Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Shrine and the Blue Lodge Come to a Crossroads

For some time now tension has been building between the Shrine and various Grand Lodges of Craft Masonry, around the issue of the Shrine permitting Masons expelled from their Blue Lodges to continue as Shriners. The basis of the problem, of course, is that, from the Grand Lodge point of view, the Shrine only has authority to initiate Master Masons as Shriners because the Grand Lodge permits this practice. It seems near-universal among Grand Lodges in the U.S. and elsewhere that Grand Lodges claim the privilege of permitting--or withholding permission from--any organization within their boundaries that restricts its membership to Master Masons. This privilege has been the unquestioned perquisite of a Grand Lodge within its own boundaries for well over a century. (I would welcome verifiable information regarding the history of this practice.) Because of this privilege, the Grand Lodge point of view--often codified in Masonic law within a Grand Lodge jurisdiction--is that expulsion from Freemasonry automatically results in expulsion from all other groups requiring Masonic membership, which are called typically "appendant" orders and organizations. It seems that, as of this month, the Shrine has taken a definitive stance against this long-held practice.

I received today, courtesy of W.'. Brother Cliff Porter, a reproduction of a letter dated December 20, 2012, addressed to the MWGM of South Carolina from Alan W. Madsen, the Imperial Potentate of Shriners International. (The two-page letter is shown above; click on a page for a copy that can be adjusted by size. A .pdf of the letter is available here.)

In this letter, the Imperial Potentate of the Shrine indicates that he is limited in what he can do by Shrine Law. Among these limitations, he states, is that he can only expel a Freemason from the Shrine for violating Shrine Law, or conducting himself in a manner unbecoming a Noble of the Order. The Imperial Potentate explicitly states that "there is no authority for an Imperial Potentate to remove expelled Masons from the rolls of Shriners International." The clear implication is that the Shrine simply does not recognize the authority of the Grand Lodge to insist that expelled Masons are automatically expelled from all Mason-exclusive organizations.

It gets better.

The Imperial Potentate explicitly states on the second page of the letter that the Shrine is not an appendant body, but is sovereign and independent in its own right. The Imperial Potentate then writes that "Shriners International respectfully requests the Grand Lodge of South Carolina to discontinue ... the use of the words 'appendant' or 'appendant body' to describe the relationship it has with Shriners International."

This letter was copied to all Grand Lodges, as well as all Shrine temples and all Imperial officers and trustees.

Well, alrighty then. There seem to be only four possible solutions to this situation:
  1. Grand Lodges could drop their claim to final authority over any organization that requires being a Master Mason for membership. This would represent a change in the way that Grand Lodges have thought of themselves for, I would guess, the entire history of Grand Lodge Freemasonry. I think this solution to be about as likely to be implemented as we are likely to see a planet-busting shower of asteroids during the next fifteen minutes or so.
  2. The Shrine International could change its bylaws, in such a way as to submit itself to the authority of a Grand Lodge within that Grand Lodge's jurisdiction. However, given this letter from the Imperial Potentate, I do not think the requisite change in the Shrine's attitude is at all likely to occur.
  3. Neither side budging, the Grand Lodges could simply ban the Shrine from their jurisdictions, and expel Freemasons who continued as Shriners. This is the "everyone loses" scenario, as some Freemasons would resign from Masonry, while others would resign from the Shrine.
  4. The Shrine could simply drop its century-long requirement that membership as a Freemason is a prerequisite to being a Shriner.
If anyone sees some resolution to this situation beyond these four choices, they are welcome to mention it in the Comments. For my part, I think that these choices are all we've got.

My preference: Door Number Four. Yes, some people would leave the Shrine without its Masonic connection, but those individuals would leave under Choice #3 anyway, and Choices #1 and #2 are simply not going to be taken. Yes, some brethren would probably leave their Lodges to be free of the burden of their lodge dues while they continue in the Shrine, but these individuals are only making a token contribution to their lodges anyway. Masons would be free to be Shriners, the same way that they are free to also be members of the Lions Club or Rotary. And one more unproductive point of controversy within Freemasonry will have been resolved, once and for all.

Copyright 2012 Mark Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and circulate this content, with full attribution of the author, in non-commercial contexts only.


  1. 1) I don't see why Shriners have to be Masons. 2) I don't see why Shriners have to be men. Of my Shrine dues, only one sixteenth goes to the hospitals, and my local Shrine hospital gets most of its money from private sources outside the Fraternity.

