"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."


Monday, June 27, 2022

Breaking: Hostage Situation at Houston Scottish Rite

by Christopher Hodapp


Houston, Texas police have arrested an armed man at the Houston Valley of the Scottish Rite after it was reported he was holding two hostages inside.

Police hostage negotiators and SWAT team rushed to the Rite in the southwest part of Houston just after 10:00AM local time.  One of the hostages was a 91-year old man.

In a live statement from the scene following the arrest, officer L. J. Satterwhite said that the suspect "appeared to be of middle-eastern descent" and "in his 30s," but added that has not been confirmed. 

According to the police statement, the suspect had attempted to enter the Scottish Rite building "to talk to them about their belief systems." Witnesses told police that he was "behaving erratically." When he was denied entrance, he circled the building and broke a window to get inside. It was originally reported to police that a female inside reported she heard four gunshots, but it was determined that the sound was that of the breaking window. He was not armed with a firearm, but used a screwdriver to threaten the hostages and a tire tool to break the window. 

The only known injury was the elderly hostage who was hurt in the hand during a physical confrontation with the suspect.

H/T Roberto Sanchez

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Calling all Masonic Artists: Pennsylvania's Grand Exhibition Art Competition

Masonic artist Ryan J. Flynn

by Christopher Hodapp
According to the Call For Entries posted in May, all artwork entries must display a visual interpretation of some aspect of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, whether it be philosophical, historical, scientific, social, fraternal, charitable, architectural, etc. Selected artwork will be exhibited in the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia.

This competition is open to any artist over 18 years of age, and membership in the Masonic fraternity is not required. Deadline for submissions is August 11, 2022.

All artwork entries must display a visual interpretation of some aspect of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, whether it be philosophical, historical, scientific, social, fraternal, charitable, architectural, etc. Selected artwork will be exhibited in the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia.

Any amateur or professional artist or college art student may enter, but all will be judged as equals for competition purposes. Artists must be at least 18 years of age. All submissions must be original; they may have been created within the past two years and may have been previously exhibited. No work previously produced on a commission will be accepted. All submissions must be available for purchase.

Oil, Three-dimensional, Drawing and Print-making, Water-Based Medium, Digital Imagery

  • $200 Prize per winner, per category
  • $500 Grand Master’s Prize
  • $1,000 Best in Show Prize
Entrance Fee
First entry: $25
Second and Third Entry: $10
(Limit of 3 entries per artist)

If the artists in the Grand Exhibition choose to participate, their entered works may be auctioned off at the Exhibition Gala, with 80% of the auction value going to them and 20% to The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania. The artist may set a reserve price, as well as a direct purchase price for the original work to be revealed AFTER the auction.

Brother Travis Simpkins, Artist
John McDaniel, Artist
Elaine Erne, Artist/Teacher

Entry Deadline
Thursday, August 11, 2022 by midnight, E.D.T. Submissions must be made online through https://artist.callforentry.org

Opening Reception
The Grand Exhibition Gala will be held at the Masonic Temple in Philadelphia on Friday, October 7th, featuring a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception, live music, announcement of winners and a silent auction of selected artwork.

Public Exhibition
The Grand Exhibition will be open to the public for viewing starting on Tuesday, October 11, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Tuesdays – Saturdays, until November 12th. The exhibit will be at the Masonic Temple, One N. Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107-2598.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Congress on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History Opens Friday in Paris

by Christopher Hodapp

by Christopher Hodapp

The 8th Congress on Fraternalism, Freemasonry, and History opens this Friday in Paris at the Grand Orient de France and the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

This year's theme is "Are the Ancient Landmarks Ancient?."

Convened by the journal, Ritual, Secrecy, and Civil Society, in cooperation with the French national library, the Bibliothèque Nationale, and the Musée de la Franc-Maçonnerie (Museum of French Freemasonry), this event explores how associations and volunteerism have shaped democracy, politics, and history. The conference alternates each year between Paris and Washington, D.C.

This international event attracts the top scholars around the world in the field of not just Freemasonry, but of fraternalism of all kinds. It is a part of the Policy Studies Organization's support of research into associations, civility, and the role of non governmental organizations in democracy.

Presenters this year include: Paul Rich, Pierrre Mollier, Arturo De Hoyos, Joseph Wages, Andrew Prescott, Susan Mitchell, John Belton, Arved Hübler, Eric Saunier, Russ Charvonia, Stéphane Brunel, and many more. (See the complete program HERE.) Because presentations may be made in English or French, simultaneous translations from French-English, English-French are offered for most sessions.

These ongoing international conferences have been spearheaded and supported by Brother Paul Rich for over a decade now, and he has been a champion of promoting and pursuing Masonic scholarship on a worldwide basis. A shocking number of U.S. Masons are unaware of his role in this pursuit, as well as his own scholarship, and that is a downright shame. On top of his many accomplishments and honors in the academic world, he is the publisher of numerous books about Freemasonry (among others) through Westphalia Press. These conferences are organized, in part through his organization, the Policy Studies Organization.

