Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Masonry Through the (Rearview) Looking Glass
This is a follow up to my blog: On Opposing Tyranny, regarding the... unusual situation in the Grand Lodge of West Virginia. Below are the verbatim comments by Most Worshipful Frank J. Hass, PGM, MPS, Grand Lodge of West Virginia to the Brethren at a recent Philalethes event.
Masonry Through the (Rearview) Looking Glass
By Frank J. Haas, MPS
Thank you very much for your brave invitation. I know that there is some controversy about my being here. Some of you have examined your consciences about whether you should listen to me, break bread with me, shake hands with me, appear in the banquet room with me, stay in the same hotel as me, and where to draw the line. I respect that fidelity. I am hopeful that this will be only a temporary strain on our fraternal relations. I am honored to accept an invitation that I did not seek. I have the highest respect for The Philalethes Society, and I would not do anything intentionally to harm it.
I very much wish that the circumstances that brought us together might have been dispensed with, but I have gained a great deal of unsought notoriety of late. This Society exists to research problems confronting Freemasonry. I have a problem. Some say that I am a problem. I have been a Philalethes member for quite a few years. I can relate to you my perception and my recollection of what has happened recently to Freemasonry in West Virginia and to me, and I can offer my opinions on these events. I will tell you what happened — beginning at the end.
Listen to the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”
“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.
“I won’t!” said Alice.
“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
In a similar fashion, the capital punishment of Masonry was meted out to me. Sentence first, verdict irrelevant, trial — well, details, details. I was expelled summarily by the Grand Master of West Virginia without a trial, without written charges, and without notice that my neck was in the noose. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.” To earn it, I did not even get the pleasure of stealing any money, messing around with any women, or sounding off with a temper tantrum. While I was watching a football game on a Sunday evening, I remember Grand Master Charlie L. Montgomery calling me to ask whether I would be in lodge the following evening. I said it was on my calendar. He said he “might drop in” to talk about the Oyster Night at the previous meeting of Wellsburg Lodge #2, where we hosted fifty Ohio brothers, including a surprise visit by the Grand Master of Ohio, the stalwart Ronald L. Winnett. When I walked into the lodge building on Monday, November 19, 2007, I thought it likely that the lodge would be complimented for its hospitality to two sitting grand masters. Little did I know that the lodge would soon be on probation and that expulsion edicts in advance had been researched, prepared, drafted, typed, and were soon to be read, expelling Richard K. Bosely and me, all, heartlessly, in the presence of my father.
I have been hurt by all of this, because I love this fraternity. I must guard against having my remarks today sound like nothing but sour grapes. Some unpleasant events happened. People ask me what happened. I tell them. They do not believe it and say it is impossible.
The Red Queen and Alice discussed such a circumstance in Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.
“I can't believe that!” said Alice.
“Can't you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There's no use trying,” she said: “one can't believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven't had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Believe it. The reason for the expulsion: free speech. I have a sincere philosophical disagreement with Montgomery and his supporters. I believe that the grand lodge belongs to the Craft and that the brothers should decide grand lodge laws and policy with their open debates and votes, preserving always our eight Ancient Landmarks. We are not bound to look forever through a looking glass as a rearview mirror and never look at the present or toward the future. Montgomery wants no change ever, and anyone who wants any change should “go away.”
Here is how I engendered such anger. Votes matter. In West Virginia, past masters have one quarter of a vote. According to the legend, I was elected to the progressive line of grand lodge officers by a quarter of a vote. You know that you must be cautious about secret ballots: those who know should not say, and those who say may not know. I am only passing on what I was told. I had served ten years on the Committee on Work with the custody of the ritual as Deputy Grand Lecturer. I became Junior Grand Warden, but some did not want me there.
As grand master, it became my frequent practice to address the brethren at lodge meetings, and I began to conclude my speaking on the level with a time of questions of answers. There were some recurring themes in the brother’s questions, and these I decided to bring to the floor of grand lodge for consideration. Before grand lodge, I acted on three matters of business that needed no change but were compelling interpretations of existing language.
