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Fraternal Organizations Don’t Want Unbelievers as Members

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The United States is becoming increasingly non-Christian. Countless stories have been written about the rise of the NONES — people who have no religious affiliation. Add to this number atheists, agnostics, humanists, practitioners of earth-based religions, and people generally indifferent towards religion, and it seems, at least numerically, that the United States is well on its way to a secular or non-Christian majority. Worse yet for religionists is the fact that many people who claim to “believe” rarely attend church. Take the Southern Baptist Convention — the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. On any given Sunday, over half of Southern Baptists are somewhere other than the churches they call home. And Roman Catholics? Most American Catholics attend mass occasionally, often only on major religious holidays. It seems, at least to me, that there is little difference between Christians and atheists these days. Both are sitting home on Sundays, and both pay little attention to matters of faith.

Last week, I had some thoughts about joining a local fraternal organization. There are three main fraternal organizations in rural northwest Ohio: the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks (Defiance Lodge #147), Loyal Order of Moose (Bryan Lodge 1064 and Defiance Lodge 2094), and the Fraternal Order of Eagles (Defiance FOE Aerie 372). I know people who belong to each of these groups. My grandmother, the late Jeanette Rausch, was a member of the Bryan Moose for decades. As a child, she would take me and my siblings to holiday events at the Moose. All I remember about these events is that I came away with lots of candy. Well, that and Grandma spending a lot of time at the bar.

Not knowing how one becomes a member of one of these fraternal organizations, I consulted God — also known as Google — to see what was required to become a member. I quickly learned that atheists, agnostics, and humanists are not eligible to become members. That’s right, in a day of increasing religious indifference and secularism, the Moose, Elks, and Eagles require members to believe in God.

elks lodge

The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks website states the following requirements for prospective new members:

The Order is a non-political, non-sectarian and strictly American fraternity. Proposal for membership in the Order is only by invitation of a member in good standing. To be accepted as a member, one must be an American citizen, believe in God, be of good moral character and be at least 21 years old.

moose lodge

According to reference.com, to become a member of The Loyal Order of Moose you must meet the following requirements:

To qualify for membership in the Moose Lodge, a registered member must sponsor you. In addition, you must meet the basic requirements and some background qualifications provided in the membership charter.

To qualify for membership, you must be at least 21 years old and be of unquestionable moral conduct. Regardless of religious denomination, you must profess belief in a supreme being. After expulsion from one lodge, you must be granted a special dispensation to join another; otherwise, you do not qualify.

The Moose Lodge denies membership for individuals who are members of subversive groups or terrorist organizations. In addition, you do not qualify if you are a sex offender or a felon.

fraternal order of eagles

And finally, to become a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, a prospect must meet the following membership requirements:

To be eligible for membership in the Fraternal Order of Eagles, you must be a citizen of the United States or Canada over the age of 18 who believes in God.

You must be sponsored by two members of a Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie or Auxiliary. The Eagle member who proposes you for membership must obtain a membership application from the Aerie or Auxiliary secretary. Fill out the application for membership and submit the completed application to the Aerie or Auxiliary secretary.

Your application will be read at a regular Aerie/Auxiliary meeting and you will be interviewed by the local membership committee. After the interview is concluded, the committee will report to the Aerie/Auxiliary concerning their recommendation of your membership.

When the vote is concluded, you will be notified and asked to present yourself for the Fraternal Order of Eagles Initiation Ritual. The Ritual is a set of rules by which Eagles are to conduct themselves not only in the confines of the Aerie, but in life in general. It’s one of the most outstanding models for living a good and useful life. It was designed to teach candidates for membership the highest standards of human conduct expected of us. (From the Medina, Ohio FOE website)

I suspect these fraternal organizations need new members, especially younger members. I also suspect waiving the “belief in God’ requirement would offend older Christian members, but doing so might be the only way to attract younger prospective members. Paying attention to changing demographics is crucial if membership groups — be they fraternal organizations, service clubs, or churches — expect to thrive in the twenty-first century. An unwillingness to adapt to societal change is a sure path to decline and death. The answer is not for atheists/agnostics/humanists to start their own fraternal groups. We need less fragmentation, not more. The Moose, Elks, and Eagles need to rethink who it is they want for members. While I can’t confess belief in God, I can say that I am a moral, ethical man. Surely, that should be enough for any of us to share a beer or join together to help our local communities.

