Immediate Past Grand Master, Vereinigte Großlogen von Deutschland
Honorary Grand Master ad vitam, National Grand Lodge of Romania
The development of our worldwide brotherhood, which now exists for more than 300 years, is undergoing permanently changes in various regions and continents. In Latin America (Brazil, Mexico, Colombia), in Africa (South Africa, Central and West Africa) and also in some Eastern European countries (Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria) we observe a stable and growing organization that enjoys a certain social status among the well-educated population. Accordingly, the average age in this lodges is younger than we will find it in the established Grand Lodges of Western Europe.
By contrast, in the past 45 years there has been a marked decline in membership, especially in the anglophile Grand Lodges. In the USA from just under 4 down to 1.3 million members, in Australia even from 345,100 to 35,000 and for England from 600,000 to less than 40 percent. Regarding to this development in the English speaking countries we may ask: Do we really want only to play in the 2nd league in the future? Demoscopic studies in the USA, Finland and Germany find out, that reasons for this development has been seen in dissatisfaction with the content practised and in the level of discussions in the lodges and the outdated positioning on general social development. But also the pressure in professional life and the missing compatibility to our private life is mentioned.
There are good reasons to reflect on these serious differences, the development trends and their causes and, if possible, to react accordingly. Finland, Turkey and Romania, for example, are registering a significant increase in membership and are offering topics and discussions at public events, some of which have been well accepted by the society.
The interest in the world’s oldest non-clerical community is caused for men with a good level of education, economic independence and the desire for high-level conversations in a familiar atmosphere. Such disputes often take place at meetings outside of our ritual work and representing the education and character of our members.
Increasing Membership in Freemasonry 2000 to 2017
Cuba: 25.824 (1970); 27.882 (2000); 29.110 (2017)
Romania: 9.000 (2000); 14.000 (2017)
Bulgaria: 1.200 (2000); 3.988 (2017)
Turkey: 2.670 (1970); 10.916 (2000); 16.694 (2017)
Finland: 5.600 (2000); 7.450 (2017)
Austria: 1.100 (1970); 2.350 (2000); 3.565 (2017)
India: 9.811 (1970); 15.070 (2000); 20.350 (2017)
Philippine: 11.663 (1970); 16.676 (2000); 23.951 (2017)
Such regional, national and international meetings should be open to the public, as for example with the national meetings of the Masonic Research Society Quatuor Coronati, as it is successfully cultivated in Europe for years. It is demonstrating, that we are participating actively in our society. We know how to lead open discussions about social issues and we do not avoid this discourses.
Thus, the Sinaia Protocol Conference in Romania, initiated during the 90th by the VGLvD (Germany) and the GOI (Italy), to promote East European Lodges developed into a European meeting of all regular Grand Lodges. After the European Masonic Forum in Roma (2004) followed by the first European Grand Master Conference 2006 in Prague, the breakthrough could subsequently be observed with the participation of anglophile and later on the Scandinavian Grand Lodges in Paris, Brussels, Geneva and Belgrade. It became a regular level for the exchange of fraternal experiences and developments of freemasons in Europe.
This recent development in European freemasonry has demonstrated the crucial role that continental conferences and multilateral consultations can be helpful in resolving conflict situations. Similarly, other continental conferences are held regularly, such as in North America (NAGMC) and the Confederacion Masonica Interamericana (CMI) for Latin America with its approximately 300,000 members as well as in Africa.
In addition to these continental meetings, which are reserved for their issues and interests, there have been also global conferences over the past years. They began in Mexico City in 1995 and were held every 18 months under changing local responsibility and coordinated by former Executive Secretary Br. Tom Jackson in Lisbon, New York, Sao Paulo, Madrid, New Delhi, Santiago de Chile, Paris, Washington D. C. , Gabon, Cartagena (Colombia), Chennai, Bucharest, San Francisco, Madagascar, Panama and will be realized next in Berlin (2021).
In former times the predecessor of international Masonic conferences was the Information Office for Regular Freemasons (BIRM) founded in Geneva at the end of the 19th century as an interest group of predominantly Romanesque Freemasons. Between the World Wars, the International Association Masonique (AMI) was founded again in Geneva at an international congress in 1921 and existed until the 1930s.
