Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
The Code of General Laws of the Sovereign Grand Lodge, I.O.O.F, contains the laws that govern every Odd Fellow and every Grand Lodge, Lodge and other subordinate units in our Order. It is a massive volume that contains general principles, rules, regulations, and intricate details on all aspects of Odd Fellowship, drilling down even to the description of jewels, regalia and collars. Change comes slowly to the Code of General Laws – as amendments go through a convoluted and lengthy process requiring super-majority votes by the Sovereign Grand Lodge. Chairs of certain committees can also postpone and delay proposed changes, which may never see the light of day.
Yet, a reading of the Code of General Laws turns up three thought-provoking laws of which we should all be cognizant.
Odd Fellows Laws Are to be Liberally Construed
One of the most striking provisions of the Code can be found at Chapter II, Section 14, which reads in relevant part as follows: “The rules and regulations set forth in the Constitution and Code of General Laws shall be liberally construed. The chief concern shall be following the spirit of the law and the good of Odd Fellowship rather than harshly enforcing rules to the letter of the law.”
This is such an important provision of Odd Fellows law that it is worth it for you to read it again. Keep it in mind when a member of your Lodge starts spouting “the Code” and telling the members attending a meeting, that something must be done in a certain way because “the Code” demands it. Well, perhaps it does. But, perhaps it does not. The main thing is to follow the spirit of the law and the good of the Order, not necessarily a harsh enforcement of the rules and the so-called letter of the law. We are, after all, a fraternal order – we are supposed to treat each other with friendship, love and truth. We are supposed to enjoy each other’s company and enjoy the social interaction that Lodge life offers.
Odd Fellows Lodges Cannot Exclude Women
Another provision of the Code of General Laws is not widely known, but can be critically important to every Odd Fellow who believes in equality and fairness. It can be found at Chapter III, Section 1, specifically defining who is eligible to be a member of an Odd Fellows Lodge, at Section 1, subsection A (4). It reads as follows: “Continued rejection of women may result in revocation of an Odd Fellows Lodge Charter after notice and hearing.”
Sadly, there are still Odd Fellows Lodges in 2019 that have no women as members, and have never had women members. Women have been eligible to join Odd Fellows Lodges for almost twenty years now. How can there be Lodges in the jurisdiction of the Sovereign Grand Lodge that still – after two decades – have no female members? We have certainly all heard the all the so-called “reasons”: “Women have never expressed an interest in joining the Lodge.” “Women have never submitted applications to join the Lodge.” “Women prefer to join the Rebekah Lodge or other such organizations.” After two decades, these “reasons” are little more than “excuses”. They don’t hold any water anymore. And Lodges that have no women as members put their charters at risk. To state it clearly: Discrimination on the basis of gender is not allowed in Odd Fellowship.
Odd Fellows Lodges Must be Non-Sectarian
When we joined Odd Fellowship, we were told that it is a fraternal order that is non-sectarian. Well, is it? The question is legitimate because the ritual of the Order is replete with hymns and songs and Biblical quotations that are very much sectarian. But the good news is that Code of General Laws addresses that very point in Chapter IV, pertaining to Grand Lodge Policy. Section 3 C (2) states the following: “Lodges may not exhibit in their halls or anteroom any symbols that pertain to any particular faith or creed, but may use music that is generally regarded as religious if it does not cause controversy.”
This is a remarkably important provision of our Code – but I am afraid that very few members are aware of it. And it is significant for every member of our Order who feels uncomfortable when that member believes the sectarian line is crossed. If there is such discomfort, it may be regarded in the Lodge as causing “controversy” and if that is the case, then no member should be subjected to it. A Lodge meeting is meant to be a place of peace and comfort, where members can join together to escape the stress, turmoil and vicissitudes of the outside world. If a member wants to enjoy a sectarian environment, that member should go to his or her church, synagogue, temple, mosque or meeting hall – not a Lodge of Odd Fellows.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California