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Saturday, March 12, 2022

As the Sword Turns: Called Conclave Removes Templar Grand Master Michael B. Johnson



by Christopher Hodapp

“You stubborn and hardheaded people! 
You are always fighting against the Holy Spirit,
just as your ancestors did” 
(Acts 7:51; CEV)

An historic gathering took place today, and I don't mean in a happy, smiley-face historic way. Michael B. Johnson, Most Eminent Grand Master of the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States, has been removed from office at a Called Special Conclave held in Fort Wayne, Indiana. 

Johnson has been replaced as Grand Master by David Kussman, and will retain the title of Past Deputy Grand Master. Some 291 Templars in attendance cast their votes, and the decision to remove Johnson was overwhelming: 219 in favor of his removal, 57 against, with 15 spoiled ballots.

I've long felt that the members of the Knights Templars who actively seek high office positions carry swords to stab each other in the back with. Go get yourself a big cup of coffee, because this tale is long and winding, along with being a tedious Masonic equivalent of an "inside baseball" discussion.

Michael B. Johnson has been removed as Grand Master of the Grand Encampment.


Called Special Conclaves are extremely rare. In fact, several Templar Knights who have searched the archives of the Grand Encampment have said there is no record of a single Special Conclave ever being called throughout the 20th century.

Michael Johnson's time in office has been turbulent. Upon his election last August, Johnson issued an official decision which immediately overturned a resolution passed at the Grand Encampment's 2021 Triennial Conclave in Minneapolis. That resolution passed by a super-majority and had been intended to put an end to the long-running battles over the Grand Priory of America (GPA) of the Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la Cité Sainte (CBCS), otherwise known in English as the Knights Beneficent of the Holy City. 

That overwhelmingly lopsided August vote had reversed Grand Encampment decisions made back in 2010, which had branded the GPA a "clandestine Templar organization." Then-Grand Master William H. Koon had controversially demanded the resignation of all Templar Sir Knights belonging to the GPA, and then, using a French charter of dubious parentage, the Grand Encampment established its own Grand Priory of the Scottish Reformed and Rectified Rite of the United States of America. In the wake of those actions, longstanding Templar Knights who remained as GPA/CBCS members were suspended or expelled from the Grand Encampment, and a flurry of lawsuits - both institutional and personal - erupted over the years.

(NOTE: The Grand Encampment's declaration of the GPA to be clandestine and the subsequent establishment of its own CBCS body took place during the years of Grand Master William H. Koon. In the spirit of full disclosure, I became a member of the Grand Encampment's new CBCS Grand Priory in 2011, as did the now-deposed Grand Master Michael Johnson.)

In the midst of arguments, suspensions, expulsions, lawsuits and lots of broken friendships, the Grand Encampment's Grand Priory of the Scottish Reformed and Rectified Rite of the United States of America CBCS body was dissolved in January 2013 by Grand Master David Dixon Goodwin, but the decisions declaring the GPA clandestine and forbidding Templar membership in it remained. And so, the resolution to end the feud by compromise eleven years after all this began passed by an overwhelming 77% of the vote at the 2021 Triennial. 

Just about now is when your eyes will really begin to glaze over.

GM Michael Johnson issued his decision to ignore the vote and return the status of the GPA to being a clandestine Templar order in a matter of days after taking office.

  

SIDEBAR: Who the heck is the Grand Priory of America?

The GPA was established in the US back in 1934 with a charter from the Grand Prieuré Indépendant d'Helvetie (Great Priory of Switzerland) CBCS, the Swiss organization that has long been considered to be the definitive fountainhead of the the Chevaliers Bienfaisants de la Cité Sainte, or Knights Beneficent of the Holy City. Outside of the U.S. The CBCS is a system of the Rite Ecossais Rectifie (Scottish Rectified Rite), and considered to be the oldest continuously operating Christian chivalric Masonic Order in the world, tracing its roots back to Baron Karl Gotthelf von Hund's "Rite of Strict Observance" in Germany in the 1750s. By widespread agreement, even though it possesses its own degree rituals for the Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees, like the Scottish Rite systems in the U.S. and most of Europe, it acknowledges that those degrees are the sole domain of Masonic grand lodges.

The Grand Priory of America CBCS was established in Raleigh, North Carolina by Dr. William Moseley Brown and J. Raymond Shute II, the founding brethren of what became Masonic Week in Washington DC each year. The GPA was established as an invitation-only group, but it quickly became little more than a private supper club for Grand Encampment Past Grand Masters and a few celebrity Masons, because, as one wag famously put it, "there's too much riff-raff in the 33rds." Its constitution limited membership to just 81 in the U.S., dividing the country into three prefectures with 27 members each.