    Back when the Shrine required either 32° or KT for membership, in a scramble for new Nobles, the Shrine pushed the AASR (and the York Rite less successfullly) for one-day-classes. This was wrong, and this streamlined haute-grade Masonry is not helping haute-grade Masonry, even after the Shrine dropped the requirement.

    I think in the 21st century, the Shriners will either drop the Masonic requirement and become like the Woodmen of the World (all philanthropy, no fraternity), or it will drop the Masonic requirement and become co-ed, or it will fold. In its current trajectory, it will fold. My Shrine temple struggles with membership, and I would imagine that most of them do. They can't afford to keep going the way they are going.

  2. This is fascinating to watch. Nobody has apparently told them they should be embarrassed by their own actions. Utterly fascinating.

    1. Bro. Rev. Adam C. CollinsDecember 28, 2012 at 8:26 AM

      Indeed...bickering as school-boys would....

  3. There is a fifth sokution; the proper one: everyone meet the obligations they took at the altars of Freemasonry. It's really as simple as that. The right thing isn't always the easiest thing - it is always the right thing! Prayer is also supposed to be of the equation for us as Masons also right? John Wesley Pearson, PM & Shriner.


  4. Office Of
    Alan W. Madsen
    Imperial Potentate

    18410 Balmore Pines Lane
    Cornelius, North Carolina 28031

    Oasis Shriners
    Charlotte, North Carolina

    An Important Message from the Imperial Potentate Regarding Our Masonic Relationships in Arkansas

    November 2012

    Dear Fellow Nobles,

    By now most of you have heard that my predecessor in office certified to all Shriners that the Grand Master of Masons in Arkansas took action several months ago designed to suppress or proscribe the operation of the two Shrine temples in his state. The result of the action of the Grand Master has caused considerable harm to these two temples and their members.

    From the moment of my becoming Imperial Potentate of Shriners International on July 5, 2012, I have labored strenuously to find a resolution to the issues that have arisen between the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and Shriners International. We promised many Grand Lodges and fraternal leaders that the Shrine would take the initiative and travel to Arkansas and meet with the Grand Lodge officers. We gave this matter priority over all our other responsibilities and obligations.

    As most of you are aware, Shriners International has been in amity with all Grand Lodges for more than 140 years. Sure, there have been occasions when there were bumps in the road and brotherly dialogue was necessary. Yet, each time the bumps surfaced, both sides were able to sit down together in a spirit of goodwill and brotherly affection and smooth them out.

    Keeping this in mind, we made two trips to the Arkansas Grand Lodge, July 30-31 and September 17-18, 2012. We went with an open mind. We sought reconciliation. We expected each side to have respect for the other and to be constructive at our meetings. Unfortunately, this never happened. We were bluntly informed that, in Arkansas, Shriners International will be governed by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas; and that Shriners International will conduct its governance and activities in accordance with the directives of the Grand Master. When we attempted to explain that the Shrine, in the conduct of Shrine matters, must be governed by its own articles of incorporation and bylaws, we were told by a Past Grand Master in attendance (please excuse the language) that I was a “smart ass.” Then, we were told “Shrine and Masonry need to separate.” The dialogue never got any better.

    On September 18, 2012, a Masonic Agreement was drafted and given to me. I took it with me and later discussed it with the other international officers and our counsel. After the discussion it was clear to me and the other international officers that signing the “Masonic Agreement” would violate the very sovereignty of Shriners International. Please understand that the powers of an Imperial Potentate are not nearly as extensive and encompassing as the power of most Grand Masters.

    Though we have labored through this fraternal year with heavy hearts, we have never failed to meet our brothers in in manner other than peace and amity.

    Please be assured that you and I, working together, will continue our world-wide benevolence for those in need, especially for children who cannot help themselves. All Shriners, hand in hand, will continue to operate the world’s greatest philanthropy – Shriners Hospitals for Children.

    We will never waver in our mission of offering a helping hand when called upon to do so.

    Yours in the Faith,

    Alan W. Madsen
    Imperial Potentate, Shriners International

  5. My thanks to all of you for your comments.

    @47th Problem: You make some very reasonable points. My guess is that making the Shrine co-ed would change the group dynamics so much that the Shrine would become unrecognizable, but that is just my view. This is the first time I have heard that the Shrine influenced the high-degree organizations back in the day; is there a reference anywhere on this? Or could someone else speak to the history of this matter?

