For the first time in many years expectations were made that the Conference
of Grand Master of Masons in North America (COGMNA) would have some
definitive discussion about issues that have simmered over the years and
finally boiled over with the suspension of Minnesota by twelve jurisdictions
in North America and four world-wide. (By the way, New York continues its
suspension of relations with Minnesota and the United Grand Lodge of England
has withdrawn relations with us, however, they do not have any relationship
which correlates with "suspension.")
 
It was not the intent of Minnesota to believe that we would necessarily
prevail on all the motions brought forward - change in membership of the
Commission on Information for Recognition, present a process for Prince Hall
regularity to be confirmed and eventual membership in the Conference; and
limiting the American Doctrine of "territorial exclusivity." It was hoped,
however, that there would be more light than heat, more rational and
unemotional discussion and full attention to these issues. That did not
happen.
 
Unfortunately the tenor of the business session on Tuesday was colored
almost exclusively by the report of the Commission on Information for
Recognition and the startling revelation that the Junior Deputy Grand Master
- Jean-Marie Doumbe (a non-progressive position in the Grand Lodge of
France) had almost completely and single-handedly voiced opposition to
nearly every statement made by the Grand Chancellor or Secretary of the
Grand Lodge of France concerning the regularity of the Grand Lodge of France
i.e. oaths taken on a Bible (not from conscience), mutual intervisitation
with all regular and irregular Grand Lodges of France, and the blatant
statement that "North American Masonry is dead" and therefore there is no
reason that the Grand Lodge of France should seek regularity. These
statements were given in a special meeting called by the Chairman at the
request of the Junior Deputy Grand Master after all official business had
come before the Commission in the morning on Monday (and subsequently only
four members of the six members of the Commission were even present for the
special Monday afternoon session). This was done without the knowledge of
the Grand Chancellor, Michael Singer.
 
To top this off, the Commission noted that the Junior Deputy Grand Master
would be having the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of France send a letter
confirming his statements to the Commission and this would be printed in the
minutes. There was a deafening silence and an obvious joy from the
Commission members in reporting this turn of affairs in great detail, as if
to confirm all the suspicions of the Commission about the regularity of the
Grand Lodge of France. However, in fairness to the Commission I must state
that they had no idea this statement by the Junior Grand Master was
forthcoming.
 
Without going into the details of what is happening in France, it is my
understanding that there is a faction within the Grand Lodge of France that
wants to have the Grand Lodge of France more aligned with the style of the
Grand Orient of France (which does not seek recognition from anyone). I am
told that the Grand Master and the Deputy Grand Master who spoke will be
severely questioned at the next quarterly Council meeting and a vote may be
taken at the next Annual Communication in June 21-22, 2003 in Paris to
reverse these actions. The damage that has been done by these statements is
enormous but the credibility of the Commission on Information for
Recognition also is at stake, in my mind, as they willingly and without
anymore confirmation than the word of the Junior Grand Deputy (and an
announced telephone call with the Grand Master confirming the Deputy's
statement) have said this is the nail that will seal the issue once and for
all.
 
Personally I believe that no such letter will be received to confirm these
statements (and certainly not with the authority of the Grand Lodge) and the
Commission will be in a most embarrassing situation of announcing something
that was patently false and not true. Surely we will know all by June 21-22,
2003
after the Grand Lodge of France meets. In any event, this set the tone
for the reception of the three motions I put forward.
 
Unfortunately the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York chose to be
the point-man in trying to impugn my reputation (even being so petty as to
state that he objected to the fact that my title as "Reverend" was offensive
to Masonic intercourse.). By the way, to set that record straight, I am an
ordained United Methodist minister and in Masonic etiquette my title as
Reverend may be used in formal addresses. As I noted to the eminent Grand
Master of New York, I do not use the title in tiled meetings and it is
universally accepted (and culturally accepted in English-speaking countries)
as the only title of respect that is allowed to be used by a Mason.
 
