The Better Way
"See that young chap over there? Yes, with the red hair and the glasses! Had quite a time with him this evening! He is red-headed inside as well as out, and he loves Masonry so much he wants to fight for her all the time!
"What was his trouble? Oh, he wanted to prefer charges against a brother and have a Masonic trial and purge the fraternity of a rascal and be a sort of combination Sir Galahad, Joan of Arc and Carrie Nation to this lodge.
"It seems he has some inside information about some brother of this lodge who has done several things a Mason ought not to do. Sold some goods by misrepresentation, worked his women employees longer than the law allow and threatened to fire them if they told, kited a check or two and was warned by the bank.... I really don't know all his high crimes and misdemeanors!
"But it's all fixed now. Red head is calmed down. There will be no preferring of charges just yet!
"Glad of it! I should say I am glad of it. Don't get the idea in your head that preferring charges and holding a Masonic trial are matters to be joyful about! At times... sad times they are... it is necessary to do it. But there are many more times when it could be done, but it is far, far wiser not to do it.
"I had to agree with him, of course, that our erring brother was no ornament to the lodge, if what was said of him was true. I admitted freely that a man like that should never have been permitted to be a Mason. But I couldn't see that throwing him out would do the fraternity any good and it would certainly not do him any good. And it would do us a great deal of harm, both as a lodge and individually.
"You don't see why? Well, let me tell you. Ever since Cain wanted to know whether he was his brother's keeper, men have felt that they were their brother's keepers. And so, indeed, we should be. But 'keeper' doesn't mean prosecutor. When you 'keep' your brother, you keep him from harm, you keep him from evil, you keep him from danger. You do not throw him under the wheels, push him out into the cold, do him an injury. When you 'keep' your brother, it is the man, not his conscience, you keep.
"The Jesuits showed the world what keeping as man's conscience for him might do; it resulted in the inquisition. Masonry has no business following in such footsteps. We do not, and should not, try to keep our brother's conscience. We should, indeed, aid him, help him; we should try to show him the right if he is wrong, we should, indeed, 'in the most friendly manner, remind him of his faults.' But it is a far cry from this to holding a trial and kicking him out.
"When is a Masonic trial right? Well, to my mind, only when a man has done something which, unregarded and unpunished by his lodge, will hurt Masonry more than the scandal of getting rid of him will hurt it. Now this brother has not as yet been disgraced in society. He has not been arrested, tried or convicted. He may, or may not be guilty of those things with which the red head charges him. It is good American doctrine to believe a man innocent until he is proved otherwise, and Masons are good Americans. For the lodge to take the initiative in a trial for offence against a civil law would be both unMasonic and unwise.
"Leave him alone? Certainly not. He won't be left alone. This man has friends in this lodge. Red head is getting them together and laying his 'facts' if they are facts, before them. Those friends can be trusted to see that the man is told of the talk which is going on, and given a chance to explain, to deny, to affirm, to mend his ways if they need mending. Obviously, we don't want as a brother in the lodge a man who continuously violates the common tenets of all humanity, but equally as obviously, we don't want to accuse and stigmatize a man as doing so, unless we know we are right.
"Every man knows that a man unjustly accused before the law and acquitted is never wholly cleared from the taint. There are always some who say, 'yes he was accused and got off. But they took him to court,' as if it was a disgrace. The man who is tried by Masonry for an offense, and acquitted must always be, to his brethren a man about whom scandal was whispered. There are always those who say, 'no smoke without some fire.' So we don't want to prefer charges and have a trial unless we are pretty sure of what we know and equally sure of what we want to do. It is much better for any lodge to have one bad egg in its omelette, than to spoil the whole omelette. One bad egg in a ten egg omelette will spoil it, but in a five hundred egg omelette it isn't so noticeable. It is much better for us to go quietly after this brother and try to get him to do better, to appeal to his manliness, his Masonry, his friendship, than it is to insist on a Masonic trial.
"No, my brother, there are better ways. The charges preferred, the Masonic trial, the disgrace, the scandal, the hard feelings are very bad for a lodge, very hard on those who take part, very severe on the one who is either acquitted or held guilty. Never, until all other means have been tried and found unsuccessful, should they be used; never then, until several wise heads have been consulted. When the time comes, when there is no other course open, then may charges be preferred and a trial held, and the lodge purged of that evil element which is harming it. But we must be very sure that the remedy isn't worse than the disease, and that in scotching the snake we are not also fatally injuring the hand which scotches.
"Red head listened to reason; his friends and those of a brother who may be at fault will do the rest and the good old lodge will never be hurt. And under all, and over all, we will have the happy knowledge that we are practicing that toleration and charity of thought which makes us our brother's keeper in the best, not the worst sense of the word."