Youth. We had one active DeMolay chapter in the whole state, at the time. We had only around a hundred Rainbow Girls. I talked to the youth and their leaders, and I learned that part of their problem was our grand lodge law. Our policies were actually harming kids. Our Masonic law requires us not to allow youth organizations to meet in the lodge rooms, no matter what the lodges want. Lodges cannot give any support to the kids. Lodges cannot donate a penny. Lodges cannot even permit the parking lot to be used to raise funds by a car wash, for example. When I learned that the application of these many prohibitions, which had slowly accumulated over the years, was hurting the kids, I concluded that it was never the intention of Masonic law to be harmful to them. I thought the brothers would want fast action, so I acted with a directive to help the kids, and I set the subject for discussion at grand lodge.
Summary reprimands. We had three brothers involved in two separate incidents. News reporters initiated calls to ask for facts about Masonic buildings, which they proposed to feature in their newspaper articles. The brothers answered questions about facts and figures, numbers and dates, and these resulted in large, beautiful articles with color photographs in the newspapers of the fourth and the fifth largest cities in the state. One headline on the front page of the Sunday newspaper was worth thousands of dollars in a public relations budget: “I knew they were just and upright men.” However, the three brothers had not referred the reporters to the grand master, so he summarily issued written edicts of reprimand to be read audibly in all 140 lodges at two separate meetings. There were no trials. Sentence first. I entered an edict expunging the record because there was no constructive purpose to be achieved in having them continue.
As I prepared for the grand lodge session, I prepared a written agenda and had the various subjects of legislation distributed so that it went to the Craft with the proposals in their hands, in advance, in writing, to allow discussion to take place freely before the grand lodge session. This had not been done by a grand master for many decades, if at all.
The storm clouds began to swirl. I invited Brother Howie Damron to perform at the Grand Master’s Banquet before grand lodge opened, and he sang, “The Masonic Ring” and other favorites. Some of my predecessors objected and were turning colors in anger, and I was then implored to attend a meeting of past grand masters. The place of the meeting changed without notice to me, and I finally found them at about midnight and was told that my predecessors and all of the remaining progressive line were of the opinion that my actions and proposals were illegal and had to be withdrawn, or I would face their wrath. They said I had violated the landmarks, the Ancient Charges, the ritual, the usages and customs, and my obligation — so I was told, and this could not go forward. I said that the brothers would indeed debate and vote, and I later learned that the statements about unanimity in the room were exaggerated.
The following day, grand lodge opened, and I reported my actions and opinions to the Craft. Prominent among them was an outreach I had made to the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of West Virginia through the Prince Hall Grand Master. Perhaps I went further than he would have liked, as I wrote him and telephoned him months earlier, and then visited the hotel of their grand lodge session, suggesting a meeting. For our grand lodge, I proposed language declaring it to be unmasonic conduct to refuse to seat a visitor to lodge if race was a reason, and it passed. On other subjects, the brothers voted to allow themselves the option to say the Pledge of Allegiance at lodge meetings. The brothers voted to allow handicapped candidates to petition.
We are the only grand lodge not to recognize or support the DeMolay, Rainbow Girls, or Job’s Daughters. We are the only grand lodge not to be members of the Masonic Service Association. We are the only grand lodge not to belong to a regional conference of grand masters. We are the only grand lodge to order the Scottish Rite not to perform one of their degrees, the Washington/Arnold 20th degree. The result? I am proud to say that the brothers voted not to persist in remaining a minority of one. The brothers voted to change these things.
By their votes, the brothers repealed an assortment of legislative state-wide restrictions, piled on over the decades, for specific, temporary reasons, by Masonic legislators. Dean Roscoe Pound in Masonic Jurisprudence observed, “Having no bills of rights in Masonry and hence nothing beyond a handful of vaguely defined landmarks to restrain him, what then are our barriers against the ravages of the zealous, energetic, ambitious Masonic law-maker? Legal barriers, there are none. But some of the most sacred interests of life have only moral security and on the whole do not lose thereby.”
The brothers in West Virginia voted to assert their moral security and to repeal bans of books, bans on films, and bans on slideshows, some implemented nearly fifty years ago for important reasons, apparent then, to deal with a moment in time. Royal Arch Chapter charters had been ordered to be removed from the walls of lodge rooms, but the brothers voted to allow them. Other art in a lodge room that included Masonic symbols or emblems other than the Blue Lodge had been prohibited, such as Scottish Rite or York Rite emblems or a tapestry hung on a concrete block wall, but the brothers voted to allow it — including portraits of local Past Grand High Priests and Past Grand Commanders, of whom they are justly proud.
