BYU NewsNet recently released a story entitled, Of Masons and Mormons: “The Solomon Key” offers controversial sequel. The article seems to pick up where Peggy Fletcher Stack left off in the Salt Lake Tribune. Peggy starts with the unsubstantiated rumor that Dan Brown’s next book “might deal with Mormonism” as a lead into a nice write up on the intersection of Mormonism and Masonry. Kimberly McLean, author of the BYU story, takes Peggy’s speculation and raises it to certainty, replete with speculative analysis of Dan Brown’s forthcoming release: “With Brown examining the mysteries of the Masons and their connection to Mormons, codebreaker fanatics anticipate another gripping ride.”
It is just that, well, there is nothing to suggest that the book will have any Mormon connection at all. A let down to be sure, but you never know, maybe we can assuage our persecution complex with the hope that a Mormon will pop up in Washington D.C. where the novel is to be set.
After indicating the Mormon connection to the book, the BYU article then administers the bromides. To be certain, the Mormon-Masonry connection is not particularly delineated in correlated discourse. The Endowment’s Masonic heritage is a particular favorite whipping boy of anti-Mormons. From the article:
“The Masons adopted familiar symbols, symbols you can find in Egyptian texts, on papyrus scrolls.” Ostler said. “They obviously want to prove their order goes back as far possible. The original temple ordinances, restored from antiquity, predate those Masonic symbols and rituals.”
BCC contacted Greg Kearney, a Mormon and Mason actively involved in this area of research and Mormon apologetics:
I do not believe that you can find any evidence that the ritual, as opposed to the teachings, of the LDS temple originated in antiquity. It is clearly not what was being done in Solomon’s Temple, a temple ritual centered around the ritualistic slaughter of animals. Further the similarities of the two as based in teaching forms and in the signs and tokens not in the use of Egyptian text or symbols.
Masonry can only be traced to the medieval stone mason’s guilds. There is not reliable evidence to suggest a tie to antiquity for Masonry. Further there is no evidence connecting modern LDS temple ritual to any practice of antiquity outside of those ordinances where we specifically state the connection from scripture such as the washing and anointings.
The teaching forms used in the temple most likely have their origins in 19th century Masonic practices. If they had come, as Ostler suggests, from “The original temple ordinances, restored from antiquity, predate those Masonic symbols and rituals,” then why do we change the ritual of the endowment from time to time to meet the modern needs of the saints?
Some of the discomfort Mormons feel with the topic probably stems from beliefs that Masonry was prohibited to members. Peggy reiterates this conception her article:
Antagonisms built up between the two groups. In Utah in 1860, Masonic lodges were established but they prohibited Mormons from joining. At the same time, Young forbade Mormons from joining and refused to allow any Mason to hold priesthood leadership positions in the church, Literski [a Mormon scholar of Masonry that will be soon releasing a book on the topic] says.
It wasn’t until 1984 that LDS President Spencer W. Kimball removed the prohibition against Latter-day Saints becoming Freemasons. Later that year, the Grand Lodge of Utah removed its own ban on Mormon membership so that, in the ensuing years, many Latter-day Saint men have returned to this part of their heritage.
The BYU article reiterates this position and the 1984 date of policy change. In reality, Brigham Young considered himself a Mason for his entire life. The Utah lodges defied Masonic custom and proscribed Mormons from participating. E.g., The Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Utah, Joseph M. Orr, stated in 1878:
We say to the priests of the Latter-day Church, you cannot enter our lodge rooms–you surrender all to an unholy priesthood. You have heretofore sacrificed the sacred obligations of our beloved Order and we believe you would do the same again. Stand aside; we want none of you. Such a wound as you gave Masonry in Nauvoo is not easily healed, and no Latter-day Saint is, or can become a member of our Order in this jurisdiction. (1)
The history of the Church’s response is not completely clear, however, the Church began to consistently speak out against being members of “oath bound” organizations and counsel against associating with such groups worked its way in to the CHI. Edward Kimball in his history of the Temple Admission Standards reviews the Church’s policy. He notes that the earliest 19th century rhetoric was aimed at labor unions, which were secret societies and aimed to disrupt the Utah economy. After unions, the focus was on fraternal organizations and by the 20th century, masonry. There was definitely some response to the Utah lodges of the idea that Mormons didn’t need masonry anyway because we have the real McCoy. Curiously, Kimball states that the Utah Masonic proscription against Mormons started in 1924, which date is obviously mistaken.
Despite the belief that Masonry was proscribed to Mormons, outside of Utah, masonry flourished among Mormons. Speaking with Greg Kearney:
The church never impose a ban on members being Masons. The ban was imposed by the Grand Lodge of Utah, which prohibited LDS Church members from becoming Masons in Utah or LDS Masons from other Grand Lodges from even visiting Utah lodges. Utah was the only Grand Lodge ever to implement a religious test for membership or visitation. In other part of the world, LDS Church members were welcomed into Masonry. Growing up in Maine, most of my Bishops, Stake Presidents and in fact most of the adult men in my town regardless of faith were Masons.
In 1984 the Utah Grand Lodge removed this provision from their bylaws and now LDS men are welcome to become Masons in Utah just as they have always been able to do everywhere else.
Indeed, the 1984 date that both the Trib and BYU cite as the turning point for Mormonism and Masonry was in fact the date the Utah lodges removed their prohibition against Mormons. In 1989, the Church removed language referring to oath bound organizations from the CHI (2).
It is understandable that Mormons are sensitive to controversial topics. Moreover, there is a significant amount of controversy surrounding Masonry and Mormonism. Perhaps, as our understanding matures we may not only be able to better deal with our history, but also our symbology. For more information see the new addition to the FAIR wiki and associated references.
- 1877 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Utah, 11-12 as contained in Homer, M. W. (1994) “Similarity of Priesthood in Masonry”: The Relationship Between Freemasonry and Mormonism. Dialogue. vol. 27 no. 3
- Kimball, E. L. (1998) The History of LDS Temple Admission Standards. Journal of Mormon History Spring pg. 135-175.