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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

'The Plot Thickens' in the GL of South Carolina as Annual Meeting Looms


by Christopher Hodapp

UPDATE: This story has been updated on April 21, 2021. The original story incorrectly stated that GM Disher declared that PGM Mike Smith's reinstatement by the Appeals & Grievances Committee would make the Grand Lodge "liable for a lawsuit." This remark was actually made by PGM Jay Adam Pearson. My apologies for the error.

Over the last week, several emails have been making the rounds out of the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina concerning the January trial and expulsion of Past Grand Master Michael D. Smith. As reported here in February, Smith was expelled from the fraternity by current South Carolina Grand Master Walter C. "Cal" Disher II for violating his edict forbidding Masonic meetings conducted by Internet teleconferencing software, like Zoom. The charges brought against Smith were for authorizing Zoom meetings for the Scottish Rite Valleys throughout the state in his role as their SGIG for the Scottish Rite Southern Jurisdiction. 

Now, the plot, as they say in cheap potboilers, thickens. The Grand Lodge of South Carolina will be holding its annual communication this week on April 22nd and 23rd. In the run-up to that session, South Carolina's Jurisprudence and Appeals & Grievances committees both convened last week to accomplish the usual preliminary business that commonly takes place just before Masonic grand sessions nearly everywhere.

It is the Jurisprudence Committee's job to look over the actions of the sitting Grand Master taken during his term of office to determine if he was correct in his decisions and activities, or if he violated any of the rules of their constitution (the South Carolina Ahimon Rezon). Typically, a grand master provides a lengthy report that outlines all of his activities since taking office in the written form of a formal address (or oration). And then the various committees weigh in on the GM's actions and report whether or not he violated any of their constitution. 

Because of the COVID pandemic shut downs last year, GM Disher was compelled by state health laws and an abundance of caution for his more elderly and at-risk members to cancel their annual session in 2020, and all previously elected Grand Lodge officers would stay in their positions for another year. So GM Disher's address was quite lengthy after two years.

(South Carolina grand masters traditionally serve for two one-year terms. Disher was elected GM in 2019, so April 2020 through April 2021 was to have been his second term anyway, if tradition had been followed. With the annual meeting canceled, his second year in the job was a foregone conclusion, as in so many other U.S. jurisdictions this past year. Like it or not, grand lodges must adhere to the rules set down by federal, state and local governments. So I can't really work up support for those alleging anywhere that their grand masters usurped power last year by canceling annual meetings.)

2019-2021 Grand Master Walter C. 'Cal' Disher II

GM Disher presented his whopping 42-page official address to the Jurisprudence Committee last week for review. On Thursday in a 6-3 decision, six Past Grand Masters on the Jurisprudence Committee ruled that the trial of PGM Mike Smith had been unfair, and rejected the portion of Disher's address dealing with Smith's guilty verdict and expulsion. In an anonymous email account of the vote sent to me that was attempting to support and justify the GM's actions, by failing to agree with his decision and actions, those six members of the Committee are themselves now guilty of a Masonic offense and may themselves face charges.

Then, in what was a second repudiation of GM Disher, on Friday, the Appeals & Grievances Committee reportedly ruled in an initial 4-2 decision that misconduct had taken place during the trial of PGM Smith, that the verdict should be nullified, and that Smith should be reinstated. According to multiple sources, PGM Jay Adam Pearson (who was part of the trial commission for Smith's expulsion) chastised the committee, angrily declared that, if Smith was reinstated by this decision, the Grand Lodge would be "liable for a lawsuit," and demanded the Committee re-vote. The result of that second vote was to uphold Disher's actions and the results of the trial. And because of the furor caused in the state by the initial online reporting of Smith's trial and expulsion, the result of the Committee's vote was not to be leaked ahead of time until it is presented on the floor of the annual meeting.

Obviously, that didn't work out so well. Gag rules rarely do.

There are still as-yet unanswered allegations that the arresting of Landrum Lodge charter (PGM Smith's mother lodge in which his son was Junior Warden) by GM Disher was also improper. It's probable that it too will be addressed in the Jurisprudence Committee's official report.

