A very distinct connection between Mormonism and
Masonry exists although many Mormon apologists would disagree. The
evidence, to me, is quite clear that Joseph Smith not only borrowed
from the Masonic initiation rites he even incorporated anti-Masonic
sentiment in the Book of Mormon. This will take some explaining.
The underlying theme of the Book of Mormon is the falling away of
the Nephites, the clean and blessed people of the American continent.
This group of people were supposedly annihilated by the Lamanites.
Their remnant being the indigenous people of the American continent.
Joseph Smith believed that many of the American Indians were decsendants
of these Lamanites. The Lamanites completely destroyed the Nephites,
but a force underwent the Nephites to weaken them before their destruction.
This force was an organization that dealt with secret combinations.
The net result was that the Nephites that dealt in secret combinations
destroyed the government, thus preparing and dividing it for utter
destruction (Book of Mormon; 3 Nephi 6). What were the "secret combinations"
in the Book of Mormon?
Joseph Smith leaves us some distinct hints of what
he meant by "secret combinations". The secret organization had "...
their signs, yea, their secret words; and this that they might distinguish
a brother who had entered into the covenant ..." (Book of Mormon;
Helaman 6:22). The purpose of these secrets were to "...protect
and preserve one another in whatsoever difficult circumstances they
should be placed ...", in particular " ... their murders, and their
plundering, and their stealings." (Book of Mormon; Helaman 6:21).
The secret combinations were labeled evil with the devil as its
source (Book of Mormon; 2 Nephi 9:9).
What can explain Joseph Smith's preoccupation with
secret combinations? An answer to this question originates in the
history at the time. In 1827, which just happens to be right before
the publishing of the Book of Mormon in 1830, anti-Masonic sentiment
in the area was strong. Within just a few weeks of Joseph's return
with his new wife to his father's house in Manchester, conventions
denouncing Freemasonry were held in town and nearby Farmington (Robert
N. Hullinger, 1980:105). The conventions were provoked by the Morgan
trials, trials against Masons charged with the murder of Captain
William Morgan of Batvia, New York. Morgan strongly opposed Masonry
and denounced the group publicly. He was paying for the publishing
of a book that exposed the secret signs, grips, and rituals of Freemasonry.
When he disappeared soon after his public opposition against the
elite order, the explanation was clear to many: the Masons silenced
him through death. (Lucinda Pendelton, the widow of William Morgan
married George Washington Harris. Some evidence even indicates that
Joseph Smith married Lucinda
in 1838 when he was living at the Harris home.) The courts, thought
corrupted by the Masons, would not prosecute fellow Masons for the
crime of murder.
Who killed Morgan? We still do not know for sure,
but we do know that at the time Freemasonry was getting bad press,
and a lot of press at that. Talk about the Morgan trials permeated
the newly enjoyed American printing press with an air of conspiracy
and intrigue. For the first time in American history an Anti-Masonic
party was organized as a third political party in the United States.
John Quincy Adams, who had already served as the sixth President
of the United States, became one of the outspoken leaders against
Masonry. William Wirt was placed as the Anti-Masonic Party Presidential
candidate in 1832, but easily lost with only seven electoral votes.
Wirt's defeat was an indication that anti-Masonic sentiment had
decreased drastically by then.
Although one can pick up on the anti-Masonic sentiment
in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith was not directly hostile to
the fraternity. In fact he joined the organization on March 14,
1842 (History of the Church, vol. 4, pg. 550-551). Six weeks after
his initiation into Masonry he called his most trusted church leaders
together to instruct them on the endowment. I will quote directly
from the LDS Church historical records:
"Wednesday, 4 I spent the upper part of
the store, that is in my private office (so called because in
that room I keep my sacred writings, translate ancient records,
and receive revelations) and in my general business office, or
lodge room (that is where the Masonic fraternity meet occasionally,
for want of a better place) ... instructing ... [Brigham
Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, and other important
church leaders] in the principles and order of the Priesthood,
attending to washings, anointings, endowments, and the communication
of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, setting forth
the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans
and principles by which have been prepared for the Church of the
First Born, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim
in the eternal worlds ... "
(History of the Church, May 4, 1842, bold added)
Joseph Smith's own temple records indicate that
he received his endowment in Nauvoo on May 4, 1842, weeks after
his Masonic initiation. The Nauvoo endowment had many new elements
eventhough an "endowment" was first introduced in Kirtland, Ohio,
many years previously. The Kirtland endowment did not contain the
many Masonic elements as did the Nauvoo endowment. The Nauvoo Temple,
which began construction prior to Joseph Smith's initiation into
Masonry, was not specifically designed for the endowment. Brigham
Young had canvas walls hang from the ceiling to divide the upper
attic into the different rooms. Willford Woodruff later admitted
that the Nauvoo Masonic Temple was used for LDS ordinances (Lot
Case, pg. 299). Not surprisingly, in 1844 all of the Nauvoo Masonic
lodges were declared clandestine and their dispensation revoked
by the Grand Lodge in Springfield, Illinois. Up until recently many
of these Masonic elements have remained in the LDS endowment. In
1990, the LDS Church abondoned the five points of fellowship and
the Masonic penal oaths and signs. However, many Masonic similarities
still exist and the others will not soon be forgotten.