Dear Dedicated Members for Change,
There is an elephant in the Odd Fellows’ Lodge room. We’re all aware of that pachyderm, but most of the time it’s sleeping. We, Odd Fellows, normally just tiptoe around it, making sure we don’t step on it’s tail or ear. The elephant in the room occasionally wakes up and stirs, however. The issue regarding this elephant was (again) brought to my attention by a member of the Order who serves as a District Deputy Grand Master. To preserve this member’s privacy, I will not reveal the member’s Lodge or even the state/province from which the member comes. The member posed the following conundrum to me:
“My dilemma is just how closely the opening and closing prayers and wording of the valediction should be followed, in a formal meeting. Can the Lord’s Prayer be dropped? Can a substitute prayer from the Internet be used instead of the opening and/or closing prayers in the ritual. Lastly, there are those last three words of the valediction ‘my fellow man’ – could that be replaced with the word ‘all’?”
The questions posed by the DDGM bring into play our Order’s stated policies on religion and gender. If you look at the Sovereign Grand Lodge website, you will see that IOOF professes to be a non-sectarian organization. Further, we are told that Odd Fellowship does not discriminate on the basis of a wide range of protected classes, including: “disability, age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, or other social identity.” On our SGL website, under the heading of “Who are we?” it is stated: “We are non-sectarian. Membership is open to all regardless of sex, race, religion, political affiliation and social status . . . .”
These are important statements and welcomed sentiments. However, how do these statements of purpose co-exist with certain parts of our IOOF ritual and rules that appear to conflict?
For example, the Lord’s Prayer is to be recited during the opening of a formal Lodge meeting. However, the Lord’s Prayer comes from the Christian Bible and I have heard Jewish members of Lodges indicate how uncomfortable they are with that recitation as it seems to favor Christianity. Isn’t that sectarian?
Yet another example are the words in the valediction and in other places in the ritual that imply that all Odd Fellows are men (which we were prior to 1999). Aren’t we supposed to avoid gender-specific appellations?
And what about the rule/custom that Lodges should keep “The Holy Bible” in the Lodge room at all times during meetings? Doesn’t that fly in the face of the requirement that Odd Fellowship is non-sectarian and doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion? What about the other books of faith of other religions such as Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.?
When I first joined Odd Fellowship in 2004, I distinctly remember Chaplains at Lodges I visited ending prayers and benedictions with the words “in Jesus Christ’s name”. That is an absolutely appropriate statement in their religion and in their church, but is it appropriate in an Odd Fellows Lodge? I recall, as a non-Christian, feeling uncomfortable with these words and being made to feel like I didn’t belong. Is that what we really want to have members experience in a Lodge of Odd Fellows? It may be hard for Christian members to appreciate how awkward and off-putting this is for a non-Christian member. But let’s reverse the equation for a moment. If you are a Christian member of the Order and a chaplain ended a prayer with the words “in the name of Allah, most gracious and most merciful” – how would you feel? Would you feel included and welcomed, or marginalized and excluded?
These are extremely sensitive issues. Sooner or later they will have to be reconciled. The elephant can’t just sleep on the Lodge room floor forever.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
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