    1. The Elks is coed and as a result it has grown. It is high time all Masonic organizations come in to the 21st century. One thing that would help the SHrine is do away with the childish portion on its initiation and cut back even more on the Islamic overtones. For example, just prior to joining the Shrine a sign over the the social hall door said mosque and it made me wonder if I should back out. That sign was removed years ago. Shrine temples are now centers and the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine is now Shriners International. These are steps in the right direction. What has the blue lodge community done? A simple answer is almost nothing to come into conformity with the times we now live in and continue to decline.

  6. @EC Ballard and Adam C. Collins: I hear you.

    @John Wesley Pearson: SMIB.

    @Louis Gross, and others who have raised the Arkansas matter with me privately: When this was just a matter between the GL of AR and the Shrine, I kept my peace on the matter. However, the Dec. 20 letter from Shriners International changes the stakes altogether. Now it is an issue that involves all Grand Lodges. The Arkansas matter is now really besides the issue.

  7. One other possible, but unlikely solution is associate or limited membership. Men (maybe even woman) becoming Shriners with not Masonic experience or membership required, however retaining Masonic membership for the Divan or elected offices....but I say screw it, lets separate the two and be done with it. I've posted my opinion on length at my blog if you are interested.

  8. The Shrine International could change its bylaws, in such a way as to submit itself to the authority of a Grand Lodge within that Grand Lodge's jurisdiction. However, given this letter from the Imperial Potentate, I do not think the requisite change in the Shrine's attitude is at all likely to occur.

    So, which GLs laws should the Shrine submit to?

    If a Brother from Florida is expelled because he is a Gnostic, and he is a member of another GL which does not have the same attitude as FL does regarding religion, which law is the Shrine to uphold?

  9. Wouldn't an even simpler option be for the Shrine to empower the Imperial Potentate to expel members who have been expelled by their Grand Lodges? If the sole basis of Imperial Potentate Madsen's argument for why he DOESN'T expel Shriners who have been expelled as Masons is that he doesn't have the authority to do so, then why don't they simply give him that power at the next Imperial session?

  10. Hey, Michael B. Dodge - what about situations in which the Brother has been expelled from one GL, but ANOTHER GL has refused to expel him?

    That's why the Shrine adopted this change to section 323.8 of their laws back in 1978: so that a man expelled from a prerequisite body to the Shrine would get due process in the Shrine as well.

  11. Based on this ongoing, ridiculous argument, I personally (and know of many others in our area) are losing interest "Fast". So much for the "Brotherly Love".
    Good Luck All

  12. Here's a thought. Join the organization or don't join the organization. If you're not a member of the organization, then you can't tell the members of that organization how it defines membership. Despite the fantasies of those who have issues with the Shrine, it will not drop it's Masonic membership requirement. Grand Lodges that require their members to disassociate over something so petty and foolish are being very short sighted are not acting to advance the fraternity.

    This needs to be seen for what it is - an adolescent penis measuring contest. FlyHigh has summed it up best. So much for brotherly love.

  13. LeRoy Kalbfliesh IIIFebruary 4, 2013 at 8:43 PM

    As a Past Master, Scottish Rite, and Shrine Member I personally feel that the letter from the Imperial Potentate is out of order. Every Mason who has taken the oath of the degrees should always be obligated to masonry first. We all know that the Shrine is the fun side of masonry and to reject its laws is a slap in the face and hypocritical to your oath. I have copied a couple of lines from a previous brother that I think sum it up to a "T".
    "There is a fifth solution; the proper one: everyone meet the obligations they took at the altars of Freemasonry. It's really as simple as that. The right thing isn't always the easiest thing - it is always the right thing!"

    1. Even if the decree from the GL is wrong?

    2. It's not "as simple as that" at all. When a Grand Master becomes a tyrant, expelling members because of a personal animosity and denying them a fair Masonic trial, he has violated HIS OWN obligation to those who put him in the East to begin with. There is no obligation to abide by his arbitrary and tyrannical decrees, because he has nullified that obligation with his own misconduct.

  14. When I became a Mason, I took an oath to stand by my brothers; if a disagreement came about, we were to talk it out between brothers; as brothers. I never went for any more degrees because I didn't think I could do what a Master Mason was expected to do for his community and fellow man. It seems to me that if a man was a Master Mason and decided to go into more organizations, he was still obligated to support his Mother Lodge. If he could not do this, he needed to 'cut-back' on the 'other organizations. I felt the local lodge was the basis for learning, serving, and spreading brotherly love. I don't think the 'higher' degrees should be the main purpose for being in Masonry. If you can't do what you need to do as a Master Mason, you shouldn't participate in other groups. In other words, you became a Master Mason first, then Shriner, or whatever. If you aren't a Masom, you shouldn't be a Shriner, a York Rite, or any other 'group member'

