Whither are we traveling - Part Six
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 5: What can we expect when we have permitted Freemasonry to become subdivided into a score of organizations?
MWB Smith begins this section with a story about when he was younger. He worked for a Newspaper and was amused by the power struggle between four churches in a town with a population less than four hundred inhabitants. He claims that all four of the churches were of the same denomination and had the same name. He states that each claimed to be the "Real Thing" and the membership of each church was convinced that the others were heretical. He then asks what a newly raised Master Mason must think of our subdivisions and wonders if they are just as baffling to him as the four churches were to MWB Smith.
He continues with this thought, wondering what this new Master Mason must think when he discovers that no less than 70 organizations have attached themselves to Freemasonry and that the end is not in sight. He wonders what his reaction is when he is solicited as soon as he becomes an Entered Apprentice. He asks how this Mason must feel when he is referred to as a "Blue Lodge Mason", and wonders if this makes him feel inferior as if he was not complete.
Dwight goes on to say that if we are interested in exploring the causes for a decline in membership, interest, and attendance; that we need to look at the subdivisions in Freemasonry. He states: "I stand firm on my conviction that in the United States we are spreading ourselves so thin that the basic unit – the Ancient Craft Lodge – is the loser. We may not end up by killing the goose that laid the golden egg, but certainly we are bleeding her white." He goes on to say he is a member of many of the subdivisions. He then goes on to state that he is not the only one that is concerned, giving examples from Sir Alfred Robins, Noah Frey, and lastly Dr. Thomas S. Roy who said the below at the Conference of Grand Secretaries in North America in February 1962:
“If we permit the proliferation of Masonry into rites, and the 57 varieties of bodies whose membership is dependent upon ours, let us face the fact that the attendance that goes to them belongs to us. There is a sense in which it can be said that their success is our failure. I am not passing judgment on any of them. I am a good member in some of them, and have done my share of work in them. But they all must face the fact that they must pour some of their strength back into the Symbolic Lodge. For any weakness we develop must sooner or later communicate itself to them.”
Dwight goes on to state that it isn't a question of loyalty; nor any shortcomings in terms of Money, Benevolences or Good Works; as those are not the issues. The issues that have never been faced are as MWB States:
"One: The weakening of the basic unit of Freemasonry by too great an emphasis on our subdivisions, and,
Two: The unsound premise that the child is more important than the parent. Let’s stand before the mirror and take an honest look at ourselves."
He then goes on to say:
"1. Masonic bodies and appendant organizations are actually competing for the time, the attendance, the interest, the substance, the devotion of Master Masons.
I am sick and tired of all the talk about TV, and the automobile, and bowling leagues as competing influences. It is time we look in our own house to see where the competition comes from.
Like the four churches of the same name, each Masonic organization poses as the Real Thing. Each claims to have That Which Was Lost. Each is the true wrinkle if we want to appear before the world as a Big Mason – one with a collection of degrees, exclusive and affluent."
My reply to this is "Preach".... with my hands raised to the sky. Full disclosure, I am also a member of Appendant bodies. However, nothing aggravates more than running into one of my brothers who is no longer showing up for our stated meetings, no longer interested in helping us make quorum to keep our lodge alive but yet is at every event of (Insert X Appendant Body name). Anytime you bring this up with this brother, you get a plethora of excuses as to why they aren't attending lodge.
Now what MWB Smith doesn't state but which I want to reflect on here is that if the lodge is dysfunctional, I can't really blame the brother. If we are spending all of our time in the stated meeting arguing over bills, repairs, and other mundane items that could be resolved in emails or a quick zoom call; then shame on us. If we are not attempting any activities that lead to fellowship, like pre or post-meeting dinners or festive boards, or helping the members with self-improvement in the form of Masonic education, then we have only ourselves to blame.
"2. Our subdivisions have encouraged the mental attitude that when a Master Mason gains membership in another body, he then and there has outgrown the Ancient Craft Lodge.
Several months after I became a Mason I was solicited by a worker in one of the recognized bodies. But I had mental reservations. “Why is it,” I asked him, “that Masons who belong to the other bodies place such a stress on those affiliations and seem to care so little about their Lodge?” Just what answer he gave me I do not remember. Really, it doesn’t matter too much, for the question never has been answered to my satisfaction. I held out for about three years before I presented my petition.
