Are BGLO's Compatible with Christianity?
In recent months, I have received a great deal of e-mail asking me about the relationship between Christianity and the Black Greek Organizations (hereinafter referred to as BGLO’s). Most of the e-mails have come from young men and women who are interested in joining our organizations, but because of what they have heard from their pastors, church members and other sources, had serious issues regarding membership in a BGLO and remaining a "true Christian" at the same time, as one young lady put it.
Let me begin by saying, I truly do not believe there is an incompatibility between Christianity and the BGLO system. For over a decade I have heard the charges, insinuations, allegations and statements regarding my involvement in a black fraternity, some even coming from my own family members. Usually, the information presented to me comes from those who are truly uninformed about the true nature of our organizations, or they were just repeating what they heard someone else said. I have found that very little actual research has gone into the criticisms of our organizations.
One of the main issues revolves around the relationship between the BGLO’s and Masonry. While I addressed this issue in a previous essay, the relationship is sparse at best. Yes, it is true that some of the founders of the BGLO’s were both Mason’s and Eastern Star’s. And yes it is also true that there are some basic similarities between the rituals of both sets of organizations. However, those similarities are truly so minor they barely even warrant discussion.
The notions that BGLO’s are required to report to other Masonic bodies is just outright wrong. BGLO’s are their own separate and distinct organizations who answer to no one but their own members (and sometimes they don’t even do that).
Another point of contention comes in the taking of oaths. In the New Testament, the 5th Chapter of James, the 12th verse says: "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and [your] nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation." Another scripture I have heard quoted as being against the taking of oaths comes in the Old Testament, the book of Zechariah 8:17 where it says: "And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these [are things] that I hate, saith the LORD."
It is generally thought that scripture condemns the taking of any oaths, at least this is how some ministers tend to portray it. However, by examining other scriptures, such as those found in the 30th chapter of Numbers, 11th chapter of Jeremiah, the 6th and 7th Chapter of Hebrews, and several others (too many to name here), we see that actually not only are there instances where the taking of oaths are important to God, but that keeping them is imperative to Him.
We all have taken oaths, both formally and informally, in several aspects of our lives. Marriage vows are actually nothing but oaths. If we go to court, we have to take an oath to "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." When you tell someone "I promise..." you are actually taking an oath to that person. Personally, I have taken many oaths – when I became an Alpha, several Masonic oaths, when I got married, the oaths I took at both of my ordinations, when my son was baptized, etc. Each time I took an oath, I was making a promise, making a commitment.
It seems to me that those who trot out the "you shouldn’t take oaths" charge are really saying "you should not take an oath which conflicts with your duty to God." This is something that I agree with 1000%. And while I cannot with all honesty say I have upheld each oath I have taken, I can with absolute certainty say that I have NEVER taken an oath that interferes with my duty to my God, my family or myself. Nor would I.
Taking an oath is not something should be entered into lightly (Numbers 30:2). The oaths that we take as black greeks are to be considered and remembered and adhered to, just as any other oath or promise that we take. We all are making a serious commitment and sadly that is something not enforced as strongly as it should.
The rituals of the BGLO’s are another source of contention. Now, part of the problem seems to begin with the use of the word "ritual." That word seems to conjure up all sorts of negative and evil connotations. So I think we sometimes suffer just because of the word that is used, despite the fact that every church has it own sets of rituals (marriage, baptism, communion, etc – yes folks, these are rituals).
However, we also suffer from the above mentioned basic similarity to Masonry. As I also stated in a previous essay, I have seen the rituals of about 4 other BGLO’s (yes, I know it’s wrong to read someone else’s rituals, but the deed is done). And one thing that struck me as I read them is how much of a spiritual slant the rituals have. I would not be revealing any secrets here to say that each of the rituals that I read have a specific scripture that corresponds not only with the names and meaning of the organizations, but specifically to the goals and aims of the organizations.
I can just hear some of the critics after reading this last paragraph say "the devil knows scripture too." Well, that statement notwithstanding, the reality is that the founders of the BGLO’s incorporated serious Christian precepts into the mission of each organization. In fact, on the whole, the founders came from strong Christian backgrounds. Some of the founders of the BGLO's were preacher's kids. Many of them attended services regularly while they were in college.
There is nothing demonic or devilish inherent in the rituals of our organizations. Unlike Masonry, the BGLO’s benefit from our rituals not being that much in the public domain. While they can be found, they are not as accessible as the Masonic rituals are. And that has served to our benefit and our detriment. Since most of the critics have never seen the rituals, they have to go on speculation and (often very) inaccurate second hand information of what our rituals contain.