In conjunction with Paul, Brother Pierre Mollier in France is one of the top Masonic historians in the world. Among his many accomplishments, he is the director of the Grand Orient de France's incredible Museum of Freemasonry in Paris (Musée dé Franc-Maçonnerie). If you don't know his name or reputation, you need to.

The World Conference on Fraternalism, Social Capital, and Civil Society explores how associations and volunteerism have shaped democracy, politics, and history. The conferences are held alternatively in Paris (2022, 2024) and in Washington (2023, 2025). The Washington conferences are held at the historic Quaker Meeting House.

Registration for this weekend's evet has been officially closed, as they have reached full capacity. However, videos from the conference will be made available online soon.

To see videos of previous Conferences and presentations, CLICK HERE.

Friday, June 03, 2022

Monumental Sphinxes at Scottish Rite's House of the Temple in D.C. Damaged By Vandals

by Christopher Hodapp

Arturo De Hoyos at the Scottish Rite (SJ) House of the Temple in Washington, D.C. reports that the two monumental sphinx sculptures flanking the entrance were vandalized sometime between Thursday night and this morning.

Enlarged for detail

Two years ago today (June 3, 2020) I reported that vandals spray-painted ”BLM” and “FTP” on the House of the Temple.
Today, however, I have sadder news to report. Vandals severly damaged the two symbolic sphinxes which grace the sides of our front outer steps. They not only broke pieces from their faces, but smeared them with filth.
The sphinxes were carved, on site, by master sculptor Adolph Weinman, who was also a US coin designer and engraver. He’s best remembered for creating the Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty Half Dollar.
Art is correct – the sphinxes were doused with paint during escalating demonstrations and rioting across the U.S. two years ago this very day. That same week, several Masonic buildings throughout the U.S. and Canada had been hit with paint, suffered broken glass doors and windows, and several arson attempts.

Less than three weeks later, on June 19, 2020, the iconic bronze statue of Albert Pike in Washington D.C.'s Judiciary Square was toppled by rioters, covered in paint, and even doused with lighter fluid and ignited. 

Pike's statue had first been erected by the Scottish Rite SJ across from the location of their original 'House of the Temple' headquarters. For thirty years, protesters and the press characterized Pike's sculpture as a "Confederate monument," despite the fact that it was never anything of the kind. His statue was not erected by pro-Confederate veterans groups, or by alleged Ku Klux Klan members (it predated the 1920s resurgence of the KKK by many years). The 11-foot tall bronze sculpture by Italian artist Gaetano Trentanove was erected in 1901 and donated to the city by the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction to commemorate their own 100th anniversary. It's location marked the former home of the AASR's headquarters for its first 90 years. 

Pike was sculpted in civilian clothes, and there were eight inscriptions on its granite base describing his accomplishments: Author, Poet, Scholar, Soldier, Philanthropist, Philosopher, Jurist, and Orator. On the front was a Latin phrase, Vixit Laborum Ejus Super Stites Sunt Fructus. ("He has lived. The fruits of his labors live after him.") Detractors objected to it on the grounds that Pike had owned several slaves when he lived in Arkansas, and served for just five months in the Confederate Army before resigning in disgust, making it the only statue of a "former Confederate soldier" in the District. But the sculpture did NOT depict him as a Confederate soldier. 

There were no references to the Confederacy, only that Pike had been a "soldier" and the banner in the hand of the Grecian figure is not a Confederate flag or symbol, but a Scottish Rite one featuring the double-headed eagle. It was purely a Masonic statue and an homage to his life's many accomplishments. Nevertheless, it was felled by the mob and hauled away to an unspecified location by the District's Parks Department.

If anyone happens to know one single person whose life was improved in any way as a result of the destruction of Pike's statue, please let me know. 

And the same is true concerning the defaced House of the Temple's sphinxes now. Whom did that help? What imaginary blow against equally imaginary tyrants did that strike?

I will admit, in passing, that there MAY be a twisted, paranoid connection some miscreant cooked up in his mind to justify attacking the sphinxes on this particularly date. More than 120 of the globe's most elite leaders from politics, business, big tech, media, and academia are convening in Washington for the notoriously secretive 68th Bilderberg Meeting from June 2 to 5th. Conspiracists have long perpetrated the shaggy dog story that the Bilderbergers are a secret society of ultra-elite Freemasons who control the levers of government and industries throughout the world. (Never mind that they issue to the press the list of invitees every year, along with the conference's agenda topic headings). Members in the group exchange information (studies, reports, demographics, surveys, etc.) and they aren't forbidden to talk about any of it. The only restriction is that they may not publicly disclose the exact source of their specific information.