The majority of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian Freemasons still stayed away. These networks lost importance after the Second World War.
However, they promoted strongly the feeling of belonging together in European Freemasonry with the desire for networking. This should be founded in the fields of scientific, artistic or social levels of masonic networks with common interests, which could serve a fraternal exchange of ideas and experiences within the framework of the world brotherhood. Therefore it is time to reflect on the social mission of the brotherhood, especially after the dramatic attacks that have taken place since New York, Paris, Brussels, Berlin and elsewhere on the public commitment of Freemasons and their relationship to the society.
In the past English Freemasonry and Grand Lodges that followed it refer to the Constitutions of Anderson of 1723 for their political abstinence, which applied to behaviour the following ritual meetings when the brothers are still together. Thus, no personal teasing and arguments and certainly no arguments about religion, nation or politics could be carried into the lodges.
It was precisely these disputes that Anderson wanted to be banished from the Craft, which indeed succeeded. In the lodges men of different denominations and political directions are meeting. With this ban on politics, British-American Freemasonry even survived the American War of Independence in the New World.
The prohibition to argue about politics, religion and nation not only ensured the survival of Freemasonry, but also made it attractive as a place of peace, harmony and tranquility. Let us remember, however, this ideological neutrality was only possible in the long run if there was a common identity based on different reasons. This is why British Freemasonry developed a strong national-cultural and monarchical identity.
Such an identity of the Freemasons is hardly conveyable today as a pillar of national culture. However, the ban has no longer its necessary counterweight on discussing religion and politics. In France Freemasonry initially followed the Anderson regulations. It offered itself formally as an opposition institution and the development was similar in other Roman Catholic countries. In Italy and South America Freemasonry became one of the driving forces as an opponent of the Catholic Church, of national unification (Italy) and independence (Latin America). It did not become the bearer of a national civil philosophy, as in the British tradition, but a community of values. There the values of the French Revolution, the self-determination of peoples and the dignity of man became the central characteristic of identity. Even the Pope took sides with the victims of Charlie Heblo.
If we look at the two positions, it becomes clear that both the embedding in a national culture with political abstinence and a commitment to militant secularism are no longer appropriate. It therefore makes sense to promote the concept of a masonic community of values that is flexible and prudent in its principles and also allows a position on current issues of our time. According to Habermas, a community of values in liberal democracy is seen in Germany as a characteristic of identity. The Freemasonry community of values can contribute to this constitutional patriotism.
These values should be common that they encompass different types of Freemasonry and the private convictions of its members, and at the same time so concrete that they can be used to derive standards of assessment and possibilities for action. For us, this community of values is characterized by features such as
- the belief in a fundamental order and meaning of being,
- the knowledge of the imperfection of man
- the appreciation and tolerance towards others
- Faith in one humanity and humanism in practice.
It is quite clear that one can come to these values from very different philosophical basic positions. Humane Christianity has its place here, as does humanitarian agnosticism. The tolerant Muslim believer is invited as well as the enlightener capable of listening.
Faith in the fundamental meaningfulness of our natural and human order is required because it prevents us from falling into absolute pointlessness and arbitrariness.
However, this tolerance goes beyond mere toleration and our expensive idea of one humanity, in which different lines of tradition unite, cannot tolerate discrimination on the basis of origin, gender, race or religion.
No one has the right to declare his view of Freemasonry to be the only one to bless. If we cultivate harmonious community within, we should also express ourselves when human dignity is trampled underfoot, where people are discriminated and where humanity is harmed. This does not mean that you have to comment on everything and everyone. Statements are only perceived if they are wisely chosen, characterized by appreciation and tolerance.
Only in this way we will see the number of followers of our Craft and of our worldwide brotherhood rising again, as a mature part and partner in the modern society. This includes open, honest and respectful interaction with one another.
M.W. Bro. Rüdiger Templin was Prof. of Urology and Transplant Medicine, University of Rostock, Germany and acting in offices of German Grand Lodges between 2004 to 2015. He is Dr. H.C. (Davila University of Bucharest 2013).