Too much Exclusivity?
As I write this blog post, I am watching the onslaught of social media posts, on both sides of the fence regarding the upcoming vote at the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar Triennial Session, regarding the "Attestation of Faith" which is being clarified through some pretty direct language. What I have been reading on social media is both terrifying and uplifting, but not for reasons you may think.
For those who are not super-nerds in the world of Freemasonry, the Masonic Knights Templar are a part of the York Rite of Freemasonry (although it should really be called the "American" Rite because we have been doing our own thing for the last two centuries). These degrees are open to those who have gone through the three Craft Degrees (or Blue Lodge as people have called them), and the degrees of the Royal Arch. They are styled on the Chivalric Orders of days gone by, and serve to bridge the gap from Capitular Masonry to Chivalric Masonry. Once you travel across the oceans to other parts of the world, the requirements change slightly.
They are by far some of the most beautiful degrees in the "York Rite" system of Freemasonry. They take the candidate from the story of the building of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, through that portion of Jewish history, to the story of Paul in the New Testament, onward in time to the rise of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon (more popularly known as the Knights Templar).
Now don't get me wrong, I think that the Chivalric Orders are some of the most beautiful and spiritual degrees in all of Masonry (that I have witnessed thus far.) They impart lessons on truth, faith, and self-sacrifice. They use allegories which are morally uplifting and spiritually rich.
Now to the issue that is looming over all the Commanderies in the United States. Traditionally, albeit somewhat loosely, the requirements for membership were a belief in Christianity, with a charge that you swear to defend the Christian faith. I say "loosely" because I have seen the more "universal" sort of Mason, such as some Jewish or Muslim Brothers, that have participated in the Orders and have been very productive members of this Organization. Without professing a direct belief in the Trinitarian Christian Deity, they still respect the lessons, teachings, and moral values inherent to defending the religious beliefs of a fellow Masonic Brother.
What is being voted on this week is the inclusion of an "Attestation of Faith", which is quoted below:
I am a Christian – as defined in the four Gospels – and accept Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, as my personal Lord and Savior. (Matthew 16:16, John 3:15-17, Acts 4:10-12, Romans 10:9-10)
I believe that He died on the cross as the only sacrifice acceptable for our sins, (Romans 5:8, Romans 5:10, Romans 8:1, Galatians 2:20) that after three days He rose and presented Himself, bodily, in physical form, and breathed the gift of the Holy Spirit into those present in the room with Him.
I believe that because of His resurrection, we too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that one day He will return in just the same way as His Apostles watched Him go. (John 20:22, Acts1:4-5, 1 Corinthians 12:11, Acts 1:10-11)
So, an already "exclusive" group within American Freemasonry is now defining, even more stringently, what it means to be a member of this group. Let's talk about the doctrinal issues with this attestation.
You have a Freemasonic organization defining what they decided Christianity to entail, for all of its members, and prospective members as well. Last time I checked, no branch of American Freemasonry had a charter to impose a particular dogma on its members. No part of Masonry practices the rites and rituals of any particular sect of a religious organization, or provide a road to salvation. They all use the allegories contained within these religions to impart lessons on morality, upright living, and how to be a better human being towards all mankind, not just your own little circle of friends and compatriots.
This attestation of faith, and the firm requirements overall, are antithetical to the teachings of Freemasonry for various reasons. No sect or part of Freemasonry should tell people HOW to believe. That is not their purview. I am writing this to you as a Christian and a member of the Knights Templar. There are a myriad of Christian denominations that all make up the umbrella term "Christianity," and as of 2020, an approximate 2.6 billion people on Earth that are adherents to the Christian faith. A very small number of this 2.6 billion are Freemasons, and a smaller number still are Knights Templar. Let's go ahead and make that pool of people even smaller, shall we?
It is a bit limiting, and ridiculously presumptuous, to say that out of all these Christians, or potential Christian candidates for the Chivalric Orders, they will define (or clarify) HOW they must believe in Jesus in order to become a member. There is no other way to describe this action except by saying "how dare they?"
People do not knock on the door of Freemasonry, or join these different appendant bodies, to have their faith defined for them. YES, we limit (in most jurisdictions) Freemasonry to those who profess a belief in a Supreme Being, and that is normally where the questioning stops. A universal adherence to a belief in Deity is something that binds Freemasons together, as they seek to improve the physical and the mundane, in preparation for that next life that hopefully awaits us all. The argument brought up that "Freemasonry is already exclusive because we don't accept atheists, etc," is frankly bullshit and specious, and a very weak comparison between restricting membership to those WHO believe verses restricting membership to HOW they believe.
There are about 45,000 DIFFERENT denominations of Christianity in the world today, with over 200 in the United States. This attestation of faith cannot, nor should not, impose how Christianity should be believed by any of these members who seek to join. It is not Masonic, certainly not Christian at its core, and stinks of fundamentalism and exclusiveness.
One of the beauties of Freemasonry in general is the belief that all men are created equal, under the Fatherhood of God. How can you claim any ties to Freemasonry if you tell potential members "you can only join if you believe in this religion in this exact way, and no other way?" They should learn to mind their place, continue to teach the lessons inherent in the degrees, but stop presuming to speak for all Christian Masons everywhere about how they choose to worship their (and my) God.
There is much more to Christianity than what is found in the 4 Gospels, (open the book once in a while and read it); there are different ways in which Christian Masons identify "salvation," and the only right way does not come from the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar. If anything, this highlights the biggest issue with Masonic Knights Templar in general: it seeks to exclude those who could benefit from the message, life, and resurrection of Jesus, regardless of whom they pray to. If I recall correctly, Jesus preached to and taught all those that the established theocracy of the time shunned and excluded. It would be more "Christ-like" in fact to open the doors of the Commandery to EVERYONE and ANYONE who wanted to experience the degrees and learn the moral lessons of Christ, and not just the narrow-minded opinions of those who "believe in Christ" in a divisive and segregated manner.
The Crusades are over, Sir Knights; No need to start another one...
EDIT: Much thanks to the commenter who noted that some jurisdictions do impose their religious will on their members, such as the Swedish Rite, but that's different than the York Rite/American Rite that I was referring to in this post.