The Issue in Leadership is Determining Who and Why

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Mark St. Cyr

Over the course of the last several weeks there has been nothing short of what can only be described as reserved outrage pointed squarely at both the decisions, as well as accusations, directed squarely at the leadership throughout the fraternity. The current trepidations and revelations in Texas and the Scottish Rite NJ are just two of the latest. 

Much of this is playing out in full view for all to see, even the profane. That alone should tell one all about the severity of it.  However, with that said, what’s truly been astonishing to those of us watching from afar is during all of this many in the leadership are now calling for “leadership training” not for themselves, but for the rank and file. You just can’t make this stuff up.  

This is why it’s becoming so profound in both voracity, as well as vociferousness, in the responses to it. 

Now since this whole “Leadership” thing, along with the  “teaching of it” has entered into the current discussion. I find it only fitting to opine with my own overview of analysis since, in many respects, I’m probably more qualified (e.g., being an actual recognized, business expert and thought leader) than most to weigh in, while also a current member of the fraternity. 

So with that said, here’s my two cents… 

The first premise of true leadership is this: Do they have the actual power and authority to enforce change? Or: Are they assumed to have this authority because it’s just never been challenged?  

Titles don’t really matter here - power does. i.e., Think of a union strike as an example. Who really is the leader with the true power for change in this situation? People will argue semantically, but the power for change does not always reside where one thinks at first blush. Let me illustrate… 

Much of this reminds me of a discussion I was privy to that happened years ago taking place at one of the largest insurance firms in the U.S. with its senior leadership (i.e., C-suite). It taught me something I never forgot and helped forge my own efficacy when dealing with just these type of issues. It went like this…  

Them (e.g., current leadership): We’re having issues with our franchises not doing what we want or need them to do. We are implementing changes that are cost-effective and are helping streamline everything. Yet, they won’t conform. They keep doing things the “old way” and won’t change because they see no need to. Yet, when they submit their work for entry we all but have to redo it entirely just to get it into our system. It’s costing the company now double the work and double the expense than we were before the change! When we tell them about this their response is basically “Then just go back to the way it was (i.e.,  the way they’re still doing it) that worked. Problem solved.” We try explaining, try showing with real examples that this new way is truly better for them, but they just don’t care. They will not change and are now venturing on insubordinately so. We’re at our wit's end and don’t know what to do. We’ve tried everything previous consultants have argued we do and none of it has worked. We’re hoping maybe you have a different approach that will. 

Response: “If you decided to close all your franchises could your customers still buy insurance from you?” 

Them: Complete silence, then “I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” 

Response: “If you decided to close all your franchises could your  customers still buy insurance from you?”

Them: Again, silence and a lot of looking back and forth at each other, till finally one squeamishly says “Well, I guess they can, if we converted the portal now used for franchises to be open directly with a few other modifications, Ummmm, yeah, I guess we could. But, this company is built on a franchise model,  without them we have no business.” 

Response: “If you (e.g., the company) declare there’s no franchise model any longer going forward and will be phased out entirely. Are you still able to sell insurance to consumers?” 

Them: Well, yes. 

Response: “Alright, so, just to be clear: If the franchisees tell you  they are no longer a franchisee, can they still sell your  insurance?” 

Them: No, of course not. 

Response: “Then the issue here is - it’s not that you can’t control or run your business efficiently because of internal compliance issues. It’s because you’re not addressing the where and what aspect that applies such compliance. You’re acting like you’re  trying to herd cats, which is a futility in itself, but you don’t have  cats or, in the modern business vernacular, “independent  jobbers.” You have franchised subsidiaries selling your product and your product only. You have to start acting and thinking as well as doing the required hard steps of enforcing it. Other than that - you don’t really have a business under your control,  regardless of it being worth $Billions. You’re just a paper tiger figurehead at the whim of any or all franchisees that can or may already be making you less competitive to more efficient players.  It’s only a matter of time before you too will be a “once great name” for  the history books if you don’t act now and with resolve.” 

Them: What do you recommend?

Response: Compose a letter stating to the effect - that due to unresolvable compliance issues throughout the franchisee network allowing competitors to gain further market share within our markets, we have decided to begin the discussions for implementation of ending the franchise model. During this period we will no longer be issuing any new ones and will be looking to both hear, discuss, and work with current franchisees to both help and support converting current franchisee offices into solely owned and directed corporate divisions. We look forward to your input as we engage in this all-important possible transition. Thank you, the management. 

So, with the above synopsis, what do you think happened?  Here, let me save you some time… 

Once the initial knee jerk of “You can’t do that!” settled, and the realization that the response of “Maybe, but that’s what we’re proposing so we look forward to your input.” then standing firm into it - compliance went from herding cats to a stampede into the compliance coral near overnight. That franchisee model is still in place today and the efficacy promised was delivered to the benefit of all. i.e., it wasn’t a power move type thing. 

Now, with the above all laid out, I’m going to imagine (because I can hear it through my screens) that there are many in what some might call “the leadership” reading this and thinking “See, that’s right, we’re right! We should do exactly this, that’ll fix things the  way we believe it should be.” 

The problem with that thinking is this: I picked this scenario precisely because it is the exact opposite of that thought which is true. i.e., The current leadership does not have this power to force the complicity - it is the franchisees or “lodges” that do. This model moves both ways and knowing the difference (which is why I get paid “the big bucks” as they say) separates true leaders from those they think they are, to their complete and utter surprise when things go awry. 

It’s also why many leadership teams, C-suites, et cetera find themselves in positions of fighting one fight when they really should either be fighting another or - not fighting at all. Let me elaborate on why…. 

Let me ask a few simple questions, but don’t mentally knee-jerk any type of answer like “But the rules!” type of response. Just answer yes or no to the actuality of the possibility.  Ready? 

