Lance Kennedy is a Texas Freemason, a writer, military officer, attorney, Ivy
League graduate, and seventh-generation Texan. He believes that knowledge is
not power. Knowledge is potential power. His mission is to acquire knowledge,
transfer its potentiality into actuality by gaining wisdom, and help others do
Brother Kennedy has written a prescription for his Grand Lodge’s declining
membership, the Grand Lodge of Texas AF & AM. While some of what he writes is
applicable only to Texas, there is enough “meat” here for everybody in the
Craft to gain some wisdom.
Membership is a burning issue in many Masonic jurisdictions. And the remedies
to boost membership across the nation can at times be classified as
ridiculous, self-defeating, inane and obnoxious.
Here, reprinted with permission, is Brother Kennedy’s sober, intellectual and
highly reasoned paper:
Brother Kennedy can be found imparting wisdom at his website
10 PROPOSITIONS FOR TEXAS FREEMASONRY
I am reticent to write this article because I know that it will cause
immediate backlash and consternation among some Brethren. However given the
current state of Freemasonry in Texas, with a rapidly declining membership
that is less and less influential in civic life, I must write. As Mencken
said, “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist
the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
Texas Freemasons may boast that every President and Vice-President of the
Republic of Texas was a Brother as were many heroes of the Alamo such as
Bowie, Crocket, and Travis, yet as it stands today we may claim a half-dozen
member of the Texas Legislature, maybe. Immediately I hear the retort, “You
can’t judge the Craft’s health based on the number of legislators it claims as
members!” Well, yes, I can. If we cannot claim a healthy membership in our
seats of power then we cannot claim to be a relevant and influential
organization. This is one of many metrics by which we can judge the health of
I have been a Mason for almost ten years. I love the Fraternity and because I
love it I must work towards rectifying the internal issues that have harmed
its chances of succeeding in our post-modern world. I believe Freemasonry
should not only improve the lives of its members but also be an agent of
change in wider society. We once founded nations, now we have a hard time
filling our lodge rooms. But I digress.
Thinking about the state of Freemasonry in Texas, I drafted a list of ten
propositions that I believe would help shore up the internal cohesiveness of
the Craft and prevent any further drift into the graveyard of fraternal orders
(i.e. Knights of Pythias, Elks Lodges, Moose Lodges, Kiwanis Clubs, Rotary
Clubs, etc.). While drafting this list I stumbled upon an excellent essay by
Andrew Hammer of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No 22 entitled Eight Steps to
Hammer’s essay lists eight ways to enhance the experience in our lodges
through the adoption of the forms of observant Masonry. Some of Hammer’s
propositions are closely approximated or identical to my own, especially
numbers one, two, four, five, eight, and ten. In instances where our proposals
are the same, I will defer to Hammer and quote extensively from his essay.
Full credit will be given and quotation marks will note this attribution.
Additionally, Brother Hammer gave me written permission to use his essay in
this manner. I thank him for this courtesy.
Before I dive into my prescriptions for Texas Freemasonry I will name the
chief culprit responsible for the demise of Freemasonry and other fraternal
organizations in the latter-half of the 20th century: the Greatest or G.I.
Generation. You may balk at any suggestion that the generation that defeated
the Axis powers could be responsible for Masonry’s demise, however, I believe
this group unwittingly created the environment where the Fraternity would
In the late 1940s, millions of G.I.s fresh out of the theaters of World War II
returned home craving the camaraderie of their former military units. They
found this connection in the halls of various fraternal orders such as the
Freemasons. Unlike other fraternal orders, Freemasonry had a reputation for
being secretive, occultic, dark, and arcane. These new Masons downplayed the
emblems of death, restricted the more aristocratic elements of our enterprise,
and made Freemasonry “family friendly” by promoting women’s and children’s
auxiliary organizations. While membership swelled the seeds of the Craft’s
demise had been sown. Once the men of the Boomer and X Generations came of age
they rejected the fraternal organizations of their fathers. Freemasonry like
many other organizations was left to waste away.
What went wrong? In my opinion, it was the revisionists in our ranks that
sought to make Freemasonry conform to middle-class sensibilities, the same
sensibilities the Boomers and Gen Xers rejected. What can correct our downward
trend? Like Brother Hammer, I believe that by embracing traditional forms of
initiation, high standard for potential members, and an indifference to the
outside world in regards to the use of symbols such as the skull and
crossbones. The same elements the G.I. Generation rejected (i.e. memento mori,
esotericism, selectivity, secrecy, etc.) are the same features that attract
members of the Millennial generation.
