After my recent post about The Lost Symbol, I have been researching again into the relationship between the Freemasonry movement and early Mormon history where the two intersected in Nauvoo, Illinois. It seems many of the readers of this page are unaware of the connection, and this post will attempt to illuminate the relationship more clearly.
A comment to an article about a new DVD release from the History Channel about Freemasonry that appeared over the weekend in the Deseret Morning News caught my eye. The comment is typical of many who were unaware of the early history of the Church: "I'd like to learn about LDS leaders and Masonry. Can someone on this list recommend some good books on why LDS leaders became Masons? I've been searching and haven't been able to find anything. Thank you."
Here is an excellent article in Wikipedia about the history of Freemasonry for those who are interested. The true origins of Freemasonry are shrouded, and cannot be completely verified, and here the similarities between Freemasonry and Mormonism radically depart when compared to Joseph Smith's own autobiographical history and assertions of divine revelation freely given since the early 1800s. It is highly unlikely that Freemasonry's origins can be accurately traced back to Solomon's Temple, as some have believed and purported, some critics using that supposition as the basis for their opposition to Freemasonry being anti-Islamic and favoring construction of the future Jewish Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock (more on that later). Not even Freemasons make such claims, but the linkage continues to be asserted by some who oppose Freemasonry simply on the grounds that their rituals and beliefs contradict their own.
Freemasonry has a long and tortured history of critics who have attacked its secretive nature almost from its inception. The most likely explanations of the origins of Freemasonry can be traced to Scotland in the late 1500s, arising from the construction trade guilds that flourished there. Grand Lodges were established first in Scotland, Ireland, then England in the 1700s, later spreading throughout Europe.
After the Revolutionary War in America, Grand Lodges soon appeared in all the states. George Washington was the Grand Master of the Virginia Lodge, and many of the Founding Fathers, signers of the Declaration of Independence and subsequently the Constitution were Freemasons in good standing in various lodges.
The introduction of Freemasonry in Nauvoo had both political and religious implications. When Illinois Grand Master Abraham Jonas visited Nauvoo on March 15, 1842, to install the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge, he inaugurated an unintended era of difficulty with other Illinois Freemasons and introduced to Nauvoo ancient rituals bearing some similarity to the LDS temple ordinances. Google searches on the topics will yield ample results.
Much has been made of the intersection of Freemasonry and the early Church history in Nauvoo, Illinois. The meteoric rise in population in that city is well documented as immigrants from Europe flooded in from the British Isles where Freemasonry florished, accounting for the mutual attraction. Nauvoo was reclaimed from a swampy disease-infested bend in the river (formerly Commerce, Illinois) into a safe and thriving religious community in a matter of five short years. At one point Nauvoo's population totaled more than 30,000, making it even larger in those days than Chicago. It is not surprising that a Grand Lodge was established in Nauvoo, nor that the leaders of the Church were attracted to it. The Church leaders reached out for understanding and support from whatever quarter they could find it, and such seems to be the case in the establishment of the lodge in Nauvoo.
Regular Masonic procedure calls for an existing lodge to sponsor each new proposed lodge. Early in the summer of 1841, several Latter-day Saints who were Masons, including Lucius N. Scovil, a key figure in Nauvoo Freemasonry, asked Bodley Lodge No. 1, in Quincy, Illinois, to request that the Illinois Grand Lodge appoint certain individuals as officers of a Nauvoo lodge. Indicating that the persons named were unknown in Quincy as Masons, the lodge returned the letter with instructions for further action.
Less than a year later, Nauvoo had a lodge without the normal sponsorship. Grand Master Abraham Jonas (a Jewish Mason) apparently waived the rule and granted Nauvoo a "special dispensation" to organize. He also made Joseph Smith and his counselor, Sidney Rigdon, "Masons at sight," accelerating them to the third degree designation as "Master Masons" and waiving the normal waiting period between the degrees. Some believe that Jonas was willing to follow this course because he envisioned the growing Mormon vote supporting his own political ambitions. Such speculation is validated in the fact of the Church's expulsion from Missouri, largely because of their abolitionist views in opposition to those who favored the continuation of slavery in Missouri. As a large political voting bloc, the Mormons wielded influence at the polls. Although the action may have endeared Jonas to some Latter-day Saints, it antagonized other Masons. Joseph Smith had reason to expect that the Saints might benefit from the network of friendship and support normally associated with the fraternal organization, but instead, the creation of the Nauvoo Lodge only produced more friction.