I've been sent conflicting information about these meetings and decisions, and there's a Rashomon-like feel to the widely differing descriptions of trials, conversations, votes, and (naturally) personalities involved. The unsettling image that emerges is an enormous Jenga tower falling to pieces, as charges, counter charges,  longtime friendships, personal allegiances, and a seemingly endless string of more threats of suspensions and expulsions all unfold. In one stack of material, there are numerous statements, angrily tarring numerous longtime Masons with more allegations of 'un-Masonic conduct' for failing to rubber stamp the GM's decisions. 'They voted the wrong way too, and THAT'S un-Masonic! We'll have THEM up on charges next!' is the theme that runs throughout. 

There's an unfortunate aura of the Caine Mutiny trial scene in much of this. And that's the material that is supposed to be making the case FOR the Grand Master. 

The annual session will take place this coming Thursday and Friday, and the GM has placed limits on how many may attend – again due to COVID restrictions. Next in line for election as the new Grand Master is current Deputy Grand Master, O.B. Smith, but there are rumors that one or more other candidates for GM may be nominated from the floor. And the assembled members of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina must also vote to affirm or deny the Jurisprudence and Appeals & Grievances committee reports. If the result of those votes reverse the actions of GM Disher, it's entirely possible that PGM Mike Smith may be reinstated by their action. 

Of course, the next question on the minds of many South Carolina Masons is, will the next elected GM (whoever it may be) allow the waters to calm and the Craft in his state to heal? Or will he follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and keep pursuing the example of more suspensions, expulsions and charter yanking in an attempt to enforce the 'authority and dignity' of the office by wrecking the Masonic careers of brethren who have devoted so much to the fraternity for so long? "Because I said so" is a lousy motivator for a voluntary organization that depends on the work and good will of its devoted members.

Would that there was a respected, gray-headed sage in South Carolina who could stand up on the floor of the annual meeting next week and make some calming and uniting statement or entreaty to cool the anger on all sides, set aside the trial decisions and expulsions, and convince the room to do what it takes to restore harmony without destroying Masonic careers. But I doubt that will happen, and more’s the pity. I fear this entire melodrama may result in the loss of far too many members resigning in disgust. And that’s the ultimate tragedy of this mess.

12 comments:

  1. "South Carolina grand masters traditionally serve for two one-year terms. Disher was elected GM in 2019, so April 2020 through April 2021 was to have been his second term anyway, if tradition had been followed. With the annual meeting canceled, his second year in the job was a foregone conclusion, as in so many other U.S. jurisdictions this past year. Like it or not, grand lodges must adhere to the rules set down by federal, state and local governments. So I can't really work up support for those alleging anywhere that their grand masters usurped power last year by canceling annual meetings."

    I strongly disagree. I accept that there were extraordinary circumstances, but EVERYTHING was done by dictatorial order. There was no opportunity provided to re-elect MW Disher or to elect someone else, both legitimate options. The Grand Assembly was cancelled, not postponed. And it was all done by the order of the Grand Master without any consent of the Grand Lodge (ie the voting members of the member Lodges.)

    "...by failing to agree with his decision and actions, those six members of the Committee are themselves now guilty of a Masonic offense and may themselves face charges."

    I call BS. Please explain how "disagreement" constitutes a Masonic offense. THis is just anothe example of MW Disher's extremism.


    "Disher angrily retorted that, if Smith was reinstated by this decision, the Grand Lodge would be "liable for a lawsuit," and demanded the Committee re-vote."

    So what is the point of even voting if the Grand Master can call a re-vote if he is not happy with the decision? Threatening a lawsuit because you don't agree with a vote is strictly un-Masonic. It is utter lack of integrity.


    "The result of that second vote was to uphold Disher's actions and the results of the trial. "

    And I call out the integrity of every member of the Committee for changing their vote, being swayed by lawsuit threats. Man up or leave.

    Another huge question is do MW Disher's punishments fit the crimes? MW Disher shows a consistent pattern of making quick accusations, rapid decisions, and offering extreme punishments. If MW Smith did violate the edict, can he be expelled? Yes. But should he? What was done? Was the issue discussed? Was he reprimanded? Or was extreme summary judgement made?

    Are MW Disher and the Trial Committee applying ex-post-facto rules?

    What does MW Disher plan to gain from all this?

    Does MW Disher have any financial interests in how things play out?

    MW Disher has been impulsive, reckless, and extreme on almost every decision that he has dictated, and it has caused nothing but Masonic disharmony in South Carolina. It almost makes you think that MW Disher is actually anti-Masonic, trying to destroy South Carolina Masonry from within.

