Greg Kearney on Masonic Origins on LDS Endowment

In one of John Dehlin’s first podcasts (September 14, 2005), he interviewed Greg Kearney, a member of FAIR (Foundation of Apologetic Information and Research, a pro-Mormon think tank), and a several generation Mormon  and master mason.  Greg attended BYU, and is the member of a Farmington, Maine ward that has been around longer than any wards in Utah!  He gave an interesting history of Mormons and Masonry.  John discussed Greg’s background for the first almost 20 minutes, and at that point the conversation got into the history of Masonry and how it influenced Joseph Smith. 

This has been a podcast I’ve wanted to transcribe for years, ever since I heard it.  Greg has given a great background on the history of Joseph Smith’s involvement in masonry.  I got a chuckle because I had a visitor to my blog claim on my previous post, Masonic Ceremony, that “Even the best apologists have trouble explaining where the temple rites came from. It doesn’t require a rocket scientist to connect the dots.”  I responded “What apologists are you talking to? Every apologist I know is well aware of [1) Joseph Smith is inducted into Masonry and is introduced to its secret handshake, multiple visual symbols, penalty enactments, etc. 2) One month later God reveals the Mormon temple endowment to him. 3) The newly revealed endowment bears remarkable similarity to the Order of Free Masons.]”  This transcript is proof.

While I’ve always been familiar that the LDS Endowment ceremony had similarities to masonry, I wasn’t clear what those similarities were, or what the differences were.  While the LDS Endowment ceremony uses a dramatization to discuss the creation of the world and atonement, Masonry tells a completely different story.  With masonry, an initiant plays the role of Hiram Abiff.  In the Masonic rite, Hiram was a stone mason commissioned by King Solomon to build the temple.  Three ruffians try to force Hiram to tell them the masonic secrets.  Hiram refuses and is killed. In the masonic dramatization, the initiant is ritually killed using the tools of a mason.

Kearney explains that Joseph believed the story of Hiram Abiff was true, and even some freemasons today believe that too.  However, the masonic ceremony is of medieval origins, and is simply an allegory to tell the story.  Kearney tells that Joseph served as chaplain of the masonic lodge, and was named a master mason on sight, without having to go through the actual masonic ceremonies.  As chaplain, he was able to witness the ceremony, and adapted many of the ritualistic elements for purposes of the LDS endowment.  He changed the name of many symbols.  For example, masons use an apron for use in stone making; however, Joseph changed the apron to have symbolic meaning to cover our nakedness.  Smith adapted many masonic elements for LDS purposes.

There are lots of cool things to learn in this interview.  Among the cool things I learned was that Joseph’s father was a mason in New York, as well as his brother Alvin.  Joseph also made the masonic call of distress as he was killed in Carthage Jail.  Kearney also explains that the endowment and covenants are different than the ritual itself.  Church leaders have separated the covenants from the ritual, so that is why the endowment has changed several times in our lifetimes.

It is a really interesting conversation.  Here’s the last hour of the transcript.  (If you’d like to read more of what Kearney has written for FAIR, click here.  You can also listen to the audio of the interview at Mormon Stories.)  I put this together quickly, so there might be a few typos.  Let me know and I will fix them.

John Dehlin, “The typical thing that an LDS person, or someone who studies this has heard, it that Masonry started in Solomon’s Temple.  It was some society that was built up when they were building Solomon’s Temple that maybe some of those people who were on the construction work, got privy to whatever ceremonies were going on within the temple then, and that that society continued long after that temple was destroyed, and sort of persisted through the 1800s such that when Joseph Smith became a Mason in Nauvoo and learned about the temple ceremony, the Masonic ceremony there, he recognized parts of it as being inspired, and then when he was developing the endowment, he took the parts that he felt was inspired of God and used them for inspiration for the temple ceremony that was developed through him. So I’m just telling you what I’ve heard.

