Imagine a young man in his late-30’s who is a medical doctor, specializing in surgery, happily married for the last ten years, two young children (a son who is 8 and a daughter who is 6). His wife is a delightful and educated woman. This young man was born in India, but came to the United States as a young boy and became a naturalized citizen of the USA decades ago. He is a tennis player, also quite good at bridge and chess. He is a great fan of the NFL. He is educated and urbane, reliable, honest, friendly to all, very devoted to his family and his faith, and would give you the shirt off his back.
I would love to invite him to join my Odd Fellows Lodge. But I can’t. He is not permitted to join Odd Fellows.
Because he is a Buddhist.
Buddhists number over 500 million people in the world – or close to 10 percent of the planet’s population. That is a significant number of humans. So, why does the Independent Order of Odd Fellows reject them from membership in our fraternity?
Buddhism is the fourth largest religion on the planet, following Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism in number of adherents. By comparison to Judaism which is the fifth largest religious group, Buddhism is over 50 times larger. Buddhists are the dominant religious group in 15 countries of the world. There are 3.5 million Buddhists in the United States alone.
Members of the Buddhist faith seek to elevate the character of man by living a good and honorable life. They are all about being honest, forthright, and kind with others. They focus on achieving enlightenment. Sounds like persons who are Buddhists would be prime candidates to join our Order. But he belongs to a denomination of Buddhism that does not believe in “a Supreme Being”.
The rules that govern Odd Fellowship require that a member believe in “a Supreme Being, the creator and preserver of the Universe”. Yet, at the same time, Odd Fellowship professes to not discriminate against a person on the basis of religion. Membership in Odd Fellows is supposed to be “non-sectarian”. On the homepage of the Sovereign Grand Lodge, you will find the following statement: “Membership is open to all regardless of sex, race, religion, political affiliation and social status . . . .” Our Order – at the Grand Lodge and Lodge level – has adopted amendments to bylaws which profess that Odd Fellowship does not discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, race or religion. So, which is it? Isn’t the exclusion of those who follow the teachings of Buddha a discrimination on the basis of religion? The rules of Odd Fellowship also require that a copy of the “Holy Bible” be in the Lodge room during meetings. What about the Talmud or the Koran? What about the religious works of other religions like Mormonism? By mandating placement of the Bible, doesn’t this favor one religion over others; in other words, isn’t that sectarianism?
And what about Deists? While Deists believe in “a Supreme Being”, they reject all organized religions and the various writings of men that claim to be divinely inspired. Famous Deists include Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, John Locke, and Albert Einstein. Deists believe in “a Supreme Being” but are uncomfortable by works of men (like the Bible) that purport to be divinely inspired.
And what about those who follow the teachings of Hinduism? This is a religion with many gods? While Brahma is the most prominent, there are preeminent gods such as Shiva and Vishnu that are central to the teachings and traditions of Hinduism. There is no single “Supreme Being”.
Bottom line: “Religion” is a thorny thicket. Odd Fellowship in the 21st Century is laboring under inconsistent tenets when it comes to religion, and this inconsistency is keeping potentially good and moral men and women from joining our Order – and potentially impacting our membership growth.
To make the point of this article, I have taken some literary license by creating a fictional character in the “young man in his late-30’s”. That said, within the last three weeks, I have spoken to an interested and potential member who felt she could not apply for membership (and ultimately did not apply) because of her faith as a Buddhist.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Independent Order of Odd Fellows (I.O.O.F.)
Jurisdiction of California
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