Saturday, May 14, 2011

More Masonophobia in the Church of England

Freemasonry in the U.K. has very different problems than we have in the U.S., and here is a perfect example. Dr. Rowan Williams (photo), the Archbishop of Canterbury, has over the years made egregious allegations about Masonry. He declared in 2002 that Freemasonry was "incompatible" with Christianity, and perhaps even Satanic—a statement he backpeddled on in 2003, after somewhat sheepishly admitting his own father was a member. His subsequent letter of apology to Britain's Masons made it clear that his remarks were, in fact, intended to just be private, and that he was very, very sorry anyone actually found out. As Bishop of Monmouth, he had blocked the appointment of Freemasons to senior positions, a practice he has apparently continued as head of the Church of England. Until now.

Earlier this month, Williams named the Reverend Jonathan Baker as the next Bishop of Ebbsfleet, in spite of Baker's active Masonic membership. He joined Apollo University Lodge in Oxford while he was a student, and he has recently served as an assistant Grand Chaplain. Apparently, over the last week, back channel griping within the Church grew vexatious enough that Williams and Brother Baker felt compelled to come clean. And now, Brother Baker has decided to demit from the fraternity after 20 years.

The appointment, and now Baker's decision to demit, have only made the situation more troublesome, because if there isn't anything wrong with the fraternity (described with suitably sinister spookiness in the press), and if the historically anti-Masonic Archbishop really didn't have a public problem with Baker's membership, why should he resign?

The row is turning into just one more punch in the face to the thousands of devout members of the CofE flock who are also Freemasons.

From "Archbishop allows Freemason to be Bishop" by Jonathan Wynne-Jones, the Telegraph's "Religious Affairs Correspondent" (who goes the extra mile and takes gleeful care to insensitively attempt to expose Masonic ritual in his piece):

When contacted by The Sunday Telegraph on Friday, Fr Baker defended his continued membership of the Masons and insisted it was compatible with his new role as a bishop.

Yet yesterday he said he had changed his mind was leaving the Masons so he could concentrate on being a bishop, adding: “I wish nothing to distract from the inauguration of that ministry.”

[snip]

Fr Baker, who is currently principal at Pusey House in Oxford, said he had told Archbishop Williams he was a Mason when they discussed his appointment to be the next Bishop of Ebbsfleet – one of the “flying bishops” who oversee clergy opposed to women priests. The post had fallen vacant when its previous holder quit to join the Roman Catholic Church.

He said on Friday: “For many years I have been an active member and I continue to be a member. This came up in discussion with Rowan, but it has not caused a problem for me at any stage of my ministry and it won’t cause a problem now.”

He argued that it would not interfere with his role of overseeing traditionalist parishes and said he saw no conflict in being a bishop and a Freemason.

“I’ve never found it to be anything other than an organisation that is wholly supportive of the Church.”

However, yesterday he said: “I have concluded that, because of the particular charism of episcopal ministry and the burden that ministry bears, I am resigning my membership of Freemasonry.”

He said that in his conversation with Dr Williams about taking up the Ebbsfleet post, the Archbishop had asked him to reconsider his membership of Freemasonry, but was happy for the appointment to go forward while he was still a Mason.

Yet Dr Williams has previously expressed serious concerns about clergy being involved with the organization.

In 2002, shortly before he became the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams wrote in a letter to Hugh Sinclair, of the Movement for the Register of Freemasons: “I have real misgivings about the compatibility of Masonry and Christian profession ... I have resisted the appointment of known Masons to certain senior posts.”

A year later he repeated this unease when he tried to apologise for upsetting Freemasons with his comments, saying: “Where anxieties exist they are in relation not to Freemasonry but to Christian ministers subscribing to what could be and often is understood [or misunderstood] as a private system of profession and initiation, involving the taking of oaths of loyalty.”

His senior advisers went even further at the time. “He questions whether it’s appropriate for Christian ministers to belong to secret organisations,” said The Rev Gregory Cameron, a close friend and former chaplain to Dr Williams. “He also has some anxiety about the spiritual content of Masonry.”

A spokesman for Dr Williams said at the time that he was “worried about the ritual elements in Freemasonry, which some have seen as possibly Satanically inspired and how that sits uneasily with Christian belief”.

He continued: “The other idea is that because they are a society, there could be a network that involves mutual back-scratching, which is something he would be greatly opposed to.”

Last night, Christina Rees, a member of the Archbishops’ Council, said: “The fact that Jonathan Baker has resigned as a Freemason suggests to me there is a serious incompatibility between the organisation and the Church. If it was only a matter of perception, surely he could have stuck it out.”

Her comments were echoed by Alison Ruoff, a prominent member on the General Synod, who said she had been stunned to learn of Fr Baker’s involvement with the Masons.

“I’m pleased to hear he’s resigned as a Mason because it is clear that the gospel does not go with masonic beliefs,” she said.

“I think Rowan should have said he could not be a bishop if he continued to be a Mason.”

The Rev David Phillips, general secretary of the Church Society, a conservative evangelical group, said: “The Church has said that Freemasonry is not compatible with Christianity so appointing him as a bishop seems to contradict its own stance.”


=========================================
UPDATE


This is the personal statement Fr Jonathan Baker has made on the See of Ebbsfleet web page:

I joined freemasonry as an undergraduate in Oxford, before ordination. Over the years I have found it to be an organisation admirably committed to community life and involvement, with a record of charitable giving second to none, especially among, for example, unfashionable areas of medical research.

