Friday, January 18, 2008

Grand Lodge Reform

I've been meaning to post for some time, but unfortunately life has kept me pretty busy lately. I barely have time to think, let alone post anything substantive. Once again, the lessons of the 24 inch gauge seem to be lost on me. It being the new year, I have of course resolved to post more. I have quite a bit I want to say about our Craft, from ideas for reform, to book reviews and more. Enough of the pleasantries, however, it's time for me to step on my soapbox....
Lately, there has been much talk of Grand Lodges and the role they play in our Fraternity, largely due to events centering around Halcyon Lodge, Euclid Lodge, and the Grand Orient of the USA. Without going into details which have been rehashed endlessly on various blogs and fora, these Brethren felt that they could no longer function within their respective Grand Lodge systems. The only solution that they found tenable, was to "go it alone", outside of the mainstream Grand Lodge system.
To simplify the arguments, there are basically two sides to the Grand Lodge issue. One group of Brethren believe that the status quo should be maintained, and that the only way to bring about reform is to "work within the system". The second group more or less support the actions of the rebellious Brethren, and argue that the Craft is undemocratic, and due to institutional inertia and the "we've always done it that way"mentality, is not susceptible to change from within. As in all things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but for all the vitriol and unmasonic conduct that this issue has caused, few constructive ideas have come out of the debate.
The fact of the matter is that our Craft is not strictly democratic in much the same way that our government is not. We elect representatives, who, at least ostensibly, represent our interests at the higher levels. In Freemasonry, as we know, this takes various forms. For example, in one of my jurisdictions, sitting Masters, Wardens, and the Past Masters of a Lodge (as a group) have a vote at Grand Lodge. In my other, it is only Masters and Past Masters who have a vote. If we lived in a perfect world, every Mason would feel adequately represented by this system, but as we know, this does not always occur. How can this problem be solved?
I feel that the solution is simple, if not elegant. Why don't we make our Craft truly democratic? There are many Brethren, such as myself, who are truly passionate about our Fraternity, but just do not have the time or means (at least for the time being) to advance through the officer line to gain a vote in Grand Lodge. Furthermore, they often do not feel that their ideas are represented at the Grand Lodge level. This problem could easily be eliminated if all Master Masons in good standing were given a vote in Grand Lodge. One of the most important tenets of our Craft is the equality of all men, and this should begin within the precincts of our Grand Lodge. If every worthy Brother was empowered with his own voice in the government of our Craft, perhaps many of the issues that trouble the Fraternity could be better addressed. Open discussion would be fostered, and those who feel disenfranchised would have their opportunity to "work within the system" and make a difference. Freemasonry as a whole could only benefit from a more open and participatory system of government.
When well meaning Brethren who are obviously passionate about the Craft begin to feel that they have to leave the system because of the actions of their Grand Lodge, then it becomes obvious that something is wrong with the way we are doing things. Instead of pointing fingers and labeling these Brethren as "clandestine" or "irregular", perhaps we should apply our Working Tools to our own Ashlars and find a way to smooth our own rough edges. By democratizing our Fraternity, and allowing all worthy Brethren a greater say in it's government, we can begin to address the problems, rather than the symptoms, that are plaguing our Craft, and move forward in unity towards a brighter future. So mote it be!