Vol. XL No. 8 — August 1962

The Future Relationship between Freemasonry and the Church

An Educational Problem

Ralph J. Pollard, PGM

A paper presented by M.W. Ralph J. Pollard, P.G.M., Maine, before the Seventh Annual Northeast Conference on Masonic Education and Libraries, held in Portland, Maine, June 29—30, 1962.

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Some of the most disturbing incidents of the present day, seriously affecting the present and future relationships between Freemasonry and the church, apparently result from a complete misunderstanding of our Fraternity by some members of the Protestant clergy. As these incidents frequently reveal a serious lack of knowledge, both on the part of our own members and on the part of the clergymen concerned, this question becomes an educational problem, and a proper subject for consideration by a conference on Masonic education.

Except in local instances during the dark days of the anti-Masonic excitement and in the modern case of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, the relationship between our Fraternity and the major Protestant denominations has always been one of mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation. Many of the greatest Protestant clergymen of the last three centuries have been members of our Craft, and many of our most distinguished Masonic leaders have also been active and devoted workers in their respective churches. This, of course, is exactly as it should be.

At the present time, however, we are forced to note a certain deterioration in this happy relationship. While many of the most distinguished and influential clergymen of our day are ardent Freemasons, there also appears to be an increasing number of other clergymen who have adopted an unfriendly and critical attitude toward the Fraternity, and who have frequently shown an unwillingness to cooperate with our lodges when both religious and Masonic funeral services have been requested by a departed brother. In our opinion, this unfriendly attitude results largely from misinformation acquired by some clergymen in their student days, from a regrettable jealousy of Masonic standing and influence in the community, and from a general unawareness as to the true nature, principles, and teachings of the Masonic institution.

We must admit that such an unfriendly attitude has sometimes been encouraged by the poor and unimpressive manner in which our Masonic funeral service is so often rendered, by the lack of tact shown by certain masters in dealing with non-Masonic clergymen, and, in particular, by the unfortunate statement occasionally made by certain unthinking brethren to the effect that Freemasonry is “all the religion that they need.” Such a remark, indicating an ignorance of both religion and Masonry, cannot fail to antagonize a clergyman.

How can we, as Masonic educators, best contribute to the solution of this problem?

First of all, we can see to it that our own members are properly instructed as to the correct relationship between Freemasonry and the church. We can encourage them to recognize the importance of organized religion, both in the life of the community and in their own lives, and we can urge them, as good Masons, to attend and to support the churches of their choice. We can impress upon them that Freemasonry, while deeply religious, was never intended to usurp that place in a brother’s life that properly belongs to his church or synagogue.

In Maine, we have already taken steps to impart this instruction. Our official candidate booklets contain a positive statement that Freemasonry, while essentially religious, is neither a church nor a substitute for the church, and that it makes no claim to save souls, to reform sinners, or to discharge any of the proper functions of a church. Several members of our Speakers Bureau are now addressing our lodges on the subject of “Religion and Masonry,” and articles on this subject will also appear in the pages of our official periodical.

An outstanding address on this theme, delivered at our last grand lodge banquet by M.W. and Reverend Aubrey L. Burbank, past grand master and present grand chaplain, is being published by our grand lodge. We are determined that our own members shall be properly informed on this important subject. We also encourage our lodges, as such, to attend divine services on suitable occasions, thus demonstrating to the world that Freemasonry, as an institution, respects and supports the church.

Secondly, we can see to it that our Masonic funeral service, when used, is conducted in a dignified and impressive manner, so as to merit the commendation and not the condemnation of such clergymen as may witness it. We can see to it that the masters of lodges are thoroughly informed as to the exact provisions of our Masonic law in regard to funerals, and that they are also instructed as to the proper and tactful manner in which to make funeral arrangements with non-Masonic clergymen.

Funeral directors who are Masons can here render a most valuable service by becoming experts in Masonic funeral law, by assisting both masters and clergymen, and by smoothing over any difficulties that may develop. Both masters and funeral directors can assure the non-Masonic clergyman that the Masonic funeral service is in no way intended as a substitute for or duplication of a religious service, but merely as a time-honored expression of respect for a departed brother and as a public testimony to Masonry’s belief in the immortality of the soul.

As the law in regard to funerals differs in the several jurisdictions, we can only touch upon this subject in a general way. In Maine, however, our funeral regulations are now sufficiently flexible to meet almost any situation, and to satisfy any except the most bigoted and narrow-minded individuals. Unfortunately, such individuals still exist in this state.

Thirdly and finally, we can do everything in our power to make sure that accurate information concerning our Fraternity is made available to non-Masonic members of the clerical profession. We must convince the clergy that Freemasonry is neither a rival sect nor an irreligious society that lures men away from the church, both of which charges are currently being made by our enemies. The best cure for darkness is light; the best cure for ignorance is knowledge; and the best cure for falsehood is truth.

In our opinion, the truth concerning Freemasonry can best be communicated to the clergy by enlisting the active support and cooperation of the many able and devoted ministers of the Gospel who are also members of our Fraternity. Clergymen will naturally take more kindly to such instruction when it comes from other clergymen. Every Masonic minister should be encouraged to regard himself as a missionary in the cause of Masonry. At meetings of their local ministerial associations, at church conferences and assemblies, in the pages of church periodicals, as instructors in colleges and theological seminaries, at informal gatherings of the clergy, and in man-to-man conversation with their non-Masonic colleagues, these Masonic clergymen can present an accurate and fair picture of our institution, can correct misconceptions in the minds of their hearers, can answer questions from their own knowledge of Masonry, and can assure their non-Masonic brethren that organized religion has nothing to fear but much to hope for from Freemasonry.

They can point to the many outstanding clergymen of the present day, including some of the highest official dignitaries of the Christian Church, who are numbered among the leaders of our Fraternity, and can also point out that many of the most devoted laymen in any congregation are very likely to be members of the local Masonic lodge. These lay leaders, such as church wardens, vestrymen, elders, deacons, and trustees, can also do much to convince their non-Masonic pastors that Freemasonry is an institution worthy of their respect and understanding. Let us put the able churchmen in our ranks to work in the service of the Craft.

Many grand masters are now appointing special committees on public relations, charged with seeing that the Fraternity is presented to the general public in a favorable light. May we suggest that similar committees, composed of clergymen and headed by some outstanding grand chaplain or local church dignitary, may well be appointed in our several states, to maintain liaison between their grand lodge and the various churches within its jurisdiction, to furnish reliable information concerning the order, to correct misunderstandings, and to foster a friendly and cooperative relationship between these august bodies? These committees might also see that good books on Freemasonry, particularly those written by distinguished clergymen, are accepted in the libraries of our theological seminaries. They might also encourage the writing of such books and articles by qualified Masonic clergymen of the present day. This project might also be worthy of consideration by The Masonic Service Association of the United States. We know of no better medium than the printed word by which to bring correct information concerning Freemasonry to our students and young ministers and to counteract the flow of unfavorable propaganda now being published by sources hostile to our Fraternity.

In these troubled days, when the world is again an arena for the never-ending conflict between good and evil, the forces of righteousness cannot afford to be divided by petty jealousies and misunderstandings. In this struggle, Freemasonry and organized religion are natural allies, working together, each in its own proper sphere, toward a common objective — the development of human character, the improvement of human morals, and the betterment of human society. Nothing must be allowed to destroy this alliance. Only the devil would benefit thereby. May the Great Architect of the Universe bless our endeavors to improve, through education, the relationship between the church and our Fraternity.

The Masonic Service Association of North America