Vol. XXII No. 10 — October 1944

“To Change Times and Laws”

This attempts but to set down some thoughts which trouble the minds of many Masonic leaders concerning Masonry in the days which will follow the coming of peace. It does not pretend to set forth conclusions, or to decide any of the problems discussed. If it serves to focus thought upon Daniel’s statement (7:25) “And he shall think to change times and laws” it will have served its purpose.

Man believes he is always facing, or passing through, a crisis! It is human and natural to think either that changes in the existing order should be made, because new ideas are better than old, or that resistance should be offered to proposed alterations on the theory that what is time-tested and good cannot be bettered.

Change is in the air. It is in every newspaper, in magazine articles, in book and in speech. The world upheaval must inevitably produce alterations in the structure of our civilization. Few human institutions will escape these revolutions. Government, church, school; politics, philosophy, education; labor, business, capital, all will find place for new ideas; all will discard some outworn conceptions of what is best.

Freemasonry can hardly escape. It never has escaped. Previous upheavals have produced alterations in the activities, sometimes in the hopes of the order, though its fundamental verities have continued, even as have the fundamental verities of religion throughout the long history of evolution of religious ideas.

When the four old lodges in London formed the first grand lodge, a great change in Masonic thought and practice occurred. Another followed the peaceful coalition of the two rival grand lodges in England, in 1813. The first Masonic home in the United States ushered in an era in which grand lodges vied with one another in setting up organized charities; it is envisioned by many that the philosophy and practice of government social security will eventually make Masonic homes as unnecessary as they have been important and vital during the past half century. The spread of Masonry westward caused a thousand alterations in ritual and ceremony; the wonder is that so much similarity was preserved, not that so much that was different came into existence. Out of necessity grew the annual Conference of Grand Masters, The Masonic Service Association, now integral parts of the American Masonic system; both were hardly more than wistful hopes a quarter of a century ago.

If “the value of the past is in its prophecy of the future” it seems logical to believe that the present explosion of human forces will when it ends produce changes which will be reflected in our own beloved Fraternity.

Some of these tendencies can be foreseen. It is for brethren now to think them through, in advance of their onset, that they may decide after careful consideration whether they should be encouraged or resisted.

The Old Charges and the Landmarks, the ancient usages and customs of the Craft, have been proved through two and a quarter centuries to be of solid worth, to be workable, to be as timeless as the foundation principles of belief in a Supreme Being and a future fife, brotherly love, relief, truth, temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice on which the superstructure of Freemasonry is built.

It would seem essential, then, to commence any consideration of possible changes in Freemasonry to meet new conditions after the war with the premise that no alteration in the foundations should be countenanced.

The result of the thought and labors of men, Freemasonry is not perfect, even as men are not perfect. It may be that from the womb of time may be born a better system of human brotherhood than that which we cherish. But until it has been demonstrated that such a system can be envisioned, alterations in the foundations of the old may be dangerous.

All legitimate Freemasonry has a double government; the grand lodge and its constituent lodges. Each has its own place and its own function. A grand lodge cannot successfully do what its constituent lodges do well; constituent lodges cannot perform the functions of grand lodge.

But in any atmosphere of change there are always proposals to change the existing relations between grand lodge and its constituent lodges. Sometimes these are proposed by leaders in grand lodge, looking to take some fancied burden off its finances or business; sometimes the representatives of the constituent lodges propose alterations in law or practice which will put upon grand lodge functions which belong to the constituent lodges. Almost invariably any such changes, no matter how well conceived, produce dissatisfaction.

In the post-war atmosphere many such proposals will be made. Lodges will ask their grand lodges to assume more and more of the financing of charity; leaders will as readily propose increased dues and assessments on constituent lodges. Perennially in many annual communications come up proposals to make lodge secretaries permanent members of, and representatives to, grand lodge. In grand lodges in which past masters are full voting members, effort is often made to deprive them of that vote; in grand lodges in which each lodge is entitled to three or perhaps four representatives, attempts are sometimes made to give to the past masters the ballots they enjoy in other jurisdictions.

With the wisdom of such changes we are not here concerned; they are mentioned merely for clarity. What should be our concern is the wisdom of any change in the existing relations between grand lodge, and its lodges, when proposed in the unrest of world upheaval.

Following every war in which this country has engaged has come some demand to liberalize the ancient plan which requires that a candidate for Masonry be physically perfect; the “Doctrine of the Perfect Youth.”

“I’d rather have a candidate with a wooden leg than a wooden head” is a common “argument” although no one ever specifies why candidates with wooden heads must be selected if initiation is denied to those with wooden legs! Already this demand is being made in some grand lodges in anticipation of the return of many maimed men from the theatres of war.

There are many arguments on both sides of the question; many articles have been written, Digests prepared, orations delivered both negative and affirmative. With the right or wrong of either standpoint we need not here be concerned; what does seem essential is that we should now inform ourselves on the matter so that if it comes up for action in our grand lodge, we may vote an intelligent conviction, not an emotional response to either — “Preserve unchanged the landmarks thy fathers have set” or “Don’t deny Freemasonry to the man who gave his leg for his country.”

