The Rough Ashlar

Thoughts from a Traveling Man

The Rough Ashlar - Thoughts from a Traveling Man

Shriners, Recognition, and the Grand Lodges

Smiling Shriner Nodder Ascending To HeavenI 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.

  • Mike says:

    Although I agree with your synopsis about the final result of this whole affair, there are several points that you have left out which definitely seems bias. You should include what the Imperial Potentate’s response is:
    It is a very educated reply about this whole affair and the hope that we as brothers can move along for the general purpose of all.

    June 7, 2013 at 2:53 pm
    • Carl says:

      Hi Mike. You are right. I am biased to some extent. I am biased against giant egos on both sides that have created this type of problem. I will grant you that the situation is not entirely just. However, Buffington also did not present the Craft in a good light. Was it worthy of being expelled? I do not think so.

      This is one of the problems of the grand lodges being the way they are. They are more or less run like dictatorships. The GM has all the power while he is in office. He can be as just as Solomon the Wise or as petty and capricious as he wants. He can do things that promote the Craft or that simply promote his friends and their interests. It is far from a perfect system, as we know. When we get an unjust GM running things, we can’t really do anything about it until GL elections come around again.

      Sometimes these things happen and that sucks. However, if the GM is all-powerful, then it is within his right to be petty and capricious. He can decide you crossed your eyes at him and expel you on the spot. It is everyone’s hopes that such men would never reached such a lofty position but sometimes they do.

      So if the GM says Buffington is no longer a Mason, then Buffington is no longer a Mason. End of conversation. It might be just or unjust, fair or not. It doesn’t matter. If the Shrine keeps him as a member, they are breaking their own rules that govern who can be a Shriner. Personally, I think there are too many big egos on all sides here. People should stop taking themselves too seriously and realize that their actions have an effect on the future. They will be dead a whole lot longer than they will be alive, so they have a short time to get this all right and fixed. Their political agendas and everything else should not be seen as bigger or more important than the fraternity. Is it worth going to the grave angry? Is being right more important than being good?

      I do not agree with the GM of AR and his decision in this case, but that is beside the point. He made a decision and until someone reverses it, that is where we are.

      June 7, 2013 at 3:29 pm
  • Burx says:

    Thanks very much WB Carl for posting this, and Mike to include the statement from the Shriner’s. All too often we hear things as ‘gossip’, without fully understanding the picture of things. WB Carl makes a fantastic point about not agreeing with the GM of Arkansas and his insane actions … however the GM is the ultimate decision maker, like it or not.

    All the Shriner’s can hope for is a more level headed GM in their next GL elections to help mend this valuable relationship. I’m sure there’s going to be quite the discussion on electing their next GM!

    Bottom line is – the Shriners are an excellent group, with none no more worthy of Masonic recognition for all they do … certainly the epitome of Masonic philanthropy. For the GM of Arkansas to state any Mason will be expelled via their associations with the Shriners is no doubt way out of line, and should be investigated himself. Not sure of the GL of Arkansas laws & by-laws … but a possible impeachment via proper checks and balances shouldn’t be out of the question. There should be a checks and balances system to avoid dictatorships.

    July 24, 2013 at 2:17 pm
    • Carl says:

      Bro. Burx,

      The GM, by virtue of his role and power, is a dictator. There have been benevolent dictatorships in history, and all GMs are (or should be) expected to be benevolent dictators. The same is true in the subordinate lodges. There have been PGMs suspended and expelled for their actions they took as GMs (not where we are, that I know of, thank goodness), and the threat of something like that happening should be a good enough incentive for any GM to walk a narrow line. It would be for me, were I ever to ascend to so high a station. That is the big difference between political dictators and Grand Lodge dictators (I hate to use that term, but I do it for emphasis) is that GMs have a very short time in their tenure and know that when they go into it. Political dictators typically expect that they will serve for life.

      The Shriners are a great group, as you say. They do wonderful things for humanity through the hospitals. I hope all this can be fixed in due time, but I will not hold my breath on that.

      But you bring up a good point at the end of your comment. Is it possible to impeach a sitting GM? I doubt any GL would allow that. I have never heard of such a thing. I challenge you to research that and present a paper at the research lodge next year on checks and balances in grand lodges. Seriously. It is an interesting topic.

      July 24, 2013 at 2:30 pm

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