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 fiancé 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 fiancé. 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.