Thursday, December 16, 2010

News From Arkansas

The Grand Lodge of Arkansas F&AM website remains shut down, after being "under construction" since summer. I personally find this astonishing, as interest in the fraternity is at its greatest point in decades. For there to be no public way of contacting the Grand Lodge or links to its individual lodges is shortsighted, to say the least.

I received several reports from a lodge in Arkansas about a recent visit by the Grand Master, M:.W:. Martin "Gene" Warren. When asked about the missing website, the GM explained that, in his estimation, the Internet can be an evil place, inhabited by pedophiles and other undesirables. Consequently, he does not personally have an email address. He did, however, go on to say that he had hoped to get the site back up and running during his year, but was in search of the webmaster and his website committee. Perhaps some Arkansas brethren could step up and volunteer to help.

More curious was the discussion of Prince Hall Freemasonry that came up during his visit. GM Warren stated that Arkansas Masons are not to so much as sit in a lodge in any jurisdiction that recognizes Prince Hall Masonry, unless they first get up and address the lodge, or check with the Worshipful Master, to be sure there are no Prince Hall Masons present. A heated discussion followed.

Many brethren in Arkansas live near the Oklahoma border, and frequently visit lodges in that state. The GL of Oklahoma recognizes their PHA counterpart. So now, Arkansas Masons are required to poll the members of a foreign lodge to determine who is and is not a Prince Hall Mason, and leave if such a man is discovered? The generally accepted rule of thumb in U.S. Masonry has long been the "When in Rome" custom—namely that it is not the job of a visitor to determine who is and is not regularly admitted in a lodge in a foreign jurisdiction. Visitors are expected to adhere to the host lodge's rules, and to behave as a polite guest.

Prince Hall Freemasonry is not exclusively made up of black men (there are white PHA Masons across North America, and many are U.S. military personnel who joined in Prince Hall military lodges), so this is not a black/white issue, according to the GM.

Presumably, Arkansas Masons must now all be equipped with a list of all grand lodges the GL of Arkansas does not recognize; so if he visits a lodge in Indiana, an Arkansas Mason will have to read out the list before the meeting opens so he can make sure the lodge he is a guest in doesn't have any Prince Hall, Paraguayan, Moroccan, Bolivian, or Uruguayan Masons in it, either. I am not trying to be flippant here, honestly. And it certainly puts Arkansas brethren with dual memberships in Oklahoma in a sticky situation.

To his credit, GM Warren was reportedly very circumspect in his discussion, and wasn't making a great waving of hands over expelling anybody. He also said that, while he does not personally agree with the idea of recognition of Prince Hall Masonry in Arkansas, he reminded the brethren that he is not Grand Lodge: they are. He encouraged Masons to attend the Grand Sessions and vote for the changes they want to see made. It is a wise and humble viewpoint.

Grand Lodges will never be changed by outsiders carping at their temporary leaders who change from year to year. Philosophical shifts and rule changes must be desired by the majority of Masons in each jurisdiction and come from within. Even if the other 51 jurisdictions across the U.S. and Canada that recognize their Prince Hall counterparts are puzzled, embarrassed, and even ashamed by the non-recognition in the remaining ten grand lodges in the South, we have no power to compel them to change to suit us (or to nudge Prince Hall grand lodges in those states to request recognition, for that matter). Grand lodges are sovereign entities, and if it was wrong for the grand lodges that ganged up on Minnesota in 2001 over briefly recognizing two grand lodges in France, it is likewise wrong for the rest of us to heap scorn on the Southern states.

And there is the other side of the coin. I have been told by more than one grand secretary that at least two Prince Hall jurisdictions (and perhaps more) don't want anything to do whatsoever with their mainstream counterpart. It will be a very long time before they ever request joint recognition.

The GL of Indiana F&AM has only recognized the MWPHGLs of Indiana, New Mexico and North Carolina. Why? Because no other Prince Hall grand lodge has asked us for recognition. Masonic protocol and tradition has long held that a "younger" GL petitions an "older" one for recognition. If the 40+ Prince Hall jurisdictions across the US and Canada that have already been recognized by their mainstream counterparts sent letters to the GL of Indiana seeking recognition, it would almost surely and happily be granted. But without official Masonic communication and paper trails, nothing will happen.

