Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Of Rules and Regulations

It’s funny how the people who are the least read and informed about rules and regulations are usually the ones who trumpet supposed breaches of the law.
Freemasonry is a very old organization with many rules that trace back to days gone by. One of the reasons the first grand lodge was formed back in 1717 was to try and organize and regularize the very local and different lodges of Freemasons. Freemasonry’s actual origins might never be known but we do know that groups of operative masons would group themselves into a lodge or guild to protect their art and be able to travel around and recognize each other as masons. These proto-lodges had ceremonies and rules that varied from town to town and country to country. The signs, grips and words that were used to identify yourself as a mason varied in many ways and even today they vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Even more varied are the rules that Freemasonry uses to govern itself.
When the premier Grand Lodge of England published its General Regulations in 1723 it stated "Every Annual Grand Lodge has an inherent power and Authority to make new Regulations or to alter these, for the real benefits of this Ancient Fraternity; provided always that the old Land-Marks be carefully preserved." Ah-ha you may think, at least there are indisputable landmarks on which all regulations derive, but if you are of that opinion you would be wrong. Even when the first regulations were published the landmarks were never enumerated or defined in any manner which left quite a considerable leeway in how to govern a body of Freemasons.
The first time the “ancient and unchangeable” landmarks of Freemasonry were actually published, in the Jurisprudence of Freemasonry 1856 by Dr.Albert Mackey, he laid down three requisite characteristics:
1.   notional immemorial antiquity
2.   universality
3.   absolute "irrevocability"
He claimed there were 25 in all, and they could not be changed. Over the years in all of the different jurisdictions this number varied and the landmarks themselves were different. In the United States of America where there were many independent Grand Lodges between the ‘Regular’ and Prince Hall Freemasons, the number of landmarks goes from 3 to 54. So if all of our rules and regulations are derived from the “unchangeable” landmarks and the rules and regulations can be altered and changed by each subsequent meeting of a Grand Lodge one can easily see how rules and laws of the fraternity can become jumbled for a less learned Brother Mason.
In the 1950’s the Conference of Grand Masters of North America decided upon three universal landmarks.
1.   Monotheism — An unalterable and continuing belief in God.
2.   The Volume of The Sacred Law — an essential part of the furniture of the Lodge.
3.   Prohibition of the discussion of Religion and Politics.
Of the three above landmarks the last one is the most confusing to some. In fact that landmark does not even exist in the ones that are accepted in my own jurisdiction of Connecticut but it is still regarded as an important rule in Freemasonry. This landmark is involved in one of the most important things to control the harmony of a lodge. By removing the topic of Religion or Politics from the arsenal of rhetoric a Brother may employ at a meeting you take away the two things that can easily divide the most loving of Brothers. As we are a simple brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God we can welcome men of all religions and beliefs into the lodge room to do the work of Freemasonry. The not understood part of this and all rules of Freemasonry is that it only applies to Freemasons when in lodge assembled. Freemasonry never asks a brother to give up his deeply held beliefs but it does ask that they be left at the door when the labor of Freemasonry commences.
This prohibition of the talk of Religion or Politics has been expanded and contracted in different jurisdictions to regulate all sorts of behavior of Masons in and outside of lodge and in some places come to prohibit Freemasons from politicking for office in a lodge. In my own jurisdiction this does not apply. While it is strictly prohibited that a brother be nominated for a position while in lodge there are certain times that necessitates a Brother Mason announce his availability for office when the progressive line is absent or dissolved. This should not occur while in lodge assembled but when the annual election of officers for a lodge is about to convene it is perfectly acceptable for a Brother to say he is willing to serve his lodge if they so elect him or how else would the craft know of their options.
Recently, after being approached by some of the Brothers of my lodge asking that I return to the east, I wrote a letter to all of the Brothers of my lodge addressing the state of our progressive line and informing them of my availability and willingness to serve the lodge if they so desired. Never once in the letter did I ask to be Master. Never once did I try to convince anyone of making a decision in one way or another. I just notified the Brothers of my availability and willingness and republished the messages from the east from my term in office for the newer brothers in the lodge to get an understanding of my vision for the fraternity and my lodge in general.
Almost immediately an undercurrent of backhanded and secret communications occured between certain members of the craft in my lodge leveling accusations of unmasonic behavior and breaking of the rules of our Grand Lodge. Not one of these "Brothers" whispered good counsel in my ear, not one of these communications were ever sent my way or out to the entire craft as I had done and I was very hurt by the way some of the men who have smiled and called me Brother to my face were so easily led to conduct unbecoming of a Brother. This level of back door politicking is what has chased many men away from leading or serving the craft and nearly chased me away but I know I am in the right and cannot allow the misguided intentions of a few to spoil the work of many. The good thing to come from this entire ordeal is that I quickly found out who really is my brother and who only parrots the words of Masonic ritual and is not even my friend.
This year’s annual meeting at my lodge might be a very interesting one to say the least.
What do you think?
What is your Grand Lodges policy of campaigning for an office in lodge?