Did you know that Odd Fellowship has a trial process in Chapter XXXVIII of the Code of General Laws which can result in the expulsion or suspension of members accused of “conduct unbecoming an Odd Fellow”? Well, it is true. But in recent years, the process has become weaponized and corrupted. No one knows this better than Brother Peter Sellars, who found himself as the “accused” in charges filed against him. Peter is a distinguished and respected member of his Lodge, the author of several excellent books about the history of Odd Fellowship, a Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of California, a long-time member of the Executive Board of the Grand Lodge, and one of two Grand Representatives representing the jurisdiction of California at Sovereign Grand Lodge. And, earlier this year, he was brought up on charges resulting in the convening of a Trial Committee and a Trial. The result of that Trial was a dismissal of the charges against Brother Peter. He was completely exonerated. Yet he had to go through the turmoil, disruption, and expense of a trial. Significantly, that trial seems to have been a major impetus to Sovereign Grand Lodge revising and reforming the entire accusation and trial process.
Here are Peter’s thoughts on the subject, from a first-hand perspective.
F – L – T
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Trials! Trials! Trials!
By Peter Sellars, PGM
Independent Order of Odd Fellows
In a fraternal organization, a member would never expect the need to conduct trials, but we have all seen them happen. As with any organization, there is usually a mechanism to hold members accountable for wrongful actions or improper deeds. However, the Odd Fellows has been a fraternity plagued by charges, and some have even reached the level of an actual trial.
In recent years, we have experienced more of these unsavory events, due to various reasons. I have an idea as to why we are seeing so many of these “charges” and accusations of Conduct Unbecoming a Member. In the Code of General Laws of the Sovereign Grand Lodge, we have the option to incorporate and assign a Committee of Grievances; however many jurisdictions, including California, do not assign such a committee. Without such a committee, who would normally review such issues or disputes that come up from time to time, these matters are brought to the Grand Master, who simply does not have time to intervene or much of a choice, other than to refer the matter to the trial process.
California has not been the only jurisdiction to see a rise in the trial process. The negative impact of trials can be seen and heard in a lodge, a district, or a state, and even across the country. Rumors are spread, members choose sides, and relationships are forever ended, which have a negative effect on the appearance of the Order in the eyes of the public. For some members, trials are distasteful. We are, after all, a group that labels itself as “fraternal” and has a motto of “Friendship, Love, & Truth.” It reaches the point of hypocrisy at the very least.
At the recent session of the Sovereign Grand Lodge, held in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, it was apparent that the current increase in trials was of concern; so much so, that a new bill was written and presented to the Grand Body. Sovereign Grand Lodge saw the need to take over the trials and created a new process, rather than allowing each jurisdiction to handle them. During sessions, Brother Chuck Lusk, the Sovereign Grand Master spoke about the deep concern over many unnecessary trials, before turning the reins over to the new Sovereign Grand Master, sister Michelle Heckart (first woman to hold this office). Sister Heckart in her speech on the evening of her installation into her office, also spoke against trials and said that no frivolous charges or divisive events will be tolerated by the Sovereign Grand Lodge. She also stated in her report to the Grand Body: “It saddens me to see the strife happening in our Order over ridiculous situations caused by lack of communication, egos and tempers not being parked at the outside door before entering a lodge or executive meeting.”
The State of the Order Committee included in its report, which was read on the floor during sessions, and approved by the Grand Body, that, “It is time to quit attacking each other. Jurisdiction by jurisdiction, we must seek a downtrend to internal conflict, as well as divisive trials of our members when alternate solutions are available.”
At the session, the code Chapter was drastically changed to ensure a trial is truly the last resort. The representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor to replace the entire Chapter XXXVIII with a newly worded procedure for trials. The new procedures becomes effective on September 1, 2022. One passage in the newly written chapter, will cause accusers to pause and perhaps think hard before preferring charges. This passage reads, “Anyone who prefers frivolous charges as surmised by the Mediator and confirmed with the Sovereign Grand Master after consultation with the Executive Committee, shall be penalized with a 364-day suspension.” If only this had been included in the chapter before all of the wasteful and meaningless trials held this past year, much time, money, and fraternal spirit could have been saved. Members will now receive a “fair trial” as stated in Section 1. A.; Section 3. assigns a “Mediator” rather than a Special Deputy. The Trial Committee now selects the venue for a trial. The statute of limitations was also changed, as follows: 10 years for offenses involving charges in criminal court, 5 years for offenses of financial nature, and, 1 year for all other offenses; these offenses committed on or after September 1, 2022, as explained by the Legislation Committee.
As you can see, trials were of great concern to the members of Order. Placing charges in the hands of the parent corporation is probably the most sensible move made by the Sovereign Grand Lodge, and was obviously seen as a necessary step by the representatives. There is no doubt the I.O.O.F. will continue to experience issues or personal differences but perhaps these may now be resolved in a more congenial and agreeable manner, rather than a costly and divisive trial.
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