Freemasonry has often been attacked for a variety of reasons. Some of these attacks are the result of ignorance or misunderstanding. Others are, however, based entirely on the truth. One such attack is the accusation that we accept men of all faiths, encouraging each man to be true to his own religion and that we prohibit proselytizing in our lodges.
This is true. In most Masonic jurisdictions, the sole religious requirement is that the petitioner affirm his belief in the Supreme Being. In others, there is a requirement for a monotheistic faith. In any case, once that question has been answered, the Fraternity’s interest in the particulars of a man’s religious belief comes to an end. In lodges, sectarian religion is one of the two topics generally prohibited by our longstanding laws and customs. The other, of course, is politics.
The first Jewish man of whose initiation as a Mason we have a solid, contemporary record is Edward Rose, a successful snuff merchant, who joined a lodge in England in 1732. We are certain, however, that there were Jewish members of English lodges before then. Indeed, the Master of the Lodge that made him a Mason had a last name that would lead us to believe he was a Sephardic Jew. But Rose is the first Brother for whom a written record exists affirming both that he was a Mason and that he was of the Jewish faith.
It would be a hundred years before a Jewish man could vote, hold public office or serve on a jury in England.
I have been in lodge and seen men of all three Abrahamic faiths – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – joined together in prayer. There are tragically few places in the world where that happens. And while the central mythos of Freemasonry is derived from the Hebrew Scriptures, I have seen men who were not of Abrahamic faiths, theistic Buddhists and Hindus, derive meaning and understanding from our mythology.
Our Craft has been practicing religious tolerance before the phrase existed. And if that is an accusation against us, then I suggest it is one we should embrace and trumpet before God and man alike. If that is a reason for a man not to join our fraternity, then I should be very grateful to him if he would, in fact, not join our fraternity and encourage all who share his views to likewise refuse to enter our doorways.