Question: If a lodge surrenders its charter or it is revoked: can the men still practice all the tenants of Masonry and assemble as freemasons for not only companionship but also, to collect and consolidate funds for building, accouterments, and upkeep while dispensing what it feels is masonic education-based experiences within its walls. Let’s also say, for the sake of argument, leaves its current building and rents another somewhere else. 

If the above statement can be answered yes - then what is the need of any current leadership? 

Now the knee-jerk reaction is “The Charter” aspect, which for all intents and purposes, to simplify the discussion means:  legitimacy. i.e., sanctioned and approved by a ruling authority.  But that’s the problem. Who gives the “authority” the authority? 

Are you beginning to see the issue here? 

Many are going to take real issue with this premise (especially those in leadership) but let’s use a few examples to test my reasoning, shall we? 

Note: Just to be clear: the following premises are all based solely on U.S. models and are for thought experiments only. Not actual suggestions or anything other. 

Prince Hall. The last time I looked, this segment of masonry not only formed but has been thriving since 1784. And although there have been great advances in the recognition throughout the U.S. the reality is still apparent. i.e., although it would be a shame if recognition never materialized, the obvious fact is, does it matter in general for the brethren of it? Hint: it didn’t matter in 1784, so why would it now? 

The Shrine: What would happen not only to the recruitment numbers but more importantly, the yearly re-ups of current dues  if paying members were told “The requirement to be a Mason is  no longer a requirement?” 

The Scottish Rite: What if the Rite decided rather than wait and hope recruitment efforts they have both designed, paid for and in some cases nearly begged many GLs (e.g., “Not just a man…”  et cetera) into using to help attract new members, they simply decide to focus all of their attention and $dollars solely into their jurisdictions? Both crafting and delivering meaningful initiations starting at Entered, Fellow, and MM then continuing through much like they do all their others. 

Many will say, “No way! Can’t be done.” Maybe, but I’ll counter  with - if General Blue Lodge’s and by extension the current GLs controlling them can’t deliver enough possible recruits for the  Rite itself - does one think the Rite is just going to go “Well, OK,  guess we should close up shop because lodges just can’t attract men wanting to be Masons.” Again, I ask you, do you think that?  Really?  

Maybe I’ll ask another way: What is the difference between the  Rite and the Shrine in respect to whom it can or will admit? i.e., if there were no GL system at all - could it both practice its  current tenants along serve its membership much like it  does now other than a “certification?” And if the answer to that question is yes, then what is the dominating role of current leadership, again? 

Currently, every argument I have read, listened or been privy to concerning current leadership in many GL jurisdictions is that the leadership is trying to promote compliance to it through offering  “leadership training” styled motions.  

The problem with this that can be seen a million miles away by anyone who understands true leadership principles, doctrine, and efficacy in the real world, not the consulting class fairytale viewpoint, is this… 

To be a true leader - you first have to fully know and understand if you truly have the authority of it or, if your current leadership position is only being held together by a very thin veneer that’s yet to be tested, and dangerously close to being just that because of the current state of said leaderships actions? 

Just because one may have a “title” doesn’t always mean what one thinks it does in the real-world application reality. 

Again, and to be clear: Only dogmatic consulting class-driven leadership thinking and practice would be so foolish to think they  are the ones that should be creating and enforcing because they  are titled “the leadership.” As history shows - it’s precisely this type of thinking and execution that is the eventual last gasp of failed ones. 

One way or another - things are going to change because they have to. The question now is… 

What truly is all this push for “leadership training,” is it…

A: The current leadership understands that following its current leadership path is destined for failure and is looking to course correct through remediation of lower-status members in hope something positive comes forth? Or… 

B: The current push for “leadership training” is only being pushed by leaders who don’t truly know why things are failing and are simply doubling down on any effort to try and stem any current innate leadership to fix obvious problems? Or… 

C: Someone read some best-selling “leadership/management”  book and decided since it was a best seller, and it is “their year”  then it must be the perfect remedy for such a vexing problem because after their year is over, it’s someone else's problem and  they can have some sort of shield that “They tried?” 

My guess is it’s a combination of all three, but my own experience in past matters would push me more to C than others. Why? 

Because I put most (most - not all) business books, especially the so-called “best sellers” into a category that infuriates most.  That category is “Romance Novels.” Because it all sounds so sweet and easy laced with the prospects of enduring passion and cooperation forever, laced in flowery language, all wrapped in a  beautiful bound bouquet of colorful typeset covers. And who can argue with a great love story, right? Even if it is pure rubbish. 

The reason for this derision is simple… 

After reading and applying most of what they read in these  “Romance Novella” - I’m the one that’s called in to help settle the now ongoing divorce proceedings that have become mired with infighting, backbiting, and legal maneuvering that would make a court jester blush.

This whole “leadership” kerfuffle can all be fixed with near immediacy if only one thing transpired for the good of everyone.  And that is this… 

True leaders don’t just sit behind closed doors drafting  “leadership” prose for others to follow. They get out in front of the others and boldly shout “Follow me” as they admirably set the examples for others to follow and aspire to imitate. 

That’s done via example, and from the top - not by some  “leadership” class to the underlings. For there’s a law of leadership that’s never broken, yet little understood by most,  which is… 

Subordinates do what they see their leaders do. You can’t train the subordinate to be better if the upper echelons are seen as not playing by the same rules. It never has worked and won’t ever either. If you want people to follow your leadership, you better make sure it’s true and on point because subordinates will emulate whatever good or bad is obvious to them. 

Right now leadership throughout the Craft appear to be doing anything and everything, in full public view, that any sane person looking in would determine to be nothing but calamitous,  unbecoming, and totally anathema to what the self-described “Making good men better” implies. 

