Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Choice of a New Generation

The times, they are a'changing:

The Hoboken lodge added close to 30 new members a few months ago, and officials say 70 percent of active Hoboken Elks are younger than 40. That surprised 37-year-old Karen Babyak. She pictured the typical elk as a crusty old man.

KAREN BABYAK: Probably served in about three wars, sits on his front step, wants to, you know, get these kids out of the neighborhood, that kind of thing... But we found a lot of people that were younger, and also a lot of interests -- like the older people even are really interesting.

Babyak and her boyfriend applied just last week to join the lodge. The Elks have allowed women since 1995. Thirty-six-year-old Jason Alvarez belonged to a fraternity in college, and says he missed the community service. Each year the Elks raise millions for college scholarships, kids with cerebral palsy, drug education. But the lodge also offers a kitschy place to hang out, complete with jukebox, pool table and $5 buffet.

JASON ALVAREZ: It's a nice place to come down to. You can actually hear each other talk, without blaring music, play a little pool, a little pinball. And just have a good time without having to fight your way to the bar and pay exorbitant beer prices.

The Elks like to talk a lot about the beer.

But it's not the beer, but the music that is stirring things up here in Ontario, California.

The quest for younger members has created some tension with old-timers. Jack Badeau Jr. is a former exalted ruler with the Elks of Ontario, California -- that's Elk-speak for president. He says he worked hard last year to bring the average age down to 66 -- it had been in the 70s. One tactic? Badeau says he switched from ballroom music on Friday nights to something a little more current.

JACK BADEAU JR.: I made sure that I didn't get out of control. I certainly didn't mess around with hard rock 'n' roll. No, top 40s is kind of where I'm talking about.

POKER PLAYER: Fifty-fifty. Can't win, unless you're in.

OK, so they drink beer, listen to Kelly Clarkson, play poker...and serve Satan?

From the LCMS Committee on Organizations (COO) report on the Order of Elks:

"Although the Order has less emphasis upon religious philosophy in its ritual than Freemasonry, nevertheless the principles of the Order are promoted as meriting the approval and blessing of God. The Order is to be commended for its patriotism and its benevolent contributions to society. The sincere Christian will, however, be concerned that his desire to approach God only through Jesus Christ is ignored, in spite of the fact that he had been promised there would be nothing to conflict with his religious convictions. He obligates himself not to introduce at Lodge meetings anything of "sectarian character" only to discover that whole ceremonies are built upon the sectarian premise of universal salvation which he cannot accept. If used, the poem "Thanatopsis" confuses him since it denies all immortality, while ritual references give assurance of immortality. He hears of the "redeeming grace and power" of God, but sees it applied to men who reject the Redeemer. As a Christian he believes that his good works do not merit God's approval but are simply a response of thanksgiving and love to God for God's gift of salvation in Christ. (1 John 4:19) Yet at the graveside of a brother Elk he hears that observing and advancing the principles of Elkdom merit God's blessings and approval. The Christian is further disturbed when the Bible is used only as a Book of Law, certainly a lesser purpose than that for which it was given--to make men "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." (2 Timothy 3:15) Evaluated on the basis of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, the religious themes in the Elks' Ritual--the prayers, hymns, funeral and memorial services--are incompatible with confessional Christianity. Officers of local Elk Lodges sometimes insist that some rituals are omitted and that funeral services are falling into disuse. Whether omitted or not, however, these forms still define the Elks' religious philosophy. Initiated members obligate themselves to these and all other ritual forms. Membership in the organization would compromise the public profession of a Christian's faith, something which he cannot do in good conscience."

Let's see what the Elks themselves say:

Our Mission

To inculcate the principles of Charity, Justice, Brotherly Love and Fidelity; to recognize a belief in God; to promote the welfare and enhance the happiness of its Members; to quicken the spirit of American patriotism; to cultivate good fellowship; to perpetuate itself as a fraternal organization, and to provide for its government, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America will serve the people and communities through benevolent programs, demonstrating that Elks Care and Elks Share.

