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.
Well let’s see…??? Fred, Take a look at the individual lodges in Scotland.They have been doing just fine with each lodge developing/utilizing their own ritual of choice.Seems to work with them just fine. ?Worshipful Masters are elected by individual members and then become members of their Grand Lodge .They in turn elect the Grand Master.Sounds Democratic to me.?? In North America we do not have a Life Time Grand Master of any personage.I am sure every Grand Master in North America can be reached through a open door.
I agree that there should be a higher authority to govern the Grand Lodges. The Arkansas GL is run by past Grand Masters who dictate to the sitting GM who to expel and so forth. (this has been confirmed by a past GM) Good masons are expelled for any reason that the past GM’s don’t like without benefit of trial along with the de-recognition of the Shrine which was as bogus as it goes. The egos of the Past Grand Masters have overtaken their Masonic purpose.
I did like this article and example you provided of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia (and others), as that is my current state of residence. All is not well in this territory, and what was done to Frank Haas and many others just isn’t acceptable any day by those claiming the titile Freemason.
What compunds West Virginia is that a conspiracy to violate Freemasonry’s longstanding regulations is in effect, and has been adhered to by every Grand Master since Frank Haas completed his year of service as Grand Master.
So, how do GM’s over-ride the will and pleasure of their Grand Lodge membership? I don’t have an answer but know firsthand that is what has been done in West Virginia since 2006.
Everyone is afraid to voice an opinion or even ask a question, because if one does, you will end up expelled without a trial by dictatorial persons that think they are a Grand Master.
Well written article Bro. Milliken. Thank you for addressing it!
“I am sure every Grand Master in North America can be reached through a open door.”
And you would be so wrong. It is obvious you are trying to superimpose your experience in Scotland onto America’s Freemasonry. But it won’t stand up to close inspection. You are one of those disbelievers who just cannot accept that Freemasonry would ever do anything so bad and so wrong.
So you haven’t investigated the Grand Lodge of West Virginia nor looked into the Grand Lodge of Florida expelling Masons because they were not Christians. Nor have you probably heard about the Grand Lodge of Arkansas declaring a generic state Masonic license plate clandestine because it was designed by Prince Hall, or of African Americans being black balled. Nor have you heard of Grand Masters expelling Brothers without a Masonic trial. And the list goes on and on and on.
Next time know what you are talking about before you spout off.
First off, don’t let a bad egg spoil the basket. As long as man is involved, there will be injustice. The central authority in Freemasonry is recognition! This is the central governing tool which I believe is way better than any other device. Look how much power the US government has take from the States, due to its ability to abuse its power. But Freemasonry, on an International level, has the ability to punish bad Grand Lodes and their bad GL decisions via them no longer recognizing them. This happened with WV and was threaten with Florida regarding the religion flavor. The current system works, as long as all of the GLs look into the business (by listening to their MEMBERS) of other GLs and keep them to the proper standard. Regulations via competition and peer review. We as a society must hold each and everyone accountable, starting on the lodge level and all the way up to the Grand Lodge level. We must not be timid in calling out the injustices and must voice our concerns without prejudice. We are the society, not the officers, not the secretaries, and not the Grand Lodge Officers. We are only that if we allow it. Do not do as we have done with our country and allow others to “run it” without accountability and respect. The system is in place, we just need to use it!!!
Richard L. Zarth, Jr.
Bro Milliken, what you’re failing to point out here is the process by which Masonry IS governed. This is made all the more ironic by your reference to the Curia ailments, which is a voice against large all encompassing institutions, using this somehow to advocate for something similar.
Especially in a country as large and varied as the USA, to have a singular governing body would only create discontent. It would be very similar to the American Civil War, as individual areas inevitably be forced to comply with decisions made by the new majority as a tyranny over their previous individuality.
Similarly in Australia, there has previously been a near revolt when one state tried to eradicate all other Rites in favour of the state set ritual with the full support of Grand Lodge and Board members. Fortunately the Scottish, English and Irish Rite lodges were able to find enough support in returning to their original Grand Jurisdiction that it would have destroyed the state GL if the demands were to pass.
This shows the correct way of Masonically dealing with internal matters. Rather than a higher council arbitrating the fate of those beneath them, the individual members decided what should happen with their institution.