How many potential inquirers have been lost just because of these types of leadership squabbles in the last two months alone, never mind what’s been aired over the last few years collectively? 

Maybe if there’s “leadership training” to be had and done it should start there, first, before advocating for the general membership.

Think about it. 

Mark St. Cyr Freemason

Do Titles Really Tell You Who a Man is?

by Senior Midnight Freemason Contributor
Gregory J. Knott 33° 

In recent articles here on the Midnight Freemasons, RWB Robert Johnson and WB

and Managing Editor Darin Lahners, spoke about the topic of leadership.   RJ specifically laid

out a case where it wasn’t the responsibility of Freemasonry to teach leadership.   He didn’t imply that you can’t learn leadership within Freemasonry, his thesis is that leadership is not a core tenant that Freemasonry needs to teach.

Darin in a subsequent article made an argument that the leadership problems we have within Freemasonry are largely attributable to membership issues.  Specifically, our organizations are suffering because our numbers are down and we no longer attract the kind of men who would ideally aspire to the highest levels of responsibility within our masonic organizations.

One needs to only look at current events to see how leadership impacts the direction of an organization.   For example, the Grand Lodge of Texas is in turmoil, which has led one Past Grand Master to file a lawsuit against the Grand Lodge of Texas.  A past Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite NMJ released a lengthy letter with his views on his accomplishments and why he was asked to step aside.

Both RJ’s and Darin’s well-written articles have had me thinking deeply about the role and place of leadership within not only masonic organizations but in all organizations more broadly.   One question in particular was on my mind; if leadership is something that is not the primary responsibility of Freemasonry, then why do we spend so much time on titles and positions of authority when we are introducing Masonic brethren?

Just take a look at the short biographies of those who are contributors to this blog, including myself.  We all have titles of past positions of responsibility we have held i.e. DDGM, Past Master, lodge secretary, webmaster, membership chairman, etc.  Some of us had been given honors such as the 33rd degree from the Scottish Rite or made fellows in masonic research organizations.  Aren’t all of these simply functional titles that don’t really tell you much about the character of a man?

Would it not be better to just drop off all the titles, positions, initials, degrees, etc., and introduce someone by the characteristics they exhibit?  For example, let me rewrite a few of the bios of the Midnight Freemasons:

Robert Johnson - RJ is a deeply caring individual who has a love of his family and the masonic craft.   His commitment and dedication to masonic education have made not only a profound difference in the craft but more importantly helped other men understand the need to expand their knowledge of the craft that will help make them a better person.  His determination and tireless efforts have helped me become a better man.  He never forgets to send a thank you note or a word of encouragement, these have helped me more than you know. Thank you, RJ.

Darin Lahners - Darin has a heart of gold, his willingness to help others and putting himself secondary is undeniable.   He is extremely loyal to his family, brothers and friends.   He will never hesitate to offer you a kind word.  His ever-deepening understanding of the craft has helped motivate others, including myself to look inward at myself and how we can all help the world become a better place.  Since becoming married to Lisa, he has grown tremendously every day and has become a better man.   Thank you, Darin.

Todd E. Creason - Todd has become a man of deep faith and convictions.  He uses his humor to help others understand the relationship they can have with God.  He illustrates that faith can be lived in your everyday life.  He is a friend to many and is always willing to lend an attentive ear.  His devotion to his family is without end.  In the journey of life, you will find fewer true friends than Todd.   Thank you, Todd.

Bill Hosler - Bill is a man of strong resilience.  He will always get you laughing and has a wit coupled with that sense of humor that is contagious.  Bill has a strong sense of duty to others, be it working on promoting masonic social media, giving a kind word to a friend or simply helping promote the values and tenets of this fraternity.  His loving devotion to his partner Tammy is obvious.  Bill’s views of the world have helped enlighten me and strengthen my belief in this fraternity. Thank you, Bill.

Brian L. Pettice - Brian is a quiet and reserved person who is deeply insightful of not only freemasonry but more importantly of how our principles and tenets can be utilized in our daily lives.   He is a living true example of who I think of when I think of a Freemason.  His love of his family is obvious and his work with the Demolay in helping build and guide our youth to become better young persons is nothing short of inspiring.   His example as a Mason has made me a better person.   Thank you, Brian.

It’s been my privilege to meet so many men of high character on my journey in this fraternity, including many who have held lofty positions of leadership.  As I age, titles and awards really don’t mean as much to me as the individual characteristics of those brothers who have inspired me and helped me along in this journey of life. 

Effective leadership is essential for any organization to thrive, but it needs to be underpinned by men of character who have the best interests of others as their focus and not simply chasing a title or position.  


Greg Knott is married to Brooke and has two adult children Riley and Hayden.  He hopes to have left the world better than he found it.

The Problematic Reality for Masonic Leadership for Younger Generations

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Patrick Dey

I suppose I am hopping on the bandwagon of commentary to Robert Johnson’s recent post about leadership in Masonry. I applaud him for saying what must be said: Masonry is not a leadership school. And Darin Lahners' follow-up post was equally as applaudable in examining many of the points RJ discusses. Thank you both for saying it. I am chiming in on this commentary to point out something that I think gets overlooked: what Generation Z and the upcoming Gen Alpha think about these things. These are very different generations than previous generations, and their ambitions, wants, desires, means of expression, social acceptance, et al are vastly different from any currently living generations.

