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Masonic Service Association of North America

Part II - Facing the Facts and Accepting the Challenge

“Freemasonry evolved from 18th century European enlightened thinking. Today, Masonry is shaped by the 19th century concept of social benevolence and the 20th century emphasis on ritual as the completion of a Mason’s education about the fraternity.”
— MIC Task Force

In order to evaluate present-day Freemasonry, we had to assess the Fraternity’s strengths and weaknesses. The Task Force proceeded methodically to question Masonry’s past, present and future. We asked a series of penetrating questions, listed our findings, and then completed each section with a summary formed by observations and conclusions. In order to properly determine a course of action for a Masonic Public Awareness Program, we believe it imperative that we understand, as a fraternity, where we have been, where we are today, and what happened in the intervening years.

Forthright answers to the questions we posed did not come easily and required an enormous amount of soul searching and critical evaluation.

Much of the data used in this report came from United States sources because those were the ones most readily available and accessible to our Task Force. We have pointed out where data was specifically from a United States source, but we have reason to believe that data from Canada would be almost identical.

For instance, there were no Canadian membership statistics available to us unless we laboriously went through, year by year, the figures from each Grand Lodge to determine if the same trends occurred as in the United States. Because we have had many discussions with Canadian Masons, there is no doubt in the minds of the Task Force that the data trends are the same.

So this report needs to be considered in the context of North America, including the United States and Canada, even though, on occasion, we list a United States source.

Exploring the patterns of Masonry

The deliberations of the Task Force were lengthy and lively. Below are the questions that guided the discussions and the summaries of our findings.

1. What has Freemasonry done in the past?

For a fraternity that is centuries old, this question is extremely significant. It asks how Freemasonry developed and what Masonic affiliation meant to Masons of an earlier time. The Freemasons of the 1700s set a very high standard. In the late 1700s, Freemasons helped build two new nations founded on Masonic principles. Patriots chose to help create the United States; Loyalists chose to help strengthen Canada. Both groups had many Masons in their midst. For detailed information, we turned to the historians on our Task Force who led a review of our Masonic past. The key points and summaries are listed below.

In the past, Freemasonry accomplished the following:

  • Provided camaraderie
  • Created elite status
  • Served as a stepping stone to military, arts, business and social contacts
  • Attracted leaders to its membership

Guilds of Masons (early labor unions) probably originated in Scotland in the 1600s. Early Masons concentrated on the following tasks:

  • Protecting workers’ interests
  • Helping Masonic families
  • Operating lodges
  • Opening lodges to non-stonemasons
  • Formally ritualizing the method of creating new members

In colonial America, Freemasonry provided leadership during the American Revolution and throughout the nation’s history. It also provided a moral philosophy relevant to the individual and to communities. In early America, Freemasonry:

  • Promoted a philanthropic focus supporting fraternal kinship.
  • Inspired authors to create a body of popular literature, offering satiric views, i.e. Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.
  • Stimulated thought consistent with Masonic values. Lodges became sites of Revolutionary debating, responding to contemporary thought.

We looked for historical trends that reshaped our Masonic identity. We found several pivotal events:

  • Freemasonry evolved from 18th century European enlightened thinking.
  • In the late 1800s, Victorian values influenced Masonic priorities both in Europe and North America by placing emphasis on heightening social awareness and stressing social idealism.
  • Twentieth-century Freemasonry sustained Victorian idealism and reinforced philanthropic emphasis of fraternity.
  • During World War II, President Truman said that men should join the Masonic fraternity before going to war, which reinforced a rise in Masonic membership.
  • Masonic tradition became locked in ritual as an end, not as a process.
  • Today Masonry is shaped by the 19th century concept of social benevolence and the 20th century emphasis on ritual as the completion of a Mason’s education about the fraternity.

Summary:

Throughout history both European and North American Masonic values consistently influenced people’s daily lives by encouraging the right to question existing dogma and by upholding our right to express one’s own thoughts and ideas. These values promote toleration of all religious and philosophical views. The fraternity has been a constructive, stabilizing, and enlightening force throughout history.

2. What is currently happening within Freemasonry?

Obviously, this question has no right or wrong answers because—like public opin-ion—it asks for personal perceptions and observations. The Task Force members agreed that there were and are tensions inherent in our organization today, including but not limited to the following perceptions:

  • There is a slight movement toward wanting to educate the public about the fraternity.
  • There is recognition that traditional communications tools have failed to heighten public awareness.
  • The inclusion of family members at Masonic events has produced mixed results.
  • Masonry is no longer identified as an elite organization.
  • There are disagreements regarding priorities of financial commitments to Masonic buildings and charitable obligations versus starting new programs.
  • Current Masons do not understand the true meaning of our fraternity.
  • A reliance on historic heroes inhibits Masons from achieving contemporary significance.