From Cephas Ministry:

The ritual of the Elks bears several marks of Masonry, including the aprons, and several references to "quarry work." However, none of the ritual is known to be standardized except the special services, such as memorial, and burial services....Overall, ritual is receiving less and less emphasis among the Elks, although the full initiation rite is still required by the national organization as well as the opening and closing of the regular meetings....

Social memberships...[are] repeatedly condemned by the national organization, as in this letter from a national officer, dated 1970:

Let me assure you very positively that we do not and never will permit any candidate to become a member of the Elks without the full initiation ceremony prescribed by our ritual, and neither do we permit, nor will we tolerate, any so-called social membership, and if any of us in positions of authority learn of any officer of any Lode granting so-called social memberships, or permitting candidates to be classified as members without the full initiation ceremony, then you may be assured that such officers will be promptly removed from office, and if the Lodge itself is at fault, the charter will be revoked....

[W]hen we delve into their rituals further, we find reason for the same basic objections which we see in other lodges.

As with other lodges there are several "religious" features. The order does apply a religious test, asking if the applicant believes in a "Supreme Being"; prayers and sacred music are employed in the rituals; the Bible must be place on the altar before opening a meeting....

As with the other lodges the religion we find here is deistic. The Elks say that they "question no man's religion."...This is because, as far as the Elks are concerned, all religions are the same.

The Altar has in all ages been regarded as most sacred. With us it typifies neither sect nor creed, but a shrine erected to signify our belief in the Fatherhood of the Grand Exalted Ruler of all the universality of the Brotherhood of man....

Beyond the general deistic attitude, we see specific practices which point to the "Fatherhood" of a general god which is non-trinitarian and excludes Christ.

In correspondence dated 1927, Mr. B.M. Holt was informed by the Managing Editor of Elk's Magazine, "The name of Jesus Christ is omitted from Elk Prayers."...Through the decades since 1927, little has changed. In three out of three Elk prayers quoted in full in the LC-MS Commission Article on the B.P.O.E., there is no reference to Jesus Christ and no mention of the Trinity....

The Trinity was also conspicuously absent from a doxology sung at an Elk memorial service in Ft. Wayne. Notice the rewording of the last two lines.

Praise God from whom all blessing flow;
Praise Him, all creatures, here below;
Praise Him above for all that's good;
Praise God for our true brotherhood....

Besides describing God in non-trinitarian terms, consider this Elk hymn which describes the type of god the Elk worship.

Great Ruler of the universe
All-seeing and benign,
Look down upon and bless
And be all glory Thine;
May Charity as taught us here
Be ever borne in mind,
The Golden Rule our motto true,
For days of Auld Lang Syne....

"Great Ruler of the Universe" is a catch-phrase in almost every deistic unitarian group. The Lord of Scripture, who says "The soul that sinneth, it shall die", is certainly not "benign." The "Golden Rule" is certainly a fine guide for our conduct, as far as it goes; but can it be the motto of a Christian whose creed is, "A man is justified by faith apart from observing the law"?

Such confusion is natural when we consider the Elks use of the Bible. Usually, it is just a piece of furniture, placed on the altar to identify the lodge as a religious meeting place. But when they do speak of it they miss half the message. Seeing only the Law they disregard the Gospel. The Grand and Esteemed Loyal Knight calls the Bible, at the dedication of a new hall, "The book of law, upon which is founded justice."...

In the Elk's unbiblical theology, the resurrection unto eternal life in heaven is granted because of merit: merit earned by a virtuous life and Elk membership. We can see this in the memorial services....

Since they misunderstand God's Word and salvation by grace, we will not be [surprised] at their misguided efforts at benevolence. Blacks are not allowed to join.

I doubt that this is still true. I'm not sure about the following items:

Anyone with any kind of physical defect or chronic illness is barred....Membership can be prohibited if only 3 members dislike the applicant....

Finally, the universalism of the Elk religion must be questioned. They say of all Elk members, whether Christian or not, "guide us across the uncharted spaces of death, and bring us at last where worlds unite in bonds of eternal peace. Amen."...

Jesus said to such attitudes, "Not everyone who says to me Lord! Lord! will enter the kingdom of heaven…" Elsewhere He made it clear that our merit has nothing to do with salvation. "No one comes to the Father but by me." Jesus said.

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