EXERCISING MASONIC DISCRETION
By Brother Ken M. Lane, Jr.
In the Grand Lodge Proceedings from 1859, there is an interesting report from MW Alfred Martin from the Grand Lodge of North Carolina. Quote; “In regard to a large acquisition of members to the order in that jurisdiction, the Grand Master, very justly fearing the evil consequences, says:”
“I fear that an over anxiety on the part of many of our Lodges to increase their numbers, has induced them to receive application without the rigid scrutiny into their character that a prudent regard for their own harmony and true prosperity, and the interest and honor of the Order requires. The numerous expulsions and suspensions annually reported, is a melancholy evidence of this. You may rely upon it, brethren, we are in this way, gathering into the fold the very elements of our own destruction.”
“It is folly to flatter ourselves with the idea that we can relieve the Institution from the precarious consequences of such a course, by the expulsion of such as we may find unworthy. The poison once admitted, is diffused through the whole system; and though antidotes may be found against its effects, immediately fatal, we can never entirely eradicate it, or escape from its corroding influence. There is no man so vile, or in a position so degraded, but, having once been admitted, can inflict a wound that will be, in some degree, injurious to the Order. The connection once established, he is armed with ten-fold more power for mischief to us, individually, and to our Institution. Our only safety, therefore, consists of guarding against hasty, inconsiderate, or indiscriminate admissions. It is not sufficient that we know nothing, or that we can hear of nothing, in the character of the applicant, to condemn; a negative character is no recommendation. We should know him sufficiently to have discovered some good, something to approve or admire. Men do not and cannot conceal all their virtues, or their good deeds; therefore, let them alone until you have discovered some good in them – some commendable virtue – that may, in some degree, compensate for whatever vices they may have succeeded in concealing from you.”
“It is far easier to prevent than to right a wrong."
On May 14, 1862 Grand Master, MW Howard B. Ensign from the Grand Lodge of Connecticut wrote during the Civil War regarding the subject of “emergency,” balloting upon a candidate and rushing him through in “hot haste”; “In ninety cases out of a hundred they are men who have lived all their days in our midst, knowing there was a Masonic Lodge within a stone’s throw of their home, passing almost daily before the very door, at which they never had a thought of knocking, until when about to engage in some hazardous enterprise, or perhaps to visit foreign lands, or distant cities, they happen to think, all of a sudden, they may derive some benefit from an Order which extends over the whole earth. Then, and then only, these supposed advantages urge them to be made Masons, and they apply to some friend to propose them to the Lodge; and as they have no time to lose, they must be hurried through with lightning speed, receive a certificate, and start on their way rejoicing. Now, brethren, let me ask if such men are worthy members of the Order? What do they know of Masonry? Of the lectures they certainly know little of nothing: and it is very doubtful whether they remember enough to satisfy a critical examiner that they have been initiated, passed and raised. If the letter is unknown to them, what shall we say of the spirit that vivifies! They certainly know nothing of it. The body, if I may be allowed to express myself thus, may have been duly lead through the ceremonies, but the mind has not had time to digest the moral explanation received. They can give no good account of their faith. Far from bringing credit to the Fraternity they have joined, they only show their ignorance of Masonic principles, and expose the Lodge that admitted them, to the merited remissness in the performance of their duty to the craft. Such are the generality of the cases of emergency, and we must, therefore conclude that such men had better be kept out of the Order. Nothing is lost to us, and but little to persons actuated by mere mercenary motives.
A Short Talk bulletin from November 1929 regarding balloting states “Have we been too concerned and preoccupied with the continued statements we hear every year at Grand Lodge that we are losing members faster than they are joining. Perhaps in our search for quantity we have become too complacent in our zeal to restock our ranks that we have lost sight to admit men who possess the seed of high quality”.
“The black cube is a thorough test of our understanding of the Masonic teaching of the cardinal virtue Justice, which "enables us to render to every man his just due without distinction." We are taught of justice that "it should be the invariable practice of every Mason, never to deviate from the minutest principles thereof. Justice to the lodge requires us to cast the black cube on an applicant we believe to be unfit. Justice to ourselves requires that we cast the black cube on the application of the man we believe would destroy the harmony of our lodge”.
In the Introduction to Freemasonry - Master Mason, by Carl H. Claudy wrote on the Power of the Ballot stating;
“A Master Mason has rights, duties and privileges unknown to the Entered Apprentice or Fellowcraft. He is part of a lodge; he is invested with all the powers of a full-fledged member of the Ancient Craft. His vote is as powerful as that of the oldest member; his black cube as potent to keep an applicant out of the lodge as that of the Grand Master.
