Freemasonry and Christianity: resignation rekindles old debate

by
25 May 2011

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From Mr Nigel Brown

Sir, — Several corrections and clarifications are needed to the coverage devoted to Freemasonry (News and Comment, 20 May).

Your news report concludes by noting that the report of the Church of England working party of 1987 questioned the compatibility of Christianity and Freemasonry. What you did not go on to point out was that, in the light of the comments made in that same report, Grand Lodge implemented various changes to the ritual (including the whole­some deletion of some parts of the Royal Arch ceremony) which addressed the concerns voiced in the report. These changes were made more than 20 years ago. It would have been good if you had been up to date in this respect.

The Revd Giles Fraser writes as a Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral, whose architect Sir Christopher Wren was, of course, one of the most notable early Freemasons. Only nine years ago, the then Dean, the Very Revd Dr Alan Moses, welcomed Freemasons into the Cathedral and preached a sermon that was supportive, indeed enthusiastic, about what Free­masonry represents and the work it carries out.

I was very disappointed, therefore, to read Canon Fraser’s tired rehashing of old stories about Freemasons and “mutual back-scratching”. Freemasons are taught very clearly that using their membership of Freemasonry to gain preferment or special advantage of any kind is strictly forbidden.

The ritual contains no reference to women’s not being made Masons. Canon Fraser is wrong on this point. There is Freemasonry for women, and it is a growing membership.

It is worth reminding your readers that Freemasonry is a secular organ­isation, which is neither an alterna­tive to, nor substitute for, faith. It is, however, supportive of faith in that it requires its members to be diligent in pursuit of their own faith.

NIGEL BROWN
Grand Secretary
United Grand Lodge of England
Freemasons’ Hall
Great Queen Street
London WC2B 5AZ

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From Mr Christopher Haffner

Sir, — I have discovered a new thing to add to the very short list of decisions on which I disagree with Dr Rowan Williams: that he should have encouraged the new Provincial Episcopal Visitor to resign from Freemasonry in order to take up his appointment.

Surely, Fr Baker’s appropriateness could be based only on the whole person, of which Lodge membership was a part. I find it appalling that Dr Williams should judge persons on this relatively trivial matter and not on their overall Christian lifestyle, particularly as Fr Baker has indicated that he had never encountered anything in Freemasonry incompatible with his Christian faith.

For the first time, too, I find my­self in disagreement with Canon Giles Fraser. The officials of the United Grand Lodge of England will always give honest and proper an­swers, although it would obviously not be possible to comment on “mutual back-scratching” except to say that internal Masonic law prohibits it.

The arrangement of fixed seating at formal ceremonies and dinners militates against clandestine plotting. In any case, does anyone know how much back-scratching goes into the secret process of making senior appointments in the Church of England?

Your account of the debate in the General Synod leaves much to be desired. Only some members of the committee thought one particular word to be blasphemous, and there was a minority dissenting report. The word in question — Jahbulon — was, after strenuous internal debate, removed from the ceremonies. The Synod vote was not on the adoption of the report as it stood, but on its commendation for further discus­sion.

As such, some who regarded Free­masonry as compatible with Chris­tian profession and the inevitable fence-sitters voted in favour, because they thought discussion would be valuable.

CHRISTOPHER HAFFNER
(Reader)
104 Palace Road, East Molesey
Surrey KT8 9DU

[The Report of Proceedings for July 1987 records that the report was received. Then a following motion was carried: “That this Synod endorses the Report of the Working Group (GS 784A), including its final paragraph, and commends it for discussion by the Church.” Editor]

From Mr Ian Kelly

Sir, — In opening his column (Com­ment, 20 May), Canon Giles Fraser writes: “I know only a little about Freemasonry. . .” He proceeds to confirm the truth of his statement in an article interspersed with trite jibes at the Masonic fraternity.

I have been a Mason for 24 years, during which time I have found nothing that contradicts or is incompatible with my Christian faith or beliefs. On the contrary, I find the two complementary and in perfect harmony.

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IAN KELLY
41 Fieldway Crescent
London N5 1PU

From Canon R. H. W. Arguile

Sir, — “I know only a little about Freemasonry. . .”! Well, don’t write about it then. We can listen in the pub to opinionated people exposing their ignorance. When we buy a newspaper, we hope to benefit from the views of the informed.

I am not a huge fan of English Freemasonry, but I know well that it differs markedly from the anti-clerical European variety. The former is unlikely to register much on the Vatican radar. Moreover, English Masonry has demonstrated its sensitivity to criticism by becoming much more open in recent years. Its secrets are not about anything significant; and if membership of clubs of the like-minded is liable to produce nepotistic preferment, this may apply to any association based on membership of a school or college, interest in sport, or political opinion, or by reference to nationality, gender, orientation, or the like.