So whilst your examples in Florida and Arkansas are unfortunate and supremely un-Masonic, it should be the responsibility of the members their to fix their jurisdiction, since it is THEIR problem, not some stacked deck of tyrants who have never even been there.
The Arkansas GL Officers and PGMs are to be pitied for their arrogance and abuse of the members of Arkansas. When questioned, the GMs lay it on pgm’s in the law and usage committee. I believe there is some truth in that. I know of 2 petitions for reinstatement where the GL committee reported favorably on the petitions, and the law and usage ignored the committee report and converted to expulsion. The GL ‘ins’ have set themselves above the members. Masons meet upon the level of equality, or so we are told??
I would further argue that in Arkansas ritual, we are assured that our obligation does not conflict with any duty we owe to God, country, neighbor, family or self. That is not true.
The right of free speach is taken away, by expulsion, should anyone criticize the GL or officers. I have a duty to members of masonry that are treated unfairly, yet if one supports them, the GL will punish you for it. It sickens me that the GL of Arkansas purports to be a Masonic order. Tyranny by any name is tyranny.
I acted as council for a mason who was expelled in his GL hearing. Kangaroo Court. I was told we would not be allowed to call any witnesses or testify as to the intergrity of the brother. There were no restrictions placed on the prosecution and trial committee. How does one present a case with their hands tied.
I am sure I have probably signed my being expelled by writing this critique, even though it is true and shared among many other Masons. I held my tongue for several years as I wanted to be able to raise my son to MM, and he has finished his term as Master of our Lodge.
I really like how you want Freemasons to think about what has happened? What is happening? And what should happen? The one thing I have learned in my seven years being a Freemason is: “The fraternity is perfect and men are not.” Luckily, I live in a jurisdiction where Prince Hall Masons are accepted. However, are they treated as equals? I was installed Worshipful Master of my lodge December 20th by an Honorary Past Grand Master of Prince Hall which has never been done before in the twenty plus years our state has recognized them. The point I’m going to get at is before we establish a universal governing council for checks and balances so to speak. Shouldn’t we first establish a universal lodge like William H. Upton envisioned?
I’d say be careful what you wish for Brother…bu your comment “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. ” is both intriguing and pragmatic to me. What type of an occasion would that be? When a Grand Master puts out an edict forbidding men of certain faiths or practices from joining the Craft, as you’ve pointed out. When a Grand Master forbids educational presentations or discussions relating to the “occult” or “esoterica” or “mysticism”? Those two trains have left the station (in Australia something similar too). And to play devil’s advocate, at the end of the day if a Grand Master or Grand Lodge has done something truly messed up we in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere can always deem them to be irregular and not recognize them until such time as things get back on track, as many Grand Lodges have done with GLNF. CGMNA is perhaps the best time to bring that up but it could also be extremely awkward, uncomfortable and not very fraternal if delegates from that Grand Lodge are there in attendance. I think your concerns are valid but there’s always the risk that we create a new problem when we give power to some new invented body. Is there a way to better deal with certain extreme cases through the regular channels of communication, through the Grand Secretaries, through the many publications we enjoy and contribute to?
I am a Brazilian Brother and my written English is very bad but I can read very well and this site is very good. Unforturnattely, in my mother tongue is very difficult to find good articles about the Freemasonry.
Thank You Brother.
For all who have proclaimed that it is up to the members of a Grand Lodge to hold its Grand Lodge officers accountable and to discipline those out of line through the democratic process I have these words for you.
You live in a fantasy world. Absolute power is not easily overthrown. Civilly have the citizens of North Korea been able to get rid of their despotic leaders? Same question for Iran or China or many other countries across the globe. The answer, of course, is no they have not because it is extremely difficult to overturn absolute power that is ruthless. One word of disagreement from you and you disappear never to be heard from again.
Try protesting in one of these American tyrannical Grand Lodges. Grand Sessions, although nominally democratic, are strictly controlled. Nothing gets to the floor to be voted on that the oligarchy controlling the Grand Lodge does not want to hear. If you persist you will be expelled, often without a Masonic trial. The same can be said for Lodges. Grand Masters have come in and taken the charter and closed down a Lodge without explanation. While reform can be made by the body of Freemasonry as a whole, it is just not as easy as you make it out to be.
