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On 31 October 2016, the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma disseminated a letter to all Masonic grand lodges announcing the withdrawal of fraternal recognition of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. The primary reason for this action, as cited in the letter, is the “violation of the ancient landmarks, customs and usages of the Craft.” Specifically, the letter cites the Grand Lodge of Arkansas for its violation of the “right to due process in the administration of Masonic discipline,” and its refusal to issue Certificates of Good Standing for the purpose of transferring membership to a lodge outside of Arkansas. The letter was signed by Oklahoma Grand Master Dudley Ridge Smith.

The number of internal problems in the Grand Lodge of Arkansas have been mounting since 2010. On 25 January 2010, Arkansas Ronald Hedge issued a letter addressed to all lodge secretaries in Arkansas, explaining that the Arkansas State Revenue Department had created a generic “Freemason license plate.” The proceeds from the sale of these license plates would go to a charity sponsored by the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Arkansas. As a result, Grand Master Hedge issued a directive, contained in the letter, that “no member of a subordinate lodge under the jurisdiction of the M.W. Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Arkansas purchase the license plates.” He further directed lodge secretaries to read the letter at the next stated meeting of the lodge, and that lodges were to form telephone committees to call every member of each lodge about the matter.

Within the next two months, Derek Gordon, Secretary of Sebastian Lodge No. 706 at Fort Smith, was suspended from the fraternity, and the charter for Sebastian Lodge was subsequently revoked by the Grand Lodge. Apparently, Brother Gordon and several members of the lodge had requested to form a committee to investigate Prince Hall recognition by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas. His request was denied, and unspecified Masonic charges were filed against him. Brother Gordon’s Masonic trial was set for the weekend of 17 April 2010, when he had a conflict with his military obligations. During a phone call with the Grand Master, Gordon was informed that the trial date would not be rescheduled to accommodate his military service.

In the summer of 2010, the website for the Grand Lodge of Arkansas disappeared, and was replaced with an “under construction” notice. According to one report, the Grand Master at the time expressed little concern over the status of the Grand Lodge website, but said he would try to get it back up during his term of office. The Grand Lodge website remained down for two years.

The seeds of a dispute with the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma began as early as 2011. Grand Master Martin E. Warren informed Arkansas Masons that they were not to sit in a lodge in any other jurisdiction where Prince Hall Masonry was recognized until they had ascertained that there were no Prince Hall Masons present. This, of course, put Arkansas Masons in a very provincial position, as, on the face of it, this pronouncement would prevent Arkansas grand lodge officers from visiting other grand lodges where Prince Hall Masons are visiting. 52 of the 61 so-called “mainstream” grand lodges in the U.S. and Canada recognize their counterpart Prince Hall Grand Lodge, not to mention the grand lodges of Ireland, Scotland and England, and many others that recognize Prince Hall grand lodges. Presumably, it also prevents Arkansas Masons from sitting in the national meetings of the many affiliated and appendant bodies of Freemasonry. The Masonic world appears to have become a lot smaller for Arkansas Masons.

This was especially true for many Arkansas Masons who live near the Oklahoma border and enjoy visiting Oklahoma lodges and affiliated organizations. For many Arkansas Masons, the only solution became clear – simply transfer your membership out of state, or at least apply for plural membership in a lodge outside of Arkansas, where a member could simply abide by the Masonic law of his out-of-state grand lodge.

In 2012, as a result of a growing number of Arkansas Masons seeking to affiliate outside of Arkansas, the Arkansas Grand Secretary’s office began denying Certificates of Good Standing to Arkansas Masons who requested them for the purpose of affiliating with, or transferring to, lodges outside of Arkansas. These denials appear to have been aimed at Arkansas Masons attempting to affiliate with lodges in jurisdictions that recognize their Prince Hall counterparts, and a large number of these denials involved Masons wanting to affiliate with lodges in Oklahoma, where the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Oklahoma is recognized.

