About That Joseph Smith and Masonry Video (January 17, 2019)

On December 18th, 2019, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a new video on Joseph Smith and Masonry, which is part of their series of their "now you know" videos that use simple graphics to portray their history in a slightly more open manner than they had previously done before the Internet made the information so easily accessible. If you have not seen it, the church published it on YouTube and you can view it here.

It's a short video and we're not going to go into too much detail here, but I want to point out some of the ways that it feels like the church is still dodging and skirting difficult issues. This video suffers from the problems as the previous videos we have covered (seer stone video, Joseph Smith video, and the Word of Wisdom video), and we'll highlight the reasons we feel that way as we go.

Below I am going to have the text of the video with some comments about why the church is still being misleading about the connection between the LDS endowment ceremony and the Masonic ceremony even in the year 2019 when the information is so readily available. If you have not read our annotated essay on polygamy in Nauvoo, I highly recommend it as it provides more information than this blog post on polygamy and how it tied into the endowment ceremony.

Before I start with the video, I want to note the definition of honesty that the church has declared in its own Gospel Principals Manual (lesson 31):

"Complete honesty is necessary for our salvation. President Brigham Young said, “If we accept salvation on the terms it is offered to us, we have got to be honest in every thought, in our reflections, in our meditations, in our private circles, in our deals, in our declarations, and in every act of our lives” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 293).”

Satan would have us believe it is all right to lie. He says, “Yea, lie a little; … there is no harm in this” (2 Nephi 28:8). Satan encourages us to justify our lies to ourselves. Honest people will recognize Satan’s temptations and will speak the whole truth, even if it seems to be to their disadvantage.

There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest."

From the video:

"Was Joseph Smith a Mason? And if so, what connection does it have to temple worship practiced by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Well, there could be some confusion between the similarities with and the differences between Masonic ritual and the way Latter day Saints worship in the temple of the Lord.

Let's explain. The term Mason or masonry refers to Freemasonry worldwide network of fraternal organizations dating back hundreds of years that promotes morality and service to others. And, yes, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was a freemason. Joseph Smith's brother, Hyrum, was also a Mason and a member of a lodge in Palmyra, New York, and their father, Joseph Smith Sr., was also known to be a master mason in Canon Degla, New York, as early as 1818. While prophet and president of the church, Joseph joined the Masonic Lodge in Nauvoo, Illinois on March 15th, 1842, rising to the level of Master Mason just a day later under the recognized authority of the Grandmaster of Illinois."

The church is instantly trying to soften and muddy the timeline of Joseph Smith's history with the Masons and the temple ceremony being introduced. The video talks about Joseph's family being Masons for decades, but there is no record of Joseph Smith himself being a Mason until he was initiated on March 15, 1842. Just seven weeks after learning the Masonic ceremony, he introduced the endowment ceremony which mirrors the Masonic ceremony. Back to the video:

"Masonry wasn't new to the thousands of Latter-day Saint converts already living in and around Nauvoo at the time. Although new to the faith, some members of the church, even those within the ranks of church leadership, were already Masons. Eventually, over 1,500 members of the church were listed as freemasons in Nauvoo alone, more than in all the rest of Illinois. In towns across early America, many elected officials were Masons. President George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and many signers of the Declaration of Independence were also Masons."

This part seeks to do nothing more than to try and make everything feel more normal and common. As you'll see with other troubling issues with Mormonism, the church will look to point to others who also believed in similar ideas to try and imply there's nothing to see here. Two great examples of this are how the church likes to point to racism in the country in the 1800s to explain why the church claimed as doctrine a ban on blacks from receiving the priesthood, or how in the seer stone "now you know" video, they talk about how others believed in the magic of stones in Joseph's time. Back to the video:

"In the years prior to becoming a mason, Joseph Smith had received instruction from God; revelations about eternal promises which God desire to make with church members. These promises are often called covenants. Some of these covenants, along with instruction about the purpose of life, are presented to members of the church in a ceremony called the endowment held in holy temples.

So does the temple endowment ceremony borrow from Masonic ritual at the time? Latter day Saints in Nauvoo, who experienced both Masonic rites and the temple endowment, did notice some common characteristics between the two ceremonies, specifically the common methods of presentation and clothing of the participants. They acknowledge parallels between masonry and the temple ceremony, as given to Joseph. Based on their experience with both, they concluded the temple ceremony was of divine origin."

