By The Most Worshipful Brother Geoff Edwards (OSM)
First published in The Square and Compasses
A newsletter for the Grand Lodge of South Africa
Brethren, as we are all well aware, Freemasonry has been around for centuries. Despite the numerous challenges it has faced, despite its persecution in many forms, despite the very changing world in which we live, Freemasonry survives and, indeed, usually prospers.
In this regard it is something of a rarity, so what is it that gives Freemasonry its appeal? What makes Freemasonry different? The reality is that a belief in and worship of a higher power, the promotion of moral conduct, the provision of charity and the social interaction of men are all well catered for and often in a more effective manner than in Freemasonry. Where I would suggest that we are different, Brethren, is that we promote Tolerance.
Oxford Dictionary defines Tolerate as “endure or permit; allow to exist or be practiced without interference or molestation; forbear to judge harshly.” Tolerance is, of course, “a willingness to tolerate.”
In his very first obligation as a Freemason, our new Brother promises to observe the commandment “Do unto others as you would they do unto you” and further promises “that within the Lodge I shall recognise no civil or political connections, still less take into account religious tenets, but will only acknowledge perfect equality”. With our hands on the Volume of Sacred Law, we solemnly promise to be Tolerant! We promise to accept men as men and to assess them on their qualities as men - and yet, all too often, we hear Freemasons condemning men based on their religion, the colour of their skin, their political affiliation or other factors which simply have nothing to do with their individual qualities as men.
The time has come where those Brethren who sincerely believe in the principles promoted by our beautiful Order have to stand up and be counted. We live in a world where men are dying in the name of religion and the conduct of ISIS and Boko Haram shocks us all; where Xenophobia has been tearing our country apart and undermining our external relationships; where white American police shoot a black youth because he behaved suspiciously; where people are at war with each other because of their physical differences. But we cannot just assume that all Moslems support ISIS, because they certainly don’t; that all black South Africans practice Xenophobia, because they certainly don’t; that all white Americans are against their black counterparts, because it simply isn’t true; or that every member of another race or creed is a criminal, because they certainly aren’t!
We, as Freemasons, need to stretch out a hand of friendship to like-minded good men from all walks of life and backgrounds and help build those bridges which will give us all a chance of a meaningful future. We have to practise Tolerance!A while ago I came across an internet article relating a true story of an event which took place in the USA in the mid 1880s. Let me share it with you.
Moses F Shinn, a Methodist minister in Iowa was a powerful leader in his church and in his Lodge and was loved and respected by all. A time arose when his church co-workers, persons uninformed as to Freemasonry and its teaching, sought to increase his usefulness to the church by requiring him to renounce Freemasonry and devote all his energies to their church. They approached him and announced that this would be required were he to stay in the church. After much soul-searching. Bro Shinn was called upon for his response. The options presented to him were unbearable, but he had to reply. Finally, he rose to his feet and spoke in a clear voice: "I have for many years tried to perform my duty as a faithful Minister and I believed I had extended the field of my usefulness, without violation of my vows to the church, by becoming a loyal and zealous Freemason. Now you demand that I renounce Freemasonry or retire from the church. I wish not to be separated from either, but you have made the demand and it is not for me to question it. So, at your bidding, I withdraw from the Methodist Episcopal Church." Bro Shinn then sat down to control his emotions.
The silence was oppressive, and then men started to come forward. If Bro Shinn felt so strongly about Freemasonry, they wanted to be part of it! That day saw the joining of 2 men who would later become Grand Masters and various other quality applicants.
Brethren, I would suggest that we, as members of our Grand Lodge, may also be at a crossroads. We have solemnly committed ourselves to practicing Tolerance and, if we are to have anything resembling a meaningful Masonic future, we have to apply it! We live in a country where, for historical reasons, men have been separated over the years. We have been raised with and surrounded by prejudices and we simply have to put these behind us.
We, as Freemasons, now more than ever, need to set an example as to how good men should really interact with each other - and “we”, Brethren, means each and every one of us. Those of us who are committed to living by our Masonic promises cannot just stand back and let them be compromised.
We must, just like our Bro Moses Shinn, be prepared to take a stand and I have no doubt whatsoever that the ultimate rewards will make it all so very worthwhile.