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The Decline in Masonic Membership
It's not completely our fault

by James W Hogg


This article details the thoughts and perceptions of the author, who grew up in the 1960's and 1970's, as a member of the baby boom generation. It is not meant to assert that there is only one way of viewing the events leading up to the present. Necessarily, some generalizations have been made in presenting this material. Any good lawyer will acknowledge that, for the most part, there is an exception to every rule. Where reference is made to a "liberal" view, this describes a philosophical theory or belief- not a political commentary. The author has attempted to write in a politically neutral style. "Liberalism" is known to transcend both of the political parties in our two party system of politics in the United States. Members of both of these parties hold liberal beliefs to various extent. There are many different ways to look at things. The purpose of this article is to provoke serious thinking, brought to your attention by a member of one group Masonry would like to target for future membership growth. This article merely advances some of these viewpoints as perceived by the author.

Agenda of social engineers of the 60's

Society has changed dramatically since the heyday of Freemasonry after World War II. These were the days of unprecedented growth in America's economy, bringing with it prosperity and a wide variety of well paying jobs. During these years, it was possible for the average wage earner to raise a family on one income. We were rebuilding our economy in the wake of the war with many new manufacturing jobs. Back in those years, America was the innovator and virtually all the well made products came from the industrialized countries, such as the United States, Germany, and Great Britain. "Made in the U. S. A." became a mark of quality. Then came the 1960's. What changed? We had a new liberal focus on the way things should be for a better future. Along with this came the civil rights protests in the South, resulting in new laws being passed by the legislature in Washington guaranteeing civil rights to everyone. This conjures up images of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I have a dream" speech. No longer would segregated schools and racial discrimination in this great land of ours be tolerated. Now, there were laws on the books to prevent this type of discrimination against others because of their race. Today, these laws are also being applied with respect to gender. Recent developments in the law provide that one cannot discriminate against an individual because she happens to be a woman. Examples of this are the U. S. armed forces and the B.P.0. Elks. Today, both must accept women among their ranks. This new outlook was to have a profound influence on not only Freemasonry, but other fraternal organizations and private clubs throughout the United States.

Results of this change - tax code, public accommodation laws, disdain for private groups

The social engineers of the 60's saw this as an opportunity to re-mold our society and change things to dismantle the old ways of doing business. This was the beginning of a new attitude toward private groups and fraternal organizations. These groups were seen as hotbeds of racial discrimination and no longer of use to a civilized society where everyone was supposed to be equal. It was thought that because these groups selected those with whom they wanted to be associated with by ballot of the membership, this was tantamount to discrimination. It was also a well known fact that membership in certain of these organizations benefitted the members in their business endeavors. Frequently, business meetings were held within the rooms of private clubs. Thus, the social engineers asked, "why should members of private clubs be permitted to use their memberships in these clubs to benefit themselves financially?" They saw this as the epitome of an "old boy's" network, to which those who were not white male Caucasians were excluded from participation.

With this general analysis as a base, new laws were promulgated. The result is the familiar rubric of Internal Revenue tax code regulations concerning what a tax exempt organization can and cannot do with respect to retaining its tax exempt status. Also, the public accommodation laws on the federal level came into being, severely restricting what a private group could do if it wished to remain private and keep its Constitutional First Amendment right of freedom of association. To quote from coverage of the General Governor's report contained in the August/September 1997 issue of Moose Magazine, which is the international publication of the Loyal Order of Moose: "The Private Policy, which essentially states that only members of the Loyal Order of Moose and the Women of the Moose may enjoy full Social Quarters privileges within our Lodges, was emphasized throughout the General Governor's report [to the 109th International Convention]. He noted that in the U. S., the Internal Revenue Service has recently stiffened enforcement and penalties against fraternal and veterans' organizations that sell merchandise to non-members. 'Sales to non-members threaten a Lodge's right to privacy and its not-for profit status,' said [David A.] Chainbers [the out-going General Governor]. 'The rule is simple; you are either a member or a guest, but you cannot be both. Non-members cannot make purchases in our Lodges. In other words, non-members cannot spend one penny. Moose Magazine, p. 14. [emphasis ill original]. From all of this, it is very clear that our Federal Government has a complete disdain for private organizations for many of the reasons outlined above.

Case in point - Judge David B. Sentelle.

