Freemasons are men of faith. Men who believe in something greater than themselves. We do not quarrel about dogmatic differences as we believe it is up to the individual's own journey to make peace with the Creator as they see fit. We are not a religion. In fact, religion cannot even be discussed in a Masonic lodge as it may cause disharmony amongst the brethren. Why has there been opposition by many denominations throughout history? There are many reasons that can be stated but, in my opinion, the church sees Freemasonry as competition. The leaders think they are competing for time, energy, and money, of the same men that would belong to churches, men of faith. Freemasons ought to be so involved in their faith communities that the religious leaders see the craft as a benefit to their congregation. In my home church, four out of the five Deacons were Freemasons. There was no question in that church that Freemasonry was a friend, not a foe.
In a Gallup study from 2018, church membership has dropped 20 percentage points since 1998, down to 50%. This is sourced from membership in the three major religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The decline in Freemasonic membership and church membership is correlated for sure. This is not to say that one group is causing the decline of the other, but we are sourcing the same type of people. How do you grow the number of people that believe in a higher power? You get involved with your church. Where do you find qualified men who would be good Freemasons? More than likely in the church. It has been discussed in other articles that we must get out of the lodge and into the community. I will take a more specific stance to say get out of your lodge and into your church. I am not saying go there and recruit Freemasons. I am saying to have conversations with men of your faith, grow your church, and be a shining example of Freemasonry. As stated in the 23rd Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, NMJ, Christians should truly be Christians and Jews should truly be Jewish…realizing common ideals for the good of humanity. I paraphrased that a bit, but you get the idea. We need to be involved in our respective religious circles.
If organized religion is not your thing, find other outlets in your community that puts you in a space with like-minded gentlemen. The percentage of agnostics in America is on the rise and I do not see this trend slowing down. These men may find our principles of toleration and truth appealing.
The sense of mystery surrounding Freemasons is both a blessing and a curse. We must use this to our advantage as we tap into the curiosity of prospective members, but we cannot be so obscure that we alienate our friends in the church. We must be knowledgeable to dispute falsehoods and rumors spread about the fraternity. We must build personal relationships and be trustworthy to gain the respect of those with questions. I know I have a lot of work to transition myself from a passive member in my church to one that is active and engaged. Our motto of making good men better should be evident by the way we carry ourselves in all we do, including the church.
“Bowling Alone” by Robert D. Putnam goes into detail about the decline in membership for both civic and religious organizations. Many factors are outside the control of a single church or lodge. But we can control the partnerships we form locally and the relationships we build with each other to ensure sustainability for generations to come. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it's that people are social creatures and need to interact with each other. Let us be the place that good men seek when we can come together again safely. A warm, strong handshake as we exit a building sure beats exiting out of a zoom meeting every day of the week.
WB Christopher J. Hathaway was raised in Catlin Masonic Lodge #285 and is the current Worshipful Master of Bloomington Masonic Lodge #43. He belongs to the Valley of Danville, AASR where he is the Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix and Membership Chairman. Other appendant bodies include the Gao Grotto, Mohammed Shriners, and the Illinois Lodge of Research. Outside of the lodge, he enjoys spending time with his wife Taylor and cheering on the Fighting Illini and Chicago Cubs.