Saturday, March 04, 2006

Fighting City Hall

This article is being simul-blogged on several Masonic blogs and websites across the blogosphere.

by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS,, Palm Harbor, Florida, USA

"If anything in life is constant, it is change." — Bryce's Law

"You can't fight city hall" has been a part of our vernacular for many years. Basically, it is an admission that it is futile to fight the powers in charge, consequently people resign themselves to either live within the system or move on. Unfortunately, a lot of people are moving on in Freemasonry. As a small example, I recently received an e-mail from a young Mason who is resigning from the fraternity. I asked him why he was leaving and he enumerated four reasons:
  1. I just grew tired of the same routine.
  2. Some treated me like I didn't have anything to contribute; like an idiot.
  3. I couldn't support the next 2-3 people coming into the Master's chair.
  4. There is no meat to the Masonic organization any longer.
This typifies the frustration younger Masons are feeling about the current state of the fraternity. As a result, we are witnessing polarization in the Lodge room and elsewhere; Old-Guard versus New-Guard, Lodge versus Lodge, District versus District, Grand Jurisdiction versus Grand Jurisdiction. I saw this same phenomenon occurring in the computer field during the 1980's with the proliferation of PC's. During this time, the old-guard maintained the mainframe computers while the young-guard was infatuated with the new technology. The sad thing was that both parties served a vital purpose, but neither party had any use for the other. Inevitably, the new-guard ultimately won out as the old-guard eventually retired. This left a void in technical expertise for the mainframes and companies floundered.

This same phenomenon is occurring in the fraternity as younger members feel powerless against the current regimes in Blue Lodges and Grand Lodges. Whereas the old-guard is content with the status quo, younger members are looking for more substance and fellowship in the fraternity. And the two parties are not working together. The major difference here though is that Freemasonry is a volunteer organization and one becomes a member for life. Consequently, the old-guard maintains a stranglehold on the fraternity. This does not sit well with the younger members who are now looking for further light through other venues.

In my article "Are We Reading the Signs?" I described how some younger members are starting new Lodges that are unencumbered with an old-guard mentality. The ritual work of these new Lodges is excellent, they just spend less time "reading the bills" and more time on fellowship. As a result, younger members are flocking to the new Lodges, leaving the older Lodges to die on the vine.

As another example, consider The Rite of the Rose Cross of Gold which was started three years ago as another venue for Masons to practice their craft and enjoy some fellowship. According to Rose Cross organizers, the group was organized with the permission of the Grand Lodge of Georgia.

As part of their membership requirements, a person had to be a Master Mason and a member of both the Scottish and York Rites (this was done to appease all of the various parties involved). Unfortunately, something went awry over time; the Grand Lodge requested a list of their members and, from it, unceremoniously expelled all of its members from the fraternity without the benefit of a Masonic trial. To this day, organizers are at a loss as to why their membership was expelled, butthis did not deter the members who subsequently went on to establish the United Grand Lodge of America of Accepted Free-Masons (UGLofA) on December 27th, 2005.

If you read the web pages of the Rose Cross and UGLofA you have to wonder what all the hubbub was about. On the surface it appears theirintent is noble and their activities harmless. Further, there is no mention of their activities on the Grand Lodge of Georgia web site. Nonetheless, the Rose Cross continued their activities without the support of the Grand Lodge of Georgia. So much so, they started additional chapters in Georgia and Alabama. Organizers claim the Grand Lodge is continuing their policy of expelling members joining these new chapters (also without Masonic trial). Now, the Grand Master of Alabama is becoming concerned with their activities and is questioning why there is a problem in Georgia.

According to a Rose Cross organizer, "We are offering a high quality organization that provides excellent Masonic education and fun social activities. All we are doing is giving the people what they want."

I'm not taking sides on the issue in this article, but am merely noting the phenomenon. Frankly, we shouldn't be surprised by this activity as it represents a classic example of the growing rift emerging between the old-guard and the young-guard. One can only wonder if we will see more of this in the near future.

As Masons, we are taught that if we do not like the current system, we should work from within to improve it. Unfortunately, legislation is often torpedoed before it even gets to a vote. If it doesn't conform to the current policies, it is often stonewalled or sabotaged before it gets to the floor. There are even stories of character assassination of authors of proposed legislation. This is unsettling to younger Masons who, instead, are opting to change the fraternity not from within, but from without. The Rose Cross episode is but one example of this.

These are strange and awkward times for Freemasonry. We now live in an era of highly charged politics where distrust, contempt, back stabbing, and a lack of cooperation is the norm as opposed to the exception. This leads to such things as censorship and political machines with agendas. For an institution that is theoretically devoid of politics, it is political wrangling that is disrupting the harmony and moral fabric of the fraternity.

When I joined the fraternity, I was taught that every Brother was allowed to have their say, right or wrong, and allow the Craft to decide. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. And frankly, we shouldn't be surprised by all of this as man is a political animal by nature. What is disturbing is the rift that is ensuing. Regardless of our age, I always naively believed we were all on the same team.

Today, Grand Lodges are demanding blind faith in the judgment of its officers. They recognize that most people are unthinking and prefer to be told what to do and how to vote. Such abdication of the thinking process naturally results in a Theory X dictatorial form of management which several Grand jurisdictions are currently experiencing. Blind faith is fine if you do not care, but unacceptable if you do. True, we should respect our leaders, but I do not believe Freemasonry should prohibit free-thought or free-expression.

Further, people do not want to sit in Lodge if there is going to be constant bickering and back-biting. Life is hectic enough without adding another level of contention. People want to leave such problems behind. If they cannot find harmony in their fortress of solitude, the Lodge, they simply will not attend anymore (and many are doing just that).

It is very disheartening to describe a scenario where young and old Masons are at odds with each other. The old-guard should mentor the new, but be smart enough not to resist change simply because "that's the way we have done it for years." Change is a natural part of life; change is constant. But change for the sake of change is rediculous. There has to be an intelligent reason for implementing change. And this can only happen if we are allowed to discuss matters openly, rationally, and respectfully. It would seem on the surface that censoring our younger Masons is a smart stalling tactic. In reality, it accelerates the change process by bringing the subject to a boiling point. Let us all hope that cooler heads prevail on both sides and Freemasonry survives well into the future.

Down in Florida, the Department of Motor Vehicles offers license plates to "Save the Manatees, Whales, Wild Dolphins, Sea Turtles, Florida Panther," etc. Let us hope we will never need a "Save the Masons" plate.

Keep the Faith.

NOTE: As with all of my articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:

Article reprinted with permission of the author and ""

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