This is the part of the video that everyone needs to pay the most attention to, because it concedes that early members who were Masons immediately noticed how similar they were, to the point that they considered the Masonic ceremony of divine origin that was restored by Joseph Smith. But don't take my word for it, here are some quotes from early members:


"We have the true Masonry. The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy which took place in the days of Solomon, and David. They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we have the real thing." (Heber C. Kimball, 13 Nov. 1858, Manuscript History of Brigham Young pg. 1085)

"There is a similarity of priesthood in Masonry. Bro[ther] Joseph says Masonry was taken from priesthood but has become degenerated, but many things are perfect." (Heber C. Kimball letter to Parley Pratt, Temples of the Ancient World, p.577

"Many have joined the Masonic Institution this seems to have been a Stepping Stone or Preparation for something else, the true Origin of Masonry." (Journal of Joseph Fielding, 1844)

"Certain mystic rites which are practiced throughout Christendom claim antiquity with Solomon's temple." (President Franklin D. Richards, 1 Dec. 1890, "The Temple of the Lord," Juvenile Instructor 26)

"He [Joseph Smith] told me Freemasonry, as at present, was the apostate endowments, as sectarian religion was the apostate religion." (Benjamin F. Johnson, My Life’s Review, p.96

"If the Free Masonry of today is a remnant and corruption of the true signs and tokens of the Priesthood revealed in the days of Solomon, when the Temple of Solomon was built, then it is easy for us to understand and believe that the mythology of the north is simply a corruption of the true Jehovah-worship, as Abraham knew it and taught it to his children." (Elder Andrew Jenson, Conference Report April 1913)

"Joseph, the Prophet, was aware that there were some things about Masonry which had come down from the beginning and he desired to know what they were, hence the lodge. The Masons admitted some keys of knowledge appertaining to Masonry were lost. Joseph enquired of the Lord concerning the matter and He revealed to the Prophet true Masonry, as we have it in our temples. Owing to the superior knowledge Joseph had received, the Masons became jealous and cut off the Mormon Lodge." (President Franklin D. Richards, Rudger Clawson Diary, 4 Apr. 1899, Rudger Clawson Papers, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah)

I hope these quotes explain why this part of the video is so dishonest - early members thought the connections between the two were actually a good thing because they believed that the Masonic ceremony had ancient origins from Solomon's Temple and Joseph Smith himself was teaching this very idea. Now what the church also does not tell you in this video is that the Masonic ceremony did not begin until mideival Europe, and that Solomon's Temple was about animal sacrifice and had nothing to do with the Masons or LDS endowment ceremony.

So to simplify the above paragraphs: Early members of the church thought the close connection between the Masonic ceremony and the endowment was divine because Joseph Smith himself was teaching that the Masonic ceremony was the "apostate endowments," which he could only come to know as prophet from God. We now know the Masonic ceremony did not originate until around 2,000 years after Solomon's temple, which was about animal sacrifice and had nothing to do with Masonry anyway. And none of these inconvenient facts are mentioned in the video. Even FAIR Mormon concedes this fact.

Back to the video:

"And consider that the ideas within the culture that surrounded Joseph Smith frequently contributed to the process by which he obtained revelations from God regarding the Temple endowment as well as other subjects. Not surprising, since God uses many means to inspire his prophets and help them receive revelation."

This is a concession the church also made in the Word of Wisdom video, where they admit that Joseph Smith was pulling from ideas very popular in his time when claiming revelation from God. The internet has made it impossible to ignore how almost every one of Joseph Smith's productions can be traced back to ideas of his lifetime. There is a reason that LDS historian Richard Bushman says this about the Book of Mormon:

"​And then there is the fact that there is phrasing everywhere–long phrases that if you google them you will find them in 19th century writings. The theology of the Book of Mormon is very much 19th century theology, and it reads like a 19th century understanding of the Hebrew Bible as an Old Testament. That is, it has Christ in it the way Protestants saw Christ everywhere in the Old Testament. That’s why we now call it “Hebrew Bible” because the Jews never saw it quite that way. So, these are all problems we have to deal with." (Richard Bushman)

The problem is that once you can trace almost everything Joseph Smith produced to ideas around his time, it is hard to then believe it was all restored by God. Beyond the Book of Mormon and Word of Wisdom as we noted above, a few ideas Joseph Smith brought from outside sources:

  • The priesthood restoration was changed to include the Melchizedek priesthood, a concept brought over by Sidney Rigdon

