Of Revolutions & Reforms, A Revisit

Once in awhile it behooves all of us to go backward instead of forward, to look back on what we said or what we did years ago and see if it still rings true today. I did that just recently with an article I wrote for Masonic Traveler in 2007 titled Of Revolutions And Reforms. I wasn’t part of the Freemason Information team then. I was on my own with “The Beehive” my own personal blog.

What is so cool here is that Greg Stewart gives the article an introduction as I am an outsider at the time and this is his blog and at the end there are a number of comments. To see these remarks along with the article adds a flavor and an insight that makes it all worthwhile to – do it all over again. So here goes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Of Revolutions and Reforms

I had received this last week. It is a position paper of sorts that really looks at the present state and disposition of modern masonry and offers some insight to how we might effect some change.I think it’s a very good paper and offers much by way of food for thought.The only thing facing us from the abyss at this point is change. Change is and will be an absolute condition we need to address, and sooner rather than later.Is it by radical means, or by attrition? Is it a positive decisive change or is it something foist upon us?

The choice is ours, right now, what the future of Freemasonry will look like.

But enough of my opinion, the paper I present here is from Bro. Frederic L. Milliken who hails from the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas, specifically from Pride of Mt. Pisgah Lodge #135, Dallas, Texas. His outlook is succinct though as he is a Past Master from the “regular” Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.

Before you read it, keep this quote in mind from the Freemason Samuel Clemons, aka mark Twain.

No people in the world ever did achieve their freedom by goody-goody talk and moral suasion: it being immutable law that all revolutions that will succeed must being in blood, whatever may answer afterward.
Mark Twain – A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

I would be very curious to know what you think about this.

Of Revolutions and Reforms
by Bro. Frederic L. Milliken

I have been thinking about the subject we have been discussing here, and that is how best to be effective in bringing about new life, new growth, new vitality to our Lodges and most of all reforms and a new course for our Grand Lodges. How can we as individuals best influence the course that our Lodges and Grand Lodges pursue?

The remedy has been proposed that we need to work harder, get involved, run for a Grand Lodge office, rise to some prominence and power and then work to change the system from within. If you are not in the system you can’t change it and if you don’t work hard to change it you shouldn’t complain or expect it to change – no work, no effort no gain.

I would like to amplify what has been said to more fully explain why I think this won’t work. Let’s explore some finer points and expand on the concepts and see if there are other ramifications and possibilities.

First of all for most men Masonry is a pleasurable part time past time, a hobby or interest but not a full time occupation. Nor can most men make it a full time concern. They may work long hours at a demanding job; they may have children who need their time and guidance; their wives may work and therefore they have to contribute to the management of the household and the care of their family including things like grocery shopping, cooking some meals, washing some clothes and driving the kids where they need to go. They may have responsibilities at their house of worship. They may have an aging parent who either lives with them and needs constant care and attention or who lives apart in quarters where they need to be checked up on constantly.

I say all this because what gets in the way of Masonry is life. Quite frankly many men may enjoy coming to Lodge and participating in some of the activities and rituals of the Lodge, but that does not mean they have the time or inclination to spend enormous amounts of time and effort to reform a system that has lost its way and needs a complete overhaul.

I can remember when I first entered Masonry they told me it was only going to be one night a week. Then I joined an Appendant Body and that added another night, then I became an officer and that added another night, then I became a Warden and then a Master and it became almost every night. That “just one night a week” became a lot more than that. But what are you asking of a man who just wants to enjoy his Masonry? Are you expecting him to devote 20-40 hours per week for the Craft? Let’s be realistic here, let’s be practical.

If I were to start worshiping at a new church and its management were to come to me and say we have only one Pastor who is overworked and we need more people to help with the liturgy and worship service, and we don’t have enough Sunday school teachers and we could use more, and we don’t have anybody to clean the church and no money to pay anybody to do that job, and our Secretary is quitting because she says her salary is too low and we sure could use some help with mowing our lawns and do you cook at all sir? Now I am going to say, “Hey wait a minute, I have come to your church to worship God, not to toil away for hours without compensation.” And the reply would come back, “If you can’t help the church be a great church by donating time, treasure and talent, then there just won’t be any church here for you to worship in.”