What follows are my propositions for Freemasonry in Texas with the
aforementioned additions by Brother Hammer. I believe that if they are
ruthlessly implemented we will cull the Fraternity of its dead weight and
establish ourselves on a firm foundation for growth and longevity.
1. Guard the West Gate
Declining numbers should not necessitate lower standards. I have seen some
lodges so desperate for members that they will sign the petition of virtually
any man seeking admission to the degrees of Freemasonry. In fact, I have been
chastised (or worse, attacked personally) for suggesting that extrinsic
characteristics should be considered when admitting a man into the Fraternity.
I understand the desire to see our lodge rooms filled as in yesteryear; we may
never see the Craft reach the numbers of the post-WWII period. But is that an
inherently bad thing? I do not think so. Freemasonry was never a mass
movement. It was always a selective if not elitist organization aimed at
reforming society from the top down. Masonry in most of the world is highly
patrician; only in the US do we see Freemasonry take on a plebian character.
My advice: Seek quality over quantity. Do not be afraid to refuse to sign
petitions. Do not be afraid to blackball candidates. We do not make turn bad
men into good men but make good men better.
“[W]e are nothing more or less than who we let into our fraternity. Not every
man should be a Mason and not every man who should be a Mason belongs in just
any Lodge. The brethren have a right and responsibility to determine the
standards for their own Lodge and to ask incisive questions of those men who
knock on their door. Lodges should take the time to first get to know the men
who knock at their doors, and not simply sign any petition just because a man
has an interest. Brothers who sign a petition for a man need to know who they
are signing for, and more important, need to be willing to serve as his
mentor. This is a fundamental point of responsibility for all brethren. Do not
ask a brother in your Lodge to do the job of mentoring for you. If you are not
willing to give that petitioner your time, how can you ask your Lodge to give
2. Aristocrats of the Soul
Julius Evola, the author of Revolt Against the Modern World once wrote: “The
American mind has limited horizons, one conscribed to everything which is
immediate and simplistic, with the inevitable consequence that everything is
made banal, basic and leveled down until it is deprived of all spiritual life.
Life itself in American terms is entirely mechanistic.”
I believe Evola’s sentiment is expressed in many ways, one of which is the
casual manner that many Texan Masons approach Freemasonry and its meetings.
More specifically, many Masons in Texas choose to wear extremely casual
clothing to lodge meetings. Very rarely do lodge officers correct these
brothers and remind them of the sacred nature of the Craft. I rarely see
actual dress codes spoken of or enforced. Perhaps the leveling nature of
American society has rendered all dress codes “judgmental.” They affront the
“come as you are” narrative proffered by many in our society.
A basic dress code that would require a coat and tie (at a minimum) would
reintroduce the aristocratic and manly virtues that Masons are supposed to
inculcate. It would help our members take pride in being Masons. It would
signal to the outside world, and more especially potential initiates, that we
are engaged in serious business.
“How one appears before the Lodge is a sign of how much you value both the
brethren and the Craft. In most lodges in the world, a dark suit and tie is
the minimum required to gain admittance. It’s what the brethren expect from
each other in an observant Lodge, and it certainly adds to the notion that a
Masonic meeting is not just another night out, but a special event, worthy of
being considered as special as each of us should believe Masonry to be.
Additionally, dignity expressed outwardly through dress, serves as a
superstructure, helping to enhance that dignity that can only be created from
3. Leave the Gavel Be
My next proposal relates to the governmental structure of the Grand Lodge of
Texas. I believe the current power dynamic has the unintended consequence of
weakening the office of the Grand Master, making any long-term strategic plan
untenable, and creating a permanent power base in the Grand Secretary, which
in my estimation, runs afoul the Ancient Landmarks.
Under the current arrangement of the Grand Lodge of Texas, the seat of power
in the Texas Grand Lodge is the Grand Secretary, not the Grand Master. While
the Grand Master is the de jure center of power in Grand Lodge the Grand
Secretary is the de facto power nexus. This situation is caused by the annual
rotation of the Grand Master and the virtual lifetime tenure of the Grand
Secretary. I suspect that this arrangement is not only related to the annual
rotation of Blue Lodge officers but is also reflected in the unique
arrangement of the executive of the State of Texas.