  • Joseph Smith's use of the Adam Clarke Bible Commentary when producing his Joseph Smith translation of the Bible

  • The story of Joseph Smith's First Vision is very similar to dozens of accounts during Joseph's time, which happened in the years before Joseph first recorded his account

  • The idea of multiple tiers of heaven was first written about by Emanuel Swedenborg, whom Joseph Smith spoke of. He called the highest heaven "the Celestial Kingdom" and stated that the inhabitants of the three heavens corresponded to the "sun, moon and stars." Sound familiar? A BYU Studies article concedes that Swedenborg had a lot of concepts that mirror what Joseph Smith later "introduced" to Mormonism, but concludes with: "Believing Latter-day Saints might answer that question with an explanation that parallels Joseph Smith’s reported statement to Edward Hunter: it is possible that Swedenborg saw the heavens. Latter-day Saints readily accept that individuals outside their tradition have been given special, revealed insight into heavenly truths, and thus the points of convergence in Swedenborgianism and Mormonism could reflect accurate, though independent, descriptions of true Christian eschatology. Latter-day Saints could accept that, to a remarkable degree, Emanuel Swedenborg and Joseph Smith both experienced actual visions of the afterlife reality." That statement is eerily similar to the church's apologetics as to why the Masonic ceremony is so close to the endowment ceremony.

  • The Book of Abraham incorporates ideas that were also spoken of during Joseph Smith's time, which we highlight in our annotated Gospel Topics Essay on the Book of Abraham

I'm just not sure what more to say here. These are all ideas that were taught to me as revelation from God while an active member, but now the church is falling back to Joseph being inspired by the ideas and teachings around him beause we can find the information online so easily. If Joseph Smith was merely aggregating ideas into theology, why are we to now believe it was from God when we received spiritual witnesses that those ideas originated with Joseph Smith and his revelations?

Back to the video:

"The temple ceremony was not an imitation or copy of masonry. It was revelation from God. Yes, the presentation methods may have parallels to Masonic ritual, but the content of the instruction, the covenants, and truths introduced by Joseph Smith as part of the endowment, were revealed to him prior to his encounter with masonry.

So what are some key differences between Masonic rituals and the temple endowment ceremony practiced by Latter-day Saints? Masonic rituals are based on legend, promote self improvement, brotherhood, charity and fidelity to truth for the purpose of making better men, who in turn make a better society. In the endowment ceremony, one of many important ceremonies held in sacred temples, men and women promise God to obey His laws for the purpose of gaining exultation, eternal life with God through Jesus Christ and his atonement, and this temple ceremony draws upon the revelations from God for its content."

This is a very common apologetic approach, but it again deflects from the bigger problem. As we detailed above, Joseph Smith taught early members that the Masonic ceremony was the apostate endowment, yet now we're being told that while it's from God, the presentation doesn't have anything to do with the ceremony. This is something the church would not be saying if research showed any link between Masonry and Solomon's Temple as Joseph Smith and others taught.

The church states as fact that "Yes, the presentation methods may have parallels to Masonic ritual, but the content of the instruction, the covenants, and truths introduced by Joseph Smith as part of the endowment, were revealed to him prior to his encounter with masonry." But if this is the case, why not provide the revelations that show it was given to him before he became a Mason?

In my experience in the temple, two of the big things we were told not to talk about or show were the signs/tokens and the words at the veil to get into the Celestial Kingdom. While we make covenants with God during the endowment, we make a lot of those same promises in other ceremonies in church (baptism, sacrament, ordination, etc). So if the presentation is not the divine part from God, why are we not allowed to talk about the signs/tokens or text at the veil with non-members? It's confusing, because if Joseph had these revelations before becoming a Mason as the video declares, why are these crucial parts of the ceremony taken directly from the Masons?

Furthermore, the word "parallels" is simply not accurate. We do not post temple videos/scripts/etc because we know they are sacred to members, but just to highlight what is the same between Masonic ceremonies and the temple endowment:

  • The compass and square. From the Masonic ceremony: “The candidate then enters, the Senior Deacon at the same time pressing his left breast with the point of the compass…As he enters, the angle of the square is pressed against his right breast.” (These symbols are on the temple garments in the same manner. If they are not from God, why are they the same?)

