On Saturday, October 13, 2007, I published: What's Wrong with this Picture??, noting that there are still 12 Grand Lodges that do not recognize Prince Hall Masonry as regular Masonry. Many of these also do not allow the visitation of black men, even from jurisdictions they do hold as regular, and who certainly do not allow men of color to join their lodges.
I also noted in this article that the rest of Freemasonry, the part that keeps it obligation to ALL men, the ones the are mindful of the lessons taught to us by the Worshipful Master, when he says, in speaking of Brotherly Love in the first degree:
By the exercise of brotherly love, we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family, the high and low, the rich and the poor, who, as created by one almighty parent and inhabitants of the same planet, are to aid, support and protect each other. On this principle, Masonry unites men of every country, sect and opinion, and causes true friendship to exist among those who might otherwise remain at a perpetual distance.(1)should turn its back on our brothers who have not evolved their spirit to the point where they can regard ALL men as brothers, regardless of creed, color, or national origin.
Since that time, I have been of two minds in this regard. On the one hand, it is contrary to Masonic teachings to treat a segment of the human race (since there is no such thing as the “black race” or the “red race” or the “yellow race” or any other “race” but the human race) as less than worthy or less deserving. As such, that treatment is anathema to all good Masons, and because it is anathema, regular Masons should turn their backs on these men.
By turning our backs, I mean withdraw our recognition of them. This is precisely what we would do with any regular lodge that self forms, allows women or atheists as members or does not work with an open Volume of Sacred Law on the Altar. I have argued and held that this would force those grand lodges and brethren to step up.
Strangely enough, it was Br. Arthur Peterson, whose antics against all he considers to be non regular masons caused so many problems with some forums, that caused me to start reflecting on this. And thence the being of two minds. You see, on the other hand, there are several issues that arise from my suggestion.
The first is that most grand lodges will not do this. They see the recognition issue as an internal issue, not one to be forced on them… and I think perhaps they may be right. What I learned from Br. Peterson is that the issue may NOT be about “Black Vs. White” Grand Lodges, but may be about Grand Lodge Sovereignty. You see, it has been a tradition for, well, almost 300 years, though one not always observed unless convenient, for there to be one Grand Lodge per territory, called Territorial Exclusivity.
Most of us realize that the policy of Territorial Exclusivity arose primarily out of the desire by the White Lodges to prevent the growth of Black Lodges, Prince Hall Lodges, and to ignore them, perhaps in the silly hope they would just… go away. Hasn’t happened, won’t happen, so it’s a policy well past its prime.
That written, it is a policy, and is a concern. The larger concern, however, is that in extending recognition to Prince Hall Lodges, the mainstream grand lodges would actually be PERPETUATING racism and not curing it… strange, isn’t it, how doing what seems to be the right thing can actually be wrong? His argument is based on the reason we have Brown Vs. the Board of Education.
The 1954 United States Supreme Court decision in Oliver L. Brown et.al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka (KS) et.al. is among the most significant judicial turning points in the development of our country. Originally led by Charles H. Houston, and later Thurgood Marshall and a formidable legal team, it dismantled the legal basis for racial segregation in schools and other public facilities.Separate but equal… isn’t. So by helping keep two separate grand lodges in a single jurisdiction, in violation of the policy of Territorial Exclusivity(3).
By declaring that the discriminatory nature of racial segregation ... "violates the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees all citizens equal protection of the laws," Brown v. Board of Education laid the foundation for shaping future national and international policies regarding human rights.(2)
Is he right? Strike one.
Then there is the whole issue of racism. We certainly suspect that it is racism on the part of a few of the Southern Grand Lodges, they have SAID so. We have recently seen PGM Haas of West Virginia, who ran a slate of legislation that was approved, and included passage of recognition of Prince Hall Grand Lodge in West Virginia, kicked out of Freemasonry by the new Grand Master.
So, there IS racism in many of those lodges, its reflected in their leadership, and the fact that the brethren in those jurisdictions do NOTHING to change the status quo, like quitting their GL and joining one in an adjoining state, or asking the Grand Lodge in an adjoining state to issue them a charter in the stead of their racist grand lodge, or standing up against the racist policies. Some members of these jurisdictions have even gone so far as to ASK, well, demand really, that brothers from OTHER jurisdictions “help” them by making their grand lodges withdraw recognition.(4)
The problem with racists is you can’t FORCE them to change. You can only show them how silly and small minded they are… and that doesn’t even always work. The fact is, withdrawing recognition from them would likely have the opposite effect. It would cause them to retrench, to defend, to fight against the “unwarranted” intrusion into their sovereign affairs. In effect, have exactly the OPPOSITE effect we wanted.
On top of that, the Grand Lodges would then be forced, by their own action and the lack of action by the racist grand lodge, to start chartering lodges into those, then empty, jurisdictions, and when each of THOSE formed a new grand lodge, decide which of the many that would surely form would be extended recognition. In a word, the situation would be made worse rather than better… Strike two.
Then there is the issue of the brethren in the lodges. Not all of them are racists. They may not act because of fear, of feeling isolated, of not knowing what to do, of any one of a hundred reasons. The action of withdrawing recognition from them would injure them rather than help them, and part of our obligation is not to injure a brother in his person or good name. In taking this action, we would, in a very real sense, be labeling all of them as racists… and clearly not all of them are racists.
In this same vein, we must realize that in some jurisdictions, the brethren cannot affect their grand lodge. They cannot nominate new Grand Masters, they cannot propose legislation, in fact, as we have seen in West Virginia, anyone that rises to call the new grand master on his actions since Grand Master Haas’ Grand Communication, have been summarily ejected from the craft. No trial, just a letter informing them they are no longer Masons.
Keeping all of this in mind, we have strike three.
So here I sit, of two minds. Should we all impose our will, our standards, upon 12 Grand Lodges because it is the “right” thing to do, because we all of us oppose racism in all its forms? Or should we sit idly by doing nothing, as racism and its insidious hatred and ignorance continue in the name of Freemasonry? Because I can assure you, what they are doing does not represent MY Freemasonry!
Torn between two courses, both of which are right and both of which are wrong, and each diametrically opposed to the other. Does any other brother have anything to say for the benefit of Freemasonry?
May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.
1. Grand Lodge of California, F&AM, First Degree Lecture, Brotherly Love