The Politics of Freemasonry

“Evil (ignorance) is like a shadow – it has no real substance of its own, it is simply a lack of light. You cannot cause a shadow to disappear by trying to fight it, stamp on it, by railing against it, or any other form of emotional or physical resistance. In order to cause a shadow to disappear, you must shine light on it.”
Shakti Gawain

join or die,  jurisprudence

For a society that is supposed to be devoid of politics, Freemasonry seems to have more than its fair share. We see it in Grand Communications, in Masonic elections, and whenever we walk in the door to a Craft Lodge. Man is by nature a social and political animal fraught with frailties and insecurities such as ambition, jealousy, suspicion, and hate. As Masons, we are taught to subdue our passions and do what is right for Freemasonry collectively, but as long as we have egos, we’ll always have politics. From this perspective, Masons are no different than the members of any other society.

I believe there are a couple of reasons for the rise of politics in Freemasonry; first, there is a general lack of trust and loyalty in today’s society where you are recognized more for rugged individualism as opposed to team effort. Consequently, there is more of a natural inclination to compete as opposed to cooperate. Although the spirit of Freemasonry is to work collectively, many of us have difficulties subduing the attitudes of the outside world when we enter the Lodge. Second, as our membership declines, many are beginning to panic over the fraternity’s future. And instead of trying to work collectively to change this situation, we are divvying up sides as to who has the true faith to perpetuate the fraternity, the traditionalists or the reformists. Whereas a traditionalist tends to be unbending, the reformist seeks to change the status quo. True, certain traditions need to be observed in Freemasonry, but not at the expense of losing touch with a changing world. But it is this polarization that is fueling the politics of Freemasonry at all levels. The reality, of course, is that we need a careful balance of both traditions and reforms; you simply cannot have one without the other. For example, consider some of the religions of the world who are considered out of step with the times. Critics scoff at some of their customs and beliefs. But hard-line traditionalists claim they have the true faith and everyone else is an infidel. Reformists, on the other hand, see the traditionalists as barbaric and believe they have a more contemporary perspective on their religion. Politics at this level is about who has the dominant ideologue and seeks control. We see this in government (conservatives versus liberals), religion, and Freemasonry. And it is at this level that politics turns vicious and is at its ugliest. For example, we scheme, plot and undermine in order to subvert and control the environment.

Thanks to the Internet, I hear many tales of woe over what is going on in both Craft and Grand Lodges. Some of it is very disturbing, but most of it comes down to petty politics. A lot of it is so bizarre, it would probably curl your hair. Frankly, I classify most of it under what I call “Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” Instead of what we should be doing as Freemasons, we tend to play games of one-up-man-ship.

Masonic politics is typically at its ugliest during elections when Brothers are charged with un-Masonic conduct for “electioneering.” I find this all rather amusing as I believe our process for electing officers is far from perfect. Further, I don’t think I have ever seen a Lodge election where there isn’t some form of politics involved. As a small example, when I was running for the East at my Lodge, there was a full-court press by traditionalists to keep me out (which I overcame). Nevertheless, instead of admitting there is electioneering in Lodges, we pretend it doesn’t exist.

What concerns me more these days is when Masonic politics turns dirty, which I refer to as the “dark-side” of the fraternity and something we do not like to discuss. For example, I know of a Worshipful Master and Treasurer who were removed from office by a Grand Master after they were accused of misappropriating money from a Brother they helped put into a Masonic Home. A couple of Masons from their Lodge, who shared no Brotherly love for the officers, started a campaign to oust the officers over this alleged infraction. First, they were able to bend the ear of the Grand Master who, acting upon their hearsay, removed the Lodge officers. Second, Masonic charges were brought against the former officers who were able to successfully refute them (the Lodge voted to drop the charges). And Third, criminal charges were filed against the officers and a nine month investigation ensued by local police investigators. In the end, the police dropped all of the charges and the Lodge officers were completely exonerated of any wrongdoing. Regardless, they were still ousted by the Grand Master who refused to apologize to the officers for his actions.

Now the big question, “Why was this done?” The accusers had a deep-seated resentment over the Lodge officers who reformed the Lodge and, in the process, overturned some of the Lodge’s traditions, many of which were enacted years ago by the accusers. But instead of confronting the officers with their concerns, they circumvented protocol and went straight to the Grand Master and the police. Bottom-line: this had nothing to do about a Brother being cheated out of anything, but rather a clever ruse to seek retribution for other issues. The result was that the Lodge suffered due to the political upheaval (e.g., members started going to other Lodges), and the officers who, up until now, had unblemished records, saw their Masonic reputations go into the toilet. Even worse, here were two hardworking Masons who became so disenchanted with the fraternity, they left it. All because of politics.

Such stories of Masonic politics makes one wonder why there isn’t a separate judicial branch in Freemasonry to prohibit such shenanigans from happening. Instead, jurisprudence and penal affairs fall under the authority of the Grand Master. Inevitably, I suspect we will be plagued with politics for quite some time.

