I've written many times on the issue of mixing sectarian religion — usually a fundamentalist Christian sectarian viewpoint — with Freemasonry. Masonic tradition, Masonic etiquette, and Masonic Code forbid the discussion of sectarian religious topics within Freemasonry.
But that hasn't stopped many, many Georgia (and elsewhere, I'm sure) lodges from appointing chaplains who are fundamentalist Christian ministers, or fundamentalist Christian church members. These men defend their open defiance of Masonic Law with phrases like "...but that's just the way I pray."
If you're not familiar with what happened when I pointed out this violation of Masonic Code to my own lodge brothers, read Small Town Freemasonry — Part 1: A Bucket of Rattlesnakes.
A chaplain is an appointed officer of a lodge. His job is to lead the Brethren in opening the lodge with a prayer — one prescribed in the Masonic Manual — to the Grand Architect of the Universe. Chapter 4-6 of the Masonic Code gives the Grand Chaplain's duties to be to attend the Grand Lodge annual communication and perform "the customary religious services" there," and to prepare "all memorials." It's unclear what "religious services" are referred to — Wardens have no vote at Grand Lodge in Georgia, so I've never attended.
The prescribed prayer was intended to be as much a part of ritual as any other recited or acted-out ritual done in the opening and closing of a lodge. But somewhere along the line, a preacher uttered his own words as a prayer instead of the ritual prayer, and the practice spread like wildfire.
But that doesn't make it right. As the Masonic Book of Etiquette for Georgia says (pages 49 and 50):
Freemasonry is a fraternity. It is not a religion. Its members are presumed to be religious and it operates on the highest and best moral principles taught by all the great religions. But direct or even indirect reference to one's religious preference in a prayer, though inadvertently often done, or the display of a particular religious flag in the confines of a Masonic Lodge, are breaches of good manners and the spirit of Freemasonry, if not of the law itself.To further make my larger point, that the Grand Lodge serves no useful purpose and in fact promotes violation of its own Masonic Laws, I direct you no further than page seven of the current (August 2006) issue of the Grand Lodge of Georgia's official magazine, Masonic Messenger.
It would be immaterial if all present at the Lodge meeting were all of the same religion and sect, yet this would seem rare and unlikely.... These things are pointed out that we may avoid the violation, in spirit as well as in fact, of one of the most important tenets of Freemasonry.... Our practice seems to show that we are fully aware of the injunction with reference to politics; many do not appreciate fully how our inadvertences in prayer strike some other of our brethren....
For Masons in Lodge to indulge in or practice any form of religious sectarianism is to risk the destruction of the Craft as surely as would be the rule against the discussion of partisan politics in Lodge or participation in partisan politics by the Lodge itself.
W. Bro. Reuben W. Hattaway is currently the Grand Lodge of Georgia's chaplain, an appointed position. As such, he is in a position of representing the spiritual side of Freemasonry, and, if he has a duty at all, it is to serve the spiritual needs of all Georgia Freemasons. It is not his job to promote his own personal, sectarian religion.
In the U.S., the Bible is the most common Book of Sacred Law upon the Holy Altar in a Blue Lodge. It is given us "as the rule and guide," a symbolic reference to the universal laws given within. In some parts of the U.S., and in other countries, other Books of the Sacred Law may be found on the Holy Altar. In the U.S., certain verses from the Bible, by tradition, are used in various ritual work during circumperambulation of the Lodge.
The Bible's use and presence in a Lodge does not mean that a sectarian form of Christianity should be promoted, espoused, or endorsed in a Masonic activity or by a Masonic Lodge. The Grand Lodge is a Masonic Lodge, and its officers are bound by the same rules and traditions as other Masons. "All Masons are on the level."
W. Bro. Hattaway abuses his bully pulpit — his column in the Masonic Messenger — with his August article, which as its title quotes a Bible verse: "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord (Exodus 14:13)." The paid-for-with-dues Masonic Messenger should not be used to print Christian sermons.
I found it particularly ironic (and weird) that his article, promoting his sectarian Christian views, is apparently written to defend Freemasonry against the anti-Masonic fundamentalist Christians who say Masons are Satan-worshipping, New World Order conspiracists.
We all are God's Creation, and there is no power on earth which has a good reason to negatively judge us about our relationship with Freemasonry except God Himself. The Bible tells us that "God is Judge Himself" (Psalm 50:6). And, it also tells us "Judge not that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). What would the situation be today if Freemasonry had never been born? Who then, would be the vitcim to be criticized instead of Freemasonry? The answer to the first question is very simple. Every Freemason has the answer and would tell you that there would be many unfortunate men, women and children today if Freemasonry had never been a part of their lives. Freemasonry has given hope to those how have been a part of it and to those that are less fortunate than we are.The sentiments in his sermon are not Masonic; in fact, it could be argued that they are anti-Masonic, in that he urges men to meekly wait around for a message from God, instead of actively seeking that which was lost.
It is sad, but here are enemies all around us, lurking in the darkness to devour us like an animal would, but we have to listen to what the Bible tells us: "Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord (Exodus 14:13). [sic] These words are God's command to us when we face difficulties. We cannot retreat; we cannot go forward. What are we to do? Listen to the Master's Word, "Stand Still!" If we believe in the existence of a "Supreme Being" as we once confessed, then we can put on a cheerful courage, and in the worst times, rejoice in His love and faithfulness. We in Freemasonry can follow the course if we are children of God, because His divine command has bid us to "go from strength to strength" (Psalm 74:7), and we will, and neither death nor hell will turn us away from our course.
Why would anyone, whether it is the religionist, the ignorant, the uneducated, or whomever, speak evil of the greatest, largest, and oldest fraternity in the world? We never criticize or bother anyone. We only try to help those that are in need of help. So, the answer to the question, and I will be kind, it can only be those who have a lack of knowledge of the light that Freemasonry has to offer.
In the meantime, let all who read this article, love God, be obedient to His will and we will see that He is the VICTOR. We should never talk about ourselves getting the victory; we should belong so completely to the VICTOR that the victory always belongs to Him. "We are more than conquerers through Him (Roman [sic] 8:37).
"Stand still!" Keep the posture of an upright person, ready for action so you can hear the same voice that told Moses to say to the people of Israel," Go Forward!" (Exodus 14:15).
May the Lord help us to live to His praise!
If it is not to late, do you approve?
— Reuben Hattaway, Grand Chaplain
I'm not here to argue his scriptural logic or non-logic, though. I'm simply saying that he should have kept it to himself, and not pushed his sectarian Christian views onto the many Christian and non-Christian Georgia Masons who became Masons under the belief that Freemasonry offered more than a cheezy sermonette they can hear in any roadside Baptist church in the state on Sunday. Surely there is more to Freemasonry than rehashed Baptist sermons and platitudes.
Does this bother me? Hell, yes, it bothers me. I was pushed out of my lodge nearly a year ago in part because of my outspoken belief that promoting fundamentist Christianity in the Lodge was wrong. I was basically told to go away if I didn't like it, because "that's how we do things."
I didn't go into their churches and tell them not to practice their religion; I went into a Masonic Temple, and expected them to practice Masonry. Telling Sunday School stories in Lodge is not Freemasonry.
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