American Freemasonry in Crisis
The decline of global Freemasonry in recent years has been notable, unprecedented and historic. Nowhere is that better demonstrated than in American Freemasonry, which is in complete crisis. Masonry’s own Masonic Service Association of North America (who are responsible for collating and monitoring the membership strength) reports that its national American membership is crumbling at an alarming rate of 40,000 members a year. It has plummeted from 4,103,161 in 1959 to 1,161,253 in 2016. That is an incredible 73% decrease. This is a startling demise by anyone’s standards. Since 1959, the Masons’ membership has declined every single year without fail – a continual decline of nearly 60 years. Amazingly, over this past 10 years, there has been a 25% crash in numbers. That is a fall from 1,483,449 to 1,117,781. Near 400,000 members have disappeared from Masonic ranks. The Masonic Lodge cannot surely sustain such a wholesale disintegration.
In 1930, 2.66 per cent of the population belonged to the Masonic fraternity. When women and kids, and men under 21 are taken out of the equation, as they are ineligible to join the Lodge, that percentage rises substantially. That would be over 10% of the male population over 21. By 2016, Masons represented 0.35% of Americans. To put it in its proper perspective, less than 1 in every 300 Americans you meet today are Masons. Masonry is clearly not as strong and influential as it pretends. The Masonic Lodge has become an increasingly marginalized grouping in today’s modern society, and is struggling to make itself relevant in the 21st century.
The Canadian Grand Lodge has collapsed to only 69,830 men in total in 2016, a starling figure in a country that once had a thriving fraternal presence.
Why is this happening?
The continued widespread exposure of the Order, its obscure teaching, silly rituals and weird practices by the media, social media, TV, books and the internet is crippling it. This is happening throughout the fraternal family. The secrets that were once scrupulously protected by blood oaths, verbal threats, handshakes and passwords have now been exposed for the world to observe. Because of this, the institution is no longer considered as honorable and dignified by young people today but rather weird and eccentric. It is considered something bored old granpas enjoyed years ago before the onset of TVs and lap-top computers, but has now passed its day of relevance and usefulness in this modern age.
32° Mason W. E. Gutman lamented in an article in The Trowel in Massachusetts: “Membership is down nationwide. Participation in Masonic activities is in decline. Attendance is low or spotty in most Lodges. A shortage of worthy and well-qualified candidates has inhibited the orderly flow of succession from chair to chair, thus forcing the ‘recycling’ of past masters to keep the chairs suitably warm. We’ve become a refuge for the geriatric set. Attempting to revive a comatosed organization by boosting membership alone is tantamount to dispatching freshly recruited and untrained reinforcements to a battle-weary unit that has lost its will to fight. Imagine applying a Band-Aid to a severed jugular … Freemasonry in America had lapsed into irrelevance.”
Masonic educational officer and Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog Robert Johnson (Past Master) paints an even bleaker picture, contending: “the number of actual members who are active [is] about 5%.” He continues: if “we divided them into about 2000 lodges around the United States, we’d have about 30 members per lodge.” That is only 60,000 active Masons in the whole of the US. That is quite extraordinary, especially when you consider that there is currently 10,905 lodges in America right now. Whilst Masonry’s own figures would suggest that they have approximately 100 Masons per lodge, the reality is that there is more likely to be closer (on average) to 6 active members per lodge, not enough to even have a quorum. There is inevitably going to be a drastic cut in the amount of Masonic lodges in America over this next 10 years. This large figure is simply unsustainable.
Senior Mason Stephen Dafoe wrote a very detailed article on the decline called There’s a Hole in Our Bucket, which was essentially a battle cry to the apathetic membership to wake up before it is too late. He is (ironically) said to have resigned disenchanted after completing his research. This is poignant for one who was actually a motivational conference speaker for the Lodge on this subject. At one time, he held the position of Grand Steward of the Grand Lodge of Alberta. He was also the former publisher of the Masonic Magazine and the author of several books on the Knights Templar and Freemasonry. He therefore had his finger on the pulse of the internal state of Masonry.
Dafoe practically explained how the demise was happening. He did so by addressing the higher degree Knights Templars Order. He testified: “Membership statistics from the Grand Encampment of Knights Templar show that between 2004 and the end of September 2008, 17,470 American Freemasons have become Templars, while 9,576 have taken a demit and another 21,706 have been suspended for non payment of dues. Add to this the 22,546 Templars who have gone on to join their creator, and you have 36,358 fewer Knights Templar marching about.” The Knights Templar are losing about 9000 members per year in America – a considerable figure by anyone’s standards.
Dafoe concluded in his report: “It will not be an easy task fixing this half-century old hole in our Masonic bucket; but it will not be possible at all until we accept that a failure to do so is the cause of our decline and the harbinger of our demise.”
