SECT OR MINE--NEITHER
Morris I. Budkofsky
Thanks to M.W. Bro. Budkofsky, PGM and Grand
Historian of the Grand Lodge of Connecticut for his
very insightful look at Prayer in our Masonic Lodges.
Frequently we tend to forget that Freemasonry is non-
sectarian and represents men of all faiths who believe
To most Masons, especially those who have made no special study
of the Craft and its philosophy--the universality of Masonry, of
which they hear so much, means only its wide distribution
throughout the civilized world.
If we were to ask a hundred average Master Masons, whether or
not Freemasonry is a Christian organization, without a moment's
thought, many will agree that it is. There was a time when
Freemasonry was Christian in character, and some of its early
enthusiasts did all they could to keep it so. Some Christian
influences still survive in our ritual and practice--the Holy
St's John are characters taken from the New Testament, the Lion
of the Tribe of Judah is difficult to explain except as a
Christian symbol, the New as well as the Old Testament is the
Book of Law on Masonic Altars in all English-speaking countries.
But Masonry is not Christian: nor is it Mohammedan nor Jewish
nor to be classified by the name of any other sect. The power
which has held it together, the nourishment which has caused its
growth, the central theme which makes it unique, is the
opportunity it affords men of every faith, happily to kneel
together at the same Altar, each in worship of the GOD he
reveres, under the universal name of C~reat Architect of the
Here, and here alone, is the real universality of Freemasonry.
It is the drawing power which brings men together to follow a
common ideal of charity and brotherhood. It is the cement which
holds men to their obligations and makes for common
understanding. It is the tie which binds one generation to
another, and which says to all initiates "you are brothers
because of mutual manhood, not because of your beliefs."
The universality of Freemasonry is in its toleration of every
man's faith, so it is monotheistic.
Freemasonry must constantly be aware of those within our
fraternity who would attempt to convert us into an organization
we were never intended to be. It is of paramount importance in
todays Masonic circles of leadership that there be a continuing
emphasis on the universality of Freemasonry. As relates to the
First Book of Constitution ("it is the religion in which all good
men agree") it is based on a foundation which supports all
religions, creeds and sects. Once Masons unite under its banner,
they may afterwards proceed to build for themselves temples of
worship for all the great religions of the world. While
Freemasonry does not interfere with these extra curricular
activities, we must insist that whatever be their private
opinions, Masons shall stand on that foundation.
One of the most important of all our regulations is that
which forbids us to participate, as Masons, in any form of
religious or political sectarianism. The fraternity's attitude
towards all such sectarianism is more than merely one of a
negative position. It goes further than just a hands off policy.
It is rather an affirmative position, for it definitely
prohibits all Masons from sectarian controversies in any form.
Such controversies are un-Masonic, that is, they are outright
violations of written Masonic law.
It is not difficult for one to understand the reason for this
regulation. Freemasonry exists for the sake of, is dedicated and
devoted to, the philosophy of Brotherhood. Brotherhood means that
many of us, men drawn from all walks of life, with a great
variety of racial characteristics, religious and political
opinions, are brought together, and kept together, in a
relationship of friendship, harmony and good-will.
To maintain that harmony, it is necessary that whatever
passions and prejudices might divide us into opposing groups,
feuds, schisms or conflicting cliques, must be kept out at all
cost. Nothing is more likely to destroy the peace and harmony of
the craft than religious and political sectarianism. For this
reason, sectarianism is prohibited in Freemasonry because the
welfare of the fraternity and the brotherhood it teaches require
All of which adds up to the fact that Freemasonry seeks to
unite men into one guild or union and thus becomes the means of
conciliating true friendship among the persons that might have
remained at a perpetual distance. And the prinicple of
universality as to religious beliefs has been and continues to be
our greatest heritage and our greatest challenge.
Innovations in the body of Masonry over the years have had a
way of becoming fact instead of fiction. When innovations in the
body of Masonry either esoteric, exoteric or physical are
introduced and virtually-go unchallenged, they have a way of
becoming the accepted practice and their elimination becomes the
In the "Charge" of the Master Mason degree, we were admonished
to carefully preserve the Ancient Landmarks of the Order
entrusted to our care. The Landmarks of Masonry are those an-
cient principles and practices which mark out and distinguish
Freemasonry as such, and constitute our source of Masonic
Freemasonry is defined in its "Statement of Principles" as a
charitable, benevolent, educational, and religious society.
