Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Reflection on What Is Now Tearing Us Asunder


No other posts of mine have ever generated the heated arguments and hate mail - both reasoned and irrational alike - that this current controversey about homosexuality and Masonry has over the last few weeks. On Facebook alone, there have been literally hundreds of posts about it. 

The issue cuts to the very foundation of the fraternity: high standards of morality vs. tolerance for another Brother's faith and point of view. There is no easy answer, and I wouldn't want to be a Grand Master anywhere right now. No matter what decision he makes, in any state or country, a huge proportion of the membership will find it wrong. Brother is turning against Brother, and the very sorts of arguments our founders sought to avoid with their most basic rules are now playing out around the Masonic world.

I offer this observation for consideration by all.  Please indulge me for the length of it.

Freemasonry has always adapted over the ages, sometimes slower than others, to suit the society in which it has inhabited. To say that it has gone unchanged since "time immemorial" or other similar canards is simply preposterous. The medieval guild was bound to the Catholic Church. After the English Civil War, the Craft's stance on religion became neutral. The first Grand Lodge formation combined with colonial expansion to spread the speculative fraternity worldwide, and established a new and unique methodology of governance. The three degree system was established in the 1720s. After the American Revolution, territorial exclusivity doctrine was standardized. The two main Rites were developed and grew rapidly. The lodges soon moved out of taverns into purpose-built temples.  And the competing English Grand Lodges finally united in 1813.

In the era from the anti-Masonic period and the Morgan Affair to the 1850s, standardized practices eventually spread across the US about modes of recognition, conducting business solely on the MM degree, dues cards, and alcoholic prohibition. After the US Civil War, the Scottish Rite redesigned itself under Pike and became both esoteric and theatrical, and the Shrine formed to give Masons a place to go when the lodges stopped drinking. Then, drill team mania swept the nation in all of the American chivalric fraternal groups, and the Knights Templars grew by leaps and bounds. By the 1880s, a new fascination with esotericism expanded, and the Masonic Rosicrucian bodies were formed and grew.

Jump ahead to the end of WWI, and the fraternity had a huge growth spurt, resulting in the beginnings of Masonic retirement homes and orphanages across the US to give a safety net to members and their families that the government had yet to start providing for. With them came institutionalized charities among Grand Lodges and appendant bodies. Likewise, the Shrine founded their network of hospitals, at first to fight polio. 

Scouting became popular, and so the Masons started youth groups for their own children. By the late 20s, a massive building boom commenced in a very brief period of time, halted only by the hit of the Depression. In the 1930s, a wave of new appendant bodies like the Allied Masonic degrees and many others that we now associate with Masonic Week were rediscovered, grew, or were just plain invented.

On and on it has gone, with major changes occuring roughly every single generation, or at most two - from massive growth post-WWII, up to the wave of Prince Hall recognition in the 1990s, and huge die-offs of literally millions of members at the turn of the new century.

The growth of the Internet starting in the early 1990s allowed Masons all over the world to share their own Grand Lodges' similarities and differences even faster than ever before, and suddenly a US member in a rural town was in discussion with French and English and Australian brethren about their various rituals and practices.  The outgrowth of Traditional Observance, European Concept, and "Best Practices" lodges, along with table lodges, Festive Boards, and Chambers of Reflection, all came almost completely out of these Internet interactions.

Then recall the situation in 2002 when 14 US Grand Lodges withdrew, or considered withdrawing, recognition of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota over that Grand Lodge's decision to enter into amity with a second Grand Lodge in France - the Grand Loge de France. The resulting firestorm of criticism and de-recognition forced the hand of Minnesota, and a year later, they reluctantly withdrew from the GLdF again. There was really no compelling reason for those 14 or so Grand Lodges to even feign an interest in the issue, as Minnesota's position did not have any effect whatsoever on them or their members. Yet, they piled on in a matter of months, and Minnesota buckled very quickly. That whole set of circumstances happened almost entirely because of the Internet.

Unlike that situation, the current one we face now is indeed a scenario of "what happens in one GL affects all GLs". As has been pointed out elsewhere, both California and the District of Columbia have had to fend off public demonstrations against their members and officers, and they have been disinvited from public cornerstone ceremonies by local governments. I suspect this will happen elsewhere before this all ends. 

