Tuesday, November 01, 2005

An Appeal for Masonic Reform

The following essay is by Brother Griffin, a Master Mason from Texas, and is reprinted with permission from his website The Griffin's Lair.

Masons are naturally predisposed to give their loyalty and the benefit of their doubts to those who have ascended to leadership positions. But these virtues, coupled with complacency and a lack of information, make the fraternity a fertile field for men whose intentions are not to serve the ideals and spirit of Masonic Light, but rather to serve narrow-mindedness, bigotry and an anti-intellectual shallowness.

Masons everywhere ought to be outraged at the foolish indignities and blatant tyranny fostered in the name of Masonry by Grand Lodges across the United States. What follows is an accounting of reprehensible events and trends in Masonry that are becoming all too common.

A number of Grand Lodges continue to refuse recognition to Prince Hall Freemasonry on the flimsiest grounds of traditional rules of regularity. Somehow the men of power in those Grand Lodges believe this course of action is more virtuous than extending a fraternal hand to generations of good men who have sworn before God to uphold the same honorable obligations. No matter what the true intentions may be for this continued segregation of Masonry, to the general public, and especially to many who might otherwise join the fraternity, it is nothing short of racism.

Some Grand Lodges are taking steps to eliminate the right of Masons to freely express their own opinions about our fraternity. There have been edicts and rulings that Grand Lodge censors must approve personal Masonic websites, or their owners can face expulsion. In other words, these Grand Lodges no longer respect a Mason's ability, much less his right, to speak about Masonry in accord with his own conscience and his understanding of the obligations. If in speaking a Mason violates an obligation, then let him suffer the consequences. But it is nothing less than tyranny to eliminate the actual liberties of all in order to prevent the potential offenses of a few.

The freedom of association is also under attack. A number of Grand Lodges already have regulations forbidding Masons from joining, supporting or organizing Masonic bodies not already on a sanctioned list. So long as an organization is not claiming to make Masons, so long as it is not in violation of the Ancient Landmarks, and so long as it does not seek to usurp the authority of the regional Grand Lodge, then it is absurd for a Grand Lodge to assume any lawful authority to interfere with the business of that organization.

Think carefully about these infringements on free speech and association. It means that in some jurisdictions Masons have less freedom with regard to their organization than members of political parties, churches or schools do with theirs. Is this consistent with an order that has long prided itself on being an instrument of liberty?

In some quarters of the fraternity religious freedom is also being eroded. It is clear that lodges are now housing the kind of religious zealots that traditionally attacked Masonry for its principles of nonsectarian fellowship. Grand Officers are on record as having recently expressed their own religious intolerance in declaring some people unfit for Masonry. The flag of Protestant Christianity is displayed in the east of some lodges. Volumes of Sacred Law other than the Old and New Testaments are not welcome on some altars, and prayers are offered in the name of Jesus. It goes without saying that no U.S. Grand Lodge would tolerate a single lodge that displayed a Menorah or a Crescent and Star in the east, offered all its prayers in the name Elohim Israel or the name of Allah, and allowed only the Torah or only the Quran upon its altar. To permit such abuses is Masonic hypocrisy.

As a general rule in most jurisdictions, Masons who seek a deeper philosophical, psychological and spiritual experience and understanding of Masonry are scoffed or shunned as "fringe Masons." Discussions of Masonry as a system of mythical initiation and philosophical enlightenment are too often discouraged in lodge meetings. The message is that the language of Masonic ritual is not to be taken seriously, and that Masons with such interests had best keep quiet. It is another tactic of totalitarian regimes to keep their people uneducated, and to silence and ridicule the most learned.

There is also a bitter generation gap emerging in the fraternity. Many Masons of the World War II and Baby Boomer generations do not understand the needs and wants of Generation-X Masons and the Millenials that are now coming of age for candidacy. In searching for excuses for Masonry's membership ills, older Masons in influential positions have publicly accused young American males of being lazy, stupid, immoral and heathenistic. Of course, this accusation is also used as a justification for throwing out pieces of ritual and symbolism that are no longer understood and valued by the very same men who claim to be the defenders of tradition. These attitudes and circumstances coupled with unprecedented membership campaigns clearly communicate to the men of younger generations that their only value to the fraternity is as sources of income and labor. The meaning of Masonic membership is delivered as "Show up, pay up and shut up."

Masons at large must start consistently confronting such injustices, or what is left of the fraternity will be nothing but a pretentious farce. Already it is too often an insult to the great bygone defenders of enlightenment and liberty that we now publicly advertise as exemplars of Masonry.

