America is the greatest country in the world. What makes our country so great? Freedom, period. The freedom to go about our lives without fear of reprisals for political or societal beliefs, without hiding our cultural heritage, and, of course, the freedom to practice our own religion.

Almost 200 years ago, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) in America got its beginnings, breaking off from its English fore-bearers due to the Americans wanting more freedom. The basis of many of the early texts, rituals, initiations, and other documents were influenced by Christianity. Of course, the reason for this is clearly because the overwhelming number of early settlers in America were Christians. However, this is no longer the case. Now, America is a multicultural land with religious and philosophical views of all types. A study of religious demographics would show that while Christianity is still predominant, other religious views are becoming popular as well. One of the largest groups, are those who say they believe in some higher power but are unaffiliated. This figure differs by various percentage points on different studies, but in some studies, the figures go as high as a third of the United States. Then, it follows, that religion is encountering a divergent world, just as our order itself is becoming more and more diverse. Therefore, it would be difficult to pigeonhole every person as to their specific belief. Did you know, for example, that there are at least 100 denominations of Christianity alone? Other religions, for example, such as Hinduism, believe in variants of higher powers, in this case, multiple higher powers. Buddhists, of which I know of several in our order, don’t believe in a personal god, only an obtaining of Nirvana. The coded requirement to believe in a higher power is more complex than could be defined here. If anything, I believe that the passage should be modernized to be more relevant to today. Otherwise, many members would need to be removed, if the code is to be taken literally.

And yet, there are still those in our order, even while our overall numbers are receding rapidly, who want to constrict our order even more. Here is a piece of legislation now pending at Sovereign Grand Lodge –

“Reps. Hillberry and Adams of West Virginia and Minnesota presented the following Bill, which was referred to the Committee on Legislation and State of the Order.

Title: A Bill to amend Chapter III, Sec. 1-B (page 111-1) of the Code of General Laws regarding adding of a second sub-section regarding the belief of a Supreme Being.

Be it enacted by The Sovereign Grand Lodge, I.O.O.F.

That Chapter III, Sec. 1-B of the Code of General Laws by amended as follows:

B. (2) Belief in the existence of a Supreme Being who is the Creator and Preserver of the Universe, is an integral requirement to hold membership in the Order. Atheism and Agnosticism, both of which are a denial, disbelief, or inability to believe with certainty in the existence of a Supreme Being as previously mentioned are both incompatible with membership in the Order.

(a) Loss of belief in the existence of a Supreme Being is sufficient cause for the suspension or expulsion of a member who may be tried for such according to the Code of General Laws.”

Wow! So, while most of us (including myself, although that is no one’s business but my own) are indeed believers of a Supreme Being, now we are going to examine, to try them, or even expel members based purely upon their personal beliefs? Who will be the judge and jury in this case? How does one adjudicate another’s religious beliefs? How do we say to a member, that you have been truthful in admitting your uncertainties, now we are forced to expel you? Is this really a moral way to treat anyone?

Are we in the middle ages? Of course, there is the continuing weak argument that we were originally Christian based, but even if we were, that was hundreds of years ago, times have changed, and the outside world has moved on to accept a world comprised of many beliefs. Not only that, but many faiths have now joined the Odd Fellows. Are we saying that we must now proceed with an interrogation of each member? If so, where do I resign? Are the reps who suggest this hoping for a religious-tinged revisit to McCarthyism? At that same time period in the 1840’s, many Odd Fellows may have owned slaves, should we return to that as well? 1840 was a long time ago. In order to attract the living, we must act like we are living in today’s world. Religious zealotry is alive and well in the Odd Fellows. BTW, what words shall we use to test a member’s faith? Will we ask of each member – do you philosophically believe in a higher power or just hope for salvation? Who among you will decide a doubter’s faith and fate? And, if a member expresses a religious questioning, they are to be immediately expelled? That is what the legislation states. Who comprises the judge and jury in each case? Will each member be hooked up to a lie detector, or will we remove them by mere innuendo? Do the members realize that we originally met in taverns? Was that the proper religious venue?

I, for one, honor the idea and the continued premise of freedom in America. The freedom of religion being one of the foundations of America. If our order has decided that even while its membership totals are declining rapidly that now we must question all members as to their religious beliefs, then we are clearly doomed to not only die out but to be dismissed as obsolete and prejudicial to the end. If this is an example of legislation due to come down the pike at Sovereign Grand Lodge, perhaps it is time to question whether our order has lost all relevance to the modern man. A Past Grand Master friend of mine asks – “what if a member after years of being a member, changes his or her beliefs, and becomes an agnostic or atheist? Do we treat that member differently? The member met the qualifications to ‘join’. But this requirement continues after joining? Can we treat one dues paying member differently than another dues paying member?” Good question. I would think that itself would be against anyone’s code of ethics. To remove an otherwise good member for honestly declaring his inner feelings should be abhorrent to most people. Who among you will cast the first stone? And, to be frank, our order has lost more members than almost all other active fraternities still in operation. The Masons, for example, who we used to be larger than, now are approximately 20 times larger than us! What have we done to encourage new members? It’s a primary question. But of course, SGL likes to ignore the membership issue…

Clearly, the authors of this legislation feel that every member must be interrogated as to their religious beliefs, and if that is not discrimination, which supposedly we have all committed to oppose, I’m not sure what is. If the argument is that this is what was meant originally, I can also show the authors racist and misogynistic test from that time period as well. Why not just revert to the horse and buggy? Let’s wake up!

In F., L., & T., Rick Boyles

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