President Reagan nominated judge Sentelle on February 2, 1987, to be a U. S. circuit judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit. judge Sentelle happens to be a prominent Mason from North Carolina, having been unanimously confirmed by the U. S. Senate on October 16, 1985, to be a U. S. District Court judge for the Western District of North Carolina. It seems that this time, his membership in the Masonic fraternity became of issue during the nomination and confirmation process in the Senate. The issue raised there should be very familiar to everyone by now: invidious racial discrimination. After a lengthy discourse about what the fraternity represents, a tally of present and past U. S. Presidents and legislators as being Masons, and a reference to our own Sovereign Grand Commander advising that Freemasonry does not discriminate based on race, color or creed, judge Sentelle was confirmed. Freemasonry was under attack in the United States Senate of all places! I recommend as required reading the Senate proceeding, which contains the details of this account. It can be found in the 100th Congress, First Session, p. S-1 1868 to 11870, which was re-printed in Transactions, The American Lodge of Research, F &A M., Vol XV, No. 3 - 1983.

Government being the answer to everything

The liberal view of government also embraced the concept that government was the answer to everything. No matter what the problem was, it could be solved by establishing another government agency on the federal level. All we had to do was give this new agency money to address whatever happened to be the problem of the day. A perfect solution would be found and implemented by the agency and all would be well with the world. This attitude began with Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" era, later to be refined during Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society". Indeed, government also grew in latter years during George Bush's administration with tax increases and more government regulation imposed on the people. It was not until the late 60's where we finally achieved deficit spending on the federal level on a recurring basis. The belief was, and still is today, that we can spend and tax our way out of all the problems facing us. High taxes are necessary to maintain a large and strong central government. This Is one reason why it takes two incomes to accomplish today what one income could do in the 1950's. The general public is generally thought to have insufficient knowledge to know what is best for them. Thus, the need for a large and strong central government. After all, someone needs to protect the people from themselves.

Vietnam era protests, anti-establishment views

The protest movement surrounding the Vietnam War added fire to this new liberal view of government. The post World War II baby boomers growing up in the 50's and 60's did not want to fight in this unpopular war in Southeast Asia. Many asked: just what was the U. S. really doing there in the first place? These young people saw those running our country as the establishment and they wanted change. Many saw versions of socialism as the answer to all of our, problems. Not coincidentally, the belief was that private groups and clubs, such as Freemasonry, were part of the establishment. In the eyes of these baby boomers, this was considered bad. We had a big central government now to take care of all our needs. Private groups and clubs were no longer considered relevant in this newly re-engineered society. Another thing that did not set well with these baby boomers was the way in which our returning Vietnam Veterans were generally treated by our society. They were openly criticized and, for the most part, not welcomed back after serving in the armed forces. This was quite a stark contrast from the welcome that awaited those returning from military service after World War 11. It is interesting to note that today, many of these baby boomers are now running our country. It is no small wonder that they feel the way they do about private organizations such as ours!

The Re-engineering of our Educational system.

Concerning perceptions gained by our youth regarding fraternal organizations, there is one other dynamic that comes into play and that concerns how our children have been educated in the recent past. The social engineers also were able to influence our institutions of higher learning, convincing educators that the new liberal view of government was good for the country and would vastly improve the standard of living for everyone - particularly those who were poor or disadvantaged. The siren call was irresistible. Who could possibly be against helping the poor and enhancing educational and occupational opportunities for the disadvantaged? Opposing these ideals would be un-American! Thus, we instituted a socially responsible curriculum in America's schools and colleges. Those of us who grew up under this new system were taught all about the evils of race discrimination and how the government was there to help us, doing many great things for the people. We were also taught that collective bargaining was good for America and that, generally, big business was greedy and had no interest in its workers' well being. We were also taught that the Keynesian theory of economics was the universal and accepted way of studying business and economic cycles in America. Let us not forget the concept of new math - also a product of the 60's. None of our educational materials ever mentioned Freemasonry, the Moose, Elks, the American Legion, V. F. W., or the many other worthy organizations in existence at the time. Only one time do I recall a passing reference to the Grange and its relationship to farming being mentioned in connection with a social studies course I had in grade school. None of the schools I attended ever had any programs where groups such as these ever conducted a program or presentation for the students. I had never heard of Freemasonry until I was a junior in high school and then I happened upon it only because I was a stamp collector. To make matters worse, I could find nothing in my high school or university libraries that would tell me what Freemasonry was! (Note: I grew up in the Northeast.) This raises an interesting question: How can fraternal organizations encourage people to join them if prospective members have no clue as to what a fraternal organization does and has to offer? Put another way, people will not enter a store unless they perceive that there is something within that store which they can obtain to fulfill a need. Remember, however, that one major reason for this lack of available information was that private groups were seen as being part of what was wrong with America!

Change in corporate culture and financial rewards to employees.