Are you a member of a fraternal organization? Are you an atheist or a non-Christian? Were you aware that fraternal groups require members to believe in God? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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20 Comments

  1. Avatar
    przxqgl

    i have always been intrigued by the masons – my grandfather was a mason. they said i don’t have to believe in “god”, but i do have to believe in a “supreme being”… and then, in the next breath, they held a “prayer” where about half of the postulants were praising “jeezis”… i don’t think i’d get along with them too well…

    also, a few years ago, i postulated to E Clampus Vitus, otherwise known as the “clampers”, which describes itself as EITHER a historical drinking society, or a drinking historical society… which sounds like it would be right up my alley. ? but, on the night i was to be presented, i made the mistake of wearing a red shirt, and only accepted clampers are allowed to wear red shirts to clamper meetings, so i was not accepted… but, if the other people who were waiting to be presented are any indication, i’m pretty sure i wouldn’t have gotten along well with those folks, either.

    i belong to a troupe of musicians, artists, and performers, and we get together frequently to plan and rehearse, and we give public performances on a regular basis… just like a fraternal society (except we allow women to join, as well?)… the only thing we don’t have are funny hats that are all the same.

    oh well… ??‍♂️

  2. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    My brother-in-law who is not an open atheist but couldn’t care less about religion is an Elk, mostly so his family has the club with the pool they can use in the summer. Somehow he got around the religious thing. I know that the Boy Scouts has a religious component, and fortunately my son was too busy for sports to be interested in Scouts. Plus, my daughter found Girl Scouts insufferable due to poor leadership so we didn’t bother with Boy Scouts. My husband and I aren’t very much into joining things, so it never occurred to us that so many of those organizations require a belief in a deity. Whose business is that? I guess if these organizations figure out they can’t recruit members because they exclude the growing number of nonreligious people, they will change their tune. Money talks.

  3. Avatar
    Infidel753

    I also suspect waiving the “belief in God’ requirement would offend older Christian members

    That’s probably it. The rules will change after some critical mass of the older religious guys have died off. Of course, by then the groups may no longer be viable or may have a hopelessly stodgy reputation and won’t have any appeal to younger people anyway.

    I’ve never tried to join a group like this. Never saw any point in it (I’m not very social anyway), and if they exclude atheists, I certainly wouldn’t be interested.

    • Avatar
      Matilda

      Rotary, in the UK was very exclusive, you needed a good income and middle-class status to be invited to join. Every year, a Santa on his sleigh goes round our village playing carols. and they knock on doors and invite kids to go and meet Santa parked in their street. They also rattle collecting tins for their charities. This year, they put well-designed flyers through every door saying ‘Have you considered joining Rotary? You need to be able to give up one night a fortnight for our local meetings….’ Struck me they must be getting desperate for members if they are inviting the hoi-polloi, the great unwashed to join! (I approve of their charities somewhat..they have partnered WHO etc in eradicating polio, but ‘the old boys network’ they ran in my previous town was almost criminal.)

      • Avatar
        Infidel753

        they must be getting desperate for members

        Hope so. People can do Christmas shows or run charities without forming some snooty club with a funny name and a bunch of snot-nosed rules about who is and isn’t good enough to join. Those groups really seem like relics of a bygone era.

  4. Avatar
    Brian Vanderlip

    I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member. -Groucho Marx

    It is not surprising that these clubs demand compliance in various ways, want your thought patterns controlled and directed, your shirt and hat to be just-so, your contributions to the pot to be regular and regularly increasing in dollar value!
    Christianity of the variety most mentioned around this blog demands much more but gives you tools to happily hate others you don’t understand or enjoy. It helps you to see that these others are just like those who hung dear sweet Jesus on the Cross of Calvary. This is the religion of Peace.
    I joined the evangelical Christian club and by way of that experience, I would never join another club, not even one that asked me to be their supreme leader. Besides, though I know quite a bit after 67 years on the earth, I am neither able to claim that I am stable or a genius either, like our great leader, Dumbo Trump.

  5. Avatar
    Michael Mock

    I was going to say something snide about the Boy Scouts, but I see ObstacleChick beat me to it. (My own history with the Boy Scouts is decidedly ambivalent; there were things I really liked about it, and things I really detested.)

    I’m fortunate in that Firstborn isn’t much of a joiner, either. Secondborn… I’m not sure, but we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

  6. Avatar
    Dr. R

    I am, or was, a Master Mason. I used to be very active in the Masons (F&AM of Alabama). My lodge had Christian, Jewish, and Muslim members. Atheists are strictly forbidden.

    I miss the ritual and pageantry. But if I tried to go back, I suspect I would be expelled since now I am an outspoken atheist.

    Where I come from, there were two influential groups that basically ran everything on into the 1990s. I don’t know how how the conditions are now. Those two groups were the Masons and the Klan. They absolutely hated each other: a Mason who was found to be a Klansman would be expelled, and I suspect a Klansman found to be a Mason would have been shot.

