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The craft and the church

by Rev., Dr. A.W. Farnsworth, IV,
Grand Chaplain, Grand Lodge F.& A.M. of Indiana, 1992-93

Introduction by
Max L. Carpenter, PGM, Grand Secretary,
Grand Lodge F.& A.M. of Indiana, 1992-93


Depending on your point of view, these times are trying ones for Freemasonry.

The Craft has come under attack by a few radical factions of religious denominations who are woefully ignorant or have willfully distorted the fundamentals of the fraternity. They are capitalizing on the overall unfamiliarity with Freemasonry and people's inherent suspicion about anything with which they are not familiar. Couple that with their misuse of political power, ability to use propaganda techniques, and the pervasiveness of the mass media, and these enemies of Freemasonry have created quite a tempest about the oldest -- and finest -- fraternity in the world.

I do not see a great difference in what the Craft is going through now and what happened in Germany and Europe during the times leading up to World War II. The Nazis saw Freemasonry as a threat to their political dominance and set out to eradicate the fraternity. They didn't succeed, and Freemasonry survived to become even stronger.

Likewise the enemies of the fraternity must see us as a threat to their religious domination and are trying to eliminate us from the American scene.

I am a firm believer in the democratic way. People have the inherent intelligence to choose between good and bad and to discern falsehoods and propaganda -- if they are given the unvarnished facts. The opponents of Freemasonry base their arguments on erroneous information and lies. Surely any thinking persons must be able to see through that to the reality of the situation.

These attacks have focused a lot of attention on the fraternity, and that is not all that bad. They have forced the fraternity to come out of its collective shell and make a greater effort to be more understandable and les mysterious to everyone. I urge you to read this article and the accompanying statement on Freemasonry and Religion by the United Grand Lodge of England and use them to advance your knowledge about Freemasonry.

The Craft and the Church

Our great and honorable fraternity has many friends, and yet it has some enemies. That in itself is not a problem for I am hard pressed to think of an institution or organization that has no enemies. The problem, as I see it, is that the friends of Freemasonry are not quite so vocal with their praise as are some enemies of our fraternity with their criticism. This stands in the presence of our all too frequent silence. Moreover, the greater problem is, as the fraternity gets stronger so will the volume of the voice of opposition from its enemies.

Often the church and clergy are among the enemies of Freemasonry. Let me make clear that one word: church. By church I at least want to refer masonically to any religious bodies, institutions, and organizations that fall within the monotheistic parameters of Freemasonry. Inclusive in that word, church, is synagogue, mosque, and temple. More specifically, since I am a Christian, the Church of Jesus Christ is my specific point of reference and grounding. It is this church to which my comments are most relevant. Maybe one of the best and most incisive comments on this matter is in a book entitled, The Clergy and the Craft, written by Forrest Haggard, a member of my denomination, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Dr. Haggard, Past Grand Chaplain and Past Grand Master of Freemasons in Kansas, writes, "Very few intelligent and active clergymen are enemies of Masonry." The emphasis on the word intelligent is my own, but that emphasis is critical.

I will focus very little on what the enemies of our fraternity believe except to offer a brief outline of the issues that confront Freemasonry from opposing religious bodies. The major thrust of my message is what individual Freemasons can and must do to see that fraternity is accurately portrayed.

Opposition to Masonry stems from two main areas, both of which are religious in nature: The very hierarchical and rigidly structured church bodies, and, The very independent and right wing, fundamental, sectarian religious groups.

The first order of rigidly hierarchical groups has been around for hundreds of years. The second order, the fundamentalist, right wing, sectarian groups arose in more recent years and abound in our nation. Many of these groups have banded together to publish under the title of the National Christian Association. Much anti-Masonic literature emerges from this association.

Clergy who are Masons come into daily contact with at least one person from one or another of the above groups. I personally have counseled a young, newly ordained, minister who was serving his first church and was receiving intense criticism from some of the fundamentalist members of his congregation. I was also approached by one of the members of the church I am now serving who said to me, upon learning that I had accepted appointment as Grand Chaplain of Freemasons in Indiana, "Isn't the Masonic Lodge an anti-Christian cult?" Freemasons should not view criticism in a negative light, for therein is our greatest opportunity to set the record straight with at least one person. However, for any individual Freemason to correct these misconceptions, he must be informed about the issues. He cannot attempt to defend out of ignorance. That will be immediately detected.

Visit any fundamentalist Christian book store, and you will find anti-Masonic literature is alive and well. Listen to ultra conservative television preachers, and you will hear opinions about our fraternity that we know are lies and half truths.

Without trying to be exhaustive, the certain few ecclesiastical denominations or religious groups that oppose Freemasonry stand on these points:

Some believe the lodge promotes itself as a religion, to which I respond, Freemasonry has many religious elements and, in fact, may easily be called a religious institution. Freemasonry is, however, no more a religion than Methodist Hospital or Earlham College is a religion. Methodist Hospital and Earlham College can be and are religious institutions without themselves being a religion.