Nearly every Grand Master in the world was at a global Masonic conference this last fall in San Francisco, and because of the issue in Georgia, every single one of them (and their spouses, too) were confronted by screaming protesters and video cameras at their hotel and at the convention site, demanding to know why Masons discriminate, and what they were going to do about it. These were hard core, in-your-face types of demonstrators, verbally assaulting these mostly elderly gentlemen who tried in vain to explain they had nothing to do with it. But I'm telling you, virtually every Grand Master of the regular, recognized Grand Lodges around the world is now contemplating what to do about this issue right at this very moment. And I don't envy their decision.

Even international Grand Lodges are now getting inquiries about this, and few outside of Masonry completely understand that every Grand Lodge is sovereign, and that there's little that can be done to influence one in another part of the country, or the other parts of the world. Because of the immediacy of the web, there's no option of ignoring issues like this. Remember the racial situation in Georgia six years ago making the New York Times. And this current one in Tennessee hit National Public Radio.

A Facebook acquaintance wrote this comment last night on Facebook:
"The embarrassing inconvenience is that we are no longer living in an era where the debates within the lodge remained hidden. Largely, without the blessings of the leadership, and often in spite of real resistance to it from them, Freemasons, like everyone else in the world have migrated to the internet. And like everyone else, they like to discuss their favorite things, and their pet peeves about those favorite things. In short, Masonic business, while it may not be everyone else's business, none the less becomes visible to all and sundry. Today, the dust cannot be swept back under the rug. 
So, even if we look no further than among other Masonic jurisdictions, others will be forced to step up to the plate and make public decisions such as those made by California, DC, and Belgium because those obediences and Jurisdictions DO live in the 21st century, and cannot afford the repercussions that would inevitably damage them if they were seen to silently stand by. Such decisions might be acceptable in rural Georgia or Tennessee, but they will not fly in the rest of the world. The failure of Grand Lodges such as Tennessee and Georgia to realize that the world has gone on without them hurts us all. Failure to address it visibly and publicly however, is institutional suicide, at least for some Obediences."

No, we're all going to get tarred with this disagreement, I'm afraid, because the growing majority of people in this country equate the discrimination of gays with racial bigotry, whether you or I like that or not. The public's outlook has changed dramatically in just 8-10 years. Look at the political gymnastics of some candidates this year explaining their votes to strengthen the sanctity of traditional marriage less than a decade ago, who are now stumbling all over themselves to demonstrate that their views have now "evolved". Sure, it's pandering for votes, but that's how much and how fast the country has changed.

This latest issue seems to cut right to the heart of the most basic principles of morality of our members, yet both sides see it very differently. And it is not necessarily based on generational differences alone (although by and large, younger men see the gay topic as being no different than racial discrimination more than older members do). One side sees it as a violation of the rule and guide of their own faith as reflected in the writings of the Old Testament. The other side sees it as a violation of our first and most fundamental Ancient Charge against the introduction of religion and politics into our lodges and code books. This is not going to be a simple change. 

The Grand Lodge of Tennessee states on its website: 
"The mission of Freemasonry is to promote a way of life that binds like minded men in a worldwide brotherhood that transcends all religious, ethnic, cultural, social and educational differences; by teaching the great principles of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth: and, by the outward expression of these, through its fellowship, its compassion and its concern, to find ways in which to serve God, family, country, neighbors and self." 
If that is indeed the mission of Masonry in their state, how then has this argument come to tear apart men who are supposed to unite under the one single principle we can all agree upon: that simple concept that there is a Supreme Being who created each and every one of us, and through a belief in that deity, each man will find his own salvation.

The Grand Lodges that have withdrawn recognition of Tennessee and Georgia have done so because the anti-gay and co-habitation rules in those states have brought harm to them publicly and privately, both from outsiders and from their own members, and because they regard those rules as being incompatible with the founding premises of the fraternity. Other Grand Lodges may have a different point of view or experience, and may or may not follow the lead of California, D.C. and Belgium.

