solution in search of a problem?

Some of the responses were from Masons who have seen or acted in the ODCs, and their comments tended to be along the lines of “follow the money.” That is, while they or their lodge had an opportunity to showcase some fine work, they came away with the attitude that it was a way for Grand Lodges to fast-track the dues into the lodge and Grand Lodge accounts.

Interestingly, the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts just had one last week. From their website:

[…] Lodges will be invoiced $100.00 per candidate registered. That will include the cost of meals for the candidate and mentor along with the candidate kit for the candidate. Anything lodges collect over and above that from their application fee they keep.

In the US, Masons do not become full members until they are raised as Master Masons; Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts typically do not pay dues (although they also are not allowed a vote in lodge business). In many states, there are always a percentage of candidates who, for reasons unknown, never progress past the first or second degree. Many of the responses gave the impression that Grand Lodges use the ODC to get those candidates “all the way in a day”, so they are compelled to pay dues for at least the first year.

And I’m not picking on the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, it’s just that they happened to have one this past weekend. Again, from their website:

Your support of this class will help “make a difference” to rebuild the membership of our fraternity.

Another theme I’ve seen is that we have so many lodges that simply can’t do the work because the current members are poorly practiced, don’t care enough to improve, or don’t have enough members to properly put on a series of degrees. This is a pretty sad state of affairs, and it ties into my thinking that maybe we need to let some of those lodges die, instead of committing time and resources to keeping them alive. My own opinion is that by supporting the ODCs, we aren’t rebuilding, we’re merely repairing by stuffing dues paying bodies in the lodges the way we might stuff caulk into the cracks of a drafty building. We build a stronger fraternity by giving our members something to be proud of, not by rushing them through the degrees.

But the worst indictments against keeping the ODCs came from the members, themselves, who had been brought in that way. Here’s a sampling of the comments and emails from those who went “from Mister to Master” over the last few years:

“I absolutely feel cheated and I’ve mentioned it on several occasions to the point where I was chewed out by a DD because how dare I question the GM.”

“[My lodge] didn’t want to have to do individual degrees. Either they didn’t have the numbers or they weren’t prepared. My lodge hadn’t done a MM in over a year and lots of guys forgot how to do it (as was evident during the degree).”

“I was a one day classer because I wasn’t given an option. I actually had time to do it the normal way and my lodge would do several degrees a month.”

“It is my experience as well, that not one Mason who took the 1 day option feels that his experience was equal or better than the traditional route.”

“I didn’t think about it until I saw a degree done the regular way at another lodge. It was really impressive to see how much work the lodge put into it.”

It’s pretty clear that once the ODC candidates discovers that there was another option, they felt cheated out of the experience. You are only initiated once, and lodges should take the opportunity to do it properly, or not at all.

 

 

Back (ward?) to the Future

November 6, 2014 7 comments

Several contentious years of Grand Lodge politics have culminated in an unprecedented (in Connecticut, anyway) upheaval in which the progressive Grand Line officers were voted out and replaced by a new line of elected officers.  The hotly contested elections (reportedly needing four votings to arrive at a majority) ended with the election of two Past Grand Masters and the re-instatement of a former Grand Line officer. The future of the Grand Line officers appointed during the past year is uncertain, as is the standings of the dozen or so Grand Lodge committees.

Edit: At the time of publication, several of the appointed GL officers appear to have resigned, as have several District officers.

In the time-honored tradition of keeping Masonic news as dry as possible, that would almost seem to be the entire story. Indeed, the only thing that would appear to be missing at this point would be a picture of MW Simon LaPlace presenting a gavel to our new Grand Master MW Tom Maxwell as both of them grin into the camera. Unfortunately, that is not the situation.

Leaving aside the rumors of collusion and conspiracy (on all sides) that have strained the patience of Connecticut Masons for the last couple of years, the situation at hand seems to be that a number of members, unsatisfied with the changes (both made and proposed) in Connecticut Masonry, managed to convince enough of their brothers that the changes were damaging to our organization, and that the only remedy would be to remove the current elected officers and to replace them with those who had a different vision.

This, of course, is the purpose of a democratic system, and it’s good to see that Freemasons remembered how it works.  Sometimes the good intentions behind having a “progressive line” in most US states leads to stale, if not undesirable Grand Lodge policies. At a time in which our membership is continuing to decrease and our societal culture moves away from joining groups, the remaining members have often been slow to react or have been unwilling to make changes that would attract or retain new members. In the US, this has led to Grand Masters with little or no vision, or Grand Lodge policies or programs that have little relevance to the needs or desires of the younger members that are joining the ranks. The events last week in Connecticut will hopefully serve as an example to Grand Lodges elsewhere around the US that members of the Craft can – and will – take the necessary steps to get the kind of leadership that they want.

That said, there is something symbolical about the recent overturning of the Grand Line that has many Connecticut Freemasons concerned: Does the election of older Past Grand Masters, who served respectively 18 and 25 years ago, mean that we could not find anyone younger, or more attuned to the needs of the latest generation of Masons? Or does it mean that our vision of Masonry for the state looks more like the 1970s instead of the 2020s, and that our desire for the coming years is actually just a reboot of something from the past?

Personally speaking, I share these concerns. I became a Mason in 2001, just before the DaVinci Code and Nick Cage movies were reigniting an interest in Freemasonry. Back then, many Grand Lodges still did not even have a website, let alone electronic contact information, PDF Trestleboards, or online committee meetings. Connecticut Masons have been fortunate that Grand Lodge officers from the previous several years have been forward-thinking, and willing to adopt new methods. More importantly, some of them have been willing to take on the difficult task of changing the culture of our organization. For example, we have nine Masonic districts in Connecticut, ostensibly to correspond with the train system that was extant in the early 1900s. With nine Grand Lodge officers, we have had a century of a progressive line, one officer from each district, with a new one appointed every nine years from the outgoing Grand Master’s district. The last two years saw a change in the district structure, and with it, a different way of choosing new officers. Changes like this are huge in Masonic terms, and it would be easy to believe that the voting reflects a reactionary attitude from members who object to these and other kinds of alterations (or “innovations,” if you will) in the organization.

A reactionary mindset among the members raises other concerns for the future of our fraternity, mainly that younger or more progressive minded members will no longer desire to work toward improvements, or even to aspire to a Grand Lodge or District position if it means constantly butting heads with the old guard. Ours is a volunteer organization, and most of our members are paid only in the satisfaction of a job well done; feedback in the form of being voted out of office with little or no prior warning would seem to be a disincentive for many of those who would be qualified for those positions.

Again, democracy obviously works — the recent voting was proof of that.  But we should also remember the words of Comte Joseph de Maistre: “Every democracy gets the government that they deserve.” For the sake of Freemasonry in Connecticut, let’s hope that we all have not taken a big step backwards.

 

 

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