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

Monday, June 16, 2008

New York, Meet West Virginia

The situation in West Virginia concerning PGM Frank Haas has made the New York Times today, in a disappointingly sneering piece by columnist Dan Barry. In a story that stumbles through the story of Frank's expulsion from Freemasonry in West Virginia, Barry takes swipes and potshots at the fraternity throughout the piece.

"Masonry’s adherence to closed-door ritual may intrigue conspiracy theorists. Its diminishing ranks and relevance may cause smiling feminists to say, Knock yourselves out, boys. And its taste for pompous honorifics and ornate regalia may conjure images of solemn men with arms interlocked: Laurel and Hardy meet Babbitt."

Oh, my sides.

Barry characterizes the fraternity as "grand high exalted mystic boobery." I suspect he would be rankled at a fellow columnist who characterized his own Catholic faith and practices in a less than respectful manner, but I guess you can't pass for a hip sophisticate in Manhattan unless your columns contain the right amount of high-sounding cynicism - nothing new about that. His regular column, The Land, is a weekly romp across America, an assembly of "human interest" tales, allowing Park Avenue New Yorkers to peer at the rest of us oddities out in flyover country over their Ketel One vodka gimlets. Unfortunately for Barry, the Algonquin Round Table stopped taking new members long ago.

Now that I've sufficiently flogged the messenger, there's no getting around the situation that West Virginia Masonry's dirty linen has made the nation's "paper of record."

Note that the Grand Master of West Virginia pointedly did not respond to the questions of a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter. Stonewalling might have worked on thorny topics for a couple of centuries. But the internet, combined with new interest in Freemasonry, is shining a light up the fraternity's skirts and exposing our shortcomings to the public.

Then there was the matter of race. The Ancient, Free and Accepted lodges in West Virginia not only have no black members, they maintain no contact with the state’s separate and predominantly black Masonic fraternities, called Prince Hall lodges. “It’s not just nonrecognition,” Mr. Haas says with frustration. “It’s hostility.”

In October 2006, at the annual statewide meeting of the Grand Lodge in Wheeling, when his tenure was about to end, Mr. Haas presented a bloc of amendments designed to modify rules that no longer made sense (if they ever did). For instance, since lodges in other states had black members, he proposed the radical idea that “qualified visiting brethren may not be excluded from attendance if race is a factor.”

The changes, called the Wheeling reforms, overcame significant resistance and were passed by a close vote. Mr. Haas then handed his gavel to a successor, who promptly set aside the reforms on procedural grounds.

We wanted more members, greater visibility and renewed interest in Masonry.

Well, we got it.


  1. Before this is over, I suspect the name Haas will achieve the same prominence among students of Masonic history as has the surname: Morgan.

  2. I guess the question that keeps rattling through my head is, is GM Montgomery completely blind as to the damage this ongoing situation is doing to Freemasonry in his state?

    Now, don't all the anonymous grand lodge haters come pouring out of the floorboards to get their two cents' worth of jabs in again - we've heard it all ad infinitum. I'm simply pointing my question to the ether, in the hopes that somebody who knows GM Montgomery might have some influence over him. If he announced tomorrow that the individual Wheeling Reforms would be placed before the assembled GL for a regular vote in October, and that Brothers Bosley, Haas and Blankenship would all be tried in their respective lodges prior to October's meeting, he could put a stop to this madness immediately.

    Instead, he continues to stonewall as if this will all go *poof* in the morning when he wakes up.

    Now that PGM Haas has filed his complaint in the courts, this whole sequence of events takes on a life of its own, one that a GM is powerless to control. Regardless of the snarkiness of Barry's column, the point is that West Virginia's troubles are now splattered across the international media, under the magisterial banner of the holy New York Times. With that one single story, ALL Freemasonry gets painted as backward, silly, irrelevant, and populated by petty, racist, puddin'-headed pillocks.

    If for no other reason than that, I would think any sitting Grand Master might seriously consider a brotherly phone call to GM Montgomery, suggesting that now might be an appropriate time to blink. There is a graceful way out of this situation, but I have the sad suspicion he won't make use of it.

    In the end, it is the brethren of West Virginia who will suffer the most. If all of this makes its way to the floor of their GL communication in October without a positive solution, I suspect a very ugly meeting. When the leadership fails to remember just who they work for, they are bound to find themselves in a "come to Jesus" moment they'll not soon forget.