Following the War Between the States, Radical Republicans elected Union
General E. J. Davis as Governor of Texas. Under the Reconstruction
constitution, the governor wielded incredible power and controlled a virtual
secret police force. Davis has been oft described as the most tyrannical
governor in US history. In 1874 Davis was forcibly removed from office and the
Texas constitution was revised so that the governor would never be able to
become a tyrant again.
Under the revised constitution the governor was stripped of many of his
powers; the lieutenant governor would not only be the second highest office in
the executive branch but would control the Texas Senate and the state’s
budgeting process. Many commentators suggest that the lieutenant governor’s
position in both the executive and legislative branches, more especially as
the leader of the Legislative Budget Board, makes him the most powerful figure
in Texas government. The governor’s office may come with more prestige, but it
does not necessarily come with more power. This situation is familiar to many
Texas Masons that study the politics of Grand Lodge.
One may contend that Texas’ post-Civil War history has little to do with the
current arrangement between the Grand Master and Grand Secretary and that this
situation reflects Masonic tradition (i.e. the annual rotation of lodge
officers). I would respond that while it is a common arrangement it is not
necessarily the only arrangement or the most productive one. For instance, the
Grand Lodge of Massachusetts elects its Grand Master annually but
traditionally allows one man to govern for three years before he is replaced.
Likewise, the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England often sits in
the Grand East for decades.
If the Grand Lodge of Texas is going to implement strategic plans to stave off
financial and membership collapse it must accordingly allow one man to the
office of Grand Master for more than one year at a time. He would be able to
see a plan to fruition instead of passing it off to the next occupant of the
office who may not hold his views, talents, or priorities.
This proposal is the most needed addition to the family of Texas Freemasonry:
Academic lodges are lodges that are nominally affiliated with a college or
university and limit its members to those that are students, alumni, faculty
or staff of their respective universities. Such lodges have not only the
common affinity found between all Masons but also the added cement of
collegiate pride. Not only that, having a Masonic lodge actively involved in
university life and in close proximity to the student body creates a conduit
for young men to be exposed to Freemasonry and become Masons.
Firstly, I will address a common objection to the creation of academic lodges
in Texas. I have heard it said on numerous occasions that academic lodges will
stem the flow of college-aged men into nearby Blue Lodges. My response is
simple: this concern is based on a poverty mentality and not grounded in fact.
Lodges surrounding college campuses may attract college students but their
doors are not being broken down by a stampede of students seeking our Degrees.
I would also mention that the vast majority of college students leave their
respective collegiate communities and move elsewhere; why would traditional
Blue Lodges want to create Masons that simply move away? Academic lodges are
not as concerned with this fact since their broad geographic character is an
integral part of their appeal. In short, there are plenty of young men on our
college campuses to fill each and every Blue Lodge, however most Blue Lodges
are not tapping into that source.
I tried to form two separate academic lodges in Texas, one for UT-Austin and
another for Southern Methodist University. Both ideas were shut down by the
then-Grand Secretary for being “elitist” like “The Harvard Lodge.” Chance had
it that I attended Harvard and became a member of The Harvard Lodge, which is
an exemplar of not only academic lodges but also a model for any lodge wishing
to attract successful Millennials into their ranks.
While Texas’ Masonic leadership may not see any benefit or need of academic
lodges, many grand lodges do. The United Grand Lodge of England’s Apollo Lodge
at Oxford and Isaac Newton Lodge at Cambridge have been extremely successful
in attracting young men into Freemasonry and retaining them as they depart
their respective campuses. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts founded the first
academic lodges in the US such as my own The Harvard Lodge, MIT Lodge, and
Boston University Lodge. Other academic lodges have been founded in the US and
other nations: Patriot Lodge (George Mason University), Colonial Lodge (The
George Washington University), University of Washington Lodge (University of
Washington), and University Lodge (University of Toronto).
I believe that the success of academic lodges such as The Harvard Lodge and
other should dispense with any arguments offered against their founding in
Texas. Any suggestion that a Masonic lodge should not limit its members to
those of a particular collegiate affiliation is not in line with the long
Masonic history of specialty lodges. If Aggie brothers want to form a lodge
and limit their membership to those who graduated from Texas A&M you will not
find this Longhorn complaining.