Even now, the Grand Lodge of Georgia is moving toward setting a precedent for the expulsion of young, hardworking Masons with good intentions. The Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold (RRCG) was created by a group of well educated professionals, some of them holding Masonic offices, who wanted a place within the fraternity that lives up to its promises of brotherly love and assistance in the quest for further Masonic Light. These regularly initiated and loyal brothers had grown weary of the ridicule and resistance they had suffered from brethren who want their fraternity to be little more than a dinner club for grumpy old men. To their credit, the RRCG website has drawn an impressive amount of attention, and Masons across the country and in other nations have shown enthusiastic interest in what the RRCG is offering.

The young men of the RRCG asked no more than to be allowed a corner under the umbrella of the Grand Lodge of Georgia where they and future like-minded brothers could pursue their legitimate Masonic interests without ruffling the feathers of others. They were not seeking any status beyond that held by such organizations as the Shrine, the Scottish Rite, the Allied Masonic Degrees or the Masonic Rosicrucians. They publicly and privately attested that they were not going into the business of making Masons, and that they would not admit anyone to their ranks who was not already a "regular" Master Mason in good standing. To demonstrate their desire to operate in the good graces of the Grand Lodge, they were scrupulous in providing the RRCG's financial records, founding documents and rituals. Not only did they provide access, they requested critique and guidance from the Grand Lodge on anything they might need to amend in order to operate in amity with the Grand Lodge.

The Grand Lodge of Georgia did not respond to the RRCG with any critique or guidance. Instead they are now responding with the threat to expel these honorable brothers if they do not renounce their affiliation with the RRCG and denounce it as "clandestine". In preparation for this move, the Grand Master had to issue an edict that effectively ignored the traditional Masonic meaning of clandestine and actually redefined it to suit his desires. When the RRCG leaders requested clarification on whether or not the edict applied to their organization, they received no response.

The intention of the edict has only now become clear after being sneaked through the Grand Lodge, hidden within a package of other proposals and left undiscussed. Now the officers of Georgia lodges are going to be pressured to bring charges against friends and brothers with whom they have no quarrel, most of them active members and leaders in their lodges and other Masonic organizations.

This state of affairs is organizational insanity, if not outright megalomania. It is asinine that the Grand Lodge of Georgia would take such actions while simultaneously complaining about declining membership. If the Grand Lodge doesn't want the kind of men in the RRCG, then what kind does it want? It is sickening to realize that the Grand Lodge is not above allowing convicted felons and known child molesters to retain and even regain membership, but they find it impossible to tolerate the presence of good men who only want to enrich Masonry.

The situation in Georgia is repulsive, but all of these points ought to raise red flags in the minds of every good Mason. There are pockets of Masonry that are infected with horrible diseases. If we do not take action to cure those diseases, then they could either poison our fraternity to death or cripple it to an extent that might require decades to heal.

It isn't everyone's calling to publicly battle injustice on the front lines, but it is time for every conscientious Mason to do something. In some places and situations, Masonic reform requires public conflict, even legal action, for that is the only way that justice can be served. Already there are brothers leaving the mainstream jurisdictiions to join "irregular" and more enlightened Grand Lodges. Some brothers may find the best way to serve Masonic reform is by quietly creating change from within the existing power structures. In the more progressive mainstream jurisdictions, Masons ought to be expressing their concerns about such things to their own Grand Lodges, for sometimes the scrutiny of other Grand Lodges is the most effective means of encouraging change. Other Masons may wish to simply join in Internet discussions of these problems as a way of helping to ensure that they do not continue to be swept under the rug.

There is one form of service that all can perform in this cause, and that is prayer. Masonry claims to be dedicated to the Glory of God, and we are taught to seek the blessings of the Great Architect of the Universe upon all great and noble labors. We are now in a time when the greatest and most noble labor we can perform is to return the fraternity to its calling as a school of moral virtue, philosophical enlightenment and spiritual illumination. If you do nothing else, brothers, I urge you to join me in this prayer on a daily basis:

In the Ineffable Holy Name of the Almighty One, we ask that we be shown the way for our fraternity to heal, and we pray that each of us sets himself to labor for Masonic reform according to the designs written upon his heart. Amen. So mote it be.

1 comment:

  1. The following statement was issued at York on Saturday 29th December 2007.

    Regularity and Recognition: The Myth and the Reality

    If reports are correct, there is much to commend in the speech recently given by the Pro-Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England to the so-called ‘European Grand Masters’ Meeting’. However, leaving aside the infelicitous claim to speak for ‘England’, there are certain presumptions and confusions in the address that demand the most urgent and serious scrutiny.