 
In 1927, the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar of the United States granted recognition to the Swiss Grand Prieuré Indépendant d'Helvetie as a Templar body. When the Grand Prieuré Indépendant d'Helvetie issued a charter to the Raleigh group to form the Great Priory of America in 1934, that placed it in direct conflict with the notion that all Masonic Knights Templar in the U.S. work under the authority of the Grand Encampment. In fact, the 1934 charter itself is worded, "Grand Prieuré Indépendant d'Helvetie de Province ORDRE TEMPLIERE." The way the jurisdictional problem got solved was that the Great Priory's leadership assured the Grand Encampment that it was nothing but a social club, conferred no Templar orders on its members, and did not exchange official representatives with other Great Priories. With that understanding, CBCS became a regular participant in the annual "Masonic Week" festivities in Washington D.C. (later Alexandria, VA) held every February. Instead of its deeply spiritual and esoteric degrees being conferred upon seekers of Masonic wisdom, it became little more than a title to be passed to the luminaries of American Masonry. But by 1994, several officers of the GPA began attending international Knight Templar gatherings representing themselves as a Templar group. It was at this point the Grand Encampment stepped in. And then the fight started... 

 For more about this topic, see this post from back in 2010.


The drama thickened in September when GM Johnson took the surprising step of removing the duly elected Deputy Grand Master, David J. Kussman, from office for "malfeasance and disloyalty." 

Then-Grand Generalisimo David Kussman had been appointed last year by then-Grand Master Jeffrey Nelson to chair a committee to investigate the whole GPA imbroglio and find a way to end the feud and reinstate its suspended members. As chairman of the committee, Kussman and his group worked out a truce between the GPA and the Grand Encampment, which became the basis of the resolution that passed at the 2021 Triennial. In Johnson's order removing Kussman from the grand officer's line, his chairing of that committee and the subsequent resulting vote led to Johnson's declaration in other venues that he was "disloyal." (No charges were ever brought against Kussman, and no trial was ever conducted. He remained a member in good standing.)

By late September, a website had been set up to facilitate the organization of a Called Special Conclave to address the actions of GM Mike Johnson. The "Call To Conclave" laid out the Constitutional method and requirements to call for an extraordinary meeting for the purpose of reviewing- and perhaps reversing - the actions of a grand master. According to the Constitution, representatives from at least nine different statewide Grand Commanderies are required to make a quorum in order to trigger a called meeting. That minimum was quickly reached.

In October, a letter was sent to KT officers across the Grand Encampment's voting delegates, written by Sir Knight Thomas Tsirimokos, Chairman of the Grand Encampment Jurisprudence Committee. Tsirimokos weighed in on the appropriateness of the GM's actions and what he saw as constitutional reasons why a called conclave didn't have the power to reverse or amend the decisions of a sitting Grand Master. Other members of that committee saw it differently, as a letter from David Kussman made clear (see it HERE). 

In an additional attempt to dissuade those calling for a conclave, the Grand Encampment opined that those nine Grand Commanderies should be required to foot the bill for calling the meeting, including all hotel and dining expenses. In a counter to that, the Conclave was attached to the already scheduled East Central Department Conference at the Grand Wayne Convention Center in Fort Wayne, so additional expenses would be minimal.

Further agitating members, the monthly Knight Templar Magazine became a source of contention. The front page of the September 2021 issue showed GM Johnson perched on a horse and dressed in his Templar finery. Not especially surprising, since in real life he is a Wyoming rancher, and many Masonic Templar commanderies historically had mounted drill teams until the middle of the 20th century. But the headline at the bottom of the cover was both a disturbing and shocking message from the brand new leader of a purportedly Christian-based Masonic organization: 


"I never forget loyalty, nor do I forget betrayal."

In the February 2022 issue of the Knight Templar Magazine, GM Johnson penned a message ostensibly about "Cancel Culture" in society, and attempting to link that topic to the motives of the Called Conclave:

"There are brothers who do not agree with the Constitution of the Grand Encampment or the powers of the grand master. The Grand Encampment Constitution is clear that only at a stated conclave can decisions be reviewed. Sections of the Constitution may be added or deleted by the voting delegates of the Triennial Conclave. Some of the “Canceled Culture” think they can be loud enough or disruptive enough at other Grand Encampment meetings to get their way on certain matters concerning our Constitution or decisions of the grand master. The Knights Templar are Christian sol- diers who are bound by the obligation they took upon the Holy Bible to defend our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to be governed by our Constitution. Our Constitution states that you must be a Christian to become a Templar, and it is the duty of every Knight Templar to uphold our Constitution."

For some time, Sir Knight Benjamin Williams of Colorado had been the associate editor of the KT magazine, assisting longtime editor John Palmer. The masthead of the last few issues shows that Ben has recently been removed from that position. Williams had been an excellent choice to assist on the magazine, as he was responsible for the beautifully designed Rocky Mountain Mason magazine several years ago, and is a talented Masonic author and blogcaster. SK Ben is also an attorney and was on the committee headed by Kussman working on the GPA compromise. 