The only other counter to that that I’ve heard is that some people have claimed, I think I’ve read that Masonry really didn’t start until the 1600s, and so anyone that claims that it pre-dates Christ or whatever, that’s just not historical.  So I’m just giving you my 20-second version of all I know about the history of Masonry as it relates to the LDS Church.  Now disabuse me of my misperceptions.”

Greg Kearney, “Ok.  Masonry cannot be traced in any historical thread to Solomon’s Temple.  We use the story of the building of Solomon’s Temple and the master builder Hirum Abiff as the framework for a clearly medieval origin ritual.  The earliest reference we have to stone masons guilds of any variety, the likely origin of freemasonry is about 945 AD in the city of York, in England.  The notion that it goes back to Solomon’s Temple is just to not be proven in the historical record.”

John, “Right, ok.”

Greg, “I know it’s a real appealing idea for Latter-day Saints, but I don’t believe that we have ever said that our ritual is the same ritual that was practiced in Solomon’s Temple.  We know what the ritual at Solomon’s Temple was.  It was the ritualistic slaughter of animals in similitude of Christ.  The modern endowment—neither non-Latter-day Saints nor Jews practice the ritualistic slaughter of animals.  I think we need to look to a more modern origin of the temple ritual than try to thread the needle all the way back to Solomon’s Temple.”

John, “Yeah I think—I know there’s been a line of thinking among some prior members of the church hierarchy that tried to say everything that exists now in the church existed from Adam on, baptism, temple marriage—I think they just want to say there’s continuity, the Lord doesn’t change in his ordinances don’t change.  Maybe that’s a strain of thought that’s tried to force-fit that back.”

Greg, “I think the central point of my thesis, the one that I gave at FAIR (Foundation of Apologetic Information and Research, a pro-Mormon think-tank), and the one that I gave at masonic educational lectures and anywhere else I give me presentation is the endowment is two separate things.  There is the endowment:  what we learn in the promises we make that is fairly well fixed.  I mean the Law of Chastity has applied since the time of Adam.  It hasn’t changed and it doesn’t change now.”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “The way that those lessons are presented changes all the time.  It has changed in my lifetime at least twice, and se we have what I call message—what we’re learning, what we’re taking away from our temple experience, and we have the messenger—how that material is presented to us.  It is my contention that many of the ritualistic elements of how we have been taught the endowment have their origins in freemasonry.”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “And Joseph Smith was a keen observer of people and served as lodge chaplain of his masonic lodge in Nauvoo, was able to sit there and watch how the masonic ritual can teach very complex ideas of the enlightenment to a bunch of uneducated, illiterate farmers, essentially.  We forget, Welch was probably as much in Nauvoo as English was.”

John, “Oh, I didn’t know that.”

Greg, “Well the Mormon Tabernacle Choir originally sung only in Welch!”

John, “Wow, I had no idea.  That’s fascinating.”

Greg, “The second language the Book of Mormon was translated into was Welch.”

John, “Hmmm.”

Greg, “So the idea that we had this great big city, populated by nicely literate, English literate people is probably a myth. In the 19th century American frontier, reading and writing was a rare gift, usually only done by women because they had the advantage of time to learn to do it.  Men and boys were expected to be out in the fields, or in the shop, or working.  So did it as a means of communicating, some of these are really new ideas.  I mean one of the geniuses of Joseph Smith was that he received by revelation a creation model which makes modern scientific sense, or at least works in the modern scientific world.”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “So he’s teaching some tricky, sophisticated ideas to a bunch of people, many of whom can’t read and write.”

