I ran across this great writing in the summer edition of the Royal Arch Magazine. I read it and thought that many of you could use it in defending our great fraternity. I'd like to thank the Reverend Roy Gilkey for his willingness to let me re-print it here....and for allowing me to discover a new found Brother! Derek.
If Religion It May Be Called
by Rev. Roy L. Gilkey
As a pastor and a master mason, I have had experiences with the misconceptions of freemasonry. It is the purpose of this paper to relate some of these experiences and how I have answered these misconceptions. In the process of doing so, I will be examining the connection of freemasonry with religion. Freemasonry makes this connection very clear. Not every brother is sure of this connection nor have masons have always done well in informing those outside of fraternity. Those who would deem themselves enemies of the fraternity have distorted the relationship of freemasonry and religion especially to make their point that masonry is a cult or a false religion. I have encountered these attitudes and have had to answer them as a pastor and as a brother master mason. In this discourse, I want to share those answers with all who might find them of benefit.
This paper is in the form of a narrative not a research paper. Several members of the craft have done research in this area. I have benefited from their study. I am most grateful to those brethren who so long ago developed the wording of the ritual. A person doesn't need to look further than the the ritual itself to see the true nature of masonry's relationship to religion. Over the years, there have been many brethren who have offered further clarification in masonic books and articles. I have benefited greatly from their eloquence which is far greater than mine. The knowledge that I have gained from them is a part of me from my forty years as a master mason reading and growing in masonic knowledge. It would be exhaustive to go back and catalog the material I have read and studied over those years. It is not my purpose to do so or footnote quotes from those sources of my knowledge. The plan is to make this a narrative of my observations as a brother who happens to work as a pastor. I apologize for the weakness of such an approach. I pray that along with the weakness there might also be some strength.
WHAT IT IS
Freemasonry has always been crystal clear as to what it is. At the beginning of a brother's masonic journey, he learns that:
FREEMASONRY IS A BEAUTIFUL SYSTEM OF MORALS
VEILED IN ALLEGORY AND ILLUSTRATED BY SYMBOLS.
ITS TENENTS ARE BROTHERLY LOVE, RELIEF, AND TRUTH.
ITS CARDINAL VIRTURES ARE TEMPERANCE, FORTITUDE, PRUDENCE, AND JUSTICE.
ITS RELIGION, IF RELIGION IT MAY BE CALLED,
IS AN UNFEIGNED BELIEF IN THE ONE LIVING AND TRUE GOD.
Not only is the brother at the beginning of his masonic journey told what masonry is in these words, but he is given the opportunity to stop his journey at that point should he object in any way. It has been my observation that some brothers never fully understand what they have been told here. On more than one occasion, I have had a brother say to me that if a brother would just live according to the promises he made in his obligation and just lives according to the principles of masonic teaching, he would be right with God, be saved, and go to heaven. There is nothing in the ritual that says that. The brother is making of freemasonry something that it does not claim to be. Enemies of freemasonry who claim it to be a religion may get that idea from ill-informed brethren who make it their religion by such statements. Freemasonry is not a religion. It HAS a religion--if religion it may be called. That religion it has is an un-pretended belief in the one living and true God. It is not defined beyond that statement. This is hardly what could constitute or be defined a religion. In the York Rite and Scottish Rite degrees which are sometimes referred to as the universities of freemasonry, that line is never crossed that would take a brother into a religion. Freemasonry draws on examples from the Judio-Christian scriptures to illustrate morality, but never as statements of religious doctrine or creed. Freemasonry must always be taken as what it is and it tells us what it is--A BEAUTIFUL SYSTEM OF MORALS with one requirement from religion--AN UNFEIGNED BELIEF IN THE ONE LIVING AND TRUE GOD.
