Friday, September 12, 2008

Leaving Freemasonry

It's been more than five years now and I have been beating the drum with the same message over and over. My friends tell me it is time to let it go, what will be will be. They are tired of listening to the broken record I play about problems in Mainstream Freemasonry, especially race problems.

What I have been prognosticating I am now seeing come to pass. I said that if Mainstream Masonry didn't straighten out its act and get rid of the racism and accept black men and Prince Hall as regular Masonry then the new generation will not join Masonry or if they join they will not stay. I said today's young men are color blind and will not put up with those who are not. I said Mainstream Freemasonry would lose thousands and thousands of petitions for the degrees from bright, sharp, upstanding young men.

Not long ago on a place of Masonic discussion I conversed with a Tennesse Brother. Later he E-Mailed me and has given me permission to let you all see what he privately said to me.

Brother Milliken, I thank you for your reply to my post on
recognition. I did not take them as criticism and I am glad that my
post has started some good conversations about this topic. My
original post was due to having been told by a brother that there are
no African Americans in the Tennessee lodges and not to bring any to
the lodge to petition for membership. I was told that they have their
own lodge and we have ours and that was that. Well, not being raised
that way I started to ask questions and got the same answers. The
reason that it came back up to me is that I received an announcement
that there will be a cave degree and, I noticed at the bottom of
the announcement it stated that the Tennessee GL dose not recognize
the Prince Hall Lodge. That stuck in my craw. Then after that, I
found out that an African American man had been discouraged form
joining our lodge. I have heard of several good masons quitting our
lodge due to this and, I am thinking about doing the same. My
original thought was to stay in and try to change it but, I think the
odds are stacked against me. I and another MM are in the process of
figuring out what we are going to do. I do hate hypocrisy.

Thanks again.


Brother X

We E-Mailed back and forth some more and I told him my story. In a followup E-Mail he told me this:

It is interesting that you should mention that you demitted from Mainstream Masonry and joined Prince Hall. A friend and I who are going through the officer seats have been talking about the racism problem in our Grand Lodge and our Lodge and, that is one of the reasons that I am leaving the seats. I have also been talking about Demitting and joining Prince Hall. I have only met one Brother from the Prince Hall Lodge and I am trying to get back in touch with him. Be it as it may, there is a time to take a stand and this is the time.


Brother X

Then about two weeeks later I received an E-Mail from a well known East Coast Brother who informed me that he is also thinking about leaving Mainstream Masonry and joining Prince Hall. HIs name and state are withheld as he has yet to make that decision and that announcement is his to make.

While many states have improved their past civil rights record and now openly welcome black men to petition for the degrees and have Recognized Prince Hall, there are a number that leave a lot to be desired. I think of what expelled PGM Frank Haas from West Virginia said, "What one state does, one Grand Lodge, affects us all."

Then I remember Frank Haas' lawsuit against the Grand Lodge of West Virginia who asked the courts to throw it out as The Grand Grand Lodge of West Virginia had sole power over the decisions and discipline of its Jurisdiction, a private organization. And the Courts said, NO! They refused to throw out the lawsuit. The trial goes on.

And my friends remind me of the other things I keep saying as they reach for earplugs - "That if Mainstream Freemasonry does not learn how to police itself, then somebody else, like the government, will do it for them." And right now the government is knee deep into West Virginia Freemasonry.

The Good 'Ol Boys Network and the unwritten code that one Grand Lodge never critisizes another has perpetuated much that should not be in American Freemasonry. I think back to a comparision with baseball, to the 1919 Black Sox scandal and how baseball finally got themselves a Baseball Commissioner, Judge Landis, because a certain few selfish owners would do whatever they wanted to the detriment of the sport. The good owners, concerned for the good name of the game, finally demanded that these totally private enterprises conform to a set of rules and ethics and discipline. So why can't Freemasonry do that?

And the last thing that my friends are really tired of hearing me say has not come true, - that someday an enterprising writer or news reporter would do a feature story or article on racism in Freemasonry and spread it across the pages of a well read publication for all the world to see. The thought of that happening makes me sad.

