Before anything is said, I am not a representative of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, nor any of the Masonic Lodges I belong to. I am speaking only for myself.
Unless you have been under a rock the past couple of months, you probably heard about two Tennessee Masons who got married in a same-sex marriage after Obergefell v. Hodges was decided by the Supreme Court (my thoughts on that decision are here) and posted that event on social media. They were consequently suspended from the fraternity for a year.
I realize I do not know all of the particulars pertaining to the facts of this issue. I have read and heard what the Grand Lodge (which I will abbreviate as GL from here on out) has said about this issue. I have received information from the suspended brothers and I have spoken with brothers from the lodge where they are members. I realize I will never know all of the facts and quite frankly, I don't want to know all of them. It's none of my business.
During our GL Annual Communication held in March 2016, there were several proposals to change sections of our code to address issues like this. The code proposals were properly submitted, discussed and voted upon by the members of the GL. I, as a Past Master and member of the GL, was there when the discussions were held and the votes cast. The membership of the GL consists of the Master, Senior and Junior Wardens of all lodges and all men who have served and completed their year as Master, who are called Past Masters.
I am not going to second-guess the Grand Master of Masons of the State of Tennessee, nor am I going to criticize him for the decisions, judgements or rulings of him or his appointees in this matter. It is not my place to do so, and in order for me to do it properly, I would need the facts of the matter, which I just said I do not have, I never will have and would not want them in the first place.
This post is not about any of that.
Before I begin talking about this situation, I have to "set the table" so everyone has a clear understanding of the context where this situation has come about and why I am doing this.
The Masons are a fraternity that has been around in its present form since 1717. We trace our history all the way back to the stonemasons who built King Solomon's Temple. We use metaphors and allegory to inculcate (teach) certain moral principles and duties we owe to each other and all mankind. Our only requirements to join are that you be a male of legal adult age and believe in a Supreme Being. Who that Supreme Being is exactly, we don't care. The Masons only care that you want to better yourself, morally and spiritually. We embrace men of every county, religious sect and opinion.
Masons are taught that each man takes his own path toward enlightenment. We are taught and reminded that there is no "wrong" or "right" way to interpret the symbols and allegories used to inculcate our lessons. What a particular symbol or allegory means to one Mason can be very similar or totally different to what it means to the brother sitting next to him. We freely discuss what these mean to us personally without trying to force our view on our brother. As I like to say, we travel "individually together" in our journey for enlightenment.
We are constantly reminded that we should be in harmony with each other and support, protect and aid all mankind, especially our brothers. There are no qualifiers in this obligation other than we must take care of ourselves and families before we can help anyone else. This is what I was taught when I became a Mason and it is in agreement with how I have tried to live my life before I became a Mason. Subjects such as religion and politics are considered divisive and are specifically not discussed in lodge.
Above all this, we are taught to regard our honor, integrity and character as second only to our love and devotion to our Supreme Being. A man without these traits is to be avoided.
Now that the table is set, let's sit down and break this bitter, unleavened bread.
What I am very angry about is how the situation has been handled. I am angry that this situation is going to have very long-range repercussions on this fraternity. Most of all, I am angry over the choice I have been forced to make about this situation. I should have spoken out on this several months ago. The cost to hold my silence has been great and the cost I will likely have to pay as a consequence of speaking out will also be great.
What I am going to criticize is the fact that I and every other Mason in the State of Tennessee have been ordered to remain quiet on this issue in public, especially on social media. No comments for or against, no "likes" of any related topic or anything. The Grand Master's words were:
Brethren, this Masonic matter is to be handled by the GL of Tennessee within the State of Tennessee and any further unauthorized discussion on this matter outside of the Tennessee Masonic fraternity will be considered a Masonic offense and will be dealt with accordingly.
Those who speak out are to be brought up on Masonic Charges. If found guilty, those who violate this order could be suspended or even expelled from the Fraternity. This Grand Master is now out of office, as the Grand Master's term ends at the close of the Annual Communcation. I am unaware of any renewal of that edict by the new Grand Master.
