Freemasonry and the Church of England
Thursday, June 16, 2011
His Grace received a flurry of requests a few weeks ago to share his thoughts on the relationship between Freemasonry and the Church of England. They came in the context of the decision to appoint the the Rev Jonathan Baker, Principal of Pusey House in Oxford, to the (‘flying’) Bishopric of Ebbsfleet. The appointment was made despite the Archbishop of Canterbury knowing he was ‘an active and senior mason’.
Dr Williams has previously made it known that he believes Freemasonry to be 'incompatible’ with Christianity, doubtless owing to its reverence for some unspecified ‘supreme being’ and the need for its adherents to participate in certain cultic rituals and swear secret oaths. He has consequently refused to promote masons to senior positions with the Church, though lay involvement appears to have presented no problems. This is curious: surely if Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity, masons should not be in the Church at all, let alone arranging the flowers.
Curiously, just after the appointment, Fr Baker defended his continuing membership of the Masons to The Sunday Telegraph, insisting that it was ‘compatible with his new role as a bishop’. Yet just a week later, he had changed his mind and recanted renounced announced that he was leaving the Masons ‘to concentrate on being a bishop’. 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.” This, again, is curious: if there was nothing incompatible between Freemasonry and being the principal of and Anglo-Catholic college, why should it be incompatible with the office of bishop? Is not membership of a male-only cult rather contiguous with being a ‘flying’ bishop to oversee clergy opposed to women priests? The Archbishop of Canterbury was evidently content for the appointment to proceed while Fr Baker was still a mason, so his anxieties have manifestly eased over the years.
His Grace really was not going to delve into this, but he has received a letter from an Anglican (‘down under’) who also happens to be a third degree or Master Mason in the Blue Lodge. Hitherto, the joint affiliation has presented him with no problems. But the Diocesan Synod in Sydney has recently decreed that all Anglican Freemasons must withdraw from their Lodges or sever all connections with the Anglican Church. He wrote:
To His Grace Rt Rev Thomas Cranmer
Archbishop of Canterbury
I trust that the pain of the fires did not trouble you for too long. I am reading your thoughts again, albeit from the grave.
I therefore wish to hear your views and advice on a matter of some importance to me, and of relevance to the current Church of England and worldwide Anglican Communion. Last Sunday I was discussing with a church warden a proposed development to land adjacent to my parish church. A new church building is to be built between the old one (built in 1840) and the church hall (1910). Adjacent to the hall is the Masonic temple (1926). All of the buildings were commissioned by the founding family of this particular town. As a 5th generation freemason, I light-heartedly suggested that the Lodge could participate in the foundation stone-laying ceremony. I was told in very clear terms that this Diocese proscribes Freemasonry, holding it to be "irreconcilably incompatible with Christianity" and the Church is to have nothing whatsoever to do with Masonic lodges, nor to permit any Masonic activity on Church land, while Anglican schools in the Diocese are to sever all links with Masonic organisations of any kind (charitable or not). This was the result of a resolution in 2003, the text of which appears below (I know it's old news now, but it has a renewed relevance in relation to the Bishop of Ebbsfleet):
RESOLUTION 25/03 – FREEMASONRY
Below is the media statement in response the next day from the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory:
MEDIA STATEMENT by M.W. Bro. Tony Lauer, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory, Australia
(a) affirms that Freemasonry and Christianity are fundamentally and irreconcilably incompatible, and
Synod, noting the 1988 Report to Synod entitled “Freemasonry Examined” and subsequent resolution 9/88 of that Synod -
(a) affirms that Freemasonry and Christianity are fundamentally and irreconcilably incompatible, and
(b) affirms that Freemasonry teaches and upholds a system of false religious and spiritual beliefs that are contrary to biblical Christianity.
Synod encourages ministers and other Christians to take every opportunity to reach out in love to all Freemasons and share with them the gospel of Christ.
Synod encourages all Christians who are members of a Masonic Lodge to demonstrate their commitment to Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God and as the sole way of salvation, by withdrawing from the Lodge.
Synod encourages ministers not to participate in, nor allow in their church buildings, any religious services or activities that uphold, condone, promote or encourage adherence to Freemasonry.
Synod requests the Councils of all Anglican Schools to consider any association that their school may have with any Masonic Lodge, and to withdraw from any such association. Synod further requests that Anglican Schools neither participate in any activity that may uphold, condone, promote or encourage adherence to Freemasonry, nor give publicity to any such activity, nor allow the name of the school to be used in association with any such activity.