Plenty of conspiracists claim that these meetings are where the "New World Order" was planned and set in motion. To be fair, the first proposal of the current European Union, and the conversion of European nations' myriad currencies into the Euro really were hammered out by Bilderberg attendees.

(I do wonder if they serve "New World Hors d'ouvers" at their cocktail parties.)

Unfortunately way too many conspiracy peddlers sloppily smear together the Freemasons, the "Illuminati", the Bilderbergers, the Conference on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bohemian Grove, and the United Nations into one big fat group of invisible puppeteers running everything. Heck, even Yale University's Skull and Bones Society gets stuck with being on the list.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Calling All Masonic Gamers: 'On The Square'

by Christopher Hodapp

Two talented brethren in England have come up with a new board game pitched specifically to Freemasons, called On The Square. This game originally got developed from a Kickstarter campaign, and it's now available for purchase.

The website explains the basics HERE:

On the Square is 2-6 player (Augmented) set-collection game based on establishing an English Freemasons meeting.

The aim of the game is to collect ceremonial items from around the board, whilst greeting the other officers in-order along the way, before returning to your seat to begin the proceedings. The first player to do so wins the game.

Using player boards to keep track of their items, players make their way around a game board laid out to accurately represent an English lodge with iconography taken directly from the Metropolitan grand lodge in central London. However, movement around this board is deceptively strategic.

The current price is UK £41.00, which translates to US $51.87.

During the month of May, the makers of On The Square have a special offer for customers:

For all orders placed between May 5th and June 2nd 2022:

1 copy of the game for 2-6 players. Includes FREE shipping.
+ FREE 1st & 2nd edition Mysteries & Secretes Masonic Themed Playing cards
+ FREE Blank greeting Cards (Featuring original Mysteries & Secrets Aces Playing Cards)

The Masonic-themed playing cards added as a bonus item are fascinating all by themselves. The decks replace the traditional four suits with Masonic orders:

Be sure to take notice about shipping on the website, as these games are being sold and shipped from England. The company lists a couple of different shipping speeds and rates.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

The Freemasons of TikTok

by Christopher Hodapp

UPDATED May 28, 5:00AM: This story has been corrected. I mistakenly said that Tyler McKenzie is from Texas. He is actually a Mason in New Mexico.

Interesting article this week on the Input Magazine site about Freemasons using TikTok to counter hysterical conspiracy theories and other misinformation about the fraternity. The article "TikTok’s Freemasons are battling the haters and conspiracy theorists" by Jessica Lucas highlights Brothers Tyler McKenzie from New Mexico ("@harp.o.crates"), Zak Wyatt from Texas ("@brotherfluffmm"), and Aidan Mattis from Pennsylvania ("@theaidenmattis"). 

If you're over the age of 40, you've probably only heard of TikTok's reputation as a social media phenomenon favored by teenaged girls, dance party ravers, and Chinese intelligence services, along with its perpetuation of stunts, tricks, giggly kids making goofy faces, and viral "challenges" ("Take the Best Braless TikTok Girlz Dance Challenge!" or "Does This Make My Butt Look Big? Challenge"). Indeed, their most recent demographics show that 41% of all users are between 16 and 24. Appealing to short attention spans through brevity is the name of the game on nearly all social media these days: think of Twitter's original 64 character limit or the rise of the text message acronym 'TL;DR' ("Too Long; Didn't Read" - I get a lot of those reactions to my posts). Instead of typing out messages, TikTok is all video-based, and users create short video snippets between 15 seconds (!) and 10 minutes long.

We used to call that "Short Attention Span Theatre."

Deride it if you like, but TikTok has over 100 million regular users in the U.S. alone, and another 23 million in the U.K. And in what is inevitably the next step in attention deficit communication, the use of TikTok videos to replace written employment resumés for job seekers is beginning to gather momentum (which will of course lead to HR managers' making snap visceral reactions: "Ugh! Lookit that guy's SHIRT! Gross! Don't hire HIM!"). 

Anyhow, the brethren cited in the article are TikTok warriors fighting the enormous pile of anti-Masonic screeds that appear on the service day in and day out.
“There’s so much negativity about Freemasonry, and conspiracists on TikTok are nonstop. I figured if we’re going to be on here to teach about Freemasonry, we need to be as calm and correct as possible,” says McKenzie. . .
Ultimately, TikTok Freemasons stand steadfastly behind their organization of choice — and think their videos are changing things for the better. “There’s always going to be the negative person. The troll. The hater. But I honestly think we’ve overcome it now,” says McKenzie. “If you went on TikTok a year ago and you typed in Freemasonry, you would find nothing but conspiracy theories.