As matters worsened, more and more reports began to filter out of Arkansas about a large number of Masons suspended or expelled pending a trial. This prevented them from speaking with other Masons about the fraternity, and effectively prevented them from finding Masonic representation. According to some reports, special trial commissions appointed by the current grand master were set up to handle these trials, and in some cases the lawyer for the accused was not allowed to speak. These reports have not been confirmed, but there are enough of them that they cause a great deal of concern about what is going on in Arkansas.

Probably the greatest indication that all is not well in Arkansas are the reports of plummeting membership there, now 9,078* as of 2015, down from about 16,000 in 2010, and 26,000 in 2000. The one-year loss of members in Arkansas from 2014 to 2015 was 2,948* – a 24.5% loss, higher than any other grand lodge in North America. This loss includes demissions, suspensions and expulsions. The average membership loss in U.S. grand lodges over the same one-year period was only 4.1%.*  (* – Masonic Service Association membership figures.)

Earlier this year (2016), Arkansas Grand Master Billy Joe Holder, Jr., suspended Deputy Grand Master Patrick Carr for a period of 25 years, apparently without due process. He followed this up by suspending Past Grand Master Jarrod Adkisson for 30 years. The charges against these two men were not published. Then, in mid-August, Grand Senior Warden Aaron South was removed from office and suspended without being informed of the specifics of the charges against him. Reports coming out of Arkansas indicate that it was Grand Master Holder’s plan to have Grand Junior Warden Carl Nelson elected to the office of Grand Master in February 2017, effectively jumping over Grand Senior Warden Aaron South and Deputy Grand Master Patrick Carr. However, South seems to have objected, thereby necessitating his removal from office and subsequent suspension. I would add the caution that much of this is based on unsubstantiated reports, but the suspensions of DGM Carr and GSW South remain a fact.

Arkansas Masons are forbidden from communicating with suspended or expelled Masons about anything regarding the fraternity. This is a much narrower interpretation than is normally followed in other grand lodges, where only details of ritual and private lodge business may not be discussed with suspended or expelled Masons. But, this strict interpretation has recently taken an extreme turn, and now social media websites like Facebook and Twitter are being scrutinized by Arkansas grand lodge officials to see if members are commenting on the postings of suspended or expelled members. According to one report, this new policy was adopted by Grand Treasurer Ronald Hedge, the grand master who issued the now infamous license plate letter in early 2010. The Masonic code of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas now states:  “Any form of electronic communication pertaining to matters of Masonic business are prohibited when used as a forum to debate Masonic Law or issues and will subject the member to [charges of] un-Masonic conduct.”

Now comes the Oklahoma Grand Lodge’s suspension of recognition of the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, issued on the last day of October 2016. For additional information about the two Masonic principles cited in the letter issued by the Grand Lodge of Oklahoma (the right to transfer membership and the right to due process in the administration of Masonic discipline) see Mackey’s Jurisprudence of Freemasonry, specifically “The Right of Affiliation” (p. 134-ff) and “The Right of Appeal” (p. 165-ff). (Richmond, VA: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1927, 1980 edition.)

– Pete Normand

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If you belong to one of the more traditional Masonic lodges, you probably wear a tuxedo to meetings, if not the more formal white tie and tails. Among the reasons that many American Freemasons wear evening dress to lodge is that it places everyone “on the level.” The uniformity of dress afforded by this custom encourages everyone to identify the internal characteristics of the other members, rather than merely the external. When everyone dresses the same, no one can show off their expensive cowboy boots, or sterling silver Ranger belt buckle.

 

However, there is often a tendency, on the part of some, to try and destroy the uniformity by customizing their tuxedo. One of the more tasteless embellishments is the practice of wearing shirt studs that consist of the insignia or one organization or another. A row of Square and Compass studs, or Scottish Rite studs, only advertise one’s cluelessness about gentlemen’s evening wear.