First and foremost, it needs to be pointed out to older Masons that I am not the young generation anymore. I am a Millennial, and that means I am not the “new generation” of Masons. I am not a kid. I am not one of the “young ones.” Baby Boomers, and even the Silent Generation, and even the elder Gen X have long been infantilizing Millennials that they don’t even realize that Gen Z is here. They have dismissed Millennials for so long as being just kids that don’t know what they’re talking about, that they still think we are the kids. Now Gen Z has arrived. The elder Gen Zs can vote, they are graduating college, they can buy alcohol, start businesses, run for some political offices, and some are starting to join Freemasonry. And Gen Z thinks Millennials are the old farts who need to get out of the way. They think Millennials are old, has-beens, and irrelevant. And they are not wrong. 

I don’t want to turn this into an “Okay Boomer!” type of bashing older generations, but truth be told, the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers are out of touch with the younger generations. They don’t even seem to be aware that there is a younger generation on the scene now, while they still continue to call Millennials “kids” and “the future of Masonry.” As a result, their conception of what the younger generations want and need, even their ideas on the future leaders of Masonry are so incredibly out of touch with reality, and a few things need to be brought to the older Masons’ attention.

Now, I am not going to pretend that I understand Gen Z, or even Gen Alpha, any more than Baby Boomers understand Gen X or Millennials. We aren’t meant to understand younger generations. That’s just how it works. It is a sign of progress. It is a sign that things are not stagnating. Whether you like it or not, younger people will come along and change things, and grumpy old men complain and then die, and the world keeps turning. That said, I pay attention to Gen Z enough, and I follow the trends enough that I feel I can speak to a few trends that Masonry will have to contend with. Foreshadowing: your outdated lectures, seminars, and papers about leadership in Masonry are not only going to need revisions but maybe should just be tossed out entirely and we forget we even brought this whole thing up.

Some years ago, I was present at a presentation being given by a Past Grand Master — I believe from Tennessee. He gave a statistic about Masonic membership — one that Darin Lahners gave in his follow-up to RJ’s post — and it is a statistic I absolutely loath… it’s so asinine. There are approximately 130 million males between the ages of 18 and 65 years of age in the United States, and of them, 880,000 of them are Freemasons, about 0.5% of the male population. Darin was not so dense as to ask this next question, but this Past Grand Master did: why aren’t the rest of these men Masons? I have seen this statistic and inane question given several times, and I am sure many of you have as well. Darin acknowledges the complexity of this data, though he does not get into it. However, I will, because it reflects deeply upon how different the younger generations feel and operate in life, and how that will impact the future of Masonry.

When that Grand Master asked that question, “Why aren’t the rest of these men Freemasons?” I wanted so badly to shout out, or at least to approach him afterward and ask: “How many of those men are atheists? How many are transgender? How many have criminal records? How many are black in a state that doesn’t admit persons of color? Why does the MSANA’s data not reflect Prince Hall membership statistics? How many do not care about Freemasonry?” Truth be told, he probably would not care. That statistic was just a talking point in a longer presentation on leadership in Masonry that was little more than the same-old, same-old jive. 

Seriously, it was the same ideas of a bygone era that he still thinks are relevant, but really are not. He talked about how “younger generations need community; that’s a need they have that Freemasonry can provide.” No shit. Of course, they want community. We are humans. We are social creatures. That’s not something special about the “kids.” That’s just a basic human need. His proposal: the lodge should host bowling nights and golf tournaments. Ummm… yeah. You know, the last time I went bowling was in high school, and that was just an excuse to smoke cigarettes indoors with my friends and hope the food vendor didn’t ID me when I tried to buy a beer. Golf? I remember a few years ago hearing a bunch of Baby Boomers complaining that Millennials are “killing golf” because we don’t want to play golf. So, his proposal was that lodges get their Millennial brethren to play golf. This guy was a prime example of what RJ and Darin are saying about why leadership courses for Masonry should be taught by an accredited person or company.

There is a new generation coming into Masonry, if they even care to join Masonry, and trying to get them to play golf is a shibboleth of how out of touch the proposer of such an idea really is. A few years ago at a Colorado lodge, a few of the young guys wanted to start their own hangout time at the lodge building. They decided to start a game night where they can use that huge flatscreen TV the lodge bought, and play Halo or Call of Duty on it. I think they ended up ordering pizza and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Every other week they met at the building and played games together. Then the older Masons got involved, and because they didn’t understand what these games were about, they took it over and turned it into a “fellowship” talk time, and it died in a month. The kids had a good idea: unplug from the computer at home and come to the lodge and plug in together. Then the older Masons destroyed it because they felt excluded, and then complained the younger Masons didn’t want to hang out anymore.

Sometimes the best leader is the guy who knows when he needs to step aside. Here were the “kids” starting something, nurturing fellowship in their own way, and then the “leaders” inserted themselves and then wondered why the “kids” didn’t want to do things “the way we did things back in my day.”

Let’s really get into this. What is the future of Masonry with Gen Z coming in and how that will affect leadership in Masonry? Truth be told, we are looking at a generation unlike any other. Whatever was the established rulebook about leadership and management, Gen Z burned it. What’s their approach to leadership? They don’t care about leadership. They don’t care about management positions. They literally do not give a shit.

Caveat: of course, there are some Zoomers who are interested in leadership and management, but the great majority of them do not care. This is an example of Freemasonry being a reflection of our society at large, and that civic politics and economics are going to have an impact on Masonry. These kids do not want management roles because it does not pay, or it pays poorly. There are hundreds of TikTok videos out there on how to properly decline a promotion at work or how to politely and legally decline being given management roles.

Gen Z got smart. Millennials, we got suckered into taking on these added responsibilities because we believed it would give us a report and that the financial benefits would come later, and then we are told after two years without a pay raise that the company does not promote from within. Millennials thought if we put in overtime without compensation we would reap the rewards later, and those fruits rotted on the vine. We got a pizza party that didn’t even feed everyone there, instead of the cash bonus that we were promised. Gen Z got smart and decided they would not stay late or come in early or on weekends. They learned to not take a work call after hours or on their day off. The media came to calling this “quiet quitting,” but the reality is that no one likes being taken advantage of, and Gen Z learned real quick from the failings of Millennials to not take leadership roles and to not put in the extra effort. They completed the terms of their contract and could care less about anything else.