“But now, you’ll find this fuzzy face and a whole bunch of other brothers that are ready and willing to give you light, truth, and knowledge,” says the impressively bearded McKenzie. “It’s brought so many to Masonry, and I think that it’s going to help us grow.”
These brethren have a big job to counteract the anti-Masonic stuff that litters TikTok. For every one of their positive messages there are dozens of the "Lookit all the sooper secret Illuminati Mason symbols hiding in plain sight!" imbeciles.

Meanwhile, from the Stray Ferret website in Britain:

In an effort to bring the fraternity into the modern era and attract younger members, Freemasons in Yorkshire are attempting to become TikTok famous.

The Province of Yorkshire West Riding has posted two videos on its new account – @wrfreemasons – including a take on the staircase scene from Titanic, set to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. CLICK HERE.

When I circulated this story on Facebook, Zackery Wyatt provided the following figures about a video post: 
"Almost 2,500 viewers tonight, and at least 50 men asked how to find a lodge. Will they petition? Maybe, maybe not, but the first step was definitely made."
Pretty impressive reach for a single post in a very short time.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Indiana's Lodge Vitruvian 767 Celebrates 20th Anniversary

by Christopher Hodapp

Friday night was the 20th anniversary of the founding of Lodge Vitruvian 767 in Indianapolis. It was a wonderful evening and it was especially great to be with WB Jeff Naylor, our founding Worshipful Master. Many thanks to WB Christopher Bentlage for arranging this event at the Aristocrat.

Twenty years ago today - May 21st, 2002 - a year after first receiving a dispensation to work, a group of Indiana Masons assembled at the Temple of Broad Ripple Lodge on the north side of Indianapolis to receive our official charter for Lodge Vitruvian No. 767

Technically, that makes us 21 years old today, but it's 20 under our official charter.

Jeffrey D. Naylor was our founding Master, and he received the charter that day from Roger S. VanGorden, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Indiana. Jeff would serve in the East for the first two years, and was responsible for much of what we did, how we "looked," and the philosophy that guided us (and still does even today).

It started as a conversation between Jeff, Eric Schmitz, Roger VanGorden, Nathan Brindle, and myself one Saturday afternoon in 2000 about how to create a new kind of lodge, and it turned out that other Masons around the U.S. and elsewhere at the time were (or had already been) coming to many of our same conclusions. (Sort of a Masonic version of Hodgkins' Law of Parallel Planetary Development... Yes, I'm just that sort of nerd.) 

Kent Henderson in Australia first noodled some of these ideas in a paper called Back To the Future back in 1992, along the lines of a “European concept," and he and a handful of brethren established Lodge Epicurean 906 there. Meanwhile in College Station, Texas, Pete Normand labeled their local experiments as "traditional best practices" and established St. Alban's Lodge 1455 along similar notions. John Mauk Hilliard applied many of these ideas as well, with Independent Royal Arch Lodge 2, in New York. 

Around the time we were scheming in Indiana, a different group of brethren was assembling their own philosophy under the umbrella term "traditional observance," and Dennis V. Chornenky and others came up with the Masonic Restoration Foundation to promote their similar evangel. (Dennis would be one of the founders of Academia Lodge in Oakland, California.) 

Independent from all of these others, our own growing circle of guys explored concepts and collected our thoughts into what became an extended paper called Laudable Pursuit.

All of us sought to approach the problem of the dull monthly lodge business meeting that offered Masons no education or enlightenment, bad or no food, under-financed programming, lackluster participation and retention, and little actual brotherhood - in short, any sense of "specialness" that Freemasonry had promised us all, but sadly, rarely delivered. We all went at it a little differently, but we all knew that lodges could be better than what most of us were experiencing if they would only demand excellence from themselves and their members.

Those of us starting Vitruvian established several primary tenets:
  • Dignity and high standards are to be maintained by the Lodge in all its undertakings.
  • Nothing short of excellence in ritualistic work is acceptable.
  • Masonic education - especially original papers or guest speakers - will be expected for every meeting.
  • Candidates shall be advanced only after having undertaken an intensive program of Masonic education and proving themselves proficient in open Lodge.
  • The Lodge enjoys the fellowship of the Festive Board at a local restaurant following all Regular and Emergent Meetings of the Lodge.
  • Members are expected to dress properly to attend to the duties of the Lodge. 
  • The Lodge shall create its own distinctive regalia, within the limitations of Grand Lodge regulations.
  • Attendance is mandatory. Members receive a summons for meetings and are required to attend or provide apologies. Those unable to do so will be politely asked to demit after a year and find another lodge.
  • The Lodge officers are to be elected based on merit and active participation alone, and not merely advanced through the chairs as an annual expectation.
  • A Lodge of excellence and high caliber must be paid for.
  • Explore and exemplify alternative degree rituals from other recognized foreign jurisdictions as a demonstration of the worldwide variations in regular Masonic practices (i.e. Emulation ritual, Rectified Rite ritual, etc.). We wanted very much to use Emulation ritual. In fact, we entertained the idea of passing legislation that would give us the kind of flexibility Masons have in the United Grand Lodge of England to use another set of rituals instead of the standard Preston-Webb formula that almost all U.S. lodges require. (That turned out to the one major disappointment we were unable to rise above.)
We agreed to meet quarterly, not monthly. We also informally agreed that we would deliberately not accept more than 36 members, because a man can't truly get to know and care about more than three dozen members or so. We felt that if we got that popular, the answer would be to spin off a "daughter lodge," not expand our own size. At the time, we set the most expensive dues in the state, and numerous predictions of our eminent demise were commonly expressed by naysayers. Nevertheless, when we circulated the word about what we were proposing, twenty-three brethren eagerly jumped on board:

