Saturday, May 12, 2007

Masonic obligations: Do we owe blind obedience to Grand Masters?

Bro. Don at Movable Jewel has written an interesting essay called "Of Grand Masters, the Shrine, and Jeff Peace," in which he urges us to not be judgmental about the current brouhaha between Arizona's Grand Master M.W. Bro. Rex Hutchens and the El Zaribah Shrine Temple in Phoenix.

He suggests that Masons "temper their passions with forbearance, reason, and Brotherly Love," which is a lesson we should probably all heed daily.

His essay brings to mind a greater point: What exactly are our obligations towards a Grand Lodge? Are we to blindly obey any and every order or request of a Grand Master? Or do our obligations require us only to submit to constitutions, laws and edicts? Absent a written edict, if a Grand Master were to say "don't do this" or "do that," are we obliged to obey him?

And if so, does it matter if what he said to do or not do violates our own conscience?

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  1. This is an interesting point, but one whic should be fairly easy to work through. The Grand Master is elected. His job is to ensure the Art we practice continues without bad press and according to the articles and Constitution. He has to answer tzo those within the Grades who have elcted him and, for major changes of policy or whatever, he should bring them forward for consultation.

  2. The main point I was trying to get accross in my rather lengthy post was in America, we have 51 Grand Jurisdictions. The Grand Master is beholden to the Masonic Code of his Jurisdiction. Check out for some of the differences in Jurisdictions.

    We may not care for the latitude that the several Masonic codes give a Grand Master. If that is the case and you can convince enough Brethren at the Grand Lodge level to change it, well then - you have your answer.

    Keep in mind that the Grand Lodge is not composed of just the officers. It is also comprised of the Masters and Wardens of the constituent Lodges.

    As for "blind obedience"? Well, I would view any directive from my Grand Master in light of the Masonic Code of my jurisdiction. If the directive were in line with that code, and the law of the land, then yes, in all liklihood I would comply. That's just me. I am not about to dictate to someone else what they should do. Keep in mind that whatever action you take, in a Masonic capacity or not, has consequences.

    Traveling Man

  3. In Georgia, the Grand Lodge is composed of Masters and Past Masters. Wardens have no rights at all... which is why pot-stirring boatrockers (like me) are weeded out (to mix quite a few metaphors) before they get to the East.

    And in Georgia, Grand Masters aren't elected, except as a show. They simply progress "up the line," with the bottommost rung on the ladder appointed by the current Grand Master, making the officer-line a perpetual chain than someone with a novel idea can never get into.

    — W.S.

  4. I don't know about anyone else, but all three of the obligations I took in blue lodge Masonry were contingent upon the preface:

    "This obligation will not conflict with ANY duty that you owe to God, your country, your neighbor, your family, or yourself."

    When I took the obligations, I did so contingent only upon that "assurance," and one of the vows I took was to "conform to and abide by the constitution, bylaws, and edicts of the Grand Lodge...." No Mason in my state is ever required to swear to obey the edicts of a Grand MASTER, only the edicts of the Grand LODGE, and there's a BIG difference.

    In recent years, an attitude has developed in my Grand Lodge that Grand Master's directives carry the full force and authority of the Grand Lodge. The expressed opinion of recent administrations is that Grand Master's words are law, until and unless they're overturned at the next annual session of the Grand Lodge.

    Personally, I think that espouses the morally deficient philosophy "it's better to seek forgiveness than to ask for permission." I agree that after approval by a Grand Lodge, a Grand Master's directives and opinions become "Masonic law," but only AFTER such approval has been expressly granted, not before! If that were not the case, a rogue Grand Master could materially alter Masonry in an entire Grand Lodge, and cause tremendous problems throughout the Masonic world.

    A Grand Master who can order Masons not to enter a Shrine temple has just as much (or arguably more) authority to order them not to enter the annual session of Grand Lodge in his state. He could then retain the office of Grand Master for life, and continue ordering everyone to do exactly as he instructed, for as long as anyone would continue to obey. How would anyone ever be able to challenge his authority, if he has the legitimate power to forbid all members from meeting together as Masons?

    In another possibility, consider that the office of the "Sovereign Grand Commander" of the Scottish Rite, is dependent upon blue lodge membership. If a rogue Grand Master of a Sovereign Grand Commander's state suddenly declared him "suspended," or "expunged" from blue lodge Masonry (as has happened to a LOT of American Masons in the last few years), he'd automatically lose his office as head of the Scottish Rite. The same thing could happen with the Imperial Potentate of the AAONMS, and all officers and members of other Masonic organizations.

    One could easily envision Grand Master's "directives" denying people their rights to membership in all sorts of organizations, but sooner or later, the whole line of reasoning comes back to one central point: can (or should) Masonic law require Masons to do things they believe are wrong?