Had I ever encountered anything in freemasonry incompatible with my Christian faith I would, of course, have resigned at once. On the contrary, freemasonry is a secular organisation, wholly supportive of faith, and not an alternative to, or substitute for it. In terms of the Church of England, its support, for example, for cathedral fabric is well documented.

Last year HRH the Duke of Kent invited me to serve as an assistant Grand Chaplain, an invitation which I was pleased to accept. This appointment was for one year, and ceased in April.

To be a bishop requires one to review commitments across every area of life; indeed, Archbishop Rowan had invited me, in discussion, to re-consider, amongst other commitments, my membership of freemasonry. I had intended to discuss the issue more fully with friends and colleagues.

I have, however, decided to take the decision now. My absolute priority is the new ministry to which I have been called and to the people who will be in my care. I wish nothing to distract from the inauguration of that ministry.

I wish to pay tribute to the aims and objectives of freemasonry and the work which it carries out. I am thankful for the part it has played in my life and for the many friendships it has nurtured.

I have concluded that, because of the particular charism of episcopal ministry and the burden that ministry bears, I am resigning my membership of freemasonry.

13th May 2011

9 comments:

Greg said...

I think HM the Queen would have something to say, her father having been a Mason, and her cousin the current Grand Master. As she is the head of the Church of England, maybe she needs to appoint someone to the Canterbury cathedra who could concentrate on the more serious issues facing the church...versus this all-to-common smoke and mirrors routine of condemning Freemasons for public relations points. It appears Fr. Baker, in a twist from the famous bumper sticker, has allowed dogma to run over his karma.

Bob said...

I agree with Greg, far too many good men leave this great fraternity for all the wrong reasons. It is a shame, and we as Freemasons must recognize this and be very supportive of our Brothers in every aspect of their lives.

Matt Johnson said...

I will never leave Freemasonry. Here is a good website with answers regarding being a Christian Mason by of all things, a Episcopalian!

http://users.marshall.edu/~will2/masonry/chicktract.html

CapnEddy said...

Furthermore it will be interesting to see if this affects DLNF and its pending recognition by UGLE?.

Matt Johnson said...

Read this. It is by a Mason who is also an Anglican. Touche!

http://users.marshall.edu/~will2/masonry/chicktract.html

Justa Mason said...

"Why should he resign if there isn't anything wrong with the fraternity?" I won't address "should" but I can address "why." He resigned because there was a time when honourable people resigned if there was even an appearance of a conflict.

That behaviour is practically unheard of today, but there was a time it was seen in political circles as well.

While the decision is regretful, I'm more concerned about the vast numbers who walk away from the fraternity because of disinterest.

Chris said...

As a communicant member of the C of E, a lay official of the church at the local and diocesan level, and a Mason for 6 years, I have always found that Masonry complements rather than negates the tenets of Christianity (or any other religion, for that matter). The quiet hysteria that accompanies public Freemasonry here in the United Kingdom is incomprehensible to me (I'm originally American, but have lived here for 17+ years and a dual citizen as well as a member of Lodges in the UK and US). I have heard stories of police officers and local council officials who have been forced to demit from Masonry or resign their positions in government because of the fact of being Masons.

Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher (Abp. from 1944-1961) was a Mason, a member of Chapter, and Grand Chaplain of UGLE. One of his biographies that has been published relatively recently managed not to mention that Fisher was a Mason at all. It was a great part of his life and may have had an effect on his ministry. The then UGLE magazine had a long article on Fisher's Masonic career to try to make up for it (I can't put my finger on it at the moment).

The first question and response when an Entered Apprentice is about to be Passed is: "Where were you first prepared to be made a Freemason? A: In my heart." If Bro. Baker resigns from active Masonry, as far as I am concerned he remains a Mason in his heart.

The wider question is: what can be done to change this public perception of Masonry as somehow incompatible with religion? We will see how UGLE responds to this news.

W. Bro. Chris Hansen, WM
Goliath Lodge #5595, UGLE

ppfuchs- Peter P. Fuchs said...

I think we should see this anti-Masonic tendency not as particularly aimed at Freemasonry, but as a sop to very reactionary conservative elements of the Church of England in diverse spots around the globe. Some are in the US, isolated reactionary parishes, and some are in Africa where the belief system is very rigid indeed. These elements are against all sorts of things, and their dislike of Freemasonry is probably only an epiphenomenon of their general animus in various directions. Clearly we represent something to some of them. But I am willing to wager that the people at whom the Archbishop of Canterbury's gestures are aimed have about as much idea what Freemasonry is as Lindsay Lohan does.

Mariano Salguero said...

I am an ordained Minister and member of the Craft. In my 25 years as a freemason I have never seen anything incompatible with religion. Moreover, some mason friends of mine, having been indifferent to religion, have joined to churches over these past years and they have not left the Lodge. Freemasonry can be a gathering point with spirituality. Instead of excluding Freemasons from the Church of England, + Rowan should think about how to include more people in the church, this would be a great outreach opportunity for the church and its congregations. If Jesus never discriminated anyone, why should we ?

Rev. Mariano Salguero, BA, MTh
Sociologist / Theologian
Minister at St Alban´s Church - Buenos Aires
Chaplain - Lodge Eureka 106 (Grand Lodge of Argentina)