I have had a few people ask me what was going on with the Shrine and a few grand lodges. In the interest of full disclosure, there are lots of details I am leaving out and this post will likely seem biased. However, I do not think many Shriners or Masons who are not Shriners, will see it very differently. This is not hard to parse, at least from where I stand.
The issue revolves around an incident in which a couple Shriners have been expelled from Masonry but retained their membership as Shriners. For those of you who are new to this, you have to be a Mason to be a Shriner. It used to be said that all Shriners were Masons but not all Masons were Shriners. Now it comes out that the Imperial body is allowing those who are expelled to retain their statuses.
The Imperial Potentate has refused to expel the offending members, saying that it is beyond his powers. It makes me wonder what kind of organization can have a chief executive who cannot fire someone working under him. It is either not true or this is a very weak organization. However, that is beside the point.
To further complicate the matter, one of the Masons who was expelled, at the time the potentate of a Shrine temple, had pled no contest to a felony. Here in Virginia, and in most, if not all, grand jurisdictions, a felony conviction or confession will necessarily result in a member being expelled from Masonry. This makes sense. We say we are moral men who are trying to become better. We do not want to associate with felons in this organization. We do offer the opportunity for suspended and expelled members to reapply for membership and sometimes that happens. It all has to do with the individual situation. So an expulsion is not a life-long curse by any means.
The problem is multifaceted:
- The Grand Lodge of Arkansas suggested that Shriners International is making clandestine Masons. It is hard to argue against that. If you follow the logic (if Shriner, then Mason), and then see that these people are Shriners but not Masons in a recognized grand lodge, then that is effectively what the Shrine is doing.
- The grand lodges, as owners and caretakers of Freemasonry in their respective jurisdictions, have always had the power to dictate what was and was not Masonic. They have decided, right or wrong, that the Shrine is not doing things the right way.
- Shriners International has declared itself wholly sovereign and free from the jurisdiction of any grand lodge, holden only to itself, and not bound by rules or constraints imposed by any grand lodge. It insists the it is not an appendant body and thus not subject to rules for appendant bodies.
- The Grand Lodge of South Carolina has given specific orders to the Shriners temples in that state to check the lodge dues cards of people entering the temple, in addition to checking their Shriners dues cards. Shriners dues cards are all the Shriners International requires to be checked, and I would not be surprised if it sent its own edict forbidding the checking of lodge dues cards. That is speculation but I have no doubt this will happen.
- Shriners International apparently is okay with having felons in its ranks. More than that, it wants felons to run the Shriners temples. This troubles me most of all.
What this all amounts to is a legitimate battle of jurisdictions. It looks to me like Shriners International should just say what it is driving toward – removing Masonry as a prerequisite to become a Shriner. I honestly think that is where this is going. They seem to want to be a Masonic organization but do not want to do the things all Masonic organizations need to do, which is to follow a handful of basic rules. It is not hard. You just have to do it.
If that is where the Shrine is headed, that is fine. There are many other civic groups doing good work for society, and the Shriners can be among them. They will be just like the Elks, Moose, Eagles, Owls, Rotary, Optimist, and other good, wholesome clubs.
The egos in this battle are huge on both sides, it seems, but that is not the issue. I do not care about egos. I became a Shriner to help support the hospitals and help the kids we care for. This foolishness of going against what the grand lodges want is going to seriously affect the membership of the Shriners temples. This will lead to temple closures and ultimately affect donations to the hospitals.
If Shriners International and the Imperial Potentate do not check their egos on this issue, they are going to ensure that the members, state by state, make a choice between being Masons and being Shriners. I have yet to speak to anyone who would choose to be a Shriner over being a Freemason. This will not be a hard decision to make for most of us, although I doubt anyone looks forward to it going that far. However, in a few grand jurisdictions it has already happened.
The Conference of Grand Masters is coming up in February, so I guess we will see then what consensus they will come to. In the end, short of agreement to reconcile, nobody will win. Some Shriners will choose to leave Masonry and many Masons will choose to leave the Shriners. Everyone will lose in this scenario, but more so the Shriners.