Jonathan Wynne-Jones has a news article in the Sunday Telegraph today, headlined Archbishop allows freemason to be bishop.
Dr Rowan Williams named the Rev Jonathan Baker as the next Bishop of Ebbsfleet despite knowing he was an active and senior mason.
The appointment, announced earlier this month, marked a significant U-turn by Dr Williams who had previously said that Freemasonry was “incompatible” with Christianity and had refused to promote Masons to senior posts.
Last week, as news of Fr Baker’s membership of the Masons began to circulate through the Church, it provoked growing concern and criticism from clergy and members of the General Synod.
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.”
The Church of England website has this page on Freemasonry.
July 1987 General Synod considered a report Freemasonry and Christianity: Are they compatible?
The following motion carried a margin of 8 to 1:
‘That this Synod endorses the Report of the Working Group (GS 784A), including its final paragraph, and commends it for discussion by the Church.’
At national level, there have been no formal developments since the 1987 debate.
The final paragraph of the report referred to in the motion reads as follows:
‘(122) This Report has identified a number of important issues on which, in the view of the Working Group, the General Synod will have to reflect as it considers ‘the compatibility or otherwise of Freemasonry with Christianity’. The reflections of the Working Group itself reveal understandable differences of opinion between those who are Freemasons and those who are not. Whilst the former fully agree that the Report shows that there are clear difficulties to be faced by Christians who are Freemasons, the latter are of the mind that the Report points to a number of very fundamental reasons to question the compatibility of Freemasonry and Christianity.’
In April 2003, the Telegraph carried this report: Rowan Williams apologises to Freemasons.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has been forced to apologise to Britain’s 330,000 Freemasons after he said that their beliefs were incompatible with Christianity and that he had rejected them from senior posts in his diocese…
…In his letter of apology, Dr Williams tries to distance himself from his own reported comments. He claims that his views were never meant to be public and were distorted by the media.
He wrote: “I have been sorry to learn of the distress of a considerable number of Freemasons . . . In replying to private correspondence, I had no intention of starting a public debate nor of questioning the good faith and generosity of individual Freemasons and I regret the tone and content of the media coverage.”
He added: “The quoted statements about the ‘satanic’ character of the Masonic ceremonies and other matters did not come from me and do not represent my judgment. Since my late father was a member of the Craft for many years, I have had every opportunity of observing the probity of individual members.”
Dr Williams does not, in his letter, deny that he has misgivings about the role of Freemasons within the Church.
He wrote: “Where anxieties exist, however, 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.”
He ends his letter by stating that Freemasons’ commitment to charity and the community is beyond question.
The Ebbsfleet website has: Personal statement by the Rev’d Jonathan Baker, bishop-designate of Ebbsfleet.
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.
The Church Mouse has The Church should update its policy on Freemasonry. He notes that Lambeth Palace does not know how many bishops are Freemasons.