Thursday, March 24, 2016

Message From A Tennessee Brother

This piece was posted on the Facebook page of Observance Lodge No. 686 in Nashville today:

In Vindicating

Bro. Matthew Patrick Johnson, F.&A.M.

"By the exercise of Brotherly Love we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family; the high and low, the rich and poor; who, as created by one Almighty Parent and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support, and protect each other. On this principle, Masonry unites men of every country, sect, and opinion, and is conducive to true friendship among those who might otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance."—Tennessee Craftsman, pg. 30

Brothers of Tennessee,

My name is Matthew Johnson, and I have violated the Tennessee Masonic Code. I currently cohabit immorally with my fiancĂ© outside the benefit of marriage. I will not hide behind a curtain of silence about my status. Ignoring my fault, expecting my fellow brothers to keep their knowledge of it secret, doesn’t make the act any less an offense. Many of you have been in my position before; some of you are right now. Many of you know a brother in this situation and you remain quiet for his benefit. It has long been a regular practice in our state for Masons to turn a blind eye to these types of offenses—we are brothers, and we look out for each other. It’s as if our silence, our ignoring of the facts, erases the transgression all together. Brothers, we all know that sweeping dirt under the rug does not rid us of the dirt but, rather, the grime is ground into the rug with every step taken upon it. The time has come to shake out the filth and to scrape away the stain left from decades of grinding the dirt into our organization.

Ask yourself, my brothers, have you or a brother you know ever been drunk, sold alcohol, mistreated your wife or children? Have you used profanity? Have you viewed pornography? If you have, you join me in the violation of the Tennessee Masonic Code. I believe it is fair to say that every Mason at some point has knowingly broken our code, and no man is without his faults. It is lucky for us then that, in the brotherhood of Freemasonry, it is a man’s positive attributes that constitute him worthy of being a Mason, rather than his failures that deny him such a privilege.

Another benefit of Freemasonry is that we are not bound by a single religion, but rather all brothers come together from a variety of religious views, showing tolerance and respect for others as just and upright men regardless of what faith we claim. There is no single Freemason who can determine the moral or immoral nature of having too much to drink, or decide what constitutes filthy speech, or whether being intimate with someone truly separates us from the Creator. Upon reflection, I’ve come to realize that the truly intolerable sins actively harm someone or something. Robbery, rape, murder, fraud, deception, dishonesty, or other vices—these are transgressions upon which all men agree are wrong. No religion I know of advocates harming one another. The matters that are up for debate in our state are those that harm no one.

These matters concern the conduct of our private lives when no one else is watching. In those cases of sin, the ones that happen behind closed doors, we may even believe our conduct in these matters is not actually immoral or inappropriate—how can waking up next to the woman I love, who loves me, really be all that bad? Still they are violations of our Masonic Code. The problem lies in that the code is holding all brothers to a very specific set of Christian beliefs.

You see, although I am a Christian, not all brothers are. Though it shouldn’t matter, as Christians still do not all agree on these issues. Catholics and Episcopalians have no issue with alcohol, though many Mormons, Baptists, and Church of Christ members do. Some Presbyterian churches teach that premarital sex isn’t a salvation issue, while Catholicism and other sects of Christianity say otherwise. Opinions and beliefs clash amongst Christians, which is why we have denominations. But Freemasonry isn’t church; it extends to an even broader audience of religious men. As written by the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, the Freemason mission reads:
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.

Nowhere does it say that we all have to conform to principles of one denomination—it doesn’t even say that we must conform to the principles of one religion. In fact, it says that we bind a “worldwide brotherhood that transcends all religious… differences”. If this is the case, our Masonic Code in the State of Tennessee is in dire need of reform.

I don’t simply argue this for myself as some sort of absolution for living with my fiancĂ©. I say this for every brother who has to hide the choices he makes in fear of being expelled from this great institution. I am compelled to uphold what I swore to do, to help create a network for good men, judged on their merit alone, rather than anyone’s personal moral beliefs.

