Volume LVSpecial Inaugural Edition January 2008Number 1

Isn't That a Cult?


Every so often, a member of a Masonic-sponsored youth group will invite a friend to join and be told that they can't, because "my parents say it's a cult." All Masonic-related youth groups MUST have parental permission before a youth may join, so it's important to us that parents understand what we're about, and why we're most definitely NOT a cult. We hope the information in this article will help you respond to such misunderstandings.

Why would someone think these groups are cults?

We're not entirely sure. Different people probably have different reasons. Some that we have encountered are: lack of knowledge, misunderstanding, mistrust of fraternal organizations in general, a negative experience and perhaps most commonly ...just because someone else told them they are!

What is a cult?

Cults may be religious, social, philosophical or political. In general, cults take everything to the extreme. Most experts agree that it takes more than just a different set of beliefs than the norm to make a cult. Most groups with new or different ideas, especially those with religious content, are apt to be labeled a cult. The most useful definitions of cults include the characteristic of excessive control over members and the existence of a charismatic and powerful leader. Groups with these characteristics often do terrible damage to their members and families associated with their members. A few that we have all seen in the news have resulted in mass murders and/or suicides among their members. Some cult leaders, like the infamous Charles Manson, "The Manson Family;" Rev. Jim Jones, "The People's Temple;" David Koresh, "The Branch Davidians;" and Marshall Applewhite, "Heaven's Gate;" have drawn public attention to the cult leader "type." They tend to be "control-freaks," who rule by strength, fear and sometimes even violence. They may claim divinity or to have supernatural or supernormal powers. They require unquestionable loyalty, obedience and dependence from their members.

So are Masonic-related groups cults?
Masonic-related youth groups are NOT cults, because:
  • They encourage members to be actively involved in their church, school and community. Cults trade on isolating their members from outside influences.
  • They place a tremendous emphasis on the importance of the family, and the authority of the young person's parents. Cults claim top authority for themselves, and often try to replace or supplant a member's family.
  • They make no claims to a unique or exclusive knowledge of truth. We encourage our members to pursue and grow in their own family's faith tradition. We teach religious tolerance, not religious pluralism. Cults always point inside the group to look for truth, never out to other groups.
  • They work cooperatively with other community groups toward common goals and worthwhile services. Cults operate on an "us versus them" mentality, and isolate members from the public.
  • They emphasize service to others through giving of time, talents and financial resources. Cults demand that service and investment of resources be only for the benefit of the group.
  • They encourage parents to be involved in all of their youth's activity with the group, whether as a guest, or even as a volunteer leader. Cults practice deceit and "hiding," not openness and welcoming.
  • They encourage independent thinking, initiative and leadership. Good team members are co-leaders, not mindless followers. Cults seek unquestioning obedience to a domineering leader, not democratic, cooperative leadership among their members.
What can we do?

We cannot change the minds of those who are rigidly, irrationally against Masonic youth groups and the Masonic fraternity. However, we can make sure that we know what we stand for, and that we are comfortable defending our Masonic family. We can encourage those with doubts to go see for themselves. We can suggest that they take some time to visit with a local group, and talk with the members and adult volunteers involved. We can urge them to ask honest questions, express their concerns and be ready to listen openly to the responses. We can encourage them to visit with their own religious leaders to learn their faith's official position on our organizations. We can show respect for those who take into consideration the position of their faith community and its leaders.

We should offer to help them identify people they trust and respect, who are already associated with Masonic-related organizations, to seek out their opinions. The Masonic youth groups will absolutely respect and abide by a parental decision to keep their child from joining these groups. No child will ever be permitted to participate in activities with a Masonic youth group without parental permission. We agree that the Masonic youth groups are not for everyone. Neither is Freemasonry.

For more information on the Masonic youth groups in Pennsylvania, please contact the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation, 1244 Bainbridge Road, Elizabethtown, PA 17022 (800) 266-8424, or at www.pagrandlodge.org/pmyf.

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