Archbishop Rowan Williams is comfortably the most interesting man to grace the office of Archbishop of Canterbury in recent times. Recently he was uncomfortable about the killing of Osama bib Laden. Now it appears he is comfortable with appointing Freemasons to the English episcopal bench, despite some earlier decisiveness about not doing just that. The Telegraph story is here and the Thinking Anglicans round up re ++Rowan on freemasonry here. The person concerned is Fr. Jonathan Baker and the story is clear that Fr. Baker has given up being a Freemason in order to be an undistracted by controversy bishop. In other words, the story of interest here is how ++Rowan came to go against his earlier commitment re Freemasonry. (I know, I know, some will say that change of mind is characteristically Rowanism at work).
++Rowan can speak for himself if he chooses to do so. Here I note with gladness that Fr Baker has given up his involvement in Freemasonry. We need bishops who live exemplary lives, especially in regard to Christian teaching so that by both word and deed they represent the Word of God to us. There are two fundamental objections to Christians being Freemasons, and the strength of those objections is heightened when we are considering a candidate for episcopal office.
The first objection is the secrecy inherent at the core of Freemasonry. The second objection is the nature of the vows made when becoming a Freemason. The secrecy walls off an area of life which contrasts to Christians being called to live transparent lives "in the light." The vows make invocations and threats to one's future well-being which are incompatible with worshipping one God only and offering our bodies as a living sacrifice to our God. Further, some of the clearest teaching of Jesus is on the taking of oaths and that teaching is incompatible with the taking of complex oaths such as Freemasonry involves. (Any Freemason commenting here is invited to offer citations of the oaths involved in order to disprove my point ... but I have seen the oaths (thanks to an unusually transparent Freemason) and feel confident that disproof will not be forthcoming).
I am well aware that in times past many bishops were Freemasons, including in my own Kiwi Anglican church. I have never understood how otherwise sane, thinking men could be teachers of God's Word and Freemasons. As far as I know, none of the bishops currently active as licensing bishops of our church here are Freemasons. But if we wanted absolute clarity we could replace the men with women!!
Postscript: There is no intention here to impute anything malign to the existence and charitable work of Freemasonry. Others elsewhere may wish to argue about secret business deals, promotions within a profession and the like. My concern here is simply to reflect on the difficulty which bishops as chief teachers of the church have when they are also Freemasons - a difficulty which all Christian Freemasons in theory share but in practice do not seem to be troubled about.