The West Virginia brothers were forward-looking and voted to do what they thought was right. There was jubilation at the passing of the Wheeling Reforms at grand lodge in 2006. That lasted for a matter of days. Then we returned to the rearview looking glass, the rearview mirror, as the ballot was declared illegal by my successor. The vote was scorned. In my opinion, the best word to describe what is now happening as a result is: repression.
Since the Wheeling Reforms were struck down, we have heard it said that, although race is not a legitimate factor to use to exclude a qualified visitor, wink-wink, the Worshipful Master has the duty to preserve the “peace and harmony” of the lodge. So, promote peace and harmony, but, wink-wink, do not consider the race of the visitor, wink-wink.
Did you lose a thumb while fighting for your country? Which one? The left? — sign here on this membership petition. The right? We have ancient usages and customs, and we cannot put up with your kind.
Do you want a Masonic funeral? Your grandsons are prohibited from being pall bearers unless they are all Master Masons. You must explain these Masonic laws to your widow so that we do not have to leave her sobbing in the funeral home. There is no problem if you want your remains to be cremated. However, if you want your ashes to be scattered, it is “undignified” and we must walk away from your mourners, because if anyone knows that the lodge is present as a group, we will be reprimanded, again.
If youth organizations are having problems, their problems are not our problems, so be extremely careful if you try to help the kids. If our deceased brother’s obituary mentions his request that, in lieu of flowers, memorial donations should be made to a hometown hospice, which comforted and cared for him on his deathbed, then the proper action of the lodge is... send the flowers, because such charity is forbidden. We will not join the Masonic Service Association, as every other grand lodge in North America does, because it is soft on Prince Hall and they will send their publications and Short Talk Bulletins to our members without our control. We will not join the Northeast Conference of Grand Masters or any other such conference because they have ideas that conflict with our laws and mostly because those other grand lodges recognize Prince Hall Masonry.
Friends, I am proud of the Wheeling Reforms. They were distributed so that the Craft had them in their hands, in advance, in writing, most of them for the first time in their lives. We debated until the brothers voted to end debate. We voted on the merits. The Wheeling Reforms passed. They lasted — until the stroke of a pen. Dick Bosely politely but persistently sought and was denied answers about this, and because he took a little bit too much time to sit down and shut up, he was instantly stripped of his title as Deputy Grand Lecturer and two weeks later was summarily expelled, and his alleged offense was committed in the presence of the Grand Master of Ohio. I engaged in free speech saying, as quoted by Grand Master Montgomery, “the dream lives on and will not die.” Now I am left without free speech and without Freemasonry, but I still have the dream.
For my dreams, I have sustained the maximum Masonic punishment — expulsion. It hurts. It hurts a great deal. I hope that it is temporary. In another feat of Orwellian double think, my detractors have extended their hatred further by deleting my name from the website list of Past Grand Masters of West Virginia and throwing it down the memory hole. The Craft in West Virginia is a resilient bunch — Montani Semper Liberi, Mountaineers are always free. They are unsure of what to do and how. They want to do the right thing — and do that thing right, but those who would continue the repression have the upper hand for now. I do not have a call to mobilization to outline for you. I am on the outside now. Your brethren in West Virginia have voted to do what they think is right. By their votes, they made a positive statement about race relations in the fraternity. By their votes, they tried to help the kids. By their votes, they welcomed the handicapped into the Craft. By their votes, they were in favor of patriotic expression in the lodge. All for naught. We are one large fraternity divided into grand lodges. What happens to us reflects upon you. What happens to one group of your brothers affects the whole. We lecture about Masonry Universal. Search yourself, my brethren. You may find yourself with an opportunity to help, aid, and assist — not me — but your worthy brothers in West Virginia in ways, large or small. Will you go on foot and out of your way for them? You may be able to speak the truth to power. As Lincoln counseled, be on the side of the angels. Will you encourage, nourish, and cherish your brethren in the state with the second highest per capita Masonic membership with your concern and your prayers? If for nothing else but your concern and your prayers, the brethren of West Virginia will thank you, Masonry Universal will thank you, and I thank you for sticking your necks out for Freemasonry.
The expulsion edict can be read here.