Anatomy of the Masonic Charge

A psychological and socioligical look at Masonry’s most valuable guide of conduct and its challenges for today’s mason

As I begin this commentary of my personal views and insights on what is arguably the most valuable of our landmarks, the closing charge, let me first say thanks to each of you who have, of your own free will and accord, chosen to walk the masonic path to enlightenment and accept the clarion call of the fraternity by striving to become a better man.

One of the distinctions of our craft is that we do not solicit for members. When petitioners come to our door of their own volition seeking membership, we take great care to examine each man to determine a proper fit for the order and for the individual. In the end, no brother within our ranks is without a genuine desire of his own free will nor without due examination by our fraternity.

One of the most rewarding benefits of this strategy in membership scrutiny is that we insure that we attract and retain like-minded men of high standard who have a love for fraternity and although are of diverse worldviews in life, have equal respect for one another and a mutual desire for the same basic values. But having said that, we are all works in progress and are always in need of improvement, chipping away the rough edges of our previously unexamined lives in an attempt to make smooth our own “rough ashlar” in order to find that better man inside of each of us. Nothing is a better reminder of the attributes we strive for than the values set forth in the closing charge that ends our meetings.

Not all masonic ritual is in cipher nor is it intended to be kept from the curious eyes of the world, and that is the case of our beloved charge. It is unapologetically what it implies, a list of final expectations and strong reminders of who we should be as masons and as men and how we should operate throughout our life both in and out of the lodge. It reminds us of the responsibilities we have promised to ourselves, our brothers, the craft, and finally to all of mankind. The charge is simple in its construction and it is straightforward in its expectation, perhaps so much so that we might glaze over its deeper meaning and be tempted to rush through it on a long meeting night. I will go so far as to say that our charge contains the distilled sum of our craft and so its tenets should not only put to memory by every mason, (officer or not), but understood as that good and wholesome instruction laid down by the master of the lodge specifically for our civility with one another and our example of genuine manhood to the world.

It may come as a surprise, but not every state nor country around the world present the closing charge to its brethren at the close of their meetings. As an example, England rarely has a closing charge and Scotland, Israel, Brazil and British Columbia, follow suit with England. Ontario, Canada has a short abbreviated version and there are a number of variations from state to state here in the United States including none at all.

The Grand Lodge of Washington upholds the practice of reciting the closing charge. It is typically presented around the altar by the Master of the Lodge just prior to the close. Occasionally it is given by the District Deputy or other lodge member when asked. I would like to take this opportunity to look closely with you, line by line, and explore the charge in detail, sharing thoughts you may or may not have considered through the filter of psychology and sociology. As you examine with me, you may find that you have not always given due thought to its necessity or appreciated why these reminders are so important especially in today’s world and the lodges of today. So let’s begin.

by VWB John Lawson
Deputy of the Grand Master & Past Chaplain
The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Washington




Masonic Civility and Personal Opinion in the Age of Social Media

All of us know the importance of civility in our interactions and conversations with our brothers. We have been famously counseled in regard to the discussion of politics and religion among brothers at masonic activities in order to prevent ill will or hurt feelings. We need no reminders that we are to respect one another, and keep our tongue when our words would do more harm than good. These are all just common sense and we all have those unfortunate memories in our minds when that line of courtesy and politeness gets crossed and damage to the craft and individuals results sometimes with unintended consequences.

Certainly our parents, teachers, and society in general spend time teaching us throughout our lives why we need to be kind, courteous and attentive in regard to our communications with one another and provide us a framework of family values and rules. Our workplace has a Human Resource department for these matters, our churches have theological tenets, our schools teach social behaviors to follow such as sportsmanship and our community leaders create civil laws to make certain that we treat one another respectably, regardless of age, creed, color, gender, special needs, etc. So why is this of particular concern to the mason if it’s already being handled? Why it is that “civility” takes a unique role in our masonic world when it seems to be a part of everyone else’s concerns?

As initiates and as brothers, each of us has been set apart and additional expectations have been placed on us both between one another and our sphere of influence to every human being through our masonic obligation that we agreed to when we stood before our great common alter. Our masonic life lived should stand out as man’s ability to love one another regardless of the differences we may have and it is in the ability to find civil agreement between those differences around our alter that causes our unique example to shine through and above the rest. The world needs an example of what it is to work together without tyranny or oppression. To show by our example, how we can disagree and yet remain not only tolerant but affectionate towards one another.

Anyone with a television, radio or newspaper knows that civility in our nation is being challenged. The rules established in many of the categories mentioned have broken down. The divorce rate is up, violence plagues our schools, dogma attacks one another’s sacred beliefs openly, even violently and we all know what has happened to a government divided by opposing values who appears as though it has lost its ability to work with civility at all causing gridlock and then fanned by the news media who thrive on conflict, we are bathed in examples of discord, anger, hostility, and fear. As never before, masonry’s example of civil discipline is needed and its great message of working together civilly is the answer that society needs now above all other examples.

Having said all of this, it is an important reminder that we have been set apart for this great work of creating a perfect society, a temple built without hands and that through our example, we will lead the world to its golden potential. We must examine ourselves in this day of Twitter, Facebook, email and text and be conscious of the fact that not only the words we share mouth to ear need to be filtered through our grand obligation but that every hashtag, Facebook post, email forward, or text associated with us requires our attention and scrutiny. When we wear the square and compass as a part of our identity we take on a larger persona than just that of our own personal opinion. We represent a philosophic empire that spreads across the globe. Each of us are obliged to one another and to the craft that we represent to communicate with respect, the highest degree of integrity, and the deepest concern for the feelings and welfare of others.

Certainly each brother is welcome to his own personal opinions and sharing those publically and clearly is the right of every free man but the manner in which the opinion is expressed is where civility needs to be checked. We must ask, are we being reasonable, kind, intelligent and beneficial? Are we allowing comedy, sensationalism, or cleverness to supplant our concerns not to be divisive, cruel, or mean spirited? Are we more concerned about respect for our personal views than we are about the views of others?

Masonry is an ancient a beautiful craft whose higher standards have the opportunity through each of our mindful efforts to be the guiding example in our social media world that is in great need of our philosophic teachings and inclusiveness, especially today when even our leaders have not been the examples of civility we would like. It makes it ever more important to be the higher example to others that masonry calls us to be and is something we can do every day to create the world we all know we all want and need and as masons, have been charged to create. Let’s all pause and examine how we express our opinions in the maelstrom of social media and ensure our rhetoric is something we are all proud of for our craft and others to imitate.

May the Great Architect give us wisdom and strength to be the light and example for others to follow.

Most fraternally,

W. B. John Lawson

Grand Chaplain,

Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Washington

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