Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
A bill has been submitted to Sovereign Grand Lodge for consideration at their sessions this August, which if passed will create discord, disunity, and disharmony in our Lodges and in our Order. It will pit Brother and Sister against Brother and Sister. It will create Odd Fellowship’s own mini-version of an inquisition. It will lead to uncomfortable moments and awkward trials in Lodges, suspensions and expulsions of members of good character. It will, inevitably, lead to members leaving the Order in, unhappily, and will do nothing to stem and reverse our declining membership. It will cast us as a sectarian Order at the very time that most fraternal orders are moving toward secularism. This bill is toxic. And it is time for enlightened Brothers and Sisters to stand up and voice their opposition.
Odd Fellowship has important messages as we work toward the elevation of the character of all mankind. Our Order is meant to be a big tent, particularly as we seek to attract the new majority (the Millineal Generation) to our ranks. This proposed bill would relegate our Order to a side show. Discord will surely follow if a bill like this passes at Sovereign Grand Lodge sessions.
What does the proposed bill say?
The bill has been denominated as Bill No. 22 (2019). Sovereign Grand Lodge Representatives Hillberry and Adams of West Virginia and Minnesota presented the following Bill, which was referred to Legislation and State of the Order:
Title: A Bill to amend Chapter III, Sec. 1-B (page 111-1) of the Code of General Laws regarding adding of a second sub-section regarding the belief of a Supreme Being.
Be it enacted by the Sovereign Grand Lodge, I.O.O.F.
That Chapter III, Sec. 1-B of the Code of General Laws be amended as follows:
B. (2) Belief in the existence of a Supreme Being who is the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, is an integral requirement to hold membership in the Order. Atheism and Agnosticism, both of which are a denial, disbelief, or inability to believe with certainty in the existence of a Supreme Being as previously mentioned are both incompatible with membership in the Order.
(a) Loss of belief in the existence of a Supreme Being is sufficient cause for suspension or expulsion of a member who may be tried for such according to the Code of General Laws.
What is the problem presented by the proposed bill?
What does “inability to believe with certainty in the existence of a Supreme Being” really mean? This is a very subjective phrase. It’s not like asking, “Is the earth flat?” That question can be answered objectively with a certain “no”. (Although even this seemingly objective question has it’s detractors in the “Flat-Earthers” – whose adherents actually believe that the Earth is flat – in the face of all objective evidence to the contrary.) But, “believe with certainty” is pregnant with subjectivity and nuance. My “certainty” may be very different from your “certainty”. And who will judge this “certainty”? Other members of the Lodge will be placed in incredibly awkward positions. It is one thing to judge an accusation where a member has been charged with using profanity, yelling and being disruptive and disrespectful in the Lodge during a meeting; it is quite another thing to judge a member’s privately held conscience and belief system.
And where does this lead us? It leads us to accusations, charges and trials. Brother X will accuse Sister Y of not believing in a Supreme Being with certainty. And this will lead us to a trial in the Lodge with all the ugly trappings of charges and trials spelled out in the Code of General Laws, including potential involvement of attorneys. The trials will inevitably test the conscience of the accused member. We will be delving into the deepest, most private thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of members. And what will be the result? Quite possibly the accused member will be acquitted and then can you imagine the bad feelings and bad blood between accuser and accused? Or, possibly the accused member may be convicted and actually expelled from the Order; or suspended until the member “converts” to a belief “with certainty” (as this “certainty” is interpreted by other members).
Yet another red flag in this proposed bill is the “loss of belief” provision. Let us assume that Brother Z joined the Order as a Catholic, and strong believer in a Supreme Being, but then, over time, converted to Buddhism (where there is no Supreme Being) or Hinduism (where there are many gods, but no single Supreme Being). Do we now bring this person up on charges and put them in the docket in a trial? Holy Toledo! (Sorry, about that – Toledo was the main site of the Inquisition. Didn’t mean to go there.) If we charge members who have converted to a different religion or set of beliefs, can you imagine the law suits and litigation waiting for that Lodge and this Order? And didn’t all Lodges adopt an anti-discrimination provision in their By-laws which prevents discrimination based on religion? And here’s yet another example of the imbroglios that will be presented by this bill if adopted. What about the situation where Sister W joined the Order as a strong believer in a Supreme Being, but after 20 years as a faithful, active, involved member, she has (due to life’s twists and turns) experienced a loss in faith and is not so sure anymore? Per this proposed bill, Sister W is subject to an accusation presented by one disaffected or angry member, trial and expulsion (or suspension till she renews “certainty” in her faith).
Will this proposed bill cause turmoil?
Yes, it already has. Even though members are only just now learning about the bill, I have already received several emails from Brothers and Sisters absolutely aghast at the prospect of passage of the bill. One writer called it “preposterous”. Another said it would be a “regressive change.” A writer said that this legislation “will further anachronise the Odd Fellows and continue the downward trend of the organization’s relevance and value in the modern world.” I have even received an email from a member who has decided to resign her membership in the face of this “insanity” – she cannot she says, in good conscience, continue to pay dues which will be sent to Sovereign Grand Lodge.
Make no mistake – this is not an progressive vs. conservative issue. It is, at bottom, an issue of FLT. How much value do we place on friendship and love in our Lodge? Our Ritual talks about the Lodge as a place where “the world is shut out – you are separated from its cares and sistinctions, its dissensions and its vices.” The peace and trust of many of our Lodges will be unbalanced if such a bill were to pass.
What can members do about this proposed bill?
Ultimately, this bill will be voted on by the Representatives elected by each jurisdiction to Sovereign Grand Lodge. Many of these representatives come from jurisdictions with rather small numbers of Odd Fellows. For example, one of the two representatives touting this bill comes from the State of Minnesota with a population of dues-paying Odd Fellows numbering just under 300. (To put this in perspective, one single Lodge – my own Lodge of Davis, California #169 – has 308 members compared to the entire membership of Minnesota which has about the same number.)
But we are not powerless, even though California (with 4,200 members) is inadquately represented at Sovereign Grand Lodge, receiving essentially the same number of votes at Sovereign as does Minnesota (with 300 members). What can you do? You can write two letters – one addressed to the Sovereign Grand Secretary and one addressed to the Sovereign Grand Master, letting them know what you think about this bill and its potential effect on the Order and your Lodge. If you agree with me that this bill will lead to discord, disunity and disharmony in Lodges, ask them to make an effort to pull the bill. They can be reached at the following addresses:
Sovereign Grand Secretary Terry L Barrett
Sovereign Grand Lodge – IOOF
422 Trade Street
Winston-Salem, NC 27101-2830
Sovereign Grand Master E. Wesley Nelson
55 Bedridge Way NE
Calgary AB T3K 1M2
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California