Since GM Johnson issued his decision rescinding the action of the Grand Encampment, Ben has reported on the developments and presented his legal opinions online of the KT Constitution regarding the powers of the Grand Master vs. those of the voting members of the Grand Encampment. His most recent podcast was posted March 2nd and summarizes the run-up to the Conclave taking place today in Fort Wayne.

Listen HERE: RMM-062: Special Conclave of the Grand Encampment

Further documentation for the Called Conclave can be found HERE.

The "Call To Conclave" resolution set out the order of business to be taken up at today's meeting. 


According to the Constitution, "An elected officer of the Grand Encampment may be removed from Office by a two-thirds vote of the members present and voting at a Conclave of the Grand Encampment. This section is enforceable upon adoption." (Emphasis mine.)

The voting members of the Grand Encampment have now exercised that option. And there's probably some irony in the fact that the Conclave was held in the "Mad" Anthony Wayne Room of the Ft. Wayne Convention Center.

I am starting to feel like Harland and Wolff sitting back in Belfast reading the morning reports of the Titanic sinking.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story mistakenly named John Cooper as the author of the dissenting letter, and referred to PGM Jeffrey Nelson incorrectly as John Nelson. I regret the errors. This revision also added the actual vote counts for removing former Grand Master Johnson.

13 comments:

  1. After many years in Law enforcement I can never use my real name on any social media. I post this not so much for myself but for others in the same position.

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  2. Chris two corrections. PGM Jeffrey Nelson. And the dissent was from David Kussman not John Cooper. Please delete this comment when corrected

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  3. I'm in the Royal Arch and Cryptic Council, but the events of this article have reinforced my decision never to join Knights Templar.

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    Replies
    1. As in government, don't judge all States by the actions of the head of all the States!

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    2. The knights Templar is a good organization. Do let the doings of a few discourage you. Just remember every person has a claim on you kind office.

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  4. I was sure that, at the conclusion of today's vote on the Grand Master, either he or I would be changing our status in the organization. His actions have had the consequences he had been warned of early on. Unlike the elected officer he attempted to remove unilaterally, he has also had a fair hearing. Apparent weaknesses in the organization's procedures have been corrected, although those weaknesses had caused no problems until his strained interpretations of the vague provisions involved led to these problems. "Thus ever to tyrants" and enough said. --Vernon Tweedie, P.C.

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  5. Oh brother.......the disgraced former Grand Master has brought shame and discord upon himself as well as the Knights Templar by letting ego and arrogance rule his thoughts and actions. He behaved more like a certain former Chief Executive than how a Mason -even we blue-lodge Master Masons- SHOULD act. He is not an example of how a Mason should conduct himself.

    I sincerely hope the Sir Knights can get back on the right path. His removal should serve as a warning to the Grand Lines of every Masonic organization that such behavior is unacceptable.

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  6. Intolerance presented as a masonic virtue...

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  7. What. A. Crock. I mean, all of it.

    So what would Jesus do?

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  8. Thank you for this informative article. I appreciate your dedication, Chris. I will say, Michael Johnson is a very nice man when I talked to him on multiple occasions (discussing other topics). He is a wonderful person to speak with outside of this controversy. Whilst I personally disagree with his decisions on the CBCS and removing Kussman, and his interpretations, I still have much compassion for him, and I hope true healing will occur. Michael is a very nice man, who, perhaps, I believe, might have been influenced by another person (mentioned in the article). I like the man, Michael Johnson, and I really really really like the man Sir Knight Dave Kussman, whom I believe will work very hard to restore the honor of Templary. My preayers are with you, Sir Knight Dave Kussman, as you lead us Sir Knights in the upcoming years. Let us love one another. Signed James Kirkpatrick, PC of Arlington Commandery #107, Arlington Texas.

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  9. Chris, thanks for the very informative article. One small correction; you say that SK Johnson was elected last July, but the Triennial was August 14 - 18.

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  10. It’s interesting to witness how Clandestine masonry of any rite can destroy the fabric of Masonic institutions. The leaders of the clandestine bodies have used well intentioned leadership of Masonic rites to push their agendas. As they manipulate the leader to move police towards their positions. In the wake of their chaos, the grenade is left to detonate in the living room of the rite; meanwhile, the Clandestine body leader is home comfortable in their recliners as friendships, harmony and institutional integrity is eroded.

    This has been seen with both Koons in the mainstream institutions and Slaughter of the Prince Hall bodies.

    Clandestine freemasonry of any rite should be stamped out immediately and participating membership receiving expulsion from their varying ancient craft lodges.

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