by Francis G. Paul

Sovereign Grand Commander

AASR Northern Masonic Jurisdiction


November 1988

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see," someone wrote, "when you take your eyes off your goals."

One of the best, most efficient ways to stay where you are or even go backward is to focus on the obstacles.  They are the distractions that keep us from becoming the best we can - both personally and as a fraternity.

When you and I take a risk, we test ourselves.  When we decide to solve a problem, we face the possibility of failure.  When we step out to break new ground, we know the voices of the critics will be raised.  Safety is certain, at least for awhile, if we do nothing.

Yet, Masonry teaches us to be dissatisfied - discontent - with the status quo.  Freemasonry challenges us to reach for the ideals of justice, brotherly love, and improvement - individually and as a fraternity.

In its annual report to the Supreme Council in September, the Committee on the General State of the Rite broke new ground.  While applauding our many successes, the committee urges us to set our eyes on our destinations, our goals.

Race and ethnic groups.  "This committee carefully searched our constitutions and ritual," the report reads, "finding nothing to indicate that we should deprive membership in our fraternity to any man because of race, color or creed."  Pointing out that this is indeed a difficult subject, yet it is one "that has been avoided for too many years."

The report continues, "It is the committee's opinion that unadmitted, residual racial bias hurts us, sapping our strength, and depriving us of men with strong leadership ability."

Although long overdue, the Supreme Council has elected the first black member to receive the 33rd degree at our next annual meeting.  "In today's society, we can no longer ‘stone-wall' this vital issue if we really intend to practice what we preach - brotherly love - in this wonderful nation of people with many and diverse origins," states the committee report.

Sovereignty of the Grand Lodges.  Noting that the framers of our U.S. Constitution recognized that the survival of the young nation depended on a balance of authority between the individual states and a federal government, the committee indicates that "there is a lesson to be learned" for our fraternity.

The committee has stepped forward with a call for "some central governance group - a policy-setting body with executive power to provide cohesive, coordinated management of the total Masonic fraternity."

If we are to grow and if we are to meet the challenges of today and those of the 21st century, we must have a national approach for Freemasonry.

Penalties of the obligations and balloting.  "It is becoming increasingly apparent that thinking candidates are having trouble giving honest assent to the current penalties contained in the obligations," reports the committee. "Oaths required deal with ‘ancient' penalties which are obsolete, unbelievable, unacceptable and simply not relevant in today's society."

Oaths taken anywhere on a Bible are not "symbolic." Our credibility as a fraternity suffers when we attempt to "explain away" our ancient Masonic penalties.  As a result, the committee urges all Bodies of Freemasonry to commence an "orderly rewrite and substitution of the onerous penalties in the various obligations of our order. "

Finally, the committee addressed the balloting issue.  "With our prevailing procedures of admitting new members only by unanimous, favorable ballot, we leave too much room for private pique and spite, all of which serves to deny true liberty and justice."  In order to rectify this situation, the committee has called for the Supreme Council to amend its Constitutions to require three negative votes to reject a candidate for all of our degrees, and urges all Masonic Bodies to give this suggestion immediate attention."

For men whose eyes are on the goals, there are no obstacles, just opportunities to lead the way.  The committee report received a standing ovation.  Evidently, we are ready to move forward.

We may never achieve perfection, but we can find more perfect ways for justice, brotherly love, and improvement to prevail in Freemasonry  - and the world.  When you think about it, the only frightful obstacle is our unwillingness to act on our Masonic ideals.