Friday, April 09, 2010

Searching for light in the Arkansas night

The following article is by Bro. Derek Gordon, who is currently awaiting Masonic trial by the Grand Lodge of Arkansas, for purported but unspecified "unmasonic conduct."

The Story of my Search for Light

This is an ongoing, growing effort to provide the history of the a problem in Arkansas.

by Brother Derek Gordon
Last updated April 8, 2010


I became a Master Mason in March, 2008. It took me four days to memorize all of the necessary material to return the Fellowcraft work perfectly, no errors. A week later, I was a Master. In May, 2008 I was sent away on military orders. I returned in October, 2008 and began to get involved with the lodge as much as possible. I was nominated, and accepted, for the position of Secretary.

Due to problems with the previous Secretary, I took over a month early. It was a real mess. Documents weren’t properly kept, money seemed to have gone missing before being given to the treasurer, and what not. I made it my personal quest to sort through and rebuild the lodge’s documentation. After completing my review, I reported to the lodge a list of recommendations. In March, 2009 the recommendations were accepted. One of those recommendations was to build a website.

The website was built in May 2009. In determining the content, I looked at other Arkansas lodge websites linked to on the Arkansas Grand Lodge website. I found that each website listed lodge information and history; but, there was also information regarding the degrees and historical lectures. Some Masonic information was taken from the Grand Lodge of Arkansas’ website as well. Seeing it on several sites that the Grand Lodge personally linked to, and in my opinion gave acceptance via precedent, I decided to post the same information on SebastianLodge.com.

The website was a great success. Being a hobby software developer, I knew how to write scripts to get the website listed on many websites and search engines. We ended up having over 20,000 visits before it was forcibly taken offline. The website became fully active in early July, 2009 after informing the Grand Secretary of it and requesting a link be made to it from the Grand Lodge website. The website met no objections until the license plate fiasco. The link request never came through. No discussion of the website came forward. The other websites continued operation. At the time our lodge lost its charter and I was given a notice of trial for expulsion, all websites remained online except for two that seemingly neglected to pay their bills.

For personal and Masonic reasons, I requested a letter of good standing so that I could enter into Masonic communications in Latin American countries. My request was first made in late September, 2009. The Grand Secretary was very reluctant on being helpful; however, on November 17th, 2009 a letter was finally mailed. It came too late for the trip it was needed for. As numerous brethren know, I decided to do a Masonic good deed in the name of Masonry of Arkansas. At least 350 children freeze to death every year in the Andean region. I decided to develop a network with Masons in Latin America to have coats made and handed out to the young children in a humanitarian effort. That was the sole purpose for obtaining the letter. And, with my upcoming expulsion, the Masonic good deed must be carried on by a good-standing Mason. I doubt the Grand Lodge of Arkansas wants to take on noble causes as that.

In late October, 2009 it became apparent that Sebastian Lodge was heading for the red financially because of financial losses in the recession. The timeline for the end of the savings account was less than four years away. A decision was made to move to another location which would save approximately $3,000 annually, creating a surplus in our budget. However, the Grand Secretary wasn’t too keen on supporting the maneuver and desired the lodge to dissolve or merge. I didn’t like his attitude of telling me that it wouldn’t happen because there was no legitimate reason to withhold support of this Masonic Endeavour. The Digest rules made it acceptable.

Needless to say, I stuck to my guns. I wrote a strong letter to, then, Grand Master Ronald Hedge regarding the need to move to another location stating the financial crisis and that the lodge had taken a loss in its annual income from the perpetual membership. The annual payments are controlled by Grand Lodge. As I understood it, the Grand Lodge had increased its withholdings from the perpetual interest to maintain its own operations. He responded in a very protective manner, as was expected. However, after much discussion about Masonic good and the like, Hedge granted dispensation and the move happened as of January 1st, 2010.

Upon the mailing the Dispensation to move the lodge’s meeting place, Ronald Hedge phoned me to discuss the issue. He read my letter intently and made sure to defend the actions of Grand Lodge as a necessary move to keep Masonry alive. I outlined that I understood the reasons and had no quarrels with it. However, I wanted him to understand that the financial crisis has taken its toll on lodges; a loss in extra income expected from the perpetual membership interest required that we move. In the end, everyone seemed to be fine. For the time being!

