The times they are a-changin'

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'
-Bro. Bob Dylan

Freemasonry, which is supposed to be a refuge from Religion, Politics, and other sectarian subjects has in fact become a hotbed of Religion, Politics, and sectarian subjects. We are taught in the Fellowcraft degree to study the seven Liberal Arts and Sciences.  One of these, Logic, is an attempt to scientifically study and differentiate between valid and invalid arguments or statements. Yet, it seems that we have a large number of brethren who no longer have the capacity for logic or critical thought, and instead feel it necessary to share opinions that are nothing more than what they have been conditioned to believe by the social media they read or the news that they watch.  

Maybe because we have so many Parrot Masons, if you are not familiar with the term I'd urge you to read this article: (, 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.  

Furthermore, the below justification for this particular ruling opens up a wide range of brethren to potentially lose their membership or be banned from becoming Freemasons based on a logical fallacy that is attempting to interpret personal beliefs from the past and apply them to the present. The justification which is given in this particular case states: 

“The persons admitted members of a Lodge must be good and true men, freeborn, and of a mature and discreet age; no bondmen, no woman, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good report.”
The Old Charges form an integral part of our more than one hundred-year-old Constitution. The “system of ancient laws and customs of the Craft” which they contain are timeless and universally adhered to in all Grand Lodges throughout the world with which this Grand Lodge is in fraternal relations. As such, The Old Charges must be understood in the context of the time in which they were written and at the time they were incorporated into our Constitution of 1920, not given new meaning based on current attitudes and practices among some concerning gender or other matters. Anyone who desires to become a Mason, and any Mason who wishes to remain in our fraternity, must be a man, as Dr. Anderson understood men to be in 1722 and as our forebearers understood them to be at the time of the adoption of our current Constitution."

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.

Interestingly enough, there is no mention of what Article IV says and it clearly states: 
"unless he be a perfect Youth having no Maim or Defects in his Body that may render him uncapable of learning the Art of serving his Master's Lord, and of being made a Brother, and then a Fellow-Craft in due Time, even after he has served such a Term of Years as the Custom of the Country directs; and that he should be descended of honest Parents; that so, when otherwise qualifi'd he may arrive to the Honour of being the Warden, and then the Master of the Lodge, the Grand Warden, and at length the Grand Master of all the Lodges, according to his Merit."

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.   

I am forced to ask what happens when there is an evitable disagreement between two brethren and one of the brethren decides to accuse the other of being that which the rule is against? In the case of the ruling above regarding gender, making such an accusation would be relatively easy to do. In adjudicating the supposed offense, I would think that any member assigned to a committee would agree that it's not so easy to ask the other brother to prove his innocence. While it's easy for him to do so with a simple act, do we really want to get to a point where we have to ask the other brother to perform that act?

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. 

How can we expect to do this as long as we allow Politics and Religion to infiltrate Freemasonry? The answer is that we can't. As long as we continue to bring in these forces, then we can not escape the status quo, and we can't have harmony which, as we are reminded of in the First Degree when the Senior Warden is explaining his duties, is the strength and support of all institutions, especially ours.

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.  

Because these things are happening rapidly, many of our belief systems are being challenged before we have gathered all of the information needed to make decisions.  Couple this with Freemasonry being rigid and not unable to adapt quickly to societal changes, and it's no wonder that Grandmasters might feel a need to overregulate to protect Freemasonry from these things especially when it might be easier for them to do so because of their own biases.  However, we need to start by asking "Why?" I understand that many of these things are going to be difficult issues to discuss without personal bias.  However, I feel that we must be compelled to begin to think about them and discuss them.

Let's think about a few examples to ponder. We have witnessed the United States government admit that there are Unidentified Aerial Phenomena in our skies, we don't have any idea regarding what they are or where they come from, but they seem to be intelligently controlled. This should make us question humanity's place in the universe, and if we are being visited by advanced extraterrestrial entities, and if so, how long have they been visiting us?  Or are they also inhabitants of our planet?  Or are they demonic like some people believe? What happens if they make their presence known to us and tell us that we're just a genetic experiment created by them?  Would this make you question your belief in the Grand Architect of the Universe who we believe is our creator?  I've already explored an idea of their membership in another article, but it makes you wonder, if they have no gender, are they disqualified from Freemasonry?       

We are on the cusp of potentially having Artificially Intelligent forms of life being created, cars that drive themselves, and maybe even a form of immortality in the form of uploading consciousness to the cloud as we see the lines between technology and what it means to be a human blur.  What does this mean for our Fraternity?  How do we react when an artificially intelligent robot petitions a lodge?  Not only will the robot be genderless, but can we really be sure that it's joining of its own free will and accord if it's been programmed to be intelligent?  Not to mention its belief in a supreme being.  What do we do if we, (humanity), being their creator are worshipped as a deity, much like we worship God believing him to be our creator?   This opens a huge can of worms, doesn't it? 

Apply this same logic to someone who has a brain implant that allows their thoughts/experiences/perceptions to be read by a computer, essentially their consciousness, will be stored in the cloud.  We already carry devices that are listening to us at all times, and I don't see anyone clutching their pearls over the idea that our "secrets" are being recorded.  
Yet, mention the subject of gender and see the same brethren clutch those pearls and cry about the obligation they took.  If only we enforced the other things mentioned in that same ritual.  I have met in my time in Freemasonry a large number of old men in their dotage, madmen, and fools, who have all been initiated, passed, and raised.  Mention women and a large percentage of our membership loses their minds. Add to this that there ievidence that Anderson's Ancient Landmarks might not be historically accurate. There is an equally compelling argument that women were recruited into and welcomed into the speculative ranks in a more widespread manner than previously thought. (See Dame Masons: Women and Freemasonry for more information on this. Link: ).  

When we ask "Why", maybe we can discover that maybe Dr. Anderson either wasn't aware of this or maybe he chose to ignore this to fit his own beliefs or agenda. In either case, if the "truth" of our founding documents is being called into question, don't we owe it to ourselves and our "accepted" history to figure this out for ourselves especially when we value truth as one of our main tenets?  Instead of looking at the issues from the point of view of Dr. Anderson's time, do we not owe it to ourselves and our Fraternity to explore and look for truth in this matter?  

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.

We must use the jewels of a Fellowcraft, why are: the attentive ear, the instructive tongue, and the faithful breast, to rise above the forces that seek to divide us and ruin our fraternity.  We need to learn to find our commonalities instead of focusing on our differences by using the attentive ear to listen to each other. When we use the attentive ear to understand each other, we can then start building dialogue by using the instructive tongue. We can then work towards a more difficult task of re-examining the definitions of what it means to be a Freemason based on all of the available facts at this time. Remember that our operative brethren, when faced with the potential of having their lodges close, did something radical.  Instead of being blindly beholden to their past, they invited non-Masons to join their ranks.  We must do something similar to discuss difficult issues like gender and racism today or perhaps the robots which may be in near future. Most importantly, we must use the faithful breast to subdue our passions and keep these difficult conversations civil and free from our personal political and/or religious bias.  I realize it won't be easy, but we must liberally use the cement of Brotherly Love to remember that we are all brothers, not enemies.  


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

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