Any Master Mason has the undoubted right to cast a black cube against any applicant. It is his duty to cast it if he knows something about the applicant which would prevent him from becoming a good Mason, a useful member of the lodge. It may be his duty to cast it without such knowledge; if the applicant is one with whom any Master Mason cannot associate in lodge in peace and harmony, he should be excluded. But the Master Mason should consider well and think tolerantly and broad-mindedly of his “peace and harmony.
The brother who casts a ballot wields a tremendous power. Like most powers it can be used well or ill. It may work harm or good not only upon him whom it us used but to him who uses it. Unlike many great powers put into the hands of men this one is not subject to review or control by any human agency. No king, prince, potentate; no law; custom or regulation; no Masonic brother or officer can interfere with a brother’s use of his power.
For no one knows who uses the black cube. No one knows why one was cast. The individual brother and his God alone know. The very absence of any responsibility to man or authority is one reason why the power should be used with intelligence and only when after solemn self-inquiry the reason behind its use is found to be Masonic. The black cube is the great protection of the Fraternity; it permits the brother who does not desire to make public his secret knowledge to use that knowledge for the benefit of the Craft. It gives to all members the right to say who shall not become members of their lodge family. But at the same time it puts to the test the Masonic heart and the personal honesty of every brother present. The black cube is a thorough test of our understanding of the Masonic teaching of the cardinal virtue Justice, which “enables us to render to every man his just due without distinction.” We are taught of justice that “it should be the invariable practice of every Mason never to deviate from the minutest principle thereof.
Justice to the lodge requires us to cast the black cube on an applicant we believe to be unfit. Justice to ourselves requires that we cast the black cube on the application of the man we believe would destroy the harmony of our lodge. Justice to the applicant requires that no black cube be cast for little or mean reasons. Justice to justice requires that we think carefully, deliberate slowly, and act cautiously. No man will know what we do; no eye will see save that All-Seeing Eye which penetrates the innermost recesses of our hearts.
A well-used black cube goes into the ballot box. Ill used, it drops into the heart and blackens it.”
Shakespeare said, "O, it is excellent to have a giant's strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant!"
Therefore the black cube is a giant's strength to protect Freemasonry. Used thoughtlessly, carelessly, without Masonic reason, it crushes not only him at whom it is aimed but also him who casts it.
As Masons, we value the many safeguards in place because our fraternity possesses powerful, remarkable teachings. It is my hope that I’ve neither influenced you to vote favorably or unfavorably for a candidate. Rather, it is my hope that you have newfound curiosity and some enlightenment to ponder.
Remember, when appropriate, judicious use of the black cube allows us to regulate our ranks. As Abraham Lincoln said “A house divided against its self cannot stand”- when balloting, vote for the good of Freemasonry!
In closing, I will leave you with these two comments which specifically address Freemasons in the greater Pacific Northwest. The first is from the 2009 Washington Grand Lodge Proceedings, Most Worshipful Douglas Tucker wrote:
“Let us take a look at this aspect of acquiring new members from another point of view. For many years’ critics from within the Craft have accused the Fraternity of being “dumbed down” for the sake of membership. Simply put, our once stringent requirements have been modified or eliminated to accommodate nearly any man from any walk of life. It is time we raised the bar, so to speak, to higher standards. This will seem to be a heretical statement to many of the Brethren, however, Freemasonry is not for every man. How many times in your longevity as a Mason have you heard the statement, “Freemasonry will take good men and make them better”? Never has there been a statement saying, “Freemasonry will take mediocre men and make them good.” So you are cautioned, with as much absolute certainty as possible, to make sure the man you are thinking of contacting will not only be a good fit for your Lodge, but for the Craft as well. It is time that integrity, clean living and honesty above reproach became ideals we as Masons must strive for in our everyday lives no matter how many, or what type of concordant organization we choose or are asked to join. We must lead and live by example if our beloved Craft is to not only “attract and retain all men of high quality,” but survive.”
Most Worshipful Brother G. Murray Webster, Grand Master of British Columbia and Yukon in his June 2012 installation address said: 'Guarding the West Gate' - I believe the greatest threat facing our Grand Lodge jurisdiction is the admission of unworthy men into our fraternity. I believe we MUST do a better job of screening those who are interested in making application so that we are TOTALLY satisfied they are worthy men.