Introvigne explores the complex and evolving relationship between Mormonism and Freemasonry, emphasizing Joseph Smith's influence and the subsequent tensions and adaptations in rituals and beliefs.

Massimo Introvigne

Massimo Introvigne, "Freemasonry and New Religious Movements" in Handbook of Freemasonry, Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion vol. 8, eds. Carole M. Cusack and James R. Lewis, (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2014), 308–11

Brill, Massimo Introvigne
Hyrum Smith, James Adams, John C. Bennett, Brigham Young, Abraham Jonas, Martin Harris, Joseph Smith, Sr., Reed C. Durham, Lucinda Morgan Harris, Alexander Campbell, Jan A. M. Snoek, William Morgan, Massimo Introvigne, Joseph Smith, Jr., Michael W. Homer, D. J. Buerger, John L. Brooke, Clyde R. Forsberg, Jr., Carole M. Cusack, James R. Lewis, Henrik Bogdan, Heber C. Kimball
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Mormonism and Freemasonry

The relationship between Mormonism and Freemasonry remains a very sensitive issue both for Freemasons and Mormons. There have been instances of Mormon scholars counseled by their church's authorities to avoid the issue altogether (Homer 2014: 353). Masonic scholars are also embarrassed by the fact that, while Freemasonry claims to welcome people of all faith, Mormons in fact have been excluded for decades in Utah. The roots of the problem lie in the fact that no other new religion has been influenced by Freemasonry in such a crucial way as Mormonism, nor has any other newly arisen denomination threatened Freemasonry with the very real prospect of taking over the Craft in a large area of the United States.

Joseph Smith (1805-1844), the Mormon prophet, grew up in Upstate New York, in the so called burned-over district, at a time of Protestant religious awakening. These revivals involved an element of anti-masonry, although many New Yorkers who gathered to hear the preachers were, in fact, Freemasons. William Morgan (1774-1826), whose mysterious disappearance in 1826 fuelled rumors of a masonic assassination, was a former Freemason turned anti-mason living in Batavia, New York, where he wrote for the Republican Advocate. Thanks also to the sensational reports of his alleged murder, his anti-masonic posthumous book Illustrations of Masonry (Morgan 1826) became a best seller and went into at least twenty editions between 1826 and 1830.

Joseph Smith was familiar with Morgan's anti-masonic classic and for a time evolved in the deceased journalist's circles. Morgan's widow, Lucinda Morgan Harris, later became a Mormon in 1834 and a plural wife of the same Joseph Smith in 1838, after the Mormon prophet had introduced the practice of polygamy (although the status of Smith and Lucinda's marriage has been disputed by some scholars). Among the first followers of Joseph Smith there were Freemasons, including Smith's elder brother and close associate Hyrum, 1800-1844, a member of Mount Moriah Lodge No. 112 in Palmyra, New York. The masonic affiliation of Joseph and Hyrum's father, Joseph Smith Sr (1771-1840) is a matter of dispute (Homer 1994: 15-16). Yet Smith's followers also included anti-masons (such as Martin Harris (1783-1875]).

The anti-masonic influence is apparently more prominent in the Book of Mormon, first published in 1830. Mormonism's new scripture was based, according to Smith, on his translation of golden tablets found under Hill Cumorah near Manchester, New York, under the guidance of an angel who later took the tablets to Heaven. In the Book of Mormon quasi-masonic 'secret combinations' are exposed and denounced. In the Book of Moses, a part of the Book of Mormon where the story of Cain and Abel is retold, Satan reveals to Cain that his name is Mahon, and enters into a secret alliance with him; "wherefore Cain was called Master Mahon, and he glorified in his wickedness" (Moses 5: 31). Lamech, an evil descendant of Cain, also "entered into a covenant with Satan after the manner of Cain wherein he became Master Mahon, master of that great secret which was administered unto Cain by Satan" (Moses 5: 49). "From the days of Cain, there was a secret combination, and their works were in the dark" (Moses 5: 29). These passages were easily read as references to Freemasonry, and "Master Mahon" clearly assonates with 'Master Mason'. According to a report in The Geauga Gazette, Joseph Smith's close associate Martin Harris explicitly advertised the Book of Mormon in 1831 as a new "Anti-masonick [sic] Bible" ("The Golden Bible" 1831). Protestant anti-Mormons such as the famous preacher Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) in turn derided the fact that the Book of Mormon, allegedly written several centuries before the establishment of modern Craft, "decides all the [modern] great controversies and even the question of Freemasonry" ( Campbell 1831: 93 ).

Critics of Mormonism, in fact, described Mormons both as similar to Freemasons and as anti-masons. While the Book of Moses included what appeared as anti-masonic passages, the Mormons' love for ancient rituals made them somewhat similar to the Freemasons. Joseph Smith's judgment of Freemasonry seems to have evolved from the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 to the completion of the plans for a temple to be built in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1833. Smith became persuaded that the original rituals of Freemasonry could be traced back to the pre-Christian Jewish rites of Solomon's Temple. During the course of time these rituals became degenerated and Freemasonry came to be dominated by 'spurious' Masons of Cain's lineage. Smith's own 'Restoration movement' (that is, Mormonism) would restore also Freemasonry to its pristine, uncorrupted status.