    Regularity is of course an essential doctrine in Freemasonry but has in recent years been subject to ill-considered assault from within the Craft itself. It is therefore appropriate to analyse those comments of the Pro-Grand Master that seem designed to undermine and devalue a concept that all Freemasons ought to hold dear.

    There is, for example, the explicit declaration that ‘to be regular a Grand Lodge must conform to each of our basic Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition or it cannot be considered as regular’. Given a moment’s consideration a truly outrageous claim! Freemasonry is not, and never has been, subject to or contained within the United Grand Lodge of England. To suggest as much is to diminish the history, role and actuality of Freemasonry. The cart is clearly and contrivedly put before the horse, making regularity the reward for recognition. And conveniently in so doing the two quite separate and distinct concepts of ‘Regularity’ and ‘Recognition’ are conflated.

    ‘Regularity’ requires a strict acceptance and observance of the Ancient Landmarks of the Order. Such Landmarks are visible and ascertainable and are found within any regular Grand Lodge. Regularity is represented by adherence: nothing more, nothing less. It is not, and cannot ever be, bestowed. Indeed, Regularity is necessarily beyond the capacity of anybody or any organisation whatsoever to bestow, be they Grand Master or Grand Lodge. The very best any such Master or Lodge can hope to do is to bequeath Regularity to his or its successor. And here I can of course confirm that the Grand Lodge of All England is such a regular Grand Lodge and adheres strictly to those Ancient Landmarks that alone can make it so.

    ‘Recognition’ is a very different concept. There are, for example, devices the use of which may enable a regularly made Freemason to be ‘recognised’ by others. Such may be said to amount to individual recognition and on this level the term is quite uncontroversial. However, the question should be asked as to what purpose Grand Lodge ‘recognition’ actually serves, and who in fact really benefits from such a device. It should here be noted that Grand Lodge ‘recognition’ has its genesis in late eighteenth century legislation, such as the Unlawful Societies Act, designed to stifle debate and discussion within the context of an authoritarian and politically repressive state. We recoil from the memory of such devices and reject this latter day attempt to rejuvenate so tainted and un-Masonic a concept.

    Far from having had thrust upon them ‘the mantle of being guardians of regularity’, the United Grand Lodge of England in fact seized upon the opportunity presented by repressive legislation to attempt nothing less than the appropriation of Freemasonry. In contradistinction, the Grand Lodge of All England does not accept the validity of any such spurious doctrine as ‘recognition’ nor does it ‘recognise’ any other Grand Lodges nor seek such ‘recognition’ from others. Rather, it stands as the bearer of traditional Masonic principles and disowns all attempts to subjugate and subvert genuine Freemasonry.

    The Grand Lodge of All England has frequently and consistently published its position with regard to these two quite separate and distinct concepts of ‘Regularity’ and ‘Recognition’. Together with a detailed historical exposition this is explained at length on our website at www.grandlodgeofallengland.org and is authoritatively represented on a number of general Masonic websites. It is stated in our official submission to the Commission on Information for Recognition of the Conference of Grand Master Masons of North America, in articles in the hands of various Masonic publishers and in correspondence with various interested parties.

    A Grand Lodge is, indeed, ‘either regular or it is not’. But whether ‘recognition’ is extended or denied to one Grand Lodge by another is irrelevant. There is in Masonic terms no historical or constitutional basis for this spurious and wholly political doctrine of ‘recognition’. To continue to employ such a device as a means of dividing Mason from Mason is the residue of one of the least attractive, most repressive and disgraceful periods of modern Masonic history.

    From inception, the United Grand Lodge of England has sought, unsuccessfully, to exert a monopoly over Freemasonry. What cannot be countenanced is that this aspiration should be allowed to corrupt the wholly genuine concept, vital to genuine Freemasonry, of Regularity, and to render it nothing more than a self-serving ideological notion. This concern is made all the immediate by the compromises already entered into by United Grand Lodge of England and the dilution of Masonic principles and practices that these compromises have brought about.

    Much of the difficulty the Pro-Grand Master sought to address in his speech was to do with the role of the United Grand Lodge of England within the Masonic world. Such difficulty, however, is due to his own Grand Lodge in seeking to redefine Freemasonry in its own image and as in its own gift. The Masonic doctrine of Regularity exists outside and is wholly independent of any Grand Lodge. It is most emphatically not to be confused and conflated with the practice of Grand Lodge ‘recognition’ devised and instituted by the United Grand Lodge of England for its own hegemonic purposes. And Freemasonry, even English Freemasonry, is most emphatically not to be confused and conflated with the United Grand Lodge of England.

    John Gordon Graves
    Grand-Master Mason
    Grand Lodge of All England


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