Jonas published an account of the March 15 installation of the Nauvoo Lodge in his newspaper, Columbia Advocate, and signed it merely "An Observer." "Never in my life did I witness a better dressed or more orderly and well-behaved assemblage," he wrote (HC 4:565-66). During the installation ceremonies, held in the grove near the temple site, Joseph Smith officiated as Grand Chaplain. That evening, with the Masons assembled in his office, the Prophet received the first degree of Freemasonry. Nauvoo Masons then commenced weekly early morning meetings.
Confusion could logically be drawn by some not fully acquainted with early Mormon history in Nauvoo, when Joseph Smith made this entry in his journal:
Wednesday, 4.—I spent the day in the upper part of the store, that is in my private office * * * in council with General James Adams, of Springfield, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, Bishops Newel K. Whitney and George Miller, and President Brigham Young and Elders Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, instructing them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim in the eternal worlds. In this council was instituted the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days. And the communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints; therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple, and all houses which they have been, or shall hereafter be, commanded of God to build; and wait their time with patience in all meekness, faith, perseverance unto the end, knowing assuredly that all these things referred to in this council are always governed by the principle of revelation. (May 4, 1842.) (See TPJS, 237).
Joseph was surrounded by his contemporaries in the Church, who were converted largely because of their acceptance of The Book of Mormon as evidence of the truth of Joseph's claims, and many of those same men were simultaneously members of the local Nauvoo Lodge of Freemasons. Few if any of his closest associates were confused between the rites of Freemasonry and the temple ordinances Joseph was introducing which he claimed "are always governed by the principle of revelation." Joseph was a revelator, not a plagiarist.
I found this corroborating insight from Richard Bushman's 2005 biography, Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling (see p. 449):
"Portions of the temple ritual resembled Masonic rites that Joseph had observed when a Nauvoo lodge was organized in March 1842 and that he may have heard about from Hyrum, a Mason from New York days. The Nauvoo endowment was first bestowed just six weeks after Joseph's induction. The similarities were marked enough for Heber Kimball to quote Joseph saying that Freemasonry 'was taken from preasthood but has become degen[e]rated. but menny things are perfect.' Joseph often requested revelation about things that caught his attention. His revision of the Bible had sparked questions that resulted in revelations such as the vision of three glories. Tensions in South Carolina brought on a revelation about coming civil war. He had a green thumb for growing ideas from tiny seeds. Masonic rites seem to have been one more provocation."
If there had been any trickery involved, it is likely that such proximate contemporaries would not have been easily duped by Joseph into believing Mormon temple ordinances had their origins in Freemasonry. Those who were with him when the spirit of revelation descended upon him bore eyewitness accounts repeatedly that he could have been nothing less than he claimed to be. Only the apostates who later left the Church raised such charges against Joseph as a plagiarist, but those who knew him best like Howard Coray, left comments in their notebooks like this one:
"The spirit descended upon him, and a measure of it upon me, insomuch that I could fully realize that God, or the Holy Ghost, was talking through him. I never, neither before or since, have felt as I did on that occasion. I felt so small and humble I could have freely kissed his feet." (Howard Coray's account of how Joseph received this discourse by revelation -- see TPJS, 166-173 -- taken from his autobiography, Special Collections, BYU, reprinted in The Words of Joseph Smith, 50, note 1).
In August 1842, Bodley Lodge No. 1 protested the granting of a dispensation to the Nauvoo Lodge, resulting in a temporary suspension of activities. An investigation found that approximately three hundred Latter-day Saints had become Masons during the brief existence of the lodge, but found no irregularities warranting dissolution. The Grand Lodge not only authorized reinstatement of the Nauvoo Lodge but subsequently granted dispensations for other lodges nearby made up principally of Latter-day Saints. Eventually nearly 1,500 LDS men became associated with Illinois Freemasonry, including many members of the Church's governing priesthood bodies -- this at a time when the total number of non-LDS Masons in Illinois lodges barely reached 150. The political ramifications were untenable in time.
As long-time rivals of Nauvoo for political and economic ascendancy, neighboring Masons feared and resisted Mormon domination of Freemasonry. Charging the Nauvoo Lodge with balloting for more than one applicant at a time, receiving applicants into the fraternity on the basis that they reform in the future, and making Joseph Smith a Master Mason on sight, enemies forced an investigation in October 1843. The Grand Lodge summoned Nauvoo officials to Jacksonville, Illinois. Armed with pertinent books and papers, Lucius Scovil and Henry G. Sherwood answered the allegations. Though the examining committee reported that everything appeared to be in order, it expressed fear that there might be something wrong, and recommended a year's suspension. At this point, Grand Master Jonas, in an impassioned speech, declared that the books of the Nauvoo Lodge were the best-kept he had seen and stated his conviction that but for the fact that the Nauvoo Lodge was composed of Mormons, it would stand as the highest lodge in the state. A committee was appointed to make a thorough investigation in Nauvoo. Though the committee reported no wrongdoing, the Nauvoo Lodge was again suspended. The injunction was later removed, but the Nauvoo Lodge continued to lack the support of its fellow Masons.