Synod requests Standing Committee to undertake the preparation, production and distribution of a clear and unambiguous booklet suitable for wide distribution, examining the key rites, teachings and beliefs of Freemasonry and explaining why they differ from Biblical Christianity, and explaining why it is wrong for a Christian to belong to the Lodge.
(The Rev Bill Winthrop - 20.10.03)
“SYDNEY SYNOD RESOLUTION THAT ANGLICAL FREEMASONS WITHDRAW FROM THE FREEMASONS – OR – FROM ATTENDING THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IS MISCONCEIVED, DISCRIMINATORY AND A BETRAYAL OF ITS FOLLOWERS,” says Tony Lauer, Grand Master of NSW & ACT Freemasons.
A resolution proposed by the Reverend William Winthrop of Lithgow that all Anglican Freemasons withdraw from their Lodges OR sever all connections with the Anglican Church, was passed last night by the Diocesan Synod in Sydney.
“ The resolution is pure discrimination, smacks of bigotry and religious fundamentalism and is a betrayal of all Freemasons who practice the Anglican Faith,” says Tony Lauer, Grand Master of the NSW & ACT Freemasons, “especially since a great percentage of Freemasons throughout the State are Anglicans.”
“Furthermore, this a one man vendetta on the part of Reverend Winthrop, over a local issue and very petty situation – that received widespread publicity - which occurred in Lithgow last year.”
“This resulted in all local Freemasons being publicly not welcomed at the local Anglican Church,” says Mr Lauer.
“The stance taken is based on total ignorance and is a misrepresentation of what Freemasonry is all about,” says Mr Lauer.
“First and foremost, Freemasonry is tolerant and respectful of all religions and admits all men of good character who have a commitment to self improvement and to serve their community. Our one requirement is that they have a belief in God as the ‘supreme being’. We do not question their other beliefs,” continued Mr Lauer.
“We accept members of all faiths as Freemasons, as long as they have this belief, hence many of our Lodge members work within their communities with men of many faiths including Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Catholics and Muslims,” added Mr Lauer.
“I would like to point out to Reverend Winthrop and the Synod, that many high-ranking ministers of religion, including Anglicans, have been – and are – Freemasons,” said Mr Lauer.
“I ask Mr Winthrop and the Diocese, whether these men are now to be considered not to be Christians because they are Freemasons,” said Mr Lauer.
“Freemasonry teaches tolerance, equality, compassion and brotherly love. If Reverend Winthrop’s and the Synod’s interpretation of ‘Christianity’ disagrees with these teachings, does this mean that the Sydney Anglican Church does not believe in the basic principles of compassion, brotherly love and above all – truth?” challenges Mr Lauer.
“Over the last 200 years Freemasons have played a significant role in shaping the fabric of Australian Society, and have been prominent in all areas of Australia’s proud history including politics, commerce, sports, the armed services.”
“In fact since Lachlan Macquarie became Governor of New South Wales in 1809, each State has had one or more Governors who were Freemasons.”
“Three of Australia’s Governors General have been Freemasons as have 10 out of 25 Prime Ministers, since Federation.”
“Are these distinguished Australians now to be branded as ‘non-Christians’ by the Anglican Church,” asked Mr Lauer.
Mr Lauer added that “ I would also like to point out that Freemasons in this state alone each year distribute more that $1,000.000 to non-Masonic worthy causes, community initiatives and charitable organisations – irrespective of their connection to any Church Group.”
“ The world, as we have come to know it today, is undergoing very alarming, uncertain and chaotic times, fuelled mainly by religious fundamentalism.”
“Surely, is this civilised society the church’s role is to teach, love, compassion, unity and tolerance of one’s fellow man, and not to promote division, hatred, alienation and downright bigotry,” concluded Mr Lauer.
The issue apparently came about as one of vengeance, as a Masonic funereal rite had been performed in a particular parish, without the rector's knowledge. Quite a coincidence that the rector concerned was the mover of the resolution at synod.
(The 1988 discussion paper referred to in the resolution is attached to this email).