See where we are here? That’s where we are in Masonry right now. We expect too much from men who have job and family obligations. We ask for too much for nothing expecting our membership to give and give and give. And as our numbers dwindle there is a greater burden placed on those who remain. I have seen too many Masters under too much stress. And our Grand Lodges still commit us to huge Institutionalized Charity projects.

Our number one cause of our drop in membership is no longer the cause of death. We are now losing more Brothers because they are quitting, packing up and leaving. We now have a retention problem. And the more burdens we place on those remaining, and the more we expect from those left to pick up the slack, the more members will continue to leave. Quite frankly the large bulk of membership does not want to live Masonry 24/7. And they resent being constantly asked to devote much time and energy to fund raisers and charitable programs for the general public when their main reason for joining was to practice Masonry. So asking men to step up to the plate, run for Grand Lodge Office, work every night and on weekends for the Craft is totally unrealistic. And if you stand there and say – well if you don’t like the way Masonry is being run and you don’t like what you see why don’t you get more active and work to change things is just so much unrealistic, impractical and uncaring hot air. This way of thinking takes away from the responsibility local Lodge and Grand Lodge officers now have to the Brethren to run a good ship and choose the right course. And it will not make Masonry grow because it will lose more members than it brings in.

Why are we in this fix? What has gotten us into such a tailspin? What can we do to get out?

When we took in large numbers of members after WWII we took in men who were not interested in the character building side of Freemasonry which involved research, study and education – learning about the symbolism and ethics of Masonry and the meaning and applications for every day life. They wanted to continue the camaraderie they got to experience in fighting a war. Nothing brings you closer to understanding the concept of brotherhood than your life being dependent on your buddy, on your unit. So what we got was good time Charlie social Masonry. Now normally there will be a shift in emphasis with a leadership change which comes about when the next generation joins the Craft. But the Vietnam War destroyed all that. Dropping out and doing what feels good killed the interest of the next generation in joining Freemasonry. Actually it killed the interest in joining almost anything. So the same generation, the same leaders stayed in power twice as long as they normally would. They worked a double shift.

This had two disastrous effects. First it created a tremendous double generation gap. You had young men coming into the Craft looking at a Lodge ruled and governed and populated by men old enough to be their grandfathers. If you think there is a generation gap between father and son you ought to see how great it is between grandfather and grandson. Out of sight. Camaraderie was not the same. And fifty years of unquestioned power and governing inbred into the psyche of these WWII Masons that they had the only way of doing things. Thus “we always did it this way” became a reality because it truly was done that way for such an extended period of time. As previously stated, normally every 25 years there would be a turnover in leadership with a new generation taking over and imprinting their generational vision on Masonry. But that did not happen around 1975 when it should have occurred.

Finally as Masonry bleedingly limped into the 21st century younger Brothers were forced to take the reins of leadership because most of the WWII Masons had passed to the Celestial Lodge above. But since all these new Brothers were trained by the WWII Masons, they too practiced good time Charlie social Masonry except that by this time Grand Lodges in a stage of absolute panic had turned Masonry into a giant Service Club with Institutionalized Charity as the new savior of Masonry. So what ever Masonic education and study there was now was totally destroyed with the majority of time, effort and money going to “Masonic Awareness” and the marketing of Freemasonry.

Which leads us to point number two. The only grandeur left in Freemasonry was in political maneuvering. Masonic politics became the new way to gain preeminence in the Fraternity. No longer were Masonic men of letters, its writers, researchers and speakers held in high esteem. For too many years the study and practice of the mysteries of Freemasonry had been neglected. Now with social Masonry evolving into Service Club Masonry we were entering our third generation of Masons who knew very little about the organization to which they belonged. They didn’t study, research, read books, write or hold any kind of Masonic education programs in their Lodges. Men now held Grand Lodge office that can’t even read Pike or Wilmshurst or Pound never mind speak intelligently about any philosophical underpinnings of the Craft.

