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PHILIP BURNHAM’S article on Freemasonry and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial (“Artifacts,” 9/8) contains a number of errors.
First of all, the purpose of Freemasonry is to make good people better. We teach men and women how to apply principles of morality in their lives. All the rest is window dressing. My learned brother Jack Riddell is correct when he says that charity is a big part of this, but it’s really secondary.
The room described as the “Supreme Council Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm Grotto Archives Room” is in fact the Shrine Room, dedicated to those great Masonic philanthropists, the Shriners. The Grotto Archives Room is a library on an upper floor of the Memorial.
Brother Jack Riddell says that Freemasonry contributes “a million-and-a-half dollars a year” to charitable causes. The actual figure is closer to $500 million. I refer the interested reader to Dr. S. Brent Morris’ book Masonic Philanthropies: A Tradition of Caring.
Burnham accurately reports that Freemasons have suffered terribly at the hands of tyrants. Many of our brethren were exterminated by the Nazis (the exact figure is in dispute). The Ayatollah not only “threw them out” of Iran, he murdered many more, as did Franco and Stalin. These evil men knew that the Masons stood against them, and that we espouse principles inconsistent with their despotism. The fraternity also provides the ready-made core of any kind of resistance movement, complete with secret passwords and other means of secret recognition. We are a great danger to any tyrant, and tyrants know this. That is why one of their first moves—along with jailing the academics and burning books—is to suppress Freemasonry.
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Burnham suggests that the Masonic fraternity excludes Jews and that the Catholic Church forbids its members to become Masons. This is not true. As a matter of fact, there is a sizable—sizable—Jewish membership here in the District, and in other jurisdictions. I myself am Catholic, as are four other members of my own Lodge alone. The history of the suspicion between the Church and Masonry is very long and complicated, and not suitable for discussion here. Suffice to say that if Burnham had called the Archdiocese of Washington, they would have explained to him that the Church has no problem with one of its members becoming a Mason.
Burnham correctly reports the “troubling” history of the relationship between “George Washington” or “caucasian” Masonry and Prince Hall or African-American Masonry. More progress has been made on this issue in the past two years than in the past 200. Every Grand Lodge (and by the way there are 51 of them in the U.S.) is in communication with its Prince Hall counterpart, to varying degrees. There are ongoing talks on the topic of mutual recognition. The matter has come up time and again before the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia and the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the District. It is only a matter of time before recognition becomes a reality. Burnham should have pointed out that such recognition must be mutual.
Prince Hall Freemasonry is very powerful here in the District, and includes many fine men whom I gladly call “brother,” even though I cannot as yet sit in Lodge with them. I predict that this situation will change before the end of the decade.
Women are not excluded from Freemasonry, though many of my older brethren may be shocked to learn this. There are many, many feminine lodges which are composed exclusively of women. There are “co-masonic” lodges which have mixed membership. While this is largely a European phenome non, it is already well established here in the States, and is growing. No man who truly lives according to Masonic principles will exclude any person based on outward things such as sex or race.
The marginalization of Masonry in recent decades is rightly a matter of concern. Many younger members (I am 33) have organized informally to discuss ways of revitalizing the Fraternity, and we’ve agreed that one way is to find ways the Lodge can positively impact the community in which it lives—by contributing to local charities, for instance, both with money and with time; by helping with our public schools, which we traditionally support; and lots of other real, tangible ways. To those who think Masonry is a pooped-out old men’s club, I say: Watch what we do in the next couple of years.
Freemasonry provides a place where a congressman, a truck driver, a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, and a B’Hai (for example) can all come together, offer prayers together, call each other “brother,” and eat and drink together. I have seen this happen. What other organization can offer it?
No one man can speak for all of Freemasonry. Any opinions expressed here, as distinct from statements of fact, are my own.
Senior Deacon, LaFayette-Dupont Lodge No. 19, F.A.A.M., Capitol Hill, via the Internet