You might remember Greg Stewart’s interview of me where I said:
There must be SOMETHING to hold American Grand Masters responsible and accountable to acceptable Masonic practices. Otherwise Freemasonry in the United States is whatever a Grand Master and a Grand Lodge says it is, and you end up with 51 versions of Freemasonry, and sometimes Freemasonry out of control. There is a difference between differences because of tradition and differences solely for the purpose of an agenda that ends up corrupting the Craft. There is an urgent need in the United States for an American Masonic identity that binds all states and all members of the Craft in one common purpose and outlook.
This need not be some cumbersome bureaucracy added onto American Freemasonry. It could be as simple as a national Constitution and Freemasonry in the United States could be overseen by existing Masonic apparatus – the Conference of Grand Masters and the Masonic Service Association of North America.
Let’s look at an analogy – professional Major League Baseball. In the 20s you had the Black Sox scandal precipitated by abuses of the owners. In addition team owners were doing whatever they wanted with no standardized practices. Finally baseball realized it could not operate this way anymore, that the total freedom and separateness was dooming the national pastime. So the owners got together and appointed a Commissioner of baseball that still exists today. It keeps all the teams operating under the same set of rules and practices thereby eliminating corrupt and hurtful practices.
Like baseball teams, American Grand Lodges should not be able to do whatever they want. Now we perhaps don’t want a Commissioner of Freemasonry but we could continue on with a National Constitution with any administering or adjudication performed by the Council of Grand Masters with the help of the MSANA. This solution is simple, not adding any bureaucracy and keeps the sovereignty of each state Grand Lodge.
Greg Stewart then said: “You make an interesting point, one I’d like to come back to someday.”
Well Greg today is the day.
I was prompted to remember all this by two stories that were prominent in the news today, December 23, 2014. The first story was that of Detroit center Dominic Raiola being suspended for stomping on Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson on Sunday. Who suspended him? Why the NFL League Office on orders from Football Commissioner Roger Goodell. This was Raiola’s sixth rules violation related to player safety.
Now each football team is like each Mainstream Grand Lodge in the United States, a sovereign entity all to itself. But each team must answer to a higher power so that they are all playing by the same set of rules and that infractions in code or conduct are disciplined.
The problem with American Freemasonry is that there is no check on abuses. While baseball, football, basketball and hockey all have National Commissioners overseeing fair play, Freemasonry does not. It is much easier in other countries that have only one Grand Lodge. There is no competition to muck up the works. But in the good old U.S.A. there are 51 Grand Lodges who go their own separate way without ever having to worry about being disciplined for any infractions they desire to make.
I said there were two stories that illustrated this point. The other was this headline: Pope Francis to Curia: Merry Christmas, you power-hungry hypocrites.
The Pope listed 15 ailments of the Vatican Curia. Of the 15 we will mention these:
4) The ailment of excessive planning and functionalism: this is when the apostle plans everything in detail and believes that, by perfect planning things effectively progress, thus becoming a sort of accountant. … One falls prey to this sickness because it is easier and more convenient to settle into static and unchanging positions. Indeed, the Church shows herself to be faithful to the Holy Spirit to the extent that she does not seek to regulate or domesticate it. The Spirit is freshness, imagination and innovation
6) Spiritual Alzheimer’s disease, or rather forgetfulness of the history of Salvation, of the personal history with the Lord, of the ‘first love’: this is a progressive decline of spiritual faculties, that over a period of time causes serious handicaps, making one incapable of carrying out certain activities autonomously, living in a state of absolute dependence on one’s own often imaginary views. We see this is those who have lost their recollection of their encounter with the Lord … in those who build walls around themselves and who increasingly transform into slaves to the idols they have sculpted with their own hands.
7) The ailment of rivalry and vainglory: when appearances, the colour of one’s robes, insignia and honours become the most important aim in life. … It is the disorder that leads us to become false men and women, living a false ‘mysticism’ and a false ‘quietism’.