In any event my initial motion to change composition of the Commission (to
enlarge it from 6 to 12) was agreed to be changed by substitution to be 7
members each coming from the geographic divisions of North America. This
motion failed on a 27-29 vote, however, was later reconsidered and
unanimously passed with terms extended from six to seven years and the names
for nomination to be brought forward by the six sub-jurisdictions of the
Conference. Each to present in turn two names for consideration who may or
may not be Grand Lodge Officers.
These names will go to the Commission for
their recommendation and then to the Nominations Committee for final
recommendation to the NACOGM. Generally, I am pleased to see this change.
Most of the Western and Southwestern jurisdictions have felt for years that
the Commission was dominated by Easterners.
 
As to my second motion on Prince Hall it is obvious that the Conference was
not happy to entertain any desire to make changes to invite Prince Hall to
sit at the table with us (the statement being that "they have not invited
us") and the general tenor of the discussion which revolved around the
sensitivities of the Southern jurisdictions that Prince Hall somehow calls
them "racist" when they vehemently deny the charge. In any event the motion
was defeated 2-53. I must say that perhaps my approach to the issue was not
right and the Grand Master of Colorado, Claud Dutro, gave an enlightened
speech indicating that perhaps the initiation for such action should begin
with our COGMNA to the Prince Hall COMM. would not dispute this, however,
when invited to make a substitute motion to this effect no one was willing
to speak to this idea and any attempt at recognition of Prince Hall Grand
Lodges at this point has been stopped completely.
 
Finally, the last motion was to simply apply the American Doctrine of
"territorial exclusivity" only to exclusive sovereignty over one's
membership and not over any territory. I sincerely believe that some day
this is what must happen if we will avoid the convoluted application of the
doctrine to the realities of Masonry today. I noted that the Commission on
Information for Recognition took 20 years to decide that the Grand Lodge of
Iran in Exile is regular (they first came before the Commission in 1982 and
were told they have no territory so this rule cannot apply...ergo - you are
not regular). I consider the situation in Mexico, Brazil, the Caribbean, and
a dozen other places including the fact that the members of the NACOGM
recognize nearly 22 jurisdictions that are not recognized by the Commission
and 35 Prince Hall jurisdictions to be an obvious and glaring omission of
the Commission's duties and a sad story on the application of this rule.
 
Every Grand Lodge can only claim exclusivity over the rule of its
members......to say any more (in terms of territory) is a sheer denial of
the facts with the most obvious fact being that Prince Hall Grand Lodges
existed in our territories and for 200-plus years was not recognized but now
is regular. How sad for North American Freemasonry......yet, I had members
of the Conference get up and state that the Doctrine is applied by over 150
jurisdictions is the world and we cannot abandon it.......IT WORKS!!! What a
sad statement and one that is in obvious denial of the facts. In any event
the Conference voted 2-53 to keep the rule of regularity as we have it.
 
Were the votes a backlash against Minnesota? Was everyone saying just don't
rock the boat? I cannot help but believe the answer is yes. Most the Grand
Masters nearly 48 of the 55 present did not speak to any issue. They sat in
silence. They chose not be engaged. They did not care except to quickly vote
down any further discussion. I wonder how many of them understood any of
these issues in any real sense.
 
I am saddened and dissolute at the state of North American Freemasonry. We
are ignorant, fat and sassy. Most of our leaders talk about the need for
change but refuse to even speak to it, let alone engage themselves in a
forum that can only recommend and not legislate. The truth is that most (and
New York is foremost among them) simply do not want any change. Sometimes
the arrogance and ignorance is palatable.
 
What the Grand Lodge of Minnesota will do concerning our relationship with
the Grand Lodge of France is not known. We wait time to analyze the
situation and determine what our options might be. In any event, there will
be a fair, free and open discussion of all of these issues at our next
Annual Communication, April 4-5, 2003 in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Whatever we
do will be done in full knowledge of our membership and in a public Masonic
forum before the world.

 
I close this statement by saying that the Grand Lodge of Minnesota simply
wanted to sit down and reason together. We knew that the possibility of any
real changes was difficult but someone had to speak up to the issues and
present some ideas. We did that. And we did it with integrity and without
any sense of superior judgment but rather in obvious knowledge of the
inconsistent actions and application of the rules as we now use them. We
turned the other cheek when abused, we did the best job we could of trying
to be men and Masons. God help us we could do no other.
 
The Reverend Terry L. Tilton, Grand Master A.F. & A.M. of Minnesota