Saturday, March 03, 2007
Shriners and Scottish Rite as Masonic lobbyists
Masonic Lobbyists by Tim Bryce, PM, MPS
"It is no secret that participation in the Masonic fraternity has been dropping for at least 50 years. Evidence of our decline is the fact that our membership totals are at their lowest levels in more than 80 years." — "It's About Time!", Masonic Service Association of North America
We have discussed Masonic membership trends on more than one occasion in the past. Some Masons believe our decline was inevitable as membership was over inflated following WW II and that a decline was well overdue. This has led to several experimental programs, such as the "fast track" one-day class, which is still considered controversial in many Masonic circles, and lowering the age requirement to 18. Even with these inventions, our numbers continue to dwindle.
The decline in membership is having a ripple affect throughout the fraternity, including the allied and appendant bodies of Freemasonry. As a small example, in my area alone, the number of chapters of the OES and High 12 have diminished sharply, Jobs Daughters and DeMolay have closed their doors, and all of the Rites and Shrine organizations have reported significant losses. I recently heard from a Michigan Shriner who reported his temple's membership had declined by 800 members over the last two years. Many other jurisdictions are reporting similar declines in membership.
So, as membership in the Craft Lodges decline, so goes the allied and appendant bodies who recruit Freemasons for their orders, which is why the Shrine waived the requirement to be a Scottish or York Rite Mason prior to becoming a Shriner. The Scottish and York Rites are still reeling from this decision. Further, rumors abound that the Shrine will someday create a new class of Shriner thereby allowing non-Masons to join their organization. Regardless, knowing their survival depends on the Craft Lodges, these bodies have begun to take a more proactive approach to working with Grand Lodges; perhaps too "proactive."
Some Grand Lodges are beginning to feel the squeeze of the allied and appendant bodies, particularly the Scottish Rite who uses their coveted 33rd degree as an incentive to cooperate with Scottish Rite policy. As one Past Grand Master recently lamented to me, "As long as the Sovereign Grand Inspector General is allowed to run our Grand Lodge, and we have Grand Masters looking for a white hat, they will listen to whatever he wants, and we will have censorship of everything that would limit his influence. His exact words are, 'Grand Masters Govern for one year, I Govern forever. I am the Grand Lodge.'"
Such words are disturbing to Masonic purists who believe the dog should wag the tail and not the other way around. It is also rumored that the Scottish Rite is heavily involved in establishing policy for the Conference of North American Grand Masters. But the Scottish Rite is not alone in terms of accusations of meddling as the Shrine in some jurisdictions is viewed as flexing its muscles now and then. Whether these accusations are true or not is immaterial, a perception is emerging among Masons that the Grand Lodges are beginning to dance to someone else's tune. And why not? Since the survival of the allied and appendant bodies depends on the Grand Lodges, why wouldn't they want to take control, particularly when Grand Lodges are ambivalent when it comes to membership?
Masons elect Grand Masters on the belief they will provide unbiased leadership. They want people who will focus on the problems and opportunities confronting the Craft Lodges, such as membership. They do not want leaders who are easily influenced and manipulated by others, be it a Masonic body or otherwise. We most definitely do not need the meddling of Masonic lobbyists.
One last note on membership; I do not believe our problem with the decline of membership can be solved on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis; that it must be solved in a uniform manner throughout the fraternity. A uniform policy on membership, public relations, etc. will greatly facilitate getting the word out to the fine young men out there who yearn for what Freemasonry has to offer, yet know nothing about it. Currently, the only way this can happen in North America, is through the Conference of Grand Masters, but if this is indeed controlled by the Scottish Rite, perhaps we should clear it with them first.
Keep the Faith.
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this essay are my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of any Grand Masonic jurisdiction or any other Masonic related body. As with all of my Masonic articles herein, please feel free to reuse them in Masonic publications or re-post them on Masonic web sites (except Florida). When doing so, please add the following:
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