I remained silent because I wished to speak on this subject during the Annual Communication, which I did. This enforced silence was painful for me, because I wanted to voice my views on this subject. I believed I compromised my honor, integrity and character by my silence. I will not repeat this error.
Even though there is no official edict forcing my silence, the possible consequences of this post making its way across the Internet are these:
- Nothing. The GL of Tennessee doesn't find out about this post, or decides to take no action. (.000001% chance of that happening)
- I am charged with a Masonic offense, tried, found guilty and suspended for a certain term from the Masons. During my suspension I cannot attend visit a lodge except for public events. I cannot speak about any Masonic subject with a brother during that time. Any lodge who lets me visit or brother who supports me would suffer a similar fate. (Most likely)
- I am expelled from the fraternity entirely. I can never attend or join another regular Masonic lodge for the rest of my life. (Possible, not probable)
- Absolutely nothing. This is different than the first possibility, but far worse than even being expelled. I have aspirations of advancing in the GL hierarchy (District Chairman, Grand Lecturer or something similar) and/or obtaining my Pin of Excellence. I would like to be considered for positions of authority in the several appendant bodies I belong to. With this possibility, all of these would vanish. I would be an equivalent to "that Ensign" that spills coffee on the Admiral and finds himself permanently stationed in Alaska until he resigns or retires, never advancing in rank past Ensign. (90+% chance of this in any case except expulsion)
While I understand how and why this fraternity has responded (generally with silence) to such incidents in the past, this kind of response is no longer a viable option. In the "Old Days," an incident like this would likely remain a local issue, and never venture beyond the city or county borders. Today, all it takes is one blogger to say something, or someone posts the news channel video to YouTube or Facebook and suddenly a lot more people know about this issue. When this happens, a large number of people now know that this happened, with very few of the facts of the matter with none of the context. Silence and stonewalling is not an appropriate response to situations like this anymore. Misinformation has to be fought with correct information.
There are people out there who upon seeing the words "Gays Suspended from the Masons in Tennessee" together go off on a tirade "OMG-WTF-SMH-SJW" and all the rest. Those people cannot be reached nor convinced of anything beyond what they have already made their mind up about. The good news is there are enough people who want context and more information before they decide. Those people understand that there is more than one side and there are multiple forces in play. Those are the people you need to reach.
The current consequences of the enforcement of this Tennessee Masonic Code has been the GL’s of California and the District of Columbia have suspended recognition of the GL of Tennessee. The GL of Belgium was waiting for what came of our Annual Communication before making a decision. A suspension of recognition means I cannot travel to these areas and sit in lodges there. Other GL's have spanned the spectrum from fully supporting the GL of Tennessee, respecting our decision but not agreeing with it, to no comment.
No one really knows the future. My experience convinces me that this issue is forcing religion and politics into every lodge where it does not belong. This will affect every lodge across the United States, if not the world. Our membership has been declining worldwide for years and this decision can only accelerate that decline. Every organization needs young people to join and remain members if it is to survive and grow. Young men across this country who do not share this mindset will regard the Masons as an organization they wish to have no part of, because of the decisions of the GL's of Tennessee and Georgia.
More GL's may also decide to suspend recognition of the GL of Tennessee. This will lead to a patchwork of recognition and confusion.
What makes this worse is that it is very difficult to change this from within, because if you can become an officer of a lodge, it generally takes 4-6 years from when you "join the line" until you become the Master of the lodge. It will take 15-20 years minimum to be able to change the direction of the GL, as the older and more stalwart members have to die off to negate their votes and views.
I weep for this fraternity. I am a third-generation Mason, as my father, his father and two of my great-grandfathers were Masons before me. It saddens me beyond words to see and experience this divisiveness in an institution meant to unite men of every country, sect and opinion.