In the recent case of Lesley Pilkington, the Christian therapist suspended by the BACP for misconduct, one thing stuck out for me personally.
The most egregious aspect of her conduct was, undoubtedly, telling her client — who turned out to be undercover journalist Patrick Strudwick — that childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a family member was to blame for his homosexuality. He denied all memory of it, but she insisted it was there, repressed. The part of the case that stood out for me personally, however, was what she told her client about Freemasonry.
Was there Freemasonry in his family? Pilkington asked Strudwick. Its presence can have a “spiritual effect” on males in the family, she claimed. Freemasonry, she said, “often encourages” homosexuality.
My grandfather was a Freemason. I last saw him before my family emigrated from Canada to the UK, when I was five, and he died a year or two later. I had some cherished memories, and there were family stories and photographs to keep his presence in my life alive as I was growing up.
As a teenager, I converted to Pentecostalism. Conspiracy theories about Freemasons abounded, and they were regarded as deceived cultists at best. At one point, my pastor invited a former Freemason to speak to the church and “expose” the satanic nature of Masonry. The upshot of it was that, by the end of the evening, I believed my late grandpa was, to all intents and purposes, a closet Satanist. There was no other way to spin what I had heard. As a 32nd-degree Mason, he was a Devil-worshipper, and my view of him as a kindly, “good Christian” was, to put it gently, under suspicion.
My pastor also told me unequivocally that evening that my school’s headmaster was the Grand Master of a Masonic lodge. Foolishly, I offered the headmaster an anti-Freemasonry tract the very next day, saying that I had heard he was a Freemason and hoped he would read the tract and reconsider. Horrified, he denied it (possibly falsely) and insisted on knowing who told me. Being, at the age of 16, subject to a lot of religious manipulation, I protected my pastor and merely said “an elder at my church.” I phoned my pastor that night and told him what had happened. Refusing to take any responsibility for the situation, he said he had merely “heard he might be” a Freemason. So it was that the next day, I went to my headmaster’s office, and I — a teenager plied by my church with a litany of gossipy tracts, books and sermons denouncing Freemasons as practitioners of a Satanic cult — apologized, accepted full responsibility and, once again, refused to implicate my pastor and his careless words in any of it.
My mother, meanwhile, whether as a direct result of this meeting or because of other messages she’d heard through the church, had handed over several Masonic items to her pastor, so he could destroy them. (She assumed he would burn them, which was quite common for anything regarded as occultic, from rock albums to kids’ fantasy toys.) She tells me now her perception of her dad was never directly affected by the teachings she received, but she certainly regrets destroying family heirlooms and personal items, including a gift engraved with a message from her father.
This is how ill-founded gossip about Freemasons hurts people. When you say that Freemasonry is Satanic or its practitioners are concealing the depth of their involvement in a Devil-worshipping cult, you are not making an abstract point about a belief system. You’re causing daughters to look with suspicion upon their fathers and grandsons to replace memories with myths.