 

Nothing says “rented tux” more than shirt studs. However, if you have pearl buttons on your shirt, it implies that you own your own shirt. The one man who looks better in a tuxedo than anyone else is Sean Connery. Watch the old James Bond movies, and you will find that he typically has white pearl buttons, and not shirt studs, on his tuxedo shirts.

 

One of the more common variations seen is the ill-advised choice of a wing collar, instead of the standard collar that should normally accompany a tuxedo. For those that are unaware of the history of men’s eveningwear, the wing collar is properly worn with the formal white tie and tails.

 

The tuxedo, invented in the late 1880s, became more popular in the early twentieth century. In the 1920s, the Prince of Wales invented the soft, pleated-front shirt that we now know as the tuxedo shirt. It has the standard collar, just like the shirt you wear to the office every day. If you have a shirt with a wing collar, save it for wear with a white tie and tails.

 

(Also, see Miss Manners at missmanners.com. Her most recent column addressed this very same issue.)

 

      This is an update on the Masonic situation in France. The following information was gleaned from the 2013 Annual Report of the Fraternal Relations Committee of the Grand Lodge of Texas, A.F. & A.M. The committee’s report, for the first time in well over twenty years, was not permitted to be delivered on the floor on the final day of the session, 7 December 2013. As a result, the approval of the report was voted without the members present knowing what was in it. Therefore, for the enlightenment of the Craft, the following report is provided here.

Since 2009, allegations of malfeasance and un-Masonic conduct have been leveled against Grand Master Francois Stifani of the Grande Loge Nationale Francaise (French National Grand Lodge, or G.L.N.F.). The ongoing allegations and conflict resulted in reports of suspensions and withdrawals of large numbers of members of G.L.N.F. lodges, and the removal of lodge charters without hearings and due process. The dispute carried into the civil courts, and was reported in French newspapers.

By early 2012, as many as twenty-eight grand lodges, including six in the U.S. and Canada, either withdrew recognition of, or suspended fraternal relations with, the G.L.N.F. In April 2012, disaffected members of the G.L.N.F. formed a new grand lodge under the name of the Grande Loge de l’Alliance Maconnique Francaise, (Grand Lodge of the French Masonic Alliance, or GL-AMF).

In June 2012, and then again in September 2012, two more new grand lodges were created in France, the Grande Loge Traditionelle de France (Traditional Grand Lodge of France, or GLTdF), and the Independent Grande Loge de France (Independent Grand Lodge of France, or IGLdF).

However, in September 2012, the G.L.N.F. elected a new grand master, Jean-Pierre Servel. And, in April 2013, Grand Master Servel removed Past Grand Master Stifani from Masonic membership.

In June 2013, four French grand lodges, not including the Grande Loge Nationale Francaise (GLNF), signed a treaty titled “The Masonic Confederation of France.” The four grand lodges that were signatories to this treaty include the three new grand lodges mentioned above (GL-AMF, GLTdF and IGLdF), as well as the old irregular and unrecognized Grande Loge de France (GLdF).

In the eyes of many, the inclusion of the GLdF in the treaty was a critical mistake on the part of the other three grand lodges. Several years ago, the GLdF solidified its status as an irregular grand lodge by creating lodges in England.

In September 2013, the Grande Loge Nationale Francaise published a letter, dated 17 September 2013, that included twenty-one pages of appendices detailing the causes of the recent crisis in the GLNF, the regularity of the GLNF, the state of Freemasonry in France today, and the organization of new grand lodges in France by its disaffected members, and a summary of the reform of the constitution and statutes of the GLNF. The new statutes will be submitted to the delegates of lodges at the next general assembly, planned for April 2014, for their approval.

Hopefully, this new constitution and the accompanying statutes will put safeguards, checks and balances in place that will prevent a repeat of the troubles experienced in the GLNF over the past few years.  –PN

Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae

The frontispiece to the second edition of

Athanasius Kircher’s Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae (1671)

seemed the appropriate illustration for a new beginning of

American Masonic Review.

The illustration depicts four sources of knowledge:

Sacred Authority, Reason, the Senses and Worldly Authority.