There are many facts and fictions floating around the Internet regarding the new Grand Orient of the United States. Unfortunately, some brothers are simply striking out in fear against the new Masonic body because of what they read somewhere on the Internet. Others are simply speculating and drawing wild conclusions based on bits and pieces of information. I thought it would be helpful to provide some factual answers to the many questions being asked.
The Grand Orient of the United States is a part of the Traditional Cosmopolitan Masonic movement that began in Europe in the eighteenth century. It shares many things in common with Anglo-American Freemasonry but there are also significant differences between the two. Both forms of Freemasonry evolved out of the speculative Masonic movement that began in London, England in 1717.
Many Masons want to argue over which system mostly closely represents the original Freemasonry established in 1717. The answer to this question has eluded historians for almost two centuries because there is so little evidence available. Good arguments can be made for both sides but neither possesses enough evidence to convince modern university historians.
Others want to argue about whose Masonry is best. I think a better question to ask might be “which Masonry is best for whom?” It’s a similar case with Democrats and Republicans; people tend to side with the party that bests reflects their own ideas of what’s best. Unfortunately, American Masons haven’t had an alternative masculine Masonic obedience up until now.
The primary differences between Traditional Cosmopolitan and Anglo-American Freemasonry can best be summed-up in their perspective of the institution of Freemasonry itself. The Anglo-American Masons view Freemasonry as a religiously oriented fraternity dedicated to brotherly love, relief and truth. The Anglo-American Mason Albert Pike once stated that it was “the handmaid of religion.” The Traditional Cosmopolitan Masons perceive Freemasonry as a secular but spiritual fraternity dedicated to the Enlightenment principles of human liberty and equality resulting in the universal brotherhood of all mankind. This is expressed in their motto: “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.”
The oaths and obligation of the two groups are quite different as well. The Anglo-American tradition is to swear allegiance to the Grand Lodge and agree to its various rules. The Traditional Cosmopolitans are obligated to preserve human liberty and equality while striving for the universal brotherhood of mankind.
There are organizational differences between the two groups as well. The Anglo-American system is based on the election of a benevolent dictator (the Grand Master) who oversees the Craft for a specific term. The Lodges are represented at the annual meeting of the Grand Lodge and pass laws for the benefit of the Craft.
The Traditional Cosmopolitan system is governed by an Executive Board consisting of the Grand Officers. The Grand Master is the Chairman of the Board but cannot act without consensus of the Board. The Executive Board is elected by the Lodges to serve for specific terms (usually 1 or 2 years). The Lodges convene once a year to pass laws for the benefit of the Craft. There is also a “Supreme Court” in the Traditional Cosmopolitan system that has the power to pass judgments on Constitutional issues and to hear appeals related to Masonic trials.
Ritual-wise the Anglo-American system in America primarily utilizes various forms of the Preston-Webb ritual with a small number of lodges (less than 20) that utilize various forms of the Scottish Rite. The Traditional Cosmopolitan system practices a wide variety of rituals including the Modern Rite, Scottish Rite, and Emulation, just to name a few. All are held to together by an agreed upon universal recognition system.
The Anglo-American Masonic system is engaged in various charities and community projects. The Traditional Cosmopolitan system is engaged in human rights, environmental sustainability, scientific advancement, and issues that relate to freedom of speech and the press.
In regards to Masonic education the Anglo-American system utilizes a system of Research Lodges and their publications. In the Traditional Cosmopolitan system each lodge is a “research lodge” and all members are required to write both proficiency and research papers as a condition of membership.
The Anglo-American system does not recognize women as legitimate Freemasons. The Traditional Cosmopolitan system recognizes women as legitimate Freemasons and is divided into three distinct groupings: Masculine, Mixed-Gender, and Feminine. Each group is represented by its own Grand body and all are recognized and in amity with one another.
Thus far I have tried to cover the differences between the two systems to foster a better understanding of the differences between the two systems. Now, I would like to focus specifically on the Grand Orient of the United States.
The Grand Orient of the United States was started by progressive Anglo-American Masons that had many ideological and moral objections to the Anglo-American Masonic institution. They found themselves more ideologically and philosophically aligned with the Traditional Cosmopolitan system of the Grand Orient of France. After forming a new Grand Orient they approached the Grand Orient of France for recognition and a treaty of amity. This was granted on June 27, 2008, and the Grand Orient of France gave them Patents for the various Rites and degrees of Traditional Cosmopolitan Freemasonry.
The Grand Orients of France and the United States are masculine Masonic obediences that initiate men into Freemasonry, but their lodges are open to both men and women from both mixed-gender and feminine lodges. This is a reflection not only of their progressive nature, but of their commitment to equality among all human beings. It also recognizes the need for people to be able to form groups (lodges) based on their own social needs.
The Grand Orient of the United States is still in its infancy and is a small organization when compared with its Anglo-American counterparts, but it is becoming actively engaged in the community and the world. Its members are discovering ways by which they can contribute to the betterment of humanity around the globe. Some examples of this include participating in the BOINC computer sharing project sponsored by the university at Berkeley and the National Science Foundation, along with support for NOVA, Amnesty International, the Nature Conservancy, and LinkTV. These organizations reflect the ideology and philosophy of the Grand Orient, and were selected by its lodges.
Obviously the new organization won’t be contributing a million dollars to any of these organizations this year, but these organizations need the help and support of people who believe in what they are trying to accomplish. By helping them the Grand Orient furthers the cause of Universal Masonry.
Some have accused the Grand Orient of being overly secular or atheistic. This simply isn’t true. While every member is afforded absolute freedom of conscience as it relates to religious and spiritual matters, this is not indicative of the promotion of atheism. The Grand Orient is open to men regardless of their beliefs about god and religion so long as they are good moral men. It focuses on the character of the man, not his personal beliefs. The vast majority of Grand Orient Masons are religious men but they exercise tolerance in not judging the beliefs of others.
In conclusion, American Masons now have the ability to choose a form of Freemasonry that most closely indentifies with their own personal values. Both systems were born out of the same speculative Freemasonry than began in 1717, and both seek to better the individual as well as society. Neither system is perfect nor will it ever be, but both strive for perfection. The future of American Masonry will be built through diversity, tolerance and understanding. It is much like America itself with a growing diversity of cultures and people all working together to form one great union.
Tracing Board: A New Jerusalem - A new essay on the New Jerusalem and Freemasonry. http://www.tracingboard.com/freemasonry/building-the-new-jerusalem-pt-1/