In the hundreds of posts, emails, Reddit messages and Facebook responses over the homosexual issue in Tennessee and Georgia, many devout Christian Masons have expressed their personal religious viewpoints on the matter. I do not discount those deeply held beliefs, in spite of what some posters have alleged. I readily accept that their faith is incompatible with homosexuality, as well as co-habitation with someone who isn't a spouse.
And yet, there are many Christian denominations that perform gay marriages, as well as ordaining gay clergy. Their faith is just as strong. Unfortunately, several posters over the last few days have simply declared these fellow Christians as "Biblically illiterate" or just plain wrong.
A Brother from New York sent me a message today that brought to light an interesting twist that came about in his state back in 2011, when New York State was on the verge of its own new law legalizing gay marriage.
For many years, the Episcopal Church where I reside (Diocese of Long Island, in NY) has required heterosexual members of the clergy to marry if they wanted to co-habitate on Church property (in a parish house for example). The rule did not apply to gay clergy (since they could not legally marry). However, when New York State allowed gay marriage, the double-standard was done away with... Now, the rule applies to all clergy equally... both heterosexual and gay clergy must marry if they wish to co-habitate with someone on church property. Think about that for a moment... a religious diocese (belonging to one of the more "mainstream" of mainstream Christian denominations) now REQUIRES gay men to marry (all-be-it in in limited situations).
It is certainly possible that one of these (now married) gay clergymen is a member a Tennessee Lodge. If so, the Grand Lodge of Tennessee could be expelling a man for actually following his Christian faith... for doing what his Bishop tells him is the moral thing to do.
I went looking, and sure enough, I found several articles about the situation. This one is representative, from The Christian Post of July 19, 2011:
In the wake of gay marriage soon becoming a legal institution in the state of New York, the Episcopal Bishop of Long Island, has ordered that homosexual priests wed their partners.
Long Island Episcopal Bishop Lawrence Provenzano has put his foot down against gay clergy who residing in homosexual relationships, and has given a nine month deadline for them to either get married or stop living together, according to the News Observer.
“I need to be mindful that the church has always asked people to live in committed monogamous, faithful relationships. I won’t allow heterosexual clergy to live in a rectory or church housing without the benefit of marriage. When one puts it in that context, then you see how it all begins to make sense,” said Provenzano.
Reverend Christopher Hofer, pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. Jude agrees with Provenzano, “I think his statement was not only fair, but beyond generous. It gives people time, acknowledging that there’s a financial component involved and recognizing that some may not choose to live together.
“Now that the state is recognizing civil marriage, we as priests, perhaps deacons too, who are in committed relationships, have a choice: we either live what we preach to become civilly married or we live apart,” he said.The last few weeks have demonstrated that we can chase each others' tails endlessly over who is "right" and who is "wrong" about religious interpretations. This is why these kinds of religious (and political) discussions need to remain firmly outside of the Masonic door, as it was intended from the beginning. Freemasons who try to apply their own personal religious viewpoints to the Masonic lodge are doing just what Dr. Anderson and our Enlightenment founders warned us against in the very first rule of modern, speculative Masonry. Numerous lodge and grand lodge websites and hundreds of books on Masonry repeat the words, without actually understanding them:
A Mason is oblig’d by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law ; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions they may be distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must else have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.
Many of the men who transformed Freemasonry from a labor union to a modern brotherhood during the Enlightenment were Deists. They believed that the Earth and stars were designed and created by a supreme entity, and that the universe operated like a giant clockwork mechanism. But those learned and visionary men largely didn't believe in Divine Intervention, virgin births, or a human God who walked the sands and hills of the Holy Land performing miracles. Nor did they believe that God gave a particular fig about the daily lives of each and every human being who believed in Him. These men pondered long and hard on their beliefs, approaching their religious philosophy as they approached the rest of the Liberal Arts and Sciences. As Masons, do we now cast these men and their philosophies aside when it suits our convenience, because their faith differed from our own?
Are we to now turn our backs on our Brethren if they believe in transubstantiation and we don't? Or whether they believe in seven sacraments instead of two? What about our Jewish Brethren, from whose writings we draw our ritual ceremonies? How must they feel when the Grand Chaplain ends every prayer by saying, "In Jesus' name?" Or our Muslim Brethren, or Hindus, or the rest of the panoply of the world's religions, whose adherents we claim to welcome? Our humble rural lodge may not have any members of those faiths, but Freemasonry is a much bigger landscape beyond just what we see two Thursdays a month.
Masonry was as close to a perfect template ever designed for an organization that was based on instilling brotherly love among disparate men from every walk of life, every religion, every political persuasion, who had very little in common with each other. In your own Masonic career, you have undoubtedly made friends with men you otherwise would never have met, never socialized with, never sat in church with, never have given a second thought to. That is what makes this fraternity unlike any other. But I have heard from dozens of good Masons who have given much of their time and treasure to it, who are now leaving because we have failed to live up to the promises we made to them when they joined. They feel like their Brothers have lied to them, and their leaders have refused to even listen to their grievances. The world is changing around us at a rapid pace, and I certainly understand the view that Masonry should be a cornerstone that remains steady through the ages. But when we misinterpret what makes up that cornerstone, we chip away at it and make it into something it was never supposed to be.
No, the lodge is not a church, and we endanger it when we try to make it one.