Take the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. In order to squelch rising discontent from its members and thwart any group action by the Brethren at large, the Grand Master declared it illegal for any Mason in Arkansas to E-Mail another Mason.. Violators would be instantly expelled. At the same time the Grand Lodge closed down its website for a period of time. Similar ruthless conduct can be see in the Grand Lodge of West Virginia.
These are not act the actions of a society that claims to be Masonic. They are despotic tyrannies. And I am surprised at the number of Masons who will proclaim that you have taken an oath to support your Grand Lodge and your Grand Master and therefore, you have no right to question his authority. So individual Masons have no rights? If the Grand Master asked you to murder someone, you would be obliged to do it?
And one word for those who talk about pulling recognition. You too live in a fantasy world. While recognition is readily used as a tool when judging Grand Lodges and systems OUTSIDE Mainstream Masonry, INSIDE Mainstream it is very rarely used and was not even considered when West Virginia expelled PGM Frank Haas or Arkansas tried to expel Derek Gordon and when it outlawed the Shrine from the state or when Florida tried to expel non Christians.
All who are so quick to criticize any solution brought up, who say that any interference cannot be done – then have NO SOLUTION. Your idea is to do nothing and let the injustices be solved by the individual Masons within that jurisdiction themselves, which is the same as saying we cannot help them.
The general public, when it views Freemasonry, does not distinguish between one Grand Lodge’s version of Freemasonry and another’s. Same with the Catholic church. During the pedophile priest scandal the general public did not separate one states Catholic diocese from another’s. They were all lumped together. So the moral here is that what one Masonic jurisdiction does reflects on all Masonic jurisdictions. And if you are going to allow any Masonic jurisdiction to get away with injustices then all Masonic jurisdictions will be judged to have fallen short and to be an institution or society to stay away from.
All of your points are valid ones for sure and well taken. Though in some of your examples I thought grand lodges were threatening to pull recognition, but maybe that was just talk.
I strongly believe a central body will be even more powerful and more corrupt. The issue isn’t due to having several grand lodges, it is more systemic than that. It sounds like the constitutions need to be changed to prevent these tyrannies, reduce grand master’s powers, and give individual Masons more rights and protections. And no one should ever be expelled without a due trial, a fair trial, etc. Also, is this issue widespread with the majority of grand lodges or is it those few exceptions, I do not know so this is a question?
How do these changes take place? Masons need to start pulling together and get these changes made. There could be no better time than in today’s age of technology. I don’t have the answers per se, I am new to the craft though I have studied it for years, but I lack the internal experience, so a lot of my comments are from the fringe. But I will stand by the comment that centralizing it will not fix it, it will only amplify the issues, at least without some major changes to the constitutions. What really needs to happen is a grand session of grand lodges to discuss consistent changes across all the grand lodges’ constitutions, or a bill of rights maybe?
Ok, so let’s further unpack this concept of a regulatory body for American Freemasonry then, as it appears you feel pulling recognition and policing ourselves through the existing Grand Lodge system is a fantasy. To your credit Brother yes, we’ve seen it fail to be used for “internal” issues in the case of Florida but it was certainly used in the case of GLNF, and those Lodges operating in amity via GLNF were considered Regular (unlike the other French Grand Lodges) so I think it’s fair to say that there is a precedent. We voted to suspend recognition a few years ago solely because of the ongoing actions of that egotistical and tyrannical GM. The unfortunate thing about that course of action is that it punishes ALL the Brethren of that Grand Jurisdiction for his actions. Why it wasn’t used in the case of Florida, or North Queensland?? Perhaps the action wasn’t considered disgraceful or un-Masonic enough…perhaps some other reason(s).
So who gets appointed or elected to this policing body? Is it a random yearly lottery? Three year terms? Supreme Court style lifetime appointment? What if one of those tyrannical Grand Masters is appointed one year? Are nominees voted upon by every Grand Lodge at our respective yearly communications? How do we nominate someone? Is it like a College with dozens of representatives or a panel with a handful? What kind of teeth would this have anyhow? How would it be able to punish tyrannical Grand Masters beyond pulling recognition? Is it a body or is it a charter or agreement of some kind (do the Ancient Charges need an updating.)