· W. Bro. Dale Adams, Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 77 (*)

· Bro. Wallace K. Aiken III, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643

· W. Bro. William K. Bissey, North Park Lodge No. 646

· W. Bro. David Bosworth, PM, Calvin W. Prather Lodge No. 717 

· W. Bro. Nathan C. Brindle, PM, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643

· W. Bro. Jerry T. Cowley, PM, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643

· W. Bro. Howard A. Farrand, Centennial Lodge No. 541

· W. Bro. James Guffey, PM, Millersville Lodge No. 126 

· W. Bro. Christopher L. Hodapp, PM, Broad Ripple Lodge No. 643

· W. Bro. Michael W. Klepper, PM, Morristown Lodge No. 193

· W. Bro. Rodney A. Mann, PM, Farmers Lodge No. 147, Current Grand Master of Indiana (2017-2018)

· W. Bro. Jeffrey D. Naylor, PM, Losantville Lodge No. 674 (*)

· W. Bro. Irwin H. Sacks, PM, Monument Lodge No. 657

· Bro. Travis G. Sandifur, Monroe Lodge No. 23

· W. Bro. Eric T. Schmitz, PM, Monroe Lodge No. 23

· W. Bro. Edward R. Smith, PM, Spencer Lodge No. 95(*)

· W. Bro. John B. Stevens, PM, Grant Lodge No. 637

· W. Bro. W. Keith Stiner, PM, Quincy Lodge No. 230 (*)

· Bro. Louis P. Tompkins, Monroe Lodge No. 22

· M.W. Bro. Roger S. VanGorden, Grand Master of Indiana (2001-2002)

· Bro. Jack D. Weagley, McCulloch Lodge No. 737

· W. Bro. Roderick V. Welker, PM, Jonesboro Lodge No. 109

· W. Bro. Cleon H. Wright, PM, Eureka Lodge No. 397

(*) Past Master of Vitruvian

All of our members at the time communicated electronically - unheard of then. We also regularly had a 90+% participation rate among all of our members - also unheard of. 
And when we strolled into a local restaurant for our festive boards in our tuxedos - a supremely unusual scene in America anymore, outside of a wedding reception - we actually turned heads, and attracted questions from other diners merely because of the group of Masons they saw. 

Vitruvian's first festive board 5/21/2002 at the
Corner Wine Bar's private dining room in Broad Ripple

Founding Worshipful Master Jeffrey Naylor
addresses the  brethren

Is that "shallow?" Maybe. 

"Elitist" looking? Possibly. 

Putting forth a public image of the fraternity as the world's premiere society of gentlemen? You betcha. We still do today.

Sadly, some grand lodge jurisdictions have actually banned anything remotely looking or sounding like what are now being generally branded as "observant" styled lodges, under a mistaken and unfounded fear that we are practicing something odd, foreign, elitist, spooky, or even antithetical to the equality of Freemasonry's basic tenets. That is a shame. Those of us who are members of these lodges or just visit them know that nothing could be further from the truth. 

Twenty years after we started, there are about 70 lodges similar to Vitruvian around the U.S. and Canada - a lot maybe, but not an overwhelming flood of acceptance - though Indiana has another one now, with Crowned Martyrs Lodge 771. And long-established Pentalpha Lodge 564 in Indianapolis (chartered in 1881) has been transforming itself to an observant style lodge over the last couple of years. 

No other lodge or grand lodge has anything to fear from these observant-styled lodges. None of us actually proclaim (or we shouldn't be, anyway) that anyone else is practicing Freemasonry incorrectly, nor that we have some higher moral ground and that only we are "doing it right" Observant lodges have not taken the Masonic world by storm, nor are they some silver bullet that will magically save the fraternity from plummeting membership numbers each year. But they have become a home to numerous Freemasons who might otherwise have left the fraternity because their longing for a more affecting personal and intellectually stimulating lodge experience was not being fulfilled.