What happens on this current issue is yet to be seen. Georgia and Tennessee could change their minds. Or others could rear up in solidarity with those Grand Lodges and pass their own anti-gay, anti-cohabitation legislation. The saga is just starting. But I will end this rambling post by saying that my own experience at this year's Conference of Grand Masters was that most of the assembled Grand Masters strongly disagreed with Georgia and Tennessee, and were waiting to see what other states did before deciding what to do themselves.  They are deciding now.

That has now begun to play out. And in the end, those who will be hurt the most are the simple, rank and file Masons in the local lodge, when they try to travel, or when they are confronted with these questions by potential new members.

History is what happens while you're busy doing other things. We will soon see if this is another sea change in the history of the fraternity, or merely a bump in the road.



It will, I fear, be an interesting year for all of us.

26 comments:

  1. You won't find a better description of the situation anywhere. Nor will you find a more succinct summary of the evolution of Freemasonry.

    It's serious business to call your opponent in a controversy, immoral. And its serious business to interfere with what is regarded as human rights progress - the rights of African Americans and those whose gender path is different from ours. I've tried to reach out but the trial in Tennessee and the warning that brethren were being monitored in case they discussed these issues have driven numbers into the groups that have been forming that don't want dialogue because they think the southern grand lodges will not change, its not helpful to regard the southerners as all rednecks and hayseeds -- they make a case that one can understand if one tries. But recognition of grand lodges that discriminate is the road to destruction and has become intolerable to many.

    Masonry will not be allowed to participate in civil society if it is perceived as discriminatory. It will not be allowed in schools, in patriotic events, as receiver of tax privileges. The good will earned by charity is being swept away. Young men bent on careers will shun us. People do not have time for nuanced explanations of exclusive geographic distribution. It would be a grave mistake to think racial discrimination - now joined with the gender problems - will be tolerated any longer.

    Sadly, if we are to survive to do the good we have the potential to do,those grand lodges that refuse to change need to be cast out now and their territories provided with a wholesome alternative. Now.

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    1. Thank you, Paul.

      Back in the early 2000's, Jeff Peace and several brethren in Georgia got so fed up with their Grand Lodge, got themselves expelled, burned their Scottish Rite hats in the parking lot, and went out to form a new Grand Lodge - the Grand Orient of the US. They went so far as to actually receive recognition from the Grand Orient of France, and attempted to charter lodges all over the US. It was a noble experiment, born out of fights and frustrations not unlike what is brewing in Georgia now. But in the end, it failed, due in no small part to egos, infighting, bold claims that exceeded their grasp, and other problems.

      I don't think starting a new GL in GA and TN is the answer. Change can best be accomplished from within, and that, unfortunately, takes patience to accomplish. Changing Freemasonry is often like steering an aircraft carrier. On the one hand, it makes situations like the current one frustrating to those advocating the change. But it also helps to avoid many remarkably stupid ideas from coming to fruition, as well.

      I strongly urge all Masons in those states to start by making close friendships within the Grand Line. If you don't know the men coming up the line, you have little chance of influencing them when their year to govern comes. Understand their point of view, and then convince them of your own. Because without their support, your battle becomes all the more hopeless.

      But for heaven's sake, DON'T demit from the fraternity out of disgust. As the above referenced Jeff Peace discovered, you can't change the GL from outside its doors. In GA, you have about 3/4 of a year to start making your case and write a properly crafted resolution for the next GL meeting. If you know nothing about Masonic jurisprudence, get help from someone who does. Talk to the members of the Jurisprudence Committee. Get to know them. Building relationships is the only way to accomplish anything in this fraternity.

      As for Tennessee, you have about two weeks. If you are entitled to vote there (I don't know if TN allows PMs to vote), take the time off work, attend the session, and VOTE for the resolutions that have been submitted to take these provisions out of the Code. I know that some Masters (or proxies) believe they must vote as their lodge dictates, but part of leadership is knowing how to lead during tough times. So, vote your conscience, and not necessarily what a lineup of sideliners tells you to do.

