On December 8, 2008 the Deputy Grand Master of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas, Michael T. Anderson, appeared on the radio podcast Masonic Central and I had the honor of helping to interview him. This was an exposure of Prince Hall right from the horse’s mouth to an audience of mainly Mainstream Masonry from all over.
This show has a blog or chat board that allows those logged on not only to listen to the interview but also to post questions or carry on a conversation with others logged in. There were questions but what got my attention were some of the comments. “We are farther apart than I thought we were”, said one. “He’s preaching”, another blurted out. It’s not that these comments were disrespectful because they were not. It was the chasm of understanding that still needed to be overcome that sunk in.
Most Mainstreamers do not understand the closeness of Prince Hall to Christianity and why prayers to Jesus are allowed in Lodge. They have “sanitized” their Freemasonry and put up a wall of separation between spirituality and Masonry. To understand why Prince Hall operates as it does you need to go back into Black history.
Black people whether slave or free were not allowed to go down to the park and hang around or sit around and talk at the General Store, or attend the town BBQ and Fair or meet at the Grange or have a picnic together. Blacks were not allowed to congregate on their own lest they be a threat to White society and later during segregation Blacks were only allowed to assemble in non White areas which unless you owned property amounted to nowhere - nowhere but the one place where Blacks were permitted to assemble in large numbers, the Black Church.
So if you were a Black man and you wanted to meet a woman, you met her at the church. If you wanted men friends you met them there also. If you were looking for a tutor or some knowledge in an area you went to the church. If you wanted to inquire about Freemasonry you did so at the church. And in later years you most often met the Black politician running for office in your area at the church.
From the Black church flowed everything, not because that is the way Blacks chose it but because that is the way it was forced upon them. Consequently 99% of all Black Masons came from the church. The church was the one area where you got to know strangers. 150 to 200 years ago all Blacks were Christians and mainly churched in just a few different denominations. So every Mason coming from the same religion and the same few churches made the Lodge a gathering of church men expressing their spirituality and their Masonry together.
In the Black community everything became intertwined. Areas of life living were not segregated into little boxes of isolation. Freemasons were very active in the community in Black politics, community action and charity. Politicians and community activists were active in the church and often came to disseminate their message from the church pulpit. Many male church members were Freemasons and brought their religion with them into the Lodge since everyone else there was of the same persuasion. The Black community has never accepted the “Separation of Church and State” Doctrine. Prince Hall Freemasonry is not secular but religious. The Black political world, the religious world and the Masonic world were some of the same people with different hats on, the same people who went around and around in an interconnected circle. There was no wall of separation. Since many Black Lodges were not well heeled most met at the church. The Black church on certain nights became the Black Lodge building.
Now times have changed. You see many Blacks in denominations previously unheard of such as Roman Catholicism. You see some Black people in different religions other than Christianity, such as Islam. Prince Hall isn’t exclusively Christian. It admits men of all religions and will obligate them on the Sacred Volume of Law that pertains to their religion. And today you will find a small mix of others in the Prince Hall system who do not feel uncomfortable at all because Prince Hall only allows the expression of one’s faith not the proselytizing or conformity to any religious dogma.
But we are talking about association not the practice of Freemasonry. We are talking how men act and behave as they gather in the Lodge feeling close to each other. They act out their traditions, they way they were raised, especially when all present feel exactly the same. But that is not the same as practicing and teaching what Freemasonry is all about.
It is the failure of Mainstream Masonry to take any responsibility for the traditions of the Black community and the way Black Freemasonry developed that is the problem today. It is the failure of Mainstream Masonry to take any responsibility for a duly chartered branch of Masonry that always practiced regular Freemasonry and observed the Landmarks to be declared Clandestine for over 200 years. It is the failure of Mainstream Masonry to take any responsibility for creating a monopoly in each state by the American Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction thereby deliberately blocking Black Freemasonry and then today to say that Prince Hall would be recognized only if it wasn’t a separate Grand Lodge. It is the failure of Mainstream Masonry to take any responsibility because today it says that only solution is a merger whereby Mainstream would dominate and change Prince Hall when for 200 years Prince Hall has sought inclusion within Mainstream Masonry.
All these considerations and issues aside Prince Hall Freemasonry vehemently denies that it is injecting Christianity into the practice of its Freemasonry. What it is saying is that Masonry is scripture based and that the building of King Solomon’s Temple and the playing out of the legend of Hiram Abiff are all Biblically based and therefore to study and connect those scriptures to the knowledge a Freemason needs to learn adds understanding and meaning to the whole process.
There is no proselytizing of Christianity or any particular Christian denomination in the Prince Hall Lodge room. Nor are other religions prohibited from joining and being raised on their Volume of The Sacred Law.
What a Prince Hall Mason would say is that connecting scripture from which the story of Freemasonry originates is putting into context the whole story, the whole meaning of the teachings and virtues of the fraternity. It is not injecting religion into the Lodge room it is making the philosophy of Freemasonry complete.
In many Mainstream Lodges upon being raised the Lodge presents a “Masonic Bible” to a new Master Mason. Some Mainstream jurisdictions even have ritual that goes with the presentation. This “Masonic Bible” is merely the King James Version with scriptural references to the ritual of Freemasonry or a Masonic concordance. All that Prince Hall is doing is alluding to these scriptural references (that Mainstream agrees are there) and pulling out the full Biblical story. From King Solomon’s Temple to Jeptha Judge of Israel to Hiram King of Tyre and Hiram Abiff these stories are all in the Bible. By knowing the full story and all that preceded and followed it within a Masonic scriptural reference a Mason is provided a rounding out of knowledge so that the whole story of King Solomon’s Temple can be seen in its full context.
When I do Bible readings for my church my Pastor asks me to read beforehand for my own edification the whole chapter from whence the reading comes so that I will understand the whole context of the story and the point being made.
If you have had a chance to listen to the podcast on Masonic Central with Brother Anderson you will notice that I asked Brother Anderson to explain what and why The Book of Ruth is taught to every Prince Hall Mason. Not only do we learn that a testimony in Israel was when a man plucked off his shoe and gave it to his neighbor but also it is there we meet Boaz. The full story of Boaz has a very definite moral teaching and every Prince Hall Mason knows the connection of Boaz to Jesus. Boaz was from the house of Jesse and this lineage produced David that went on to give us Jesus.
What we are talking about here is Faith not religion:
“The covering of a Lodge is the clouded canopy or starry decked heaven, where all good Masons hope at last to arrive by the aid of a ladder, called Jacob’s Ladder, having three principal rounds denominated Faith, Hope and Charity;”
IT’S FAITH NOT RELIGION that permeates the Lodge.
Prince Hall Masons would say that the story of the Building of King Solomon’s Temple is taken out of context unless the scriptural references are pursued and tied in to allow the full meaning to blossom. Most of these scriptural references in the Blue Lodge are Old Testament, which is not a direct tie to Christianity.
So Prince Hall Masons looking at Mainstream Masonry would say it is practicing Masonry out of context and without the scriptural story it is secular Masonry, neutered so as not to offend and so bland so to be politically correct. Prince Hall Masons would point out that there is no Constitutional right not to be offended and that they will maintain their position of wishing any and all a Merry Christmas along with continuing to teach Freemasonry as a scripturally based philosophy.
Perhaps this is too harsh an assessment or you might think an exaggeration. But the constant criticism of Mainstream Masonry leveled at Prince Hall without researching the facts of the situation and the history behind traditions which is available to anyone who would take the time to search and investigate, only spreads disharmony, discord and disunity.