THOMAS JACKSON (part 3)
Tom, what is the most difficult problem facing Freemasonry today?
Here, again, Claudiu, in order to answer a question like that I think it’s necessary that we go back into the different areas of the world that you are referring to. In the United States – in fact, in all the English-speaking countries – the greatest challenge that exists is the loss in membership numbers and the decrease in quality of the composition of the organization. I just read a paper that was done by a Masonic scholar in Australia by the name of Kent Anderson, and he did a study of the English-speaking Grand Lodges and he wrote a paper called “The Future of Freemasonry in English-Speaking Countries”. His study involved all the Grand Lodges of Australia, all the Grand Lodges of Western Europe, some of the Grand Lodges of Argentina and North America (United States, Canada), the different areas of the world. And what that study did was show that every country in the world – and this study was done over a 30 year period – every country in the world that had Freemasonry had a positive increase in membership ranging between 23% and 200% – except the English-speaking countries and the United Grand Lodges of Germany, and Germany’s decrease in membership was probably the result of the withdrawal of Allied troops, the Americans and the British that were stationed there.
Every English-speaking country had a decrease in membership ranging between 21% and 85% over that same 30 year period. Kent Anderson’s conclusion was the same conclusion that I reached 30 years ago: that the problem that we have in English-speaking countries is the style of Freemasonry that we have evolved into: a charitable style. Freemasonry in the United States for example peaked in membership numbers in 1959 at around 4.1 million. Today we are down to under 1 million. And I go back and look at that gradual decline from 1959, the 1960s and 70s – it was a decrease in numbers generally because of the death of so many of our members that had become members since the Second World War. Around 1980 we began for the first time to become concerned about the loss in numbers and we lowered the standards of Freemasonry to accept new members. As a result, we began to lose the petitions from educated professional men, and they were the ones that really provided the greatest capable leadership to the organization. Then, in order to try to increase our membership again, we began to raise monies to give to public charities – as a result, we destroyed our image in society and again that led to a continual decline in numbers. The result today is now we’re looking at Freemasonry in the United States, in Australia, in England – in all of the English-speaking countries, which evolved pretty much the same style of Freemasonry – we’re looking at a continual decline in our numbers. In the United States we’ve developed a program which we call “Traditional Style of Freemasonry” in which we try to create lodges, to developing lodges that use a different style of Freemasonry and are more similar to the European style of Freemasonry, in Western Europe. Kent Anderson did not involve the Eastern European Grand Lodges in his study because they weren’t in existence for a long enough period of time to show an impact.
In Eastern Europe – in fact, probably all over the world – I would say our greatest challenge to Freemasonry today is the internal variables we can find in Freemasonry. In the past, our greatest challenges have been from governments and from religious institutions, and they were all external. They never had a great impact on Freemasonry, we’ve always been able to rise above these challenges. Today, I don’t think our greatest challenges are external to our organization – today our greatest challenges are internal, in the loss of capable leadership, the development of big egos. I made the emphasis many, many times that every one of us have gained what we have gained in our lives because we have an ego driving us, that without that ego none of us would have accomplished what we’ve accomplished. But I have a speech to the Leadership Conference of the Scottish Rite maybe 30 years ago, and in that speech I made the observation that we did, indeed, gain everything that we have gained in our lives by the use of our egos, but that the legacy that we will leave behind will depend far more upon our ability to control our ego than to use our ego. Regretfully, that becomes our greatest challenge today, and it’s a result, very frankly – certainly in our country, certainly in most of the English-speaking countries – of us forgetting where we came from. I wrote a little prayer the second year I was Grand Secretary of our Grand Lodge that stated simply: “Dear God, let me never forget where I came from, and let me know when to quit”. So many great men that I have known forgot where they came from, and so many did not know when to quit. As a result, the legacy they left behind, in spite of all their contributions, the legacy they left behind was a negative legacy, instead of a positive one.