But what really makes me cry is Brother X and others who are just not going to put up with it anymore but just leave. It is a very sad day when you lose a Brother from Freemasonry, a bright and ethical young man who was a credit to his Craft. It really doesn't have to be that way.


Gingerman said...

You scared me there for a minute, brother. I thought it was you you were taking about. We can't afford to lose the voices of reason.

I am going through the Master Craftsman Program in Scottish Rite. At the end of each exam, there is a question of "What did you find in this lesson that surprised you?"

My biggest surprise has consistantly been how people can read the same words, can take the same oaths, and read them so very differently. I guess the truth is that each person brings his own hearing to the conversation. His own way of understanding, and it blocks out the actual definition of the word. The voice in our heads can be so loud it drowns out reality.

Or is that reality? Do we create our own reality all the time? Or do words and oaths actually have meaning? If they do, many of our brothers are in a dark and smelly place indeed.

Tom Accuosti said...

Bro. M, I'm going to post an excerpt from my blog article about this from last year:

If the Grand Lodge of any of those states suddenly recognized the MWPH Grand Lodge of that state, what, I ask you, would actually happen? Would Prince Hall Masons - assuming, of course, that they reciprocate the recognition - suddenly stampede to sit in AF&AM lodges? That seems unlikely to me, and why would they? For the benefit of watching an AF&AM lodge pay some bills and plan the next fish fry? Perhaps for all of you to pat each other on the back after a speech about how great it is to sit in lodge together… and then to perhaps do it all over again in six months or a year? What’s the point of that? Most Masons don’t want to sit in their own lodges if all they’re going to do is argue about the phone bill and have some coffee and donuts afterward.

Without some insight into the politics and workings of these Grand Lodges, it’s impossible to determine if this is true, even in part. But even so, what do those clamoring from the sidelines expect that immediate recognition of the MWPH Grand Lodges would accomplish? Do they think that a stroke of a pen will end racism in their states? Isn’t that akin to legislating morality?

The real issue is that we sometimes expect our Grand Lodges to “fix” some problem that in actuality should be dealt with at the Blue lodge level - or sometimes even at the individual level.

For the brothers who have been demanding recognition, how many of you have had joint fellowship nights with your Prince Hall brethren? Obviously you can’t sit in lodge together, but that shouldn’t stop you from having dinner together. How many of you have planned a joint event, like a picnic, or a friendly barbecue and horseshoe match? And why stop at dinner? Masonry being about working, how many of you have held joint community service events in your area? Perhaps a joint Child ID event, or a blood drive hosted by two lodges? Here’s an idea: a Masonic weekend in which handy members of the local PH and AF&AM lodges lend their talents and energy to a Habitat for Humanity project?

Any of those have got to be better for jurisdictional relations than sitting in a stuffy lodge room.

The bonds of trust and friendship are not forged by the signatures of Grand Masters on some pile of papers; they are formed by getting together, face to face, side by side, and working at something useful. They are formed by meeting on the level, and by doing things that you both have an interest in doing.

Too often, when faced with a problem in the Fraternity we look at our Grand Lodge as if it were an adversarial organization. We demand that “they” should do something - when we aren’t demanding that “they” should stop doing something. We forget that we, ourselves, are the Grand Lodge, and that the Grand Lodge officers take their cues from what the members of the Craft say and do. If your Grand Lodge officers don’t hear or see any interest at the Blue lodge level, they certainly aren’t going to have any motivation to move the issue along at the Grand Lodge level.

I would suggest to your correspondent that none of the northern and western states that recognized PH over the last 2 decades did so simply on a whim. All of them had brothers, starting at the lodge level, who believed in the cause, and continued to persuade others by deeds and ideas. I'm sure that it looked improbably here in Conn at one time, but we're about to celebrate 20 years since we moved forward.