A couple of weeks prior to Grand Lodge 2010, Ronald Hedge sent his last mass mailing to the Secretaries of the Subordinate Lodges. I opened and read it at our February 1st, 2010 stated meeting. It outlined that Prince Hall’s are clandestine and that all lodges were to notify members that they were prohibited from buying Arkansas Masonic License Plates. The letter was poorly written and bled with what seemed to be racial undertones. Our lodge decided to post on the website the basic points and I added a personal note that the lodge didn’t condone the letter. I tried to play a politically-correct position for the lodge because we did not believe in what the letter stood for and did not want to be in a position to look as if we did. The post was made on around February 3rd, 2010.

After the election of the new Grand Master, I sent a petition for reinstatement of a brother who left Masonry in 2006. He left because his pastor declared that if the brother stayed in Masonry, he would not be allowed to participate in his congregation. I sought to resolve the issue promptly to welcome the brother back into our ranks. The secretary for the Grand Secretary explained to me that the petition need not be filled out entirely since it was for reinstatement. I took him for his word and didn’t stress the petition since we had the original from around 1987.

The new and current Grand Master, Martin “Gene” Warren, phoned me on March 10th, 2010. He informed me that the petition was wrong and that we needed to comply with some new digest directives. I said allright and that I would take care of it at the April stated communication. But, I did reiterate the point that the Grand Lodge feeds misinformation and there should be uniformity on these operations. He and I discussed many issues that are going to bring problems to Arkansas Masonry.

I brought up the Arkansas license plate letter and how racially-charged the letter came across. He told me that he understood and that it was a problem everywhere. He said it was all over the internet and causing Grand Lodge grief. I asked him what the lodge should do; he said that he knows lodges have to do things to protect their members and he understood I must do what was necessary.

Further, I suggested that we need to create a committee to open discussion with the Prince Hall Masons of Arkansas. He informed me that the Prince Hall people had no desire to be involved with “us” and that it would “ten years at least” before any communication would begin. I recall being told that the he (the Grand Master) has “a black friend at work” who is a Mason. But, the Grand Master doesn’t speak to him about Masonry.

On Wednesday, March 17th, 2010 I was in an airport flying to Peru. I received a call from our Worshipful Master informing me that the Grand Master has summoned us to a meeting on March 19th, 2010 and that I was required to attend with all lodge records. I said I couldn’t be there and the Worshipful Master said that most of our lodge members couldn’t attend with such short notice. We attempted to change the time but the Grand Master refused to do so. I left messages with his wife and the Grand Secretary informing them of my situation. They never returned a single call.

On Saturday, March 20th, 2010 I noticed a message from the Worshipful Master. He said the Grand Master spoke the “politically correct” language in assuring him that what was going on was “for the good of Masonry.” What was that you might wonder? The Grand Master demanded the charter of the lodge at the end of the meeting. This took everyone by surprise. We were led to believe it was just a general visit sit a Grand Master has not visited our lodge in several years. The Grand Master ordered the WM to notify me to remove the website immediately.

Rumors started circulating that I was to be expelled. No person at the Grand Lodge would return my phone calls. I called the Grand Master at home on March 24th, 2010. His wife answered; and when she heard my name, she got very quiet and her voice became shaky. This reaction told me that the rumors were true and that I would not receive an ounce of fairness and that my dignity would be wiped away.

Upon receiving the letter of expulsion, I had no further information was to what the real reason was. All it stated was for un-Masonic conduct in the “purchase, sell, or use of” Masonic ritual ciphers. Here I must note that the letter was not sent to me. The lodge treasurer received it (on March 25th 2010 approximately) and directed it to the Worshipful Master (WM). Then, the WM forwarded it to me. I received a copy on March 27th, 2010. The WM read it to me over the phone so that I would have an understanding quickly. Originally, various sources told me that the action was related to the website and license plate issue. Again, I reiterate that all website information came from other Arkansas lodges and the Arkansas Grand Lodge itself. However, the racial issue grew as I explain ahead.

After over twenty attempts at reaching the Grand Master via telephone, he returned my phone call from a phone on SPEAKER on Saturday night at 9:50pm. He tried several times in a row; he left a hateful voicemail that the last call, which I answered, was going to be the last one and then “it’s over.” Upon answering, I explained I was out with friends and didn’t have my questions in front of me. I requested that he return my phone call sometime on Sunday. He demanded to know the questions and laughed at the idea I didn’t know them all by heart. I asked a few of the main questions; he refused to furnish answers.

