Asleep at the West Gate
By W. Bro. Stephen Dafoe
"How well are we guarding the West Gate?"
This was a question asked by Most Worshipful Brother Dwight L. Smith, in his 1962 book, "Whither are we traveling?" Smith was, at the time, a Past Grand Master and Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Indiana. His book outlined the problems facing the craft four decades ago and if one did not look at the publication date, one would think he was reading a document written only yesterday.
Indeed how well are we guarding the West Gate; that gate through which all men must pass to be admitted to the Masonic Fraternity? Smith felt that Freemasonry was and is a selective organization, but that we were not being very selective in signing petitions to sponsor candidates.
"Whence came the idea that a man - almost any man - has an inherent right to become a Freemason? Is it not a privilege to be conferred upon the worthy?"
The author raises an interesting question in the above quotation and spends several pages answering the question in well thought out detail. One of Smith's suggestions for why Freemasonry has taken a "come one - come all" mentality is economic pressure. According to Smith, "A lodge pays a heavy price for a new Temple so costly to maintain that membership must remain above a certain figure." This certainly rings true today. Those buildings built in 1962, when Smith penned his words are now in poor condition and in need of repair. Our dues are little more than the price of an average meal at a bus café. Yet, rather than raise the dues, we run about trying to get more men to join in the hopes of having enough money to support our dilapidated Temples. In the process of throwing open the door at the West Gate we allow our Freemasonry to become as dilapidated as our aforementioned Temples.
Second on Smith's thoughts on the matter was the sloppy nature in which we investigate petitioners. Our wise brother argues that, "Lodges are not utilizing their most capable members for duty on investigating committees." Instead, what we are doing is picking three members of the lodge, who happen to be there, on the night the petition is read out, and send them off to investigate the petitioner. These three Brethren colloquially referred to as "the three wise-men" showing further lack of seriousness in the investigation process, are often Masons of little experience and even less concern for guarding the West Gate. In too many lodges the receipt of the petition creates a Pavlovian response in the members who begin salivating at the thought of fresh meat and the possible salvation their dues may bring.
Often the investigating committee asks the petitioner few questions of any substance and is unable to answer any serious questions or concerns that the petitioner may have about the fraternity.
The Grand Lodge of Alberta is to be commended for their Lodge Plan for Masonic Education, for this plan outlines two meetings with the petitioner prior to his Apprentice Degree. The first meeting is before the application is voted on and the second, before the Apprentice Degree itself.
The reason for the first meeting is clearly outlined in the guidebook as follows:
"There are those who, for one reason or another, become Masons before they are really ready to assume the privileges and duties of membership. Many of these Masons, their good intentions not withstanding, undergo a change of heart and their curiosity being satisfied, they progress no further. It is hoped that the first meeting will dispel any reservations that the proposed petitioner may have, pro or con, and provide him with the widest possible experience and information on which to base his decision to apply for membership."
How wonderful that the Grand Lodge of Alberta has decided to guard the West Gate in this fashion, not only for the betterment of the craft, but for the considerations of its applicants.
But they do not rest there. After the petitioner is balloted on, the second meeting takes place. The purpose of which is also outlined in the guide:
"The purpose of this meeting is to introduce the Candidate to Freemasonry as a whole and to prepare him in mind and spirit to receive initiation. He is entering a strange country. His Mentors will give him the necessary guidance and point out the landmarks by which to steer his course. It will be impressed upon him that becoming a Mason is not a light or frivolous undertaking, but fraught with important consequences, and that Initiation, Passing and Raising are not perfunctory ceremonies to be entered into with a light heart, but the first and all-important steps into the world of Freemasonry. He will learn that Freemasonry is a life to be lived, not a set of hollow forms to be hypocritically observed, and that he must become prepared in his heart. Also he will learn that in the Mentor Committees he has guides and friends whom he can come to for counsel."
Sadly however, there are many Masons and lodges in Alberta that either do not use this wonderful tool or remain unaware of it. Regardless, the tool has been created and if faithfully applied, will go a long way to ensure that none but worthy men become Masons. For in it are contained wonderful lectures that explain the principles of Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth, which Freemasonry must continue to practice. Included are lessons, whereby a man learns of the religious and political tolerance that the craft must practice if it is to remain true to its roots.
