M. W. Bro. John L. Cooper III
Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of California
Freemasonry emerged as an influential movement in the 18th century as lodges and grand lodges spread from London around the world. Freemasonry was the carrier of an idea and an ideal – the idea that there could be a universal brotherhood of men who could be friends and brothers despite the political and religious affiliations which otherwise divided them. To this idea Freemasons gradually added the ideals of freedom of thought and expression, equality of station in life, and the untrammelled pursuit of truth. It eventually added the ideals of ethnic and racial equality, and equality between men and women. Out of this matrix of ideas and ideals, modern Freemasonry emerged as a significant progressive movement in today’s world. The World Conference of Regular Grand Lodges will explore, in part, how these ideals have been realized within Freemasonry, and how these ideals have become a part of the common heritage of humanity.
It is readily recognized that the ideals of liberty, equality, and brotherhood are still only partly realized within the Masonic fraternity. There still remain issue which need to be resolved if Freemasonry is to have the same kind of impact in the future that it has had in the past. More dialog needs to take place on the nature of the primary teachings of Freemasonry not only within the fraternity, but in the larger world. Some examples will suffice:
- How can an organization whose rituals and teachings reflect a heritage of a belief in a Supreme Being accommodate an evolving religious understanding that may be moving beyond the anthropomorphic ideas of the historic religions?
- How can an organization which has been predominantly, or even exclusively male, work in a context in which equality of men and women is an established and accepted fact of the contemporary world?
- How can an organization which promotes brotherhood by suppressing the discussion of sectarian religion and partisan politics within its ranks have any impact on a world in which religious and political beliefs are passionately held by significant majorities of human beings?
At the beginning of modern speculative Freemasonry, the first grand lodge made a commitment to the ideas of bringing together those who, in the words of the Constitutions of 1723, “whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must else have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.” This ideal of friendship across boundaries of religion and politics has not been completely realized even within the fraternity, much less in the world beyond Freemasonry. But there is a growing recognition that it is only by attention to this principle that the destructive tendencies of human beings to destroy one another in the name of religion or politics will ever be abated. Freemasonry and its ideals should be at the forefront of this dialogue because we have had almost three hundred years of experience with it. We are thus in a position to contribute materially to this dialogue – a dialogue that is now more essential than ever.