This is the eighth in our series of essays from guest bloggers on the topic "Masonic harmony, unity and discord." This one is by Bro. Fred Milliken, also known as Squire Bentley. Bro. Milliken is the publisher of the Masonic blog "The Beehive." My thanks go out to Bro. Fred and to all who are participating in this project.
A Flawed System: Why There is So Much Disunity, Disharmony & Discord in Freemasonry
by Bro. Fred Milliken
Freemasonry grew up with the birth of our nation, thus the Masonry in each state was considered sovereign as were the states. After the US gained its independence a loose association of states was formed under The Articles of Confederation. When this proved to be unworkable a more serious commitment to Federalization was put in place under the US Constitution.
The point is Freemasonry never changed and grew with the country and its civil government; never realized the mistakes made when too many decision makers afford no accountability. American Freemasonry stayed locked in the mode and style of 1776 thereby never allowing an American Masonic Identity. There was and there is no such thing as American Freemasonry, there is only Californian Masonry, New York Masonry, Texas Masonry etc.
In parts of the world in civil government there are artificial countries, with artificial boundaries and no sense of national pride. Whether it be Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq or various African nations, the artificial boundaries hold a loose collection of Tribes. These countries are said to have a Tribal System. Tribal equals trouble.
Next year the USA will have a new President, either Obama or McCain. Whoever it may be I know that that person will speak for the entire country even though they lack total dictatorial power. My President will be a Unifier, attempting at all times to bring the country together.
American Freemasonry has a Tribal Mentality which leads to constant friction, dissension and outright war. American Freemasonry has no Unifier, rather it practices Separatism. This is one reason we have so much disharmony and discord.
If you like the present system of 51 Feudal Barons lording themselves over 51 fiefdoms then you pay the price of increased disharmony and discord. And you automatically empower and refuse to condemn a Masonic jurisdiction such as West Virginia which has not yet entered the 20th century never mind the 21st.
As each fiefdom goes its separate way, some jurisdictions have admitted a large number of agenda driven people, those with an ax to grind, and when they have sufficient numbers they have changed Freemasonry.
For instance in some states conservative Christian evangelicals have overtaken some Grand Lodges and written into their state Masonic code a Christianization of their state's Freemasonry. Freemasonry had previously gradually evolved into being religiously neutral and it still is in many American jurisdictions. Prayers to Jesus, extra Bible readings in Lodge, no Holy Book permitted on the altar but the Bible, District Christian Church services, Bible presentations upon raising, no gambling permitted, no alcohol on Lodge property are just some examples of the way some Masons have codified their own personal moral and religious beliefs into the Constitutions and by-laws of their Grand Lodge. The Freemasonry in Louisiana, Georgia and Tennessee looks a great deal different from the Freemasonry in Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and California.
Some of these same Masons have used the outmoded system of balloting to exclude men of diversity and to allow to enter others that do not reflect the values of Freemasonry. This amounts to ethnic cleansing or purifying the Lodge. Those welcome are Christians, politically conservative, White Supremists, Protestants, Republicans, the KKK and the Militia. Those blackballed and excluded are Blacks, the politically liberal, Jews, those in the peace movement or civil rights movement, Democrats, Muslims and anybody with a funny accent.
Some of us do not seem to be able to celebrate diversity. In Lodges in India you can find at the same time Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians, Jews, Jains, and Buddhists all sitting side by side. There are five Volumes of the Sacred Law on the altar: The Bhagvad Gita for the Hindus, The Qur'an for the Muslims, The Avesta for the Parsis or Zoroaastrians, The Bible for the Christians and Jews and The Granth Sahib for the Sikhs. If this does not cover the field a candidate may bring his own book of Faith. You will also find many different skin colors and political allegiances.
If you travel to Canada and experience their Freemasonry you won't find these deep seated divisions and animosities. Neither will you find them in the British Isles. Perhaps it is the nature of our contentious American society where Americans tend to be hysterical and mean spirited that dooms us to a Freemasonry of constant bickering, disharmony and discord.