5. Enter the Mysteries
The initiatory experience should be a pivotal event in a man’s life. We
cheapen it by performing a substandard ritual. If we cannot perform a ritual
well we should find someone who can do so for us. I have seen a conferring
officer laugh during a raising of a Master Mason. I have often seen officers
joke during the opening and closing of lodges. This sort of behavior is
unacceptable. All ritual work must be undertaken in a serious and reverent
manner reflecting the ancient and honorable nature of our Order.
“Proficiency is an essential function of any observant Lodge because we must
know both what we are doing, and why, if we seek to uphold the highest
standards of our respective Grand Lodges. It does no good to claim the mantle
of excellence if your Lodge is not well versed in the ritual and the Masonic
law of your jurisdiction. Masonry is a thing of order, not anarchy. If you
wish to keep that order, as well as harmony between your Lodge and the Grand
Lodge, you must learn and follow the rules that each brother has obligated
himself to observe. An observant Lodge is not a renegade Lodge. It seeks to be
an exemplary one.”
6. Memento Mori
Masons have always embraced the emblems of death, however, these images have
been largely purged from Texas Freemasonry for a variety of reasons. For
example, when visiting the Grand Lodge of Texas’ building in Waco you may
notice the seal on the wall that bears the skull and crossbones. This emblem
is never used by the Grand Lodge in any publication or proceeding. I have to
ask myself why? I would venture to say it has to do with the broader movement
to strip Masonry of anything “dark” or “sinister.”
There may be another explanation, but given the opposition to Chambers of
Reflection or any trapping that may offend bourgeoisie sensibilities, I
conclude this must be the case. I did not become a Mason so I could explain it
away to others. I have never cared what my coworkers may or may not think
about my affiliation. I do not care what the pearl-clutching ladies at the
nearest church think about the Craft. Our symbols are our own and we should
embrace the darkness because therein lies the Light.
“We should bring back those things that once were found in our lodges, and
which helped create a very unique, contemplative atmosphere for both the
candidate and the Lodge. Among these is the use of music, the manipulation of
light and darkness, the Chamber of Reflection, and the closing charge which
forms what is known as the Chain of Union. Consider that the candidate
preparation room is not and was never meant to be a mere dressing room.
Consider that the notion of a ‘sacred band of brothers’ might allude to a
physical manifestation of that sacredness. Consider that music has always been
a part of our ceremonies and that the Book of Constitutions ends with a
collection of songs. All these things are part of who we are; they are not
innovations from later jurisdictions or borrowings from European Masonry. Even
the use of incense is ritually alluded to in early exposures of the Craft. The
idea is to stimulate and manage the sensory experience of the brethren, in the
endeavor to create the sense of uniqueness one expects from a Masonic
experience. Here again, there is nothing strange about employing the senses in
a Masonic meeting. Our rituals teach the importance of each of those senses
extensively; to not employ them in our meetings is the greater neglect and
error. To refuse the restoration of awe to our rituals is to refuse to
acknowledge our own heritage and history, and to deny the proper place and
application of the pillar of Beauty to the Lodge.
Masonry has thrived in times of persecution. It did not need to advertise to
attract members. Proximity was enough to draw the attention of worthy seekers.
Its secrecy was the attractor, not its incessant declarations to be a somewhat
quirky club that has secret handshakes.
I have often heard it said that Freemasonry is not a “secret society” but a
“society with secrets.” If you wish to construct a definition of “secret
society” that requires some nefarious motive such as world domination then
sure, Freemasonry does not fit the bill. However, if one accepts a more
straightforward definition and does not engage in semantical gymnastics, it is
easy to conclude that we are, in fact, a secret society.
Personally, I do not mind this description. Our secrecy is our greatest asset,
particularly when dealing with Millennials. Millennials exist in a world where
every action is public. Every private act is proclaimed on social media; they
crave secrecy, exclusivity, a hidden world. Then give it to them!
We have a ready-made secretive Fraternity bolstered by popular culture (e.g.
National Treasure, etc.). Instead of running from what is the Fraternity,
embrace it. Being more “open” is not the answer.
8. Männerbund Metaphysics
Masons are a group of men engaged in alchemy. Social functions are extremely
important to what we do, however, if we do not yearn for esoteric knowledge,
the sort of knowledge that is only grasped through inference and applied
study, we might as well join Lion’s Club or Rotary. My concern is that many
Masons do not actively engage in esoteric study. While there is a great
disparity between the abilities of one brother to another, we can all take it
upon ourselves to be better educated, more well-read, and knowledgeable.
