by Robert H. Johnson
Today is an interesting day to be a Freemason in America. We harken back to an earlier time, when things were less diverse and less free than they are now, when Masons met in secret because the freedoms we espouse were considered radical and dangerous, and the idea of men of all stations meeting on the level was seen as potentially revolutionary.
Now, in some ways at least, society seems to have passed us by, and we scramble to keep up, while holding on to those values of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth that time does not alter. We uphold our traditions and our ritual, and yet often do not reflect on what is timeless about them and what in our understanding of them is merely a prejudice grown from the profane culture in which we were raised.
Many of you are familiar with the controversial happenings within the Grand Lodge of Tennessee (and Georgia) and their banning of anyone who is homosexual and there has been much internet discussion about it. The Grand Lodge of Tennessee expelled two brothers for being gay. The Grand Lodge of Tennessee saw a Facebook post of Tennessee Masons who were married to each other and expelled them. The ruling was supposedly based on their (the Grand Lodge of Tennessee) Ancient Charges, but it is certain that homosexuality is deemed “unmasonic conduct” in their constitution and bylaws. The story had been picked up by various online publications and had been addressed by Chris Hodapp on his blog page as well. (View this article HERE.)
Masons all over social media discussed the matter. Most of those who posted were against the ruling, but some were vehemently in favor of it. With much heat and little light, Brethren unfriended one another on Facebook.
Recently, National Public Radio picked up the story of Tennessee’s actions (read about it HERE). People aren’t generally aware that that each Grand Lodge is autonomous, so they hear about Tennessee and think all Masons are anti-gay. As a result Masons are in the spot light and we look like bigoted morons.
I am not a Tennessee Mason, and I have no standing to vote on their actions at their Grand Communication. I do think, however, that Tennessee’s actions affect all Masons, and that we should be discussing them in private and in public. The Grand Lodge of Tennessee went looking for Tennessee Masons who had talked about this case in public or on social media in order to expel them or give disciplinary action. The problem is, when you ring the bell, you can’t unring it, and Tennessee had rung that bell loud and clear. A gag order would only make it louder.
Grand Lodge social media policies vary, and too often show an ignorance of modern social media communication. When the Grand Master of Florida decided to not allow pagans into the Craft, expelled a member or two; when Grand Masters declare that gay men, no matter how Masonic are their personal qualifications, are not to be made Masons; indeed, when Grand Officers act based on their cultural prejudices generally, social media will multiply their effects beyond the jurisdiction of the particular Grand Lodge to stain Masonry as a whole. No Grand Lodge media policy will change that.
Now, I quite understand that most such policies, Illinois’ included, are designed to get Brethren to think before they post. Words spoken in anger for the world to see reflect badly on the Craft as well as do the misguided actions of various Grand Lodges. But reasoned and reasonable discussion is what Masons are supposed to be about. I’m perfectly fine with Grand Lodges controlling their own Facebook pages, and for their webmasters to keep a lid on rude posts. But disagreement cannot be suppressed.
Currently, I’m not sure any Grand Lodge in the USA has their finger on the pulse of Freemasonry as it stands on a national level, never mind an international level. This is clear when you browse the Grand Lodge websites and Facebook groups and pages. Shortly after my comment had been deleted on the Illinois Grand Lodge Facebook page, I went ahead and posted a link to Chris Hodapp’s latest piece addressing the situation under the discussions tab. It sparked some good comments, and some which claimed that by posting the link to an article, I violated my Grand Lodge code of social media conduct.
For the record, I don’t think I did. But here we are again, another person hiding behind an edict to remain silent on an issue that demands discussion… They use religion to ban members or expel them, then tell me that “religion and politics” have no place in the fraternity, so I shouldn’t discuss them. Does anyone else see the endless circle this presents? If we are not to have religion discussed then how does a person’s personal religious views and interpretations become the basis for eligibility within the organization?
I want to let all those men out there know that you should discuss these matters openly. You should post links to them. You should actively do the right thing for Freemasonry. I will not subject you to my opinions on the matter, although most know them, as I have posted them before publicly. I will say this, more than the issue of homosexuality and eligibility (because this edict will eventually be overturned, whether by a subsequent new Grand Masters or when these relics pass on) but because we as members under the Grand Lodges need to hold our Grand Lodges with the highest levels of accountability. Nothing forces accountability like transparency and conversation. We have questions, and not answering those questions or ignoring them is not the correct course of action.
Before you jump the gun, let me tell you, posting an article (especially one by an major news outlet) is NOT against your obligations, it may however be against what our leadership would want at times. Let’s face it, no one wants to deal with problems or to bring negative attention to the fraternity, but if our Grand Lodges think we won’t get negative attention based on things like this latest to come out of Tennessee, NPR et al, than they clearly are so far out of touch with Masons in the US and around the world that we have to ask ourselves just how qualified they are to hold the offices we elect them to. For the record, I think they are aware, but they choose not to address it because they don’t want to rock the boat. I understand that impulse, but leaders need to fight past it.
The situation is becoming more and more volatile as Grand Lodges are drawing lines in the proverbial sand. California, Washington DC and Utah have all made statements regarding the open eligibility of good men, regardless of their lifestyles. I have continued to post updates on social media, on my own page and group pages. The conversations become heated, and then are deleted by the page administrators. My latest lasted from 8:45 in the evening to 7:00 the following morning before it was out of control and was taken down. (You can read the California and Utah statements regarding the situation HERE and the Washington DC statement HERE.)
While we all take an oath to uphold the constitution, edicts and bylaws of our Grand Lodges, I think we need to, at times, ask ourselves, “When do we fight for the good of Masonry over the “good” of the Grand Lodge Officers?” I believe there are indeed instances in which our allegiance lies with the Craft as a whole over anything else. At a time when the rest of the world looked to our fraternity for answers about morality and doing the right thing, it seems the world has passed us by and is looking at us now as antiquated.
There are those of you who will read this, and call for my expulsion or disciplinary action to be taken against me. To you, I will say this, my dues card is on the table. Time with my family and friends would be a welcome change. A failure to recognize that this Fraternity is a volunteer organization and a lack of understanding that in the modern era, to get members we need maintain, at the very least, modern standards of equality and societal norms will lead to our inevitable demise.
I personally produce a weekly Masonic radio program listened to by over 25,000 people every month, I’m a lodge secretary and I’m involved in the fraternity on a district level. These are all things monopolizing my time. Why do I do it? Because I believe in the fraternity and it’s mission to change the world. We are a progressive moral science, and that necessarily means we need to embrace change where it is warranted.
If telling the truth and holding this fraternity to a higher standard costs me my membership, than so be it. Until that happens, I’ll be around, producing and publishing content for all Freemasons around the globe and beyond.
In closing, I wish you all well and remind you all that your duty is the same. Be a Freemason, be upright and hold ourselves, each other and our leadership accountable in our mission of being a progressive moral science, based on a person’s character and good works— not race, creed, or sexual preference.
The world is watching.