I am reminded of the words of a mason who frequents the various Masonic Discussion forums, who uses the following quote to sign his postings, "Political Freedom, Religious Tolerance, Personal Integrity. Freemasonry... It's Not For Everyone."
Freemasonry is indeed not for everyone. There is no room in the craft for those with no personal integrity, those who do not promote political freedom and no room for those who are religiously intolerant. Yet, our lodges have many such men in the roles of membership, because we are not doing a good enough job guarding the West Gate.
To illustrate proof of this, let me use the words of Freemasons themselves who have slipped by the West Gate.
"Hello I am a fellow mason, also a Knight Templar, I am mad as hell at your site about shrines. Did you read or go through the shriner ritual? You take an oath to allah, and mahmmand (sic) his prophet! Which is a demon god. Anywas (sic) you can argue its (sic) not, all you want but The LORD JESUS wants me to tell you He is a jealous God, and no one who swears or calls to a demon will enter into heaven!! My prayer is you wake up, and this email is with love!! Please dont (sic) let this email separate you from heaven. And please dont (sic) wait until on your Death bed to remember this email and take action!!
P.S there are alot (sic) of Christians in America, we are the majority now! And its (sic) time to get the Truth out about shrines and whom they swear to."
Or how about this commentary posted in a Masonic Discussion forum by a North Carolina Mason in good standing, regarding his views on Prince Hall recognition.
"First of all most of you Prince Hall Lovers are North of the border in Canada with your socialized medicine and Muslims."
As Masons, we cannot stand by and let this type of unmasonic commentary go unchecked. In the first instance, the writer was replied to and asked how he was permitted past the West Gate. In the latter the poster was banned from further participation in the forums.
Now one can easily say these are isolated cases and are few and far between. Sadly, the more one researches North American Freemasonry and visits the various Internet Forums, one realizes that such examples of xenophobia and racism are not that few and certainly not that far between.
But if we were doing our job guarding the West Gate and latterly teaching Freemasonry instead of teaching lessons from Robert's Rules of Order, there would be no isolated cases of intolerance such as outlined above.
Allow me to share with you another incident, which illustrates not only that the West Gate is without a good tiler, but that we are not doing as our charges state and correcting the behavior of our Brethren.
"After the meeting I even heard the word "nigger" at the refreshment table from one of the 'Masons In Name Only' while the rest laughed and not even a look of dissatisfaction came from the master. Of course the District Deputy Grand Master, who was in attendance, had not a word to say regarding the clearly racial remark."
It saddens me to read words such as those written above. As I alluded to earlier, our charges clearly instruct us to correct this behavior.
"In the character of a Master Mason you are henceforth authorized to correct the errors and irregularities of your younger brethren, and guard them against a breach of fidelity. To improve the morals and correct the manners of men on society ought to be your constant care. You are to inculcate universal benevolence, and by the regularity of your behavior afford the best example for the conduct of others."
So why do we allow this type of racist, xenophobic, and religiously intolerant behavior to go on in our lodges? Well one will surely argue harmony.
Harmony, according to the dictionary's definition of the term is, "compatibility in opinion and action." However, in a society such as Freemasonry with so many members from so many different backgrounds, differences of opinion are natural. It is for this reason that we permit no discussion of Partisan Politics or Sectarian Religion in our meetings. Harmony, in a Masonic sense, therefore cannot be defined as in the previous example. Rather, I prefer a definition found from the art world:
"A principle of art and design concerned with the blending of one or more of the elements in a work of art to create a pleasing effect, balance, symmetry, and a composed appearance."
This definition of harmony is very apropos to Freemasonry, for we blend different faiths, political thought and philosophical ideals into one pleasing unit that is better for the whole than its separate parts.
Sadly, in today's Freemasonry, Harmony has become the name for a large broom used to sweep our dirt under the rug and pave the path for the unworthy to enter the West Gate whilst the sleeping tiler dreams that all is well in the fraternity.
- Source: Knights of the North Masonic Dictionary