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  2. Tolerance, brothers, means your beliefs do not have to be the same as your brother's. We all know there is no place for religion or politics at lodge, and this can be a point of inner conflict for some men since we do not allow atheists. While we should live our religions, we should not feel entitled to force our beliefs and ways of life onto others. When a county clerk refuses to sign a gay marriage license, she is using her office to force her belief onto that gay couple, that they not be allowed to marry. Suspending or expelling a brother based on your interpretation of theology, to me, seems about the same. That county clerk failed to remember she was an instrument and representative of her office and that it was not up to her, it was up to the law. Whoever came up with the TN and GA Masonic legislation failed to remember Tolerance, and that whole annoying religion and politics thing. Pesky details, to be sure, but terribly important fundamentals of our collective Masonic law.
    I pray Tennessee and Georgia arrive into the 21st century soon.

    Fraternally,
    Peter C Bernard
    Chaplain. May Flower Lodge A.F & A.M.
    Middleboro, Massachuetts

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    1. Not so fast brother. Things are rarely that simple. There are those who already rationalize how atheists can and do exist in our lodges. And will you so forcefully defend the inclusion of women when the clarion rings against that form of sexual discrimination? And many hold that the mere existence of Prince Hall lodges proves that the entire fraternity is racially segregated. I think you will discover at least some small charity in your heart for the clerk from Kentucky when you wish only to follow your conscience in the future.

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    2. Scott G,
      I haven't seen or heard anyone rationalizing atheism in regular, recognized Freemasonry, as it is in the Grand Orient de France and other obediences.

      I will not argue for the inclusion of women in regular, recognized Freemasonry. Rather, I would take the point of view of the UGLE - namely, that female Freemasonry is in all other respects regular, apart from allowing women to join, and would gladly point them to the nearest female or Co-Masonic lodge (and not to the OES, which is not in any way a similar experience to Masonry - with all due apologies to members of that organization). Private clubs are allowed to restrict their membership by sex, and I have no problem with that - it's not the same thing as banning homosexuals (a subtle, but real distinction). Gays are men simply with a different private life. Which should remain private.

      The existence of Prince Hall Masonry is by no means proof that modern Masonry is racially segregated. It's origin predates most of the mainstream Grand Lodges in the US and even around the world, and it has a proud heritage and place in black culture and society - second only to the historic role of black churches in America. Anyone outside of the nine former Confederate states that do not recognize them can gladly ask PHA Masons if they pine in their hearts over not being members of the mainstream counterparts. You may be surprised.

      People are collective creatures who often prefer to socialize with others most like themselves - black fraternities and colleges still flourish five decades after the Civil Rights Act. No US Grand Lodge has any racial restriction written into their code books, and there are growing numbers of black members in mainstream lodges across the country, mine included. Even in Atlanta where the first black member of a GLofGA lodge made headlines six years ago, there are a handful of black members now, and that number continues to grow, albeit slowly. Just as there are white and hispanic members in PHA lodges around the country.

      Now, I'm not an idiot - I am fully aware that random lodges in every state segregate in practice. Any organization that allows secret balloting, and granting members the right to refuse visitors to their lodges for any reason is open to abuse of the right. That's true even in PHA lodges. But anyone who has visited lodges in the South has probably heard the insulting comments, and no amount of GM edicts and stern letters of warning are going to change lifetimes of bias. My own experience in the GL jurisdictions outside of the infamous nine is that such comments and actions are very, very rare, and almost non-existant.

      But make no mistake, there are thousands of excellent Masons in these much derided southern states who fight the bigotry every day, because they understand the tenets of the institution. And they welcome the opportunity to recognize their PHA brethren if given the chance by their leaders. It's going to take visionary GMs in both sets of GLs to cooperate with each other behind the scenes, and convince the men in the grand lines following them to keep fighting for it every year until it finally passes. Even in liberal-leaning California, it took 4-5 years of constant work until it passed...

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    3. Finally, I have plenty of charity and understanding for Kim Davis in Kentucky and her viewpoint. But her job description included promising to uphold the law of her state employer. If she truly cannot issue marriage licenses to gay couples because of her deeply rooted faith, she can quit or take a pay cut and get assigned to a less responsible position that doesn't require her to violate her conscience. She has to make that choice. The system can't be modified to suit her beliefs.

      The Masonic difference is that any Mason can drop a black ball on any petitioner for any reason he wants, and can never reveal his vote or his reason for it. That's a more awesome requirement than Kim Davis' from the standpoint of conscience, because only you know in your heart why yours may be the only, single vote that stops a good man from becoming a Mason.