  • The Masonic ceremony begins with a washing and anointing just as in the LDS temple

  • The Masonic ceremony gives their members a new name, just as the LDS ceremony does

  • The signs and tokens of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods are the same as the Masonic grips

  • The Masonic ceremony included the "five points of fellowship," which the LDS church also had until it was removed in 1990

  • The Masonic ceremony included penalties if you disclosed these secrets just as the LDS temple did until they removed them in 1990 due to members feeling uneasy about them. These penalties included making motions of slitting your own throat, cutting out your own heart, or having your body cut in two.

  • The introduction at the veil is almost identical to the Masonic ceremony, with small changes to adapt to the priesthood language in the church

  • The clothing is almost identical in the Masonic ceremony as the LDS temple. A picture below is from the Royal Arch Masons in Illinois

  • Both the Masonic lodge and LDS temples use the same symbols of the Beehive, All Seeing Eye, and Sun, Moon, and Stars

While the church wants to call these just "parallels," I don't know how else to make it clear that Joseph Smith created the endowment ceremony from the Masonic ceremony and then taught that the Masons had the original endowment. As we mentioned above, Joseph Smith created this endowment right as he was introducing polyagmy to other members, which required extreme secrecy and penalities for talking about it outside of the temple (where other polygamous members would be). This is also why members have to wear garments featuring the symbols of the temple, which as we mentioned above were identical to how the Masons used these same symbols.

I know the apologetic response is that the purposes were different, and that's true in the sense that Masons were not being "endowed with power" before being sealed in secret marriages, but if you look above between Joseph Smith taking the Masoinc rituals and then teaching the members that they had the original endowmen that fell into apostasy, it makes a lot more sense than claiming they are merely parallels with no connection in origin, purpose, or divinity. Combine that with the other areas where we can see Joseph Smith pulling from ideas around him, and it becomes really clear that this is a church created by Joseph Smith, not God.

As I said earlier, we do not post pictures/scripts of the temple ceremony because they are sacred to members, but I also believe it is important to see them side-by-side so you can understand just how closely Joseph Smith lifted this material from the Masons. There is a very good summary on the Letter For My Wife website that you can look at if you would like (#6, the Endowment).

And the last section of the video:

"Though elements of the instructional methods and the clothing worn by participants in each ceremony share some characteristics, the purposes and origins stand distinct from one another. So is it okay for Latter day Saints to be Masons today? The policy is simple. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not prohibited from becoming Masons. Nor are Masons prohibited from becoming members of the church. Latter-day Saints believe that good can be found in many places. God loves all his Children and wants them to learn of Him and returned to Him through the endowment ceremony. In his temples, God reveals profound truths about His plan for the happiness of His children. Joseph Smith and Freemasonry. Now you know"

We have detailed the main points above, so at this point we'll summarize our thoughts just as the video does.

If you look at how the endowment ceremony originated, you can see it was unveiled just weeks after Joseph Smith was initiated into the Masons and learned their ceremony. Joseph Smith taught others that the Masonic ceremony was the original endowment that fell into apostasy, and as such members treated it as divine. We now know that the Masonic ceremony began about 2,000 years after Solomon's Temple and that Solomon's Temple was about animal sacrifice which wouldn't help their case anyway.

The signs, tokens, penalties, names, and symbols were all directly taken from the Masonic ceremony in order to create the endowment ceremoy, and Joseph Smith needed the secrecy and penalties in order to keep polygamy a secret from non-endowed members (not many members were endowed before Joseph Smith died) and the public. While the church wants to call this revelation from God, using the evidence we have along with the context of how Joseph Smith created material tells us that the most logical and evidence-based conclusion is that Joseph Smith used the Masonic ceremony to achieve what we needed to at the time, and that this was not from God.

But more importantly, one must ask why the church would release a video that ends with "Now you know" when they neglect to tell their own members any of this information we have sourced here. Why does the church not trust their members to know the full history of how these vital doctrines of their church came to be? If the church was true and Joseph's teachings about Masonry were true (that it had connections to the original church and endowment), they would release a video trumpeting that fact to the world. Instead they leave it up to this inactive member of record to fill in the gaps of their history, which tells you all you need to know about how much confidence church leaders have that this church can stand up to historical evidence, scholarship, or critical thinking.

We've mentioned on many other posts how difficult it is to take in this new information, and we understand how painful it is to process. Please email us anytime at ldsdiscussion@gmail.com if you would like more resources to learn about these issues or if you are looking for people that you can safely talk to as you continue your faith journey.

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