    Personally, I don't think so. I believe that knowingly committing wrongs, conflicts with the duties people owe to God, their countries, their neighbors, their families, and themselves. Since I was "assured" that no such conflict would occur before I agreed to take my "obligations," I think the introduction of such "conflicts" invalidates the conditions under which those obligations were taken.

    In short, I think it's "breach of contract" for Grand Masters to require Masons to do things that conflict with their own senses of right and wrong.

    Even in times of war, the US military recognizes the right of "men of conscience" to be afforded certain exceptions as "conscientious objectors." Is Masonry so much more important than national security and life or death, that it can't afford similar exceptions?

  5. Widow's Son - your post about the composition of the Georgia Grand Lodge sheds a whole lot of new light on your "Small Town Fremasonry: series.

    Also, don't go mixing your metaphors or you'll split your infinitive and be left with a dangling pariticiple. Not good.

    Annon: Please follow the links in my post at Movable Jewel and read about the sanctity of the Black Cube and how a GM voided a ballot. Then please ask yourself the same questions about the powers of a GM in light of what you read.

    A GM *can* suspend an officer in the Scottish Rite. Please head over to masonic and read "33rds RULE!"

    In my jurisdiction, (Connecticut), the Grand Master has all the powers of the Grand Lodge when the Grand Lodge is not in session. His Edicts are approved at the next session of the Grand Lodge.


  6. Bro. T.M.: Yeah, when you can tell nine years in advance who will be the Grand Master, and death or the current Grand Master's whim is the only way someone loses their place in line, you can see that it's all set up to maintain the status quo.

    Well-meaning online brothers often say "work within the system." But when the deck is stacked against you from square one (to mix metaphors again), eventually you have to think your way out of the box. The inability of the rank-and-file Blue Lodge Mason to make any constructive changes is why organizations like the United Grand Lodge of America and the Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold, and why this blog, came into existence.

    — W.S.

  7. Widow's Son:

    Here in CT, it is very much the same. Unless you desicrate a flag or puch a clergyperson, once appointed to the Grand Line, eventually you will be Grand Master.

    They have a vote, but it seemed to me when I went to Grand Lodge as a proxy for one of our Wardens that it was pro-forma.

    I think we are fortunate in CT in that the members of the GL Offier Line, from what I know of them, are a very down-to-earth bunch. I've never felt put off by any line officer and the past GMs I've run across are decent people.

    Widow's Son, one question. If there was a process by which a GL has become less than what we think it should be; couldn't Masons use the same process to change it back?


  8. "...One question. If there was a process by which a GL has become less than what we think it should be; couldn't Masons use the same process to change it back?"

    There was a "process" by which Fidel Castro took control of Cuba more than 40 years ago. Short of his death, however, is there really any "process" by which the citizens of Cuba could realistically take their government back?

    Masonry is the same way. Simply put, people who have to work within a framework of rules, are at an insurmountable disadvantage against those whose don't.

  9. The problem is with Masonry "the organisation" not Freemasonry "the idea." The idea is perfect, the organisation sucks. This is routinely the case. Freemasonry is eternal, organisations are made of mortal men with mortla shortcomings. It is not the organisation that I owe my allegence, it is the idea, the light, the way of life that I serve.

  10. Well Said Brad.

    But aren't we past Orsen Wells by now (1984)? Are we really at they're mercy?
    I agree with- "people who have to work within a framework of rules, are at an insurmountable disadvantage against those whose don't"
    But same as a court of law, we are bound by processes and obligations. I don't think that we should have to smash the machine to get the parts out of it we want to make our own machine. Just throwing that out there. I see a lot of posts that seem to point down that road. That is not the road I want to travel. I like this road and trust it. I think we are speaking of the same outcome but how do WE get there?

  11. Anonymous writes:

    > But aren't we past Orsen Wells by now (1984)?

    I believe you mean George Orwell, else your reference to "1984" has eluded me.

    > Are we really at they're mercy? ...I think we are speaking of the same outcome but how do WE get there?

    That's a good question, and the truth is, I don't know. The power brokers entrenched in the Masonic Grand Lodges of the US today aren't going to willingly give up their fiefdoms, no matter what they have to do. They insist that their own actions aren't governed by the same Masonic laws that govern the rest of us, and they brazenly do exactly as they please, while brushing away anyone who dares to take a stand against their corruption.

    Recently in my grand jurisdiction, several of the older Past Grand Masters finally realized what the younger ones were doing, and tried to take a stand. Charges of un-Masonic conduct were initiated against the reigning Grand Master, who (among other serious issues) had been fired from a lengthy career in law enforcement for sexual harassment of one or more of his subordinates. He even had to move to another state during his term as Grand Master because his reputation in law enforcement here prevented him from being able to find comparable employment.

    Masonic law here dictates that charges of un-Masonic conduct against a Grand Master can only proceed with the majority consent of all the living Past Grand Masters. As soon as the reigning Grand Master was made aware of the charges against him, he called a meeting of the Past Grand Masters to discuss the subject.

