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Tidings from the West

February 29, 2016 16 comments

This evening, the news began to spread around the Masonic internet haunts about the message from M. David Perry, Grand Master of Masons in California. I received several from brothers who were proud, excited, and who wanted to make sure the message went out.

From the GM of CA today

Dear Brethren:

You might have read about recent events in some US states including Georgia and Tennessee where Masonic grand lodges have adopted new rules or have enforced existing rules that discipline Masons because of their sexual orientation. Such rules and actions do not coincide with the principles of Freemasonry as practiced by the Grand Lodge of California and do not support what we understand as the great aim of our fraternity.

Freemasonry is a universal system which uses the tools and techniques of the old stonemasons’ guilds to illustrate simple moral and ethical principles. To this it adds a philosophical and spiritual framework for personal improvement. Freemasonry encourages its members to be better by improving their relationships with others, by practicing a life of tolerance, compassion, honesty, and the pursuit of justice. Freemasonry instructs its members to uphold and respect the laws of their government and not to undermine those laws. It attempts to make the world a better place by making its members better citizens of the communities in which they live.

Freemasonry may be found worldwide, in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Freemasonry works through local lodges. In California and elsewhere, some lodges are comprised of men only, some of women only and some of both men and women. Each lodge typically operates under a grand lodge, and there are a number of these grand lodges operating in California. Each grand lodge is independent and operates under its own set of rules as its members may decide.

With more than 50,000 members statewide, those lodges under the Grand Lodge of California are open to men of good character and faith, regardless of their race, color, religious beliefs, political views, economic station, sexual orientation, physical ability, citizenship or national origin. Our lodges currently work in English, Spanish, French, and Armenian.

Through this universal brotherhood, California Masons learn to be better husbands, better fathers, better friends, and better citizens. By appreciating our differences, we learn to focus on what unites us. Thus, the discussion of religion, politics, and business is not permitted in our lodges. In this way we live up to the centuries-old aim of our fraternity – to unite men of every country, sect, and opinion and cause true friendship among those who otherwise would have remained at a distance.

It has been a week now since the news of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee and their expulsion of two seemingly well liked and active brothers who were accepted by the members of their lodge, but who were not accepted by other members of the fraternity in the state.

The discussions have continued on Facebook groups and other Web forums since then, with the overwhelming majority of Freemasons sympathetic toward Brothers Clark and Henderson; and ranging from irate to incredulous at the Grand Lodge of Tennessee.

Unfortunately, the opinions of the several thousands of Freemasons will probably have little impact, since most of the support for the brothers has been from members who aren’t from Tennessee. This may have something to do with the recent directive in Tennessee that forbids members from discussing the matter in public; indeed, rumors have circulated that the GL officers have noted some of the brothers who have spoken out on social media. So far, reports that those members have been disciplined have gone unsubstantiated.

Fortunately, however, it seems that the conversations have not gone unnoticed elsewhere. California is the first to release a public statement to the effect that the Grand Lodge does not condone or support the discriminatory actions of several other states. Hopefully others will follow shortly, before the Grand Lodge of Tennessee convenes at the end of March.

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Edit: Chris Hodapp has posted the text from the Grand Lodge of Utah, and the Grand Lodge of DC, both of which came out several days ago.

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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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