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


Sunday, July 07, 2019

GL of Arkansas and Shriners International May Be Burying the Hatchet At Last

(Some details of this story have been updated as of 11AM 7/7/2019.)

It's not over yet, but the long-running feud between the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and Shriners International may at last be coming to a positive resolution.

Since November 2012, the Grand Lodge of Arkansas has forbidden the Masons in its jurisdiction to be members of the Shrine. The Grand Master at that time, Robert L. Jackson, issued a letter that declared the Shrine "clandestine" in Arkansas, and all Masons in the state were suddenly ordered to either quit their Shrine membership, or "self-expel" themselves (a curious, irreversible procedure that few - if any - other grand lodges practice).

The argument at that time concerned an Arkansas Mason who held a dual membership in another state, along with belonging to an Arkansas Shrine. He was brought up on Masonic charges and expelled in Arkansas, but was not suspended by the Shrine at that time because his other state's Grand Lodge had not taken any action against him. The Shrine's position was that he was still legally a Freemason outside of Arkansas, and therefore was still entitled to remain a Shriner. MW PGM Jackson disagreed, ordered the Shrine to expel him, they refused, and so he issued his edict. 

The result was an enormous drop in Masonic membership in Arkansas that far exceeded the comparative membership losses that any other Masonic jurisdiction has suffered in the U.S. The sheer number of expulsions in Arkansas since 2013 has been staggering.

Jackson's order might have meant the end of the Shrine in Arkansas. Because of the untenable situation in which they found themselves, Shriners International changed its bylaws and created a loophole for Arkansas that permitted non-Masons to become Shriners there. That by-law change has been in place since 2013. 

Meanwhile, PGM Robert Jackson went on to become the Grand Secretary of Arkansas in 2016. Numerous Arkansas Masons reported that his office allegedly stopped issuing letters of good standing to fleeing Arkansas Masons who attempted to transfer their membership to jurisdictions in other states like Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and elsewhere. The Grand Lodges of Oklahoma and Kansas both withdrew amity with Arkansas, partially over these issues.

Jackson was suspended in 2017 by then-GM Carl E. Nelson, along with Grand Treasurer, PGM Ronnie Hedge. Hedge is now one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Grand Lodge of Arkansas (which is a whole different story). At the end of his term as Grand Master in 2018, PGM Nelson was elected as Grand Secretary. 

But a new wrinkle developed earlier this summer. The outgoing 2018-19 Grand Master Bradley Phillips (photo) issued a Grand Master's Recommendation at the 2019 Arkansas annual meeting that finally has proposed a way to end to the needless impasse with the Shrine. 

The Recommendation reclassifies the Shrine in Arkansas from a clandestine organization to a civic one for the next three years; permits non-Mason Arkansas Shriners to petition lodges; permits self-expelled Arkansas Masons to petition for reinstatement, along with all other Masons in the state who had previously been expelled by former Grand Masters or trial commissions over their Shrine memberships or activities; and the decisions to reinstate such expelled Masons will rest in the hands of local lodges, not the Grand Lodge or its officers. At the end of three years, if all members of Arkansas Shrines have become Masons in that state (or in another jurisdiction recognized by Arkansas) once again, the Shrine will again be classified as a fully recognized fraternal organization under Arkansas Masonic code. In return, all remaining Shriners in Arkansas who have NOT become Masons by the end of the three year period will be expected to be suspended by the Shrine, and the non-Mason loophole created by this whole imbroglio by the Shrine will be ended.

(I have only seen page one of the Recommendation. Click image below to enlarge.)

The attending delegates at the annual meeting overwhelmingly voted in favor of the proposal, and Phillips was also elected as their new Grand Secretary, replacing Carl Nelson.  The adopted recommendation also has the support of current 2019-20 Arkansas Grand Master Jesse Don Sexton. 

This past week in Nashville, Shriners International held its 145th annual Imperial Session. The Arkansas Recommendation was partially re-drafted as a Resolution for the Shrine, and was enthusiastically adopted by their delegates. This has now resulted in the Shrine organizing a working group from the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and members of the Sahara and Scimitar Shrines in Arkansas to begin the transition process outlined. 