When I think of the tenets of this fraternity, I fail to understand how homosexual men become excluded entirely. The compassion and understanding that turned a blind eye to the former offenses of being drunk, watching porn, sleeping with people we’re not married to, etc. all disappear. I am baffled as to how a man who can publicly scorn a just and upright homosexual Mason can so easily turn a blind eye when his best friend has a one night stand, or drinks far too much, or cheats on his wife. This double standard does not befit our organization, and it begs the question: how is it that a man who is dishonest in his heart retains the authority to judge another Mason for an offense that is not universally viewed as immoral? Why dismiss one sin but excuse another? Many justify their moral stance based on a Christian worldview but, aside from the fact that Freemasonry is not a Christian organization, this is a flawed argument. How easily we substitute our personal inclinations for the actual teaching of the Christian faith, which states “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”.

Today we are alienating ourselves from entire states of Freemasons who are pleading we put down our stones, and I am sure there will be many more to follow. We are offending our brothers not only in Tennessee but also across our country due to principles that are not consistent with our worldwide fraternity—principles that do not uphold the original purpose of our institution. Rejecting gay men defies our own mission statement as published by the Grand Lodge of Tennessee. We “transcend” nothing if we are too busy hurling stones and building walls in fear of something different. How should any man coming into our fraternity discern truth from these hypocrisies?

We are left with two choices. We change our bylaws, or we change our mission statement. Or perhaps we should simply amend our mission statement to include, “so long as you’re not black or gay,” which would truly reflect the current practices of Tennessee Freemasons. If we are so proud to be a part of this organization, why does the Grand Lodge of Tennessee go through such painstaking efforts to keep these issues—not found in any other parts of Freemasonry around the world—a secret? Freemasons have many secrets, but what qualifies a man to be eligible for Freemasonry has never been one of them.

Whether the argument against our gay brothers is based on morality, tradition, or simple protocol, in every case the hypocrisy is equally plain. This intolerance is not aligned with the temperament of men seeking more light. This is not what is meant by “Brotherly Love”; it is the opposite of it. The sovereign status of our state does not allow us to blatantly disregard the historical and global customs of the Craft. To mandate silence on the issue of homosexuality, and to punish our mere support of it, requires that we violate our fraternal obligations to relieve and vindicate, as well as aid, protect, and support each other. I will not violate these higher and nobler duties for the sake of a specific Christian cultural tradition that is not Masonic in nature—a tradition that holds authority in Tennessee Freemasonry only because it is printed in a book stamped with the seal of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee. So long as these offenses stand, Tennessee Freemasonry is not a wholly Masonic organization, it only picks and chooses the superficial parts of Freemasonry it likes—and what then are we?

I, as well as other Masons, will not simply agree to disagree that mistreating and traducing our brothers is in any way acceptable. Homosexual discrimination in Tennessee Freemasonry is not protected by The Private Club Exemption from Civil Rights Legislation - Sanctioned Discrimination or Justified Protection of Right to Associate. It is unlawful, and the stance of Tennessee Freemasonry has put me into an impossible position. As well as being a Mason, I am a police officer—I refuse to neglect the law I have sworn to uphold in order to keep peace in an organization whose principles are rooted in illegality and bigotry. Furthering the status quo of Tennessee Freemasonry will only increase and legitimize future litigation. Will we ultimately let our pride lead to the end of Freemasonry in Tennessee?

When the truth of one is made the truth of all this is the definition of tyranny. Men have been arguing over these issues for thousands of years—never has a single man wielded the authority to ultimately decide the answer and not carried the title “tyrant” or “God”. What then should we call those among us who claim to have such authority? The purpose of Freemasonry is to serve as a place where men can come and have unity despite their different opinions and beliefs. These actions are in no way consistent with the moral standards of Freemasonry. So long as we continue these disparaging practices, we bring disgrace on our fraternity and ourselves. We risk the destruction of Freemasonry in Tennessee entirely. It is time to put down our stones.

We must cease this squabbling over which rules we hold ourselves accountable for, and which ones we ignore. While we argue, and bicker, and judge, we lose good brothers, we lose potential initiates into the Craft in Tennessee, and we lose friendships we have fostered with each other. More importantly, if we do not choose to follow the law, we will soon lose our entire organization. It is time to act like men, to swallow our pride, and to reach out to those we don’t know, whose lifestyles are foreign to our own, and seek to learn—the right thing to do is seldom the easy thing to do. It is time to engage in the conduct we pledge to value. It is time to act like Freemasons.


