Zeal for the Institution
By W. Bro. James Dillman
The first line of the Indiana Master Mason charge states, "Your zeal for the institution of Masonry . . . has pointed you out as a proper object of our favor and esteem." This comes on the heels of the Entered Apprentice charge which informs a newly initiated Mason that, "A zealous approach to these duties (to God, our neighbor, and ourselves) will insure public and private esteem." The third section of the Entered Apprentice lecture once again invokes the word zeal by reminding the brother that, "Entered Apprentices served their Master in former times, and should in modern times, with freedom, fervency, and zeal." Consequently, it seems reasonable to conclude that a zealous approach to Freemasonry is one that is universally admired in Masonic circles and results in the greatest benefit to the individual brother and the fraternity at large. A closer examination of Masonic principles reveals that is not necessarily the case.
Those familiar with the Preston-Webb ritual know that one of the first lessons we are taught in Freemasonry is the necessity of keeping our passions within due bounds. It is one of the overriding themes of the Entered Apprentice degree and is reinforced in both the Fellowcraft and Master Mason degrees. Every new Mason is instructed that he represents a point surrounded by an imaginary circle that serves as a boundary line beyond which his passions, prejudices, and interests are never to stray. The tenets of Freemasonry, a brother's own conscience, and even Grand Lodge regulations attempt to define exactly where that boundary line is drawn, yet in practice we discover there really is no line. There are only parameters which are inherently subjective and largely dependent upon individual interpretation.
The lessons in the ritual appear to be sending mixed signals. On one hand, a brother's zeal for the institution earns him favor and esteem while on the other, a failure to regulate his passions may subject him to the contempt of his brethren. The brother who aggressively seeks change in Freemasonry yet maintains a strong desire to adhere to Masonic principles must strike a delicate balance between the two. This is a particularly timely topic as our fraternity encounters dwindling numbers, decreasing influence in our communities, and what many perceive as a departure from the practice of true Freemasonry. In our efforts to meet these challenges head-on, we have experimented with new methods of degree conferrals and relaxed proficiency requirements. Discussions abound regarding membership campaigns, dues, Masonic education, fundraisers, etc. Not surprisingly, there is significant disagreement as to how we should proceed.
Freemasonry is supposed to be a gentle craft, free of envy and discord. I wondr, however, whether the lack of zeal for the institution is not at the heart of many of our problems. Has the laid-back demeanor we are expected to maintain curtailed the sense of urgency we should all be feeling? Has it encouraged apathy? Should those who have a sincere passion for our craft continue to sit idly and patiently by and be satisfied with the status quo while the fraternity wallows in the doldrums? Silence and circumspection are indeed virtues that have their proper place in our Masonic characters, but they are not effective avenues for addressing issues that rob modern Freemasonry of its potential. Freemasonry has suffered much more from errors of omission than it has from errors of commission. An ever- growing number of Freemasons look at the current state of Freemasonry as a call to arms against indifference, innovation, and tired old thinking. They stand ready to infuse the craft with the zeal that made Freemasonry the world's greatest and most popular fraternity.
This new brand of zeal has not been met with open arms by many brethren including some of the occupants of Freemasonry's bully pulpits. Generational gaps, failure to embrace the internet age, and a puzzling acceptance of the current state of Freemasonry stand in the way of its return to prominence. More and more, proponents for change are subjected to censorship and even suspension from the fraternity. Freemasonry faces a myriad of problems that are serious threats to its future. Solving these problems involves making hard decisions that many will not agree with. It likewise leads to spirited debate that can foster the kind of overzealousness we are cautioned against. I am not a subscriber to "the Grand Master's mother wears army boots" school of thought. Personal attacks and invective have no place in a fraternity founded on the principle of brotherly love and every effort should be made to avoid them. That said, it is not a Masonic offense to demand accountability from our leaders who have been handed thereins of Freemasonry and are charged with preserving its reputation. Individual brothers would do well to temper their zeal and subdue their passions. Grand Masters and others who hold sway over the conduct of Masons would do equally well to avoid being thin-skinned or poised with regulation books in hand, ready to pounce upon any sign of dissent.
When perusing a list of famous Freemasons, we see the names of many of our founding fathers, thirteen U.S. Presidents, great generals, astronauts, inventors, and scientists. While I know very little about the Masonic careers of most of these men, the one common thread they share is that they were men of action. They were not afraid to act boldly and decisively when the situation called for it. While we should neither speak just to hear the sound of our own voices nor throw caution to the wind, Freemasonry never needed men of action more than it does right now. Freemasonry has arrived at a critical crossroads. While it is paramount that we remain conscious of that circle that surrounds us at all times, we should not be afraid to display the zeal for the institution that merited us the honor of becoming Master Masons.
- Source: Knights of the North Masonic Dictionary