Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
I am struck by the very first words of the Constitution of the Sovereign Grand Lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. That Constitution, in Article I, Section 1, reads as follows:
“The purposes of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows are to promote the principles of Odd Fellowship throughout the world and seek to improve and elevate the character of man.”
These are noble words, and certainly express a sentiment that every Odd Fellows can and should support.
So, with that as the guiding principle of Odd Fellowship, why is Odd Fellows NOT yet truly a worldwide organization? The Code of General Laws, the 1984 Albuquerque Compact, and the website of Sovereign Grand Lodge are replete with references to “international” and “worldwide”. And yet, after centuries of existence, membership in Odd Fellowship is generally concentrated in and confined to England (where it originated), some parts of northern Europe, North America and Australia. There is a relatively small presence in other parts of the world such as South America (there is a Lodge in Cuba, Chile and Mexico), Africa (there are three Lodges on the entire continent) and Asia (there is a strong presence in the Philippines – but nowhere else in all of Asia). Odd Fellowship started in England, yet countries of the world that have been heavily influenced, for decades, by English culture (India, Pakistan, and Kenya for example) have no IOOF presence. There are about 200 nations in the world, yet Odd Fellowship exists in less than 30 of them.
There is a disconnect here. On the one hand, we have the principles and goals of Odd Fellowship to be international and worldwide seeking to improve and elevate the character of man. Yet on the other hand, we have huge swaths of our planet where “Odd Fellowship” is non-existent. Why are there no Lodges in France, Spain, or Italy? Why are there no Lodges in Egypt, Jordan, or Lebanon? Why are there no Lodges in India or Pakistan? Why are there no Lodges in Greece, or Armenia or Turkey? Why are there no Lodges in Japan, Korea or Taiwan?
I have given this issue a considerable amount of thought, and I am convinced that there is not just ONE reason for the dichotomy. That said, I am also convinced that a major factor for the failure of Odd Fellowship to exist in most of the world boils down to our ritual. Simply put: We have failed to ensure that our ritual is non-sectarian. Odd Fellowship, is after all, supposed to be non-sectarian. We are not supposed to elevate or favor one faith over another. Yet it is obvious that the ritual of our Order is heavily based in the Old Testament – which underlies the Christian and Jewish faiths. If a person is of a different faith – say, a believer in Islam, or Hinduism, or Confucianism – the ritual of Odd Fellowship may be uncomfortable, at best. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the other person for a moment. If you are a Christian, but the ritual of Odd Fellowship were grounded in, say the Quran or the Vedas, would you be comfortable? The great truths expressed in our ritual are universal. Accordingly, there is no valid reason that our ritual should be so sectarian, to the exclusion of other beliefs. The downside for Odd Fellowship is that we have essentially turned our backs on the majority of the world’s population. That seems particularly short-sighted, and remarkably ironic for an Order that professes to be worldwide. Nowhere in our laws does it state that we only seek to elevate the character of Christians and Jews. On the contrary, the laws of our Order state that we seek to elevate the character of ALL mankind.
For Odd Fellowship to truly become an international organization with a worldwide reach, we must become truly non-sectarian. And that begins with a serious reform of our ritual. Odd Fellowship should be a place of peace and comfort for all good men and women, regardless of faith or belief. Then, finally, can we elevate the character of all mankind in peace and justice.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California