    As the Grand Master called his own meeting, he took charge of it, thereby effectively becoming the presiding officer at his own "arraignment." Then, with the support of his grand line, he made certain that one of his cronies assumed "chairmanship" of the committee. A few of the older PGMs objected, noting that our Masonic law requires the most senior PGM to chair such meetings, but that elderly brother was unable to attend due to frail health and the recent death of his wife, and it was declared that he had forfeited his right to preside.

    The reigning Grand Master then lectured the assembled PGMs for an hour or so, and when he finished, he and his entourage left the PGMs to conduct their deliberations without the testimony of any other "witnesses." The "chairman" of the committee then removed the charges from a sealed envelope, read them silently to himself, and returned them to their envelope without ever allowing any of the other PGMs to see or hear them. He then called for a "vote of confidence" in the reigning Grand Master, but the written votes of (mostly older) PGMs who weren't able to attend were disqualified. Again, a few of the older PGMs objected, but the "chairman" declared that since the brothers hadn't been able to hear the "testimony," they weren't able to make "informed decisions," and their votes were summarily dismissed.

    So the "vote of confidence" in the Grand Master was sustained by a majority of the PGMs present at the meeting called by the Grand Master, and presided over by one of his cronies. A few days later, the Grand Master declared the brothers who had initiated the charges against him "suspended pending Masonic trial," on charges that they'd "conspired to subvert the authority of the Grand Master." The Grand Master then appointed Grand Lodge Trial Committees composed of other cronies to "try" the brothers, and not surprisingly, every one of them were declared "guilty" and expelled for life. One of the accused brothers even suffered a heart attack while waiting to testify in his own defense, and was rushed from the Grand Lodge offices in an ambulance. Rather than postponing the trial, however, the Grand Lodge Trial Committee declared him guilty in absentia, and sentenced him to expulsion while he was undergoing emergency heart surgery at the local veterans' hospital.

    In a last ditch effort to right the course of Masonry here, the older PGMs made one final attempt at the following annual session of Grand Lodge. When nominations were solicited for the office of Grand Master, the Deputy Grand Master who had supported his predecessor's corrupt reign, was immediately nominated. An elderly but courageous PGM then attempted to nominate an alternative candidate, but the reigning Grand Master angrily rapped him down and declared that he wouldn't accept that nomination. Despite having no authority to "reject" nominations, the Grand Master said he had to "do what's best for the good of Masonry," and the elderly PGM shuffled back to his seat with his head hung in shame. Needless to say, with no other "nominations" being accepted, the DGM was "elected," and the future of corrupt leadership here was thereby perpetuated.

    In our Grand Lodge, voting delegates consist of principal officers from blue lodges, as well as all Grand Lodge officers and committee members, PGMs, DDGMs, etc. All Grand Lodge committee members are appointed by the Grand Master himself, as are the District Deputy Grand Masters, etc., so that the Grand Master effectively "controls" about one-third of all votes at Grand Lodge. Most of the important issues that come before the Grand Lodge require two-thirds majority approval, and with a "solid block" of one-third that supports the Grand Master unanimously, it's effectively impossible to achieve a sufficient majority to effect any kind of real reform.

    Just to make sure that reform efforts don't have a chance, however, any "resolutions" submitted to Grand Lodge that would help restore the power of majority rule, and return Masonry to a correct and upright path, are simply declared "out of order." In one year alone, nearly 20 resolutions regularly approved and submitted by blue lodges, were declared "out of order," or "not for the good of Masonry," and were dismissed by the reigning Grand Master, who has no legitimate authority to dismiss resolutions, regardless of his own personal opinion of them.

    In the long run, it's back to what I said previously: "People who have to work within a framework of rules, are at an insurmountable disadvantage against those whose don't." Mainstream Masonry in my jurisdiction has been hijacked by a brazen political clique, yet the vast majority of regular Masons don't realize it even now. The clique controls the principal venues of communication, and the only story that reaches the majority of Masons is the one the Grand Lodge wants them to hear, which is often a complete fabrication.

    The minority of Masons who realize what's really happening, are left with no means by which to change the "system" either from within, or from without. In order to continue practicing Masonry as the gentle and noble craft it was intended to be, they've been forced to start over with a new lodge, which is obviously considered to be "clandestine" by their mainstream counterparts.

    Perhaps someday Masonry will again be as it was in its early days -- a loose affiliation of independent lodges with no Grand Lodges, or other central governing authorities. I don't know if that's good or bad, but it seems to me that the absence of central authority would certainly be preferable to the dominance of corrupt ones, such as some that exist today. I can't say if all Grand Lodges are as corrupt as the one here, but I suspect they are, or eventually will be because they choose to turn a blind eye, rather than taking a stand for what they know is right.

    Evil that goes unchallenged is evil that will eventually prevail, and if the corruption that's rampant in the leadership of the Masonic fraternity today is allowed to continue, the Masonry that once existed as a benevolent force in the US, is surely destined for extinction.


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