  15. Brothers,First I would ask all of you to investigate the entire actions of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas regarding the matter. There is a tramendous amount of misinformation going around. I sit on standing committees and have been privy to the facts. It was in my opinion a purely political and a personal vendeta. When the Brother was expelled (without trial) in Arkansas the Shrine couldn't expell him since he was still a member in good standing in his Lodge in the Grand Lodge of Iowa. So really the "beef" should have been between the Grand Lodge of Arkansas and the Grand Lodge of Iowa. Since Iowa refused to expell him the Grand Master of Arkansas attacked the Shrine since two Temples are located within his juristiction. I'm not saying the Shrine or Masonry is "Perfect" and in the history of the world only one man has been able to "walk on water", so step back and lets see what we can work out. If both organizations must move forward alone then let us part as friends where our members can enjoy the benifits of both organizations.

  16. It's unfortunate that some Grand Masters would prefer to pick a fight with their Brothers rather than do something positive for Freemasonry. This is an example of the dumbing-down of the intellectual level of leadership that has plagued our Fraternity for far too many years. And then we wonder why our membership is dwindling.
    Dean Osborn
    Past Grand Master

  17. M.W. Osborn, with all due respect you are less than factually accurate in you assessment. The “fight” as you put it is an effort on behalf of Shriners International to separate. M.W. would you allow expelled masons to attend masonic meetings when you were Grand Master? I agree when we elect Masons to preside who have no knowledge about our Fraternity to go from the third degree to the elected line of an Appendant Masonic Body the intellectual level of that Officer deprives our beloved Fraternity. Today we are electing Masons to positions of leadership who could not have received a petition 20 years ago. I believe it time we concentrate on the book in the center of our Blue Lodges and remember our Masonic Obligations. It is unmasonic to sit with expelled masons in every jurisdiction I am familiar with; does anybody know a jurisdiction who can have Fraternal relations with expelled mason? No masonic obligation supersedes our Master Mason Obligation.
    Jay Adam Pearson
    Grand Master of Masons in South Carolina

  18. As usual, no one in a GL office wants to answer the questions regarding men who are Masons in different jurisdictions. And they especially don't want to answer that question in light of how current GL actions against the Shrine would get invoke in the Florida situation.

    The wagons are being circled, more and more.

  19. There are many active Virginia Masons that are also very active Shriners. Therefore, I take exception to the remark that Shriners who would leave the blue lodge are not very active anyway. As a Virginia Mason I have more times than I care to remember been criticized or looked down on at the blue lodge level for being a Shriner. However, I have yet to hear any Shriner ever criticize or condemn the blue lodge. The Shrine has been and continues to be the front door into Masonry for many. I happen to be one of them. My particular Shrine center has many in its fold that are currently active blue lodge officers as I currently am, many who are past masters, and three past grand masters. This Arkansas business is as childish as it is grossly un-Masonic.

  20. When I moved to Little Rock in 2003 the Grand Lodge of Arkansas had 20,791 members. As of 2011 it had shrunk to 12,005. The GL doesn't even seem to be aware that there might be a problem and has no membership ideas or renewal programs. My guess is that by the year 2023, the Shrine will not have a problem with Grand Lodge of Arkansas--because it won't exist anymore.

  21. Dear Brother Burtt,

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.

    We can, and we must, do outstanding work to address the membership issue throughout American Freemasonry. Over the next several months, I plan to publish an updated version of some thoughts I put to paper some time ago, a paper wherein I made some solid and doable suggestions to change the current (highly unacceptable) situation. I shall announce it on this blog when it is ready.

    In the meantime, let me suggest to you and all of our brethren: How "out" are we about our Freemasonry? To our family and close friends, especially?

    Birds of a feather flock together, brethren. Let's keep that in mind when we ponder the future survival of Freemasonry.

  22. I would very much like to be shriner in Brazil, but had to give up. Unfortunately the Shriners here, are starting by the tail of the dog. Without know are being used. That Freemasonry is not in good stanting nor in Brazil. Very Sad. In Brazil we have three obediences. But recognized, I say, in good standing with the American Grand Lodges, only two - Grand Orient of Brazil and The Brazilian Grand Lodges. Unfortunately shriners began in the wrong way.

  23. If a Shriner is a Mason and Shriner's International dropped the requirement of being a Mason to belong that doesn't mean the Masons would drop their memberships. Or that we would quit recruiting Masons as members. But would sure stop the Grand Masters from dictating to the Shriner's International. Most of the time the Grand Masters speak on their behalf not on the behalf of Masons. That might be were the problems start.