So if you didn’t have to know anything about Masonry to rise to preeminence in the Fraternity, how then did you get to be Grand Master? By all the means used to become President of the United States. Our Grand Masters became glib, fast talking, charismatic Masons who ruthlessly wielded the scepter of political power. They constantly sought to increase the power of Grand Lodge by demanding of their chartered Lodges that they do this and do that and submit this report and that report and hold this event and that event. Today the local Masonic Lodge is scourged of all its individuality and its ability to be creative on its own. It is in the hip pocket of the Grand Master and the oligarchy that rules from on high. This centralization of power closely mirrors the increase in power of Washington in our civil government.

It cannot be overemphasized that this means that we are now in a system where it’s not what you know but who you know. And the rise to Masonic power is gained by the means our civil politicians use –building personal relationships, networking and trading favors and other means which can be more devious but will not be listed. It then becomes a process whereby what is good for Freemasonry and what would truly bring it into the 21st century vibrant and growing means nothing to those in the Grand Lodge system. THEY CARE NOTHING ABOUT PROGRAMS THAT FURTHER THE CRAFT. They, like every other politician in life, care about getting, maintaining and wielding power. To accomplish these ends it matters not where you stand but how others feel about things and what kind of coalition can be put together and how a commitment to any issue will affect your standing in the ability to step up onto the next rung of the ladder.

Faced with these realities you can, outside the inner circle, but within the system work very hard to reform Freemasonry and return it to its former grandeur but all that work will yield little result when most of those in the system with power to implement are only concerned in putting a feather in their own cap. In other words you are beating your head against the wall. And when you do all this work and spend all the time necessary and end up with nothing, believe me what ensues is utter frustration and chances are you become another retention statistic because you have left. So this is why I say extending the effort is fruitless.

So nothing can be done? No I am not saying that. What I am saying is that if you desire to make change you need to channel your efforts in another manner. The only thing that power respects is other power. And the only thing that politicians fear is losing power and being booted out of office. You don’t make the change you seek by convincing other members in the system the righteousness of your argument. They don’t care how right you are. You don’t spend all your tine and effort into implementing a certain agenda because that is butting your head against the wall. You don’t get anywhere by being a good little boy, kissing ass, keeping your mouth shut and trying to climb the ladder without upsetting the apple cart. You don’t make change by working inside a system where you have to toe the line and work hard to further programs that are the exact opposite of what you want to do, – in order to get ahead. You can’t further the programs of a Grand Lodge which you know are destroying Freemasonry in order to stay in the system and eventually get enough power to change it. By the time you get the power, you have worked so hard to destroy it, that you have actually destroyed it. You can’t work against what you believe in to get ahead. If the present system is corrupt and you are absolutely convinced that the direction it is going in is self-defeating then helping those in power to do more of the same is stupid.

In order to change things you are going to have to play hardball, because once again the only thing those who worship power alone respect is the power of others and what they could or might do to them. Now you may stay in the system but that does not mean you are going to work to further it. And that does not mean you are going to enter the corporate Masonic ladder. What you are going to do at every opportunity you get is to point out the folly of the present course of action. You are not going to enter into personal attacks but rather intellectual debates challenging the power structure to change course. If you are a writer you will write articles explaining how destructive present policies are and what would work much better. If you are a speaker you will do the same. If your Grand Lodge runs opinion forums you will show up and ask the tough questions that need to be asked. You will write letters and E-Mails explaining your reforms to any and all. You might form a group of like-minded reform Brothers and meet on a regular basis – a reform club. You will probably launch a Masonic website and from that form a power base where you constantly point out the destructive path Grand Lodge is on. Yes you are going to be in their face and they are not going to like it. But if you stick to ideas and not personalities you are still on the high road. But you can’t change them you can only defeat them.