Freemasonry cannot afford to market itself as a place to learn leadership skills to a generation that could not give a damn. Why would they pay to be a Mason and volunteer their time and energy to leadership roles when they don’t even want to be paid for leadership roles at work? They don’t want to manage other people and other projects on top of all their other responsibilities while not seeing a pay raise for it, and we expect them to pay us to learn leadership skills from people who are out of touch and poor leaders in the first place to volunteer their time to manage other people? Masonry is going to have a big problem in the future by pushing a leadership agenda if no one wants it at all.

Why would they want to learn leadership skills to be a better husband and father, when many Zoomers are not having kids? We are entering an era of population busts. 2020 was anticipated to be a boom year, because everyone was home and when you’re bored, you have sex, and sex leads to children. We see small booms after hurricanes because when you’re stuck inside with no TV and no power, seeing by candlelight, you get a recipe for making babies. But 2020 was a bust year. And 2021.  Millennials cannot afford to have children. Daycare is $25,000 a child these days. One partner basically works to pay for daycare… their whole paycheck goes to childcare. If you want to increase the population, the parents need to have three kids, two to replace the parents and one more to add to the general population. But now they can’t afford to even stabilize the population. Many who truly want kids will only have one because that is all they can afford. But so many are opting for no kids at all. Many do not even like kids, much less the idea of having to care for a child for the next twenty years of their life. And we think Freemasonry can bill itself to make men better fathers?

Being a better husband? Polyamory is more prolific today than decades ago. Polyamorous relationships are nothing like monogamous relationships, and thus “leadership” is going to be vastly different from anything Masonry could teach if it could teach such things. Masonry’s leadership is structured with a Master as the chief executive, and everyone below him serves his will and pleasure. Kinky, but this does not work in polyamorous relationships. It might be better suited for simp-dom relationships than poly. Heck, even monogamous marriages of younger generations are way different from how previous generations conducted their marriages if they even get married. Some are fine with partnerships, and if they have kids, co-parenting. These are accepted now, and the emerging generations see it as perfectly normal. Is Masonry ready to even ready to have discussions on these types of relationships, much less the leadership skills to be successful partners in these arrangements?

Let’s look at a historical example: interracial marriages. Today these are not a big deal and, in fact, are quite common. But fifty years or more ago, they were very taboo, and that affected Freemasonry. Some years ago I met a Caucasian Prince Hall Mason, who was initiated back in the 1970s. I asked him why he joined Prince Hall and he said, “Well, I did petition a Four Letter Lodge [their name for our Blue Lodge system], but they blackballed me for being married to a black woman. And since I was ostracized in a lot of white groups, but welcomed into a lot of black communities, I just felt more at home in Prince Hall.” Let this example be a reminder that our own prejudices have caused many to avoid Freemasonry and find their need to be part of a community elsewhere.

Let’s talk about sexuality. As far as I am aware, Tennessee and Georgia are the only Grand Lodges in the United States that explicitly prohibit homosexuals from being Masons. This is such a big deal that NPR published an article about two Masons who married each other and were subsequently brought up on un-Masonic charges. This is so preposterous (Latin for “ass-backward”), and what these Grand Lodges do not understand is that homosexuality is not a concern among most of the younger generations. They are much more open and tolerant about it than their predecessors, and it is part of the reason why more and more homosexuals and bisexuals are coming out these days.

To go back to that Past Grand Master from Tennessee’s remarks about “Why aren’t all these other men Masons?” I’ve got some statistics for him. According to US census data, in 2019 the adult male population of Tennessee was approximately 3.5 million, and of those men, 120,000 were open homosexuals and bisexuals according to a Gallup/Williams poll that same year. According to the Masonic Service Association, in 2019 the number of Tennessee Freemasons was approximately 32,000. That means there were 3.7 times more open homosexuals in Tennessee than Masons. That number should sting a little. So, why aren’t all these men Freemasons?

Even in jurisdictions that have no stance on sexuality, it is not uncommon to hear some homophobic comments from the brethren, even in Lodge. I am bisexual, and I have had to shut down some repulsive remarks from men that I am supposed to call “brother,” and they would apologize, but mostly because they didn’t want to have to elect a new secretary that night.

I suppose similar remarks and a similar situation could be discussed about transgender, queer, and gender-fluid persons, which are becoming more and more acceptable as younger generations emerge, and I don’t think the older Masons are ready to give seminars to address leadership for LGBTQ persons. Not even close. Back to what RJ and Darin say about accredited leadership trainers, I’m sure they have undergone sensitivity training that a Past Grand Master from 1972 never even knew was an option.

Atheism is another big hurdle for Masonry. Masonry explicitly prohibits atheists from being Masons. It is not just atheism that is rising, the number of young people who do not care about religion or believing in a god or gods or anything numinous whatsoever. I remember some years ago when I was living in Boston, I met this young man at MIT, and it came up during a conversation about sacred geometry that he said he didn’t believe in God. And almost without missing a beat, he said, “But don’t call me an atheist. Don’t lump me in with those loudmouths. I don’t care if there is a God or not.” And that trend in “belief” or disbelief is rapidly rising. Yet, at the same time, those who are religious keep declining and those who are atheists keep rising. I doubt religion will go away, or that it will become completely marginal, but the Pew Research Center estimates that by 2070 Christians will no longer hold the majority in the United States.

