Bait & Switch, I Quit
By Wor. Bro. Frederic L.
Brother Steven McAfoose
Below you will find the story of
Brother Steven McAfoose, Senior Warden of Lux Lodge No 846, Grand Lodge of
California. McAfoose’s story is similar to that of recently published Brother
Salman Sheika’s. You might call this “Why I Left Freemasonry Part 2.”
But this story has a happy ending. McAfoose quit and returned. This is not
sour grapes and a back stab at the Craft as he slams the door on the way out
but rather an honest look into what could be better.
But McAfoose did not encounter
any discrimination. His bone to pick with the Masonic World was unrealized
expectations. McAfoose complains that we over hype and over sell what
Freemasonry is and can do which leads to a drastic letdown when fantasy meets
Also, he points out that many
Lodges spend a lot of time and effort into doing little. Once again, we hear
about boring business meetings and overworked Brothers who are drafted into an
Army of fund raisers and work projects. This mirrors a video interview I did
of Brother Justin Jones of the Grand Lodge of Texas on Phoenixmasonry Live –
Brother Jones said that his expectation of Freemasonry took him from the
marvelous to the mundane.
McAfoose makes some other points
too but we will let you read them for yourself.
This, however, gives me a chance
to pontificate on where Freemasonry misses the boat.
Let’s group these problems under
Lack of money
Overworking the Brethren
If you refuse to charge
realistic dues to be able to provide a great Masonic experience, then you will
have no money to provide any meaningful programs and opportunities of
fellowship. Realistic Lodge dues should be in the neighborhood of $500 per
year. Perhaps your old run-down Masonic building is taking all your Lodge
The answer is not fund raisers.
Fund raisers are an excuse to keep Lodge dues artificially low for elderly
brothers and those who are on the rolls but never come to Lodge. Freemasonry
is not a Service Club. If you are bankrupting yourself and providing an
inferior Masonic experience in order to accomplish charitable works and
community action for the outside world you have your priorities askew. You
must first make your Lodge financially viable before you consider helping the
world, for if you go under everybody loses.
Lastly you cannot place an undue
burden of time and effort on the small percentage of Lodge Brothers who come
regularly. Most Brothers have family, job and worship time that must be shared
with Freemasonry. If you ask the few to carry the load for everybody you are
abusing your Brethren and you may find some who will drop out further
increasing the burden on those who are left.
Raise your dues, sell your
building and rent or sign up other tenants who will help pay for the costs of
running a building and stop trying to save the world while your Lodge goes to
pot. Put your Lodge money into Masonic education, esoteric study, post Third
Degree mentoring and great fellowship and run your Communications accordingly
and you won’t have the result that Brother McAfoose describes.
…”the number of
men who have quit in their hearts is unknown, but I don’t think any of us
would say that it is low.”
Why I Quit
By Bro. Steven McAfoose
It might come as a surprise to
many who know me that shortly after becoming a Master Mason and even serving
as an officer of my lodge, I left Freemasonry. And to be clear, I didn’t
become less active, and it wasn’t a matter of being busy and not attending, I
flat out quit. I decided that this wasn’t what I wanted and I did not
anticipate ever returning. This discussion could be about why I came
back, and focus on what Freemasonry can do to bring brothers back who have
been absent from lodge for a time, but instead, I want to focus on why
brothers leave in the first place and I’m going to do so by looking at the
root cause rather than the symptoms that many others who have tackled this
subject before me have done.
Statistics for brothers who have
left Freemasonry are difficult to gather. While there are statistics that show
gains and losses over the years, this really doesn’t give us the information
we’re after. A member who joins and then quits the same year shows a net 0
number. Likewise, a man who joins, but simply becomes inactive, yet continues
to pay dues makes it appear that our fraternity is growing. The fact of the
matter is, the number of men who have quit in their hearts is unknown, but I
don’t think any of us would say that it is low.
While I can’t say that everyone
quits for the same reasons I did, I’d be willing to bet most of them leave for
the same root cause; disappointment. To understand this, let’s go back and
talk about what I was thinking and feeling during my first steps on this
journey. Like most men who are interested in Freemasonry, the majority of what
I knew was gleaned from the internet, Hollywood, and my interactions with
Masons. What was this organization? What did they stand for? What do they do?
What can I expect? And is this something I want to be a part of?
…our aging lodges with stained
carpets and peeling paint are a long way off from the mahogany and marble
clad temples seen in the movies.
