Maybe because we have so many Parrot Masons, if you are not familiar with the term I'd urge you to read this article: (http://www.midnightfreemasons.org/2015/12/the-parrot-mason.html), in our fraternity, they try to find the other parrot Masons when they go to their lodge for an event. They huddle up and regurgitate everything that the media or social media has told them, much like a mother bird feeds her young. Unfortunately, the vomitous diatribe that comes from their echo chambers and exits their mouths sprays everyone around them, much like that infamous scene in The Exorcist, where a Pazuzu-possessed Regan sprays Father Karras with her vomit, and I must admit I am just as shocked by this when it occurs as he was. Yet, I feel powerless to stop it. When it happens outside the lodge room, at a pre-degree or meeting dinner, I can at the very least get up and leave the room when it gets to a point where I might not be able to subdue my passions. However, I have begun to witness this in tyled lodge rooms.
While I agree brethren should be able to practice whatever religion they want to practice and support whatever political party they want to support. I grow tired of hearing the same things I see in the news or on social media in our lodge buildings. It has become an issue when we can no longer subdue our passions regarding whatever our echo chamber tells us to be angry towards. It becomes something that we need to fight against when there are Grand Lodge policies that are formed because of individual political or religious beliefs, the majority membership's political or religious beliefs, or due to outside pressure regarding these beliefs from the profane world.
A recent Grand Master's ruling regarding gender identity stated: "It is important to understand that this decision does not constitute a judgment of this Grand Lodge, moral or otherwise, on the issues of gender identity, gender expression, or transgender issues. As in the case of spiritual and political matters, every Mason is free to form a private opinion on the subject. The Grand Lodge is forever committed to individual freedom of conscience and personal liberty in every lawful pursuit. However, not every such pursuit qualifies an individual to become or remain a Mason." First and foremost, how will this rule be enforced? In my mind, short of having some zealots who insist on making the candidate very uncomfortable by demanding to see proof of their manhood (use your imagination here), I don't see how it is. Not convinced? Taken to the extreme, the above isn't going to catch someone who has had gender reassignment surgery undergoing the "examination" as alluded to above.
For the sake of argument, let's imagine for a second that there is a rule issued by a Grand Lodge banning anyone who holds membership in the Klu Klux Klan from being a member in their jurisdiction. While I would hope most of our members would see such membership as being antithetical to membership in the Freemasons, short of having a member on record as stating their membership in the Klan, such a rule would seem to be equally unenforceable. If the member of this group was able to abide by the rules and regulations of his lodge and Grand Lodge, as well as act Masonically towards the men that he will have negative opinions about, and he doesn't disclose his membership, then it is possible his brothers may not know. While all of the above is a big "if", I use this example to illustrate the point that rules that restrict membership are difficult to enforce, especially when the only way to enforce them is to invade one's privacy.
Look, it's not my place to judge what a separate Grand Lodge Jurisdiction does since it's not my jurisdiction, but I should be allowed to question the motivation behind it. We must understand that these rules are only useful as an essential statement of principles from a particular Grand Lodge and little else, even if that Grand Lodge claims it's not a statement of their "official" belief. While they make us feel better about ourselves, and maybe the institution of Freemasonry depending on your personal point of view on the subject, do they really serve a good purpose? At the end of the day, Grand Lodge constitutions already have systems in place for individual Lodges to determine who they wish to become members of our fraternity, and systems to handle matters of jurisprudence when an offense occurs that needs to be litigated. Do we need to further legislate who can join and who cannot? It seems like an overreach to me.
By this rationale, then one could potentially argue for banning or suspending all sorts of individuals from membership other than transgender individuals. Dr. Anderson's idea of what a man was in 1722 or the forebearer's ideas of what a man was at the time of their constitutional adoption is much different than our ideas now. In fact, Anderson's language regarding a mature and discreet age could be used to argue that anyone under a certain age, which is most likely higher than what our minimum age currently is depending on the jurisdiction, should be banned. Don't get me started on the language regarding "freeborn" and "bondmen", as one can use their own imagination to see how that could be used. What about the idea of "no immoral or scandalous men"? That leaves a lot up to interpretation. Wouldn't someone who was divorced in Dr. Anderson's time potentially fall under the immoral or scandalous category? If we have to use this as our 24-inch gauge, then I fear that many members would not be up to snuff.