John, “You mean stuff like matter was not created out of…”

Greg, “Matter was not created nor destroyed, it was organized.  There’s  a [inadibule] in the universe.  Boy you talk about an idea that must have stunned people in the mid-19th century, the idea that (a) the earth isn’t special!  So he head these ideas and he wants to communicate them, and what he sees in masonry, is by rote repetition, questions and answers and repeating it back and forth.  We don’t do much of it anymore.  They’ve cut a lot of that out of the endowment ritual, they’ve shortened down the endowment, but it used to be that everything was repeated three or four times.  Heavenly Father would give Jesus an instruction, then Jesus would give it to the apostles, then the apostles would repeat it back to them and go back and forth three or four times.  That idea of an instructional drama was so powerful to Joseph, he was what it could do by watching these men walking, essentially modern speculative masonry is a product of the enlightenment.”

John, “Let me just ask you about that real quick.  Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off.”

Greg, “That’s fine.”

John, “I know that, I don’t want to use the word secret or sacred, but keeping things in an appropriate way in masonry is as important as it is in Mormonism.”

Greg, “Absolutely.”

John, “Is there anything that a non-mason, that you could tell us, about what the experience is without violating?”

Greg, “I can tell you almost everything.”

John, “and then the follow up question would be, how much has that changed over time, but go ahead and just tell us what the experience is that you can tell us, and then we can compare that.”

Greg, “Ok, in masonry, there are three degrees that you go through, and each degree you memorize essentially the ritual of that degree and then you have to repeat it back before you can go on and do the next one.  When I was a made a mason, it was over my summer holiday when I was in college, and I had to do the whole thing in one summer, and that was virtually unheard of, and a testimony of how well I could memorize stuff I guess.”

John, “Right”

Greg, “But essentially the Entered Apprentice degree, the Fellowcraft degree and the Master Mason degree.  Each one is more complex than the previous one.  Essentially the initiant is, in the Entered Apprentice Degree, the initiant is divested of all things metal on him.  It’s to show that you come before the lodge a poor, blind candidate.  You’re blindfolded, you’re divested of all metals, essentially to indicate that you don’t come with ulterior motives.  That you don’t plan to gain wealth or power or influence or anything like that.”

John, “Ok”

Greg, “You’re essentially conducted around the lodge, and a little moralistic story is told.  You are then brought to the altar of the lodge which is in the center of the room. There is—and this is another thing that is important point to Joseph.  There is in masonry the idea of a book of holy scripture.  It doesn’t necessarily need to be the Bible.  It can be any holy scripture that the candidate holds to be the revealed word of God.”

John, “It can be a Koran, it can be the Bhagavad Gita….”

Greg, “The Koran, yeah.  In my case, it was the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price.”

John, “The Quad.”

Greg, “Yeah, because that’s what I considered to be the revealed Word of God.  You’re brought to that position and essentially you make these promises, not that you will help fellow masons, that you will help your fellow man, that you won’t abuse women, you know these various different kind of promises that you make, and then you are brought to further light in masonry, the blindfold is removed, and you receive a series of lectures that probably have their origin in the Enlightenment, and instruct you about the values of education, and about the values of personal morality, and so forth.  You have to memorize essentially the entire ritual and repeat it back to the examiner before you’re allowed to go on to the next degree.

The Fellowcraft degree is very similar as the Apprentice Degree, similar kinds of things.  The Master Mason degree is a little different.  In the Master Mason degree, you play the part of Hirum Abiff, the master builder of Solomon’s Temple who was killed by three workmen attempting to obtain the secrets of a master mason that might legitimately work as such.  It’s in that way similar to the idea that the same sort of allegorical story.  You’re to take upon yourself the part of this person, in the same way that in the LDS Temple, you take upon ourselves the part of Adam and Eve.  It’s the same sort of teaching form, only it’s a lot more dramatic  [he chuckles] in the case of the masons, who blindfold you, take you to the different ends that are supposed to represent Solomon’s Temple.  The three workmen assault the candidate and say, ‘tell me the secrets or die.’  The last one the candidate’s hit with what’s supposed to represent a setting maul, which is really just a kind of sponge rubber thing they tap you on the head with, but the whole time you’re listening to this story being told, you’re playing the part of Hiram Abiff. ”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “Yeah.  At the end of it, you are raised as a master mason, usually, in my case by my father.  You are physically lifted up on, some of your older, or not that much older, some of your listeners will remember the five points of fellowship.  It’s the same five points.”