The problem, which has puzzled many interpreters, of how the antiMasonism of the Book of Mormon and of Smith's early New York circle turned into the enthusiastic embrace of Freemasonry by the Mormons in the 1840s, can thus be solved. Smith kept denouncing 'spurious' Freemasonry as a deviation from the Craft's original rituals and aims, while espousing 'genuine' Freemasonry as part of his Restoration. Of course, on which brand of Freemasonry was 'genuine', and which one 'spurious,' Smith and the American masonic authorities of his time had very different views. Ultimately, Smith believed that the endowment rituals that he administered in Kirtland and later in Nauvoo, Illinois did include everything the ancient, 'genuine' Freemasonry was all about. As a symbol of the fact that not only Christianity, but also Freemasonry was in need of a return to its sources and was part of the Mormon Restoration, Smith decided that a certain number of Mormons should be formally and regularly initiated into masonic lodges.

When Smith contacted the masonic authorities in Illinois with this request, they were recovering from a time of difficulties. The Grand Lodge of Illinois had just been re-organized in 1840 under Grand Master Abraham Jonas (1801-1864). Its Deputy Grand Master,James Adams (1783-1843) had himself secretly converted to Mormonism in 1836. The contacts between Smith and the Grand Lodge were handled by John Cook Bennett (1804-1867), an adventurer who in 1840 joined the Mormon Church, and whose maneuvers were later crucial in the tragic events leading to Smith's assassination in 1844. Bennet was himself a Freemason, and was instrumental in persuading Grand Master Jonas to recognize in 1842 as regular the Nauvoo Lodge, which had been organized (in fact, with several masonic irregularities) at the end of 1841. Eventually, the Nauvoo Lodge came to include in 1842, with Jonas' blessing, 285 Freemasons, more than half of Illinois' total of 480 (Homer 1994: 30). This alarmed Illinois Freemasons, and gave them the impression that the Mormons were taking over the Craft in their State. Rumours of polygamy, spread in masonic circles by John Bennett after he broke with Smith, contributed to the Freemasons' concerns, although Jonas initially sided with the Mormon prophet in his fight with Bennett. At the same time Jonas ordered an investigation into the activities of the Nauvoo Lodge ( or lodges, since at the end of 1842 their number had grown to five). During the course of the investigation the Mormons went on and initiated another 187 men. The idea originally championed by Jonas that the Mormons' benefic influx would simply give new life to the struggling Illinois Freemasonry was gradually replaced by the fear of a Mormon takeover. Jonas himself was voted out of office in October 1843. The lodges in Nauvoo were disenfranchised, and a bitter fight between the Freemasons and the Mormons followed.

The Mormons did not accept the decision and kept appealing to higher masonic jurisdictions. In the meantime, the Nauvoo lodges went on as if nothing had happened, raised the number of their members to more than seven hundred (Homer 2014: 167), and a masonic lodge building was inaugurated with due pomp on April 5, 1844. When Joseph Smith was incarcerated and lynched by a mob in the jailhouse of Carthage, Illinois on June 27, 1844 several of the mob's leaders were, in fact, Freemasons, although the question of the 'clandestine' lodges in Nauvoo was but one among many which led the events to their tragic conclusion. Whether Smith, before dying, really gave the masonic sign of distress and exclaimed, as only a Freemason would do faced by a fatal threat, "ls there no help for the widow's son?" is a matter of historical dispute, while it is true that the lodge in Warsaw, Illinois, was investigated by the Illinois Grand Lodge for its participation in the Carthage tragedy, although none of its members was finally disciplined.

Mormon Freemasonry, now perceived by Masons in good standing in the United States as just another 'clandestine' imitation of the Craft with no regularity whatsoever, continued its activities in Nauvoo even after Smith's death and by the end of 1845 included 1,366 Master Masons (Homer 2014: 178). Only after the Mormons moved to Utah in 1847 their authorities declared that masonic rituals had been entirely superseded by the Mormon temple endowment and other rites, and were no longer necessary nor appropriate for the followers of Joseph Smith. When Freemasonry arrived to Utah, in 1858, it was a 'Gentile' (that is, non-Mormon) enterprise, shaped by the old Illinois enmity. Although there were a few Mormon Masons in other parts of the United States and the world, they were forbidden from visiting and joining Utah lodges, which had from their very beginnings a strict exclusionary policy against Mormons. This prohibition applied to regular lodges under the Grand Lodge of Utah. Forms of 'clandestine' or irregular Freemasonry open to Mormons also operated in Utah, but did not recruit a large following. Only after World War II individual Utah (regular) lodges decided to open their doors to Mormons. And only in 1984 the Code of the Grand Lodge of Utah, which had sanctioned the exclusion of Mormons for more than 120 years, was amended. Mormons were now free to join Freemasonry everywhere, including in Utah, at least according to masonic authorities. Mormon leaders, in fact, kept counseling their members not to join 'secret societies', including Freemasonry, although Utah Mormons who became Freemasons after 1984 were not disciplined by their Church (Homer 1992).