How does Freemasonry present
itself, or how is it presented by others, to the outside world? We are a
brotherhood of deep ties and fraternal relations. We offer mutual beneficial
support to protect each other in difficult times. We are an ancient,
prestigious institution of the elite. We have networking and connections that
allow for special treatment professionally and in other aspects of life. We
are a charitable organization giving millions of dollars a year to our
communities and doing social works projects in our free time. We make good
men better, focusing on self-improvement and creating a cadre of morally
superior men. We delve into the ancient mysteries and lay bare esoteric
knowledge and secrets that unlock the universe.
Sound familiar? Sound exciting?
It certainly did to me. And I’m sure it sounds very exciting to thousands of
other men who wish to join our ranks. But, the real question is, is it true?
Are we a brotherhood of deep
ties and fraternal relations? How many of us have had any contact with each
other not related to lodge business? That’s not to say it doesn’t happen. One
of my groomsmen at my wedding was the Worshipful Master who initiated me. But,
the fact of the matter is, my college fraternity was a hundred times closer
than this fraternity is.
Do we offer mutual beneficial
support to protect each other in difficult times? Yes, we have committees that
can offer a brother some help financially. We also have Masonic Homes for our
more senior brothers and their families. But I don’t think any of us have
ceased to have concerns over what would happen if we lost our job tomorrow
based on the support available through Freemasonry.
Are we an ancient, prestigious
institution of the elite? Well, ancient is up for debate since the first
Grand Lodge was formed only 300 years ago. Prestigious? I suppose that depends
on your definition, but our aging lodges with stained carpets and peeling
paint are a long way off from the mahogany and marble clad temples seen in the
movies. As for elite, that certainly isn’t a label I’d use for myself, and I
doubt many other brothers would either as we come from all walks of life.
Do our associations give us
special treatment in the workplace or life in general? I’ve certainly never
received any benefit. In fact, quite the opposite based on a few people with
negative views of our fraternity finding out I am a member. I think we’d all
love to get out of a speeding ticket or get a promotion at work via a secret
handshake, but I’ve not once heard of it happening.
Are we a charitable organization
that donates millions and volunteers in the community? In some cases, yes.
Freemasonry as a whole does donate significant amounts of money each year. But
as lodges continue to shrink, the funds available for this kind of thing dry
up. My mother lodge spent all year putting on pancake breakfasts that required
me in my early 20’s to show up at the lodge at 4am to raise money for a
scholarship. That scholarship was around $5k each year. I have no doubt that
the winner appreciated it, but we were hardly changing the world. As for
community outreach, some lodges do more than others, but it tends to be more
along the lines of a few guys from the lodge doing it rather than a true lodge
Do we make good men better? I
would argue no. What do we do to make good men better? We hold meetings, pay
bills, practice memorizing ritual. How does that make anyone morally superior?
However, there is some truth to this which I will get to later.
Do we hold the keys to secret
esoteric knowledge that bring us closer to God? Like the previous question, I
would say that there is some truth to this, but not in any way, shape, or form
like we portray. And for roughly 95% of Masons, I’d say it just isn’t true.
So, we, Hollywood, public
perception, whatever, set this expectation of what to expect. This is how our
fraternity is advertised. A man joins, and what is he met with? Meetings
about paying bills. Having to memorize pages of ritual that basically sounds
like a goofy play. Giving up his free time to perpetuate these things, and
without any of the things that were advertised to him at the beginning. Bait
and switch might be a harsh term, but it wouldn’t be completely wrong.
But I’m not condemning
Freemasonry for this. Half of this is how the rest of the world portrays us.
Another 25% is us wanting to agree with the positive assumptions and so
perhaps not correcting them as strongly as we should. The last quarter of
these portrayals are true, but perhaps not to the extent that the ambitious
This was the state that I found
myself in years ago; disenfranchised with the reality of the situation. I had
done my part, I thought. I had memorized the ritual, and I had put in the
time, I had paid my dues, I had rushed from work straight to meetings to give
up my free time to listen to retired brothers argue for hours about whether
$50 per month to pay for a company to mow the grass was reasonable of if we
should form a committee to investigate alternatives. And what did I receive in
return? …nothing. I had become a mentor in my lodge and had initiated new
men, mentored them, helped them progress so that they could then do the same
for future generations of Masons. But for what? So that we could continue to
argue about bills and form committees? Is this all that Freemasonry had to
offer? And so, I quit. And no doubt, there were discussions about it after I
did so. Probably with the same tired grumblings of the old guys in the back
that we typically hear.