Religious in that it teaches monotheism, which is the sole dogma
of Freemasonry. Belief in one God is required of every initiate,
but his conception of the Supreme Being is left to his own
interpretation. This is the basis of our universality. The Holy
Bible is open upon its altar whenever a lodge is in session,
reverence for God is ever present in its ceremonials. The Great
Light of Freemasonry is the Volume of the Sacred Law which is an
indispensable part of the furniture of a Masonic Lodge. The
Grand Lodges of the United States use the Holy Bible as the
volume of Sacred Law on their altars, however the candidate who
is not a Christian or of the Jewish faith is entitled to have his
own sacred book substituted for the Bible.
In some Lodges in other countries, the altars of Masonry have
more than one volume of the Sacred Law on them and the candidate
may choose the one on which he is obligated.
No lodge may stand open and remain so unless the Holy Bible is
open upon its altar, its pages displaying the proper passage
appropriate to the degree in which the lodge is working. The open
Bible signifies that by the light of its teachings, we must
regulate our conduct, for it is the rule and guide of our faith.
Past Grand Master, The Rev. Thomas S. Roy, D.D., Grand Master
of Masons in Mass. in 1951, had good counsel for Lodge Chaplains
and others who insist on the use of Christian phraseology in
prayer offered at Masonic gatherings when he points to the crux
of the problem as it pertains to the universality of Freemasonry.
"No man is barred from using that name of God which comes nearest
to him. However, there is always the matter of good taste, of
courtesy. Therefore, we are well advised if in our prayer we use
terminology that is common to all of our religions. In my duties
as Chaplain in a lodge I have found the prayers suggested in our
Masonic ritual to have such spritual meaning and such dignity of
expression as to make them completely satisfying to me."
"I am quite sure that as Brethren we shall strengthen the bonds
that unite us as we find common expression in prayer rather than
assert our right to use, each his own, distinctive phraseology."
Writing on belief in God, as the first of the Ancient Landmarks
in his classic book, "Dare We Be Masons?" The Rev. and Most
Worshipful Brother Roy says: "It is when we formulate our
beliefs about God that we create divisions."
"Faith in God unites us, but belief about God, which is
theology, divides us."
"Freemasonry has no theology. It does not go from faith to
speculation, which is theology, but from faith to demonstration,
which is life."
"Freemasonry makes no attempt to put a label on God that would
place him at the front of a Masonic procession."
In 1953, Most Worshipful Brother Robert A. Nisbet, addressing
the Grand Lodge of Connecticut said in part:
"Masonry is the common ground where men of every race and
nation, where men of every sect and creed, where men of every
shade of religious belief and of every political opinion can meet
and be united in one Brotherhood, under one God, and in a natural
religion in which they can all agree and yet still retain
their.... individual religious and political beliefs."
"If men wish to foregather and work for their ideas and
convictions with men whose religious and political beliefs
coincide closely with their own, there is a wide field for their
activities and they conceivably may do much good in the world for
proselyting and even fighting for their convictions, either
political, or religious, or both."
"But a Masonic Lodge is not their sphere for such activity. The
strength of Masonry is its nonpolitical and non-sectarian
character, and anyone who tries to Christianize Masonry, as did
Dermott early in the Eighteenth Century, or as many still try
to do, no matter what their good intentions, do Masonry a
The Universality of Freemasonry can only be accomplished when
we accept and understand what we read in the Old Charge; i.e. we
recognize non-sectarianism as an important lesson in the
teachings of Freemasonry; when we subscribe to the 1939
Declaration of Principles, as adopted by the Conference of Grand
Masters in North America; when we take seriously that which we
teach and speak a great deal of and on occasion seemingly
practice very little. Then and only then will one's religious
denomination or persuasions become secondary, thus Freemasonry
becomes the center of union, and the means of conciliating true
Friendship among persons that might have remained at a perpetual
In summation, Masons meet on the level and seek to conciliate
true friendship among those of every sect and opinion ..Any
prayer in the lodges should be such that any Mason could freely
respond, "So mote it be," an old phrase which may be interpreted
to mean, "This is my prayer, too".....
Then let us pray and lecture in those universal terms which can
unite all Masons in agreement. Let each Mason hold to his own
faith firmly while he accords the same precious right to every
It may be in some lodges, particularly in smaller communities,
that all of the local Brethren are professing Christians. Still,
visiting Masons may come to the meetings of such a lodge. All of
us would want any visitor to feel at home, and welcome. The visit
of a Mason who is a Jew or a Hindu, should not require a change
in the usual practices of any lodge. All Masons should be
received in the spirit of brotherhood and hospitality.
Let it be a precept of the Craft that everything done in the
lodge should be such that any Mason could join in without offense
to his faith or discomfort to his conscience.