Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Grand Lodge of Arkansas Pulls Charter, Files Charges Over Website

Following the posting of the order of the Grand Master of Arkansas telling mainstream Masons there not to purchase Masonic license plates issued by the state, Sebastian Lodge #706 has had its charter revoked, and the lodge secretary, Brother Derek Gordon, has been suspended. The drama has played out on the Sebastian Lodge website at http://sebastianlodge.com, and the messages there have changed several times.

The Grand Master's license plate directive was issued because the plates were negotiated with the state of Arkansas by the MW Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Arkansas, and proceeds benefit the Prince Hall GL's scholarship program. The predominantly white Grand Lodge of Arkansas does not recognize its predominantly African-American Prince Hall counterpart.

Sebastian Lodge allegedly had its charter revoked because the website contained Masonic information from lectures the Grand Lodge deemed either secret or otherwise inappropriate for public viewing, and not because of its posting of the Grand Master's license plate order. Gordon claims the inappropriate material was taken from other Arkansas lodge websites, which have not been suspended.

Gordon has posted his side of the events at http://derekgordon.com/letter-to-masons. It says, in part:

Our charter was revoked for being un-Masonic as to our website. I, Derek Gordon, apologize for mentioning the order to not purchase license plates. As the order said, all members must be notified. This seemed to be a great way to get it there as many members visited.

I, being secretary, webmaster, legal domain owner, and creator of this website, never meant to upset Grand Lodge. Rather, I sought to protect our lodge because so many saw the letter as racist. I realize it was not meant to taken that way, but its poor penmanship didn’t get the proper message across. Other Arkansas lodges have the same kind of post, yet they still have their charter. Some Arkansas lodges and members have posted the entire letter from the Grand Secretary online and those too have yet to see punishment.

*REGARDING other information supplied and provided on the Sebastian Lodge website,
it was all found on other Arkansas lodge websites. Some of those were created as far back as 2001; this site was created in May of 2009. I never typed a single word regarding the lectures and Masonic history. The page source-code made light of that. I posted the Masonic informatoin because it had been written by and posted on other Arkansas lodge websites for years; I thought it must be acceptable by precedent. As a Mason of 2.5 years, I was foolish to believe that if other lodges are allowed to do something (created by Masons who have been in much longer than I have), it would be acceptable for our lodge to display as well.

To my former brethren of Sebastian Lodge, I apologize to you for this instance. I felt that we were safe after finding the post on so many other sites. There’s much more to the story, but out of respect for Masonry and for the title of Grand Master and the Grand Lodge I will humbly refrain.

I further urge all Masons to support Sebastian Lodge in reobtaining its charter. By this I outline that I was doing what was seen as acceptable by precedent. The lodge itself was not involved in this directly. I am ashamed at the outcome.

UPDATE: Currently, I’m awaiting a Masonic trial for expulsion that I probably can’t attend do to conflicts with military obligations while serving our great country . It is scheduled for the weekend of April 17th, 2010. I will do my best to travel the more than 800 total miles to attend this if I can be let off. The Grand Master informed me via telephone on March 27th at 9:50pm that it will be that date, it won’t be rescheduled, and to find someone to take my place. It didn’t matter that I’m the one with the information and evidence to secure my good name.

Should you wish to contact me, it is possible by emailing webmaster706@sebastianlodge.com at your convenience.


The letter of charges against Brother Gordon has been posted on The Burning Taper website, and does not refer to anything concerning the lodge's website. He is a member of the Arkansas National Guard, and the trial date was set for a weekend of mandatory participation in Guard maneuvers. Grand Lodge will not change the date.

The statement concerning license plates has also been removed from the Boone Lodge #314 website. It had read:

NOTICE: Grand Lodge of Arkansas has declared that no Arkansas Freemason is to purchase a Masonic Arkansas license plate. These are for Prince Hall Masons, which Arkansas considers to be clandestine lodges.

This notice fulfills the requirement of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas for each subordinated Lodge to inform their members.

The publishing of this notice does not necessarily reflect the views of Boone Lodge or its members.


Brother Fred Milliken has done a thorough explanation of the events and timetable of the actions concerning Sebastian Lodge and Brother Gordon. Read it here.