Freemasonry has no theology, offers no sacraments and has never claimed to lead to salvation by secret knowledge, works, or by any other means. Freemasonry expects each member to follow his particular faith without interfering in any religious practice of its members. Freemasonry expects each member to recognize that the duty to God comes before all other duties in life.

Another objection is that the lodge competes with the church for a man's time, energy, and loyalty. There was a time when the lodge, the church, and the local pub were the only acts in town, and if there was any action going on it was probably in one of the three places. It may have been that the clergy feared a greater loyalty to the lodge than to the church. It is not so any more, as there is much demand from many directions on one's time. The more Freemasons are involved in the life of their church, synagogue, or mosque, the less credence that criticism will have. I urge you to be active in your church.
    Others, uninformed about the way Freemasonry uses symbolism, say that we are relying on the "resurrection drama" in the Master Mason degree to receive eternal life. Still others believe the Masonic penalties are taken literally an members are inflicted with such punishment. The recent change in the ritual from "traditional" to "symbolic" penalties was a welcome one and a positive step in a more enlightened direction.

Still others criticize the use of the phrase, "Worshipful Master," feeling that no one should be given this title except God alone. Here an ignorance of etymology has blinded the opposition to the fact that the word "worship" is simply a transliteration of the Old English word "worchyppe" which means "honorable, revered, and greatly respected." In the Wycliffe Bible this word appears in the scripture, "Worschyppe thy fadir and thy modir," (honor thy father and thy mother). Judges in England and Canada are still addressed as,"Your worship." Those who would criticize Freemasonry for this ancient tradition would not hesitate in the slightest, when in a court of law, to address the judge by the title, "Your Honor." Inconsistent? YES! Understanding by the Craft, with knowledge dispensed at the proper time, will go far to still the noises of opposition.

Another factor that will determine our future is how Freemasonry responds to the charges of racial and sexual discrimination. Our fraternity has been called upon to defend our relationship against the criticism that "not every person can join." Contrary to local opinion, prejudice or tradition, Freemasonry does not discriminate by color, class, creed, or social credentials. Any man may ask for a petition to join the Masonic lodge, but not every one will be accepted by unanimous vote when the secret ballot is taken. This is as it should be in a fraternity. It is not how it should be in the church. There are certain persons who would not be accepted into a lodge who would be accepted into membership at a particular church. The lodge requires a candidate to have a certain moral background; whereas the church understands itself as, "The sanctuary of God for those of questionable and sinful background -- a sanctuary where healing, reconciliation, and salvation can occur."

This issue of women in the ranks of our fraternity will not quietly vanish. It will have to be dealt with -- and more sooner than later. The challenge upon us is how Freemasonry will deal with it. The manner in which we do will help determine our future.

Freemasonry must retain the right to refuse admittance to some, but this should never be because of race, creed, or color. To gain the respect of younger members of society and the clergy of the new millennium, Freemasonry will have to communicate well that it does not, as a fraternity, discriminate, but it cannot prevent members from doing so through the secret ballot.

In my research I have read many books in opposition to Freemasonry and, although I understand where some of the writers are coming from, I do most sincerely believe they are taking too literally the symbolism and, in fact, are basing their conclusions on, at best, half truths, and, at worst, outright untruths and lies.

Some would ask if I feel the conflict between Freemasonry and the church is on the road to healing. I would have to answer with an emphatic, "No." As indicated earlier, almost all the opposition to our fraternity comes from either the very hierarchical and rigid church structures or from the very fundamental and extremely literalistic churches.

I do not see either disappearing from the American scene and, in fact, I see the fundamental and conservative wing of the church gaining in influence in the coming days and years.

Note this point and heed it well: If Freemasonry declines in influence and numbers, its voice of opposition will also decline, but if Freemasonry experiences a revival of influence and the membership in the fraternity begins to increase, then we can expect a great amplification of the criticisms, especially from this fundamentalist right wing.

It is my premise that the most disturbing incidents of our day, seriously affecting the present and future relationships between our fraternity and the church are the result of a complete misunderstanding of Freemasonry. At present we are doing a poor job of combating these misunderstandings. We have been in the past -- and remain in the present -- reactive to these misunderstandings rather than proactive. We have, at best, taken a defensive position, which is doomed to fail. We must make a concerted effort to let the world know about Freemasonry without seeking to justify who we are. No justification is needed. Freemasonry does not need to be defended, but it does need to be communicated through the lives of the laborers in the Craft.

We must carefully and accurately communicate what Freemasonry is and denounce what it is not. The way we communicate most accurately, powerfully, and effectively, is to give attention to the instrument that sounds the message. The note that emerges from a musical instrument is determined by the quality of the instrument as well as the master musician who plays it.