Will this course of action jeopardize your membership? Could be. Depends on what you would rather do, remain on a sinking ship or stay afloat in a lifeboat. If you are the only one doing this then obviously you are in some trouble. But what if 300 Brothers all felt the same way and were all participating with you and were doing some of the same things? Power respects power. Power does not respect ideas. Ideas cannot defeat power only ideas with power behind them.

My path personally led me to leave mainstream Masonry and join Prince Hall. I won’t go into the reasons why I made that decision nor recommend it to others. Some have said that now that I am on the outside looking in I can no longer influence change. Poppycock! I didn’t leave Freemasonry. I’m still in the legitimate, non clandestine practice of Masonry. I can speak at other Lodges, I can write articles, I can blog and in every way still call attention to failed practices. As time goes by I will be able to visit the Communication of any mainstream Lodge and in casual conversation whether over coffee or a pint I can have my say and influence the thinking of others who in turn will carry the torch of reform into their Grand Sessions. Who knows what the future holds in store for the intermingling of Prince Hall & mainstream Masonry. That future might mean the allowance of dual membership.

And finally what is the way out of this Masonic political power trip? How do we get politics out of Masonry and get leaders who are concerned with the quality of the Craft not their own well being? The reason we got into this mess in the first place is that we stopped researching, studying and teaching the mysteries of Freemasonry and venerating our writers, researchers and speakers. If we return now to correcting that and making the philosophy of Freemasonry and the practice of its virtues the focal point of our existence then it will become what you know not who you know which is important. Our Lodges and Grand Lodges will no longer be populated by a bunch of know nothing Masons. The way that politics gains a stranglehold of Freemasonry is to have no other standard of preeminence available. Only then does power become the standard.

Also a system that encourages the study of itself and exalts the education of it members places knowledge on a pedestal not raw political power without knowledge. So when and if we choose to replace the system we have now with a one that reveres Masonic knowledge and that requires its leaders to be well versed in the meaning of Masonry, the symbolism of Masonry, the virtues of Masonry and the importance of passing on that knowledge then we no longer will be riding on the roller coaster ride of political gamesmanship. Right now we are like a church with a Pastor who has no knowledge of scripture. Right now we are no more advanced than any other organization out there. To be the noble, grand organization that stands heads and tails above any other we have to again learn and teach that Freemasonry is a philosophy of life, a way of life, and an answer to what is the meaning of life.

In order to get to that point we need to force the issue. Those in our Grand Lodges so concerned with numbers and dollars and staying in power will not change and reform of their own free will and accord. Helping them and working with them only hastens the destruction of Freemasonry. They will not step down quietly but will go kicking and screaming, but go they must.

The only thing left to say is that this doesn’t apply to everyone, but if the shoe fits.

Wor. Frederic L. Milliken

From the North Eastern Corner said: WOW!
Without a doubt our fraternity has lost its way. This paper resounds with ideals that should echo in the halls of emptying temples throughout the country. Ours is a society that built many nations from the light emanating from our brotherhood, not how many charitable institutions we support. If we do not restore the foundation we will be lost among Kiwanis, Exchange, and Rotary clubs, when we should not even be mentioned in the same breath.

PM Michael said: Any way we could get this in a format that’s easier to print and save (a PDF would be awesome)?

Anonymous said: Brother Fred, If you are reading this or someone can get this to you. Thank you very much for stating outloud in such a concise manner the truth. You have always had the courage of your convictions. Never stop doing that. You are a light in the darkness. This paper of yours should be spread around the world. There are many that need to read it.Fraternally,

Tom Accuosti said: I was nodding my head in agreement until I got to this part:And the rise to Masonic power is gained by the means our civil politicians use –building personal relationships, networking and trading favors and other means which can be more devious but will not be listed.Sometimes we sound as paranoid about ourselves as the anti-Masons sound about us.First off, any organization that has people in it will become a political organization. Politics is really just the interplay of people within a community, and there is nothing inherently evil about it.