But in order to change anybody's mind, it's important for the bros at a lodge - any lodge - to meet and get to know their counterparts. Until then, they are just numbers on a piece of paper; what incentive does anyone have to change for some faceless, meaningless numbers? If there are a bunch of new, younger-thinking guys in his lodge, they should get in touch with a local PH lodge and organize something.

It's got to start somewhere. Why not with them?

Gingerman said...

Tom, that's a very good point. Here in Maryland, we have amity and recognition, and very little interaction, except at the Grand Lodge Level.

We need to try for more socialization. My friends and brothers in Prince Hall are among the most profound Freemasons that I've met. Among. Not the only ones. We're all losing out by not getting together.

Noticably, this is different in Wash., D.C. There are integrated lodges and interaction at every level.

One item in the blog article that causes me a problem is that the title is "Leaving Masonry." Leaving it to join Prince Hall? That ain't leaving Masonry, just moving to another place in the Craft.

Squire Bentley said...

Gingerman if you look at Brother X's first E-Mail to me he talked of leaving Masonry altogether. Many in this situation do. They don't think of demiting and joining Prince Hall.

Tom, I am grateful for your input and wisdom. You do show a Northeast bias and I say that affectionately as I spent many years involvement in the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts next door to you.

If the Brothers in Tennessee did as you suggestion - form some social bonds with Prince Hall Masons - their fellowing Mainstream Lodge members would stop speaking to them. They would get the silent treatment.

In addition in many Southern Grand Lodges Masonic discourse with Clandestine Masons is forbidden and grounds for expulsion. Are you not familiar with the charges against expelled PGM Frank Haas of West Virginia? He was accused of "giving away Masonic secrets" because he met with Prince Hall Masons at a Hotel to begin Recognition talks.

That's why I see your reason as faulty. It makes a big difference what your Grand Lodge does. First GL has to free up the Masonic association rules and allow what you are suggesting to happen without Masons violating their Obligation and the rules and regulation of their GL.

As an analogy I offer you the example of the Federal troops sent into the South in the 60s to enforce Civil Rights. Only by compelling compliance from the top down was intergration and inter mixing gradually taken up by both sides after that.

Most Northerners in Freemasonry have absolutely no concept what is being talked about when it comes to racial discrimination in Freemasonry. They just can't fathom the depths of degredation that exists among men who call themselves Masons.

No Recognition will not be an instant cure. But it will be one step in the right direction of many more steps to come. What it does immediately is remove the designation of Prince Hall Freemasonry as irregular and clandestine. Only when both sides are on level playing fields of equal legitimacy can progress be made.

2 BOWL CAIN said...

The bigoted sectarian(mason),
whoever he may be, divides the world(Freemasonry) into two classes: those who, with zeal
and blind faith, accept his dogmas and those who do not.

Howard Roark said...

Thankfully, the Grand Orient of the United States doesn't have these issues. The last three men to join our lodge were black, and all from Africa.

You can't judge a man by the color of his skin - only by what's in his heart.

Stephen said...

Sounds like hubris.

GenX Mason said...

well said Bro. I cannot say more to tell you to hold on to this push to have all Bro's, no matter what their color is. I cannot even comprehend a country that talks of a more free and accepted men and a country that has the so called best free and accepted constitution in the southern hemisphere that still looks at blacks (and could this be the same for all flavors of men worldwide) by a small group of almost old fashioned KKK like people, id be ashamed if I EVER saw this in our neck of the woods. Please keep up the good work here, and hold fast to your cause, I know I’ll be backing you in the face of these so called GL freemason.
In New Zealand we are very lucky that we don’t have a grand lodges in every sub state (or in our case city) as it sounds like there in your state normal freemasons there don’t get much say in things,
Where is equality?

Gingerman said...

Brother GenX,

I fear you might be wrong about the rank and file not having a voice in the U.S. System. I fear it's that rank and file that's keeping things the way they are, not the Grand Lines, except as they reflect the will of the masses.

And there are a few problems in Kiwi land as well. Ask a few Maoris about how well they've been treated. I speak from being from a NZ family. Folks still live there.