There is a long and well-documented connection between the Episcopal Church, Freemasonry, and US political leadership. Those connections are increasingly leading the denomination into dangerous territory, including anecdotal evidence of a small but influential number of Q-Anon adherents within the denomination.
Before we go further, we want to be clear about several matters:
- We express no opinion on Freemasonry or its compatibility with Christianity. Nor is this post intended to denigrate Masonry or any of its members.
- While we are not millennialists, we intend no disrespect to anyone with such views.
- We recognize that Q-Anon is a big tent, and there are many subsets of belief among adherents. That said, we believe some aspects of Q-Anon are inconsistent with the Christian faith. These inconsistencies include hatred of any sort, belief in alien beings that act as demigods, and the notion of a “deep state.” Nor do we believe that accusing someone of being a Satanist is something to be done, if at all, based on weird “drops” by an anonymous source.
- We do not support conspiracy theories. In our experience, the government is terrible at keeping anything secret. The notion of a secret cabal that can keep a parking ticket undercover for more than a month is nothing short of amazing.
- We believe that most government officials and employees are well-intentioned and honorable; if anything, issues usually involve nonfeasance. Thus, we support the government.
- We tend to be more skeptical of local government and the church itself. Coteries within smaller organizations often lack accountability–and faith communities have a particularly dismal track record, especially regarding inconvenient truths.
Some historical context
A full discussion of the historical ties between the Episcopal church, Freemasonry, and the theories of Q-Anon goes beyond anything we could hope to cover, even in a series of posts.
That said, Freemasonry in the denomination, particularly in Virginia, predated the American Revolution and continued within the church as it regrouped after the war, thanks to the nonjuring bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
As a result, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial today towers over Virginia Theological Seminary, numerous Episcopal parishes, and historic Christ Church, where the Washington family worshipped and rented a pew.
Other leaders in our national discourse also were members of the Episcopal church. These include Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a complex and polarizing figure of deep religious faith who actively promoted reconciliation following the war.
And while Lee’s faith evolved from the deist and evangelical influences of his childhood, he remained a devout member of the Episcopal church. This includes returning to the Episcopal Church after the secessionist Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America realigned with the church of the North.
In other words, the Washingtons, Lees, and other prominent political figures remained influential members of the elite and, often, members of the Episcopal church. This, despite their varying fortunes and disparate roles in national discourse — roles that would later pull them into Q-Anon conspiracy theories, discussions of globalism, and other topics inconceivable in their lifetimes.
The role of symbolism
Into this heady mix of privilege, race, and religion, we get another influential factor: symbolism.
Who are the Illuminati?
We’ll touch further on that later, but they are a group, long gone, that some claim secretly rules the world. (If the group does exist, it’s done a lousy job of shutting down this site, VirtueOnline, or TheWartburgWatch. Or, as The Donald would say, “Illuminati, you’re FIRED!”)
So why all the commotion about symbols?
Most likely, it is because, as a liturgical church, we recognize the power of symbolism.
In saying that, it’s also important to recognize that some have theological concerns about Freemasonry.
Others have less positive motives, including the Anti-Masonic movement in the US and anti-Catholic sentiment, both of which have re-emerged after years of near-dormancy. And anytime we implicate Masonry, like it or not, we bring with it a tsunami of conspiracy theories.
And to add to the confusion, we will make an exception to our usual rule of political neutrality and note Donald Trump’s appearance outside St. John’s Lafayette Square. Appearing with Bible in hand, Trump used illegal means to quash Black Lives Matter protests.
Ironic, given that Trump has rarely attended the so-called “Church of the Presidents.” And troubling, as the church is, in many ways, a leading symbol of the Episcopal Church as the church of the elite.
Meanwhile, we are left with a key issue: The presence of symbols associated with Freemasonry in our churches eggs on Q-Anon types, who often see significance in symbols many of us find innocuous or innocent.
Still larger issues with Q-Anon
Even more significant issues loom with Q-Anon.
Before we plunge into the more troubling aspects of the Q-Anon movement, it’s essential to recognize that one in five Americans believes in some of its theories; one in four Republicans do.
In other words, if we treat Q-Anon as a religion, which in many ways it is, it is as large as all of mainline American Christianity combined or all American evangelicals. Per the New York Times:
“Thinking about QAnon, if it were a religion, it would be as big as all white evangelical Protestants, or all white mainline Protestants,” he added. “So it lines up there with a major religious group.”