I find the Masonic educational portion of our meetings to be highly important
and beneficial. To make it even more beneficial we should try to have a
different brother give a presentation each week. Not only would it relieve the
burden of one brother to produce and give an educational talk it would force
brothers to study and present what they have learned to the lodge.
Furthermore, and this suggestion deserves its own plank, I advocate a change
to Grand Lodge policy whereby meeting minutes may be emailed to the brethren
prior to each meeting and entered without needing to be read aloud. If no one
objects to their form in the email they may be entered into the record. This
proposal would save untold amounts of time at each meeting and give more
opportunity for Masonic education.
“The very origin of Freemasonry itself is in education. Whether it be the
practical education in stone-cutting found in the operative craft of masonry,
or the search for inner knowledge and science presented to us by the
speculative Craft, the foundation of the art is inexorably based in teaching
and learning. Without it, there is simply no Freemasonry taking place in a
Lodge. Therefore, every meeting of the Lodge should offer some amount of
Masonic education, be it through the degrees, or through presentations on the
various lessons of the Craft. Even a ten-minute talk focused on the symbolic
meaning of a single working tool is far better than a meeting where nothing
but donations, dinners, and dues are on the agenda. An observant Lodge values
the educational function of Freemasonry in its full bloom; the observant Mason
holds the fraternity accountable to its promise to him to bestow light, and he
means to receive it from the Craft in every sense: spiritual, literal, and
intellectual. Numerous monitors and manuals from our Grand Lodges, spanning
over at least the last two centuries, make plain the injunction to all Masons
to seek knowledge. That same injunction extends by the natural progression to
each Lodge, and as a result, a Lodge without Masonic education cannot be an
observant Lodge and is arguably not any kind of Lodge at all. The search for
more light is at the heart of Masonry. The observance is impossible without
9. Remove the Dying Appendages
A wise man once said that when an organization is in decline it must reduce
itself back to its most fundamental purpose. Freemasonry is in decline and a
large part of the decline may be attributed to misspent resources.
Like the Fraternity as a whole, appendant bodies multiplied in the fertile
soil of the post-WWII period. Groups for girls, boys, and women abounded.
Social orders popped up or grew in popularity. Along with these organizations
rose any number of charitable enterprises requiring their own staffs,
facilities, and budgets. With our rapidly declining membership, these
organizations and the infrastructure supporting them have become a burden to
the Fraternity. Not only that, they misrepresent what Freemasonry is really.
It is not a social club. It is not a family activity. It is an organization
for men and men alone.
My suggestion is to do the unthinkable and cut off the dead weight. Job’s
Daughters, Rainbow Girls, DeMolay, Eastern Star, anything but the Blue Lodge,
Scottish Rite, York Rite, and possibly the Shriners, must go. I would say
“sorry” but I am not apologetic.
Each time I hear someone in a lodge meeting talk about attending a Job’s
Daughters event or helping with the Eastern Star’s monthly fundraiser I think
to myself “where does all this spare time and money come from”?
Angry responses will abound. Many will hurl ad hominem attacks at me or
construct straw men to flagellate. I know full well that the sacred cows of
Rainbow Girls, DeMolay, etc. cannot be approached by any but the bravest soul.
Let alone the Masonic Retirement Center or the costly Grand Lodge building.
My point is to highlight a critical issue: We are in decline. We cannot
continue to maintain an infrastructure built for a million Masons with a
hundred thousand members. And why should we?
10. Put your money where your heart is.
“The dues of a Lodge should be set at a level which allows the Lodge to not
only support and sustain itself, but enjoy a quality of experience which tells
the brethren that their assemblies are opportunities to rise above the
ordinary. Good meals, served at proper festive boards, are essential. The
festive board conveys the sense of conviviality that helps build true
brotherhood, and it is historically established in the Craft as not merely a
simple dinner, but quite honestly the second half of a Lodge meeting. An
observant Lodge cannot forego it. A Lodge must decide that Masonry is a thing
of value, and properly determine that value in such a way that it allows the
Lodge to work and assemble in a manner that clearly establishes that value.
Our dining and social events should reflect the worth we place on ourselves.
Excess is not the objective; quality is. The problem is that so many of us
have forgotten what quality is to the extent that we consider any expenditure
on ourselves to be pretentious. But if Masons are to be men of inner
distinction, then we are fully justified in treating ourselves to the best we
can afford in life. We cannot expect less from the Craft or ourselves.”