For two decades we've been proud to host many of the top Masonic authors and speakers in the country, kicking off our first year with Dr. S. Brent Morris, longtime editor of the The Scottish Rite Journal and Heredom. Others have included: Robert G. Davis, PGM of the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma and author of The Masons Words; Chuck Dunning from Ohio, author of Contemplative Masonry; John Bizzack from Lexington Lodge 1 in Kentucky and author of Island Freemasonry; Arturo DeHoyas, grand archivist of the Scottish Rite SJ; Oscar Alleyne from the grand Lodge of New York; Andrew Hammer, author of Observing the Craft; Joseph Wäges, author and editor of The Secret School of Wisdom; Shawn Eyer, editor of The Philalethes magazine; Mark Tabbert, author of A Deserving Brother; and many, many more. They are on top of our own members whose works are admired throughout the fraternity. 

Vitruvians haven't been slouches over the years. The creation of the Masonic Society was spearheaded by several of Vitruvian's founding members: Roger Van Gorden, James Dillman, Kenneth Davis (who all served as early presidents of the Society), Nathan Brindle, founding and current Secretary; and myself, who was the founding editor of the Society's Journal.

The result is that we actually look forward to Vitruvian's lodge night, enjoy our meetings and Festive Boards, learn something new each time, linger late into each evening, and are truly "happy to meet, sorry to part, happy to meet again." I'll take that to be a good development, and one I encourage every lodge to emulate, no matter how they choose to accomplish it.

Today, Vitruvian has more members than we started with, and demits have been rare for the last eight or ten years now. We've had our ups and downs, our family fights, and other challenges. But we solved them as men and Masons should. We still have not bumped up against our limit of 36 members, although we've come close a few times over the years. That's okay, because what is more gratifying is that we regularly have handfuls of visitors from across Indiana, other states, and even international visitors who are eager to see what we are doing differently. They return to their own lodges and argue for their officers to adopt some of our practices because they've seen how successful we have been and how much they actually enjoyed a stated meeting, maybe for the first time in their Masonic lives.

Perhaps that is the most satisfying aspect of Vitruvian's model in these 20 years in Indiana. Maybe we haven't turned the whole U.S. Masonic culture on its ear, or solved every issue. But we are influencing the leaders of tomorrow to go home and make their own lodges the very best they can be, following whatever path that leads them. By doing so, a rising tide raises all boats - or lodges, as the case may be. And that is a success to which our little lodge has happily contributed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Grand Lodge of Tennessee Expels Minister For Performing Gay Marriages

by Christopher Hodapp

A heterosexual 41 year-old Tennessee Mason, minister, and father of three has been expelled from the Grand Lodge of Tennessee for violating their rule that forbids, in part, "promoting homosexuality."

Worshipful Brother Tag Thompson (photo above) was expelled in March after a Grand Lodge trial commission found him guilty of "promoting homosexuality," based on a Facebook post from last October in which he offered his services as a minister to gay couples seeking a celebrant for their marriage ceremonies.

A quite lengthy article about this incident appeared on May 14th on the Chattanooga Times Free Press website by reporter Wyatt Massey, which is where I'm drawing much of this information. Unfortunately, the article is hidden behind a paywall, so I will only excerpt parts of it here. However, the Pressreader website does have the text of the story HERE.

Back on October 27, 2020, Thompson posted the following message on his Facebook page:

 "I have LGBTQ+ friends who are worried about being able to marry in the future. If that is you, know that I am a licensed and ordained minister. No matter what happens I will be your officiant if you need me. #theycantmakethatcall."

The Grand Lodge of Tennessee's code, Sec. 4.2105 (27), specifically states that it is a Masonic offense to "To engage in lewd conduct. To promote or engage in homosexual activity. To cohabit immorally in a situation without the benefit of marriage." That Tennessee rule has been in place for more than 35 years, and has been upheld and reaffirmed by the voting members of Grand Lodge several times, in spite of attempts to amend or remove it.

(Just as a matter of idle curiosity, one can't help but wonder if the last part of Tennessee's rule declaring unmarried cohabitation to be a Masonic offense has ever been used in the last decade or two to expel any heterosexual members for living with their ladies, unfettered by a marriage license. But I digress.)

Tag Thompson joined the fraternity in 2015 and served as Worshipful Master of Chattanooga Lodge 199 in 2018. The charges against him were not brought by anyone in his own lodge. They were actually brought by Brother David Bacon, a Mason from a lodge in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee (presumably Soddy Lodge 418).

WB Thompson was not accused of being gay himself, but of promoting homosexuality through his position as a minister. Massey's article describes his background:
Thompson, the son of missionaries, spent most of his childhood in Central America before returning to the Chattanooga area to study at Tennessee Temple University and Bryan College. He was ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention, he said, and worked as a pastoral intern at Stuart Heights Baptist Church in 2004. 