I like Canon Fraser’s writing, but when he gets it wrong, he does it in style. I am still awaiting his fulfilment of a promise, which he made when telling us some weeks ago that the dead are really dead, to tell us about the resurrection. This is something on which one hopes a theologian might know enough to tell us about.

R. H. W. ARGUILE
10 Marsh Lane
Wells next the Sea
Norfolk NR23 1EG

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, — Since declining to join my college Lodge many years ago after reading Darkness Visible and other anti-Masonic literature, and though still an outsider to the Craft, I have been slowly coming to a more charitable view of our brethren who are on the Square.

The indignation of a churchwarden defending her late father, a Freemason, as being an upstanding Christian and pillar of the Church is one thing that stands out. A debate in the City 20 years ago between a leading Freemason, the Revd Neville Barker Cryer, and a House Church leader is another. Another eye-opener was G. G. Coulton’s reference to the Leo Taxil hoax, by which much invented poisoned nonsense about Masonry entered into Roman Catholic scholarship, and through this into Evangelical and other literature.

Quite recently in Sacred Fire, Peter Lillback of Westminster Theological Seminary has discussed George Washington’s Prayer Book Anglicanism and shown it compatible with his Christian Freemasonry. To this must be added the coming upon Masonic books, tracts and sermons in libraries and second-hand bookshops. Now we have also the worldwide web, where one will find Bishop Samuel Seabury’s and other thoroughly Christian Masonic sermons.

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While Canon Fraser sees parallels between Freemasons and High Churchmen’s liking of symbolic dress and ritual, I am faced with the estimated half a million Southern Baptists, including thousands of ministers and office bearers, who make up an estimated 20 per cent of American Masonry, where no such parallel suggests itself.

It is important that we realise that there is no authoritative exposition of Masonic rites and customs, and that the many esoteric and questionable opinions, even those originating within the Craft, may be of limited acceptance, and thus no reliable guide to the views of Freemasons in general or Christian Freemasons in particular.

In closing, I am not concluding that all Christian Freemasons are of orthodox opinions any more than that would be true of any Church where the wheat and tares grow together. All I request is that, just as we would not impute to ourselves the most bizarre speculations of biblical interpretation, we give our Christian brethren on the Square the benefit of the doubt, and not impute to them such speculative Masonic opinions as, I hope, they abhor and spurn as much as we do.

ALAN BARTLEY
17 Francis Road, Greenford
Middlesex UB6 7AD

From Mrs Caroline Windsor

Sir, — The Revd Jonathan Baker is not alone in resigning his Freemasonry membership in order to give priority to his ministry. Other clergy and Readers kindly contributed their own experiences when I was compiling a book, Freemasonry and the Ministry, in 2005.

My own concern that Freemasonry membership was incompatible with the priesthood led me to raise the issue at our PCC in February 2002. When, in due course, the matter came to be debated by the House of Bishops in October 2007, I understand that no binding decisions were taken. Some bishops felt strongly about the issue; others didn’t.

Perhaps the Anglican Church’s wary but tolerant attitude towards Freemasonry is a healthy one, avoiding as it does the considerable hurt that was caused to Masons in the Methodist Church after its report on the subject in 1985.

Canon Fraser raises the question of continuing Masonic involvement in the Church. The survey of senior Anglican clergy which forms the second part of my book shows that for some churches in some dioceses problems still exist.

While there were many positive references to Freemasons’ being greatly valued members of their church communities, and to their financial generosity, there were more than 60 references to Masons’ perceived desire for power (dominating the PCC, creating a power-base, etc.) in the church, and more than 55 references to the spiritual block that Freemasonry seems to create both for the Masons themselves, and — where they exist in any number within a congregation — for the whole church.

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As Canon Fraser observes, Masons are noted for their love of rituals and their adherence to tradition. It is often these characteristics that can prove obstructive when a church seeks to move forward in some way.

Many dioceses have no such problems. But, in those that have, as one priest suggested to me, some sort of diocesan mediation group — comprising both senior clergy and Masons — might help to resolve situations and lead to a greater understanding all round.

CAROLINE WINDSOR
15 Harbour View Crescent
Penzance, Cornwall TR18 2AZ

From His Honour David McCarthy

Sir, — Drawing a comparison to Freemasonry, Canon Giles Fraser kindly informs us that Forward in Faith (of which I am proud to be a member) is an organisation “noted for dressing up in funny kit and performing obscure rituals”.

Are we then to take it that during his distinguished career as a clergyman of the Church of England, Canon Fraser has never become familiar with the eucharist, so that it has remained “obscure” to him, and that in church he has never worn so much as a surplice and scarf?

DAVID McCARTHY
Address supplied

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