John, “Right.  So let me break in for a second here.  The first reaction I have is you telling me this is that ‘he’s going to get in trouble!’  I’m just thinking….”

Greg, “I haven’t told you anything that is a secret in Masonry.”

John, “Wow.”

Greg, “I mean nothing that you couldn’t read about in numerous books published by Masonic authorities.”

John, “That’s a huge thing for me.  I had no idea that so much you were able to talk about.  I thought almost the whole thing was completely—is it only no longer an issue—like if you had told me 200 years ago would you have been in trouble?  Or was it only because it’s sort of been exposed that now they’re less…”

Greg, “I don’t think that even 200 years ago.”

John, “Hmmm.”

Greg, “I think that as in the temple there are specific things which I haven’t told you and which I won’t tell you…”

John, “I won’t ask.”

Greg, “because I promised not to.  It’s not because I hold them that they are sacred in the same way that the temple is sacred.  It’s just that to my brother masons I have promised not to reveal certain things, and I don’t.”

John, “Ok, ok.  So my second question about this is, how much were you prepared for this from the masonic standpoint, and then what were you feeling?  Was this a spiritual experience for you?  Was it emotional?  Was it weird?  What does a teenager or young adult were you feeling during this whole thing?”

Greg, “Well I had read the whole masonic ritual prior to having it done to me.”

John, “Ok.”

Greg, “Because I had access to you know, BYU library is very complete, and it has books, Duncan’s Rituals of Freemasonry and so I had access, so I knew pretty much what was going to happen.  It was a nice emotional experience, I actually had my father and my uncle do it, because I knew how important it was to them for me as the only male member of my family of my generation to continue this thousand year old Kearney tradition, essentially.”

John, “Right, right.  Was there any reaction that some people have felt in the LDS ceremony which is that this is weird, or I’m uncomfortable with this, or you know?”

Greg, “Well I knew that it was a medieval ritual and that there were lots of things that had medieval qualities to them.”

John, “It makes me…”

Greg, “I didn’t find it particularly weird because I knew the origin and I knew the material going in.  If you didn’t know that, yeah, it would probably seem kind of strange.  The medieval world is very different from ours.”

John, “Yeah I’m kind of wondering, if we were able to be a little more explicit about what an LDS person was to experience in the LDS temple, whether that—because I’ve rarely met someone who wasn’t really shocked or taken back, or even been put off by the ceremony.”

Greg, “It didn’t bother me because I’d already experienced this.  I think I was in a better position.”

John, “Yeah, sure.”

Greg, “I had already seen essentially the ritual we practice today in freemasonry is pretty much unchanged from its 19th century counterpart.”

John, “Hmmm, interesting.  I wonder if the members today would benefit by knowing a little more beforehand than they do.  It’s interesting to hear you talk about that.”

Greg, “So I knew, I understood.  By that point, I had kind of developed this point of the message and the messenger.  I was perfectly willing to accept that Joseph Smith was a mason, had taken these elements and used them to teach the endowment and it didn’t bother me.”

John, “Ok, so let’s talk about Nauvoo for a second.  Did Joseph get introduced to masonry through John Bennett?  How did he hear about it?”

Greg, “John Bennett was—many, many of the brethren were already masons by the time they arrived in Nauvoo.  It was common in the 19th century to be so.  Furthermore, Joseph Smith’s father and elder brother Hyrum were both masons in New York.”

John, “In New York!”

Greg, “yes.”

John, “Ok, didn’t know that.”

Greg, “So he grew up in a masonic family.  He was aware of masonry long, long before John C. Bennett and the crew in Nauvoo came along.”

John, “So it was a family ritual?”

Greg, “Yeah.”

John, “Ok.”

Greg, “He would have seen his father’s apron, masonic apron, his brother’s masonic apron, the ciphers, things like that would have been available to him in the Smith home…”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “as a boy growing up and as a young man, so—“

John, “Do you know what brought the masonic lodge to Nauvoo?  Do we know about the origins?”

Greg, “Bennett was instrumental.  I think it was a genuine desire after the business in Missouri, it was a genuine desire to try to integrate saints into a broader social community, and many of the saints already were masons, and grand master Jonas who was a politically ambitious man if there ever was one, saw an opportunity to curry favor with the largest city in the state.  There were lots of motivations going on there to bring masonry to the Latter-day Saints.”

John, “So was this the head of the masonic lodge in Illinois?”

Greg, “The grand lodge in—there is no national grand lodge.  There is no national body that governs masonry.”

John, “or global even?”

Greg, “Nor global.”

John, “Ok”

Greg, “Each grand lodge is an institution unto itself, completely self-governing.  That’s how Utah was able to exclude Latter-day Saints for so long.”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “Because there simply wasn’t anybody to say, ‘no you can’t do that.’  Because they’re a self-governing organization.”

John, “How did Joseph make the transition from his affiliation—he became a master mason I heard, is that right?”

Greg, “He became a master mason.  That was the highest degree.  You hear a lot about thirty-second degree masons. The highest degree of mason you can be is a master mason.  The other degrees, these so-called higher degrees are supplemental but subordinate to the grand lodge of the state that they’re in.  So they’re like extra little 19th century add-ons, but it’s not that anybody who goes out and—the secretary of the grand lodge once described it as ‘these are the men with a real burning desire to pay dues.’”

John, “Right, right.”

Greg, “But in Joseph Smith’s day, the Scottish rite didn’t exist in Illinois at the time, you could only be a master mason.”

John, “I heard that he progressed at a very fast rate, faster than other people.”

Greg, “He was made a mason upon sight by grand master Jonas.  It’s a very rare honor.  What it means is you’re made a master mason immediately.  You don’t go through all the steps like I did.  They just make you a master mason immediately.  When grand master Jonas was questioned about this, the reason he cited for making Joseph Smith a mason upon sight was that Joseph was what is called in masonry a Lewis.  He was the son of a mason.

So Joseph was made a mason upon sight, but he does not become master of the lodge in Nauvoo.  There are four Mormon lodges created:  two in Illinois, Nigh and Rising Sun in Nauvoo, and there are two in Iowa.  He doesn’t become a master mason in any of those.  What he becomes is chaplain of the lodge.  It’s the only office I’ve ever held in a lodge, and it’s an interesting one because you don’t have to do much.  All you have to do is memorize two set prayers: one that opens the lodge, and one that closes the lodge.  The rest of the time you get to sit and watch everybody else do this stuff.  The impact of it, as I said, must have been tremendous on Joseph.  I believe it was.  I believe what happened was he took the ritual that the saints already knew to teach what they didn’t know, the endowment.  Because he wanted them to focus on the endowment.  He did not want them focusing on the ritual, so he said, ‘well I’ll use a ritual they know.’  It’s already familiar to them. They won’t have to remember the ritual part because they’ll know it.”

John, “Now is there any writing you’re read that says this, or are you sort of ….”

Greg, “I’m inferring this.”

John, “Ok.”

Greg, “There have been a couple of second hand accounts written years later that say, well Joseph said it was the apostate temple ritual from Solomon’s Temple.  The problem with that approach is first of all, Joseph is only repeating what lots of 19th century masons believed anyway, that they were doing something that was done in Solomon’s Temple.  The other problem with it is, if it were in fact ancient, revealed ritualistic practice, why do we change it?  We change it all the time.  It’s changed significantly from Joseph’s day.”

John, “Ok, so I have to ask here.  When did you first come to the realization that the masonic ceremony did not have its origins on Solomon’s Temple?  Was this something that’s a newer theory?  Was this something that masons have known for years?”