Still worse, many of the antisemitic beliefs that lie at the core of the conspiracy echo the dangerous lies espoused in Protocols of the Elders of Zion. These are long-standing libels against the Jewish people and include:
- The notion of a secret cabal of leaders who control the world, including George Soros, the Rothschilds, and others.
- Claims that a “deep state” exists controlled by Satan-worshipping pedophiles within this secret cabal.
- An ever-evolving and increasingly ludicrous set of beliefs, including the existence of Israeli-controlled space lasers.
Nor do most mainstream media get it right on the timing of the emergence of Q-Anon. While they are correct that the first purported postings from the Q-Anon troll appeared on 4-Chan on October 2017, the alt-right conspiracies, including #PizzaGate, well-predate the post.
Indeed, the very handle, alt-right, dates back to newsgroup days. That itself should be telling.
As for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it is a fraudulent publication rooted in 1903 Tsarist Russia and produced by that country’s secret police.
The document expressly alleges a plan for world domination by Freemasons, Jews, pedophiles, liberals, and socialists, even as it recites the ancient anti-semitic canard of the blood libel, which claimed that Jews murdered Christian children for use in religious worship.
Thus, the great irony is that even as detached as we feel today from Tsarism and the pogroms, the scourge of Tsarist anti-semitism plays a significant role in US society.
We should also note that while Q-Anon is anti-semitic, it also serves as a big-tent umbrella that encompasses white supremacy and racism.
Indeed, many of the Unite the Right participants in Charlottesville came from relatively affluent alt-right backgrounds, as well as neo-Nazis, Islamaphobes, identitarians, white supremacists, neo-fascists, replacement theorists, and a host of other hate groups that usually would have little patience for each other.
Nor is the role of these beliefs confined to politics. Many white evangelicals find a home in Q-Anon, drawn by the notion of Donald Trump as a misunderstood warrior against the forces of evil.
Moreover, we must respect the powerful faith of evangelicals. Says one author:
Perhaps the biggest connection between the world of QAnon and the world of evangelical Christians is one that’s much harder to quantify and capture, but it seems obvious when talking to someone from either group. The QAnon movement has suffered multiple failed prophecies, predictions for events that never came to pass. To continue holding onto beliefs in spite of those disappointments, followers need something many evangelicals have in spades: faith.
“People of faith believe there is a divine plan — that there are forces of good and forces of evil at work in the world,” said Ed Stetzer, an evangelical pastor and executive director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. “QAnon is a train that runs on the tracks that religion has already put in place.”
The role of sex abuse scandals
Nor should we overlook the role that sexual abuse scandals in the Church of England, the Roman Church, and the SBC play in encouraging conspiracy theorists.
At a time when distrust runs high and New Age/Yoga theorists believe they can find their faith via the internet, the continuing fun and games in all denominations only add to the mess.
That’s particularly the case with the Church of England, where the recent meltdown between bishops and abuse survivors is nothing short of apocalyptic.
Look at it this way: If the bishop in charge of safeguarding can rightly say she “doesn’t entirely trust the church,” why should church officials expect anyone else to do so? And given that pedophilia is a central tenet of Q-Anon, the role of churches in pedophilia spells trouble in the offing for many denominations.
How the Episcopal church plays into Q-Anon theories
In addition to its former role as the quasi-state church, the Episcopal Church plays into the fears of Q-Anon adherents in various ways. These missteps include:
- Failing to understand the issues. For example, in Columbus Ohio, there is a gay men’s chorus, the Illuminati, which often performs at Episcopal churches. We have no issue with the chorus or its members, but it seems likely that the group doesn’t recognize the potential implications of its name.
- Ignoring lingering distrust of church headquarters, aka 815, and its often corrupt leaders. For example, Todd Ousley’s lack of personal integrity and his looking out for the Bishop Bros play into notions of a privileged elite that rewards sexual misconduct to the detriment of the masses.
- Similarly, Curry’s clanging gong of “The Way of Love,” is a cynical marketing ploy when he ignores misconduct by Ousley and other direct reports. As such, it plays to the distrust many have of authority figures and institutional messaging.
- Ousley and many bishops diocesan openly ignore allegations of pedophile priests or abusive priests under their authority or deliberately cover up these situations. These include allegations within the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Diocese of Maryland, the Diocese of Chicago, the Diocese of Virginia, and our perennial favorite, Glenda Curry of DioAla. Indeed, she and her co-conspirator Rob Morpeth refused to respond to our multiple referrals of an alleged pedophile priest in active ministry in the diocese. And we know another case of child sexual abuse where Curry and her minions have been playing games for years. Literally years. This is unacceptable and downright stupid in this era of conspiracy theories.