It is hard criticize a person as a truck driver when he is a doctor. It is unfair to criticize a person for being a bad carpenter when he is a lawyer. It has been my observation that the most common criticism of masonry is that it is a false religion. It can never be fairly criticized as a religion. It can only be fairly criticized as a system of moral teaching. I have known several brothers who foster that misconception in others about masonry. We need to correct our lesser informed brethren. We also need to answer those outside the fraternity who would claim us to be a religion. It has been my observation that masonry is doing better now at informing those outside the fraternity than it did in past years. When some members of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1990's proposed a ban on masonic membership, masons became more active in putting forth the truth. The Scottish Rite Journal at that time published a special issue which is still a must read for anyone who would answer the critics who make the charge that freemasonry is a religion. The fraternity's position in the past was that masonry should ignore its critics. That has changed and to the better, I believe.
The sword against falsehood is the truth. A truth I start with is that I was a Christian before I became a mason. If I ever had encountered in masonry something that conflicted with my belief in Christianity or my personal devotion and relationship with Christ as my Lord, I would not now be a mason. I add that if I ever hereafter should encounter such a thing, I will still leave the fraternity. It has not happened in the forty years that I have been a mason. Having been through the York and Scottish Rites, I feel sure that it never will happen.
I find that it is really easier to correct the conceptions of those outside of the fraternity than to correct the misconceptions of the brothers in it. To masons, our faith is a personal matter and not to be discussed or approached unless invited by the brother by his opening the subject. This is true as we act as masons in the lodge or relate to each other in the context as masons. There are many brethren who do not bring up the subject of religion. Once a brother does, it is appropritate to draw his attention to religious claims that he is according to masonry that masonry does not make. It is my observation that misinformed brethren do more harm to masonry in this matter than our enemies. In these days when proficiencies are no longer required and brethren no longer have a coach, it seems to me that we have more ill-informed or partially informed brethren.
Another statement from the ritual refers to the obligation and to the masonic membership which the obligation that the obligation entails. It says that FREEMASONRY IS NOT TO INTERFERE WITH YOUR DUTIES TO GOD, YOUR NEIGHBOR, OR YOURSELF. The first thing we notice in this statement is that masonry places itself forth at best. The second thing is that masonry assumes that we HAVE duties to God, our neighbor, and ourselves outside of the lodge. God is placed first in our priority of duties. This would presume that your duty to God would be well above your duty to masonry. This you are to perform in your own way and through your own faith. Freemasonry recognizes that your highest duty is to God--the one living and true God in whom you professed your trust to become a mason. By being faithful to your trust in God, you are living the highest duty that masonry recognizes. Freemasonry does not presume to direct this most sacred and personal duty. Your duty to your neighbor is one that recognizes your obligation to society. If you are a good neighbor in your community, a good worker in your place of employment, and faithful in all civic responsibilities you have fulfilled the second highest responsibility that masonry recognizes. Your duty to yourself includes all of your household. Your duty to your family and the well-being of yourself and family is the third duty that masonry recognizes. Finally, in forth position we have our duty to the lodge. It is a wonderful brotherhood with moral teachings that should help us realize the other duties that go before it in a better way. I remember the description of masonry that I received early in my masonic education that masonry is not a religion, but it is a help in living the life that you desire to live for God. A BEAUTIFUL SYSTEM OF universally accepted MORALS, what else can it be but a aid to one's religion.
Freemasonry says what it is. It is important that we also say what it is and what it is not.
WHAT IT IS NOT
The main charge I have heard from Christians is that freemasonry is a false religion. Most commonly, it is stated or inferred that masonry is "devil worship", a cult, or some practice of the occult. There seems to be more and more anti-masonic "hate" literature available that makes these claims. One case in point is the Chick Publishing Company which produces materials in comic book format. They produce a series of pocket sized comics that present their position on various issues. Some of these are attacks on masonry. One of these makes the claim that masons worship a goat-headed demon named Baphomet. We are in very good company as the Catholic Church and many other groups are also attacked by them. Some television evangelists such as John Ankerberg have had series of broadcasts attacking masonry as a cult of false religion. We have already established that freemasonry is not a religion let alone a false religion. It is imperitive that masons refute this charge whenever it is made. This is one charge where silence is not a response that will work.