I find that a lot of Masonic leadership lectures and courses certainly lean toward a “religious” quality, especially the York Rite Leadership courses. The continuous rise of atheism and non-theism in this country will not just affect the number of men who are qualified to become Masons but will affect how Masons tailor their pitches for Masonic leadership.

I am not arguing we need to suddenly let atheists in. No. Not even remotely. What I am trying to illustrate is that the younger generations value things that are very different. Wanting to use traditional values to provide “leadership” training in Masonry is going to be challenging when those traditions are taking on incredible new forms or being discarded entirely. Certainly, we are going to need to make a decision about transgender persons. Such as if they identify as a man, regardless of their genitals at birth, then they should be let in. Or we must adopt a decision like the United Grand Lodge of England made a few years ago that if they discover they identify as a woman after becoming a Mason, then they cannot be expelled. Something, anything needs to be addressed, rather than what I personally heard several “leaders” in my own jurisdiction and others say: kick that can down the road. Some quality leadership right there to just postpone the inevitable until it comes to a head.

For years Masons have been trying to integrate the Internet into the fraternity, and for years Masons have argued that the old timers don’t know how all these Internet thingies work, so we shouldn’t do anything on the Internet because we don’t want to exclude them. Then lockdown happened, and most jurisdictions were forced to move onto the internet or lose all that precious momentum Masonry then had and could not afford to lose even a little bit thereof. Then suddenly all those old timers we said didn’t understand the internet were on virtual lodge meetings. It wasn’t a problem. All along it was as simple as: create an account, click this link, and you’re in the meeting. They got the hang of it so quickly that they then oversaturated every Mason’s schedule with endless Zoom meetings that burned everyone else out really quick.

For a long time, Masons have been saying that Masonry needs to make some changes. This is true. However, Masonry has done very little if anything to negotiate those changes, and the high tide of change is approaching very rapidly when Masons will no longer be saying, “How shall we accommodate younger generations?” and Masons will be forced to accommodate or perish.

I really doubt Masonry will ever go away. Somehow the Order of Red Men still exists. What I expect is that Masonry will continue its course of dwindling numbers, and after enough “very lovely Masonic funerals,” after all of the old guard are moldering in their graves, there will be a few of the new generations that say to themselves, “Why are we still doing things the way those dead people did it?” And they will make the changes that suit them.


Patrick M. Dey is a Past Master of Nevada Lodge No. 4 in the ghost town of Nevadaville, Colorado, and currently serves as their Secretary, and is also a Past Master of Research Lodge of Colorado. He is a Past High Priest of Keystone Chapter No. 8, Past Illustrious Master of Hiram Council No. 7, Past Commander of Flatirons Commandery No. 7. He currently serves as the Exponent (Suffragan) of Colorado College, SRICF of which he is VIII Grade (Magister). He is the Editor of the Rocky Mountain Mason magazine, serves on the Board of Directors of the Grand Lodge of Colorado’s Library and Museum Association, and is the Deputy Grand Bartender of the Grand Lodge of Colorado (an ad hoc, joke position he is very proud to hold). He holds a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Colorado, Denver, and works in the field of architecture in Denver, where he resides with wife and son.

Freemasonry has a membership problem (which has caused a leadership problem)

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB Darin A. Lahners

Emeritus contributor Robert Johnson published an article this past Wednesday on this blog, The Midnight Freemasons: Not Leadership, which has these key takeaways (From his TL/DR version of the article):

  • Freemasonry as an organization has no stance, responsibility, or obligation to teach Leadership.
  •  Leadership can be learned within Freemasonry, but it is no different than how it is learned in other organizations – including real-life work experience. We are not special – which means, it isn’t our mission.
  • There is nothing wrong with hosting leadership training as long as it is: 1. Secondary or tertiary to the understanding, application, and continuing study of the Philosophy of Freemasonry. 2. Does not demand a Grand Lodge Budget line-item expense that surpasses that of Masonic Education. 3. Qualified individuals who are leaders in the real world, with actual credentials, and have resumes that have been validated, must lead these workshops or camps.
RJ asked me to write a follow-up to his article, so without further ado, I wanted to expand on some of what RJ had to say as well as how it relates to some current issues that our Fraternity is facing. I believe they are interrelated as we discuss leadership.  

Point One:

Freemasonry has a membership problem which has caused a leadership problem.  

You might want to write this down:

Freemasonry has a membership problem which has caused a leadership problem.  

Freemasonry has an obsession with membership numbers because we have been declining from our post-WW1/WW2 numbers. These numbers were artificially inflated by the men who came back from those conflicts and felt that they were missing the comradery that many of them had become accustomed to during their combat tours.  The graph below shows that we hit our high watermark of membership in 1959 when we had a total of 4.1 million members, out of approximately 53.3 million males over the age of 20, meaning that around 7.7%  of the eligible male population were Freemasons.  In 2022, there were 881,219 members in the US according to MSANA out of approximately 128.4 million males over the age of 20,  meaning that less than 1%  (approximately .06%) are Freemasons.  I used the age of 20 because some jurisdictions require a man to be 18 years of age while others require 21 years of age for membership, so I settled on 20 years of age as a median. The US census data usually had an age distribution in units of 5 years, so 20 years of age was also easier to use as a starting point.  Even though the peak of our membership happened sixty-five years ago, it seems that we keep chasing this unicorn. 

Masonic bodies have decided that quantity of members is the measurement of the success of our organization, instead of the quality of our membership. Because of using an incorrect metric to judge the success of our organization, and not upholding our standards for membership, some masonic lodges have collectively turned the ballot box into a turnstile. In some cases, the only qualities that they look for are a heartbeat, a bank account, and the ability to say yes or no to the investigation committee. In fact, the only thing that might get a candidate black-balled from joining a lodge or Masonic body are qualities that shouldn't even be discussed in our Fraternal gatherings, like a member's sexuality, race, religion, or political affiliation.

