Thursday, October 20, 2011

Oh, you're going to your cult again, aren't you?

I was recently reminded that there is still a large amount of stigma placed around involvement in a Masonic Youth Group. People ridicule what they don't know or understand and oftentimes our young members aren't in a position to defend their membership with confidence. Heck, I still hear of college aged members who have to deal with these sorts of claims.
Some of you might remember that the Pennsylvania Masonic Youth Foundation published a brochure entitled "Isn't that a cult?" that helped to dispel some of the concerns and stigma about the Masonic fraternity and it's youth programs.   For your convenience, I've reprinted the text of that publication below. If you'd like a copy of the document, you can find it over at the PMYF website.

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 be helpful to you in understanding Masonic-sponsored youth groups.

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 (especially through isolating them from the “outside world”) and the existence of a charismatic and powerful leader.  Groups with these characteristics often do terrible damage to families associated with their members, and are sometimes overtly dangerous to their members.  A few that we have all seen in the news have become dangerous in the extreme, resulting in mass murders and/or suicides among their members.  Some cult leaders, like the infamous Charles Manson (“The Manson Family”), Reverend 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.”  Certainly there are many more cult leaders who have not been so tragically famous.   They are often very dynamic, effective communicators.  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 unquestioning loyalty, obedience and dependence.  They may demand the sharing or surrendering of the members’ property. And they often place themselves “above” the rules of the group. Such a leader could be very dangerous indeed.

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.)

Masonic-related Youth Groups are NOT cults, because 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.)

Masonic-related Youth Groups are NOT cults, because 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.)

Masonic-related Youth Groups are NOT cults, because 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.)

Masonic-related Youth Groups are NOT cults, because 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.)

Masonic-related Youth Groups are NOT cults, because 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.)

Masonic-related Youth Groups are NOT cults, because 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 group 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

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