Not long after I took over my current pastorate, a wonderful lady of faith made the statement that masons worship another God. I had no trouble in speaking to her in Christian love and correcting her misconception. She had encountered some of this anti-masonic broadcasts and literature. It was a matter of explaining to her what masonry is and also what it is not. It helped that many local masons belong to our church. We in masonry refer to the one living and true God by the term THE GREAT ARCHITECT OF THE UNIVERSE. This title of the Deity is sometimes abbreviated GAOTU in masonic literature. Those who are making the case that freemasonry is a false religion like to seize upon this abbreviation and claim that it is the name of a false god that we worship. In explaining the term to which the letters refer, it is easy to show that we are referring to God whom all major religions approach in their own way. We show that we recognize Him as the creator and sustainer of our universe and our lives. I always like to say that as God created the universe and us who inhabit it, masonry has us reflect on the fact that we also are to be builders. We are to build the moral character which is taught in our place of worship as pleasing to God.
I made a great decision in masonry when I decided to join the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. The very first thing I did after joining was to read through the entire volume of Albert Pike's MORALS AND DOGMA. This was a exciting and wonderful journey well worth the time and the labor to do so. Albert Pike was a remarkable scholar in comparative religions. His scholarship stands well not only for his own time, but also in ours. His fascination was for the ancient religions and ancient rites. They made excellent points of departure for studying morality and comparing religious dogma because they were dead religions. Since nobody believed or practiced these religions, they could be use without offending any faith that brethren held sacred. They could also show trends that mankind has made in the practice of religion and their understanding of Deity. It has been my observation that most of the arguments used to substantiate that freemasonry is a false religion comes from quotes taken from MORALS AND DOGMA. These are taken out of context and Pike's intention in the lectures. I feel that few brethren read MORALS AND DOGMA any more, but masonry's critics do. It is hard to rebuke those argument that come from it if one does not know what Pike said and context in which he said it. True brother that he was, Albert Pike spoke of religious matters, but never crossed that line we mentioned before--that line that leaves religion, beyond the unfeigned belief in the one living and true God, to the individual brother's own spiritual journey. For the brother who would refute the critics of masonry claiming it to be a false religion, he does need to be prepared to read MORALS AND DOGMA. This is the only place I've ever found where the name Baphomet is mentioned, only in twice in passing as related to an ancient religion. Pike can be tough sledding so be prepared. You will find that Albert Pike advocated one thing that many of his critics and the critics of masonry are not fond of. That is the freedom of thought not only academically but also in the examination of one's religion. So you must also be prepared to abandon the fight if you find yourself talking to one outside of masonry who is sure that he or she knows more about masonry than you do. You can never convince those who say, "Don't confuse me with the facts. My mind is already made up." You will find that those who thus stand have a brief day in the sun before others realize who they are and how they think.
Another thing that freemasonry is not is that it is not a secret society. It seems that all the time there are new writings that claim that freemasonry is part of what will lead to a one world government, or part of a conspiracy to establish a one world order. This hints of the coming anti-christ that is spoken of in the Bible. The only world order that freemasonry can be accused of is that of democracy as evident in the United States, England, and other democratic nations in Europe and the world. The freedom of thought and the freedom of religion taught in masonry has had an effect on the world, but not one that a totalitarian ruler of the world would welcome. It has been effective for me to point out freemasonry's influence on our American Revolution and the establishment of our government in answering these charges. It is hard for people to conceive of George Washington and the other founding fathers who were masons as those who would attempt and ungodly one world order or even a totalitarian order. As you add to the list of prominent people in history who were masons, the argument of their being a part of a sinister secret society becomes patently ridiculous.
The very listing of famous people who were masons further proves that freemasonry is not a secret society. Their masonic membership was well known. One can point out that those who are masons in the community today are well known. Their pictures appear in the local paper in articles about lodge functions. The place and time of lodge meetings are publicized. You can draw people's attention to books in local bookstores and libraries that present the teachings and principles of masonry. I like to mention the kinds of things that ARE secret in masonry and that those relate to similar kinds of secrets that are in other organization as well. In fact, I make the point that many other organizations to which they belong or might join were formed in imitation of masonry.