In April 1844, the Nauvoo Lodge dedicated a new Masonic hall. The restored building now stands once again in Nauvoo, dubbed in modern times as the "Cultural Hall." By this time, the lodge had been severed from the Grand Lodge and one Illinois Mason had been expelled from his lodge for attending the dedication. The Nauvoo Lodge continued its activities in the newly built hall until April 10, 1845, when Brigham Young advised Lucius Scovil to suspend the work of the Masons in Nauvoo. Only a few additional meetings were held prior to the Latter-day Saints' departure for the Great Basin in 1846.
Joseph Smith participated minimally in Freemasonry and, as far as is known, attended the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge on only three occasions. Nonetheless, LDS Masons commented on his mastery of its orders, tenets, and principles and of his understanding of the allegorical symbolism of its instructions. Some who apostatized from the Church, including John C. Bennett, later accused Joseph Smith of plagiarizing the secret rituals of Freemasonry and incorporating them into the temple ordinances. Bennett was eventually excommunicated from the Church because of adultery, causing great personal heartache to the Prophet Joseph. The Masons expelled Bennett from the Nauvoo Lodge, too, in subsequent years, calling into question his well-known debauchery and lack of moral turpitude. These myths associated with Freemasonry and Mormons in Nauvoo persist nevertheless.
Most scholars who have looked carefully at the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge agree that it was more victim than villain. All agree that widespread anti-Mormon feelings and the extensive hatred of Latter-day Saints by local rivals, and not irregularities or misconduct, caused the controversy with regard to the Masonic Lodge in Nauvoo.
Sigma Chi Fraternity, organized in 1855 at Miami of Ohio University, cannot escape the similarities between the rituals of those secret fraternal societies and the temple endowment. Are we to assume that Sigma Chi stole its initiation ritual from Joseph Smith who predated Sigma Chi's origins? That's about as plausible in my mind as Joseph Smith stealing his rituals from the Freemasons. Much has been made of the similarities attaching to Freemasonry and the endowment ceremony. However, such similarities, while interesting, do not carry the weight of authenticity, nor are they persuasive to either an objective outside observer or a devout convert.
Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, we stoutly and unabashedly assert. Truth seekers routinely are attracted to his story. Hundreds of thousands worldwide each year enter the Church through the waters of baptism by immersion for a remission of their sins. What he received through his revelatory dictims came to him ultimately as independent from any other influences. While these outside influences may have been factors in his overall development -- for example, his proximity to men much older and more experienced like Sidney Rigdon who had experimented with idealistic religious utopian societies -- the Prophet's development of the law of consecration certainly cannot be attributed solely to his interaction with Rigdon.
Joseph was a pure vessel as an inexperienced young man and proved an acceptable blank canvas upon which the Lord could write His Restoration doctrines. All the similarities between Freemasonry and Mormonism notwithstanding, there are myriads of similar arguments that arise that simply have not stood the test of time -- for example, the Spaulding manuscript theory of the origins of The Book of Mormon, the introduction of plural marriage as a way to satiate Joseph's alleged salacious sexual desires, and so forth. When examined in depth, as many have, these criticisms usually amount to little more than the ad hominem attacks they are. Kill the messenger, the reasoning goes, and you kill the message. Such was not the case with Joseph Smith, and it was not the case with his Master, Jesus Christ, either.
Quoting from the Wikipedia article:
"Freemasonry explicitly and openly states that it is neither a religion nor a substitute for one. 'There is no separate Masonic God', nor a separate proper name for a deity in any branch of Freemasonry.
"Regular Freemasonry requires that its candidates believe in a Supreme Being, but the interpretation of the term is subject to the conscience of the candidate. This means that men from a wide range of faiths, including (but not limited to) Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, etc. can and have become Masons.
"Since the early 19th century, in the irregular Continental European tradition (meaning irregular to those Grand Lodges in amity with the United Grand Lodge of England), a very broad interpretation has been given to a (non-dogmatic) Supreme Being; in the tradition of Baruch Spinoza and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – or views of The Ultimate Cosmic Oneness – along with Western atheistic idealism and agnosticism.
