A situation I reported on in September of last year has been resolved. A gay Brother in Tennessee married another man, which is perfectly allowed under the law. Unfortunately, the Grand Lodge of Tennessee's code Sec. 4.2105 (27) specifically states that it is a Masonic offense to "To engage in lewd conduct. To promote or engage in homosexual activity. To cohabit immorally in a situation without the benefit of marriage." As a result, Worshipful Brother Dennis Clark, Past Master of Park Avenue Lodge No. 362 in Memphis, and his partner and fellow Mason, Brother Mark Henderson, were brought up on Masonic charges.
(For the original background on the story, along with a detailed public response from Brother Clark, see the post from last September HERE.)
Today, Brother Tom Accuosti on his Masonic Tao blogsite has posted a message from WBro. Clark. It seems that he and Henderson have been suspended from the fraternity. It reads, in part:
It is impossible to describe the feeling of being rejected by the same lodge we both worked so hard to rebuild. After investing thousands of hours rebuilding Park Avenue Lodge #362 in Memphis and tens of thousands of dollars, after serving openly and happily to repair it and make the lodge a better place to be and a place to spend time for our brethren and our families, there is no way to describe the sense of rejection at the hands of my own brothers. Indeed, several of the officers were at our Blessing; they ate our food, danced to our music, enjoyed a day at our farm, and took communion with us. And now, not one of them will stand and speak for us. They are waiting until March to call a vote to remove some language from the constitution.
In Tennessee, we say, “Everything that is vicious and cruel and oppressive it (Freemasonry) reprobates.” It doesn’t say to wait till the next Grand Lodge meeting to take a vote. Still, not one has stood up to say, “Stop! No more.” Some of these men I helped financially, many have come to my house for fellowship meals. They have come at my invitation to our Cathedral to celebrate Easter and Christmas. And now, they have vanished into nothingness. My former brothers, this is the stuff that Tennessee Freemasonry is made of. Mark and I are fallen soldiers in this war against bigotry but I am hopeful that the good brothers in Tennessee will right the ship and wrestle power away from those who would stand proudly on a decision that does nothing but stain the reputation of a Fraternity that I have loved.
The situation is a sad one for the fraternity as a whole. Clark was initially charged, not for engaging in lewd behavior, or even for actual "homosexual activity," but simply for posting a few photos of his wedding to his partner on his own personal Facebook page.
I have repeatedly said that it is very likely that there have been gay Masons sitting in lodge quietly since the beginnings of the institution, and it is not out of the bounds of possibility that you sat with gay Masons during your degrees, wherever you may live. As Masons, we are entreated to welcome men of all faiths, beliefs and political persuasions. In fact, our laws, however they may be worded in each jurisdiction, boil down to telling us that such subjects are supposed to be none of our business.
The new Masons we all claim to want so desperately to join and save us from extinction know nothing about jurisdictional differences. We don't say, "Become a Freemason! We welcome you, unless you are gay and live in Tennessee or Georgia." Leaders approaching the East, at the lodge or the grand lodge level, need to understand that thoroughly before they lobby for or defend exclusionary language and practices in our fraternity. The current crop of young men in whom we place so much hope care very much about issues like race, faith, and sexual orientation. We risk alienating these men, all because a few of us suffer from a narrow definition of moral law peculiar to our own personal beliefs. I hope for WBro. Clark and Bro. Henderson's sake that the next Grand Master reinstates them and supports the elimination of this wording in their law.
It would be the Masonic thing to do.
From Tom Accuosti's original post on this story from last September:
[L]et’s also keep in mind that while Freemasons understand (for the most part) that jurisdictions all have their own rules, the general public — you know, those people who read the Dan Brown books, and watch those History Channel specials — have no idea how the Society works. When the public starts hearing that “The Masons will kick you out if you’re gay” — and they will, of course, because these stories are already making the rounds on social media — they aren’t going to think to themselves “Oh, never mind, it’s just those guys in Georgia.” No, they will associate this with the entire fraternity in the US. Freemasonry, already fighting a reputation as an “old man’s club,” will soon be fighting a reputation as an “old dinosaur’s club.”
I do understand from one source that a resolution has been introduced to eliminate the "homosexual activity" reference from Tennessee's Code at the Grand Lodge session in March.
UPDATE: WBro. Dennis Clark responded to this post in the public comments section, and provided the following explanation as to the final results of the charges and trial:
"The trial was originally scheduled in Memphis TN. Mark and I were prepared to give a vigorous defense but the trial was canceled without written notice two or three days before the trial was scheduled. (I found out by word of mouth.) Three months passed. The trial was rescheduled on January 30 at the Grand Lodge building--a distance of 240 miles and over three and a half hours away. I lodged a complaint that the trial was logistically impossible for us or for us to bring witnesses (TN 6.607), to which the Grand Master Hastings personally replied, indicating that the case was now an offense against the Grand Lodge and would be held in the Grand Lodge building. As a Deputy Sheriff and first responder, it was not possible for Mark to end his shift at midnight, drive to Nashville, have two trials, and return in time for his next shift. So we missed it. But that is insufficient to be found guilty of failing to appear. Here's why.
The TN Constitution allows masons to make a sufficient response in writing (4.2105), which I did in August 2015 for the first trial scheduled in Memphis and again in January 2016 for the trial rescheduled and relocated to Nashville. To be clear, the official responses from the Grand Secretary Roy Etherton PGM dated 2 Feb 2016 say "Brother Clark was found guilty of the charges." It did not say guilt of failing to appear or show any new charges. As far as I can tell, we were tried and found guilty of being gay or married or both. "----------------------------------------------------
UPDATE ON FEBRUARY 10th
ATTENTION TENNESSEE BRETHREN. Your Grand Lodge is now monitoring your Facebook posts, and even the "likes" you post on the messages that appear on your social media pages. The following message was just posted this afternoon:
"I have learned that there will be a meeting tonight (10 Feb 2016) to decide what to do about Tennessee Master Masons who have "liked", commented favorably, or have been otherwise critical of Grand Master Hasting's decision to convict. Be advised that if you are a Master Mason in Tennessee, you might want to remove comments or "likes". There are still six long weeks left till the Grand Lodge meets on March 23-24 at 100 North 7th Street in Nashville, TN. Be there and use your voice. "
The Masonic author Allen Roberts once famously made a comment that was in fact really cribbed from a quote by William Shakespeare. The Bard's original line from Measure For Measure is:
"Man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority, like an angry ape, play such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep."