Here are three reasons not to come to a lodge election
First of all, politics and campaigns for office are pointless and full of favoritism. They are nothing but "popularity contests." The adage that "all politicians are liars" has become a truism in our culture. And within the lodge it is just the same. So, why should you drag yourself out on a cold Winter's night to go vote in the election of officers? Here are some good reasons not to bother.
Second, who really cares who is the lodge secretary or even the Worshipful Master? It never seems to make any difference in the running of the lodge. Same predictable rituals, new candidates I don't even know, and the even more predictable rise in dues. Humph! Lodge officers are just figureheads anyway. Let the others have their offices. I'm just glad it's not me.
Third, look at how lodge elections are run. There is always that "tradition prevailing" that winks at the members to say, "We know who will be elected beforehand, as the officer's line just advances." Boring. It makes me feel like I'm just wasting my time for a hollow show!
And, if those reasons aren't enough for you, here's another. The only brothers who are nominated for offices in Masonry are ambitious egotists who think that one of those titles, like "Worshipful Brother" make them something special. Masons love high-falutin' titles, but they are really just like a bunch of boys playing at a game of pretend power and nobility.
So, there. Stay home and watch TV.
Any of those thoughts go through your mind? Well, it kind of goes along with the general disaffection about voting in America. But think about that for a few moments. Voting in America is often touted as the foundation of democracy, and indeed it is. The vote goes back to Ancient Greece and maybe further. It is a way that men have always made decisions, and is a real step up from duking it out to see who is the winner.
In ancient Athens the right to vote and hold office was extended to all citizens, with some exceptions. You had to own property, your parents had to be Athenians, and you had to be an adult male. In some other tribal societies that were less "civilized" women did have the vote. The circle of the tribe's women made the decisions and the tribal chief followed their advice. Sounds familiar perhaps?
The American institutions of the Congress and the Presidency go back a long way. While the Athenians wanted to have everything decided by an assembly of 6000 citizens and a smaller sort of steering committee, the Romans ran their republic with the Senate. "Senex" in Latin means "old man." So, the Senate was the meeting of the elected elders, more or less. Again the old men ran the place and younger men ran for lower political offices.
The office of Consul was like our President, except there were two of them who were supposed to work as a team, especially if there was a war and one of them needed to lead the army somewhere abroad. You had to be a member of the Senate to run for Consul. As the Roman Republic evolved it became more complex.
Augustus was made Emperor, which was a sort of special Consul-General, and gradually the bureaucracy grew and many offices were up for election or appointment. Even the lower classes were allowed to elect two Tribunes who represented their interests in the Senate and in the government of the republic.
But all that is ancient history. In the Middle Ages Western Civilization had to re-boot. The Roman Empire crashed and a lot of Germanic and Gallic hackers hacked their way into the system. Literally. But eventually towns formed again and the people demanded some say in the way their lands were governed. Kings permitted local elections and made laws about how they would be conducted. Eventually, this evolved into the parliamentary system of England, in which elected members of the House of Commons made laws and the House of Lords and the Monarch became less and less powerful.
It was out of this environment that America was born. American democracy returned to the ideals of the Greeks and the republicanism of the Romans. As with the Greeks, only male citizens with a certain amount of property could vote or hold office, so it wasn't the kind of open democracy we have today. Nor was there a secret ballot. France, during its own Revolution was the first country to use the secret ballot at a national level. Its constitution of 1795 stated clearly that all elections were to be held by secret ballot. It is possibly the influence of Freemasonry which brought this out in the French constitutions.
Next to adopt the secret ballot were some of the English colonies in Australia in 1856. England itself didn't enact the secret ballot until 1872, almost eighty years after France. In the United States each state individually adopted the "Australian ballot," as it was called, under much controversy. Louisville Kentucky is credited as the first city to adopt the Australian ballot, and Massachusetts was the first state. Oddly, Kentucky was the last state to switch, and before that an oral ballot was the norm. The first U.S. President to be elected entirely under the secret ballot process was Grover Cleveland in 1892, 120 years after France had adopted the idea.
Many people thought that men should be open and declare who they were voting for. The idea was that all the men voting for a candidate formed his campaign and were activists. The secret ballot, as we use in Masonry, was adopted in politics in an attempt to prevent landowners and later factory owners from coercing their employees to vote for a particular candidate.
Today, we take the idea of a secret ballot for granted. In Masonry, we should be proud that, as an institution we led the way in this matter. Indeed, in the course of the nineteenth century the use of secret ballots in fraternal organizations and gentlemen's clubs or scientific societies became almost universal.
But now we come to the questions I raised earlier: why participate? Why take time out of your life to attend the elections of officers to your lodge. Why attend lodge to participate in the balloting on candidates? Why should we care?
Well, I could say something about brotherhood, and fellowship, and pride in your lodge, but that isn't really the root of it. People like to say that if you don't exercise your right to vote, you have to right to complain about how things are done afterwards. But in Masonry, in our lodge, the problem is apathy -- too many members don't even care enough to complain. They feel nothing when they think of their lodge.
Our missing brothers have left home and like the prodigal son in the Bible, they want to spend their time and energy somewhere else -- maybe just about anyplace else. But they are also a bit like the traveling man who was robbed and left in the ditch in Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan. We need to act like good Samaritans and take time to help our lost brothers get back on the road. We need to act like the father did to his prodigal son and welcome our brothers back joyously. And if you are yourself one of the travelers who have fallen by the wayside, think about that kind of reception.
But still, that is not the reason to come to lodge and vote in the elections or ballot for candidates. The reason, I would submit, is that your vote as a Mason is not a "right," it is part of the moral obligation that you swore when you became a Mason. When you stated solemnly under certain penalties that you would answer all due signs and summonses from your lodge, if within the length of your cable tow. That cable tow clause does let us off the hook if our obligation to attend lodge interferes with our other duties to family or work. But don't let your cable tow get too short. You might cut off your circulation.
Being serious about promises is probably the center of Freemasonry. There is hardly any lesson more often repeated in our degrees. We make solemn promises to each other as brothers. Those oaths are not frivolous.
Well, so what? you may say. What if I ignore those promises I made at the altar of the lodge? What's gonna happen to me? I have to leave the answer to that up to you and your individual beliefs about honesty, karma, and the soul, but I will tell you that personally I believe we damage our souls badly when we make a promise and then don't keep it. We aren't just wounding the people to whom we made the promise, we are wounding ourselves.
Yet, there is a positive reason to come to the elections too. Your vote is not just an obligation, it is a power. It is a power given to you by your brothers when you were yourself voted into the lodge. Your petition was balloted upon; your proficiency was approved by the three votes of the senior officers of the lodge. Think about it this way: Your power to elect or reject candidates for office or for degrees is the power to honor your fellow men. The offices of the lodge are more than honorific, and the title Master Mason is not merely a pretty game of pretend importance. To bestow Masonic honors on a man is to help him along the road to becoming a better man.
That power lies in you, my brother. Your lodge brothers gave you that power as a gift, the power to raise up other men, strangers even, not to idle honors but to real, substantial honor and nobility. The nobility of Masons is not merely a lot of pretend titles. It is not even the sort of noble titles that are bestowed by kings and queens. It is real, inward nobility of spirit that strives to be good, do good, and employ our power as men to the betterment of ourselves and those around us. That honor lifts up everyone we meet in our lives, it increases the sum of good will in the world. It is a real, positive, spiritual force that you possess because your brothers gave it to you. If you have never served as an officer of your lodge, you nevertheless possess the power to lift up your brothers to serve, and that service is an important part of their Masonic journey.
So, maybe those reasons not to come to the lodge and vote aren't so good after all. Maybe you will find that it feels great to exercise your Masonic power to help your brothers on that long road, that level of Time upon which we are all traveling. A road where men notice when someone has fallen into the ditch, is hurt, and needs a hand. Use your hand, that sublime instrument of humankind, to cast your ballot and empower a brother to do good in the world and to become a better man himself.
That hand of yours possesses that great power. In civil life voting for a President, or a Mayor, or a member of the Water board, are necessary parts of creating and renewing our democratic self-governance. In the lodge, your vote means a good deal more; because, while you cannot usually tell if an elected official in government will actually do good, in Freemasonry you can rest assured that the brother you elect or the candidate you elect is bound by spiritual bonds to the great work of increasing goodness and light in our world.
See you in lodge.