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Jim Tresner, 33
Guthrie, Oklahoma

Despite the criticisms of “Masonic fundamentalists,” the recent “A Chance to Advance” program in Oklahoma demonstrates the benefits of intensified Degree classes.

“Would you like French fries and a hot apple pie with that Degree?” You may have encountered that quip on the Internet. There are lots of comments in cyberspace and elsewhere about “McMasonry,” sneering comments like “Tell me, were you raised by a clown in a bright red wig?” and “So you’re a Masonic One-Day Wonder.” It’s important to look again at the question of classes for Master Masons and see what the reality is. There is much confusion.

The June 1997 issue of the Scottish Rite Journal featured an article titled “A Chance to Advance.” Its author, M.W. Ronald E. Johnson, 32, K.C.C.H., Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Oklahoma, wrote the article after the first of Oklahoma’s three Chance-to-Advance Conferrals. The final one has now been completed.

Let’s look at the numbers first: 522 Master Masons were raised at Guthrie, 461 at McAlester, and 823 at Tulsa for a total of 1,806. One Oklahoma Lodge gained 53 members. Oilton Lodge No. 467, with a total membership of 29 Masons, gained an additional 18 members. These new Lodge Brethren will probably be the difference between death and survival for some of these Lodges.

That’s great; but if these programs are just about numbers of members, then it is “McMasonry” and not worthy of serious consideration. The real and perfectly valid question is: “All right, you got 1,806 members, but did you get 1,806 Masons?”

First of all, let me admit my biases. I was on the core Arrangements Committee established by Grand Master Johnson to make this whole thing work as were Ill. Robert G. Davis, 33, Ill. Joe R. Manning Jr., P.G.M., 33, and M.W. T. Max Tatum P.G.M., 32, K.C.C.H., and Grand Secretary. We were given great latitude in designing the program. While any one of us could give you a list of things we wish we had done a little differently, we were happy with the outcome. Secondly, I’m about as Masonically conservative as they come, although I try not to be a Masonic fundamentalist. More on that later.

A quick review of the structure of the program may help to show some of the reasons I think it was valid.

1. Every man had petitioned the Lodge, been investigated, passed the ballot, and initiated an Entered Apprentice in his own Lodge. In fact, the original structure of the program was to go back through the last 30 years of records in the Grand Lodge, find Entered Apprentices who had not advanced, and contact them for the program. (We thought too small. As it turned out, the senior Entered Apprentice who completed his Degrees had taken the Entered Apprentice Degree 50 years before!)

2. In actual fact, our more progressive Lodges took the bit between their teeth. Their members talked to friends who had always wanted to become Masons but did not have the time, took petitions, and went through the full process of investigation, balloting, and initiation. That was not part of the Grand Lodge program, and the Grand Lodge did not encourage it. That arose from the Lodges’ members themselves.

3. Every candidate had an Intender with him who held the Bible, Square and Compasses for him, received his obligations, communicated the esoteric work to him, and raised him to the Sublime Degree of Master Mason.

4. The class was given an intensive program in Masonic education, including history, how to interpret Masonic symbols, the meanings of the promises in the obligations, how Masonry is supposed to be reflected in the practical decisions of their lives, and much more. Two hours were devoted to this education.

“Chance To Advance” Class, Statewide Masonic Conferral in Tulsa, July 19, 1997

5. The program ended with the Master Mason Degree and the candidates being told to return to their home Lodges to learn the Master Mason proficiency.

So, if we think what we did worked, what objections could be raised? Here are the ones I’ve heard most often.

-A man won’t really be dedicated to Masonry if he gets his Degrees too quickly. He’ll just drop out. The evidence doesn’t agree. As the editor of The Oklahoma Mason, I see the lists of our members getting their pins for 50 years of service to Masonry. A large number of those over the past few years, including many of our finest ritualists and most dedicated Masons, took two or even three Degrees in a single day, or within three or four days, as their records clearly show. There was a war going on, and many men joined the Fraternity on their way to basic training or to the front lines. They have proven to be the strength and support of Oklahoma Masonry for half a century!

-They’ll never come back to the Lodge. Perhaps not, time will tell us that. But then most Masons who join in the traditional manner don’t come back to Lodge, either. Only about five percent to eight percent ever become active. And, incidentally, in Claudy’s The Master’s Book, written nearly a century ago, he comments that only eight percent of Master Masons ever become active in Lodge. It is one of the wonderful, strange things about Masonry that men join, never become active, and yet continue to pay their dues until they die. These new Master Masons are not likely to be less active than their more traditional Brethren.