The move to Utah and the building of Mormon temples, first in Utah and subsequently throughout the world, started a new and different controversy. Mormon Temple rituals are in principle secret and cannot be revealed to outsiders. Such a large organization as Mormonism, just as Freemasonry itself, fatally has apostate ex-members who, for different reasons, decide to write exposures. When details of Mormon rituals were published, Freemasons quickly recognized several similarities with their own ceremonies. Not only the rituals but also specific wordings and oaths still present quite obvious parallels ( although reforms in the twentieth century have 'de-Masonized' portions of the Mormon holiest ritual, the endowment). Early rituals of the female Relief Society (which have been, however, largely abandoned) also had elements of similarity with adoptive Freemasonry, and the rationale for excluding African Americans (and 'blacks' in general) from the Mormon priesthood (a policy which remained in force until 1978) was similar to early arguments used for excluding them from masonic lodges.

Early Mormon leaders, including Joseph Smith and his first successor Brigham Young (1801-1877), liberally admitted that there was a "similarity of priesthood in Freemasonry", as Smith himself taught according to a letter by Mormon apostle Heber C. Kimball (1801-1868) (Kimball 1842). Things changed when anti-Mormon Freemasons mounted nationwide campaigns accusing the Mormon Church of being simply a clandestine form of Freemasonry, and anti-masonic Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians claimed that Mormonism derived all its rituals and doctrines from Freemasonry, which they regarded as an evil organization devoted to the occult. This criticism started in the last decades of the nineteenth century, and continues to this day. The Mormon reaction was a denial of any connection between early Mormonism and Freemasonry in publications intended for a larger audience, and a quiet counsel to Mormon academics to avoid the issue in the specialized journals. When in 1974 Reed C. Durham, then Director of the Latter-day Saints Institute of Religion at the University of Utah, devoted his presidential address at the Mormon History Association's annual meeting in Nauvoo, Illinois, to the relationship between Mormonism and Freemasonry, he was counseled not to publish his text in the Association's journal of Mormon History. Durham "even sent a letter of apology to every person who heard his speech" (Homer 2014: 353), although his controversial text was later distributed (without his authorization) in both masonic and anti-Mormon circles, and today may be read on the Internet (Durham 1974).

Several books and articles, however, have been devoted to the issue since 1974 (Homer 1992, 1994, 2014; Brooke 1994; Buerger 1994; Forsberg 2004 ), and the question is slowly becoming both less sensitive and less controversial. Few scholars of Mormonism would doubt that there are indeed 'similarities' between Mormon and masonic rituals, or deny that Joseph Smith devoted a substantial amount of time and energy to the organization of masonic lodges in Nauvoo, after his earlier contacts with the anti-masonic movement in Upstate New York. The meaning of these 'similarities' should however be explored. Joseph Smith did believe that the rituals of King Solomon's temple were part of the 'original' Freemasonry, and that they were very valuable tools for elevating the human soul to the contemplation of God's deepest mysteries. He also believed, however, that these mysteries and rituals had been lost by Freemasonry through centuries of decadence, just as he thought that the original Christianity had been lost through the apostasy of the churches and reduced to a mere 'priestcraft'. His mission, the Restoration, by restoring religion to its original God-intended meaning, in fact almost automatically also included a restoration of Freemasonry. The idea expounded by Smith's successors that actual masonic lodges were needed only before, and not after, Mormon temple rituals became largely available, i.e. after the Restoration had been truly completed with the Mormons' settlement in Utah, seems to be true to Smith's original teaching on Freemasonry. The Nauvoo Lodge belonged to an intermediary period, before the work of the Restoration was completed in full.

The similarity of the ritual, to some extent and notwithstanding several reforms, remains to this day. Anti-Mormons, however, often read too much into it. In devising the Mormon temple rituals, Smith used a masonic language for both theological and practical reasons. Theologically, he recognized that the 'original' (not to be confused with the contemporary and 'spurious') masonic ritual was part of the pristine tradition of the Old Testament. Practically, he knew that many of his early followers were either Freemasons or familiar with Freemasonry. But Smith used these rituals for conveying a doctrine that was not only different, but antithetical, to nineteenth century Freemasonry. The latter was, in fact, inclusive, while Mormonism was exclusive. Freemasonry preached that men of all religious persuasions should co-operate together, and that truth does not belong to any single denomination. For Smith, the Mormon Church was the only true church, and there was no salvation outside it. It made sense, again, that Mormon authorities after Smith's death consistently counseled their followers not to become Freemasons, with a rationale not very dissimilar from the one used by the Roman Catholic Church. Smith had used the masonic language of the rituals for the purpose of confirming his followers familiar with Freemasonry into a doctrine which had no 'similarities' with anything they had heard in the masonic lodges.

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