36 comments:

  1. It's time the grand masters and the leaders of the Scottish Rite took definite clear unambiguous action. No more racial discrimination, no more gay bashing, no more fawning over African dictators, no more closed doors to Jews. Otherwise, you are disgraced and the world is going to know it, very very very loudly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Couldn't agree more Brother Rich.

      Delete
  2. Sadly, I don't think pointing out the Grand Master's hypocrisy by showing how he's being selective in which parts of the code he enforces is going to make the slightest bit of difference.

    This isn't about enforcing the code. He just hates gays. He'll never back down, ever.

    It's time for the other Grand Lodges to suspend recognition. Bigotry has no place in Freemasonry, and that means the Grand Lodge of Tennessee has no place in Freemasonry.

    Dave Brown
    Garden City Lodge, Newtonville, MA

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree that bigotry has no place in Masonry. Not accepting gays is intolerance. Intolerance is the root of many problems in our society. Suspending recognition to Tennessee because there is bigotry is also intolerance. Intolerance towards gays. intolerance towards fellow Masons because of their unfortunate bigotry. Isn't intolerance something we should all avoid? Why not remind them of their shortfalls and aid in their reformation.

      Delete
    2. They are not practicing Freemasonry, hence the withdrawal of recognition. It is not negotiable I'm afraid.

      Delete
    3. "Bigotry" and "Intolerance" are not synonyms. The equivalence you're trying to draw here is false.

      Remind them of their shortfalls and aid in their reformation? That already happened. The Conference of Grand Masters was last month and I'm quite certain those conversations already took place. TN and GA have ignored the wise counsel they've received and responded with defiance. The time for sitting on the sidelines, wringing our hands and saying "oh isn't this just unfortunate" are over, it's time for action.

      If we were to do nothing as you would prefer, we would be abandoning our brethren in those jurisdictions who are being targeted by this witch hunt. Perhaps you're willing to abandon them, but I'm not. They are in distress and we owe this to them. I would hope they would do the same for me if my own jurisdiction decided to kick out all the Jews.

      Dave Brown

      Delete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Matthew, I am proud to call you Brother! A brave and well spoken statement in upholding the obligations and core tenets of our great, global fraternity. I hope this hits the heart of every good mason and stops all the worry to speak out. Wrong is wrong, no matter what the code book says for a statewide group. It is indeed an impossible situation for those of us obligated to uphold a code which violates our core tenants. So if we are too afraid to speak out, we are stuck and we are wrong.

    'The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing'

    ReplyDelete
  5. This man is no mason in the the state if he does not agree with the constitution, edicts and resolves of the grand lodge of Tennessee. His obligation there for is revoked and shouldn't of taken it he did not understand it when he took it. It has worked for 202 years in our state and will continue the same.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It has not been in TN code for that long Brother, it didn't work for 202 years. It has not even worked for a single generation, and now it is hurting all of us.

      Delete
    2. I guess your saying our guiding light the holy bible has been wrong then, for centuries. You are a knowledgeable brother, Andy know this because we have sat in lodge together several times. Changing the edict would not change the resolve and membership of masonry in Tennessee. It has been left alone and will stay the way it is. Even if you don't agree with the good of the order, the brothers today made their voice clear and loud in the opinion during grand session. With the backing of seven grand lodges present.

      Delete
    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    5. The Tennessee GL has ALWAYS had gay men in its brotherhood, though it does not appear it has the intellectual honesty to admit it. As a non-Christian, it's clear to me this edict applies the standards of the Christian religion to the exclusion of all else. It is a shameful day that Freemasonry has come to this. With national exposure, this is the image the public will see our fraternity. It's just one more reason Freemasonry is fading into the ranks of the irrelevant in society, and another reason we'll see our membership continue to plummet. Congratulations, GL of Tennessee for another nail in our coffin.