I was told that a request for recognition in one southern state came to the grand lodge from the PHA GL via email. E-mail? It was ignored. Who really sent it? Was it real? What's next, a tweet? Grand lodges are stodgy old institutions, and an official letter on letterhead is the least one grand lodge can do to communicate officially with another. And with such an important request, a certified letter would be even more appropriate.

If Prince Hall and mainstream GLs want across the board recognition, there is a proper way to achieve it, and sabre-rattling, emails, ego fights and hurt feelings won't get it accomplished. Grand Lodges in neighboring states are just like GLs in foreign countries, and should always be regarded as such.

It would be worthwhile if the mainstream and PHA conferences of grand masters would lay this out to every grand secretary, and maybe even come up with something as crazy as a uniform recognition request format that everyone could copy from. Now that 51 North American jurisdictions share territory between their respective GLs, it would be beneficial for all of our members if these GLs got on the same page with each other.

Brethren, we get the Freemasonry and the leaders and the changes we that demand and then work our tails off to achieve. It's a terrible cloud to operate under when Masons can't freely exchange ideas without fear of the Order of the Boot. But I know one thing from experience: no Mason can turn the tiller of the fraternity in another direction if he's suspended and sitting out on the curb.

The Grand Lodge of Arkansas meets in February. GM Warren has encouraged his brethren to vote for the rules and leadership they truly desire. So, ask the tough questions, demand the serious answers, and vote for the leaders who will lead you proudly to the future with a vision you agree with.



While waiting for the Grand Lodge of Arkansas website to reappear, a group of Arkansas brethren have started an unofficial Facebook page to keep lodges and Masons in the northern part of the state informed of degree work and activities.

Check out Northwest Arkansas Masons on Facebook and on its website.

11 comments:

James Morgan said...

While I do understand certain points with regard to the PHA recognition issue that you bring up, (I really like the idea of the Conference of grand masters getting more involved) I as a PHA Mason find it interesting that certain "mainstream" jurisdictions want younger grand lodges to request recognition from them when they do not extend older PHA jurisdictions that same courtesy. The GL of Indiana is younger the the PHA Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and yet they do not have official recognition. If we are going to be playing paper trail games, then lets be fair. At the same time though, I think that blanket recognitions are the way to go, this thing is getting out of hand

Dr. Faro said...

Grand lodges should rethink the junior-senior request protocol. What about identically worded resolutions that become effective when adopted by both GLs?

I heard the following rhetorical question, which has greatly influenced my thinking: "You've spent the last 150-200 years calling us 'illegitimate,' 'clandestine,' and 'bogus' (when you've felt like being polite), and now you're giving us permission to ask for recognition?"

Brent

Nathan said...

I have never understood the urgent need to force the last 10 "mainstream" GLs to recognize their counterparts. The only way that will ever happen is if they are left alone to chart their own courses. There is too much history there for a reversal of opinion to occur overnight.

Those GLs, both "mainstream" and PHA, will do what they consider to be in their best interest, and all the yelling and screaming by good-intentioned "foreign" Masons isn't going to change their minds.

The fact is that we have other cod to batter. This is a peripheral issue that doesn't address our own internal problems. It smacks of the old political solution of exporting the revolution to mask or suppress problems at home. Instead of going down that road, let's fix our own problems before presuming to tell other GLs how to fix theirs.

Jim Goltz said...

Non-recognition of Prince Hall Masonry is one of the more embarrassing things I have to talk about with non-Masons. I have Wiccan and pagan friends and so I understand the need for separate "sacred" space, but the kind of bigotry exhibited by some Southern lodges makes it difficult to convince some people I talk to that Freemasonry isn't old-fashioned and obsolete.

Tom Accuosti said...

Visitors are expected to adhere to the host lodge's rules, and to behave as a polite guest.

Chris, this very point was hammered into me even before I became a Mason on several internet forums I was reading (including the Usenet groups alt.freemasonry and soc.org.freemasonry). In those groups, Masons (men and women) from various jurisdictions and obediences managed to have polite, intelligent discussions even while agreeing to disagree; proving (to me, anyway) that sometimes "the internet", rather than being an evil place, can be more civilized than meat space.


Masonic protocol and tradition has long held that a "younger" GL petitions an "older" one for recognition.