Doing mission work in South Africa as a young adult changed the way he felt about the place for the LGBTQ community in the Christian faith. He moved away from the baptists and more toward the non-denominational house church movement, in which parishioners gather to worship in private homes. He is now the lead minister for the Tapestry, a local non-creedal community that does not espouse a central set of beliefs.
According to the Massey article, Chattanooga Lodge members supported him and originally considered conducting a lodge trial on their own friendly ground. But Thompson and his local brethren decided to opt for a Grand Lodge Trial Commission instead. They wanted, in part, to determine whether or not Tennessee's current leadership would firmly stand by their rule, or soften their stance, based on the widespread international Masonic condemnation over this same rule seven years ago.

From the article:
Thompson's trial was a closed-door affair, like many aspects of Freemasonry. He appeared in a Dayton lodge on Feb. 27, 2021, before a three-man panel of other Tennessee Masons, according to records from the process.

Similar to a judicial trial, Thompson had a Masonic lawyer, and so did the plaintiff. The affair lasted around four hours, Thompson said, though he sensed the outcome early on.

"Honestly, the trial was over before it started," he said.

Thompson chose not to testify.

Steven C. Bullock, history professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and author of "Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order," said the Masons have a history of finding common ground between men of conlficting religions or those facing other divides, something that is hard to achieve when members — even from neighboring lodges — start policing each other's differences.

"The idea of bringing people together, of connecting and people being brothers, regardless of who they are, it's kind of, it's kind of a part of the American tradition too," Bullock said by phone. "The key foundations of Masonry are creating some sort of sense of brotherhood, of inclusiveness, of family between people who are otherwise distant from each other and different from each other. And that's been the long, long history of the fraternity, right from the beginning.

"Now you have this kind of just trying to circle the wagons, which is just a very difficult kind of thing," Bullock said. "Not very healthy."

Bullock said it's significant the grand lodge handled the matter because the traditional role of the grand lodge is "to keep peace within the community, and wanting to keep growing and expanding and bringing people in."


On March 15, 2021, Thompson received a letter from the state's grand secretary containing the verdict: "The defendant, Brother Thompson, was found guilty of the charges and we received the sentence of expulsion," the letter read. "... The member is not eligible for restoration."

"Every close friend that I had, every close male friend that I had in the world at that point was a Mason. I mean, it's who I hang out with. I mean, it's a brotherhood, so I was incredibly close to these people," Thompson said. "And when you're expelled from Freemasonry, you're basically out. So I lost all of those friendships. Every single
one of them. I haven't seen any of those people in, I'm not sure. Well, since that day."
Thompson now hopes the story of his expulsion will motivate more Tennessee Masons to remove the rule from their code.

Non-Masons should understand that there is no single national or international governing body for Freemasonry. In the US, the states have their own governing grand lodges that are sovereign within their territory. Outside of the US, most countries do have their own national grand lodges that make their rules and issue lodge charters. But American grand lodges all are able to make rules that suit their memberships' standards, as long as they agree to follow certain basic standards of practices, requirements and conduct (i.e. admitting men of good character who must affirm a personal belief in God, a Supreme Being, or other higher power; lodge work conducted with an open Bible, Tanach (the Hebrew scripture), Koran or other Volume of Sacred Law deemed holy by their members; conferring only the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason; no discussion of religion, politics or business in meetings; adherence to the "Ancient Landmarks" of the fraternity as compiled in James Anderson's Constitutions of the Free-Masons, first published in England in 1723).

Now that Thompson has taken his story to the press, it may turn into another public hornet's nest like the one in 2015. The expulsion that year of two married Tennessee Masons set off a year's worth of national and international protests from individual Masons and grand lodges. David Clark and Mark Henderson had both been active and enthusiastic Tennessee Masons in their lodge for many years. When they first petitioned for membership, members of their lodge had investigated both men by visiting the home they shared together, and made no objection to their relationship. After the Supreme Court's landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that legally permitted gay marriage was rendered, the men married, with many members of the lodge attending. But after Clark publicly posted photos from their wedding on Facebook, some Tennessee Masons were outraged by what they saw as deliberate flouting of their Grand Lodge's rules, and successfully brought charges against them. Both men were expelled from the fraternity.
That story eventually hit the local papers, TV stations, Chattanooga National Public Radio, and eventually the national news. It remains to be seen if the press and the Masonic community will react similarly to Thompson's story.
In the U.S. apart from Tennessee, it should be noted that only the Grand Lodge of Georgia has a similar ban on homosexuals as part of their official code. Georgia's began as an edict issued in 2015 by then-Grand Master Douglas McDonald on the heels of the Supreme Court's landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision that gave constitutional guarantees for gay marriages. McDonald's edict was made part of Georgia's code by the assembled voting members of the Grand Lodge in 2016. (McDonald ultimately resigned from Freemasonry in 2019 for "religious reasons.")
Masonic responses to the 2015 Tennessee story became something of an avalanche. Grand Lodges of the District of Columbia, California, New York, Belgium, France, the Netherlands all withdrew recognition of Tennessee (as well as Georgia, in some cases) over the no-homosexual policies. Countless other grand lodges and grand masters around the world issued impassioned statements in 2015-16 strongly condemning such rules at that time. A 2016 attempt to insert a similar ban on homosexuals in the Grand Lodge of Mississippi failed — that proposed resolution didn't even have enough support to be sent to the jurisprudence committee for consideration. An even earlier homosexual ban was proposed back in 2010 in the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. It also failed overwhelmingly.