“These younger kids don’t want
to put in the work. He’s lazy. He said he could spare the time, but
then he backed out.” We make up these excuses for the brothers who
leave, never bothering to ask them. We look for solutions to these false
reasons. One day raisings. Short form proficiencies. More casual lodge
Let me make this abundantly
clear; a man who is told what his expectations are, and agrees, and then later
backs out probably didn’t do so because it was too much effort. He knew what
he was getting himself into. What he found, is that it was too much effort for
what he got in return. And that’s the problem. It’s the bait and switch. We
failed to hold up our end of the bargain, so why should he hold up his end? I
decided not to. I quit.
And yet…here I sit. So what
brought me back? The requirements on my time and energy didn’t change. The
fraternity didn’t change. So what shift was there in the dynamic? It was
simply a more honest look at the relationship I had with Freemasonry. I took a
step back and I looked at it with open eyes.
This brotherhood wasn’t like the
one in my college fraternity, but it made available to me men who
held similar interests and values as I did. But it was up to me to
make those connections.
The support of Freemasonry might
not keep me from worrying about losing my job, but it does offer additional
resources that I wouldn’t otherwise have if life takes a turn for the worse.
We might not be an ancient
institution, but we carry on the legacy and perpetuate teachings that reach
back to antiquity. Our prestige has waned over the years, but it is not the
external qualifications that our fraternity ought to be judged by, but our
internal qualities. And it is up to me as a representative of our
great moral institution to demonstrate to the world by my example just how
elite we are.
Our membership does not bring
special favors, and I know that now. But with the teachings I have learned
from Freemasonry, I am glad for it, because if it did, I would not be able to
learn the valuable lessons of humility and equality.
Whether we are a charitable
organization could be debated from lodge to lodge. I know there are some
lodges that focus heavily on charity and volunteer work, and if that was my
primary concern, I would belong to those lodges and take advantage of their
active involvement. But again, that is a decision that I am
responsible for. But aside from that, Freemasonry has instilled in me a more
charitable nature. My giving isn’t always in front of a podium with an
oversized check with a square and compass on it. It is to the hungry man on
the corner, to the children selling candy bars for a school trip, to Toys for
Tots, to the Salvation Army, to the local food bank. My charity might not be
organized, but that doesn’t make it any less helpful. And again, that is
And that brings us to making
good men better. I believe that Freemasonry’s oft used adage of ‘We make good
men better’ is a misnomer. I think instead, we ought to say ‘we provide the
tools to allow good men to make themselves better.’ We need to change the
belief that we do something to others. It is not a passive
improvement on the part of our candidates. Rather, we give them the means by
which they can improve themselves.
And this is done by way of the
teachings contained in our rituals. Lessons that go back thousands of years.
But, like any other lesson, they are useless unless the student is willing to
spend the time and effort to understand them and put them into practice. When
I realized this, I realized that the fraternity did not fail me. I
failed me. I was given what I needed to improve myself, and then I sat there
statically, upset that nothing was happening. I viewed the meetings as a waste
of time, not understanding that the meetings are what allowed us to continue
to pass on the tools to new brothers, so that each of us could improve
It was this shift in my
perspective that lead me to realize that Freemasonry still had a great deal to
offer, but only if I was willing to seize it. I was fortunate in the
fact that I came to this realization on my own. I fear that few brothers in my
shoes will do the same. Therefore, it is up to us to ensure that it never gets
to that point in the first place. So how do we do that?
Simple; we set realistic
expectations. We tell the candidate what it is really like. Not the pretty,
shiny image we put on brochures, but the reality of day to day life as a
Freemason. We tell him about the long, boring meetings. We tell him about the
work he’ll have to do memorizing ritual, including the time it will take to
drive to meet his instructors. We tell him that not all lodges are equal; that
some focus on charity, that some focus on research, that some focus on
fellowship. We encourage him to visit many different lodges and
explain that they all have their pros and cons and tell him that it is
important to find the one that truly offers whatever it is he’s looking for.
We bluntly explain that while we will provide his working tools to improve
himself, he is the one who must labor in the quarries. And finally,
and perhaps most importantly, we explain that during his labors, when he finds
that he wants help, that he must proactively seek us out, and in
turn, we must make a commitment to support him.
It is natural to assume that by
removing some of the gilding from Masonry that we may hear fewer knocks at our
door. But if we provide a fair and honest assessment of what can be found
within our temples, we will lay a solid foundation of understanding among our
new brothers that will result in a stronger edifice.