By Elbert W. Davis
Past Grand Lecturer Grand Lodge F. & A.M. of California
In the old charges of 1723 we find some admonitions concerning “behavior in the presence of strangers, not Masons.”
“You chall be cautious in your words and carriage, that the most prenetrating stranger shall not be able to discover of find out what is not propert to be intimated, and sometimes not divert a discourse and manage it prudently for the honor for the worshipful Fraternity”
” You are to act as becomes a moral and wise man, particularly not to let your family, friends and neighbvors know the caoncerns of the lodge, etc. But wisely consult your own honor and that of the brotherhood for reasons not to be mentioned here.”
One of the strictest of the unwritten laws of Freemasonry is the rule that prohibits the solicitation of a candidate by any Mason. Every man who enters the portals of a Masonic Lodge must come of his own free will and accord.
So far ingrained in our Masonic law, is this rule against solicitation, that is has been unquestionably caused most Masons to refrain completely from discussing Freemasonry with friends and acquaintances who are not Masons.
The failure of the Masonic institution to make knows to the public, that is to non-Masons, its principles and purposes have, in the past, resulted in both suspicion and antagonism toward Masonry. People are naturally inclined to be suspicious or fearful of those things of which they are ignorant. In the true sense of the word, Freemasonry is not a secret society but is rather a society which possesses certain secrets.
A real secret society is one in which the membership is not known. In that sense, Freemasonry is quite well known to the uninitiated. We do not attempt to hide our membership. A large percentage of our membership wears pins or rings bearing well-known emblems of the craft. We do not meet in secret places. We meet in Temples, or Masonic Centers and Halls, which are well marked as Masonic– oftentimes with signs bearing the square and compass== and we meet at meetings which are quite well advertised. What is actually supposed to be secret about the institution of Freemasonry is its ritual. The fundamental principles of Masonry which are taught by that ritual, however, are or could be, well known, and most of them are not even principles peculiar to the Masonic institution.
Anything written here should not be construed as in any way, indicating or even intimating that the rule against solicitation should be relaxed. The candidate for the mysteries of Masonry must always come to us by his own free will and accord, unbiased by friends and uninfluenced by mercenary motives, and he must so formally declare before he enters a Lodge room. It must be his own personal desire which has brought him to the point of petitioning for the degrees of Masonry.
But all of this is entirely compatible with the true answer to the question:
What can a Mason discuss with his non-Masonic friends concerning Freemasonry?
Of course, it must be assumed that every candidate for Masonry know something about it, because he is required to declare to the Marshall upon his honor that he is prompted to solicit the priveledges of Masonry by a favorable opinion conceived of the institution, a desire to knowledge, and a sincere wish to be serviceable to fellow creatures.
Probably the first question that would come to mind of the uninitiated would be, What is Freemasonry? We define it in our written monitorial work as “a progressive moral science divided into different degrees”. This definition probably would not satisfy and would mean practically nothing to the non-Mason. Freemasonry might be defined such a person as a fraternal society which is based on certain moral and religious doctrines; the moral doctrines including Brotherly love, Relief and Truth; Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice; and the religious doctrines comprising a belief in God and a future existence; sometimes shortened to the statement “of a belief in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.”
There is no reason at all, why this subject should not be discussed quite freely with a non-Mason. The fact of the matter is that the philosophy of Masonry is freely discussed in thousands of printed volumes available to Masons and non-Masons alike. Some Grand Lodges have attempted to phrase the Masonic principles or Masonic creed in various forms.
For instance, the Grand Lodge of Maryland has stated a Masonic Creed in the following language.
“I—as a Master Mason– believe in the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. I will do unto others as I would have
them do unto me. I pledge my loyalty to the government of the United States of America, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, and will not contenance disloyalty of the part of others. Freemasonry is founded upon these principles and I will use my utmost effort to preserve them for posterity”
The statement goes further than most Grand Lodges would go, in the view of the universality of Masonry and membership in our Lodges of some who are not even citizens of the United States. But it is at least an attempt to state a Creed.
One question which often comes from non-Masons is this: “How does one become a member?”
“Why have I not been asked to join?” In any such discussion, of course, the non-Mason should be told that, unlike the members of other fraternal organizations, Masons are forbidden to solicit anyone to become a member, and that any prospective member must apply on his own free will and accord, and further, that he must pass a unanimous ballot for admission. It must be free will and accord on both sides.
One question which any non-Mason might ask, and which can be freely discussed with him is the relationship of Masonry to religion and to the churches of any denomination. Masonry has as I have said, certain fundamental religious tenets–just two, a belief in God and a belief in a future existence.
The inquirer should be told that Masonry is not a religion in any sense of the word; but it is religious, and that no atheist can ever be made a Mason. As the Old Charges approved in 1723 put it, “if he rightly understands the art, he will never be a stupid atheist nor an irreligious libertine, ” it was said:
“But though in ancient times Masons were charged in every country to be the religion of that country or naotion, whatver it was, yet it is not thought more expedient only to oblige them to that religion in which all men agree, leaving thier particular opinions to themselves; that is, to be good men and true, or men of honor and honestly, by whatever denominations of persuasions they may be distinguidsed; whereby Masonry becomes the center of union, and the means of concilitating true friendship among persons that must else have remained ast a perpetual distance”.
