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.

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