NOTE: There is one item in the article that I need to clarify on a personal note. 

Massey's article featured a direct quote from one of my blog posts back in 2015 when the stories in Tennessee and Georgia were erupting. However, he paraphrased something I apparently said at the time, and his summary was not at all correct. Here are the pertinent paragraphs:
The news caused a stir in Masonic lodges across the country, and in other parts of the world. The news drew rebuke from grand lodges in Maine, Washington D.C., California and Belgium. Many grand lodges do not have laws banning gay members, although Georgia's in 2015 prohibited homosexuality in its ranks. In 2010, Kentucky's grand lodge voted down a proposal to create such a rule.

After the Tennessee vote, Chris Hodapp, an Indiana Mason and a prominent writer on the brotherhood, wrote on his Freemasons for Dummies blog that many religions affirm homosexuality and that the prioritizing of one religion's tenets goes against the nature of Freemasonry.

The organization was designed to bring people together, Hodapp wrote.

"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," he wrote, in the March 25, 2016, post. "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."
To my recollection I did NOT say that "many religions affirm homosexuality." I can't seem to find where Massey got this idea. What I may have said at the time was that many denominations or individual churches affirm or welcome homosexuals as part of their congregations. Some mainstream churches, synagogues, temples, and even large national or international denominations have open homosexuals in their congregations, permit and perform gay marriages, and allow gay members to join their clergy. But I certainly do not know of a large religious body or faith tradition that favorably "affirmed" or favorably mentioned homosexuality as part of their doctrine or scriptural origin, prior to the 20th and 21st centuries.

It should be noted that after about 2016, more and more grand lodges have established pretty strict rules about what can and can't be said openly on Facebook, Twitter, websites and other forms of social media. Thompson's story may not get the sort of attention that Clark and Henderson's 2015 expulsions did, in part because fewer Masons will circulate it because of stricter rules about discussing internal business and affairs in public.

A common part of the obligation all Masons agree to is not to "violate the chastity of another Mason's wife, his mother, sister or daughter, knowing them to be such." That's the sum total of Masonry's concern over what goes on under the blanket in a Mason's bed or in the back seat of a Subaru. The love lives and sexual activities involving two consenting adults are none of our collective business — as long as they do not violate the civil law, and are conducted with discretion, as all proper gentlemen should conduct everything in their lives. 

As for Masons who fret themselves sick over the very notion of sitting in a lodge room with a homosexual lurking along the sidelines, I can probably assure you that it is more than likely you've had gay brethren sitting in your lodge since the night of your Entered Apprentice degree. That's probably been true since the very beginning of the fraternity in 1717. It's none of your business, any more than it is the lodge's business that your particular interest may be to sleep with a seven-foot-tall, one-eyed, Episcopalian kangaroo.

Read the entire article HERE.

Monday, May 09, 2022

Fraternal Swords Aren't Always Masonic

by Christopher Hodapp

A lady with the last name of Tobias sent me an email early this morning asking for help identifying what she thought was a Masonic sword that belonged to her grandfather. The engraved name on the sword blade was 'U.S. Grant Tobias.' It was a very typical fraternal group sword from Ward or Ames or Pettibone, or one of the several other companies making these since the 1860s. And they made thousands of them.

While attempting to save her message after reading it on my phone, I accidentally deleted her note and the photos. And I don't mean 'rescue-it-from-your-trash-folder' deleted, but double deleted it even from that folder. I've tried all the restoration tricks I know of, to no avail. 

So, if you are Ms. Tobias, the answer is no, the sword in your photos is not Masonic. 
Unfortunately, I only glanced at the photos for a few seconds before I stupidly deleted them. But I did look at them long enough to identify the symbols.

The scabbard is indeed from the American Legion veterans association. But the sword itself has the very Masonic-looking square and compass with an upraised arm holding a hammer in the center that denotes the Junior Order of United American Mechanics on its counter-guard. It's easy to get it confused with the Masonic symbol, but the two groups are not related. 

It's odd that the JrO. U.A.M. sword would have an American Legion scabbard - perhaps he belonged to the two groups simultaneously. Or he may have lost or damaged the proper one for the JrO. U.A.M. and just substituted the American Legion scabbard so it would be protected.

Both organizations are still in operation today.

In any case, the best source of information for identifying these antique swords is John D. Hamilton's indispensable book, The American Fraternal Sword: An Illustrated Reference Guide. Highly recommended, especially for fraternal museums, collectors and antique dealers.