We need to stop pretending that every man who is a Mason is good.  We have some members that aren't good men.  Some of these men, men who should never ever have set foot into a Masonic lodge, now are appointed and elected leaders in our fraternity.   

In the real world, leadership problems occur when employees are promoted based on their job skills and not their leadership skills.  When employees in the real world are promoted based on their job skills, and they need formal, ongoing training on how to be good supervisors or leaders, they usually end up as poor leaders and end up having the below leadership problems.

  • They have communication issues.
  • They are in constant conflict with other managers or employees.
  • Difficulty dealing with their employee's demands. 
  • They are resistant to change.
  • Their employees have low morale.
  • They do not take responsibility for their decisions or have no initiative to make decisions.
  • Their employees have low motivation.
  • They use an outdated leadership style, usually one which is authoritarian.1 

In theory, Freemasonry should not have any of the above leadership issues. Our leadership is elected democratically to the main leadership positions in almost every Masonic organization. At least, that's what is supposed to happen, more on that later.  Reading the above leadership problems, how many of you feel that many of those could apply to at least one or more Masonic bodies you belong to?  The fact that you said yes, says all you need to know.  

Why is this?  We currently have men in leadership positions in Freemasonry who have no business being in a leadership position. Freemasonry is a bureaucracy,  and it requires a lot of members to serve in leadership positions to keep the Masonic machine running. Members who are appointed to leadership positions at the District and Area levels are usually not appointed based on their leadership abilities, but because they are good at memorization and mimicry.  Furthermore, because some of these men have waited patiently in the progressive line of whatever body, kept their mouths shut, and placated the current leadership, membership advances them election cycle after election cycle.       

In Freemasonry, like in business, when bad leaders are put in positions to appoint others into leadership roles, they will appoint those who also believe them to be good leaders. This leads to them surrounding themselves with sycophants that will further inflate their belief that they are entitled to their leadership roles.  These men end up getting a fancy title and apron, and with it, the power and influence to maintain the status quo.  The law of probability means that there will be a distribution of men who are good leaders with those who are terrible ones in these positions, and varying degrees in between.      

While I agree that leadership training should not be Freemasonry’s primary objective, I do believe that Leadership Development training is desperately needed in our organizations, usually at every level.  I will go a step further than RJ and state that if Masonic bodies are going to do leadership development training, the training needs to be taught by an accredited organization that specializes in Talent Development.  We can ill afford to use Masonic Leaders who are not qualified or accredited to teach leadership development.  Just because I have taken multiple leadership training courses, I do not consider myself qualified to instruct one. On top of this, some of the elected officers in the Grand Lines of Masonic Organizations and some of the members appointed to the Masonic bureaucracy are the members who need the leadership training the most, so they should not be involved in teaching something they are not good at. 

We also have to acknowledge that no amount of leadership development training will turn a bad leader into a good leader.  We have those predisposed to the philosophy of Servant Leadership within our fraternity, and these are the leaders that Freemasonry needs to promote and elect. Servant leaders put the needs of their team members first and strive to create an environment where everyone can thrive. This style of leadership is particularly well-suited for all-volunteer organizations, where the success of the organization depends on the dedication and hard work of its volunteers.2  The experience of leadership in any organization can help men predisposed to be good leaders become better ones,.  However, those who are bad at leadership will believe themselves to be great leaders. They will learn nothing from their leadership experience because they believe they have nothing left to learn.   
Furthermore, the Progressive Line often means that when we have bad leaders in our organizations, they continue to get promoted or elected because:

Point Two:

The majority of Masonic membership is only concerned with maintaining the status quo.

You might want to write this down:

The majority of Masonic membership is only concerned with maintaining the status quo.

Freemasonry suffers from the Status Quo bias.  The status quo bias is a type of cognitive bias that involves the preference that things stay as they are or that the current state of affairs remains the same.3  

Progressive lines of leadership keep advancing. On the rare occasion where there is competition for an office, we see the membership side with the status quo. 
In some cases, when it’s time to elect the junior most officers into the Grand progressive lines,  these lines will ask for interested men to apply. However, when it comes time to vote for the leadership of the Grand Line at the Grand session, only one candidate is offered to the membership.  Membership usually is not allowed to know anything about the other applicants, as the applicant put forward is the one who best fits the siloed group think of the other Grand officers in that line.  I envision a scene similar to what I’ve illustrated below from Todd Browning’s Freaks. Imagine the officers of that Grand Line dancing inebriated on the table screaming: “One of us! One of us!”  

While these other candidates can run from the floor at these Grand Sessions, they are not the candidates who have the backing of the bureaucracy of the Masonic leadership of that particular organization. The only way wholesale change can happen at a Grand level requires the membership to revolt against the status quo, and put leaders into each office in that line who would be willing to make wholesale changes to their organization and they would have to replace each cog in the Masonic bureaucracy with those who would implement their vision.  Membership would also have to be willing to be courageous enough to vote for legislation that would implement change.  

Unfortunately, a majority of our members are unwilling to vote for change.  This means that our leadership problems are a direct result of our membership.  Regardless of what majority of the vote an election for a leadership position requires or an amendment needs to pass, both require a majority of our member's vote.  Ergo: The problematic leaders in our organizations are a direct result of the membership. The members who voted them into the fraternity,  the members who cast votes for them to remain in power, or the members who appointed them to a leadership position.       

Let's be honest with ourselves, on the off chance that a visionary leader or leaders would be elected or appointed into these bodies, they immediately put a target on their back by those who defend that status quo if they rock the boat too much. As Freemasons, even though it might not be our jurisdiction, what is happening in Texas, and DC, and apparently in upper echelons of leadership in Appendant Bodies should make us all embarrassed. Is this really how we want to portray ourselves to the profane world?  I realize that there are two sides to every story, but from an outsider looking in, it reaffirms everything I've said so far.  

