Whither Are We Traveling? - Part Three
by Midnight Freemasons Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners
As we continue to explore Dwight L. Smith's seminal work, "Whither are We Traveling?", we begin to explore his answers to the ten questions he posed for self-examination of the state of Ancient Craft Freemasonry in 1963. The questions he asked are as important and relevant now as they were then. This week we look at:
Question 2: How well are we guarding the West Gate?
Dwight begins this section with an anecdote he heard in Tennessee that if a lodge isn't rejecting 20 percent of its petitioners, it's either very fortunate or very careless. He reminds us that this is one petitioner out of five and that if this was occurring, the Grand Master would be implored to stop an epidemic of blackballing. Instead, he states this might be the best thing to happen for a lodge except that most lodges are trying to get their new temple paid for.
"For years now I have heard the whispered complaint, “We used to be getting petitions for the degrees from the good, substantial leaders in the community. Now we are getting…
Isn’t it about time we stop our whispering and say some things out loud, even if they are unpleasant to hear?
One of the conditions causing dismay in more than one Lodge is the fact that the sons of its highly respected members are not petitioning for the degrees. True, they may be busy getting ahead in the world; they may not have the money; they may not be interested. But that is not all. Why should intelligent young leaders in the community petition a Lodge if they have little or nothing in common with its members? If they cannot find in Freemasonry a social, intellectual, and cultural atmosphere that is comfortable, they will find it elsewhere."
He raises some excellent points. This was written in 1962 and published in 1963. Think about how many more men have been accepted into the Craft that had no business being elected. One only needs to look around their lodge room as a quorum is barely being made for the stated meeting and see who is missing to realize that the west gate hasn't been guarded properly. With a few exceptions, most of the men who were not showing up for meetings pre-Covid should have never been elected to be given the degrees of Freemasonry. We will see what the landscape looks like post-covid.
Smith continues with an anecdote about Teddy Roosevelt who while he was president attended a Lodge where the Gardner at the White House was the Master, and follows with this gem:"We can not escape the fact that men judge Freemasonry by what they see walking down the street wearing Masonic emblems. And if what they see does not command their respect, then we need not expect them to seek our fellowship."
I would disagree however that men now judge Freemasonry by what they see walking down the street. In my previous article, I wrote about how our member's behavior in social settings (both online and real-life) can have an impact on how the lodge is viewed in the community. I will not rehash that here, but I will say that Dwight is correct in saying that if what other men see does not command their respect, then we need not expect them to seek our fellowship. How we behave collectively matters.
MWB Smith then states:
"Let’s face it. Thanks to two wars, inflation, the cost of building and maintaining expensive Temples, and a general lowering of standards, thousands of men have become Masons who should never have passed the ballot. The inevitable result, then, is that the Craft is not looked upon with the same degree of respect it once enjoyed.
How did it all come about?
1. Economic pressure, for one thing. A Lodge pays a heavy price for a new
Temple so costly to maintain that membership must remain above a certain
I no longer think that economic pressure at the lodge level is the leading cause for the West Gate being unguarded. I am sure that some lodges are outliers, but I would venture a guess to state that it is no longer Economic Pressure that is a cause of this. I believe that the pressure transitioned to come indirectly from the individual Grand Lodges and Leadership bodies of the Appendant Bodies themselves. Economic or otherwise, we have seen the push for membership lead to the gate being left unguarded. Instead of finding quality, the statistics showing a decline in membership has created the push for quantity.
"2. We have fallen into careless ways in the investigation of petitioners. There was
the regrettable incident in my own Lodge one time when I served on an
investigating committee. The petitioner was widely known; apparently he was
worthy; at least nothing to the contrary had reached my ears. Accordingly I turned
in a favorable report. The petitioner was elected. Several months later, from
another source, the bombshell burst. Not until then did I learn that it was common
knowledge about town that the petitioner was far from worthy. To correct the
mistake there had to be some embarrassment and some unpleasantness. It has
been a sobering thought to reflect that many of my Brethren may have questioned
the petitioner’s worthiness, but gave him the benefit of the doubt simply because I
had made a favorable report!
Whence came the idea that a man – almost any man – has an inherent right to
become a Freemason? Is it not a privilege to be conferred upon the worthy?
And whose idea was it that if a petitioner was rejected, a grave injustice has been
done the petitioner? Is no one interested in seeing that an injury is not done the
Lodge and all Freemasonry by electing one whose worthiness may be in question?
Such an Open Door Policy is not selectivity; it is come-one-come-all. And
Freemasonry is a selective organization. It must be if it is to avoid the fate of a
score of fraternal groups whose names are well nigh forgotten."
