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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Shrine could simply drop its century-long requirement that membership as a Freemason is a prerequisite to being a Shriner.
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.