Brotherhood, Relief, and Truth (yeah right, SC)
I thought for a while about whether or not to write a blog post about the recent events that occurred in South Carolina, seeing as how so many other news sites and pages have covered the topic most thoroughly. Without regurgitating the facts (at least as how we know them), I will try to at least explain why the recent events in the "Palmetto" State are a sign of the decay and pomp that has pervaded the institution of Masonry.
To get caught up on what happened in South Carolina Freemasonry, check out Brother Chris Hodapp's blog HERE about the incident. For the TLDR crew: the Past Grand Master of South Carolina, Most Worshipful Michael Smith, was suspended until further notice, or expelled from Freemasonry, for organizing an informal Zoom meeting and "How is everyone doing" session for some Scottish Rite brothers during the height of the pandemic. The current Grand Master of South Carolina issued an edict at the start of the pandemic that no Masonic gatherings would be held via any electronic media. To quote:
"As a reminder, no Lodge Hall is to be used during this time period," the notice read. "I have stopped several Lodge functions that Lodge members organized either through ZOOM Media, phone, or other venues. Brethren, as a reminder, it is a grave Masonic Offense, to conduct any irregular meeting or business during this time."
So Brother Mike held a Zoom meeting that included over a hundred South Carolina Masons to see how they were doing, how their families were, and the usual chit-chat. No Masonic business was conducted, other than the fact that the people in attendance were Masons, nothing "illegal" was done in the eyes of common sense and the general rules of grammar comprehension and second grade reading skills. Apparently, based on this judgment that was handed out, if you called a Brother in South Carolina to see if he was doing ok, or needed a loaf of bread, you will be expelled also.
I'm not going to rehash all the commentary that has been posted on websites and social media, go check out most of the popular groups like The Winding Stairs Freemasonry Group and the Rocky Mountain Mason for the general back and forth that is abuzz in social media land. Apparently, South Carolina can't have Facebook pages and shit on social media, so all the worthwhile comments won't be read by anyone in authority.
Why is this a big deal? The first point is that Brother Mike (yes, I will still call him that because what happened to him is a travesty and a blemish on the concepts of honor and gentlemanliness) is an all-around good man, and a great Mason. He has a notable Masonic career and has been a pillar of Masonic values for decades.
So he met online via Zoom with some Brothers to check-in; he didn't conduct anything "Masonic" in terms of business, nor did he conduct any Lodge proceedings. Yet the powers-that-be sought to punish him to the extreme and expel him from the Craft. Regardless, it seems a little bit extreme to expel someone for what appears to be a minor infraction (if it can even be called that).
For those that aren't in Masonic circles, when you are expelled from one State, you lose your rights and privileges in all other Masonic bodies, whether they are in the same state or not. So Brother Mike is no longer a Mason or affiliated with Masonry anywhere else.
Suspension or expulsion should only be used in the most severe cases, when members of the Craft blatantly defy the law, moral decency, or basic standards and ethics. You drive drunk and kill someone? Sure, expel them and tear up their dues card. You kill someone in a fit of rage? Yep, you get kicked out. You embezzle hundreds or thousands of dollars from your Lodge? Sure, let the door hit them in the ass on the way out.
But this Brother held an informal Zoom meeting.
To see how everyone was during this unprecedented time in American modern memory.
And he was expelled.
The greater issue here is that the system of checks and balances, or any sort of jurisprudence was subverted in a gross and disgusting manner. For those not in the "know," to suspend or expel a Brother, they must normally be brought up on Masonic charges, and tried in their home Lodge and found guilty. Coincidentally, Chris Hodapp's blog post tells us that the home Lodge of the past Grand Master had their charter removed before the trial commission could be held, so through some magical Masonic mumbo-jumbo, a special commission was formed to try the Brother.
So, in the end, a good and caring Brother was egregiously kicked out of the Craft, one that he supported and helped to make a beacon in his State for several decades. We learn that rules do not apply to everyone, and that the Craft is susceptible to the failings and faults of the rest of the human race.
We are greedy, prideful, and vengeful human beings. The outside world and the world inside the Lodge should be two different worlds; that is what our bumper stickers and handouts say, anyway. But shenanigans ensue both inside and outside the Lodge, and when things like this happen to good people, it places a mark on all of us. As a result of pettiness, pride, or a lack of common sense, a Brother's long Masonic career is in tatters, and we learn that the autocracy can really do "whatever" they like.
How does this act of spite and indignity make us "better men?" How does expelling Brother Mike teach us lessons on Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth? It certainly does not teach us that Brotherly Love prevails; petty actions and disingenuous motives spit in the face of Brotherly Love. Relief is all but shattered when you punish people for caring for and checking on others during a trying period in our lives. Truth weeps in her solace when lies are committed in her name.
Either we live by these tenets, or we don't. If we do, we should honor and stand by the man and Mason that Brother Mike Smith is; if we do not, then we are no better than anyone else. Our oaths and obligations are hollow words, our ceremonies of initiation are mere poorly conducted dramas, and the ideals we hold dear are simple words that we put on posters and stickers, and on pamphlets where we advertise our annual crab feast or gun raffle.
Be a better man, and you will be a better Mason.
~~ FDTL ~~