On hearing this, I was quite shocked. Of course, I knew that Rome had long-since proscribed Freemasonry, especially the continental variety that was radically anti-clerical. In the case of the Roman Catholics, for a period of about 20 years during the reign of the last Bishop of Rome, there was a perception of ambiguity, while local priests were left to decide what to do about Freemasonry until the Head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, aka the inquisition, a certain Joseph Ratzinger, clarified that there was no parish discretion allowed and that Masons were held to be in a state of grave sin, unable to take communion until resignation from the Lodge. I digress, because I was used to hearing this from the Vatican, along with innumerable conspiracy theories about links to Templars, world domination etc. But I had always believed that, firstly, English and Scottish Freemasonry did not have any such revolutionary or anti-clerical character as it has been portrayed in Europe, and secondly, that with membership including royalty, senior clergy, and all manner of men of good character from Sir Winston Churchill to Sir Isaac Newton to Sir Christopher Wren, to the poorest honest men in our community, that Freemasonry had been and continues to be one of the shining lights in our civilisation.
Far from leading to any deviation from Christian thought, Freemasonry teaches members to pursue their religion with utmost vigour, exhorting men to read their Bibles and to lead their lives by the book of their respective religion.
(It is acknowledged that Freemasonry, along with the West in general, is certainly having to deal with the arrival of adherents to a certain religious background that Masons of old would never have imagined would join their ranks; one that at its heart is antithetical to the foundations of our system of morality, but that the fraternity of Freemasonry may have a moderating, perhaps one day reforming, influence on adherents to that particular faith system, in so much as we judge a man on his merits and qualities as a man, not his religious background - this is a personal view).
Indeed, the founding family of the church mentioned at the beginning of this email were all Freemasons! It goes without saying that Freemasons have a long history when it comes to building churches.
I then telephoned the Synod office today and asked if the encouragement ‘to demonstrate [my] commitment to Jesus Christ as the divine Son of God as the sole way of salvation, by withdrawing from the Lodge’ constituted a threat of excommunication if I did not resign. I was informed that the Anglican Church does not excommunicate people in the way that Rome does. I was not set at ease. Rather, I feel I cannot return to my church without feeling unwelcome.
I then wrote to my parish priest, asking the same question. Since there is a divergence of modes of worship in the Diocese, from Evangelical to Anglo-Catholic (complete with devotions to Mary of Walsingham), whether there was any parish discretion in any matter relating to Freemasons. Perhaps the reason for the lack of response is that he is seeking guidance from the Bishop's office.
Since becoming a Freemason on the death of my last grandfather, I have read far more Scripture and religious literature than I did before I joined. Among such literature was a collection of articles of religion, based on Your Grace's writings, most relevant among which relates to the ‘Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation’. Indeed, while one may use other forms of devotion as aids to worship, they are not required. Likewise, Freemasonry has augmented the depth of understanding which I have derived from Holy Writ (as we refer to it). But it is still a secular organisation. It preaches no salvific doctrine (nor any other religious doctrine in fact). It does not preach salvation by works - the Diocese's chief criticism. If it vanished tomorrow, it would not have the slightest impact on the nature of grace and salvation. But it is not harmful to one's understanding of grace. It is not idolatry. It is no more anti-Christian than a Remembrance Day service or any other civic service. Ironically, these days in this particular Diocese, the only time one may hear the beautiful hymns of our childhood (such as ‘Abide with Me’, or ‘I vow to thee, my country’, is at such a civic-religious service. We had ‘I vow to thee..’ and ‘Jerusalem’ at our own wedding, but only because we requested it). Any other day it would be insipid, overhead projector rubbish from the 1970s.
So I would hear Your Grace's opinion on the proper relationship between Freemasonry and the Church, acknowledging that the craft was still mainly an operative stonemasons' guild during your reign as Archbishop of Canterbury, although one with a sacred mission, building churches and cathedrals of stone, whereas now they build cathedrals of men's mind and character. Of course, the relevance relates to your successor the Rt Rev Rowan Williams' views on Freemasons, during his tenure as Bishop of Monmouth and subsequent comments following the resignation from the Lodge of the new Bishop of Ebbsfleet.
If I do not receive satisfactory responses from my local church, ongoing attendance will be most difficult, if I am not to perjure myself with regards to one organisation or the other. I shall have to venture outside my Diocese to worship, the nearest town in the neighbouring diocese being ninety minutes' travel.
I thank you for your consideration of this matter.
Your humble communicant,
(name withheld to preserve anonymity)
His Grace was touched that this gentleman was eager to hear His Grace’s opinion on the proper relationship between Freemasonry and the Church. His Grace responded that he would be delighted to give it, but would put the matter to his loyal communicants, among whom is often found manifest wisdom, intelligence and discernment. Over to you.
posted byArchbishop Cranmer at 8:33 AM Permalink