Masonry does not require membership in any church as a condition of membership in a Lodge. On the other hand, membership in any church is no bar to admission to Masonry. There is nothing in the requirement of Mansory to prevent a Roman Catholic, a Moslem, a Buddhist, a Mormon, a Protestant or a member of any religious group from becoming a Mason. Any bar is one prescribed by the church to which he may belong. There is nothing wrong in telling a non-Mason that, or telling him that the discussion of sectarian religion is prohibited in every Masonic Lodge. One might also ask whether Masonry is a political organization. He can be told that apart from statewide public school questions, no political discussion would be permitted in any Masonic Lodge. Here again, I might refer to the Old Charges, where we are told:
“A Mason is to be a peaceful suject to the civil powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concerned in plots and conspiracies against the peace and welfare of the nation, nor to behave himself undutifly to inferior magistrates; or as Masonry hath been always injured by war, bloodshed and confusion, so ancient kings and princes have been much disposed to encourage the craftsmen because of their peaceablness and loyalty, whereby they practically answere the cavils of their adverceries and prmoted the honor of the fraternity, which every flourished in times of peace.”
Another question a non-Mason might ask is whether Masonry is a benefit society, like the many fraternal societies offering insurance and death benefits. This is something which can be and certainly ought to be discussed, to avoid any misunderstanding by a prospective candidate. The idea that the Masonic fraternity takes care of all its members and their widows is a myth, which has distressed many a widow of a deceased Mason. The inquirer should be told that we have no insurance benefits and that while Masons are second to none in their charitable endeavors, as is evidenced by our Masonic Homes for Adults and Childres, nevertheless it would be financially impossible for the Fraternity to care for all of its members. The dues paid by our members to their Lodges each year provide little surplus for any Lodge, and it would be a mathematical and financial impossibility for any Lodge to render aid except to those in dire distress.
Another subject which could certainly be discussed with a non-Mason is the history of the Masonic society and its evolution from the Operatives, the builders of the Middle Ages, who created the great Gothic cathedrals, churches and other structures in the British Isles and on the continent of Europe. There are many interesting topics of Masonic History which are perfectly proper to be discussed and might possibly excite the interest of serious-minded listeners who are not Masons. You could not, of course, discuss with a non-Mason anything concerning ritual, nor the internal affairs of your Lodge, other than to say that the ceremonies of Masonry are of a serious and dignified nature, without levity of horseplay. Certainly, every candidate should be told this, and should not be permitted to listen to the remarks of the unthinking brethren about “riding the goat” and similar intimidations that the candidate is entering into something like a high school fraternity. Such intimations are unworthy of the serious institution which Masonry is.
To sum up the answer to the question, there are but few subjects concerning Freemasonry and the principles for which it stands, which cannot be freely discussed with any non-Mason, as the ancients phrased it, “For the honor of the worshipful Fraternity”.
The California Masonic Code reference to this topic is included below:
Discussing Masonry with the Non-Mason (1993 G.M. Decision No. 2)
Masonry has distinguished itself from other fraternal and service organizations by an important tradition: no man may be solicited or invited to become a Mason. An applicant for the degrees of Masonry must be motivated by a favorable impression of the fraternity. He must seek membership of his own free will and accord.
While the tradition may be simply stated, its application in the real world has left even experienced Masons in doubt as to the propriety of discussing our fraternity with non-Masons for fear that our anti-solicitation rule will be violated. Because our anti-solicitation rule is part of our traditions and not our California Masonic Code, there is no place where the Mason can turn for help in understanding the boundaries of propriety in discussing Masonry with the non-Mason. It is hoped that this decision will provide guidance in this area.
Although the origin of our prohibition on solicitation is unknown, it has been widely misinterpreted by well-meaning Masons. It has been carried to extremes when a member refrains from discussing the fraternity with an interested prospective member. This attitude is far more prevalent than we like to admit and has undoubtedly deterred many good men from joining our fraternity.
There is a distinct difference between solicitation and information. Solicitation is the active and persistent attempt to influence somebody to do something. It can involve the use of pressure or promises of certain favors. This approach to a prospective member is certainly unacceptable to the Masonic fraternity.
On the other hand, a man of character will not join an organization of which he has little or no knowledge. If he is unfamiliar with the details of Masonic membership, there is little chance that he will be interested until he has been exposed to some information, through friends or relatives. Offering information is not solicitation.
A member may provide information on the purposes and principles of Freemasonry to an interested inquirer. He may freely answer questions about the organization of the fraternity, membership requirements, financial obligations, expectations of members, personal development, charities, community service, family activities and many other subjects which would help a prospective member decide whether he wishes to apply for membership of his own free will and accord. A member may not discuss the ritual of the degrees of Masonry with the prospective member, except to explain that the ceremonies contain serious lessons which are highly regarded by Masons. Any further explanation would diminish the impact of the degrees on the candidate.
Masons may sponsor programs to explain what Masonry is and invite non-Masons to the program in an attempt to create a favorable impression toward the fraternity. Our Masonic
Information programs in California have been used successfully by our Lodges to create such a favorable impression without crossing the line separating information from solicitation.
A member may ask a man whom he believes to be a worthy prospective Mason if he has considered membership in the Masonic fraternity or if he would like to have information to enable him to make such a decision. A member must inform the prospective member or inquirer that the fraternity does not extend an invitation to become a member, that his application must be made of his own free will and accord, and that he must pass a secret ballot for admission.
After providing the information, the inquirer or prospect should be left to make his own decision without persuasion. If the inquirer makes no decision within a reasonable time, the member may make a single follow-up contact to see if additional information is needed.
Great care should be taken when a Mason approaches a non-Mason under circumstances which might imply some coercion or intimidation. For example, a supervisor at work should be very careful when approaching a subordinate. An older family member should be very careful when approaching a younger family member. Under no circumstance should a prospective member be led to believe that certain favors or benefits will result from his membership, except that he may be made aware of the program of care provided for elderly members and their spouses through our Masonic Homes, if their conditions eventually warrant such care.
All communications with a prospective member should be courteous and friendly. Information about the fraternity should be factual. If questions cannot be answered adequately, the member should seek assistance from other members.