We join Freemasonry for a lot of different reasons, one of which is that we might find a forum where we will be honestly and fairly treated “on the level.” There is enough contention in the world without having to add another layer. Consequently, politics has an adverse effect on membership and attendance. Want to drive people away from Lodge or inhibit participation? Bring on the politics.

There is an old expression in psychology whereby, “You cannot treat a patient if he doesn’t know he is sick.” Perhaps the best way to address Masonic politics is to stop kidding ourselves that it doesn’t exist. We would all like to believe Freemasonry is above the fray of politics, but we’re not. After all, we’re only human and, as such, politics is a natural part of human life. Once we admit this, we can then devise suitable rules and regulations today’s Masons are more familiar with and promote how to best work and best agree.

Keep the Faith.

Freemasonry From the Edge
Freemasonry From the Edge

by W:.Tim Bryce, PM, MPS
Palm Harbor, Florida, USA
“A Foot Soldier for Freemasonry”

NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:

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Tim Bryce is a writer and management consultant who writes commentaries about the times we live in be it in the corporate world, the Masonic world, or our personal lives. His writings are well known on the Internet and are humorous, educational, and at times controversial. You won’t always agree with him, but Tim will definitely get you thinking.

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  1. I’m not yet a Mason, though I have been accepted and waiting for my initiation. During my research prior to joining I recall reading in “Freemasonry for Dummies” that offices were held not by election, but by starting at the bottom and each year advancing upward. The lodge I am joining has even indicated that this is how they do it. The one exception, is when a current officer moved out of state due to his career. Has this way of office holding been removed from many of the lodges?

  2. Methos, it’s nice to see the oldest immortal is joining the fraternity.

    The “progressive line” is generally considered the “normal” way of advancing through the “progressive offices” (Junior Steward, Senior Steward, Junior Deacon, Senior Deacon, Junior Warden, Senior Warden, Worshipful Master). However, to hold the positions of JW, SW, and WM you must be elected by the Lodge to hold the position. Just because you go through the line doesn’t necessarily mean you will be elected to the next office. However, in most Lodges once you start the line you will finish it.

    Some people dislike this method (I see it as being double edged – someone without the skill or mindset to lead a Lodge has a very good chance of being sent through the line well before they’re actually ready but if the line is completed you spend 6 years before you become WM which should be good training). If things continue their current path I will have been WM twice before my 7th anniversary as a Master Mason.

  3. The good and bad points of a progressive line need to be examined and judged by each individual Lodge. It has the virtue of guiding the officers to know what to expect year to year, and the problems, as mentioned above, sometimes leading too quickly so one is in the East before one is ready. If you have a group of Past Masters who are willing and able to assist the Worshipful Master and give advice it can prove a very good thing. Also if the officers themselves can work together to, for example, improve their ritual work, it will draw them together so that even after they are ALL Past Masters that work will add to their fellowship.

  4. As one, and knows one, I must say that the lodges have a bigger issue. Not only are we a sexist organization. We are still a racist organization. If Masonry is to survive then we must reestablish work in America. Gone is the philosophy that gave us strength and provided the answers that so many seek. The problem in America, is that people are so tired of asking quesitons and getting pious answers, that they simply have stopped asking. To know one, ask one? No one is asking. Not because religion is dead, Masonry was the philosophical construct to teach how to apply religion into community. But lets not rewrite history. Our founders were masons, and religion was different then. The founders were also slave owners. When the founders were practicing, the constitution recognized only 3/5 a man for man of color. That was the thinking then. But there were only 1.3 million people in the colonies. So when all of those master masons were at work with nothing to do except talk to their laborors (slaves included) they wanted to talk masonry. Thats why the rules exist as to when and where you should talk. So they talked to their slaves. Before you know it there are Black Lodges for Black soldiers, and White Lodges for White Soldiers. To this day there are still Black Lodges that aim to serve Men of Color, and White Lodges that seek White men. Although your lodge may be an acception, the norm remains segregated.
    Personally I wouldn’t want to address the gender issue, until the race issue is behind us. Thats the way we did it in our country (Brown v Board) and then 1964 Civil Rights Act, and that is the way we should address it.
    There are too many voices trying to quiet us, that we cannot remain a divided craft. We must unite to save the craft, or we will surely be scattered to the wind.

  5. Very interesting post here. I am a thrice PM of my Blue Lodge and the presiding EHP of my Chapter. In my 11 years in Masonry I have experienced the damage that “hidden politics” and petty revenge can cause a Lodge. Our Blue Lodge was splintered due to politics and now only the reformists remain as loyal members to the Lodge while our traditionalists continue to foul the active membership for imaginary reasons. Sadly our traditionalists have traction with our GL, where we have been branded somewhat of a troubled Lodge. All this dust up over a planned move to another building and a PM demanding a PM apron when he already was in possession on one. I do love the Craft, however foul politics may ultimately separate me from Masonry. It is very difficult to observe the ascent of what I will call Masonic lobbyists to district and GL offices when their primary qualification is having favor with an inner circle who act to promote their own Masonic ideology and not what is best for the entire body of the Craft.

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