A Prince Hall Perspective On The Universalism Of Freemasonry Through Religious Toleration

California-sealThe Beehive is proud to present an article from Brother Samuel L. Parker, Sr. of The Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge Of California. Prince Hall Freemasonry is blossoming with thinkers, writers and reformers who want to bring to the Fraternity an intellectual involvement that can only bring about a new renaissance.

Brother Parker is addressing the concept of religious toleration within the Prince Hall family. He makes a strong point that Masonic Universalism is dependent on elimination of sectarian religious practices in the Fraternity. We would make the same case for partisan politics.

In “Ruling and Decision #3” the Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Florida, on November 28th, 2012, ruled and decided that Paganism, Wiccan and Odinism, Agnosticism, and Gnosticism beliefs and/or practices were NOT compatible with Freemasonry.[1]  Based on his conclusions, the Grand Master directed that … “any member of the Craft that professes to be a member of one of the groups mentioned above shall tender his resignation or suffer himself to a Trial Commission whose final outcome will be expulsion…  On May 28th, 2013, it is reported that the Grand Lodge of Florida voted to rescind the Grand Masters’ Ruling and Decision.

 After reading of the policy reversal in Florida, I began hopefully envisioning a room full of Prince Hall Masons exercising that same manly consciousness and mustering the fortitude to examine the religious understandings and policies of (even) a Grand Master, and say “No” to a policies and practices which are not consistent with morally correct Masonic values, laws, and traditions.  Each of us is, faithfully obliged in the dignity of the character of that celebrated artist, to faithfully discharge that duty to carefully preserve, never suffer the infringement of, nor countenance a deviation from, the Landmarks of our Order – by Grand Masters or anyone else.

 I am hopeful that, in light of the reversal of the Grand Master’s policy in Florida, that we members of Prince Hall Masonic bodies seize upon a learning opportunity and consider our policies and practices regarding sectarian religious perspectives and practices (including learning what sectarian practices are, and looking for ways to determine whether these practices exist in our lodges and grand lodge events).

 As one example, in PHA lodges and grand lodges, you will invariably (to my knowledge) find the Holy Bible on the altar of open lodges as an “indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge.”  To be clear, I am suggesting that the Holy Bible is not on the altars of Prince Hall Lodges as “a representation of” or “an example” of “a” “Book of the Law.”  In practice and unofficial policy (even perhaps “official” in some jurisdictions), the Holy Bible sits on the altars of Prince Hall Lodges as “The” “Book of the Law.”  Accordingly, most (are taught and) would believe that the lodges are complying with the 21st Landmark of the Order, when, in fact, they are violating the Landmark.

 In a Masonic setting, viewing the Holy Bible as “The Book of the Law” fosters mis-education and mis-informing candidates and Masons that Masonry is a “Christian organization.”  When candidates and Masons understand that Landmark 21 requires “…that “a” “Book of the Law” shall constitute an indispensable part of the furniture of every Lodge…” they may then view the Holy Bible on the altar as “a” (one of many) representation(s) of a Book of the Law.  Policies and practices that insist on having “only the Holy Bible” open on the altars of working lodges creates the (easily correctable) appearance of hypocrisy between the Landmarks of the Order and the policies or practices of our Lodges and Grand Lodges.  The appearance can be easily corrected by displaying other examples of a “Book of the Law.”

 If you are having trouble thinking of a valid and appropriate example of a Masonically-correct Book of the Law, you are probably an example of a “victim” of the “Christian organization doctrine/perspective.”  There is relief available to you, thru Masonic education.  The Lodge is not a church.

 The significance of understanding that Masonry requires “a” Book of the Law on the altars of open lodges could present teaching moments when candidates and Masons find various Revealed Books of the Sacred Law on the altars of open lodges.  The practice of putting other Books of Law on the altar (as equal representatives of the principle of revealed texts), might hint to and suggest religious tolerance.  It might also remove a peg in the argument that Masonry is a Christian organization.  Perhaps it might even enable investigating committees to give favorable reports on candidates who are not religiously persuaded by the book that is “always” on the altar of the lodge.  In the long run, some may even discover that there is a distinction between Landmark 21’s “Book of the Law” and the Holy Bible.

 I am not averse to a Holy Bible being placed on the Masonic altar “as an example or representation” of “the” Volume of Sacred Law.  I am opposed to a Holy Bible being placed on the Masonic altar as “THE” (sole and exclusive) “Volume of Sacred Law.”  There is a great difference. 

 If you think it is a trivial matter and just a semantical equivocation, ask your Worshipful Master or Grand Master to place (and leave open) ANY other Volume of Sacred Law.  (Do not try this if you are not prepared for a backlash.)

 Masonic universality is the principle that should govern the practices in our lodges – not the values, practices, and incongruent interests of any particular church doctrines.  Masonry is not an extension of a single church doctrine.  Christian Lodges, Muslim Lodges, Catholic Lodges, etc. should be oxymorons – from a Masonic perspective.  The results of too many uncontested years of tolerating, permitting, and advocating a false perspective (that Masonry is founded on Christian principles and based on the Holy Bible) is divisive and has led to too many Masons and potential Masons being the victims of this mis-education and religious intolerance.

Relief is in sight….

Bro. Samuel L. Parker, Sr.
MWPHGL-CA

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About Fred Milliken

Fred is a Past Master of Plymouth Lodge, Plymouth Massachusetts, and Past Master of Paul Revere Lodge, Brockton, Massachusetts. Presently, he is a member of Pride of Mt. Pisgah No. 135, Prince Hall Texas, where is he is also a Prince Hall Knight Templar . Fred is a Fellow of the Phylaxis Society and former Executive Director of the Phoenix Masonry website and museum.

Comments

  1. Steven Warner says:

    When non-mason friends of mine ask how I can say that Masonry is not a religion and yet acknowledge that a Bible *must* be open on the alter, I explain it like this.

    The GAOTU is simply far too great to be adequately described in a simple book. And goodness is far too complex to be thoroughly defined through the simple pages of some tome. Yet, The GAOTU *does* exist as does goodness.

    That bible on the alter is a symbol of these impossible books and we strive to live by the lessons taught in them.

    Carl Claudy put it best, in my opinion: a thousand paths wind around the same mountain to reach the same mountain peak. Which one is the right one? The one you are standing on. Is the one someone else is standing on better or worse? No.

    We are all imperfect ashlars applying the tools and teachings of Masonry to better ourselves. This betterment is possible; those impossible books tell so and tell us how. That Bible is their symbol.

    Cheers!
    Steven Warner
    Anchorage Lodge 17
    GL of F&AM of Alaska

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