Monday, May 22, 2006

Legitimate Masonry?

Legitimate Masonry?

Who gets to decide which Freemasonry is legitimate and which Freemasonry is illegitimate? Should a Masonic body be considered more legitimate merely because it has a larger membership? Because it is older?

When African Lodge, the first Prince Hall lodge in the world began issuing charters for other African American lodges, it did not have a warrant to do so from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, the Grand Lodge of England or any other Grand Body. Does this mean that from 1827 when African Lodge declared itself a Grand Lodge, till 1995 when Prince Hall Grand Lodges were given charters by the United Grand Lodge of England, that they were illegitimate? Irregular? Does this mean that all of the Prince Hall Grand Lodges in US states which still lack a charter, and recognition from their white counterparts are illegitimate? Does this mean that all of the Prince Hall masons who were initiated, passed, raised and labored in the quarries
from 1827 onward, and gave so much of their time and love to the craft were illegitimate? irregular?

We believe that African Lodge did what it had to in declaring itself independent of any other Grand Body and establishing itself as the first Prince Hall Grand Lodge. We believe that the Grand Lodge of France did the right thing by granting the universal recognition of all Prince Hall Grand Lodges in the United States, for which it lost favor with the larger white Grand Lodges.
Sometimes, doing what your conscience, or the Grand Architect requires of you isn't easy, but we believe that in the long run, it brings far more blessings.

What most masons are unaware of is the significance of the letters A.F. & A.M. which most of the larger Grand Lodges in the United States bear in their name. It stands for "Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons". This means that these Grand Lodges were originally chartered, not by the Grand Lodge of England, but the schismatic "Ancients Grand Lodge" which eventually merged with the Grand Lodge to form the United Grand Lodge of England in 1813. Does this mean that all of the masons who were initiated, passed and raised in Ancients Grand Lodges in the United States, Britain and Ireland from 1751 until 1813 were merely "illegitimate masons" to use a certain commentator's own words? These masons felt that the other "Moderns" or "Premier" Grand Lodge's ritual practices deviated from Masonic tradition so greatly that they were illegitimate.

Common sense would, and indeed does tell most people that having a one-day class in which hundreds of masons are made, simply by watching the degrees at a distance with no time for absorption or proficiency requirements, or as in many lodges in England and overseas the reading of the third degree legend to the candidate rather than putting him through a proper and traditional raising are not only unrecognizeable as legitimate, traditional or regular masonry, and yet they point the finger at others and call them fake? Not only can you take all three degrees of Craft masonry in a day, but you can join the Scottish Rite all in the same day! Does this facilitate true learning, or merely the collection of more money in a shorter period of time?

When the American Colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, they not only declared their independence from the rule of another nation which was distant from their desires, ideas and hopes, but from a system where power over others was an entitlement by birth, an aristocracy which fattened itself by taxing the working man without any representation or freedom by which he could become master of his own destiny. We, the American Colonies found that such a system of government was not good for our lives. Why is it that in Freemasonry we continue to argue in favor of such a system of entitlement by birth, saying with great passion that those Grand Bodies "born into" such favor are the only such "legitimate heirs" of Freemasonry, even when they have so clearly and egregiously strayed from Masonic tradition? They have authored for themselves a series of laws and executed them in their own kangaroo courts, creating precedents and inventing doctrines which benefit them and no one else, least of all the craft itself. We declare that all true Freemasons are the legitimate heirs of Freemasonry.

It is in the spirit of the American Colonies and the first Prince Hall Grand Lodge declaring their independence that masons of the Regular Grand Lodge of England have declared their independence. They have declared their independence from the very same system of aristocratic entitlement that the American Colonies did, quite literally!

American Grand Bodies who have received a charter from said Grand Lodge, and joined this same movement have not done so out of some naivete, believing they have made contact with some other fabulous and ancient institution as some commentators suppose. We have done so out of our sincere wish for liberty, equality and light and to be a part of a rapidly growing international community of masons throughout the world who share our desire to preserve the traditional insitutions of Freemasonry unhindered by racism, feelings of self-entitlement or the weakening of her sublime institutions.

Why should our presence be seen as a problem for the larger Grand Bodies? Our desire is only for more light. It is our sincerest hope that all masons throughout the world will one day come to respect Freemasonry as much or even more than we have. It is our hope that one day they will also give the same care to her traditions, ideas and symbols, if not even more than we ourselves could hope to.

The Freemasonry which we practice is no mere Service Club, but a living Tradition of intellectual and spiritual englightenment for men of all creeds and colors. It is our sincerest hope that the larger Masonic organizations will allow the same traditions to flourish once more for their sake, and that they will forever put away intolerance and racial segregation. We cannot, however, stand idly by while one opportunity after another for more light is missed. It is time for us to declare our independence, and we have done so.

To those detractors and call us "illegitimate” without considering or knowing what may lie in our hearts, we extend the love of the Almighty Creator, and hope that one day they too will have a desire for light which exceeds their fear. When they say, or even suggest that our presence in America or elsewhere is a problem for them, and that an "unstoppable juggernaut" has been released, what is it that they are really saying? Why should our presence bother them in the least since we are so small and insignificant? They presume to tell the poor, uninformed member of all such "illegitimate" obediences that he is really just an "illegitimate mason", for his own good of course, because he couldn't possibly have knowingly chosen the Grand Lodge he did. What does all of this say about them? More importantly, If this movement within masonry continues to grow as fast as it has in such a short period of time, then what does this say about man's desire for More Light?

These commentators talk about Grand Lodges that charge overly large sums of money for degree work and then talk about us in the same breath, calumniating all of the organizations in their list without any clarification or justification for what they are saying, as if all were one and the same. We invite anyone to look into our practices and see if our joining fees are any greater than what you'd pay in any other lodge, or if any of our officers are earning the large paychecks that Grand Officers in the large Masonic bodies do.

Our claim to Regularity rests on this and this alone: it stems entirely from our own adherence and faithfulness to the traditional customs and original aims and purposes of Craft Freemasonry, the absence of bigotry in our lodges, and the complete absence of any other Masonic institutions in our geographical locations who meet these requirements.

We formally invite all masons, Masonic lodges and Grand Bodies large or small to discuss with us how best to carry on the Traditions of the Ancient Fraternity which we all love so much. To all men and masons with a sincere desire for light, we are your companions whether you agree with our ideas and actions or not.

Men of intelligence and good conscience must decide what is best for themselves. We invite all men who believe in the Almighty Creator, regardless of faith, language, skin color or nationality, whether they are considering initiation for the first time, or have labored in the quarries of Freemasonry for many years, to take a look at our lodges, and judge us not by what others may say about us, but by the fruits of our true labors.

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