US envoy nominee Branstad member of Masons, banned in China

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2016 2:14 AM
US envoy nominee Branstad member of Masons, banned in China

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — If Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad becomes the next U.S. Ambassador to China, he may want to leave any Masonic symbols at home.

That's because the Freemasons group that Branstad belongs to has been banned in mainland China for decades.

Masonic lodges still exist in Taiwan, but not in China. All the other chapters were eliminated after the communist revolution there in 1949.

"Freemasons believe in freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of action, and I don't think that's what the communist Chinese government is about," said Tim Anderson, who is deputy grand secretary of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Iowa.

Masonic groups usually run into trouble in Communist countries because of their secret meetings, said Brent Morris, who wrote "The Idiot's Guide to Freemasonry." It doesn't help that Freemasonry was brought to China by the British when they were colonizing the area.

"You've got a dual-edged problem: part of it is the residue of colonialism and part of it is the meeting in private," said Morris, who is a Master Mason himself. He wrote his book partly to debunk conspiracy theories about the group that were highlighted in "The Da Vinci Code" book and movie.

Branstad accepted President-elect Donald Trump's job offer Wednesday, but he'll have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before taking the post.

The Iowa Lodge said Branstad is listed as a member of a chapter in Des Moines. His spokesman Ben Hammes declined to discuss Branstad's membership in the Masons.

Branstad accepted the position days after Trump caused a diplomatic stir by speaking to Taiwan's president on the phone.

Taiwan split from China in 1949, but China still considers the island part of its territory and would consider it unacceptable for the U.S. to recognize Taiwan's leader as a head of state.

Branstad isn't new to China. He has led several trade missions there during his six terms as Iowa governor, and he has a relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping that began during a 1985 diplomatic trip Xi took to Iowa.

Xi returned to Iowa in February 2012 for stops in Muscatine and the Des Moines area.

Branstad, 70, is finishing up his 22nd year at the helm of Iowa government and is the nation's longest-serving governor.

Don't expect other Masons to discuss Branstad's appointment at their next meeting because politics and religion are divisive topics that aren't supposed to be discussed, said Simon LaPlace, executive secretary of the Masonic Service Association of North America.

Masonic groups focus on helping members improve themselves, and many chapters also undertake community service projects. Women are not allowed to join although they are permitted to join affiliated groups. LaPlace said each chapter and state organization varies.

"Masonry flourishes in those countries where freedom and individual rights are permitted," LaPlace said. "That's why in a lot of totalitarian countries, masonry is not permitted."