Interesting to note that Sebastian Lodge allegedly had its charter pulled for violation of a new rule passed one month before by GL that was sent to the lodge in the same packet as Gordon's charges.

It is also interesting to note that Brother Gordon had tried to form a committee for Prince Hall recognition, but was informed by the the Grand Master that Arkansas' Prince Hall Masons did not desire to have anything to do with the Grand Lodge of Arkansas AF & AM.



UPDATE
It seems the front page of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas website has vanished and is "under construction." However, brethren seeking clarification of the current Grand Lodge of Arkansas policies may wish to contact the Grand Master or Grand Secretary:

Grand Lodge of Arkansas
700 Scott Street
Little Rock, AR 72201
501-374-6408

Martin Warren, Grand Master
529 Ridgecrest Rd
Heber Springs, AR
501-362-9933
JMGWarren@argrandlodge.org

James L. Weatherall, PGM, Grand Secretary
700 Scott Street
Little Rock, AR 72201
501/374-6408
GSecretary@argrandlodge.org

14 comments:

Frederic L. Milliken said...

Having attended the Grand Session of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Arkansas just last month and sat and talked with the Honorable Cleveland K. Wilson, Grand Master for hours, I can assure you that the story that Prince Hall Arkansas does not desire recognition is a big fat lie.

Chris Hodapp said...

Fred,
Color me astonished.

Wayne said...

I've heard the same thing second hand in Florida.

It's all hogwash.

SGIG said...

Georgia, Alabama, West Virginia, etc, etc.
Keep turning the other way and you all will be biten. Then what?

Michael said...

The old "they don't want integration" was used by southern racists to justify maintaining segregation throughout the civil rights fight.

Chris Hodapp said...

Feh. It was a common chant in the school boards of Boston up North, as well. Just sayin.

Chris Hodapp said...

I have stacks of emails from Masons in many states with stories about frankly appalling decisions, actions and behavior by grand lodge officers over the last dozen years. I'm sure Fred Milliken and Widow's Son have them as well. I have no desire to drag them across the internet—much of it is gossip, much of it is hearsay, much of it is hard to prove. But much of it is not.

What is fast becoming clear is that some grand lodges have recently become nervous about embarrassing statements and edicts being leaked to the public, and worse, being posted on the internet. Funny thing about this technology, the way it shines a bright light on things that don't look so good when they are all lit up.

There is no question that not every grand master is perfect. The level of imperfection varies wildly, but there is a certain type of person who believes he has absolute power to rule with an iron whim, exact revenge, and in short, behave in ways that absolutely fly in the face of everything our fraternity teaches us. Fortunately, such men with a misunderstanding of their position and duties don't often make it to the Grand East. Unfortunately, enough do that there are Masons who live in fear every day for their dues card, who fail to stand up for what is right and proper because it's hard to do if the choice is shut up or be expelled. But allowing politics, revenge, racism, criminal misconduct, and worse to enter into the highest levels of the fraternity is something no Mason should stand by and allow to happen without demanding better leadership.

Both of my folks are from Louisville, Kentucky, and I have lived part of my life in Virginia. My father lives in Georgia now. I've seen racism in the Deep South, and in the North. Ignorance knows know boundaries, and I learned long ago not to get fooled one way or the other by accent and diction. I don't see "South" and automatically think of banjo music and rotten teeth. But there is no dodging the fact that all of the states left in the US that do not recognize their Prince Hall counterparts are, with the exception of West Virginia, members of the Old Confederacy. There are states where lodge officers and grand lodge officers are trying hard to make changes. There are other states where an entrenched old guard would rather that Freemasonry die than let a man of a different race pass the Tyler's door. And the same is true on both the mainstream side and the Prince Hall side.

We've all heard the excuses, and it's embarrassing that they are the same ones trotted out back in the days of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. You'd have thought the least that could happen would be some new ones invented. The point is, it's not 1954 anymore. I had an Atlanta police officer (much younger than I was) who was a Mason literally poke me in the chest and tell me I was destroying Freemasonry by allowing black men to join my lodge, that black men could NOT be Masons because of the Ancient Landmarks, and that "down here we know how to treat 'em." I'm sorry, but that cop needs to be up on Masonic charges (and possibly before a civilian review panel, as well). The same goes for any grand lodge officer who shares those sentiments. There is no place for it in a fraternity that trots out the cardinal virtues and proclaims universal benevolence in one breath, and then proves they know nothing about the subjects in the next. And I have no illusion that there aren't Prince Hall Masons who would rather open a vein than let a white man in his lodge, as well.