Years later, when I received the degrees in another Masonic body, I overheard a past presiding officer say, “Now here, in this body, you will find the Cream of Masonry.” From that day to this, I have resented such artificial class distinction.
The newspaper obituary in my files which states that the deceased “was a member of 17 organizations, 10 of them Masonic groups,” and then proceeds to list everything that could be bought with money, is a case in point. To be a Master Mason was not enough; actually, that was of little or no importance.
And what about the Vanishing Emblem? What is wrong with the Square and Compass? Even Grand Masters have discarded it. Is it no longer a badge of honor?Must something else replace it to set the wearer apart and place him in the aristocracy?
A young man of my acquaintance was interested in petitioning for the degrees. He was interested, that is, until a Master Mason gave him the old Superiority Sales Talk, something like this: “Sure, I’m a member of Brotherly Love Lodge, but only because I have to be. The Blue Lodge, it doesn’t mean a thing to me. What I’m after is what give me the prestige and helps me in my business!”
And we wonder why attendance is poor, why interest is lax, why the membership curve goes downward!"
I agree with MWB Smith. Freemasonry collectively needs to take a good look in the mirror. On the first point, I am amazed that MWB Smith was able to avoid someone trying to get him to petition to join an appendant body for several months. How many of us have experienced a situation where a Newly raised Master Mason is circled by members of other appendant bodies with petitions in hand after their degree like a shark might circle its prey? These new Master Masons are nothing more than chum in the water to these brethren who are these Sharks. Why do we allow brethren who are so desperate for membership in their Appendant body to do this on the most important night of this Mason's career? The body is freshly raised, yet we do not allow them to think about the importance of what just occurred to them? Instead, we allow them to be swallowed whole by these vultures.
Our Grand Lodges do no better when they allow men who are raised in their one-day classes to immediately join appendant bodies who have their representatives there at the class. These men have not even had any time to reflect on their journey in the Blue Lodge, and yet we now allow them to join other bodies? Yet this activity is done with the blessing of our Grand Lodges, with little to no thought about the impact this might have on their own lodges. I guess as long as they are paying dues it's fine, right? Never mind the lodges that bring in several members this way only to have them never attend a stated meeting because they really only wanted to join Appendant body X, Y, or Z? These brethren will never see the sacred space of their Mother Lodge's lodge room nor understand that it is one due to only wanting to be a member of X, Y, Z appendant body. I believe that unless we rethink how Appendant Bodies recruit members they will continue to take many brethren that might be assets to their Blue Lodges.
For those of you who are probably saying, "Well Darin, aren't you being a little heavy-handed? The appendant bodies serve a purpose to continue and build upon what is taught in the Blue Lodge." While this is true, shouldn't we have some requirements for a Master Mason to join other bodies? How is wanting men to experience Blue Lodge a bad thing?
There used to be a requirement for Masons to either be a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason or Knight Templar in order to join the Shrine. Is it too much to ask that a Freemason be a Past Master or at least be a Master Mason for a minimum of 5 years before joining any appendant body? What does a man gain from advancing in his journey in Freemasonry if he has little to no idea about what the First Three Degrees represent? What does the appendant body gain from such a man other than his degree fees or dues?
MWB Smith illustrates rather succinctly how the failure to guard the West Gate in the blue lodge has trickled down to the appendant bodies. For those appendant bodies that are not invite-only, should there not be a way to screen your incoming candidates? Shouldn't the other brethren in an appendant organization have a say in who else is joining? If there is a man who is looking at Freemasonry as a tool to advance himself or his business, then it is apparent that such a man should have never become a member in the first place. Subsequently, we now have such men infiltrating the other bodies, and is it any wonder that now these bodies are suffering as well? When Blue Lodges and Appendant bodies begin to turn into Multilevel Marketing Businesses, this is what we reap. Cancer spreads.
"3 . Then there are these subdivisions that foster the attitude that, within their place of refuge, the standards of Ancient Craft Masonry do not apply.
Therein lies a situation that is more than alarming; it is downright vicious. Scarcely a Jurisdiction in the United States is free of headaches brought on by some group restricting its membership to Masons, but considering itself exempt from Masonic standards. A few Jurisdictions have met the issue head on, to the good of all Freemasonry. Others have looked in the other direction and thereby have damaged the entire Fraternity.