"Freemasonry in Scandinavia, known as the Swedish Rite, on the other hand, accepts only Christians. In addition, some appendant bodies (or portions thereof) have religious requirements. These have no bearing, however, on what occurs at the lodge level."
their website (it's loaded with information for the layman and promotes understanding of their fraternal and social goals). Here's a FOX13-TV story about The Lost Symbol just prior to its release, with an interview of John Liley, the Senior Grand Warden here in Utah, who describes the organization as "a social fraternity." When the Grand Lodge on South Temple was rededicated in recent years after a renovation, public open houses were offered. My partner, Steve Harris, and I toured the lodge (we were the only two visitors in the building at the time, and they were hard-pressed to even find us a guide to take us through the building).
For many members of the order, Freemasonry becomes their religion, though such is not their principal aim. I knew brothers in Sigma Chi Fraternity who likewise adopted it (what could be better than the White Cross of Sigma Chi as a lofty symbolic ideal?) as the only religion they knew, though Sigma Chi would never hold itself out as anything akin to religion.
I never go to the Salt Lake Temple without taking notice of the careful craftsmanship and the precision workmanship that is in evidence throughout. Ground was broken for the magnificent temple that is the centerpiece of Salt Lake City, on April 6, 1853. Forty years later it was dedicated on April 6, 1893, by President Wilford W. Woodruff, successor to Brigham Young. It is little wonder that such persistence and diligence is best illustrated by use of the beehive as a symbol emblematic of the hard work of our pioneer ancestors. Even the doorknobs of the temple attest to this iconic symbol.
Examples of dynamic revelatory changes can be seen routinely within the Church -- the reorganization of the Seventy, the granting of priesthood ordinations to all worthy males in 1978, the updated formats for the scriptures, the three-hour block meeting formats, the temple rituals, the teaching materials in every organization of the Church, the introduction of the missionary manual, Preach My Gospel, and so on. These all represent dramatic shifts in policies and procedures, while preserving fundamental scriptural doctrines.
If one believes the canon of scripture is open and revelatory experiences are ongoing, such changes are easily and readily accepted by faithful Church members. I will never forget my father, who was serving as a mission president in the California Arcadia Mission in the late 70's, reflecting on the nature of those changes. He told me in a phone conversation, "I went to my new three-hour block of meetings at 9:00 a.m., was served the sacrament by a newly-ordained black deacon, while sitting in my new two-piece garments and reading from my new edition of the scriptures in Sunday School class." Notice the key word "new." The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is dynamic, ever-evolving to adapt to changing conditions in the world, and founded upon the principle that God still loves His children and will shower upon the heads of His Church the divine guidance needed to navigate in a dark mortal world.
To those who oppose the Church, such seemingly "convenient changes" and alterations are abhorrent to their way of thinking and no explanation will suffice. The Church's critics are never satisfied. They attack Joseph Smith as a fraud, then when the Church alters anything they cry fraud again, conveniently slipping and tripping over the obvious contradictions in their position.
Perhaps we can best say it this way -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints purports to be much more than a social fraternal organization like the Freemasons and Sigma Chi Fraternity, and the Freemasons and Sigma Chi have never purported to be religious organizations founded on ongoing revelation led by a true living prophet of God.
Nevertheless, the Freemasons have come in for their share of rejection and hostility from many quarters, particularly from the churches. Perhaps there is fear Freemasonry might siphon off their members into an imitation religion, much as those same churches pounce on Mormons. Those of us who have been to the temple can testify the true "secrets of the universe" are routinely being given away freely to anyone who's interested enough to investigate the Church's claims.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said: "Someday the boldness of the people of the Church may match the boldness of the doctrines of the Church. Right now, we are rather shy. We don't understand how remarkable as well as plentiful those doctrines are. They contain the answers to the most vexing and searching of all human questions. In fact, through the 'restitution of all things,' God is actually giving away the secrets of the universe!" (That Ye May Believe, 164, emphasis mine).
The Mormons, by contrast to other churches, have never shared the concerns about Freemasons. Quoting again from the Wikipedia article:
"In contrast to Catholic allegations of rationalism and naturalism, Protestant objections are more likely to be based on allegations of mysticism, occultism, and even Satanism. Masonic scholar Albert Pike is often quoted (in some cases misquoted) by Protestant anti-Masons as an authority for the position of Masonry on these issues. However, Pike, although undoubtedly learned, was not a spokesman for Freemasonry and was controversial among Freemasons in general, representing his personal opinion only, and furthermore an opinion grounded in the attitudes and understandings of late 19th century Southern Freemasonry of the USA alone. Indeed his book carries in the preface a form of disclaimer from his own Grand Lodge. No one voice has ever spoken for the whole of Freemasonry.