That said, while I agree that while some amount of politicking goes on at the GL level, that certainly doesn’t take away from some of the dedicated men that serve for years as District officers, committee members, and yes, even in the GL line itself. Do some officers do little more than enjoy chicken dinners? Possibly. But most of the ones in my own GL have been very active all through their tenure, and continue to be active after having left office. You can find them running child ID events, coaching ritual, or even serving as Secretary back in their mother lodges.

I’m a fairly new Mason, so I don’t know if the “let’s bash the Grand Lodge” attitude is something new, or if it’s been around for some time. But I can tell you that I think the attitude is misplaced. Grand Lodges are not going to save individual lodges – any innovation has to come from the lodge level itself.

I agree that Masonry saw a huge increase from men who wanted that camaraderie after the war, and that the decline in the population is due to the change in societal culture from the 50s and 60s and 70s. I also agree that maybe we do need to be a smaller fraternity in order to be more effective to our members. But I don’t believe that blaming our GLs is going to solve anything.

Frederic L. Milliken said: Thanks for the feedback, Brother Tom. I did mention at the end that this might not apply to everyone. There are a lot of really excellent Grand Lodges out there. Among those are, Vermont, Minnesota and California.But there are many more poor ones who actually retard the development of local Lodges. What you failed to address were the policies that opened the West Gate to everybody, turning Freemasonry into a Service Club, the marketing of Freemasonry with direct Masonic adverising and One Day classes.Frankly many Grand Lodges seem to be totally absorbed by their cash flow and their membership numbers. They advertise a product, Freemasonry, which they have helped to water down and cheapen. When the product does not match the hype, the result is non participation and demits.My thesis is that if you spent the time and money on Masonic research, instruction and education you might create such a great product that it will sell itself.

Anonymous said: While I agree somewhat with the paper, the fact is that we, as Masons, have been hashing these issues for over a decade and a bit longer. Now, not every jurisdiction is perfect but some have made REAL headway and it’s still not enough.Worse yet, we have those that claim they are in possession of the True Freemasonry and are self-styled revolutionaries. Yet, many base their claims on unabashed sophistry (in the modern use of the term)and while claiming freedom, deride those with opposing views and, sometimes, a wiser outlook.It becomes clear to me that many of them, like the medieval typologists of the Bible, seek to find cues and prophesy for their own revolution. Sure, change should and must be made, but their claims are only fueled by much better writers such as Bro. Milliken but not put to the proper test because they oft-times lack the knowledge AND patience needed to make the change.Nobody wins in this situation. My only advice: screw your heads on straight and even I may listen to you and find more value than currently offered: a lot of shouting and posturing over who is right, as well as much historical and philosophical revisionism.

Frederic.l.Milliken said: In rebuttal I would say that TO Lodges are one way that progress in the direction I have written about is being made. Unfortunately some jurisdictions forbid them.The point to be made here is that Gen Y and beyond have, in tradition rebelling fashion, done a 180 on the mores of their father’s hippie values of free love, drugs and anything goes that feels good. Todays youth are more traditionally valued orientated and they seek avenues of expression which reflect those views. In searching for modern expressions of value orientated beliefs they find few organizations to match their life style. They are “seekers”, looking for the right place to commit themselves to involvement. Freemasonry is the perfect place for this ethics shift of views. It offers traditional family values and mores that fit the seekers search. Freemasonry, as a philosophical character building society, dedicated to bringing out the noble side of man is what the seekers are willing to join.But instead of devoting time, talent and treasures to the advancement of individuals we are running around in a panic about our low membership numbers and the resulting loss of money. So with thoughts of numbers and cash we have invested in marketing the product without keeping up its standards of excellence. Younger generations of seekers are enticed in with the vision of Freemasonry only to find its application to be a bird of another feather, namely fund raisers, Masonic Awareness – Masonic publicity programs disguised as charity and community action -, social partying, fish frys and hand shaking with lots of photographs.The opportunity to really grow is being lost in the rush to add members by any means and fill coffers the same way. Seekers are going elsewhere because we do not really practice what we preach.