      Tolerance is hard to pull off in fact. It takes work to make it function properly. But the rules that are our most basic foundation stones are very short and very simple: Believe in God, whatever you may conceive Him to be. Keep your specific religious dogma to yourself, and do the same with your political views. And don't force either one on your Brethren in lodge.

      It IS that simple. Everything else is commentary.

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    4. I'll defend my oath here, brothers, nothing more. We know where we stand on the issue of women and atheists. It does not appear that we are all on the same page where what is acceptable in regards to homosexuality. Being gay is not universally wrong across all theologies. We are the instruments of our office, not the architects of their foundations.

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  3. As a good friend of mine, and a Brother said to me, " There are many things over which I may disagree with other brothers. But when we walk through the outer and inner door, we check those things at the door. The Lodge is the one place where we can meet on the level, regardless of our political, religious, and other views. When we step onto that slippery slope...we risk everything for which we have stood for many years."

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  4. If I may offer a different perspective. I do not like to see the current Grand Lodge happenings and interactions concerning sexuality as "tearing us asunder" rather as growing pains. Perhaps all of this brings to light ideologies and attitudes in Masonry that have always been present in certain jurisdictions and have not been challenged. Perhaps we are seeing these ideologies and attitudes waning and refusing to dissipate without a fight. I like to see this as the fraternity changing and growing which are never easy processes. This is my humble and perhaps naively optimistic opinion. Good day brothers!
    Orlando Velez
    Publicity Lodge #1000
    New York

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  5. Beautifully written, Chris. You earned your wages today, Brother!

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  6. You do realize that the Chinese adage "May You Live In INTERESTING Times" is a curse, not a blessing?

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  7. It is simple and easy to accept an idea of morality that is prepackaged and promoted by others. This frees us from the need to think and ask ourselves searching questions. It frees us from doing the work of finding our own answers.

    It is easy to buy into the relative morality of our times or our region. But I believe that Freemasonry challenges us to be better than that.

    Each Freemason will need to search his own heart for answers. This is perhaps the hardest work of all.

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    1. I fear that the panic is already too widespread.

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  8. Seems like it's pretty clear where things are going. Brotherly love has nothing to do with your sexuality or discrimination.

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  9. Thank you for writing a balanced, informative piece that will hopefully lead to informed discussions about the topic. Whichever side of the debate we support, it is great when brethren can discuss a subject in a fraternal manner instead of reverting to a visceral shouting match.

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  10. Freemasonry supposedly needs to, or needed to, reinvent what it is to remain relevant in today's society. We, as a Fraternity, have become less secretive about who we are and what we represent. Personally, I believe we have forgotten one of our most important obligations. We are too concerned about being transparent to the profane world. We often forget what is discussed in the Tyled recesses of the Lodge Hall should remain within the Tyled recesses of the Lodge. It is far too easy to spread gossip and misinformation. Far too many insignificant topics, taken out of context, explode into a issues that are totally devoid of facts or credibility. We have no Grand Lodge of the United States of America. This was once discussed and it failed to come to fruition. Each State Grand Lodge regulates their own conduct, and the conduct of their members, based on their own rules and regulations. I have some questions that may, or may not, have been asked. Did the Grand Masters, who withdrew recognition, approach the Grand Masters of Tennessee and Georgia, in writing, and raise their concerns? Did they allow sufficient time for said Grand Masters to discuss this with their Grand Lodge Officers? Were these concerns raised at their Annual Communication to allow action to be taken by the respective Grand Lodges. What will be the next issue that divides us? We are allowing outside forces to dictate our actions. We are much stronger united than divided. It appears, one Grand Lodge is attempting to force their views upon another by withdrawing recognition from another. We could get to the point there would not be a Conference of Grand Masters or any visitation outside the confines of a Grand Lodge. What happened to compromise? I may not agree with your position, however, I respect your right to your opinion. We need to get this under control. We are nearing the edge of a bottomless pit. What happens when someone complains we do not allow atheists or women? Will a Grand Lodge decide we need to change our longstanding position on these two issues? We need to wake up and learn to work together. It is much better to agree to disagree and embrace our common interests. Will we, as a Fraternity, learn to work together again or will we allow the pressures of the profane world to dictate our stance on each and every topic? We could tear down the very fabric that binds us together as a Fraternity.

