Very good morning, my dear Tom, and many thanks for accepting to do this Zoom interview. I’m interested to find out more about the World Conference of Grand Lodges. Please tell us when and why you created the World Conference of the Grand Lodges, Tom.
Claudiu, first of all it’s important that everyone understand I did not start the World Conference. The World Conference first met in Mexico City, hosted by a Mexican Grand Lodge, back in 1995. I did not attend that first meeting. It’s the only World Conference I’ve missed since. I did not attend, and when I read the information that came out of that meeting I wrote a letter opposing it. I felt that some of the decisions that were made were approaching too closely to becoming politically involved or approaching religious issues. The second World Conference was held in Lisbon, Portugal, and I received a letter from the Grandmaster of Portugal at that time, asking me if I would attend. I wrote back and told him I would not attend, because I disagreed with that took place in Mexico City. I received a letter back from him, and in the letter he made a comment that caused me to change my mind. He said: “Opinions like yours should be heard and discussed, not abstained”. As a result, I did go to Portugal, I presented a paper and moderated two discussions and became convinced that the World Conference could play a vital role in World Freemasonry. So I became a proponent of the World Conference and since that time the World Conference has met a total of sixteen times. After Lisbon we met in New York City, in the United States; Sao Paolo, Brazil; Madrid, Spain; New Delhi, India; Santiago, Chile; Paris, France; Washington D.C., the United States; Gabon, Africa; Cartagena, Columbia; Chennai, India; Bucharest, Romania; San Francisco, the United States; Madagascar, in Africa; and Panama City, Panama. The next meeting will be held this year (2021, n.e.) in November in Berlin, Germany.
Tom, was it difficult to bring together Grand Lodges from different geographical areas, people with different mentalities?
Surprisingly, Claudiu, no, it wasn’t. In fact, one of the great concerns I had when I was elected as Executive Secretary was what difficulties we would have in getting participants in the World Conference, because it entails bringing men in from all over the world, in all different environments and all social structures. But, indeed, our greatest problem is handling the numbers that do want to attend. We, at times, had to take action to prevent some attendees, because they were not regular Grand Lodges. So no, it was no problem getting participation from around the world. In fact, what the World Conference does in addition to providing the environment for discussions on Freemasonry is it’s given our brothers the opportunity to visit environments that under any other circumstance they would go their lifetime and never visit. So it really opened a spectrum to the world of Freemasonry, where men could see the similarities and the differences that exist in the operation of Freemasonry.
What are the basic rules of the Conference?
Well, the basic rules of the Conference are, essentially, the same as the basic rules of Freemasonry, in restrictions on what can be presented and discussed. Let me just read to you out of the constitution what it says regarding the rules: “1. The purpose of the Conference is to share information and discuss issues which promote the stability, progress and universality of Craft Masonry. No actions taken by this Conference will have any binding effect on any sovereign or independent Grand Lodge”. The ones who are permitted to attend the conference as official delegates are Grand Masters or Past Grand Masters, Grand Secretaries or Past Grand Secretaries. If he cannot attend, Grand Master has the option of appointing and notifying the host jurisdiction and the Executive Secretary that he will be represented by an individual who is not a Past Grand Master. Another important issue, which has come up several times during the time when I was Executive Secretary, is that the World Conference is open to Grand Lodges only. There were attempts made to see appendant organizations on the floor of the World Conference. That occurred initially in Santiago, Chile, and I pointed out to the Conference then that if we seated any appendant organization then it opens the floor for having to seat every appendant organization, and that isn’t the purpose of the Conference. Other than that, the basic rules are the same as in Freemasonry – there will be no discussion of politics, there will be no discussion of religious matters. Every Grand Lodge will have an equal voice in their vote. No Grand Lodge will attempt to use the World Conference for solicitation for support or financial assistance and every attempt will be made in order to rotate the Conference around the world. From the list that I read to you regarding the locations we have met you will see that the attempt was very successful in meeting around the world. Now, in the case of the United States, because each state has their own Grand Lodge, there have been three meetings in the United States; in the case of India, that has only one regular Grand Lodge, we’ve also met there twice, and that was because there’s a limited pool to draw from on invitations to meet. As a result, of course, we ended up meeting twice in India, New Delhi and Chennai.
Are there Grand Lodges that have gained more international recognition by attending the Conference?
No question about it, Claudiu. There are Grand Lodges that very little was known about them prior to the World Conference – indeed, there were entire sections of the world that little was known about Freemasonry in those locations. I give you, for example, the Latin American Grand Lodges. I never saw Latin American participation by traveling to other Grand Lodges. As a result, the World Conference opened Latin America to the world, so that the world could see a style of Freemasonry that is pretty unique to Latin American environments. Also in North‑America – North‑American Masters never traveled outside of the confines of North‑America and rarely were they visiting any Grand Lodges other than those in close proximity to them. The American Grand Masters, Grand Secretaries and any other attendees who wished to visit the World Conference had the opportunity to travel to those locations, under auspices and the protection of Freemasonry.
Can you give examples of problems that a Grand Lodge has solved by attending the Conference?
