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.