As Masons we have been taught to be tolerant and accepting. This is one of the traits for which a Mason is well known. But we have carried tolerance too far. Those who have subverted Freemasonry for ulterior motives and their own ends want us to tolerate intolerance. How do you fight evil if you are required to tolerate it?
Other divisive and disharmonious behavior comes from a traditionalist attitude I sometimes refer to as "legalistic Masonry." These Masons, often entrenched in seats of Grand Lodge power, refuse to allow the change or reform of Freemasonry one iota, not even one word in one sentence. And they tell you that trying to change Freemasonry is a violation of a Mason’s Obligation. The reformers do not seek a change in the ritual or message of Freemasonry but rather the procedures and processes that back the practice of the Craft. This dedication to "legalistic Freemasonry" can be seen in those who insist on maintaining the Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction from Prince Hall inclusion. Their adherence to the strict letter of the law puts policy above people, separation above unity and reminds one of the cackles of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The disharmony and discord of American Freemasonry is far larger than the so called harmony of the Lodge. It is rooted in the policy and governance of Grand Lodge where the Grand Master and Grand Lodge Officers set the tone for Freemasonry in that jurisdiction. The Lodge is not alive but rather an inanimate concept. It cannot feel, laugh, cry or do anything that human beings can do. The harmony of the Lodge is an invalid concept and is often used to exclude, as in "We have to blackball this Black Man for the harmony of the Lodge" or "This Jewish applicant will just not fit here at this Lodge where we all are Christian. He must be rejected for the harmony of the Lodge."
The tone of Grand Lodges and their desire to control Masonic thought, their poor handling of the computer revolution and Internet Freemasonry, and their suspensions and expulsions without a Masonic trial have dumped onto Internet Freemasonry, its Forums and Blogs, bitter expelled past Masons who feel that they have been dealt an injustice and are out for revenge. If Grand Lodges were not so controlling and arbitrary in their use of power, were not so political and so thin skinned perhaps Freemasonry in the USA would be a little more subdued and harmonious.
So what is to be done? I offer three suggestions which are not the sum and total of what might be accomplished but merely a start into a more harmonious American Freemasonry and bringing Masons together.
1. A National Constitution and Masonic Bill of Rights
It's too late for a National Grand Lodge. It would never fly today even if it were a good idea which it probably is not. There needs to be a semblance of sameness and order throughout the 51 jurisdictions which comprise American Freemasonry. This has nothing to do with changing or standardizing the ritual of Freemasonry or dictating the practice of the Craft or removing the sovereignty of state Grand Lodges. It has to do with fairness, of creating a sound base or foundation that exists everywhere so that each jurisdiction can go on from there to implement the practice of Freemasonry as it sees fit. It has to do with the processes and procedures of Freemasonry, the definition of Freemasonry, who can and cannot be admitted into Freemasonry, what ethical code can we all agree upon and having the same Landmarks. It also has to do with the rights of individual Brethren and protecting them from abuse and misuse of power. If we can do this we can eliminate a lot of the disharmony.
2. Masonic Legislature
Freemasonry grew up in the time of Monarchies and the Divine Right of Kings. Times and attitudes have changed into a way of life that is more participatory by the average citizen. Freemasonry needs to reflect that change and allow for the say of each individual Brother. A Masonic legislature which could make or change policy by a democratic vote would perhaps lessen those who go running off to start their own version of Freemasonry because they have been locked out or arbitrarily squashed. A true will of the majority goes a lot further in gaining support than the arbitrary desires of the Masonic Pope sitting in the Grand East. Lest anyone think that this would strip the Grand Master of all power and stature it could be set up so that a Grand Master could veto anything the Legislature passes unless this body has voted on a course to be taken by 75% or more of those convened. A change of this nature would be up to the individual choice of each state Grand Lodge and not be imposed upon them.
