Actually, I’m not a Mason but I thought I’d draw you all in with that title. I’m not sure if the Bloggernacle has had the Freemason Conversation yet, but if so, let’s have it again. Also, if you know nothing about Freemasonry, or the Mormon-Mason connection please educate yourself here and here.
In a nutshell, Freemasonry is a secret, fraternal organization with roots in Enlightenment Europe. Any ideas that Freemasonry represents an unbroken ritual tradition going back to Solomon’s Temple via the Knights Templar belong (pretty much) in the bin next to the DaVinci Code. Freemasonry is a theistic organization, believing in a Grand Architect (= God) and claims to welcome people of all religions. Through rituals closely wedded to architectural symbolism and hoary legend, Freemasons are initiated into various "degrees" where they learn "secrets" intended to make them better, more enlightened individuals. Once upon a time, anyone who was anyone was a Mason (provided, of course, they were men). Famous Masons include George Washington, Winston Churchill, Roy Rogers (!), and Joseph Smith.
Joseph was raised as a Master Mason in Nauvoo in 1842, with most of the Brethren also joining at this time (although some Mormons, like Hyrum Smith, had been Masons for years). Unfortunately, Mormon Masons soon fell-out with other Illinois Masons, some of whom were complicit in Joseph’s martyrdom. It has been said that Joseph gave a Masonic distress signal ("Is there no help for the widow’s son?") before he was shot. Mormon Masonry was abandonded in Utah, but its symbols abound: the beehive, the all-seeing eye, the square and compass, the clasped-hands.
I don’t want to discuss the Mormon-Mason ritual connection here. Read David Buerger’s the Mysteries of Godliness for that (or try the "Masonic Moroni" online). What interests me is whether a Mormon can also be a Mason. First, some background. I have been interested in Freemasonry for years and someone I know very well, who also happens to be a strong, active Mormon joined the Brotherhood a couple of years ago. Consequently I have been to several public Masonic meetings both in the US and in the UK. Some of the grandest buildings I have ever visited are the Scottish Rite Temple of Freemasonry in Baltimore, and Freemasons’ Hall in London.
I myself have no interest in joining, and have noted a conflict in my friend’s approach to his Masonry. On the one hand, he enjoys the fraternity and the pageantry, believing that his Masonic Lodge is the Priesthood Quorum he never had. On the other, he tells nobody at Church that he is a Mason. Masons are allowed to divulge their membership (and today are even encouraged to do so), and only the rituals are secret (which incidentally, involve hand-shakes, nooses, blindfolds, and the reenactment of certain biblical dramas). Yet, he feels that his fellow Latter-day Saints would have a dim view of his membership because either:
1. They have a sensationalist view of Masonry, believing it to be a cult-like group
2. They think that Masonic-Mormon ritual parallels suggest the former is apostate
3. They point out that the Church Handbook advises against joining "oath-bound" groups
4. They would say he should be spending his time going to the Mormon temple not the Masonic temple.
Of course, what many Latter-day Saints simply fail to realise is that Masonry was considered a by-form of Mormon male expression in the Nauvoo period. So, if it was good enough for Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow why is my friend embarrassed about heralding his own membership? Of course, things change, and the aformentioned brothers were also polygamous, but it is interesting to note that Mormonism’s drift from Masonry in Utah was not so much because Mormons came to distrust Masonry (the bitterness that certain Illinois Masons left them was probably not directed at Masonry itself), but because Utah Masons were synonymous with anti-Mormons. The infamous expose of the Mormon Temple Ritual, "Lifting the Vail. (sic) The Endowment House Mysteries Fully Explained," was the work of Robert Newton Baskin, who was a member of Mt. Moriah Lodge No. 2. Remarkably for an organisation that promotes tolerance, Utah Masonry only removed its ban on Mormons becoming Masons in Utah on January 31, 1984.
From what I have read, I know of no offical ban from the Church on Mormons becoming Masons despite what some misinformed members might say. My friend need not be ashamed, for Brother Joseph was a "Brother" in more ways than one. Are there any Mormon Masons out there in the ‘Nacle? It’s time to come out.