  3. The guy appears to have a good sized ego:

    Is this really the most important piece of information about the GL of WV, his NAME, that it needs to take up all of the front page?



  4. Nice use of the word pillock...

    In my experience, people don't call off a lawsuit until a certain pain threshold is exceeded. That threshold is usually never crossed until just before, or after depositions, which won't occur for some little time yet.

    It follows then that for the current GM WV - it will have to get uncomfortable - very uncomfortable - like open rebellion uncomfortable - before he will reverse his decisions on the Wheeling issues. He didn't reverse them in the face of unified web opposition, and he didn't reverse them on receiving the demand letter from Haas's counsel, so it will likely take more heat: much more.

    For Haas, if he remains determined to put Isaac to the knife without any second thoughts whatever, then the lawyers are going to make a bundle, the press is going to make hay, the Shrine might even jump ship, and the Craft is going to get it right in the neck.

    If GM WV does do what you say, then it will be really quite interesting to see if Haas drops the suit. I hope I'm wrong (and I don't know the man), but he's already crossed the Rubicon, I doubt he will be satisfied with anything less than total capitulation on the part of GL WV, with perhaps just a teaspoon of humiliation in the mix for GM Montgomery. After all, why would he settle for a Masonic trial when he can have the real thing?

    I wouldn't bet the farm on this going away if pride is a component. Again, I hope I'm wrong.

  5. Far be it for me to posit arguements based on masonic law, but i can't help but give this man Haas credit for his actions. I really don't care if WV jurisprudence allows for his expulsion or not. This discussion needs further light, in this country. Now is the time and this is the hour.

  6. Chris, I was in a masonic lodge room full of Park Avenue New Yorkers last night...and a few from Murray Hill and the Upper West Side as well. Freemasonry in Manhattan is sophisticated (perhaps more so than the columnist from the Times), and admittedly, West Virginia rarely gets good press in these parts. Still, there was a circle of brothers who happen to be a fairly sophisticated bunch (I'm going to run that term to the ground in this post:)) of NYC Fortune 500 execs discussing Haas (whom some of them had met in Alexandria this year), and the sympathy seemed to be extended his way by the majority of them. Meanwhile, I've observed a few internet personalities comparing him to the legacy of John G. Jones.

    Whatever the outcome is, I wonder what happened to a simple disciplinary act. They could have suspended the brother for 6 months to make their point. Instead, they seemed to have gone straight for corporal punishment in the form of expulsion. That is usually a vindictive sign of folks who are not applying their working tools to that house not made with hands. Too much social networking and not enough spiritual work.

    Incidentally, this is not the first incident of this kind. One in particular comes to mind that came to closure not too long ago.

  7. Feh.

    Sorry about the New York sophisticate swipes. It gets tiresome sometimes.

    Years ago, I was cutting negative on a feature and called a New York film lab to ask a question my Chicago guys couldn't answer. The voice on the other end of the phone was almost incredulous. "What the hell do you guys in Indiana shoot pictures of anyways, corn or sumpthin? Yuk, yuk, yuk."

    Yukked himself out of a $17,000 job.

  8. This doesn't bode well for the Fraternity as a whole. I'm all in favor of PGM Haas getting is day in one court or another. I'm not confident with the Grand Lodge at its annual communication being able to work this out. I firmly believe that when you send a group of new WM to GL, they would vote to buy the rope to hang themselves and then approve the committee who will set the date.

    The problem is that the general public doesn't understand grand jurisdictions. To them, we are all just Masons and the actions of the Grand Lodge of West Virginia are making us look bad.

  9. What is awesome is that the grand lodge's website has removed PMWGM Haas's name from the site!
    So, he never served?
    Do we always remove the nqames of those who served, but then took stands?

    Could there be more of a childish act than removing the name of someone you do not like or disagree with!

    I love how Haas is being compared to Morgan! LMAO.

    remember, these are the same guys who refused a masonic funeral to Brother Ben Franklin!

    300 years later the grand lodge of Pa finally recognised our brother!

    Where does masonry find these intellectual giants to run these organizations?
    what does it say about the caliber of men "wanting" to be grand master's?
    Oh well, maybe another one day class will make it better!


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