- Dragging its feet on reform. The starting point of the church needs to be not survival but integrity. That includes dealing with impaired clergy, implementing the model sexual abuse prevention policies required by General Convention 79, and holding clergy accountable at all levels.
- This business of the church ignoring its canons and rubrics has to stop. Time and again, we see the church shrugging off clergy discipline, ignoring the requirements of Title IV, telling members it will ignore illegal conduct by clergy or that it “doesn’t want to get involved.” Those behaviors play right into the hands of Q-Anon while begging the question, “If my bishop doesn’t want to get involved, why should he or she expect me to get involved?”
- Relatedly, the church needs to stop the organizational narcissism. Specifically, the Episcopal Church is no longer the quasi-state church. The church is very close to collapse. Parishioners are not willing to pay a professional Christian, aka a priest, a couple hundred thousand a year to hang out, engage in self-care, and go to the beach for a month each year, all while getting a defined benefit retirement plan. Although many church members remain affluent and educated, we also work hard and are not stupid about where we put our money. If the church will squander its resources on feckless clergy, don’t ask us to send money.
- The church must also stop playing games with those it mistreats or abuses. As in the recent Chicago litigation involving Chilton Knudsen, getting the church to own up to its cover-up should not have taken a lawsuit. And for the record, no one believes Knudsen was telling the truth about calling the police. Nor is this the first time Knudsen has failed to report child sex abuse.
- Relatedly, the church’s captive insurance carrier, the Church Pension Group, needs to reform. Rather than litigating every issue, it must screen claims and avoid litigation when misconduct is involved. The church cannot claim to be all about love, even as it treats clergy abuse as all about who has more money for an attorney. And the church cannot claim immunity from civil litigation under the First Amendment when it insists that problems be resolved in court. Again, this approach only eggs on those who see the church as comprising liberal elite whites.
- The church needs to restructure. Right now, General Convention typically draws as many as 10,000 attendees–three times the size of the Chinese legislature, the largest in the world. And most diocesan conventions are every bit as bloated. Thus, true to form, the church spends tons of money on overhead versus mission, even as it plays to the perceptions of conspiracy theorists.
- The standard for service in the church needs to be higher. Far too many postulants still get in despite being spectacularly ill-suited. Similarly, most standing committees comprise sycophants, insiders, and apparatchiks, often without regard for their faith, personal integrity, or Christian witness. With Q-Anon types already distrustful, why encourage their fears?
- Inclusion is one thing, but competence and faith must be the lodestars for appointment to church positions. In our work with church members, we often see vestries and church committees that look more like they were filled by checklist rather than discernment. Gay parishioner? Check. LatinX? Check. African-American? Gotcha.
- Explore options to address potential anti-Semitism in the Good Friday liturgy. We recognize that Jesus was a Jew, as were the crowds around him. Thus, while we believe it essential to address anti-semitism, this is an area where the church needs to tread carefully. Changes to liturgy carry a high risk of offense, but at the same time, we want to discourage hatred of any sort. Thus, Anglican Watch encourages a fulsome discussion with persons on all sides of these issues to find common ground and goodwill versus plunging over any cliffs.
How to spot Q-Anon theorists
For the record, we don’t favor pushing anyone out of the church absent a compelling reason–as in the person is an active pedophile.
That said, to engage with others, we need to understand them. And we must treat them with respect.
In that vein, it’s not that difficult to spot Q-Anon types. And there are at least one or two conspiracy theorists in almost every parish and diocese we have dealt with.
Indeed, given the prevalence of Q-Anon, it’s a statistical given. And some more conservative dioceses, particularly in the south, have a much higher percentage than others.
For starters, listen.
Listen for discussions about the Second Amendment and the importance of gun ownership.
Listen for hints like, “You just don’t know what’s going on,” or “There’s a lot more to this than you realize.”
Listen for references like, “Sometimes we just need to force change,” or “Taking up arms may be the only solution.”
And listen for discussions of Freemasonry, cabals, pedophiles in the woodwork, and the importance of protecting our history.
Of course, none of these are definitive.
And again, we do not endorse exclusion or want to promote paranoia.
But Q-Anon is a serious movement, whether people like it or not. And while some tenets of Q-Anon are inconsistent with the Christian faith, including white nationalism and hatred, the reality is we change no minds when we fail to understand each other or to engage one another with respect.
Relatedly, we need to recognize that there are Q-Anon adherents in many parishes within the church. While they may not come right out and announce their views, their views may prove every bit as dangerous to organized religion as they do to the secular state.