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  2. The problems these incidents present is that they are all too frequent, contradict the idea that we make good men better, discourage possible members who have better things to do, show that other charities are better stewards, and reaffirm that leadership to remedy the constant decline in membership is missing. Being grand master is a synonym for being a jerk.

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  3. This Grand Master is an embarrassment to Freemasons. As younger Brothers come into the Craft, they could care less about past accolades. They want to know, what have you done today to improve Masonry and the Craft in general? This is the dues that Grand Masters pay the rent with, and the rent is due everyday. Grand Masters like this tarnish those that have done great things in the past, as it tears away at the fabric that bonds. This is one of 987 reasons the Craft is dying. Another dime-a-dozen Grand Masters that has done more harm than good.

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    Replies
    1. Antics like this also undermine Trust, one of the golden threads we rely on.

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  4. Ill. Br. Chris - We'd love to have you on the AfterLodge Podcast to talk about this. Would you be game for it?

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    1. Should ask one of us in South Carolina that has been living with this every week and/or day for the past year and a half.

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  5. It is quite fascinating to study the different developments and attitudes of Freemasonry around the world. It turns out they are NOT quite the same. They are definitely unique.

    Masonic leaders MUST determine what unique qualities are of value to keep in their respective American jurisdictions and what qualities they should resign to the trash heap. In other words, times do change.

    In Great Britain, there was once a time when one grand lodge practiced a VERY important Order as part of the Craft and the other grand lodge did not. But finally a union was made along with a VERY important compromise. This is what leaders do with one another:

    1. They compromise when necessary. In other words, they are to be of service and place the health and welfare of the Craft (and its membership) before their own egos or personal interests.

    2. They are compassionate because they understand the unique challenges each of them must face.

    3. They are considerate because, ultimately, they share the same values and goals despite their own unique circumstances. In other words,they are all Brothers.

    4. Finally, they come to agreement, not because they want to, but because they must. In other words, they did the best they could, and now consign the rest to that which has no name but is all names.

    Some American Masonic leaders of the Craft, for one reason or another, don't think too highly of Masonic Orders (and their leadership) beyond the Craft. This is a big mistake because these Orders arose out of a sincere need among the Brethren. They are a VALUABLE part of what makes American Freemasonry unique.

    True, the American Grand Master Masons are the top dogs of their respective jurisdictions, but those other Masonic Leaders of the Orders beyond the Craft should be treated with the utmost respect and consideration because they are providing a VERY important and NECESSARY service to many of our good Brethren. Lest we forget, I can easily name three Orders beyond the Craft which could operate independently of the Craft with probably a great deal of success. Two of them, because they have their own Craft rituals, and the third, because it is not really Masonic at all.

    But is this what we really want?



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  6. I'm not a mason, I'm the wife of a mason. To me, this whole fiasco is just puppets following along with Pearson. I hate naming people, but would Disher be so bad if he weren't in Pearson's back pocket? Pearson has been calling all the shots with Disher and, in my opinion, O.B.Smith. Just following the readings...you'll (everyone not just you) will see how close ties Pearson has with Disher. Wasn't Disher practically raised as Pearsons brother? Would Disher be so ballsey to do half the things he has done if it weren't for Pearson. It's really sad when one bad seed influences the other seeds so much as to cause all this riff. No where would you find a better man, father, husband, friend, than what Mike Smith is. And for a few to drag down a person and put them through what Mike has been through just because of Pearson and Dishers jealousy. Disher should grow a pair for himself and not let Pearson over see everything he does or says. He needs to make his own decisions.

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  7. The infantilisation of Freemasonry in all its glory...

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  8. Wow, I am caught between laughing wryly... or spitting with attitude! I hate to say it this way, But masonry has ceased to exist amoung those who should have preserved it. Thus we read the inglorious effects of power, large or small when mixed with self righteous pique... For all those who resign in disgust, I understand and hope you will first look at the internet lodges... even though they are closed for the time being.
    Healing and Blessings to All.

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  9. It seems to me, admittedly from the outside looking in, (Florida Mason) that principles before personalities has been grievously lost, and Masonry suffers for it. My prayer and fervent hope is that it can be rectified amicably, before further damage is done, and sets us up to ridicule.

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