The gradual shift in the moral perception of society is reflected in the new corporate culture in existence today. In the years that my father pursued his career, loyalty and hard work were usually rewarded by promotions and the ability to climb the corporate ladder to success. This made career planning relatively easy. Also, many companies shared their profits with the employees because, after all, they were the ones who made the wheels turn generating corporate earnings. When the company did well, so did the workers. Profit sharing today, generally, is now relegated to the top corporate executives and the shareholders of a corporation. When the workers do get profit sharing, it is not as generous as the way it was in the old days. A case in point is this: A neighbor who lived across the street from me while I was growing up received a profit sharing' bonus in the early 1950's amounting to $30,000 from her employer. (Note: that is $30,000 in early 1950's dollars. Think about what that would be worth today.) At the time, she was an executive secretary for a mining firm that mined Molybdenum, a mineral used in the steel making process. The company she worked for was a predecessor to another company, which is known today as Amerax. She informed me that everyone in the firm received bonuses like this that particular year, according to position and years of service. When she received her bonus, she was called into the President's office, made to feel comfortable, and told that the firm was grateful for her services as an employee. It was at that time she was handed the envelope containing the $30,000 check. In the years following, the bonuses were smaller, more typically amounting to anywhere from one half to 100% of her salary for the previous year. The story nowadays is different. While profit sharing does exist today, it rarely reaches heights such as in this example just described. There are, of course, exceptions - such as securities firms on Wall Street after an extraordinarily successful bull market year. As for wages in general, it should be noted that the relationship between a top executive's pay and the average worker's pay today continues to grow in disproportionate ways. This is a matter of public record. just pick up a proxy statement for almost any public corporation and this fact becomes very evident.

Loyalty generally goes unrewarded, employment security suffers.

Today, we are in an era of mergers and acquisitions, resulting in a constant re-engineering of a company's reason for existence. This generally means that downsizing for competitiveness is in order. This includes layoffs to make way for productivity advances through the use of technology and automation. Loyalty is generally no longer a part of the equation. An employee's loyalty to company A is meaningless when company B steps in and acquires company A. There is no longer employment security, especially after a merger has taken place or when an economic recession grips the economy. This is evidenced by the sheer number of workers who job hop regularly. The economic fortunes of a company are more tenuous today as well. For example, look at the Hudson Foods scare, where E.Coli bacteria was found in meat processed by this firm. This resulted in an expensive recall of processed meat, ultimately resulting in the company being sold to another corporation. One can only wonder if the owners of Hudson Foods received a fair price for their company! Consider also the number of jobs that were lost after Wells Fargo Corporation acquired First Interstate Bank Corp. and the former began downsizing the product of the two combined organizations. These are just two of many examples one could cite.

Civility in business is lacking.

Civility in competition between business existed in the 60's when I was growing up. Rarely did one see a business deprecating its competition in advertisements during that era. Today, one hears it on a daily basis. A case in point is the current burger war between McDonald's and Burger King. The tatter introduced a burger that is very similar to one marketed by McDonald's and has been advertising that "the Big King is better than the Big Mac because it's bigger and more tasty." Back then, this was just not done. The competitor was simply referred to as "brand X"

Freemasonry in prospective.

As Masons, we are all aware of what Freemasonry represents and what it teaches. I need not reiterate them here. Our ceremonies are beautiful and the lessons taught in them are great. There is no doubt about this. However, look at modern life today. We have experienced a decline in civility, increase in crime, and a general lack of concern for others. Would this condition exist today if our fraternity were as powerful and influential as it was years ago? That, unfortunately, is a question that none of us can really answer. We would all hope that the answer is a resounding "no." We must all attempt to find a way to make Freemasonry relevant and applicable to our fellow man in today's society. Failure to do this will mean Freemasonry's eventual extinction in future years.

Masonic Renewal Success is a journey, not a destination

A lot has changed in the United States in the last 40 years. Unfortunately, we in the Masonic Fraternity were not paying attention to these changes over those many years. One of the great things we have established in the fraternity, which is long overdue, is a Masonic Renewal Plan. We are attempting to define Freemasonry as it applies to society today. No longer is it possible for us to continue doing things as they have been done in the past. Today, we must identify benefits that we can confer on our new members, find new ways to satisfy their needs for associating with their fellow men, and new ways to benefit new Masons' families and their communities. Do we know what these needs are and how to fulfill them? After all, isn't this what we are really "selling" in our Masonic "store"? The only way we will be able to restore Masonry to its former position of respect in society is through hard work, good public relations, and providing solutions to the needs of today's society. We have some very capable brothers behind this effort, along with some very talented professionals to help us implement the plans. My prayers are that these efforts will pay off. However, the results will be hard won and will certainly come slowly. We must remember that true success is a journey and not a destination. There is no such thing as instant success in any field. We all must do the best we can if we want to preserve the rich heritage of our fraternity for those who will follow us in the years to come.

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Last modified: March 22, 2014