As an organization, Freemasonry is so beholden to our past, our history, and our sacred landmarks, to the status quo; that we seem incapable of thinking about the future.  The landscape of decaying Masonic temples that exist in small towns across America proves me correct.  In many cases, our departed brethren built magnificent structures, never thinking once that at some point, the cost to maintain the building might cause the lodge they so dearly loved to merge with another or close entirely. And yes, while I said membership numbers are not the measurement of our organization's success, we still need a membership to continue to be an organization.

Yet, instead of focusing on making decisions about what we want for our future, we have members and leaders who continue to kick the can down the road. Because our average age of membership is in its early to mid-'60s, the members that are in my age demographic and younger are going to be the ones who are going to have to make the difficult decisions to close and consolidate our masonic lodges, temples, chapters, councils, valleys, etc. in the next ten to twenty years, again because the brethren who protect the status quo didn't have the forethought to start the conversations, the hard conversations early.  Hopefully, I'm wrong, and we have enough good leaders in place who have created five-year plans, and succession plans,  and they have started to have these conversations.

Even one of the most successful marketing campaigns that Freemasonry has ever had, the "Not Just a Man..." marketing campaign,  is five years old, which in marketing terms is ancient history.  In my own personal opinion, the one thing that we could use to help market Freemasonry to men today is Masonic Education.  Why Masonic Education?  Masonic Education is like a gym workout for your brain.

RJ states that Leadership Training should not demand a Grand Lodge Budget line-item expense that surpasses that of Masonic Education.  This is because, in our personal experience, Masonic Education is not thought of or utilized as an asset to the fraternity or to its membership, so it is not prioritized.  What men get out of Masonic Education is something that a majority of other civic organizations cannot provide, yet, many of our members and leaders eschew it.         

Why is this? They do not understand what Masonic Education is.  There seems to be a prevailing thought that Masonic Education equals teaching of Esoteric philosophy.  Because of this, Masonic Education is either thought to be of little or no value to the practical application of Freemasonry. Often Masonic education is pushed as things that classify as Masonic Instruction, Leadership training, Officer Training, or teaching ritual and floorwork.  While both develop membership, there is a distinct difference between Masonic Instruction and Masonic Education.    

Point Three:

Masonic education is not Leadership training, Officer Training, or Ritual/Floorwork instruction.  

You might want to write this down. 

Masonic education is not Leadership training, Officer Training, or Ritual/Floorwork instruction.   

Masonic Instruction is learning the ritual, floor work, and everything else that relates to the work being performed within a tyled lodge.  It is also the teaching of those skills that will help develop members' leadership and management abilities. It is part of member development which requires the instructor to be proficient in the skill that they are teaching, which is why you see those who have passed the Board of Grand Examiners tests instructing ritual and floor work.  This is why I will reiterate the point I made above, leadership development training needs to be taught by an accredited organization that specializes in Talent Development.   

While I have a great appreciation for our Ritualists and those who do excellent floor work, I am always amazed that some of these men have no desire to understand where the ritual or floor work came from and what it actually means.  Masonic Education is learning about the meanings behind the work being performed within a tyled lodge space.  It is a study of the philosophies of the world,  the liberal arts and sciences, Masonic ritual, the sacred volumes of law from the various world religions, Masonic history, and esoterics.  It is the nurturing of the member's intellect, imagination, and spiritual growth. It is the key to understanding how to follow the instructions left on the trestleboard which guide us as we struggle to shape our rough ashlar into a perfect one in our personal quarries.  It is part of member development which can be undertaken alone, but it really should be done in a group setting, which is why it should be prioritized as a part of our meeting experience. 

When done properly in a group setting, men will let their guard down.  When this occurs, you see the actual working of brotherly love.  You see men who might be polarized oppositely from each other in the profane world agree on something.  Every member has a voice during Masonic education. Because of this, it allows the exchange of differing ideas and concepts to flow freely. It is through Masonic education that our membership develops their ability to think independently and philosophically and take the lessons taught by our kindred science and apply them in the profane world.

This being said, maybe we should not be surprised when some of our Grand Lines promote  Masonic instruction as Masonic Education.  An educated membership is a membership that will ask questions, study the constitution and bylaws of that particular body, and demand change.  It is much easier to instruct the membership how to memorize our rituals and mimic floor movements, what duties they should perform in each chair in the lodge room, and how they should manage the lodge when they become the presiding officer.  It is easier to have a membership full of parrot masons squawking in unison: "One of us, One of us" than to have a membership that asks questions and demands accountability and transparency of its leadership.

Our leadership problems have been caused by membership, and they can only be fixed by membership.  Each of us must begin to be courageous at our local lodges and tell our brethren who want to give signed petitions out like candy on Halloween that you will blackball any candidate they bring to the floor for a vote if they do not make a concerted effort to get to know that man for months before offering them membership.  We must identify and vote alternative candidates into power in cases where the leadership of that organization is not doing its job.  We must bring up legislation at our grand sessions that will move Freemasonry forward into the future, and if it does not pass, we must continue to bring it up until it does, no matter how long it takes.  Change in Freemasonry doesn't happen overnight, it happens very slowly, but we'll get there eventually.  It's just a matter of time. We must have the patience and stay the course. 


Darin Lahners is our Managing Editor. He is a host and producer of the "Meet, Act and Part" podcast as well as a co-host of an all-things-paranormal podcast, "Beyond the 4th Veil." He is currently serving the Grand Lodge of Illinois Ancient Free and Accepted Masons as a member of the Committee on Masonic Education 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.