3. How does the public perceive Freemasonry today?

In today’s world of high-speed communications, the public’s perception is often based on insufficient information. Research suggests that today more people are impressed by what they see and hear than by what they read. We believe that the public’s perception and opinion of Freemasonry can be summarized briefly in the following ways:

  1. Confused. Are the Masons a fraternity, a religious organization or an alternative religion?
  2. Mistaken. Only grandfathers could be in such an old-fashioned organization as Freemasonry.
  3. Oblivious. People are not even aware Masonry still exists.

Summary:

Masons are not visible in the daily life of their communities. Their identity is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press and by religious critics. There is little reserve of positive memories of Masonic activity remaining in our communities. Within eye and ear range of the public, Masons have failed to perform what they profess; consequently, they have lost their significance within the context of community.

4. What is the desired image of Freemasonry?

From our difficult discussions of the current environment in which Freemasonry finds itself, we turned to consider Masonry’s identity under ideal circumstances. The model Masonic fraternity would be one that defines itself in terms of thought, energy, and action. Under perfect circumstances, the public would know Masons according to the following observable accomplishments:

  • Building community based on shared Masonic values 
  • Constructing a positive environment for personal growth
  • Encouraging education, idea sharing, and open discussion
  • Welcoming diversity across religious denominations, ethnicity and age
  • Growing leadership ability
  • Establishing the relevance of Masonic values to contemporary life
  • Advocating concern for the well being of other Masons and their families

Ideally, Masons would be defined as members of a fraternity, that fits the following descriptions:

  • Masonry is a serious men’s organization, dedicated to self-improvement coupled with community involvement.
  • Masonry is a provider of camaraderie, trust in each other, instant fellowship, and brotherhood.
  • Masonry brings together a group of people who emphasize individual excellence.
  • Masonry is a provider of an atmosphere of inclusiveness.
  • Masonry is an organization that makes good men better.

Summary:

The model Masonic fraternity member would be easy to identify in the community by his actions and words. Public awareness of Masonry begins at a grassroots level. Masons must be visible in the community to demonstrate Masonic values in many aspects of their lives.

5. What are the benefits of Freemasonry within the context of our 21st century world?

Masonry offers an opportunity for a principled way of life rooted in the following Masonic values:

  • Integrity
  • Diversity
  • Inquiry
  • Community
  • Vitality

Summary:

Masons are men who build community through brotherhood that is based on a principled lifestyle. A Mason’s life is deeply rooted in a system of values. Masonry cannot be kept inside the individual; it is a philosophy of fraternity that must be shared in action through numerous experiences, which are lodge-based, personal, and professional.

6. Who needs to be made aware of the message of Freemasonry?

Freemasonry’s significance to our culture is timeless and offers a major stabilizing influence within our communities. The Masonic identity needs to be understood and observed by the following:

  • The general public, specifically the individuals who seek knowledge about themselves and their humanity
  • Our existing members
  • Potential members who need information about the fraternity’s benefits
  • Members of the media community
  • Religious leaders who need to understand the distinction between Masonry and religion
  • Civic leaders

7. Whom do we want to attract as potential members?

Masonry is a fraternity not limited by age, ethnicity, race or religious denomination. Masons are individuals who respect a quality of life, which is uniquely fulfilling. Among their many and diverse qualities, Masons are men who:

  • Seek fulfillment through multiple levels of experience, including body, mind, and spirit
  • Enjoy brotherhood
  • Desire a community enriched by participation, dialogue, and inquiry
  • Are principled, disciplined, and compassionate

Summary: Freemasonry wants to attract fellow journeymen who are seeking enrichment in body, mind, and spirit through participation in a brotherhood committed to good works and personal growth.

8. What is at the core of our fraternity’s identity?

Masonry offers opportunity for expressing individuality, but at this critical time in our history, the Task Force strongly recommends that Masonic programs focus their efforts on constructing a fraternal identity that is true to the following themes:

  • Freemasonry must be lodge-centered, giving members opportunities to express themselves through activities that improve the experience of the lodge and benefit the life of the community.
  • Freemasonry sustains its viability as a fraternal organization through its performance of Masonic rituals and values. Masonic values guide Masons both in the lodge and through everyday life. As trustees of Masonry’s rich and valuable heritage, members must continually invigorate their approach to Masonic participation, making it an experience that is rewarding, enriching, and relevant to its members, their families and the greater community.

 

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