Anderson's attitudes about God and religion would be different than what today as well. Let's face it, Article I of the Ancient Charges is often interpreted as being a statement of belief in a Trinitary or Christian God. I guess all the non-Christian brethren are out of luck because of Dr. Anderson's understanding of God, he was after all a Presbyterian minister. From a strict understanding, Anderson's God would be one that was Presbyterian, and if you are Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, etc, sorry, you're also out of luck because we're basing our membership decisions on a strict interpretation of what Anderson's understanding was at that time.
Maybe they only think Dr. Anderson should render his opinion regarding what a man is, but ignore what he might consider a Maim or Defect. Again, does this not lend itself to interpretation? Going back to article III, If one were to argue that Dr. Anderson's attitudes toward men who were tattooed would qualify them as immoral or scandalous men, or as having a defect that might render him incapable of learning the Art of serving his Master's Lord, you'd have a whole lot of members that would need to be suspended by using the same rationale that the above ruling uses, yours truly would be included in this group.
When we cherry-pick the Ancient Charges to back one's personal beliefs or attitudes toward a certain set of individuals, we open the door to widespread discrimination against a wide range of individuals depending on the belief system of the one making the rules. Hiding behind Ancient Charges to back a rule which seems to be influenced by one's personal belief system is troubling, to say the least. When Grand Lodges make policies regarding membership qualifications based on the justification of beliefs from a very narrow 18th or 19th Century viewpoint, it becomes a slippery slope.
While in this particular case, you might feel that this particular Grand Lodge is correct with this particular ruling, what happens when there is a rule created that impacts you negatively? When Freemasonry crosses this taboo boundary and rules are implemented that are directly influenced by one's political or religious beliefs, and those beliefs are ones you share, it's easy to support such rules. But what happens when the rules go against your personal beliefs? What happens when rules are made based on an opposing political or religious viewpoint from your own? What happens when you're the one being discriminated against because of how you look or choose to identify either politically, religiously, or socially? That is not as easy of an answer, right?
My greatest fear is that you will see this trend continue, and eventually, you will see division in our Fraternity along religious/political lines, where you have Grand Lodges start to withdraw recognition from other Grand Lodges, pull charters from their individual member lodges, and punish their members that speak or act out against such policies or rulings. We have already seen this occur in separate incidents where we have seen Grand Masters take action against individual lodge members and individual lodges in 2022 and 2023. Again, not my jurisdiction, but it seems in both cases that some outside influences were or are influencing the decisions.
It leads me to a presentation that is called Start With Why, which is given by my good Friend and Brother, Greg Knott. In this presentation, he talks about the book by Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Using the book as his guide, he develops his "Why" for Freemasonry by defining it as Freemasonry is an organization for men who want to escape the Status Quo, the "How" as working upon improving themselves using the moral teachings of Freemasonry instilled by the degree system, and the "What" by asking Why aren't you a member? While I love this presentation and his ideas presented in it, in order for the Why to be realized, we all must escape the Status Quo, which is the profane world.
Instead of continuing to hold fast to the idea that Freemasonry must be beholden to the status quo of what the "Ancient Landmarks" laid out about regarding Freemasonry over Three Hundred Years ago by Dr. Anderson, we need to start redefining what we want Freemasonry to look like three hundred years in the future. We need to, as Illus. Brother Knott states, "Escape the Status Quo". I used the title of Bro. Bob Dylan's song, "The times they are a-changin'" for this article to illustrate that we are at a time in history where well-established ideas or concepts are being challenged.
Our collective inability to separate our fraternity from the divisions plaguing the profane world is one of the major problems facing Freemasonry. The propaganda of our siloed echo chambers, the 24-hour news cycle, and social media algorithms, only show us what we want to see and allow us to hear what we want to hear. I am forced to ask "Why?". It is my personal belief that it is because those in power in many cases intentionally attempt to divide us because when we're fighting amongst ourselves, we are not asking "Why?" instead. We should unite and call into question the policies of our lodges or Grand Lodges when they could be biased because of one's personal sectarian belief systems. We need to do this, not because we support them or oppose them due to our own biased personal beliefs, but because we can no longer afford to allow these things to enter into Freemasonry and divide us into tribes like we are in the profane world.
WB Darin A. Lahners is our 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 also a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Danville, a charter member of Illinois Royal Arch Chapter, Admiration Chapter No. 282, Salt Fork Shrine Club under the Ansar Shrine, and a grade one (Zelator) in the S.C.R.I.F. Prairieland College in Illinois. He is also a Fellow of the Illinois Lodge of Research. He was presented with the Torok Award from the Illinois Lodge of Research in 2021. You can reach him by email at email@example.com.