The 26th degree in the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite is called “Friend and Brother Eternal”. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it tells the story of two officers namely General Lewis Addison Armistead and General Winfield Scott Hancock who while on opposite sides of the Civil War maintain their Masonic Principles. This “story” is immortalized by the “Friend to Friend” Masonic Memorial. It is located in the National Cemetery Annex off Taneytown Road in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
It has a plague that reads:
“Union General Winfield Scott Hancock and Confederate General Lewis Addison Armistead were personal friends and members of the Masonic Fraternity.
Although they had served and fought side by side in the United States army prior to the Civil War, Armistead refused to raise his sword against his fellow Southerners and joined the Confederate Army in 1861.
Both Hancock and Armistead fought heroically in the previous twenty-seven months of the war. They were destined to meet at Gettysburg.
During Pickett’s Charge, Armistead led his men gallantly, penetrating Hancock’s line. Ironically, when Armistead was mortally wounded, Hancock was also wounded.
Depicted in this sculpture is Union Captain Henry Bingham, a Mason and staff assistant to General Hancock, himself wounded, rendering aid to the fallen Confederate General Armistead is shown handing his watch and personal effects to be taken to his friend, Union General Hancock.
Hancock survived the war and died in 1886. Armistead died at Gettysburg July 5, 1863. Captain Bingham attained the rank of General and later served 32 years in the United States House of Representatives. He was known as the “Father of the House.”
Shown on the wall surrounding this monument are the names of the States whose soldiers fought at the Battle of Gettysburg.”
It is a very powerful memorial, which is meant to show us as a Masonic Fraternity, that even in the darkest of times, we can rely on each other. I think that all of us, as brethren, can agree that the beauty of Freemasonry is that Freemasonry allows for men of all creeds, nationalities, preferences, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds to come together and meet on the level, act by the plumb and part upon the square. It’s agreed that our obligations as Freemasons make us promise never to allow racial prejudices, religious intolerance, or hatred for any of the human brotherhood.
When the Senior Warden gives his duties while opening on the First degree of Freemasonry in Illinois, he says something quite profound. “Harmony, being the strength and support of all institutions, especially ours.” It saddens me to see a new monument, “Brother against Brother”, immortalized on social media. Disharmony will be the death of all institutions, especially ours.
Many of my brothers are the first to go back to quote or reference the “Landmarks” when controversial issues such as having women in Freemasonry is discussed. I wanted to remind everyone of a little section present in Anderson’s Constitutions. It’s called “OF BEHAVIOR”. I’d suggest everyone go and read it or re-read it. I’ve highlighted something below that ends the section. We all need to read it. Read it and start to practice it.
Finally, all these Charges you are to observe, and also those that shall be communicated to you in another way; cultivating Brotherly-Love, the foundation, and Capstone, the Cement and Glory of this ancient Fraternity, avoiding all Wrangling and Quarreling, all Slander and Backbiting, nor permitting others to slander any honest Brother, but defending his Character, and doing him all good offices, as far as is consistent with your Honor and Safety, and no farther.
Reading the above reminds me that it is okay for a brother to have a different opinion(s) or belief(s) when it comes to politics and religion. It reminds me that I may need to employ the trowel to spread the cement of Brotherly Love and affection when it’s apparent that we are too far apart to have a civil dialogue in person or on social media when it comes to topics that can inflame one's passions. Reaching the realization that is the case, it’s best to understand that you can love your brother without agreeing with him, and it is okay to remind them of that as well.
If you see a brother, who is not promoting the tenets of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth; who is saying things which are not representative of the tenets of the Craft, then you can and should whisper wise counsel. Wise Counsel doesn’t mean getting into an argument on social media. It means taking the brother aside if in person, or shooting them a private message if on Social Media and telling them why you disagree with what they are saying. Sometimes brothers just need a little guidance to remember the obligations that I spoke of above.
If you read statements on social media or hear with your own ears words from a brother that are filled with hatred of another because of the color of their skin, the god they choose to worship, who they choose to love, or their gender, and you feel that you cannot whisper good counsel because of this, then let them know that there is no place in the craft for hatred. This is why some Grand Lodges felt strongly enough to issue statements decrying groups that promote white supremacy. The outcry we’ve witnessed about these statements comes from a place of relative dissonance. A dissonance between one's perceived reality, and the truth. The statements were not of a political nature. They are stating that Freemasonry at its core is antithetical to groups that have as their core philosophy hatred of their fellow man.
Given what I just said, maybe it’s hypocritical of me to use the example of Armistead and Bingham given that Armistead fought for the Confederacy. The reasons why the men fought each other is pretty well established. The lesson lies in what we can learn from them. We can learn from the actions that Bingham took as Armistead lay dying, giving him aid and comfort. We can learn from Armistead, who upon finding out that Bingham was an aide to General Hancock and a Masonic brother, entrusted his personal possessions, including a pocketbook, a watch, his spurs, and a chain with a masonic emblem on them to Capt. Bingham. These items he asked to be given to Capt. Bingham’s superior officer, Union General Winfield Hancock, so that they could, in turn, be returned to General Armistead’s family. While recent scholarship in 2010 by Michael Halleran shows that while Armistead and Bingham were both Masons, Bingham's encounter with Armistead occurred while the mortally wounded Armistead was being carried from the field by several men and happened purely by chance and not because of any appeal of Masonic significance, I believe in the lessons of brotherly love and relief which are exemplified by this action regardless of the circumstances. I believe that they are powerful and still applicable today.
I believe that we can and need to work together to build a better Craft. I believe that we have more things in common than things that divide us. I believe that we are bound by our obligations but also by the lessons of our degrees. I believe that 99.9% of the Fraternity is made up of good men, who have good intentions, who want to make themselves better, and who want to make the world a better place. Let’s remember that just because we might not agree along political or religious lines, we should be able to agree that we need to start treating each other with respect online, in the lodge, and outside of the lodge. Do you think prospective members would want to join our organization when we cannot act with decorum towards one another? Let’s show the rest of the world that we are the enlightened men that we claim to be. Or we can continue to argue, bicker and act like the majority of the population on social media, and watch as the craft spirals into disarray. The choice is yours. Choose wisely.
WB Darin A. Lahners is our co-managing Editor. He is a Past Master of and Worshipful Master of St. Joseph Lodge No.970 in St. Joseph. He is also a plural member of Homer Lodge No. 199 (IL), where he is also a Past Master. He’s a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282 and is the current Secretary of the Illini High Twelve Club No. 768 in Champaign – Urbana (IL). You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org