8) Existential schizophrenia: the sickness of those who live a double life, fruit of the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and the progressive spiritual emptiness that cannot be filled by degrees or academic honours. This ailment particularly afflicts those who, abandoning pastoral service, limit themselves to bureaucratic matters, thus losing contact with reality and with real people. They create a parallel world of their own, where they set aside everything they teach with severity to others and live a hidden, often dissolute life.
14) The ailment of closed circles: when belonging to a group becomes stronger than belonging to the Body and, in some situations, to Christ Himself. This sickness too may start from good intentions but, as time passes, enslaves members and becomes a ‘cancer’ that threatens the harmony of the Body and causes a great deal of harm – scandals – especially to our littlest brothers.
15) The disease of worldly profit and exhibitionism: when the apostle transforms his service into power, and his power into goods to obtain worldly profits or more power. This is the disease of those who seek insatiably to multiply their power and are therefore capable of slandering, defaming and discrediting others, even in newspapers and magazines, naturally in order to brag and to show they are more capable than others.
Now what this all illustrates is that large, unwieldy, bureaucratic Institutions become easily corruptible and that Freemasons can step over the line into the Dark Side just as the rest of the world can.
It also shows, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, that large institutions can create a bureaucracy that insulates itself from accountability. And that, in this case, a top down rule and regulation has not worked well.
We are all sinners, as some clerics will say. Others might remark that some sin more often and more gravely than others. Whatever the case may be most of us do lock our houses and our vehicles, put firewalls and antivirus programs on our computers and are cautious when in strange environments. We do support a Police Force and The Military for good reason.
Yet we do not apply any of these safeguards to Freemasonry. Thus we have allowed Freemasonry to go unchecked, unpoliced and never to be held accountable for whatever it wants to do. The result is that some of Freemasonry has become tyrannical and abusive (notice I said some not all). We have one Grand Lodge that wrote a Landmark into its Constitution that stated whatever the Grand Master ruled was the law and was to be accepted without question. This Landmark overruled any and all other Landmarks. Now do you think any of the Sports Commissioners would allow a team to get away with that?
Perhaps if Freemasonry had policed itself the injustice that West Virginia perpetrated on PGM Frank Haas would never have been allowed. Perhaps the Grand Lodge of Arkansas would not have tried to expel Derek Gordon. Maybe the Grand Lodge of Georgia would not have tried to expel Victor Marshall or treated him so shabbily. Perhaps the Grand Lodge of Florida would not have threatened to expel Corey Bryson and Duke Bass for non Christian religious beliefs to the point that they resigned. And we could go on and on and on.
So what’s the answer? I have no definitive answer except that Mainstream Masonry must try somehow to police itself. Maybe the Conference of Grand Masters could form a Supreme Court among itself and only meet when some event requires a ruling. Thus it would not be a permanent bureaucracy. One thing is for sure, the Catholic Church model doesn’t work well either.
United States Mainstream Freemasonry has been in need of an American identity for years instead of a “states rights’ mentality. Mainstream’s father, the Grand Lodge of England (now UGLE) did not operate this way. There is one Grand Lodge and therefore a strong English Masonic identity. I realize that many other nations have multiple Grand Lodges but how many have as many as 51? If you can get your mind into thinking American not Californian or Texan or Virginian then maybe you can see some sort of cohesiveness to American Freemasonry where we all play by the same rules and we all accept the same foundation. Couple that with some kind of National policing mechanism and American Mainstream Freemasonry might actually grow.
But there is no panacea here. Look at the failures in the Catholic Church. Look at the shortcomings of Roger Goodell in the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson affairs. It seems as if corruption is always with us. Is it human nature? I don’t know. I’m not here to pass judgment but to help think of solutions. The one thing I do know is that if Dominic Raiola can be disciplined for stomping on another player, Mainstream Masonry can do the same to Grand Masters and Grand Lodge officers who stomp on their members.