Universal Brotherhood and Admission of Members
The Path, July, 1894
Some confusion has at times arisen in the minds of Branch officers and members on the point of admitting persons to the T.S. It has been asked, Why, if we hold to Universal Brotherhood, should we refuse to admit those to whom there is objection? The answer seems to be the same as one would give if the question related to admitting all persons to one’s family or house. Indeed, the relation of Branches to the T.S. is much like that of the family to the State. Every individual not positively criminal has the right to citizenship, and may, subject to the statutes, take part in civic affairs, express his convictions as to public policy, join in meetings of citizens for discussion or new movements, and everywhere be regarded as on a par with his fellows. But this gives him no right to entrance into any family, and a claim that his citizenship entitled him to cross whatever threshold he liked and establish himself as a member of the domestic circle would be laughed at. Every one would say that families had a right to their privacy and to select their associates, and that if they saw fit to exclude any person from their home, there was no canon of justice or proper feeling which should constrain them to do otherwise. It was wholly for them to say who was congenial, acceptable, welcome.
Just so in Branches of the T.S. Every sincere and reputable person is free to join the Society, and as a member of it to enjoy all the privileges belonging to membership. He can attend all meetings of Theosophists as such, join in petition to the constitutional authorities, use his diploma for purpose of identification, claim the documents due to F.T.S., and, in general, have full possession of every right conferred by our rules. But this does not empower him to demand admission to private meetings of a Branch, much less to election to its membership; nor can there be any ground of complaint if its existing members decline to elect him.
This will be clearer if we consider the nature and purpose of a Branch. It is a union of a group of members having a common ground of interest in Theosophic study or work, a certain general conception of desired methods, and a more or less intellectual or social or personal sympathy. The basis must of course be Theosophy, but the local superstructure takes shape and color from the quality of those who plan its erection. Now it is the continued harmony of the constituents which is to determine both its endurance and its activity. If an applicant for Branch membership is known to have views as to its policy which are in marked contrast to those prevalent within it, or to be offensive in manner, of ill-repute in the community, quarrelsome, heady, flighty, certain to excite discord inside or to compromise the Society outside, there is no possible reason why he should be accepted. To admit him would do him no good, for he is not in harmony with the rest Of the organization, and would simply be introducing an element of discord certain to eventuate in ill feeling, contention, a check to work, and possible disintegration. One factious or indiscreet Branch member may paralyze a Branch. Nor is his exclusion an injury. He has no claim to entrance, and consequently no grievance at denial; and he is altogether at liberty to join the Society as member-at-large, to assist its operations, and to study its literature. He can be a citizen of the commonwealth without being a member of a particular household in it.
More than this. Where a Branch is aware that a person is sure to cause trouble or to act as a stumbling-block to other and worthy men and women, it is its duty to prevent that catastrophe. Sentiment should not be a bar to justice. To protect the Society and to secure peace to existing workers is of more importance than the self-love of a single individual. Indeed, if he resents the expression of the Branch’s preference in the case, he shows that he has not that respect for others rights, judgments, and feelings which is essential to any true Theosophist, and is destitute of the elementary qualifications for close union in Branch life. His very pique justifies the Branch action and affirms it.
Of course it cannot be said that no sacrifice of personal desires or preference is ever to be made by Branch members in elections. That would be queer Theosophy. It may very well happen that a person somewhat distasteful in ways may yet give promise of a valuable future, and a sincere member may, and should, concede personal considerations to a larger good. But this is a different case from that radical unfitness which cannot be smoothed over by tolerance or by phrases, and which demands the blackball for protection.
To recapitulate. We believe in unity, but at the same time we know that it is not possible for all to live intimately with each other because of various differences existing among individuals as to race, manners, and style of mind as well as of nature. Brotherhood does not require that we shall take into our home the vicious, even though we are working for their reformation; nor that we should bring into our own circle those whose manners and development are vastly different from our own. And just as it is in our private life as human beings, so it is in the Theosophical Society.
We have no right to deny to anyone the right to be alive and one of the human family, and neither have we the right to deny to anyone the right to belong to the Society so long as the applicant is not a criminal unreformed. But in the Society the Branch represents the family, and it has a right to draw a line or make limit, and to say who shall and who shall not belong to that family. Hence each Branch has to decide upon whom it will admit. If some apply who are sure to bring trouble to the Branch or who are of a nature that will not permit free and harmonious work with the others, the Branch has the right from all points of view not to admit to the Branch roll. This very question was once raised very needlessly in a place where there were many colored people and where a sentiment existed against their associating intimately with whites. It was settled by deciding that if colored people desired a Branch of their own they could have it and would be helped by the other. Brotherhood does not demand that elements wholly dissimilar must be violently mixed. Neither party would be comfortable in such circumstances. They can work apart for the common aim.
But the rules provide for cases where applicants wish to enter the T.S., as any Branch President may admit the applicant as a member-at-large if willing to endorse his character in general. In such an event the transaction is between the president, the applicant, and the office of the General Secretary. It does not concern the Branch at all.
And so the union of right feeling and sound reason will usually solve duty when uncertainty occurs, and the Branches be secured the largest proportion of good material, with a minimum of risk to harmony, effectiveness, and continuing life.