"Free Methodist Church founder B.T. Roberts was a vocal opponent of Freemasonry in the mid 18th century. Roberts opposed the society on moral grounds and stated, 'The god of the lodge is not the God of the Bible.' Roberts believed Freemasonry was a 'mystery' or 'alternate' religion and encouraged his church not to support ministers who were Freemasons. Freedom from secret societies is one of the 'frees' the Free Methodist Church was founded upon.
"Since the founding of Freemasonry, many Bishops of the Church of England have been Freemasons, such as Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher. In the past, few members of the Church of England would have seen any incongruity in concurrently adhering to Anglican Christianity and practicing Freemasonry. In recent decades, however, reservations about Freemasonry have increased within Anglicanism, perhaps due to the increasing prominence of the evangelical wing of the church. The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, appears to harbour some reservations about Masonic ritual, whilst being anxious to avoid causing offence to Freemasons inside and outside the Church of England. In 2003 he felt it necessary to apologise to British Freemasons after he said that their beliefs were incompatible with Christianity and that he had barred the appointment of Freemasons to senior posts in his diocese when he was Bishop of Monmouth.
"Regular Freemasonry has traditionally not responded to these claims, beyond the often repeated statement that those Grand Lodges in amity with UGLE explicitly adhere to the principle that 'Freemasonry is not a religion, nor a substitute for religion. There is no separate 'Masonic deity', and there is no separate proper name for a deity in Freemasonry.' In recent years, however, this has begun to change. Many Masonic websites and publications address these criticisms specifically.
"Many Islamic anti-Masonic arguments are closely tied to both Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism, though other criticisms are made such as linking Freemasonry to Dajjal. Some Muslim anti-Masons argue that Freemasonry promotes the interests of the Jews around the world and that one of its aims is to rebuild the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem after destroying the Al-Aqsa Mosque. In article 28 of its Covenant, Hamas states that Freemasonry, Rotary, and other similar groups 'work in the interest of Zionism and according to its instructions …' Many countries with a significant Muslim population do not allow Masonic establishments within their jurisdictions. However, countries such as Turkey and Morocco have established Grand Lodges, while in countries such as Malaysia and Lebanon there are District Grand Lodges operating under a warrant from an established Grand Lodge.
"There was a time when there existed a number of lodges in Iraq as early as 1919, when the first lodge under the UGLE was opened in Basra, and later on when the country was under British Mandate just after the First World War. However the position changed in July 1958 following the Revolution, with the abolition of the Monarchy and Iraq being declared a republic, under General Qasim. The licences permitting lodges to meet were rescinded and later laws were introduced banning any further meetings. This position was later reinforced under Saddam Hussein, the death penalty was 'prescribed' for those who "promote or acclaim Zionist principles, including freemasonry, or who associate [themselves] with Zionist organisations.' With the fall of the Hussein government following the US Invasion of Iraq, a number of lodges associated with military units of the UK and UK have met and continue to meet on military bases within Iraq. In 2007, Land Air and Sea Lodge, No. 1, was granted a charter by the Grand Lodge of New York for the benefit of US servicemen serving in Iraq. Whilst this lodge is now dark there are proposals to re-activate it."
CONCLUSION: The so-called "controversy" between the Freemasons and the Mormons is largely a toothless tiger that offers little credible evidence of being much more than modern mythology. Dan Brown's new book, The Lost Symbol, will no doubt revive these old specious claims and counterclaims, but as John Liley adequately stated in his interview with FOX13 TV, there's really no such thing as negative publicity for Freemasonry. Anything that gets people to sit up and pay attention to their linkage with the establishment of Washington D.C. as the seat of our government is a good thing. The cornerstone ceremony of the U.S. Capitol Building was a Masonic ritual presided over by the first U.S. President, George Washington, in 1793. There is circumstantial evidence that the procedures used by George Washington were completely Masonic in origin. The contemporary newspaper accounts reported specifically that corn, wine, and oil were placed on the cornerstone after it was set in place. Also, the Alexandria-Washington Lodge #22 has a wooden triangle and T-square from the 1793 ceremonies, which must have been used to symbolically "try the stone." In an earlier post last month I reminded readers that George Washington and all the signers of the Declaration of Independence appeared to Wilford W. Woodruff in the St. George Temple and requested that proxy temple ordinances be performed for each of them, which he did. I submit the former Freemasons among them embraced the temple ordinances offered to them wholeheartedly in the spirit world and were anxious to have that work done on their behalf. Brown's book will do nothing to alter the historical facts blended with his fiction as he reaps millions in profits associated with his accounts of symbology largely lost in today's modern world.
Your comments are welcomed.