When approached several years ago by a fellow minister who was attempting to chide me for my involvement in a BGLO, she stated that the ritual I went through was Satanic in nature. I asked her to tell me what exactly was Satanic about it. She could not tell me. So I asked her if she had ever seen my ritual. She responded by saying, "Well, I’ve seen the Masonic ritual so I know it’s the same." Then she tried to get me to tell her what was in my ritual, which of course, I would not do. This minister then went on to claim that she pledged a particular sorority, but when pressed, could not name it, saying she forgot the name of the organization and that the name of the sorority was not important anyway. I told her, in a very nice and cordial manner, that her credibility at that time was damaged, because I simply did not believe her claims of having been a pledge.
This minister, as well meaning as she thought she was, is typical of the religious critics of our organizations. They have not seen it, they have only heard what others have had to say, and when pressed for specific details of their objections, are unable to provide them. This is also true for a lot of the e-mails I get.
In the spirit of honesty, let me briefly discuss the one area where the critics are correct: hazing. I will concede that the process of hazing (not pledging) is truly incompatible with Christianity. While some could (and have) argue that pledges are akin to slaves and that slavery is pretty much condoned by the Bible (which it is), I reject that particular argument due to the different times that we live in, and the brutality that exists within the bounds of the practice of hazing. The beating of another man or woman for the sake of bringing them into the organization is not something that can be defended. As I have discussed in previous essay’s, hazing is truly a scourge on our organizations and new ways must be employed if the organizations are to survive.
I am reminded of a friend who pledged AKA the same semester I did at a university in downstate Illinois. One day, she and I were trading pledge stories when she said the most remarkable thing to me. "Every day I woke up, I prayed to God for forgiveness for what I was doing." It struck me because no one had ever voiced their uneasiness with the pledge process in a manner quite like that. But as the years have gone by, I have come to hear that sentiment echoed by many other members, who despite their strong desire to pledge an organization, still held on to their strong Christian beliefs.
The one thing I can say about not only my process but the process of many others is that none of us were ever forced to do anything that conflicted with our religious beliefs. I remember during my pledge process feeling the need to go to church, but my line had a project to do that Sunday morning. When I told my dean that I wanted to miss out on the activity, we were all excused, and I was encouraged to attend church the next morning. During that time, one of the members of that same church I attended at the time was the dean of the Delta line here in the city and she would regularly bring them to church on Sunday (it helped that the pastor and assistant pastor were both Delta’s). It was quite a sight to see the Pyramids marching down the aisle of the church in formation at the same time I was greeting some of my big brothers.
I think it is worthy to note that the religious critics of the BGLO system fall into the same trap that the more mainstream critics fall into. They take one aspect of our organization (hazing) and apply it to the organization as a whole. They allow the actions of a few to taint their view of all of us. And this is not only inaccurate, but it is not fair. Do we condemn all of Catholicism for having a few child molesting priests? Do we condemn all Baptists for the actions of Rev. Henry Lyons? Should we denigrate all preachers just because a few of them have stolen or committed adultery? The answer, obviously, is no. While I cannot defend the hazing practices of our organizations, I can defend our commitment to the uplift and preservation of the black community. I can defend our contributions to society. However, to cast us all in a negative light just because of the actions of a few only goes to show how short-sighted some critics are. When all blacks are called criminals, we cry foul. However, the BGLO system is not afforded the same outrage. The pledging process as it was only represented a minute fraction of the time that someone spends in a BGLO. Granted, it has an impact, but the soul of our organizations has little to do with our initiation practices.
Before I close, I think it is relevant to point out one other issue. I cannot name how many pastors, preachers and theologians I have heard of, met, and become acquainted with who are members of black fraternities and sororities. Among them are: Rev’s Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, James Cone, Cornell West, and Vashtai McKenzie, just to name a few. It is also worth mentioning that there are leaders of several church organizations, from my own A.M.E. Church to the Baptist, COGIC, and many other denominations who are members of BGLO’s (I will state here, again for the sake of honesty, that the senior Bishop of the A.M.E. Church is an Alpha and approximately half of our current crop of candidates for Bishop are in BGLO’s). I find it odd that none of these men and women who have been called by God to preach and minister have not denounced their membership in our organizations. While some may have been and are critical of our initiation practices, they have not left our organizations. I also know of several preachers who have joined BGLO’s AFTER being in the ministry for several years. I only bring this up because by naming preachers who are in BGLO’s is just as valid as a pastor saying that BGLO’s are against God.
With all of that said, the bottom line is that it comes down to the individual as to whether or not their beliefs as Christians are compatible with the BGLO system. Just as with every other aspect of choosing to join one of our organizations, it is an extremely personal decision. One of the interesting things about Christianity is that five people can interpret the same scripture five different ways. The only person who is the absolute authority on ANY subject regarding Christianity is God. For anyone else to pretend to have all the answers is inaccurate and naive at best.
I will say here what I have said to those who have e-mailed me with questions and concerns. Pray about it. Talk to God and let Him tell you what to do. Let that be the final and ultimate guide of any decision that you will make. After that, if you still desire membership, we will welcome you.
Peace and Love
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(Charles E. Smoot © 2000-2009, all rights reserved)