In an older day grand lodges were truly republican in form and proceeding. Grand lodges frequently took on the color of a town meeting, in which almost every one discussed every question, so that all had a good idea of what all thought prior to a ballot. Early and small grand lodges had not much to do and perforce had to invent ways to take up the time — even today a visitor is occasionally amazed at unnecessary formalities, vestiges of a departed era. Reading the names and lodges of every delegate present or the name, number and amount of every check drawn by the grand treasurer are much like the appendix — of no real use!

As grand lodges grew, their business grew, more and more it became necessary to refer difficult questions to a committee for discussion and report rather than to grand lodge. More and more are grand lodges coming to be governed by committees. Often an undiscussed committee report is sustained by grand lodge when an open discussion might result in quite another action. Some grand lodges are practically controlled by the finance committee (or budget committee). Bringing in its report in the last hour of the last day, and asking for approval of a hundred items at once, Grand Lodge often has neither the time nor the patience to go into everyone and usually okays the whole, frequently to wake up the next day to find that some pet project is not financed or some unwanted one provided for.

Nothing herein set forth is to be construed as a criticism of such committees. Finance, budget and jurisprudence committees are invariably formed of the best brains, the most devoted workers which grand masters can appoint. These labor long and selflessly without reward for the benefit of their brethren. It is the system, not the personnel which conducts it, which is here mentioned.

Hundreds of thousands of brethren will return to civil life with a large disapproval of inefficiency, with a desire to bring to the pursuits of peace the direct action which, as they have learned in the hard schools of war, produces results. It is for us, here and now, to “prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.”

The tendency to “let the committee do it” increases in times of unrest and strain. It will grow as the turmoil of readjustment grows. Here and now is the time to think through what matters in grand lodge should, and which should not, be referred to committees; which type and kind of resolution should automatically go to grand lodge for discussion, and which to a committee for report.

Americans are constantly warned to be forever vigilant that legislative, executive, and judicial functions of government be kept separate and distinct, with none permitted to encroach upon another. Freemasons might well caution themselves to see to it that the committee system is not permitted to encroach too much upon the power of the delegates to control the legislation of grand lodge.

Difficulties of travel, and shortage of hotel accommodations, have caused some grand lodges to shorten their annual sessions. Compressing two days into one, or three days into two, obviously demands self-control by the representatives; doing two hours work in one means that time devoted to discussion and deliberation is not available and grand lodge must depend upon committees. In the coming days when all our lives will be readjusted to a new tempo there may well come a demand to keep grand lodge sessions short. It is a subject for thought indeed whether the best interests of Masonry will be served by extending the government by committee idea, to gain the advantages — if any there be — of a short session.

Any experienced Mason knows that the best committee to attend to any matter consists of three brethren, one of whom is ill, and another out of town. This is another way of saying that the smaller the governing body, the more efficient; the larger the government, the less efficient it is. Therefore, the more are the functions of a large government limited, the more efficiently will it perform those few functions. Increasing the size of grand lodge; increasing the work of grand lodge; increasing the responsibilities of grand lodge, all decrease its efficiency. Freedom of speech is not only dependent upon law and the American way as expressed in the Bill of Rights — it is also dependent upon time in which to speak! When Masons shorten the time of grand lodge, add to its labors, shoulder upon its committees work which should be done by lodges, they decrease their own “Freedom of Masonic speech” in their own private forum the grand lodge.

The coming era is to be, for a while, an era of spending. It was so after World War I; it will be so after this one is finished. We will spend more than we should upon what we do not really need. Let us think carefully this time, and not be led away by the enthusiasm of returned prosperity so that we mortgage our future in too many and too expensive Temples. In the lush 1920s anything was possible! Temple after Temple was built without regard to carrying charges or operating costs. Hundreds if not thousands of them were lost during the Depression. Will we learn by experience or will we believe again that the rush of candidates will never end and that our incomes will continue to be swollen? The time to think this through is now — not when civilian prosperity and removal of rationing and priorities once more permits free enterprise and too free spending.

Prosperity is returning to Masonic lodges. Petitions are greatly increased. Practically every grand lodge will show a gain this year. More and more will grand masters be asked to shorten the statutory time between degrees, to give dispensations for making more than the statutory number of Masons at one time. Are we to repeat the sad mistakes of twenty-five years ago and think again of success only in terms of numbers and dollars?

Of the multiplied thousands of young men who petitioned in the war enthusiasm and were raised by equally enthusiastic lodges twenty-five years ago, a very large number later dropped out. They were in, but not of, the Fraternity. We took their money, said the ritual over them, took them to dinner, and rushed back to the lodge room for another special communication and a new lot of candidates). We “hadn’t time” to assimilate them, teach them, make them Masons in their hearts as we made them Masons on our books. With the best of intentions, but without thinking through what we were doing, we injured ourselves, our lodges, our grand lodges, our greatly loved brotherhood.

Let us do the thinking, first, this time, and be cautious not afterwards, and be sorry! In Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (4:8) occurs the famous and beautiful passage:

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

The Masonic Service Association of North America