Greg, “I mean this has been widely taught for probably the last 100 years.”

John, “100 years?”

Greg, “Yeah.”

John, “Ok.”

Greg, “It’s been widely recognized that there is no historically reliable way to draw that line that way.”

John, “I wonder if that was a challenge of faith in masonry for those…?”

Greg, “I think it was.  I know there are plenty of masons even now.  I run into them even now who say ‘oh they did this back in Solomon’s Temple.’  I go, ‘No they didn’t.’  The bible’s clear what went on.  I know Latter-day Saints who just as equally, you know, this is just my opinion.  I don’t have special knowledge from On High on this.  I have plenty of Latter-day Saints who don’t agree with me at all, and say, ‘no you’re wrong.  It’s gotta come from revealed from some ancient origin.’  I don’t believe there’s any—you know you tie yourself into knots trying to prove that point.”

John, “Did Joseph believe that, that it did have its origins…”

Greg, “I think that Joseph believed that the masonic ritual probably came from Solomon’s Temple.  Almost all masons of his day believed that.”

John, “Ok.”

Greg, “There’s no reason to doubt that he didn’t believe it.”

John, “Ok, so you were saying he tried to bring it to Mormonism to make it a familiar ritual.”

Greg, “No I think he was using familiar ritualistic form.”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “Something that the saints were already acquainted with.  Essentially he had the Lord reveal to Joseph, these are the things that the saints must know and must covenant to, in order to be exalted in my kingdom.  Joseph, it’s up to you to teach them these things.”

John, “To figure out the best way to do that.”

Greg, “So how do you figure out the best way to teach these and make the saints receive these covenants?”

John, “Fascinating.”

Greg, “You work it out in your mind, essentially, and that’s why to this day we have temple rituals that changed to meet modern needs.  The modern Latter-day saint is no longer familiar with Masonry.  He’s probably not a member. So there were things in the endowment which, yeah they meant something to somebody like me, but it meant nothing, or worse yet they were in some cases even troubling to a modern member.”

John, “Yeah.”

Greg, “As the church has expanded and as it has become an international organization and spread throughout the world through different cultures and languages, a lot of this stuff didn’t work, didn’t communicate the endowment any longer.  In fact in some cases it was an obstacle in teaching the endowment, and so we make modifications under correct priesthood authority to move the kingdom forward essentially.  I’m not bothered by that.”

John, “Right.  So for our listeners who are let’s say 34 years and younger maybe, they will have experienced a somewhat different temple ceremony than someone maybe…”

Greg interrupts, “than someone like my age.”

John, “or me.  I’m 36, and I went through before the changes had happened around 1990.”

Greg, “If you’re in your early 30s or 20s, you would never have experienced the….”

John, “Ok, I just thought of one quick question I had to ask before we talk about the next thing, and that’s, “I heard that when John C. Bennett and Joseph Smith fell out of favor, and John C. Bennett left Nauvoo, one of the things he did was run to the head mason in Illinois and say, Joseph’s betraying and perverting the sacredness of the masonic lodge and that in some way, that was a partial motivator for some of the animosity and some of the anger that led to his martyrdom.  Is there any truth to that at all?”

Greg, “I don’t believe—I’ve never read that Bennett did such a thing.  Bennett became an adversary of the church.  With that there is little doubt, but I think that in fact that he didn’t make a great deal about the similarities.  He spoke some about the similarities between the lodge ritual and the temple ritual, but that wasn’t his main whipping boy.  His main whipping boy was polygamy.

The fact that he doesn’t make a big deal about it to me indicates that the early members knew full well what was going on.  They understood completely what was going on.  Now, there were masons in the mob that killed Joseph Smith, we know that.”

John, “How do we know that?”

Greg, “We know that because Joseph gave a masonic cry of distress as he was killed at Carthage, and several…”

John, “Are you allowed to say what he said?  Are you allowed to say that?”

Greg, “No, I’m not allowed to say it.”