3. Ballot Reform
I devoted a whole blog to this subject. The present unanimous secret ballot permits prejudice and revenge and no good reason to reject an applicant and thwart the will of the majority. Its use keeps out Blacks, Jews & Hippies and just about anybody you don’t like.
But it also lets in some undesirables like the KKK. One member gets in unnoticed and he brings in scores of others always keeping their other life from discovery. Black balls that should be dropped are not.
There is a case to be made for a secret ballot. What you definitely do not want is a raising of hands in open Lodge. There is also a strong case to be made that it is terribly unfair and unjust to reject a good man for no good reason or because of prejudice.
The so called phony harmony of the Lodge is not justification for a unanimous secret ballot. In essence one is putting pseudo harmony ahead of Civil Rights and human rights. This is not the way a person joins the United States and becomes a citizen. The election of a President or of a Worshipful Master does not have to be unanimous.
I would offer that the decision of admittance to the Lodge be made in a semi secret ballot of the three members of the Investigating committee who will have taken training in Investigative technique and who sit as a permanent committee of the Lodge for a duration of office as determined by the Lodge. If any member of the Lodge has an objection to an applicant they are to bring that objection to this committee who will investigate it. Rejection will then come for a solid reason and not "I don’t want a Black man in my Lodge." The Three so constituted will offer no comment on their decisions. The implementation of this change would be a choice left up to each individual Grand Lodge.
It is not only within American Mainstream Freemasonry that there is disunity, disharmony and discord. Relationships with other Obediences are governed by Grand Lodge rules and regulations and in many cases they not only prohibit Masonic Communication but also Masonic discourse. This is why disharmony is not just a local Lodge problem. It goes all the way to the top where a Grand Master feels that he can tell you who you can talk to and who you cannot. Orders from on high often ask a Mason to shun other Obediences. When you do that you can't expect not to get some flak back.
Perhaps a case can be made for Unrecognized, Irregular, Clandestine knock offs many coalescing around the cult of an individual. But for those practicing Regular Masonry excepting the violation of sex, there really is no good reason to be spiteful. If Women's Masonry, Co-Masonry, and other Regular Clandestines, which in some areas includes Prince Hall, would sit down together, break bread together, sponsor some charitable events together, do some social functions together, and rent the same building for meetings, even though none of the different Obediences ever sat in Lodge together, there would be more peace, harmony and accord. In many parts of Europe the different Obediences of Freemasonry do not trash each other but seek ways of accommodation thereby avoiding the tension and conflict and ill feeling that fortressed American Freemasonry has. Much of this anti social behavior is aided and abetted by Grand Lodges.
I have some of my writings on a wonderful website run by a Co-Mason. When some Brothers of an Internet Masonic Forum I belong to found this out they called me a traitor and said that not only would they never visit that site again and never read any of my writings therein but that they would also boycott any postings I made on the Forum. To them I was guilty of aiding the enemy and giving him publicity.
We need an ecumenical spirit among the different Regular Obediences of American Freemasonry. If we had an ecumenical spirit there would be less disharmony and discord. It's up to the Grand Lodges to pave the way in setting the TONE of American Freemasonry.
Quite frankly I am dismayed by those Brothers who say that they don't come to these places anymore because of all the squabbling and bickering. Some of the loud noise is being made by those of us who seek a change of heart from those who are responsible for much of the disharmony that exists. Working to make the future an improved, quieter, more unified and harmonious Masonic experience, today sometimes requires some robust jousting.
But these Brothers would rather trade rights and justice for phony harmony right now. Why can't you just zip your lip and go along to get along they say? Then there would be peace and harmony. Yup, and injustice too. Go along with racism in Freemasonry, go along with expulsions without a Masonic trial, go along with no Masonic discourse with other Obediences, go along with rigged elections and shunning those that do it another way. My reply is why don’t you come along? Come along and help solve the root causes of disharmony and discord.
— Bro. Frederic Milliken
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