PM Radcliffe said: Very interesting, should Masonry be all things to all people, or should the embers of esoteric traditions be stirred. I think that with the plethora of spiritual information out there now and it being filtered through the internet, we should patiently wait as change separates wheat from chaff, we know not from whence the wind comes, but JHVHs time ticks along without missing a beat.

Posted in The Bee Hive and tagged , , , .

Fred is a Past Master of Plymouth Lodge, Plymouth Massachusetts, and Past Master of Paul Revere Lodge, Brockton, Massachusetts. Presently, he is a member of Pride of Mt. Pisgah No. 135, Prince Hall Texas, where is he is also a Prince Hall Knight Templar . Fred is a Fellow of the Phylaxis Society and Executive Director of the Phoenix Masonry website and museum.


  1. I agree with your conclusions, but not the historical cause, namely the influx of soldiers returning from the war. Using MSA data, I analyzed the membership trends over the last century. There are two observations that suggest you are wrong:

    1. The Great Depression caused a large drop in membership, and the resulting positive correction began in the late 30s. By the time WWII was over, the correction was already firmly established. It is true that total US membership continued to rise after 1945, but the rate of growth was in decline. The rapid influx of members actually happened before the war, and at the start of it.

    2. Even if the “WWII Bubble” isn’t merely an automatic market correction for the Great Depression loss of members, we need to correct for population inflation before we decide which decade had the largest numbers. I did exactly that, and was surprised to find that in the late 50s, the “peak” period, roughyl 4.7% of US males were Freemasons. However, in 1928, 5.4% of US males were Freemasons. That suggests to me that we need to rethink our 20th century view of masonic membership, as well as our conclusions regarding the cause of our decline.

    The big conclusion I came to is that the decline in membership cannot be explained by looking at individual generations; we need to explore at larger, trans-generational possibilities. For example, the death of the Industrial Age, or the large immigrant movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

    At the moment, I’m gathering data regarding Ohio membership (my home state), because I want to look at membership trends of rural versus urban lodges. My hypothesis is that there’s a causal relationship between the urbanization of the US population and the decline in masonic membership.

  2. Thanks Jeff, I am interested in your research and I hope that you will share it here. I like what you say but I still think that there are individual events or happenings within a period that have had a drastic effect on Freemasonry. The Morgan Affair is one of them. The Great Depression is another. WWII is another but one that was advantageous rather than detrimental. The one most not talked about was the Vietnam War. The drop out society did just that killing all sorts of organizations. And I believe that we have never really recovered from the Vietnam War. Something you might point to with your long term trends is the change in values and morals that the 60s brought in. The question is did the “Sexual Revolution” kill morality based organizations?

    The definitive work on organizational decline, especially fraternal organizations is the book “Bowling Alone” by Prof. Putnam. This will open a lot of eyes as to trends and reasons.

  3. The group becomes obsessed with numbers. It replaces deep work with service projects. Politicos have taken over. The group no longer sees itself as a means of personal growth and a boon to humanity but as a product to be sold. Marketing is utilized. Leaders emphasize far more about business management than the deep truths of the group.


    No, a large number of churches in the USA.

  4. Fabulous article. I weep for the current state of Freemasonry. Everyone I meet is convinced that everything in Freemasonry is “peachy-keen and hunky-dory”. The way we have always done it, is the way it will stay.

  5. fred—you are right—-i know this from being a mason for 20 years—-politics has destroyed masonry—-to all who dont think this===im an expelled mason===by 4 cops–a mayer–ect ect—-in a small town lodge-every by law broken–grand lodge of arkansas—refuses to give me a trial—keeps my perpetual money—-so if you think there are no politics in masonry and that its not destroying it—-dont worry—just give it time—it will come to you—ron

  6. great article Bro. Fred. What you’ve said still rings true today. From what I read in the varies blogs and forums, the new generation of brothers in the Craft today are doing a great job of making their voices heard and bringing about the change needed to bring the Craft back to its roots.

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