Mainstream Masonry has always been a dictatorship, a benevolent one and in many Grand Lodges guided by a voting body which is increasingly ignored. That seemed to serve Masonry well for many years. Perhaps there has always been some back room arm twisting and an Oligarchy working out of smoke filled rooms. But we always had the sense that our leaders had our best interests at heart and that they listened to the wishes and feelings of the average Mason.
We had a simple system for simple times. But times have changed. The rise of the Internet has changed the face of Masonry. Worldwide instant communication is now a way of life. Masonic blogging, Masonic You Tube Videos, Masonic Internet Magazines & Newsletters and Masonic Radio Shows having no allegiance to any particular Grand Lodge has led many Grand Masters to feel that their authority is being eroded, their monopoly on guiding the Craft is slipping away from them. Consequently many Grand Masters are striking back by repressing any Masonic thought that would seek to co-exist in equal standing with their rule.
As easy, fast communication has brought Masons from many different traditions together, the rise of universal Masonry reaching out across jurisdictions, seeking consensus and some kind of all encompassing identity has enjoyed an interstate bonding. Brothers from many different jurisdictions with the ability to communicate well on a daily basis seek to break down barriers of territorial exclusiveness. Naturally when power is eroded, dispersed and questioned it seeks to preserve the status quo, sometimes by whatever means.
Those of us who see Masonry not as West Virginia Masonry, or Indiana Masonry, or California Masonry, or Texas Masonry or Florida Masonry or Massachusetts Masonry or Black Masonry or White Masonry or Christian Masonry or non Christian Masonry but as just plain Masonry, that we are all one, that we are universal not just in philosophical thought but also in practice, in application, are regarded as a challenge to authority. And any challenge to authority is being sold as disrespectful, disloyal, unmasonic and a violation of one’s Masonic Obligation which pledge’s us to full loyalty to the jurisdiction in which we reside. SOLUTION – EXPEL!
Grand Masters used to obey the rules, especially their own by-laws, now many do not. Or they push through rules in their Grand Lodge which are highly restrictive and yielding a predetermined outcome. It’s much easier when the Craft is riding high to be the “top gun” – when membership is up and the coffers are full. But the pressures of leading a Fraternity in decline with commitments that it can no longer keep, has led many Grand Masters to take unilateral drastic and often illegal action.
And so comes along the question of Sovereignty that Brother Hodapp so articulately brings up.
“So, is a Grand Lodge sovereign, or isn't it”?
“Am I happy about the GLs in Dixie continuing to pretend there's no racism going on, and that failure to recognize PHA GLs is really about their origin and regularity and the bogus "freeborn" issue? Of course not. But I don't see the mainstream COGMNA GLs voting to shun or strong arm a big block of its own members, precisely because of the sovereignty issue. Because every Grand Master in that room is going to have that inner dialogue about 'what if it was MY GL these guys were trying to beat up on.' When the GM of West Virginia suspends a PGM, in part, by saying the mere act of speaking to the PHA GM in his state and shaking his hand was a Masonic offense, I just don't see how public censure of a GL will be effective.”
My reply on his site was:
“I believe in state GL sovereignty also. But I don't think that means that you can do anything, absolutely anything, without consequences. If a state GL is going to violate the principles of Freemasonry and violate the Civil Law then somebody better think of a way to correct those wrongs without wrapping the actions of the immoral and unjust in a cloak of divine right of kings. MY GOD you can't make each GM a Pope. GMs have to answer to somebody besides God.”
And here lies the crux of the issue, to sanctify the Institution in and of itself rather than holding the rights and freedoms of people paramount. One of us is saying the Institution has to be protected at all costs which is our first line of support and the other is saying people come before inanimate objects. Essentially the former argument is the one the Catholic Church gave in its response to its pedophile priests. Above all the church must be protected and remain intact and live on. And the other side is saying the healing and cure of the people violated and justice demands that we take care of the victims first and worry about whether the Church lives on second.
Furthermore there are limits to most anything in life, even freedom and rights. I have the right of free speech but the laws of treason, against inciting a riot, of hate speech, of yelling fire in a theater when there is no fire; limit my right of free speech. I have a right to bear arms but if I have a criminal record I may be denied and I will surely have to take out a license and register my firearm which cannot be a machine gun. Even the President of the United States is limited by Congress and The Supreme Court. But Grand Masters and Grand Lodges are not. As I said that worked well in times gone by, but this is the 21st century.
There are no blank checks left in 21st century America. And the dual components of Masonic governance, monopoly and dictatorship, are not working well. Halcyon Lodge, West Virginia expulsions and the remaining recognition of Prince Hall are all problems that you can see repeated over and over again unless some serious attention is devoted to solving this problem. And solving it may involve some kind of watchdog or overseer or spokesman or national contract, but that does not mean that Grand Lodge Sovereignty will be done away with. Our civil government was formed with a series of checks and balances. Power was diffused and not concentrated all in one person. But all institutions, all components, remained intact with responsibilities and areas of concentration.
Do I have the answer? NO, maybe some suggestions for further dialogue. But what we can’t do is throw our hands up in despair and say – “Well there is nothing we can do because Grand Lodge sovereignty means total control.”
I would call on all the well known national Masonic leaders to come together to work together to find a solution. Perhaps we need another Baltimore convention. Perhaps The Masonic Service Association of North America can play an important role.
When I started this blog I noted that this was 21st century Masonry. This is the Information Age. Masons will no longer allow themselves to be muzzled. Masons will no longer allow injustices to remain in the Craft. People will come first or we will die a slow death of bitter old men.