There is the story of a clown in full costume who ran onto the stage of a crowded theater and, quietly as if not to instill panic, announced that the theater was on fire. The audience chuckled. He began to shout, "The theater is on fire." The crowd applauded. Finally, in a fit of rage, the clown jumped up and down and waved his arms, screaming, "The theater is on fire, the theater's on fire. The audience gave him a standing ovation. A clown? Really! Who is to believe that the theater is on fire when it is a clown who makes the proclamation.

Get my point? Who we are as individual Freemasons communicates who the fraternity is as a whole. Enable the world to take you seriously, so Freemasonry can be seen in its proper light. We must make certain that our life befits the message, or else no one will believe us.

We must give attention to how we punctuate our message. It is a true story, I am told, about how and why punctuation came to be spelled out in the old Western Union telegrams. The wife of a certain man was touring Europe and happened upon a beautiful diamond necklace that struck her fancy. She telegraphed home to her husband a request to purchase the necklace. The husband, upon hearing the price of $70,000, quickly made his way to the nearest telegraph office and had them send his message: "No! Price too high! All my Love, John." When the message was received on the other end the wife read this, "No price too high -- All my love, John.", and proceeded to buy the diamond necklace -- whereupon the husband sued the company and won. From that point on, punctuation was spelled out in full in all telegrams.

Freemasons who punctuate their vocabulary with needless profanity and frequently take the name of God in vain are like clowns standing on a stage crying, "Fire," when it comes to defending, by verbal witness or silent example, the fraternity they love.

We must get the message of Masonry out to the world; however, we must make certain our instruments are in moral tune, our lives are a fitting illustration, and our message is properly punctuated. That job only you can do.

One final caution! We must be careful what we say so our intent is accurately conveyed, and the true meaning and message of Freemasonry is not distorted. If I were to look at my wife and say, "Baby, you've got a face that would stop a clock," what do you think the results would be? Now as I hold her hand, look into her eyes and say, "Every time I look into your face, time stands still." How about the results now? In both examples the clock stops. What is the difference? I think you get the picture. What we say is equally important with who is saying it and how it is said. We must communicate clearly.

If I were pressed on how we can communicate accurate information concerning our fraternity, I would suggest we begin with our public rituals such as the Masonic Memorial Service. Any point of contact between the clergy and the Craft, the church and the lodge, produces an interchange that is either positive or negative. The points of contact such as the Memorial or Funeral Ritual are "the producers, the changers, the formers of opinion."

I suggest productive literature to Masons informing how this service can benefit the surviving family members and how it can tell the old, old story of our fraternity. The more Freemasons who request this service at their funerals the more the Craft will be accurately understood. I further suggest that the Craft conduct the service in the most solemn, proper and meaningful manner possible. If the ritual cannot be done well, it should not be done at all. Freemasonry cannot stumble through its ritual, especially that which is viewed by the world. I suggest the Worshipful Master makes contact with the clergyperson conducting the funeral and works closely with him or her, even when the service is not held in the Church. This could do much to communicate a positive image of our fraternity in the mind of the clergy and enhance the respect of Freemasonry in the community.

Freemasonry should also do more to educate the members of the fraternity about the correct relationship between the lodge and the church, synagogue, or organized church body, and to encourage them to attend regularly a house of worship of their choice. One of the strongest formal official statements comes from the United Grand Lodge of England which says, "It cannot be too strongly asserted that Masonry is neither a religion nor a substitute for religion."

Possibly the most serious criticism clergymen have against Freemasonry is that some Masons claim their lodge gives them all the religion they need, and they feel no need of the church. Although the teachings of Freemasonry are based on deeply spiritual concepts of belief in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man, and even though Freemasonry looks forward to the ultimate unity of mankind consummated in the eternal spirit of God in that "house not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens," the lodge can never aspire to supplant the church as the "body of Christ manifest in the world." A Mason cannot make his lodge a substitute for his faith.

The more individual Freemasons are active in the life of their churches, the less volume any such criticism against our fraternity will have Only you have the power to combat this criticism.

A young man once approached an old sage and said, "Sir, I know you are very wise and know all things. I hold a bird in my hand behind my back. Tell me, sir, is the bird alive or dead." The old master knew if he said dead, the young man would produce the bird alive. If he said the bird was alive, the young man with his hand hidden behind his back could quickly squeeze the life from the bird and produce it dead. The wisdom of the old sage led him to respond, "The bird is as you desire. It is either alive or dead. In your hands you hold its fate."

So it is with Freemasonry. In your hands you hold the future of our fraternity.

My activity in the Craft has greatly fortified and enhanced my faith, but my faith does not come from my lodge. My life in the church has greatly strengthened my relationship with my Lord, but my relationship with God does not come from my church. Both the lodge and the church seek to reveal the Light of God, but they are not that Light. They both work to point one toward that Light and Presence of God.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014