The recent story about the bogus, clandestine, unrecognized, and completely irregular "Masonic Police Department" that played itself out yesterday brings up a related point. I think there's something useful in putting an explanatory page on our grand lodge websites about what regularity and recognition mean Masonically. Those who join lodges under the jurisdictions that are considered irregular and unrecognized by the principal grand lodge in a state (or country) will not be allowed to visit and interact with the overwhelming majority of the Masonic world, outside of their own isolated group. That's just truth in advertising, and people should understand what they are joining, and what they are not.
It doesn't do any of us any good to pretend other grand lodges aren't at work in our states. Anyone seeking membership in our jurisdictions by looking online is bound to run into other lodges or grand lodges that don't fit the mold of what we teach. (When I tell most American Masons that almost 20% of the Freemasons in France are women, they look at me like the dog talked.) We might as well acknowledge their existence and explain the difference.
This is a particularly vexing problem in the black community in the US. There are hundreds of small grand lodges or independent lodges at work, and many of them are listed by the Phylaxis Society's Commission on Bogus Masonic Practices. New ones pop up every day. As is stated on the Phylaxis site, "There are more African American Bogus Grand Lodges in the United States than there are Legitimate Grand Lodge around the World." (I recently saw a new one in Atlanta, with a well designed website, looking very official.)
These "bogus" lodges and grand lodges are often spawned by arguments and ego clashes, or exist as money-making schemes for their organizers. They sometimes make wild claims about their pedigree, and often their members think they can intervisit in the greater Masonic world. Many also engage in wholly irregular practices, such as hazing violence. (Have a closer look above at the release form that petitioners must sign, from the "International Free & Accepted Modern Masons Inc," AND their OES Chapter, indemnifying them from legal action resulting from injuries suffered during degrees. Yeah.)
Unfortunately, people tend to join organizations that their friends, family or co-workers do, and bogus groups are somewhat self-perpetuating. They are fueled by new public awareness of Freemasonry from media sources, and the interest is growing. Opportunists see a chance to cash in on an ancient fraternity's history and reputation, and thus the problem continues. Regularity and recognition are issues that make outsiders' eyes glaze over, but I think ALL regular and overwhelmingly recognized grand lodges need to address the issue on their public material. It would help to put a stop to - or at least slow down - the practice, and guide potential new members to the more widely welcoming world of Masonry.
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