Why have I written a book about Freemasonry?
Revd Dr Gerard Moate gives a personal insight into the writings of this book.
At Oak Hill College my ‘pastoral theology’ project had hit the buffers. I was bored with my chosen subject and floundering with the research. An academic tutor, Dr Roger Curl, heard me out on why there had been so little progress. “What do you know about Freemasonry?” he asked, having apparently seen one book on my bookshelves on the subject. I answered him honestly, that I knew very little and added that anything I had read about it seemed to involve the author shouting at me. “Then do some research and write something that is not like that”, he said.
My interest in this subject proved to be timely in a number of ways. First, several others (among them journalists, bishops and a few parish clergy) were beginning to take an interest in the subject. Secondly, through ‘doors opening’ I was able to interview current and former Freemasons at some length. Thirdly, there was a growing and unprecedented disquiet among clergy and laity in the Church of England that would eventually lead to an inquiry, reports, and a General Synod debate on whether Freemasonry was compatible with Christianity.
Among the journalists with whom I worked were Stephen Knight, whose book The Brotherhood (London, 1984) included two chapters that I had largely researched and written; Martin Short, Inside the Brotherhood (London, 1989, a book and TV series); and Duncan Campbell, then working for the New Statesman magazine.
Senior clergy who took an interest in my work included the bishop of London, Graham Leonard, and Patrick Rodger, bishop of Oxford. In Leonard’s case it was because of difficulties he was facing in dealing with some legislative issues, which he had reasons to think involved some people who were Freemasons. He had become aware that I had compiled an ‘annotated Crockford’s’, being a list of the Anglican clergy I had discovered who were Craft Freemasons, and he wanted me to share that information with him. Although I refused to let him have the list, I answered some specific enquiries about the people who were of concern to him.
In Rodger’s case, it was because a vicar in his diocese had claimed that he was being ‘hounded from his parish’ after he had refused to accept and approve the masonic practices that had taken place within his parish church building. Peter Dawes, then archdeacon of West Ham, later bishop of Derby, was also a significant encouragement to my research and supporter of there being a debate in General Synod.
Those I interviewed included Robert Foxcroft, a former chaplain to the Royal Masonic Hospital; Michael Marshall, bishop of Woolwich, who had experienced abuse and mistreatment because he had been critical of Freemasonry in a TV interview; the literary executors of Walton Hannah, whose pioneering work in the 1950s had done so much to challenge the Christian thinking in this country on the subject; and someone, I shall not name, who had been one of ‘The Few’ as a pilot during the World War and had spent the rest of his life trying to find, through increasingly esoteric forms of Freemasonry, that same sense of being part of an elite that he had known when he was a young man.
When the time came for me to be ordained, in St Paul’s Cathedral, it was a matter of some irony that, as I waited for the service to begin, I looked up and saw a decorative ceiling-boss with the masonic ‘square and compasses’ symbol - which is hardly surprising when one realises that Sir Christopher Wren was a Freemason.
I determined not to make this academic study into a defining characteristic of any ministry to which I may be called. For this reason, after supporting those who brought the matter to the synod debate in 1985, including drafting a resource document for all those synod members who wanted it, I ‘downed tools’, as it were, and gave my considerable library of books and recordings, by masons and non-masons, to Oak Hill College in the care of its Librarian, Wendy Bell. In response to almost all subsequent enquiries I let it be known that the Latimer book was my last word on the matter.
Some thirty years later I was approached by a Latimer editor, inviting me to revise the book before it was reset and republished. Eventually, I was able to accept the challenge of bridging the years, through fresh research, at the same time as revising and correcting what I had written back then.
I am very grateful to the Latimer team, including Ellelein Kirk and Grace Raven; to copy-editor Mary Davis and photographer Andrew McKerlie; and to my wife, Wendy, who between them have helped me to get this book into its present form. This study will, I trust, be useful to another generation of Christian ministers, especially those who want a carefully-researched, pastoral and eirenic (please don’t shout!) consideration of this subject.