John, “Ok, that’s fine.”

Greg, “But I will say that it’s the title of Reed Durham’s famous paper.”

John, “Ok, and it’s probably repeated in the manuals today.”

Greg, “Yeah, well I don’t know.  The first part of it, ‘Oh Lord my God’ is repeated in the manuals.”

John, “Ok.”

Greg, “Ok, and with that I’ve given any skilled internet user enough information to find out the whole phrase.”

John, “and I’m not trying to be sneaky here, I’m just…”

Greg, “It’s also printed in kind of semi-code on the fly leaf of The Da Vinci Code, if you read the bolded words on the fly leaf of The Da Vinci Code you can read the whole thing.”

John, “So just for our listeners though, it is true that both Joseph and I believe Hyrum when they were dying, made some statement that’s supposed to be some type of signal to those who were coming after him to say, hey, I’m a mason.  We’ve agreed not to kill each other.”

Greg chuckles, “Kill each other….”

John, “you’re not supposed to kill me.”

Greg, “It’s the grand hailing sign of distress, and we know they gave it and we know it was ignored, and there were several—there was a lot of agitation in the lodges surrounding Nauvoo about, you know this guy was involved in the mob murder of a fellow mason.”

John, “Is that a pretty serious deal, to kill another mason?”

Greg, “Killing folks is, yeah, a pretty serious deal.”

John, “But within masonry, to kill another mason is a pretty huge…”

Greg, “Yeah, killing anybody is a serious offense.  It’s grounds for expulsion.”

John, “Ok, ok.”

Greg, “So, now I kind of lost my train of thought here.”

John, “No, no, no, it’s good.  And so I just, I don’t know that Mormons understand how important masonry was toward the end of Joseph’s life, and I think it’s important for us to know there was a masonic lodge in Nauvoo, Joseph was a mason, there are parallels between the masonic ceremony and the early endowment ceremony, and it was such an important issue in Joseph’s life that even in his death and in Hyrum’s, some of his last words were masonic.”

Greg, “Yeah.”

John, “I just think, I love it when the facts get laid out so that no one hears this stuff like my friend Tina, from some third party, and says, hey, all of this is distressing, you know?”

Greg, “What the anti-Mormons, and critics of the church do is they use this business about masonry as a wedge because many Latter-day Saints don’t know anything about it.”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “And so that makes the critic the expert, and the critic can say anything because he’s become the expert in the member’s mind on this whole matter.”

John, “They can pile on.”

Greg, “They can lead people on into strange—they can lead people off to the great and spacious building.”

John, “Ok, yeah.  So tell me, what can you tell us about—I mean again I want my listeners and you to know that I have my full respect for the LDS temple ceremony, or us all respecting the covenants we make, but we all know that the full ceremony in audio form, and soon to be in video form is on the internet.  You’ve mentioned to me before this program started that the Smoot Hearings in the late 19th century, early 20th century I guess revealed a great deal about the temple ceremony.  So what can you tell us about what elements of the masonic ceremony spilled over into the LDS endowment ceremony without violating your covenants in either sect?”

Greg, “Ok.  The basic ritualistic form, the idea of using an allegorical play in the case of the masons who use the story of Hiram Abiff, in the case of the temple endowment we use the story of Adam and Eve.  That idea, I believe, came over from the masons.  The ritualistic form of questions and answers, we see less of it today than we used to, but it’s still there to a great part.  In masonry for instance, the opening of the lodge, it’s always the same.  It’s a set of questions asked by the master to the senior warden of the lodge.  There are three primary officers of the lodge, the worshipful master, the junior warden, and the senior warden.

And so they’ll say things like ‘brother senior warden, satisfy yourself and all our master masons.’  The senior warden looks around the room and ‘I am so satisfied’ and he then ‘what induced you to become a mason?’  The senior warden always answers the same way.  He always says, ‘the better to serve myself and my family, to work in for my countries to receive wages, and to help in the relief of distressed master masons, the widows and orphans.’  It’s always the same.  It’s this back and forth.  That element, that teaching element of questions and answer comes, I believe, from masonry.”