I think it’s excellent that we are having this conversation to begin with, don’t get me wrong. I don’t list those challenges to discredit the idea.
Some really good input here. Thank you Brothers.
As to the use of pulling recognition, the GLNF or North Queensland are examples of external non recognition. Internally within Mainstream Freemasonry the last pulling of recognition that I can remember was when the rogue Grand Lodge of West Virginia pulled recognition from the Grand Lodge of Ohio for accepting Frank Haas for membership.
As to how widespread are these issues, I would say that there are many good Grand Lodges in the U.S.A. who operate legally within their Constitution. The biggest offenders seem to be the Southern Grand Lodges. But everywhere Grand Lodges have assumed way more power than they traditionally were endowed with.
Most of you who are replying are assuming I am advocating some sort of permanent National Body to regulate state Grand Lodges. I am really trying to avoid that.
After you have studied this issue for awhile you realize that without some sort of outside prodding, some Grand Lodges are never going to change. Remember the desegregation of the public High School in Little Rock – in Arkansas by the way where the Mainstream Grand Lodge stubbornly resists change? It wasn’t enough to pass a law. President Eisenhower had to send in federal troops. He had to force Little Rock and Arkansas to obey the law.
The only way we are going to eliminate unjust and unmasonic practices as an official policy of some Grand Lodges is to use force to eliminate it. The question before us is how we are going to use that force?
I’m in favor of a vote by 75% of the Grand Masters of Mainstream Masonry at a Conference of Grand Masters to utilize that force to right wrongs in American Freemasonry. I think that this does not make another Grand Body and that individual Grand Masters would be very hesitant to give up any of their state sovereignty and would use this power sparingly only in extreme circumstances.
And you say………………..?
Good stuff Brothers! I do like the idea of having a convention and ensuring that there are proper ways to redress grievances. Otherwise there will be more public law suits. If we continue to bring in younger Masons (especially in the South where I am [Florida] then as the older, more set in their ways, start to wane I think there can be much more opportunity for positive change). The edict in Florida was immediately overturned as soon as the GM’s term was over and the GL of Florida overturned it. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with a national meeting of GMs. But, I feel the underlying issue is why are we having this unmasonic behavior in the first place? Is the West Gate not guarded well enough? Are GLs very clique-ish, do they politic? I just don’t see how tyrants can keep everyone from voting them out, but again, I have never been to GL. Again, I am sure a lot of this is do to my inexperience.
A simple majority as to voting. Otherwise 26 percent control the floor.
We try to put MM’s in line to the GL, only to have them run off by the other officers, if it is not their pick to succeed. Many brothers do not understand proceedings at the GL communication and the GL officers get away with what they want. If there are sticky issues to be taken care of, the meeting is dragged out until many are ready to go home, then all those issues are lumped together and voted on as a package. How sad.
You had me until you mentioned Florida. If you think worship of the Norse pantheon and Wicca are compatible with Masonry’s “one God, all wise, all powerful, all good,” you don’t need to be a Freemason. As the GM said, we don’t recognize your religion. You need to fill your need for fraternity elsewhere. He wasn’t pushing Christianity. His pagan detractors just said he was, any bloggers jumped to defend pagan Freemasons who never should have been allowed to join. Masonry is not for reformers. Masonry is not for change.
Matthew, I’m not sure what your ritual or jurisdiction requirements say, but in other areas it only makes reference to a belief in a supreme and creator deity, but nothing about the potential other Gods in the individual beliefs. With that in mind, The Dagda, Odin, Brahma or Vishnu, Saturn/Kronos all fill that requirement.
Saying Masonry is not for reform or change also ignores the number of times it has changed or been reformed quite severely. Pertinent to this discussion being 1813 where the newly United Grand Lodge decided that Masonry could apply to men of ALL faiths, not just Christians any more. Then of course there was the gradual change from a society of men who preserved outdated trade knowledge to a group of enlightenment scientists and cohorts of the Royal Society who would disseminate new knowledge, and finally to, as you put it, a “fraternity.”