A visit to the website of the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows at www.ioof.org is enlightening and inspiring. We see words such as “international”, “worldwide”, and “universal”. We read about our powerful fraternal purposes including: “To promote good will and harmony amongst peoples and nations through the principle of universal fraternity, holding the belief that all men and women regardless of race, nationality, religion, social status, rank and station are brothers and sisters.” We are told that within the Order’s “non-discrimination policy: “The I.O.O.F. will not exclude any individual based on disability, age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or other social identity . . . .”
These are principles around which every Odd Fellow can and should rally. They make us proud to be members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Yet, sad to say, the reality is not exactly synchronized to the ideal espoused on our sovereign website. The questions must be asked. Does this Order discriminate on the basis of religion? And has this Order systematically refused to become truly international?
Because Odd Fellows value truth as the cardinal principle, let’s drill down to that truth.
Members are required to believe in “a Supreme Being, the creator and preserver of the Universe”. Lodges are required to maintain a copy of the “Holy Bible” in the Lodge room during meetings. The ritual of the Order is replete with references and stories springing from the Jewish and Christian religions. For the vast majority of people who live in North America, this is perfectly comfortable and fine. But what about the rest of the people in North America who are not Jewish or Christian, and what about the rest of the people on our planet? There are over one billion people who ascribe to Hinduism. This is not a monotheistic faith. Another half billion practice Buddhism. Again, this is not a faith that has a Supreme Being. The same is true for those who practice Confucianism, Taoism, Jainism, and Zoroastrianism.
How can a member of these faiths take the oath that they believe in “a Supreme Being”? How can they be comfortable when the Holy Bible is maintained in the Lodge room, and their books of faith are not? And beyond this, certainly those who believe in Islam or who are Jewish ascribe to a “Supreme Being”, but how comfortable is the Moslem or the Jew with the ritual of the Order which is heavily Christian-based?
How is this not discrimination based on religion?
These are uncomfortable questions, but they are vital to the future of our Order. If we truly ascribe to be a worldwide fraternal order fostering friendship, love, truth, faith, hope, charity and universal justice for all – then we must think through what we say and what we do. Have you ever wondered why Odd Fellowship only exists in 30 countries when there are almost 200 countries on this planet?
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California