      Delete
    6. Chase I am un happy to say you are not a recognized Freemason anymore. You have violated our laws. I will thank you though for making sure the brethren could understand my sentences and paragraphs a little better. ( a concerning laughter)

      Delete
    7. Surely the masons in Tennessee do not think the majority of members of various grand lodges they recognize are Christians of any sort, let alone fundamentalist or pentecostals -- for example,the Grand Lodges of India,Israel, Japan. For many, Jesus was simply a man and the various editions of the Bible are simply books. We do understand that for others they are the only way to salvation as taught by their Saviour, but -- The Enlightenment was influenced by freemasonry because it avoided assertions such as a one edition of a holy book being the guiding light for all mankind. We are not all orthodox Christians, let alone all Athanasian Trinitarians or born again by the New Covenant. Jesus is not our God, and we dont want these matters thrashed out in lodge and dividing people. Your doctrinal views and the views of others are for church, not lodge. We respect you. Respect has to be reciprocal. The genius of freemasonry is not in imposing your religio-moral codes on everyone else. How can we possibly be universal under such circumstances.

      Delete
    8. Freemasons do not abide tyranny.

      Brother Johnson's message could not have been more Masonic. Standing up to tyrants and defending innocent people from an injustice is what Masons should do. I'm proud to call him my brother. You? I don't even know who you are since you won't even use your real name.

      Dave Brown
      Garden City Lodge, Newtonville, MA

      Delete
    9. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    10. If your ritual includes a significant portion of scripture from the Holy Bible, then yes there is an underlying assumption that the rules and regulations promulgated by the order align. The Holy Bible is not a lucky rabbit's foot that is on our altar for decoration.

      Delete
    11. Sorry Tennesee F&M, you are, with respect, wrong about the Bible being against homosexuality. It is not. Nowhere in the Bible has there ever been a statement against homosexuality...as ALL religious academics around the world know, the comments in the Bible are that Roman & other slave masters, should not take advantage of their male slaves. That is all. By censoring against gay men, and incorrectly using the Bible, you are in contravention of what it means to be a Mason...look at the comments. The majority of us Brethren do not agree with the anti-gay stance of your Grand Master. It is a very, very sad showing of ignorance and intolerance.

      Delete
  6. At risk of of sounding sentimental, I love you my brother. You wrote the quiet explosion I just have been drafting for two weeks. WHAT PART OF ALL MEN ARE MY BROTHERS DO YOUR NOT GORRUM UNDERSTAND? (When I swear in Chinese, I am cranky.)

    My best friend in high school is gay. He is HIV+. My closest friend here in Indy, my Masonic brother, a PM, is gay as gay as can be. My mother calls him her other son.

    When I was in kindergarden, the Rev Dr Fred Rogers told me that he loved me. I have tried, and certainly failed, to live up to that obligation. All men are my brothers Nuff said..

    Feel free to bring me up on Masonic charges.

    Perhaps it is time to step up...
    So mote it be, and let's roll.

    Jon Porter, PM, PCC, 33.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Spot on. Robert Mullis NC A.F & A.M.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Brother Matthew, first things first: thank you for your service as a law enforcement officer. Secondly, as a Florida Mason, I support you and I'm proud to be your brother in Masonry. I'll never recognize the GL of Tennessee's edicts to exclude you from our fraternity.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I had the displeasure of working with a PM here in New Jersey. His thinking was that "his" Masonry was for straight white Christians only. And he was proud of the fact that he drove Blacks, Spanish, and non-Christians out of "his" lodge, and he claimed that since he shot pool with a past Grand Master and the upcoming Grand Master, they would support him in anything he does.

    Bigotry is universal. Unfortunately.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess your definition of bigotry is as universal as your intolerance of people who disagree with your sacred opinions.

      Delete
    2. Then you agree with this PM that I mentioned, that Masonry is for straight white Christians only?

      Delete
    3. It is what it is. The whine about brothers being "intolerant" of the bigoted religious zealots in our order has gotten really old. The fact that you personally agree with the segregationist tells us all we need to know about you as well.