You know, it’s not the purpose, Claudiu, of the World Conference to solve problems, but there have definitely been many problems and issues we solved, not because of the visit to the World Conference, but because of the negotiating opportunities that were presented, that were learned at the World Conference. I’ll give you an example in the case of Brazil. Brazil was unique in that there were three different styles of Freemasonry operating in Brazil – let me change that, not “styles”, but “forms” of Freemasonry. There was the National Grand Orient, there were independent Grand Orients in each state and there were independent Grand Lodges in each state. Through negotiations mediated by the Executive Secretary of the World Conference, now those bodies all recognize each other and visit each other. In Paraguay, the issue there, the Grand Lodge split into two different entities, and because it was a split from the original they were both regular in their formation and consecration. It took five years of negotiations before there was a final decision and a resolution made concerning which Grand Lodge would function as a regular Grand Lodge or recognized Grand Lodge in Paraguay. And in Russia there were three individuals representing the World Conference, went to Russia when there was a major schism developing there to observe and determine which Grand Master was the legitimate Grand Master of Russia. The result is that the present Grand Master of Russia has been serving since that time through the efforts and confirmations of these mediating and observing three individuals.
What topics are debated? How are the topics of the discussions chosen?
First of all, Claudiu, there are no discussions being debated. The papers are presented as determined by the host jurisdiction and the Executive Secretary. The host jurisdiction picks the theme of the Conference, and there have been fairly unique choices over the years because they reflect the concern of the environment in which that Grand Lodge exists. I’ll give you a very good example of that in the case of Gabon. Gabon is a country in Africa that has 10% of its environment set aside for wildlife and for maintaining a green environment. The theme of the Conference in Gabon reflected that concern for maintaining an ecological stable environment. The papers, then, that are presented are approved by the Executive Secretary and determined whether they are suitable for presentation to the Conference. There were papers presented in the past that I had to turn down as Executive Secretary mainly because they were either too self‑serving for that Grand Lodge or they were not of interest to the World Conference. There is no debating – the papers are presented. There might be discussions, but they are not presented as a debate.
Has the development of Freemasonry in Eastern Europe and South America changed the balance of power, given that each Grand Lodge represents one vote?
That’s an interesting observation, because it’s been a concern of mine. I’ve been greatly responsible for the exposure of Latin America to the world. Latin America is a very unique environment. I’ve classified Freemasonry into what I’ve called styles and I placed Latin America in a “sociological style”, because its nature is driven more by the environment in which it exists. Latin America was not seen by the outside world masonically for almost all of its existence. It’s only since the World Conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil, the 4th World Conference, that the World began to see Latin American Freemasonry. I don’t know that I’ve ever referred to it as “balance of power”, but one of the great concerns I have is that the country of Brazil has the National Grand Orient, State Grand Orients and State Grand Lodges, which represent a tremendous number of votes that would be taken in the World Conference. My concern now is that Brazil can really dominate the World Conference if there is not some type of methodology used to prevent that. We could argue that United States also has 51 Grand Lodges, but you’ll never get United States to vote as a block, it’s not the unity that exists in Latin America. So it is a concern, a concern that I’ve been grappling with for years, and I don’t know the answer yet.
Was there any opposition to the World Conference? If yes, why?
Yes, there has been opposition to the World Conference, mainly because there are Grand Lodges that do not believe in uniting in a conference. Their main concern is that conferences can dominate Grand Lodges. The Nordic countries, for example, never participate in the World Conference. When I was Executive Secretary I invited them every year and I would get very polite answers back that “we don’t participate in World Conferences”. I knew that the British Isles do not participate in conferences, although the United Grand Lodge of England sent unofficial representation to the World Conference on several occasions – but it did not represent the British Isles specifically, so these individuals had no voting capability.
The English Brethren who attended the Conference were a kind of observers.
Yes. That’s why they were sent there, to observe what took place. We have no problems with observers sitting in a World Conference. By the way, so that everyone is aware, the World Conference is open to every regular Freemason who wants to attend. The only person to vote, as I said earlier, is the official representing the Grand Master or the Grand Master, and the Grand Secretary. The observers sit in, observe everything that takes place, but they have no voting authority at all.
Tom, how do you see the future of the Conference?
The future of the Conference, Claudiu, lies in the leadership that’s going to be involved in operating the Conference. I think there’s a great future for it. The greatest threat in Freemasonry, in my opinion, today – and I’ve made this observation many, many times – is the ego of the leadership. One emphasis that I made when I was retiring as Executive Secretary was that the one quality we needed was someone without any ego driving them. That doesn’t mean a person can’t have an ego – every one of us has gained anything in our lives because we have an ego driving us. But in a paper that I gave when I was speaking at a Scottish Rite conference one year, many years ago, I made this observation that everyone else is here today and we’ve gained what we’ve gained because of our ego driving us. But the legacy we leave behind will depend a lot more on our ability to control that ego, than use that ego. Everyone of us who’s been active in Freemasonry certainly is aware of leadership who had great potential. Amin – well loved; the legacy he left behind was one of failure. So the future of the World Conference is going to depend upon the leadership running the World Conference. The leader has to be capable of really negotiating and mediating and understanding the individual.
This is why Tom Jackson is unique!