By the time you read this, if I understand the original Recommendation correctly, the Shrine is no longer considered "clandestine" by Arkansas, and is merely to be treated as a civic organization now. (Please contact the Grand Secretary's office to verify this, as I may be misunderstanding the actual timing.)

Further, Shriners International will move forward with a plan to restore regular Masonic membership as a prerequisite for becoming a Shriner once again into their bylaws, as it historically has been before. The working group's complete report is due no later than the end of this year.

And then, if all goes well within the proposed three year time frame, all of this stürm und drang will finally come to an end, and Masonic careers of countless dedicated Arkansas brethren that have been devastated by this feud may be restored at last.

(The adopted Shrine Resolution can be seen below. Click to enlarge.)


  1. To correct a few minor details in your history of events:

    Grand Secretary and PGM Robert Jackson was suspended in 2017 by GM Carl E Nelson at about the same time as Grand Treasurer and PGM Ronnie Hedge and others were suspended. PGM Ronnie Hedge is now one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the Grand Lodge of Arkansas.

    At the conclusion of his term as GM, PGM Carl E Nelson ran and was elected as Grand Secretary in 2018.

    At the conclusion of his term as GM, PGM Brad Phillips ran against PGM Carle E nelson and was elected to the office of Grand Secretary. He currently serves.

    1. Thanks for this. I'm on the road with limited access to some of my old notes, and I had left out this information. I updated the story this morning to reflect this.

  2. This is good news. Let level heads and brotherly love prevail.

    Steve Schenk
    Past Potentate
    Medinah Shriners
    Past Master
    Kelvyn Park-Willing Lodge #1075
    Illumination Lodge #5
    Worshipful Master
    Medinah Lodge #1178
    Grand Lodge of Illinois

  3. It is a crying shame that the opinions and actions of one man, who as Grand Master let his prejudices get in the way of the work, committed so much damage in one jurisdiction. I don't know PGM Jackson personally as I am a Master Mason in the state of Oklahoma, but I believe his actions have done more harm than good. I applaud the GL officers in Arkansas for finally resolving this issue, and wish them well in rebuilding their Lodges.

  4. It is not accurate to blame PGM Jackson for the situation that developed. There have been territorial squabbles between grand lodges and "appendant" bodies before and since this unfortunate series of events.

    In a growing number of cases, appendant bodies fail or refuse to remove members who have been suspended or expelled by the GL. There had been previous issues between GL Arkansas and the Shrine, and most recently between GL Louisiana and the Knights Templar.

    1. Speaking as a lifelong Shriner, I have noticed there is possibly, possibly, a drift away from it depending on dwindling Masonic membership and towards being an independent body sometime in the future. There has been a strenuous attempt to recruit from blue lodges but as blue lodges decline, inevitably that asks the question as to whether the Shrine has sufficient identity to eventually go out on its own entirely.

    2. I"a growing number of cases, appendant bodies fail or refuse to remove members who have been suspended or expelled by the GL."

      Not every GL honors the expulsion or suspension of Brothers by other GLs, no are they required to unless their own regulations require it.

  5. As one of the sponsors of the resolution at the Imperial Session it is important that I point out that our resolution will allow all current Shriners who have never been masons to make the choice if they want to join or not. That is also true for any of the masons that were expelled or demitted (Item 1 of the resolution). Any new members would need to meet the masonic prerequisite.

  6. Few words seem to sometimes puzzle Masons more than APPENDANT, CONCORDANT, CLANDESTINE, and REGULAR. It takes outstanding Masonic leadership to explain what these words should mean to their members.

    According to "google", "Appendant- attached or added, especially in a subordinate capacity. Concordant- in agreement; consistent. Clandestine- kept secret or done secretively, especially because illicit. Regular- usual; normal; customary: to put something in its regular place".

    You can see how the above definitions applied to the unique character of Freemasonry may cause some confusion among the Brethren. MASONIC LEADERS, take charge!!!

  7. So what ever happened to the one man who was the catalyst for all this? You know, the expelled Arkansas Mason who was not expelled from his other jurisdiction, and therefore not expelled from the Arkansas Shrine?

    1. Don't hold your breath waiting for that information.

    2. Floyd Buffington passed away peacefully a little over a year ago

  8. About time the gl of Arkansas and the shrine bury the hatchet. Look back on your obligation

  9. I am a master mason Scottish rite and Shriner in NY


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