    My family was traditionally Masonic, having no truck with the Klan. But despite Masonry’s high-sounding rhetoric about the brotherhood of man and all that, there sure was a lot of racism when I married someone who didn’t look like the rest of us…

    • Avatar
      CarolK

      My grandfather was a Mason, so were a couple of uncles, and my mom was very active in the Eastern Star. I used to go with her to set up the lodge hall for meetings, installations and such. There were little tables with a chair beside it at each point of the star on the floor. Each represented some woman from the Bible: Adah, from Judges, Ruth, Esther, Martha, and Electa (the Elect Lady from II John) and a virtue, I helped put the symbols of the women on the little tables, like a sword and blue veil for Adah and a sheaf of wheat for Ruth.

      What I remember best though are the potlucks: there were some fabulous cooks in my mom chapter of the OES. I get hungry just thinking about it.

  7. Avatar
    missimontana

    Either those organizations will change to gain new members, or they will die out. It’s that way with all groups. The Boy Scouts are learning this the hard way. The others will too.

    • Avatar
      Karen the rock whisperer

      Exactly. Adapt or die. It is as true of social organizations as it is of species.

      (Not sure if anyone else here is a regular reader, but Captain Cassidy over at Roll To Disbelieve often discusses the changing demographics and ever-increasing membership losses of Fundagelical churches in the US. Worth a read. RtD is one of the Patheos Nonreligious Blogs; I’m gonna insert the link text here, and maybe Bruce can turn it into a live link? https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/ )

  8. Avatar
    Troy

    Rotary Club doesn’t have a religious test. My dad was in it for decades and my opinion is they did a lot of good in the world. My mother always thought it was a good way for men to have time with other men, though I’m pretty sure women may now join.
    The Boy Scouts immediately comes to mind (as other comments suggest) At the time when the scouts and some of the organizations came about morale character and being religious were inseparable. Something, perhaps not well known, is that the Girl Scouts are not part of the Boy Scouts organization and as such have their own rules and they don’t have a religious test. I think that’s fantastic.
    I suppose it makes sense that these groups are products of their time. Most communities had people of different religious make up–but everyone was religious. So if you wanted to a community group you’d demand religiosity, but not to a specific religion. (A notable exception is the Catholic “Knights of Columbus”)

  9. Avatar
    Reverend Greg

    My cousin joined the Masons butleft because they were becoming ‘too religious’ for his tastes. I’m not sure why he joined because I thought they were upfront about belief in some higher power.

  10. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    I don’t know if this was just at the particular Southern Baptist church that I attended growing up, but it was frowned on by the church to join the Masons as they were perceived as somehow being Satanic ir demonic. There was a man at our church who was a Shriner, and he could get discount tickets to the Shriners’ circus so all the kids could go, and that was somehow ok.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Early on in the ministry, I wouldn’t let Masons join the church. I viewed them as a Satanic cult. This policy really affected how the community at large viewed the church. The Masons, though a man in our church, asked to borrow our bus to take a group to Columbus. I said, absolutely not! This one decision early one gave many locals a bad opinion of our church. I regret doing so.

  11. Avatar
    Chikirin

    Last year I went to a few Quaker meetings. I think you can be an atheist Quaker. They seemed nice. At the front where the cross would have been, instead there was a fireplace. The meetings consisted of about 35 people staring into the fire for about 45 minutes and then people would begin randomly sharing various thoughts.

  12. Avatar
    Oldo

    I would think the thing that limits new members is based upon the fact that these groups do not ‘proselytize’, thats is, seek out new members. I have never been approached to visit or join one in 50 years. Even my dad, an Elk did not.

  13. Avatar
    Brocken

    Some fraternal orders might seek out new members but often people are disinterested in joining. There may be several reasons for that, lack of time lack of interest, and the knowledge that some members of some fraternal orders really fall down in their practice of ethical behavior. In one local fraternal order that never numbered more than forty total members at least four one-time members were sentenced to prion for various felonies. one for sexual offenses, one for theft, one for animal cruelty, ( several dozen animals died from neglect) and one for aggravated dui. This order is one where the members are expected to belong to one particular Christian church. Hint the members do not belong to any Non-Catholic Christian church.

  14. Avatar
    Berni

    This is fascinating. My father was both an Eagle and an Elk and was one of the least religious men I have ever known. He was a ‘Christmas & Wedding Catholic’ … ie went when he had to go.. on and for funerals. Honestly he belonged because it was good for business. The fraternal organizations were networking opportunities for these guys. I remember the Eagles had really nice Christmas parties for the community, or maybe it was just member kids but I always came home with something cool. I also think that as a man whose parents emigrated from ‘the old country’, it was really common to belong to some sort of benevolence society. If my grandparents had not been sort of scooped up by this group or another, they would have had few connections and life would have been harder. They were mostly part of cultural societies/groups, but I wonder if that cast the mold for their sons? (I’d say children but until these organizations were sued, they were exclusively for male membership)

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