Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
This article deals with one of those “sensitive subjects”. It is a difficult subject for a discussion because it deals with people’s faith and people’s beliefs. But it is a subject that goes to the very heart of Odd Fellowship. Further, it is a subject that doesn’t get any easier just because we choose to ignore it.
Of course, the subject is the parameters of “religion” in Odd Fellowship. To be perfectly blunt, we are, in this Order, quite inconsistent about the subject of religion. We say things that simply don’t jibe. For example, the Sovereign Grand Lodge website states that we, as an organization, are “non-sectarian”. The term “non-sectarian” is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “not affiliated with or restricted to a particular religious group.” Yet, on that same Sovereign Grand Lodge website, our organization is identified as being “founded in the inspired word of God as revealed to man in the Holy Bible”. These concepts are inherently inconsistent.
The issue came to the fore for me when one of our applicants for membership had great difficulty completing the application form which called for the applicant to assert that he or she believed in “a Supreme Being, the Creator and Preserver of the Universe.” This phrase caused the applicant some pause. It turns out that she is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, a religion that does not require its adherents to necessarily believe in a Supreme Being, although many of them do. There are over 600,000 members of Unitarian Universalist churches in the United States and Canada, attending some 1,000 congregations. This hesitation of the applicant caused me to consider the ramifications of the requirement to believe in a Supreme Being. Certainly, many great religions believe in a Supreme Being, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam. However, there are other great religions that do not share that belief. Hinduism, for example, is considered one of the oldest of the world’s religions and is currently the third largest religion on the planet. Yet this is a religion with many deities, not just one Supreme Being. There are over 1 billion adherents to Hinduism, including almost 3 million in the United States and Canada. Buddhism has over 500 million followers, including 4 million in the United States and Canada. Although Buddha is revered, he is not considered a deity or a Supreme Being. Buddhists are less concerned with what you believe, and more concerned with how you practice your belief.
But there is more. Our organization, which professes to be “non-sectarian,” requires a religious text to be maintained in all Lodge meetings and specifically mandates that the text be the Holy Bible. While Christian members of Odd Fellows are, obviously, comfortable with the Holy Bible, would they be as comfortable mandating that the Torah, or the Koran, or the Book of Mormon be maintained in the Lodge room, or reciting passages from the Torah, or the Koran, or the Book of Mormon? Yet, why do we ignore the reality that members of non-Christian faiths might be just as uncomfortable with the use of the Christian Bible? Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Let me give you one example of the inconsistency. Our Odd Fellows ritual includes the Lord’s Prayer, which is a prayer attributed to the teachings of Jesus, found in the New Testament. As such, it is a Christian prayer. I know Odd Fellows who are Jewish who are uncomfortable reciting it. And can you appreciate how members of other faiths might feel when a Christian prayer is recited? Put the shoe on the other foot. If you’re a Christian, how would you feel if the Lodge ritual called for the recitation of prayers from the Koran, or the Vedas, or the Tripitaka?
What is the effect of all this? Well, on a purely pedestrian level, this affects our efforts to grow our membership. It compels us to turn our backs on a significant percentage of our community who are good and moral people and who could be productive members of our Order. That’s just wrong, and short-sighted. Do you ever wonder why we have no Lodges in most countries of the world?
And look at your own Lodge. How many members do you have in your Lodge who are non-Christian? Let’s face it, we as a fraternal order are inconsistent with our professed desire “to improve and elevate the character of man” and “to promote good will and harmony amongst people and nations” when we effectively exclude much of the world’s population. Our Sovereign Grand Lodge website says that we Odd Fellows hold “the belief that all men and women regardless of race, nationality, religion, social status, gender, rank and station are brothers and sisters.” [Emphasis added.] Yet we are not honest (notwithstanding our references to “Truth” as one of our virtues) when we say these things on the one hand, but elevate one religion and set of beliefs over all others. We can only achieve true understanding between peoples when we accept all good and moral men and women, regardless of their religion or beliefs.
By this article, I do not profess to diminish any person’s religion or belief. That is not my intent. Rather, I wish to open our eyes in this Order so that we practice true and honest “toleration” of all beliefs.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master