      Delete
  10. I took an oath that I would stand to and abide by the edicts of the grand lodge, however if that edict is morally wrong and illegal then I do not consider myself bound by that edict. Bigotry such as that being condoned by the grand lodge of Tennessee is an affront to any decent thinking mason

    ReplyDelete
  11. Now that the brothers are up in arms about this issue, can we also throw it on the burner the attitudes of the State Grand Lodges in the deep south when it comes to recognition with their Prince Hall Counterpart, which is just as legitimate masonically as they are?

    ReplyDelete
  12. Grand Lodges continue to create divisiveness and disharmony when supposed leaders disguise their love of the craft for a lusting for power and authority. I strongly disagree and disapprove of the actions of the Grand Master of TN. However he is just one of many over the years that has used their position to further personal beliefs ahead of the good of the fraternity.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I stopped attending the local Shriner when I saw them vote down a group of four as a group and moved to vote for each individually, the only one to fail to gain admission was the only Black in the group. I thought this might just be an anomaly. Then I saw it twice more. I specifically asked a long term member about this and he straight forward told me that the Shriner's really wasn't a place for the Black Freemason as an appended body. I went to membership chair and told him I wanted to know how to leave in good standing and walked away.

    I join Masonry because its mission as stated was inclusive of all men found worthy. No where was there qualifier on race or sexual preference or religion. If this are now going to be part of what is considered worthy, then say it outloud own it and be prepared to accept the results.

    ReplyDelete
  14. It's time to insist that appended groups decide if they are anti gay and segregationist or genuinely masonic. That includes the George Washington Memorial in Alexandria, with no Prince Hall folk on the board and nothing in its exhibits about African American, Chinese in America,co masonry or other below the salt masonic groups. A board with segregationists claiming to be a tribute to American values? It includes DeMolay, Jobs Daughters, Rainbow, ,and a host of other comfortable oases from reality whose attitudes are shaped in some states by adults whose attitudes are a concern. What are teaching young people in some of their chapters? Grotesque.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Sadly, anti-gay prejudice exists beyond the Grand Lodge of Tennessee. I was the defense counsel for the trial of a brother where his sexual orientation, which was irrelevant to the matter with which he was charged, became an issue. But these prejudices must be rooted out of our fraternity, which recognizes no creed as primary. Our only religious requirement is to believe in a Supreme Being--whether he, she, it, or them. The imposition of a single religious prejudice on our order contradicts its very nature. I urge all Grand Lodges to root out religiously-based prejudice against brothers who have a different sexual orientation, racial heritage, or ethnic identity

    ReplyDelete
  16. "Harmony is the strength of all societies, especially of ours." Somehow repeating this over and over again has become a cliche for many. As Freemasons were are brothers- the joy of another is our joy and the suffering of one is our pain.

    We know why the Lodge is full of symbols. We even have the working tools in our home, our rings, our shirts and despite that we loose sight of the things we are taught of.

    It is sad to see the Pillars of GL of Tennessee go down that road.
    Ironically the GL website displays this in its homepage:

    "WHAT IS FREEMASONRY?
    A fraternity of men dedicated to building the moral character of its members and the preservation of personal freedom."

    and this:

    "S FREEMASONRY A RELIGION?
    No. Every applicant must express a belief in a Supreme Being to whom all men are accountable but no particular religious affiliation is required."

    I hope and pray they find Masonic Light during these dark times.

    ReplyDelete
  17. A great open letter and it is very sad to see such un-Brotherly behaviour by the Grand Lodge of Tennessee. Being gay is irrelevant to being a good man. For those who say the Bible says homosexuality is a sin, it does not, anywhere. What is understood by theologians who actually study and religious academics is that what is being said in the Bible is that masters should not treat their slaves poorly for sexual matters...the Bible has no comments against homosexuality. That was an interpretation found only in Evangelical communities in the US and UK in the early 1900's. It never existed before by any other sects of Christianity.

    ReplyDelete

ATTENTION!
Kindly sign your comment posts. Anonymous postings on Masonic topics have the same status as cowans and eavesdroppers, as far as I am concerned, and may be deleted if I don't recognize you or if I'm in a grumpy mood.