One only needs to attend their Grand Lodge's annual communications and read the jurisprudence report to show us that we are not Guarding the West Gate. I have to point the finger at myself as well. There have been times when I should have used my power to keep someone from joining my lodge, however, I did not due to respect for the men who signed their petitions. I let my emotions for men that I respect overrule my respect for the Fraternity. In doing so, I failed both those men and my Fraternity. As MWB Smith states, we worry too much about the feelings of the petitioner and not enough about the Lodge and Freemasonry in general in continuing to elect men that have no business being Freemasons into Freemasonry.
"3. Lodges are not utilizing their most capable members for duty on investigating
committees. In every Lodge there are Brethren of high standards who love the
Fraternity and want to see its good name protected; men who would make more
than a token investigation; men would really stand guard at the West Gate.
But are such men appointed as members of investigating committees? Not unless
they happen to be present at a stated meeting when a petition is received. You have
heard it innumerable times: “On this p’tition, I’ll ‘point Brother Joe Doak, Brother
Jim Jones and Brother Bill Brown.” Just like that, the deed is done – the most
important assignment ever made in a Lodge is made with no more thought than
would be given to who shall turn out the lights. In the hands of Joe Doak, Jim Jones
and Bill Brown rests the good name of Freemasonry, even though they may know
nothing at all about making an investigation, and care less. But Joe Doak, Jim Jones
and Bill Brown were present at a stated meeting – perish the thought that one not
present be used now and then!
All of us have seen Masters appoint investigating committees literally hundreds of
times, but on how many occasions have we seen evidence of careful thought in the
selection of personnel for those committees? Men of high caliber and ability are
available. Why are we not using them? Is it for fear they might turn in an
While I agree with Dwight in stating that not every member is a good investigator, I would state that assigning members who are not making it to meetings on a regular basis to be on an investigation committee is pure folly. If a member can not live up to his one most important masonic obligation, which is to make the stated meetings, then assigning them to a committee is handicaping that committee from being able to do their due diligence in the investigation process. While it's one thing to assign a member that might be missing from that particular meeting but who normally is present is acceptable, assigning Joe Joke to be on a committee to investigate a potential member when Joe's not showing up regularily to meetings will end one of two ways:
1. Joe will not heed the order of his Master; will not engage with the other members of the committee and eventually be replaced by someone who actually cares about his Masonic responsibilities.
2. Joe will heed the order of his Master, but in doing so he sets the wrong example for the candidate. Is it really a good idea to have someone that doesn't care enough to show up to meetings interview a potential candidate? Are they going to ask the proper questions? Are they going to care if the west gate is guarded? In a worse case scenario, maybe they'll let slip to the candidate that they don't normally show up for meetings, which then sets that impression into the candidate that it's okay for them to do the same.
If we want investigations done properly, then we must have members that care enough about Freemasonry to be present on the committees. Someone who isn't present at meetings on a regular basis does not fall into this category in my mind.
"You have heard me say it before and you shall hear me say it as long as I have a voice and a pen: in Freemasonry, there simply is no substitute for quality. We are accepting too many petitioners who can pay the fee and little else; too many men who have no conception of what Freemasonry is or what it seeks to do, and who care not one whit about increasing their moral stature; too many men who look upon Ancient Craft Masonry with contempt – who are interested in using it only as a springboard from which to gain a prestige symbol. And we had better start applying the brakes while there is yet time."
I agree that we should be pushing quality over quantity. But I do think that we also need to have Leadership at the Grand Lodge level that is no longer afraid of hurting feelings for fear of a mass exodus of membership. Grand Lodges need to clearly decide what type of organization they want Freemasonry to be in their jurisdictions. Instead they allow each lodge to be what it wants to be, and as long as that lodge follows the "rules"; they do not care if the lodge is a social club, supper club, fight club, he-man woman hater's club, etc. Ok, I'm being faceous.
My point is that it has been my experience that there is no clear message from the Grandmaster/Grand Lodge line which states that minimum standards need to be met at each meeting. And while it shouldn't really be the job of the Grand Lodge to do this, there needs to be some enforcement of standards. Continuing to allow Lodges where the Master needs to be prompted continually or worse yet, where the officers are reading ritual out of the monitors directly does not help matters of quality. We should at the minimum have a standard dress code of business attire (I'm talking about suits gentlemen) at all lodge functions; we should have minimum requirements for a Master and Wardens of the lodge. Now maybe you are from one of the jurisdictions where these standards are enforced. If that is the case, then continue to keep them. Because once they are gone, then they are most likely never coming back.
In my next article, I will explore the next question MWB Smith poses. Question 3: Has Freemasonry become too easy to obtain?
WB Darin A. Lahners is our Co-Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast. He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as the Area Education Officer for the Eastern Masonic Area. He is a Past 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 a member of the Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.