Many years ago, I came across the official stance of the United Grand Lodge of England that cautioned their members while visiting other jurisdictions. While they certainly encouraged traveling, they expected their members not to actually sit in a lodge meeting or degree conferral with Masons they did not recognize, if possible. They observed that if a UGLE member found himself in a meeting with someone who he knew to be unrecognized by UGLE, he was to not make a fuss, but simply “tactfully withdraw.”
Other grand lodges make similar requests of their members, and some are more insistent about it than others. And there are plenty of other grand lodges that are just silent or laissez-faire on the subject and, on a practical basis, follow the “when in Rome” philosophy. Namely, if you are in someone else’s jurisdiction, who they let into their meetings is their business, so you should simply sit back and not make yourself a showboat by departing over it.
All of this brings me in a circular way to the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. It’s one of the stricter GLs that prohibits its members from sitting in, for instance, other jurisdictions’ annual communication sessions if there is, in particular, a Prince Hall Mason in attendance.
Because, you see, those guys are just plain easier to spot from across the room.
In a question and answer session in 2010, the Grand Master of Arkansas at that time, MW Martin “Gene” Warren, went so far as to say that Arkansas Masons were not to so much as sit in a lodge in any jurisdiction that recognizes Prince Hall Masonry, unless they first get up and address the lodge, or check with the Worshipful Master, just to be sure there are no Prince Hall Masons actually present in the room. So, they are not to simply be discrete and “tactfully withdraw” if they suspect a PHA member might be there. Arkansas Masons are expected to actually go into a foreign jurisdiction’s lodge where he is a guest, stand up and make a spectacle of himself – along with humiliating other brethren – and demand to know if any might be lurking in the room (presumably because any black Mason MUST be a Prince Hall member, along with the fact that white guys like Fred Milliken are PHA members too, and they could just be hiding in plain sight).
Ever since 2012 and the situation involving the Shrine (and even before), there have been Arkansas Masons who have looked outside of their borders for a safe haven for their membership. The ongoing Shrine saga has put brothers there in a particularly terrible dilemma, forcing them to choose between the Shrine or Masonry – membership in both is no longer permitted in Arkansas. So, nearby Oklahoma has been quietly allowing Arkansas Masons to affiliate or completely transfer their membership to Oklahoma lodges without actually residing there. I understand that Missouri and Texas have been doing this, as well.
Unfortunately, the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, MW Robert Jackson, has refused to issue many Arkansas Masons a “letter of good standing” for attempting to affiliate or move into some other U.S. jurisdictions – even if they completely relocate for business, family, or military commitments. But his particular concentration has been focussed on Oklahoma.
What’s the reason? Prince Hall recognition. While the policy is not officially written down or part of the Arkansas code, the de facto stance of the Grand Secretary’s office is that because Arkansas does not recognize PHA GLs and, say, Oklahoma does, then in the eyes of Grand Secretary Jackson at least, Oklahoma is therefore “clandestine.” As are apparently all of the 42 U.S. GL jurisdictions, UGLE, and any other regular, recognized jurisdictions that recognize PHA GLs.
Now, in Missouri a while back, Arkansas Masons simply were asked to retake their three degrees since their GL wouldn’t issue a letter of good standing. Other states are handling it differently. But several burning questions come to mind. At what point does an “unwritten rule” by a Grand Secretary become an official practice? And if Oklahoma and the rest of the GLs that have recognized PHA jurisdictions stick to their guns, shouldn’t the Grand Lodge of Arkansas act on its collective conscience and withdraw amity with them all?
But more to the point, if the GL of Arkansas is going to deny issuing proper transfer and affiliation documents to those jurisdictions over their own sovereign amity with PHA and/or the Shrine issue, perhaps the time has finally come for the rest of the world to pull up a chair and stick Arkansas in the Masonic corner for a while. When will Oklahoma come to the conclusion that enough is enough? Or Missouri, or Texas? Or frankly, the rest of the 42 US jurisdictions who have recognized our Prince Hall brethren?
I’m not usually a big one for squealing about yanking recognition of sovereign jurisdictions who are certainly free to follow any ill-considered internal policy they want as long as it doesn’t affect anyone else. But I think the time has finally come to call out Arkansas in particular for its practices that are disrupting the greater Masonic community outside of their own borders. If Arkansas wants to hold its breath until it turns blue over PHA, that’s their choice. But refusing to engage in the most basic proper protocol for membership transfers and affiliations, along with expecting their members to disrupt meetings in other jurisdictions just to sniff out sneaky PHA visitors, is just plain un-Masonic behavior. And they can cloak themselves in proclamations of sovereignty and Mackey’s jurisprudence book all they like. Most of the rest of the Masonic world tends to regard it the way Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart felt about pornography.
We know it when we see it.
Meanwhile, the Summonses continue to gush out of Little Rock with little sign of slowing.
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