-If they don’t memorize the categorical lectures, they aren’t Masons. To which I would only quote the Ritual: “What makes you a Master Mason? My obligation.” Actually, our experience so far is that a number of them--a much larger number than I would have predicted--are going to their Lodges and asking to be taught the categoricals, even though they have already been declared proficient in the Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft Degrees.

-He can’t learn anything about Masonry in a single day. But I’ve lost track of the number of Brethren who said to us (and even wrote to us) comments such as, “I’ve been a Mason for 30 years, and I learned more about Masonry today than in all those years put together.” In most states, very little Masonry is taught in the process of taking the Degrees, other than that which is contained in the Degrees themselves. And the candidates in Oklahoma’s “A Chance to Advance” one-day conferrals saw all the Degree work.

-He can’t get to know the members of the Lodge if he joins that quickly. I’ve been at the Lodge of the person who told me that when they were doing Degree work. The candidate arrives (having been told to come more than an hour before they can possible be ready for him). He is ignored by the members of the Lodge, unless he happens to know someone there who will talk to him. The members go in to open the Lodge, leaving him to talk with the Tiler, except the Tiler won’t talk to him because he’s afraid the candidate might accidentally overhear a word or two of the opening, so he makes him sit across the lobby. He is taken in, given the Degree, and then told to leave, while the Lodge goes on with its business.

Of course, this is a worst-case scenario, but the thing to realize is that fellowship, friendship, and fraternity are at the heart of Masonry and that these qualities can take hold, with the aid of willing Brethren, under all conditions, one-day or not.

-I just don’t like it! Which brings us to Masonic fundamentalism.

Brother Rev. Dr. Gary Leazer writes about the nature of fundamentalism in his excellent book Fundamentalism and Freemasonry. He was too kind to do so, but I would like to apply some of his remarks about fundamentalism to the Masonic Fraternity.

To paraphrase, fundamentalists have a siege mentality; they are busy building walls to isolate themselves from the world rather than reaching out to the world; they are against things much more than for things; they believe they alone are right, and anyone who disagrees with them is not only wrong but motivated by evil intent; and they tend to be unforgiving.

As I said, I’m a Masonic conservative, but I try not to be a Masonic fundamentalist.

The Masonic fundamentalist shows the same mindset and characteristics as any other fundamentalist: he only accepts a narrow definition of Masonry; he is certain that he is right and all others are wrong--it’s his way or no way; he is intolerant of other opinions; facts make no difference; he is more concerned with siege mentality than with outreach or mission; and he never forgives--once you cross him, you cannot get back into his good graces.

You hear the Masonic fundamentalist say things like “Blue Lodge is the only real Masonry,” or “The Scottish Rite is the only real Masonry,” or “The York Rite is the only real Masonry.”

He is more concerned with the words of the Ritual than with what they mean. When he instructs, he teaches only the words; he usually won’t even discuss what they mean. And he really doesn’t care about what the candidates learn. I asked one this: “If we could create a pill to give the members of the conferrals which, when they took it, would instantly give them, perfectly, the words of all three categorical lectures so that they would never forget it, would that answer your objection?” “Heck no!” he answered. “I had to suffer through it, and they should too!”

He insists Masonry never changes, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that Masonry changes all the time and always has. If you show him the Ritual as used in 1730, he simply insists that it isn’t “real Masonry” because those aren’t the words he learned.

He makes Masonry the vehicle for his own prejudices. If he is against alcohol, he insists that Masonry itself is opposed to alcohol, and simply will not believe the historical fact that wine, beer, ale, and punch were typically served as part of Masonic meetings in earlier times. In fact, if there is something he doesn’t like, whether it is an outdoor Degree, a Friends Night, or supporting the local public school by giving funds to the school library, he insists “You can’t do that. It’s against the rules of Masonry.”

It isn’t surprising when a Masonic fundamentalist criticizes so-called McMasonry. But, consider the ben-efits of the recent “A Chance to Advance” program in Oklahoma and the success of other intensive classes throughout the United States. Let’s not allow the Masonic funda-mentalists to deny to others, including Master Masons from these conferrals, the rich feast the rest of us find in the Fraternity.