We live in a world which seems to be fascinated by conspiracy theories. We can expect that some will target masonry as a factor in their conspiracies. I believe there was even one trying to tie the Jack the Ripper murders on masons. We also live in a world that is fascinated with eschatology (the study of how the world may end). It will be popular to for some to target masonry in scenarios of the end of time. We are not a religion, a secret society, or a political body that might be utilized by either. We are a BEAUTIFUL SYSTEM OF MORALS VEILED IN ALLEGORY AND ILLUSTRATED BY SYMBOLS.
The last thing that I will discuss from my observation of those who do not understand that masonry is not a religion is that they misunderstand and react at symbols that we use. Symbols are powerful images in carrying meanings. The flag of our country is the symbol of our country. As such, many citizens have powerful feelings about how it should be treated and respected. The dove that represents peace, the skull and crossbones that represents poison, the icons on our traffic signs, all communicate powerful meanings or warnings. From the development of speculative masonry, symbols have been one of masonry's prime methods of communication. A big part of the degrees of masonry is learning these symbols and their moral meanings. They are potent symbols with certain meanings to the craft, but the uninformed do not share these meanings. Many if not most of these meaning can be shared to clarify meaning to those who do not understand. Freemasonry is an organization with a few secrets, but it is not a secret organization. What we believe and teach morally is not secret.
The most frequent symbol I have found myself explaining to those who do not understand is the Eastern Star symbol. I will use it therefore as an example. The question I often get is, "Why is there a pentagram on the masonic lodge's signs?" By pentagram, they are referring to the satanist symbol of the five-pointed star with the single point pointed down and the head of a goat often inscribed inside with the goat's horns in the two upper points and the goat's beard in the lower point. The star is oriented the same as the eastern star symbol. In answer, I mention that symbols are not the property of one group. They do not have the same meaning from one group to another nor do they have the same meaning at different times in history. The swastika before the Nazis was a revered symbol to the ancient Greeks. The Eastern Star symbol refers to the scripture For we have seen His star in the east and are come to worship Him--Matthew 2:2. The star points down in indication that God was coming down to be among men according to this scripture. By showing the true meaning of the symbol and explaining that the Eastern Star is based on heroines of the Bible and the moral teachings suggested by their lives, I find that the issue is almost always resolved. There will always be those among the uninitiated who will not understand our use of symbols. We must be prepared to answer them with the truth.
I am proud to be a Christian pastor and I am proud to be a master mason of forty years. I have known pastors who are masons who tended to keep the fact a secret. I do not hide my masonic membership or service. God is truth. That is a statement that I feel must be universal to all who would know the Great Artificer of the Universe. Not only is it my greatest duty which is recognized by masonry to seek my Creator with all my being, but I must stand for truth, walk in truth, and speak the truth. It is my duty to speak the truth about masonry to those who would misunderstand it as a religion. I must speak truth of masonry as to its relationship to religion. To do less would be a violation to my duties to God, my neighbor, myself and family, and the brotherhood of masonry. This has been my narrative of my doing so. I apologize for any weakness of scholarship or things I might have added to make this narrative more complete. It is my prayer and hope that what I have shared might be of use to any who might read it. I leave it in the care of the one living and true God in whom I profess to put my trust.
Roy L. Gilkey
June 29, 2006
Rev. Roy L. Gilkey 32 Dg, KYCH
12249 Hwy KK
Crocker, Mo 65452
(573) 736-5328 Cell: (573) 842-7591
Pastor, Brays Advent Christian Church
PM, Waynesville Lodge # 375, Waynesville, Mo.
PM, Rolla Lodge # 213, Rolla, Mo.
WM, Iberia Lodge # 410, Iberia, Mo.
PHP, Rolla Chapter # 32, RAM, Rolla, Mo.
PIM, Rolla Council # 39 R&SM, Rolla, Mo.
PEC, Rolla Commandry # 59, Rolla, Mo.
EC, Prince of Peace Commandry # 59 KT, Jefferson City, Mo.
PDDGHP, Region 4-B, RAM of Missouri
PDDGL, Region 4-B, RAM of Missouri
GM3V, RAM of Missouri