Your readers may be interested to know that back in (IIRC) 2005, the GL of Conn voted to automatically extend recognition to the PH GLs in any state in which those GLs are recognized by the F&AM GLs. This way, we don't have to worry about this inane custom.

Chris Hodapp said...

@Dr Faro said:
Grand lodges should rethink the junior-senior request protocol. What about identically worded resolutions that become effective when adopted by both GLs?

Brent, Agreed. It's a foolish system that only encourages "we're older", "no, WE'RE older" nonsense.


@James,
Concerning Brent's remarks, the nonsense that can occur is, "No, Indiana is older than the 'Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts' that wasn't called that until 1847..." Which is why the "we're older" business is foolish to stand on. Along with causing the bruising of institutional egos.


@Tom,
Indiana tried passing that and it was voted down, primarily because of the argument that "we don't extend recognition unless we are asked first." Again, if the CofGMNA would take a little leadership on this, along with working with the PHA Conference of GMs, maybe we could all come to a simplified, civilized way of handling this.

Frederic L. Milliken said...

CHRIS SAID:"To his credit, GM Warren was reportedly very circumspect in his discussion, and wasn't making a great waving of hands over expelling anybody. He also said that, while he does not personally agree with the idea of recognition of Prince Hall Masonry in Arkansas, he reminded the brethren that he is not Grand Lodge: they are. He encouraged Masons to attend the Grand Sessions and vote for the changes they want to see made. It is a wise and humble viewpoint."


Although I can't speak from knowledge about the present Arkansas Grand Master, I can say that Arkansas Grand Masters have an ongoing tradition af expelling any Mason who makes a motion in Grand Lodge that the Grand Master does not like - and expelling right then and there on the spot.

I hear often the argument that all that is really needed is for the members of any Grand Lodge to vote for reforms and it will be done. It's not quite that easy. It's like saying that North Koreans could have a kinder, gentler government if all the people just took over. But resurrections and reforms under dictators are most often crushed - in the civil world and the Masonic world. We have no further to look than West Virginia for another sterling example of an out of control Grand Lodge doing just that.

Arkansas has gone from a state membership of 70,000 Freemasons in the 60s to only 4000 members today. No wonder the Grand Master can't find anyone to run his high tech apparatus. One might question whether he really wants to find someone. All GLs have sustained losses in this period but none quite so devastating as Arkansas. One might wonder whether there has been a deliberate purge or "Masonic cleansing."

Finally let's but that myth that you cannot affect change from without, only if you stay in.

This presumes you are operating in an above the board system that governs by the rule of law not the rule of whim and personal preference. ADPINO - A Democratic Process In Name Only shuts out the ability for members to effectively make changes never mind ask for a redress of grievances.

And secondly I think I have done some things from the outside looking in operating from another Obedience.

Frederic L. Milliken
MWPHGLTX

MP said...

Blanket recognition - what a wonderful idea.

I had a PGM of one mainstream jurisdiction tell me that blanket recognition is likely to be seen as paternalistic by the PHA GL's.

I had the Foreign Relation Committee Chairman of another GL say, in no uncertain terms - it will never happen.

And I got the same thing, yet politer, from the GM of that jurisdiction.

As for the age vs name BS - what, are you going to tell me UGLE's age is 1813, not 1717?

And that MA's is 1792, not 1733?

I will point out, however - not every GL follows the when in Rome policy, not even in the US. Some of them still require their members to absent themselves when attempting to visit a Lodge in which members from unrecognized jurisdictions are present.

Chris Hodapp said...

See, here we go with institutional egos. "Blanket recognition" would be seen as paternalistic, because it removes the "sovereignty" of each GL to pick and choose who it wants to be recognized by. I guess.

Re: When in Rome. As I said, "generally accepted rule."

MP said...

Actually, the paternalism concern stems from "as if we know better than the PHA GL's what's good for them." I get the point, I just don't agree with it.

Ryan Reid said...

Chris - In 2010 The GL of Iowa celebrated its 10 anniversary of Mutual Recognition with our PH Brethren. The GL of Iowa also voted to automatically extend recognition to the PH GLs in any state in which those GLs are recognized by AF & AM GLs. PH Brothers are frequently at our 1day classes.