Our petitions are color blind, and our fraternity should be too.

Chris Hodapp said...

I'm not a big one for demanding that other grand lodges use the nuclear option and drop fraternal relations with the openly racist jurisdictions. It only hurts sojourning brethren, and it threatens the sovereignty of the grand lodge system. In the 1870s, New York accused Indiana of destroying the fraternity by prohibiting alcohol in lodge rooms, and threatened to withdraw recognition over it (They were probably right.). More recently, the imbroglio over the Grand Lodge of France and Minnesota brought down the wrath of Michigan, New York and other GLs, when clearly they had absolutely zero justification. One man's justifiable reason is another's personal grudge.

But the time HAS come for grand masters outside of the Confederacy to start making noise and whispering good council in the ears of their Southern brethren. Prince Hall recognition has been an issue since 1948. It's been 62 years, and for nearly 20% of the United States to still be having this argument is a disgrace. Young professional men don't find discrimination in their businesses, housing, transportation, or lunch counters. For it to exist in their fraternity is appalling.

FD2L said...

For the record the Grand Lodge's attitude towards drill weekend really isn't anything new. My experience of society as a whole has been "Well either do your drill or do your job." The fact that a Grand Lodge is saying the same thing really isn't surprising. Doubtful anyone in the front office served, and if they did it was usually on the active duty side and have little to no knowledge of the commitments and dedication it takes to both keep a civilian job and serve in the military.

I have been accused of hiding behind my reserve duty, and I work for the Federal Government! So an all volunteer organization having the same attitude seems reasonable, however misguided it maybe.

-Bro Vick

andy said...

I am totally disgusted and ashamed by this.....Thanks for bringing this to light Wor. Bro Chris- Andrew T. Fahey

andy said...

Chris I am disgusted and ashamed by this. Thank you for bringing this to light. Andrew T. Fahey

Widow's Son said...

Bro. Hodapp:

Your comment here that begins "I have stacks of emails..." is undoubtedly the finest essay I have ever read by you. It should be posted as its own article on your site and reposted on other blogs.

Widow's Son
BurningTaper.com

Frederic L. Milliken said...

Nicely said. I agree strongly with everything you have said with the exception of pulling recognition. That needs to be done. My path has been one of not only words but action. The notion that this type of behavior within Freemasonry will die out when the older generation passes is false. The racism and culture of Segregationists as well as the infiltration of the KKK breeds a whole way of life, a culture that is transmitted from one generation to the next. Like the Branch Davidians these people have dug in and are not budging now or in the future.

Consequently you will not be able to sway them with just words. You cannot convince a closed mind. Bold, decisive counter measures are all these people will understand and that is why I have dedicated myself to do more than just try to jaw them down.

And for the future I can see US Freemasonry being dragged into civil courts and prosecuted for civil rights violations. Not only in the light of the current administration that we have in Washington but also because if a Grand Lodge has incorporated then the statues of incorporation - civil law - and federal tax laws now govern that Grand Lodge and take precedence over any Masonic tradition or personal rules and regulations that the organization might hold dear.

The Author said...

Brothers Milliken and Hodapp,
Thank you both for your well reasoned, sincere and convincing posts. You do the Fraternity proud.

I would also agree that this is a significant enough issue that the way that this should be handled is: Non-racist Grand Masters should start making a great deal of noise on the issue, followed up by the very real threat to break off fraternal relations if the issue isn't properly addressed.

This is the 21st century, and for Masonry anywhere to be perpetuating racist dogmas is unacceptable. I consider Prince Hall Masons in areas behind the "Gray Curtain" to be more faithful brethren then those in so-called "regular lodges" who are flouting everything Masonry stands for by either actively supporting these policies or silently standing by. If Masonry is to have a future (and as a young Mason I hope that it does), it must not die out due to outdated beliefs, outmoded prejudices and cultural or racial suspicion. When I took the 1st degree it was required that I be a "man, freeborn, of lawful age, and well recommended." Race should have no place in the qualifications.