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Freemasonry Needs Change

William J. Malina, 32°

Change is the evidence of life.
If Masonry does not change, it will die.

Is it realistic to expect Freemasonry and Masonic practices to remain the same for tomorrow as they are today? Is it possible for Freemasonry to be the same today as it was yesterday? These are two questions that have troubled me for a long time, and I am sure that I am not alone in my concern. Change just for the sake of change serves no purpose, but change for the sake of improvement, or in some cases survival, is advisable and often necessary.

I believe it is realistic and advisable to let practices and customs expire honorably when they have served their purpose. I also believe it is realistic and advisable to allow new ideas to develop in order to meet the needs of new times and new situations. What was or is popular for one generation may not necessarily be popular or even acceptable for another.

Change is the evidence of life. If Freemasonry does not change, it will die. It is well and good for Masons to say Masonic charities and philanthropies, collectively and individually, are evidence of Freemasonry’s life and well-being; however, the general public does not or cannot see the organization behind the act. The continuation of Masonic charity and philanthropy depends upon a healthy and growing Masonic membership. In order for any organization to remain healthy and carry out its objectives, it must attract new members. Freemasonry is no different. With membership in almost all Masonic Bodies declining, it is obvious that some of what has worked in the past is not working today.

Most successful corporations constantly reexamine their objectives, purposes, and policies. Today many businesses are restarting and putting their corporate goals into writing. Similarly, churches and religious organizations are now formulating “mission statements” to promote programs designed to assure growth and success in carrying out their goals.

What are the purposes of Freemasonry? What are its objectives? Most inactive Masons do not have an inkling of the answer or answers, otherwise they would be active. Active members are too busy administering the affairs of the several Masonic Bodies (or too busy holding them together) to give these questions much thought.

A familiar aphorism states that Freemasonry’s purpose is “to make good men better.” While this is true, this purpose is not proprietary to Freemasonry and is much too broad to be a mission statement. If the mission of Freemasonry is to be articulated, it must be done with a vision toward the future. Masonry did not become what it is today without change, without a hope for the future. In the beginning, there were no Shrine or Scottish Rite Hospitals, no Scottish Rite Childhood Language Disorders Centers, no Knight Templar Eye Foundation, no homes for aged members of the Masonic community. All these exist today because Masons of yesterday had a vision for tomorrow.

Sometimes statements of mission or purpose are too long and boring. As a result, little attention is paid to them. If, on the other hand, they are brief, to the point and relevant, they can provide the focal point from which the organization can formulate policies. Freemasonry’s purpose or “mission statement” might be somewhat like this:

We, the members of the Fraternity of Freemasons, without regard of Masonic rank or affiliation, bind ourselves in a spirit of Brotherhood one to another and to all people, wherever they may be, by:

It would be difficult, but not impossible, for Freemasonry to disseminate and implement such a mission statement—and it would require change. The vehicles for this are already in place in the United States: the Conference of Grand Masters, the Grand Lodges, the two Scottish Rite Jurisdictions, the General Grand Chapter, the General Grand Council, the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar, the Imperial Shrine, and the several Grand Bodies of the York Rite.

One change that would be required is a closer liaison and cooperation between the various Bodies, plus a more open mutual and public recognition of each other’s existence. The concept held by some Masons, particularly those who have not advanced beyond the Master’s Degree, that Freemasonry consists of only the Blue or Symbolic Lodge must be rectified. Freemasonry, if it is going to grow or just survive, must present a unified image to the general public, and it must let people know what it is, what it stands for, and what it does.

I do not claim to have the solutions to all or any of Freemasonry’s problems, but I believe it must change. Change is not innovation, it is development. At this point in its history, Freemasonry has developed, by change, from a simple fraternity in the early 1700s in England to a complex worldwide system of related independent organizations, each with its own identifiable characteristics. I further believe that unified Freemasonry should be able to say, “I have changed, I am being changed, I will continue to change, but I will never abandon my mission.”

Whatever Freemasonry becomes in the future depends upon what the Masons of today do or do not do. Will we do—or die?