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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."

[snip]

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.

26 comments:

  1. Will grand lodges with gay members continue to recognize Tennessee. Will other bodies such as the Shrine continue relationships? How can recognition be explained? We continue to have a situation that compromises us with our own membership and principles. There are gay couples in many lodges, good members. Universal brotherhood? Ability to travel in foreign parts? That is what we say.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Few GLs will do anything. This doesn't violate any landmark, and of course "Sovereignty, sovereignty, sovereignty", which, of course, didn't stop many GLs from threatening to derecognize Massachusetts when they discussed researching the history and regularity of Prince Hall in the mid 20th century.

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    2. I know my GL will be silent. By being silent, GLs are saying something. Their silence is implicit agreement.

      If they say something about sovereignty, they basically are signaling support.

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  2. I cannot believe this.

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    Replies
    1. Why not? Few GLs did anything about this when Tennessee expelled two brothers for having their marriage pictures on Facebook.

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    2. Whether you believe this, or not, it did happen. What is worse is not a single GL has spoken out against it.

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  3. We Episcopalians would welcome the hypothetical kangaroo you refer to...with open arms. I am pleased you pointed this out.

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  4. GL of Tennessee seal motto: “Cemented with Love” … of being deathly frightened of gay men.

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  5. In our GLAF&AM of Bulgaria ware several discussions abot such situations recognized even on a stage of interviews for entrepreneurs. The common undrstanding reched during the discussions is that it's strictly individual approach and the requirements for not ( To promote or engage in homosexual activity ) is enogh. The eseast way is to left decision of type of actions to be made by craft Lodge's. Withdrew recognition nedd to have a strong base of criteria which is missing seems to me at the beginning of establishing recognition like a instrument never existiong in Landmarks

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  6. These cultural issues have international implications since gay marriages are now widespread in other countries and inevitably involve both ministers and members of the Craft.. For example: https://www.unitarian.org.uk/2022/05/11/liverpool-couple-who-made-history/

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  7. It's incredible this level of bullshit, just imagine the pain of our brother, he finds himself alone, deprived of his brothers. it's a SHAME!
    The worst part is that he is not a homosexual, and he is treated in a more than shameful way, so I imagine that our homosexual brothers in this big lodge must feel very welcome!
    It's strange, for me the beauty of masonry is: "Gather what is scattered" For the moment it does not look like it


    French mason , GODF

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  8. I have to say I’m completely disgusted by the actions for the Tennessee GL. This doesn’t feel like brotherly love and unity.

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  9. Let's extremely clear - this minister - of a mainstream faith - was expelled by his Grand Lodge - for performing his duties as a minister.

    Let's be even more clear: the Grand Lodge of Tennessee no longer believes in freedom of religion for its members.

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  10. Congratulations on the Tennessee Grand Lodge on demonstrating such disgusting intolerance. They are embarrassing the entire Craft with this nonsense.

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    1. Homosexuality violates a lot of worthy brothers,conscience.

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    2. Yes, and there are some religions which have ZERO problem with homosexuality.

      The GL of Tennessee, in enforcing one viewpoint on homosexuality, has told an ordained Christian minister that he is not welcome in the Craft because of HIS ministry.

      Delete
  11. Rt. Wor & Rev. Henry PeirceWed May 25, 11:50:00 AM 2022

    So much of the news of the world is heartbreaking these days, and the outrageous actions of the GL of Tennessee is not helping me feel better. The continued infiltration of cultural issues into Freemasonry is not going to do the Craft any good. Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of this fraternity and this action flies in the face of that fact. So sad.

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  12. I find this act to flat out despicable. A brother is cast out of our fraternity and barred from any reinstatement over being a minister and lending aid to those in need. If that does not go against our teachings and philosophy then what does? I personally feel that the various GL's who allow this should break off communication with Tennessee. There is a precedent of this in the US when the majority disagree. Reference the Washington Grand Lodge and William H. Upton in 1898.

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  13. Part of the oath I took at each degree said that the obligation would not interfere with my profession. I even used that successfully to insist that a summons from the Grand Master to me be rescheduled twice.

    It seems to me that if this individual works as a minister, expelling him for performing gay marriages is interfering with his profession, and thus a violation of the promise made to him when he took his oath.

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    Replies
    1. To my knowledge, no American Jurisdiction had ever codified a set of procedures to be taken if an obligation is later found to violate those we are assured it will not.

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  14. Also, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia did not suspend recognition of the Grand Lodges of Tennessee and Georgia over this. What happened was that then-Grand Master Ken Fuller suspended fraternal relations.

    What does that mean? It means that individual TN and GA Masons without 'Grand' in any title they hold may visit individual DC lodges. A complete delegation headed by its Worshipful Master? Nope. Any Grand Lodge Officer? Nope.

    And sadly, that edict expired with the end of GM Fuller's term, and was not codified into our Constitution.

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  15. As past master of a lodge in Oregon, I would ask my lodge's current leadership to exclude visiting Masons from Tennessee from our stated communications. The only exception, in my own view, would be if upon further examination they expressed sincere disapproval of their own grand lodge's rule. On a moral level, this is just as offensive as white supremacism - something which also has a history in Tennessee.

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  16. Replies
    1. Recommend you visit this website which will answer your questions and forward your information to the proper grand lodge.

      http://www.beafreemason.org/

      Delete
  17. Continued recognition by grand lodges of grand lodges that are guilty of discrimination compromises all of us. That includes California, the District of Columbia and other grand lodges that claim to be free of prejudice.

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  18. Greetings all, I join all the brothers who've expressed outrage at this act which goes against the tenets of our Craft. And I'd like to bring to their attention that Columbia Lodge #1190, GLNY- the first lodge chartered in NY under a push to create University lodges resembling the UGLE University Scheme- a couple of years ago, adopted a statement on Social Justice that I'm proud to include below should other lodges wish to follow. If our respective Grand Lodges don't see fit to react to events like these, perhaps individual lodges can make an effort do stand against all forms of bigotry and cause change to come from "below". Of course, my dream would be to have Grand Lodges adopt such a statement!

    "Freemasonry, at its core and throughout its ritual, promotes the principles of Social Justice. By meeting "on the level" we are summoned to recognize all with whom we stand as Brothers without regard for any differences that may, in the profane world, serve as pretexts for exclusion, prejudice, intolerance, or hatred. Columbia Lodge #1190 affirms and embraces the principles of Social Justice so eloquently expressed within our ritual, and strives to become a beacon of inclusion and Brotherhood within the Craft."

    ReplyDelete

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