    1. Anonymous, I have spoken with Masons who have told me flat out that they would drop their Shrine membership if the Shrine dropped the Masonic membership requirement. I have no survey data on this issue (although that would be a great survey to do). My sense is that this would not be a huge proportion of the Shrine, although we have no way of knowing without a survey.

      Thank you very much for commenting on this post.

  24. Dave, Boston, MAMay 28, 2013 at 2:25 PM

    If we want to have an honest, productive discussion about this "tension" between the Shrine and Freemasonry, we need to be truthful about what has led to this.

    If a Master Mason and Shriner was found to have committed conduct unbecoming a Mason (by committing a felony, for example) and was suspended or expelled by his Grand Lodge, typically the Shrine would take the same action against him for the same reasons: we don't want to associate with bad people who do bad things. If a Master Mason is suspended or expelled for good cause, the Shrine won't even have to be asked to follow suit...they'll do it on their own.

    The real problem is that in some jurisdictions, Grand Masters have become tyrants that use suspension and expulsion to silence legitimate dissent and to punish individual Masons for actions they simply don't agree with. In some jurisdictions, Past Grand Masters have been expelled by their successors for the bogus "crime" of merely socializing (in a non-Masonic capacity) with members of Grand Lodges they don't have fraternal relations with. Often these actions are taken without even the benefit of a trial, or when a Masonic trial is granted the outcome is pre-determined, making it a kangaroo court. When a Master Mason is suspended or expelled for unfair reasons, it puts appendant and concordant bodies in an uncomfortable position. Do they follow suit and expel the same person simply because their status as an appendant body obligates them to? Or should they take a stand against it?

    1. Amen Brother. I was expelled for merely selling onions to help raise funds for my shrine center. They said I was guilty of un-masonic conduct because the Grand Master (Tyrant) proclaimed the Shrine International clandestine. He also expelled members for transporting children to our hospitals. As of today the Shrine International body voted to separate in Arkansas.

    2. Am I missing something here, i.e., what was that Mason expelled by the GM? I know some will not care what and just say it's proper because the GM is all knowing and fair to all. But most of us know that just isn't true. Problems as this have come along in the past involving quite simple matters and they were handled. What's new here?

  25. Dave said it best. In order to be a Shriner, you have to be a Freemason. I think there is something more to this. Those members of that temple are doing how they want to. Wow, this is an issue!!! Question? Does the International Shrine coexist outside of freemasonry? If no, there is the answer.

  26. Perhaps it is time for Arkansas to have a new slate of Grand Lodge officers. Self-righteous indignation, greed, pettiness and legalism within the Masonic Fraternity can only serve to destroy the intent of the order to elevate mankind as a brotherhood of men under the fatherhood of our Grand Architect. Jesus entered this world as Savior because man lost obedience to the WILL of God. Don't expect a Messiah to do the same for Blue Lodge Masonry or the Shrine if it's supposed adherents cannot rise above that side of man that should never be allowed to darken the halls of either. - Rolfe Reynolds, PM. Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, F. & A. M.

  27. well gentlemen ive tried to stay abreast of the conflict between the Grand Lodges and Shriners International my opinion is the Shrine has forgotten where it came from if it werent for free masonry the Shrine wouldnt exist or the other appendant bodies The Shirne does great work but as some have said in their bloggs its gotten away from what it was started for THE CHILDREN the best thing we can do as BROTHERS is forgive and move on Here in my Masonic Distirict in SC we are working on some things for member ship EDUCATION there has been alot of things let fall by the wayside in Masonry and the Shirne most of it is the Quality of men we are allowing in to our beloved fraterity and the other is educating the men as they come in and threw their Degree work i have decided as the DDGM in my district to pick where others have left off and get our Masonic Education system back up to tip top shape i feel this will have a great impact on MASONRY here in the 14th District in SC IM VERY PROUD TO BE A MASON IN SC so evryone lets swallow our PRIDE and set to work doing whats best for CRAFT AS A WHOLE arguning a pissing contest isnt it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  28. 1st speaking without sides and truly believing in Both organizations I would like to submit my personal understanding of the issues here. 1. What are the by-laws requirements at Blue Lodge level to ensure that suspension/expulsion are duly administered? Is there an appeals process in place that could preclude a " kangaroo court"? 2. Why even indulge in multiple memberships in Blue Lodge, appears the problem never would have arose had there only been one Blue Lodge membership, in which case once all appeals from the Blue Lodge were expired the Rite Bodies as well as the Shrine would have had to acknowledge the expulsion.


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