    Sincerely and Fraternally,

    Brían Scott Du Bois, KYCH, OPC

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  11. Correct me if I'm wrong, but in those states that do not recognize Prince Hall Grand Lodges, the UGLE is unable to recognize them, because they can only recognize one in each state. That leaves it up to the UGLE-recognized GL to give recognition to Prince Hall and thereby to UGLE, right? If more and more states follow California and Washington D.C., while others like Mississippi and Florida try to show solidarity with Tennessee and Georgia, could UGLE (as Belgium has already) suspend recognition with those lodges. If so and if those lodges do not change as UGLE would require, then could it possible for Prince Hall Grand Lodges to apply for Recognition with the UGLE and become the sole Recognized GLs in those states?

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    1. That is an interesting question, Fresh. And would the PH Grand Lodges be a refuge for Tennessee Freemasons trying to find their way back to the light? It would be thick irony if the Grand Lodges of Prince Hall Masonry became the first integrated Grand Lodges in these states.

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    2. So, can those states where their Grand Lodge doesn't recognize Prince Hall Grand Lodge simply grant recognition without reciprocation from the Prince Hall GL? I know in LE Droit Humain, we recognize all State Grand Lodges as well as Prince Hall. As a matter of fact, our current RWM was orginally a PH Mason.

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  12. Let's jump ahead a year or so for those that find this little puzzle so easy. You receive petitions from women with gender dysphoria (they are becoming men). What do you do?

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    1. If they are "becoming" a man, then they are not one until their surgery and drug treatments are complete. At that point, my own estimation (as complicated as it may be) is that they are in every sense now a man, and therefore, eligible for membership. As I understand it (and admittedly I have not researched it beyond articles in the press), their name and gender are officially changed to "male" on their drivers license and other state and federal documentation, and Masonry doesn't require a birth certificate. If everything is successfully concluded, then they should be indistinguishable from other men and consequently, qualified to be a Mason. To prevent that from happening (if it is common enough to worry about in any jurisdiction), it would require a change in the requirements for membership and the wording on petitions.

      But if a person went through all that is required to completely change their sex in all aspects (which is mind-bogglingly expensive and physically formidable, I can see no reason to deny them membership.

      But that's just me. It's not the same issue as the current controversy.

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  13. Chris certainly is on solid ground about accepting someone who has changed from being a woman to a man. In the case of someone who was a man and has become a woman while in a lodge, one would hope that if she wished to continue as a member it would be accepted. I do know of someone who changed from being a man to being a woman and rather than continuing in their commandery became active in its Social Order of the Beauceant. That is as he says a different issue.

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  14. Great Points, Chris. Tradition of interpreted Ancient Charges Vs. Progressive Moral Science. Which is right? It's as if we're stuck in a loop.

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  15. Brother Du Bois,

    No it is simple. California, D.C. and Belgium are saying that Tn and GA or in violation by allowing religious and political views to alter the Masonic Landmarks that Freemasonry is built on and as a consequence are not practicing Regular Freemasonry and should not be recognized as being Regular any longer.

    I do not see it as one Grand Lodge attempting to force their views on another Grand Lodge but as one Grand Lodge saying that another Grand Lodge has stepped outside the Masonic Landmarks of Freemasonry itself which makes their behavior non masonic and therefore incompatible with the fraternity as a whole.

    TN and GA made this an issue. That Tennessee thought that they could expel brothers from the order because of their sexual orientation and there would be no repercussions for their actions from within Freemasonry itself is arrogance beyond belief. Perhaps we will end up with a Confederate States of Christian Freemasonry before all is said and done down here, populated with men who cannot remember their obligations and leave the religion, politics, bigotry, and racism at home and out of a masonic lodge.

    S&F

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  16. Brother Chris, I am sorry to have missed this post when it first appeared. It is the best-written and best-reasoned approach to this issue that I can imagine reading. I hope that all--and I do mean all--American Grand Lodges take your comments under consideration as they address this issue.

    And address it they must.

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