Should we have the freedom on a lodge-by-lodge basis to make decisions as to whether we admit women Freemasons? Would many of the existing members of the Fraternity leave if women were to be admitted? And if they did, would this matter? What possible ‘good and upright’ reason would they have to leave the Order?
Does it matter? Women’s lodges and mixed lodges have been in existence for many years. Co-Masonry, which is mixed, came to England from France and in 1902 the first Co-Masons’ lodge was set up in England. Thereafter two women’s Grand Lodges were founded: one was the Honourable Fraternity of Antient Masonry, which was established as a mixed Order in 1908, becoming women-only in 1935 and now known as the Order of Women Freemasons. The other was the Honourable Fraternity of Ancient Freemasons, which seceded from the first in 1913 and is still known by this name. Therefore women are free to become Freemasons and have been for many years.
So, why should it matter that UGLE does not allow women to be initiated into our lodges OR women and Co-Masons to visit or join our Lodges?
I believe it does matter. UGLE is one of the oldest and greatest Masonic institutions in the world. It therefore sets standards for Freemasonry throughout the world. This creates a responsibility to guide the institution of Freemasonry and guide it with liberty, fairness and equality at the forefront of its consideration. Powerful institutions need to keep a constant check on whether they still serve their members and whether or not change is necessary. The world has evolved significantly in the last eighty years. Is it not time for a review? Haven’t we changed our views of women in all aspects of life? Can it be ‘morally’ right or a ‘virtuous’ choice to exclude women? Are we getting any closer to change within Grand Lodge? If not, why not? The Grand Lodge of Scotland decided to recognise the quasi-Masonic Order of the Eastern Star that is a predominantly female order. The Grand Lodge of England does not. Why not? We recognise the Grand Lodge of Scotland as compliant with the rules for recognition. Scottish Masons allow their members to participate in this Order. Why don’t we? The Order of the Eastern Star was started in America and is now a worldwide organisation with over two million members. Male Freemasons in America, under the terms of their Constitutions, are allowed to visit their Eastern Star Chapters, as they are called. We specifically prohibit it. Why? What have we to fear? What, if anything, are we trying to preserve or protect?
Is it incompatible to be a Freemason and to visit an Eastern Star Chapter or a mixed Masonic lodge? If the Order of the Eastern Star is not a Freemasonic lodge, as UGLE contend, what possible locus does UGLE have to forbid its members from visiting this Order? An early landmark of American Freemasonry was to prohibit African Americans from being initiated or to allow Freemasons to visit lodges in which there were African Americans. This led to a breakaway Order of Freemasons called Prince Hall Freemasonry. The Grand Lodges of Antient and Accepted Freemasons in each individual State changed their rules and admit African Americans
16 The Square June 2012
now. Large institutions are capable of adapting to social and moral pressure. Why will these same institutions not admit women either side of the Atlantic? One of the reasons for the survival, development and evolution of Freemasonry over centuries is its inclusion and respect for all peoples of the world. We welcome diversity of belief, faith, ethnicity, sexual orientation, intellect, ability and age – and value the unique contribution of every individual. What is missing from this list? What contributes to harmony and balance in all aspects of our life? ‘Gender’ is the obvious answer. Women are fundamental to life and without them there can be no true harmony and balance. This is far more important within Freemasonry than in dealing with such issues as women’s involvement in gentlemen’s clubs or the workplace. Freemasonry teaches us moral rectitude, equality, liberty, fairness and mutual respect. How can this great institution purport to teach these high values and absent one of the fundamental keys to following this path?
Choice One of the Supreme Being’s greatest gifts to us is choice. It sets humankind apart from every other living thing. One of our responsibilities in life is to make choice as freely available as possible. Should we not celebrate it and work to enhance it in every aspect of life? Surely we should be free to include women in our ceremonies and in our Masonic lives. We could and should have that choice.
There need be no dictate from above stating that we must accept women into each and every one of our lodges (positive discrimination). The decision should be on a lodge-by-lodge basis. All that need be done is to rescind paragraph 4 of the 1929 ‘guidelines’ and the Board of General Purposes make a clear statement allowing individual lodges to decide for themselves whether to admit women or not. There is no need for any guidelines or rules. This is choice, and choice being exercised in the manner inculcated in Freemasonry.
It is well recognised that introducing women will change the dynamic of a lodge. Some lodges may applaud and welcome this. Some lodges may choose to remain men-only. They are simply exerting their choice following proper consideration. Whichever choice each individual lodge makes, in my view they should not be subject to scrutiny or criticism.
One can imagine some Freemasons taking pride in keeping a Lodge male only. Perhaps they should consider whether ‘pride’ is one of the virtues of moral rectitude they profess to adopt as Freemasons.
In 1995 the Reverend Neville Barker Cryer, Past Provincial Grand Master of Surrey and Past Grand Chaplain of UGLE, gave a lecture on this subject. In conclusion, he observed that ‘If a woman is good enough to be the wife, mother, sister, or daughter of a Mason, she ought to be good enough to be his “brother” ’. He further observed that the men’s order ‘recognises the coloured races, but refuses recognition to their own kith and kin’.
Some may say, ‘If you feel like this, resign and become a Co-Mason’. Some may observe that women’s Grand Lodges exclude men. Surely the issue is bigger and more important than this. The answer is clear. What was the question? Elstead Hotel
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