Think about that.
As an interfaith minister and citizen of the world, I appreciate (rather than just tolerate) other beliefs. As someone educated in the Humanities, I accept that there is more than one way of looking at things, be it economics or politics or human nature. But I expect certain truths to be universally understood, even if the application of them may take forms that may pit us against one another. Masonry teaches us to Love one another in spite of our spirited debates and disparate votes.
The more I become aware of Masonic experiences across my jurisdiction and the world, the more I see a diversity of expressions of Masonic principles. However, I am also seeing a diversity of values, some of which are incompatible with what I would suggest are taught in our lessons. Contemplating the inconsistent amity regarding Prince Hall Masons, for example, exposes two centuries of fundamental duplicity. By continued support or silent complicity of segregated recognition, we clearly do not practice what we preach. But it’s more than institutionally systemic. It’s personal.
In the last year, it has become painfully obvious that political divisions have crept into the Craft. Or that’s what we think is happening. I suggest it’s much, much worse: basic values, rather than just specific beliefs, have become politicized. It is not that we are bringing politics into the Craft, but that people are bringing politics into the very discussion of our VALUES. Partisan lines have been drawn, even if only in stereotype, as to which human beings are worthy of our help and which deserve our fear. Justice has become a charged buzzword, Liberty a hollow platitude, Equality a battleground. These words have taken on political meanings that have nothing to do with the Morality on which all reasonable, good and decent people can agree.
There was even one Brother on Facebook who expressed how angered he became upon seeing a “Be Kind” bumper sticker. How bad have things gotten to where we use terms like “virtue signaling” to dismiss or even ridicule today’s version of “Love thy neighbor”? People don’t like being told that what they are doing (or not doing) is inconsiderate or selfish. We may be reminded of our obligations by some stranger and it infuriates us. (Mind you, such things may be worth civilly debating if there is an ethical rebuttal to be had. But such conversations are almost immediately framed by the actions or opinions of politicians, who, frankly, were not invited to the conversation.)
We may be wrestling over things like “political correctness” and “identity politics”, but the underlying values they deal with (however poorly or disingenuously) should not be held in question. Many of us use a dislike of certain people demanding civic duty and respect as an excuse to not be a good person. Instead, we defiantly base our patriotism on personal sovereignty without obligations. We put party identities over the country we claim to love. With so much ritual touching upon the subject of good citizenship, we must wonder if Brothers with this attitude have taken the same Degrees as the rest of us.
But don’t get me wrong. Masons aren’t perfect. So what makes us Masons? It’s not that we aren’t ever prejudiced or selfish, but that we try not to be. It’s not that we don’t sometimes ignore the needs of our fellow Man, or lack tolerance toward them, but that we aspire to do so as we are able. Seeking to be better ought to be considered an unwritten, yet non-negotiable Landmark of Masonry.
If we can at least agree on that, how many of us live up to it? Brother Franklin had his detailed plan to focus on a different virtue each week, yet after years of rotations had not become a Perfect Ashlar. But he made an honest, conscious effort to live a truly virtuous life nonetheless. How many Workmen actually do this most important of Masonic Work in some way, big or small? And if we are failing to do even this, do we accept whispered wise counsel and be awakened from our moral slumber? I would never ask more of a fellow Brother.
But there are those who are petulantly stubborn in their righteousness or simply do not care. Those latter stones may not ever be of suitable material, and yet some Lodge did a disservice to us all by admitting them to our quarries. At least from my experience, we are getting better at guarding the West Gate. Gone are the days when petitions were handed out like brochures to a carnival.
But we still find ourselves with a necessary purging of our Lodges. By that, I don’t mean merely to forbid prejudices, incivilities, or other Unmasonic conduct when and where we find it. I mean the Lodge within ourselves. What Masonic values have we rebelled against in the name of politics? Can we find a way to live up to our obligations without becoming untrue to our particular beliefs, political or otherwise? And if one has to go – a political belief or a principled value – we must decide which to divest ourselves of. Such choices will prove our true worth as good Men and Masons.
Bro. Ken JP Stuczynski is a member of West Seneca Lodge No.1111 and recently served as Master of Ken-Ton Lodge No.1186. As webmaster for NYMasons.Org he is on the Communications and Technology Committees for the Grand Lodge of the State of New York. He is also a Royal Arch Mason and 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason, serving his second term as Sovereign Prince of Palmoni Council in the Valley of Buffalo, NMJ. He also coordinates a Downtown Square Club monthly lunch in Buffalo, NY. He and his wife served as Patron and Matron of Pond Chapter No.853 Order of the Eastern Star and considered himself a “Masonic Feminist”.