I was told that the COMMISSION has many questions for me and that I better be at the trial. Should I not be able to attend, I “better send someone” in my place. I explained that I didn’t know the charges, evidence, or testimony against me. He remained silent. I told him that this was a very un-Masonic reaction and this was beneath that of a Grand Master. He said “good bye.” I can only imagine who else was listening on the other end; one would bet that it was the upcoming COMMISSION as backed up by background noise in the voicemail left.

On Monday, March 29th, 2010 the Grand Master informed the former Worshipful Master of Sebastian Lodge that the website was not entirely offline. The Grand Master said that the lodge failed to comply with his mandate. The WM immediately notified me to remove all information, namesakes representing Sebastian, and to shut down the website immediately. Sebastian Lodge’s website expired on April 3rd, 2010. Immediately, I moved the letter and other information to my personal website.

During a discussion, with several friends, on Tuesday March 30th, 2010, the real issue came to light…the only issue that the Grand Lodge could use against me that no other Arkansas Mason has admitted to doing. In a prior conservation with Grand Master Warren Martin (Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 at 8:23 PM), I spoke of attending lodges in which Black Masons participating. I openly shared that I shook their hands and had other Masonic ties with them. These I was and will be happy admit. Some of those lodges were in Oklahoma and Texas, others were overseas. Nevertheless, all of the lodges were mainstream lodges. I have not had the honor to visit a Prince Hall lodge, though I hope to in the future. In the end, I told Grand Master Warren that no Mason can force me never to recognize another Mason because of his race, religion, or origin. I know he wasn't pleased by that statement.

The sole accusation poised is based upon entry 4.0.61 in the digest. That states:
The... use of cipher rituals of the three Symbolic Degrees of Masonry is forbidden; and ANY Mason who shall hereafter... use anything purporting to be a cipher ritual or written, printed or otherwise delineated ritual or exposition of Masonry shall be expelled from Masonry.
After debating any method of breaking such a by-law aside from the apparent Arkansas license plate and website stance, I realized that I overlooked one of the most obvious arguments. I gave the Masonic handshake (and another common sign of brotherly affection) to well over twenty Black Masons. I have sat in lodge with at least thirty Black Masons. I have spoken and had Masonic discussions with a Prior Grand Master of a Prince Hall jurisdiction. I have long-running Masonic relations with several Black Masons who served with me in the United States Air Force. They are some of my dearest friends and brothers.

If this comes down to expulsion because I have admittedly supported and fraternized with Black Masons (Prince Hall Masons), then I deem it to be a worthwhile adventure. Let's take a historical journey: it has been well over 250 years since the United States was given its freedom from tyranny. The Civil War took place 150 years ago. Importantly for Arkansas' racial crises, it was 59 years ago that the 101st Airborne drooped into Little Rock, Arkansas to force integration of Central High School.

On April 5, 2010 at 12:02pm I finally had a chance to speak with the COMMISSIONER of my pending trial. He refused to answer any of my questions about the cause of action and told me to figure it out on my own. I requested documents to assist in understanding the charge and he refused to send them. In the end, he said that so long as I provide proof that I’m in the military and was at drill, the trial date would be changed. I quickly offered to send him my calendar to ensure that the dates would be acceptable to everyone without any risk of conflicts on my end. This was outright refused. The phone call was enlightening in regards that I will not write about at this point, but may choose to do so once the verdict has been passed down. As of April 8, 2010 the new trial date has not been established and I cannot determine what will come next.

One can say that the Grand Lodge has always appeared been hostile. From the get-go, everything was difficult. However, I did my best to follow the rules and tried to get clarification at times when it was needed. I find that the lack of brotherly love was always apparent and I have no doubt that many more Arkansas Masons, expelled or good standing, feel the same way. Unfortunately, many are afraid to stand up and demand the change necessary to continue mainstream Masonry in Arkansas.

— Bro. Derek Gordon

Image: Bro. Derek Gordon

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3 comments:

  1. Brother Gordon,
    I am pleased to call you brother and send you all of my support from the great state of Ohio!

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