One of these days Masonic leadership had better come to grips with the issue. The winking attitude which says, in effect, “It’s none of our business as long as you are not wearing an apron,” is unthinkingly dealing a body blow to our beloved Craft. A serious minded young friend of mine expressed interest in Masonry until a Past Master gave him a lurid description of the antics and the carousals he enjoyed in his favorite appendant organization. That ended his interest. Mark it down. The public makes no distinction between the Master Mason who wears an apron and the Master Mason who wears some other kind of garb."
I think you can probably read between the lines as to where he might be aiming his criticism, but without knowing exactly who MWB Smith is referring to here, I will keep my inferences to myself. I think the underlying message is that your behavior matters. Remember this the next time when you're wearing your cap with the Square and Compass/Double Eagle/Shrine Emblem/insert symbol to represent 'X' masonic body in public. You are representing the Craft. If you decide to go full "Karen" and you get video recorded doing it wearing the Square and Compass on your apparel, then you only have yourself to blame when you end up on Tik Tok and the Grandmaster or one of his subordinates reprimands you.
MWB Smith did not even have the idea of Social Media on his radar. As I and others have written extensively on the subject, I think the lesson to be taken from this is that you always represent Freemasonry, whether in public space or cyberspace, so govern yourselves accordingly. The best thing to do is to treat Social Media like you should be acting in the lodge, and avoid discussion of divisive topics such as Politics or Religion. What you put on Social Media is not easily removable. Reaching peak anger in cyberspace isn't the best reflection of who you are or what you represent, but the public does not know this. This is the only reflection they will see.
"4. When the leadership of Ancient Craft Masonry neglects the parent body to smile upon everything which claims a relationship to Freemasonry, however remote, that leadership is not contributing to a solution of our problem; it is only aggravating it. In a single year, not so long ago, two American Grand Masters actually visited more appendant bodies than Symbolic Lodges in their respective terms of office.
From one end of America to the other, Grand Masters are going up and down their jurisdictions like itinerate peddlers, promoting everything under the sun except plain, unadulterated Symbolic Freemasonry. They go to Washington to attend what used to be the Grand Masters’ Conference and find that it has become “Masonic Week” with the side-shows taking over. Truly, the tail has begun to wag the dog. And we wonder what is wrong!
Subdivided we stand, and subdivided, I fear, we shall fall.
One does not have to be more than forty to remember when the super-patriots raged over the hyphenated American, declaring it was time to drop Old World loyalties and become an American without a hyphen.
Well, I am not advocating that hyphenated Masons eliminate anything that contributes to their understanding and appreciation of Freemasonry. But I am preaching a gospel of fundamentals. I am calling on our Symbolic Lodges to do a better job of upgrading themselves. And I am challenging the other Masonic organizations and appendant groups to put a stop to the down-grading of the Symbolic Lodge; to acknowledge by actions, rather than words, that the Lodge is the fountainhead of all Freemasonry; to put first things first; to look unto the rock whence they are hewn."
I do not know if this is the case or not, but apparently, Dwight was calling out some Grand Lodge Officers that he felt cared more about appendant bodies than their own Blue Lodges. I have to admit I did chuckle regarding his shot towards "Masonic Week" given how it has become one of the main events in the world of American Freemasonry.
At the end of the day, I think that we have seen through the "Not Just a Man" program that the NMJ/SMJ of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite along with the Shriners have sponsored that they recognize their core membership must come from Blue Lodge Masonry. Talk to any Grand Secretary and I believe that they will tell you that a majority of their membership inquiries are coming from this website.
Dwight's challenge to the Blue Lodges rings true. How many men would seek out other appendant bodies if they were getting everything they needed from their own Blue Lodge? I guess we may never know the answer to that question. I will tell you that you can't blame a man for going to another restaurant for pizza when all your lodge is serving him is ketchup on a saltine. If your Blue Lodge experience is not fulfilling all of your members, then you only have yourselves to blame when members are not attending your meetings.
In my next article, I will explore the next question MWB Smith poses, which is: Question 6: Has the American passion for bigness and efficiency dulled the spirit of Masonic charity?
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.