There is disillusionment within the camp. The average resignation rate is now about 50%. The number of men affiliated with Freemasonry around the world is declining because the average number of years between joining and resignation has declined from 20 to 5 years. With the average age of Masons creeping up from 60 years of age towards 70, the future looks bleak for Freemasonry.
The Masonic Traveler addressed this concerning state of affairs from a Masonic perspective in 2007, asking (in an article): So What? The Dynamic of Masonic Membership. It depressingly concluded: “So what? So what can we do about this? The most effectual answer I can come up with, individually, to the “SO WHAT” question is nothing. We can, at this point in time do nothing to turn this trend around. No matter how many open houses, public lectures, marketing campaigns, sports sponsorships, television commercials, radio spots, billboards, or finite programs promoted by individual lodges or Grand Lodges will stem the hemorrhage. Even if the blue lodge started giving away memberships, it’s doubtful that we could find enough people who even remembered who the Freemasons are, and even fewer who would want to become one. The damage is already done, and we are now in a free fall that threatens to erase the remains of North American Freemasonry. This means the closure and roll back of individual state Grand Lodges. This will mean the selling of more Masonic properties and assets, and the selling or divesting publicly of our privately funded billion dollar institutions. This means the end of Freemasonry as we know it today” (Capitalization in original article).
The article depressingly concludes: “In the next 30 years the landscape of what we call Regular Freemasonry will be radically different than what we see today. The sooner we come to see that NOW, to talk about it, and confront it head on – the sooner we can start planning on what we want to do about it. Burying our heads in the sand is not the answer and if we continue to insist on doing nothing about it WE will only further hasten OUR demise. Our generation, RIGHT NOW, is the unwilling inheritor of the future of Freemasonry – what we do NOW dictates how our sons will come to know this ancient institution. If we ignore the problem, there won’t be any institution left” (Capitalization in original article).
Please check out the facts: Masonic Membership Statistics
This depressing analyze from within the Masonic Lodge is a mirror of what is happening in all the different secret societies throughout the world. They are sinking into oblivion. Only the most committed Masons are clinging unto the sinking ship.
Order of Elks
The Elks are another secret fraternity that are on the ropes!
The Mason decline is mirrored by other fraternities. Amos McCallum, a chairman of the past national presidents of the Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks, says his group has under 900,000 members today, down from 1.6 million in 1980. This is also a serious fall! They have lost 700,000 members in 3 decades due to external disinterest and internal disillusionment. But the reality is, even this shocking figure grossly exaggerates their current strength. They have nowhere near 900,000 members. Secret societies are notorious for inflating their numbers to give the false impression of strength. The Elks annual report for 2010-11, nationally, showed 869,019 members with a net loss of 23,868 members for the year ending March 31, 2011. The Elks have lost a lot of members over this past six years.
At the Elks national convention recently, top Elks official Thomas Ryan tried to motivate the wilting organization, delivering a desperate message: “You are here because we have got to increase membership. Good membership.”
In front of him were two giant projection screens showing the Elks’ dismal downward spiral. Membership was perilously close to what Ryan called “that line in the sand” when the group’s charity and scholarships would suffer.
Ryan told the “Exalted Rulers”: “We’ve got a problem! We lost another 20,000-plus members this year.”
Phil Kirmse, exalted ruler of an Illinois Elks Lodge testifies that his lodge had 1,300 members when he joined 10 years ago. It’s has dropped to fewer than 700, and the average age of its members is about 62. “So, in 10 years,” he said, “unless we bring some young people in, we’re just going to go downhill because we’re so old.”
There are about half as many Shriners today as 25 years ago.
The Loyal Order of the Moose
The Loyal Order of the Moose claim 935,000 members, a third fewer than there were in 1980. This figure is believed to be a gross exaggeration of strength. The reality is, nationally, in 1979 there were 1,323,246 members of Moose Lodges. In 2013, the number of members had declined to 800,000.
Mel Spizzo, secretary of a Moose Lodge, said, “We get some young people, but mostly old-timers join. New enrollees have to stay here for an hour and a half and listen to people tell the history of the lodge. You have to sit and stand, sit and stand. It’s like being in church. It turns some people off.”
The Odd Fellows are all but fading from view.
The Improved Order of Red Men is a fraternal organization that traces itself to the Boston Tea Party. It is now down to about 23,000 members. It has declined from a high of 500,000 in the 1920s.
David Lintz, director of the Red Men Museum and Library in Waco, Texas. testifies: “All of the organizations have the same problems … Guys just don’t commit as much anymore to the requirements, the memorization and ceremonies and rituals. The fraternals aren’t as needed anymore for things like insurance or political clout.”
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