The Flip Side of An Obligation….
by Carl Davenport

When each of us kneeled on the altar of Freemasonry, we took an oath in each of the degrees. Each of us swore to the Grand Architect that we would uphold and obey these oaths and never violate them. We even accepted a penalty for violating these oaths.

One of the promises we swore to uphold was that we would give due and timely notice to a brother who is in imminent danger when it was in our power to do so, and we also would protect a brother of our degree as far as the length of our cable tow would allow. Then there is the third promise of our obligation to protect our brethren behind their back, as well as to their face. Think about that…In our power to do so…protect a brother as far as the length of our cable tow will allow… to his face as well as behind his back…

Under these three promises, we have sworn to protect our brother from anyone who does not comply with these promises of our oath. This includes those who have taken this same oath and do not hold fast to its promises, as well as the profane who have never heard of this oath.

What do these promises mean? What they do NOT mean? What they don’t mean needs to be explained because what they mean is in third grade English, and, as Geico says, “They’re so simple a cave man can understand them.” They are right. They’re so simple that those who figure their way around everything else in life have figured out a way around them too. What these promises don’t mean is a little more complicated, and the just and upright Mason, because he, is just and upright, thinks about what they do mean and what they obligate us to do and makes his best effort to follow them, even when they get flip-sided on him.

So, let’s take a look of some examples of what the promises of our obligations do NOT mean. The promises of our obligation do not obligate us to protect, or cover for anyone who is intentionally committing immoral or other than Masonic acts toward a brother. We do not go to bat for aggressors, and we do not aid and assist them in their aggression toward another brother or anyone else for that matter. Should we witness slander, back biting and character assassination, or any attempts to wrong another brother, or harm his character, we are NOT obligated to go along with the aggressor, or honour their acts as a secret between us and them. A true Mason does the opposite. A true Mason whispers good council to them, telling them that their conduct is out of phase with their obligation. Should they continue governing themselves in such an offensive manner toward the brother or other, a true Mason will discuss with his Worshipful Master about taking it to the next level to protect the character of the brother or other from being slandered and to protect the fraternity.

The promise of keeping a brothers secret as sacred as our own, does not apply when a brother has the intent of wronging another brother and asks us not to say anything about it. When a brother approaches us and asks us to keep what he tells us between our faithful breasts, and he is discrediting or slandering another brother or other, first of all, we are probably not listening to a worthy mason, and we are not obligated to keep his slander or aggression in secret. We are obligated to protect the attacked brother or other and the fraternity first. We are obligated to whisper to the erring brother that he is in violation of his obligation. If we don’t, we have violated our obligation. Simple as that. If he continues, it should be taken to the next level. Again, our oath was not presented to protect those who are intentionally wronging another brother or other. The intention was to prevent worthy brethren or others from being wronged by and erring person, whether the erring person is a brother or not.

Another part of our obligation is to warn a brother of impending danger. When someone brings the slander or the character assassination of a brother to us, that is impending danger, and should we pass it on to the next brother, and the next, we have violated our obligation. If we do not notify the attacked brother about this un-laudable attempt to destroy his character, we have violated our obligation, and we are allowing the secret attacks on this brother to continue and it will spread and be done to other brothers. We are no better than the brother who is the aggressor. Our obligation is strictly prohibits behaviour such as this.

We should never violate, or dishonour, ourselves or our obligation because others violate and do not honour themselves or their obligations. We should never gang up on a brother when others are, and it makes them look to us like they are powerful bunch. We should never want to feel that tingle of power in our tummy from bashing another brother, whether it is to his face or behind his back. The tingle will be short lived, because good always triumphs over evil, and when we begin to reap the harvest from what we have just sown, if we have any kind of a conscience, we will regret we did it.

Should we join the aggressive and pass on the rumours we receive from them to other brethren, under the guise of ‘warning other brothers about this brother’s character,’ that makes us no better that the rumour’s originator, and it makes us a violator of our own obligation because we swore to protect the integrity of our brethren, even against attacks by other brothers. Those who start rumours about other brothers are not worthy brothers.  Those who pass them around are a lot less than worthy.

There is a simple test that is sometimes forced on us. When we have conversation with a brother, and should the brother we converse with introduce us to slander, and us and him are the only two who know about this slander, our honour and honesty to the fraternity and the obligation we swore to uphold is being tested.

To pass the test, we must be honourable and honest enough to conform to our obligation and whisper good council in the slandering brothers ear, and then notify the bother being slandered and let him know he is being slandered. We will have to stand up and support the attacked brother should the time come when this slanderer is held accountable.

WE FAIL this test if we are of similar character of the brother bringing the slander, and we support his actions by remaining silent and allowing him to continue in his slanderous actions, or if we pass them around for him, because they will expand to other brothers in the future. If we pass this test, we are worthy, but what are we if we fail?

What my obligation says to do is:
My obligation clearly states that I should NOT keep secret the works of a slanderer and protect him from being brought to Masonic justice while another brother’s character is damaged or destroyed. It says the opposite. Freemasonry’s obligation of protecting a brother’s secrets, is not a tool or leverage to be used to protect those who are governing themselves in a manner that harms other Masons. It is just the opposite. If we are guilty of being an assistant to the slanderer and if we keep these slanderous rumblings a secret, we are more guilty than those who start them because if we took an obligation we should know better. If being guilty of helping someone destroy one or more of our brother’s character does not affect our conscience, we may want to revisit the obligation we took on each of our degrees. We may have missed something. That something we might have missed was the lesson of our degrees.
Think about this the next time someone tells you something derogatory about a another brother.