John, “Ok.”

Greg, “With renaissance, there are certain physical actions which are common to both.  However, they do not have either the same name or the same meaning, and that probably is far as I’m willing to go.  Prior to 1990, there was the five points of fellowship.  There’s also, both rituals use the square and the compass.  The square and the compass is the fundamental iconic imagery of freemasonry.  You see it on our gravestones, you see it on our buildings, you see it just about everywhere we go.”

John, “Yes.  And your Cadillacs.”

Greg laughs, “Yes, and on our Cadillacs.  It goes on our Cadillacs.  Both use aprons.  They mean different things.  One is symbolic of Adam and Eve’s transgression in the garden.  The masonic apron is representative of aprons worn by practicing stone masons in quarries.  On the FAIR website, I have written a paper where I go down through, I kind of took an anti-Mormon who gave this laundry list of similarities and I kind of walked down through the list going yeah, this is the same and here’s where they come from.  They both use Holiness to the Lord.  Where does that come from?  It comes from the Bible, and on and on and on.”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “To a mason, the things that they would find most similar are the ritualistic form, the idea of this telling of an allegorical play, or question and answer form and certain action elements which are substantively similar but its meanings and names are different.”

John, “Ok, a quick follow up on that.  For those who went through before 1990.  There was a part that has since been removed where the participant sort of indicates through some hand motions some ways that they’ll receive punishment if they are to violate the promises of the temple.  You can call them penalties I guess.  Is that something that also….”

Greg, “Yes, that also exists in freemasonry and is still practiced to this day.”

John, “And very similar?  Are they similar?”

Greg, “Duplicates.”

John, “Ok, right.  Good.  That’s interesting.  So any other similarities that come across or is that a pretty good summary?”

Greg, “That’s a fairly good summary.”

John, “So if you were to go at high level though, it sounds like the meaning is fundamentally different, like the core content.  So there’s some structure around the vehicle, the ritual, the delivery of the message, but it sounds like the messages are…”

Greg, “The messages are different.  They’re both important messages.  I don’t—masonry primarily deals with man’s relationship to his fellow man.  The endowment is revealed information necessary for our eternal progression and receiving exaltation in the celestial kingdom.  There’s a world of difference between those two.  One is eternal and absolutely essential for exaltation, the other is a nice and useful and good thing that men of goodwill should do.  It’s not salvific in nature.  Freemasonry is not a religion.  We do not offer a means of salvation”

John, “Yes, I see.”

Greg, “And that is absolutely essential to the point, and one of the things I have to deal with, kind of when I work with FAIR and when I work with apologetics is I’m answering not only critics of the church, but in my case, I’m answering a lot of church members who are convinced that masonry is akin to secret combinations.”

John, “Right.  And I think Fawn Brodie writes about that in her book about Joseph Smith.  I think I remember reading that there was some murder that happened aroudnt he time that Joseph Smith was a young boy and there was a story….”

Greg, “Yeah the Morgan affair.”

John, “and there were stirrings that it was masons who were involved.”

Greg, “Masons who did it.  It led to the anti-masonic political party, a whole party dedicated to anti-masonry.”

John, “Sounds familiar.”

Greg, “As I point out, when members ask me about that.  Taking oaths to do good isn’t a bad thing.  That isn’t what the secret combinations did.  The secret combinations didn’t get together to take oaths to do good and to help widows and orphans.  Again, we know exactly what secret combinations were.  They were to kill to get gain.”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “and things like street gangs, and the mafia, and Klan fall into that.”

John, “Not the best.”

Greg, “and al Qaida and things of that nature.”

John, “So one questions pops to mind.  Have any subsequent high level church leaders we know of been masons too, or did our affiliation of masonry end with Joseph?”

Greg, “No.  Brigham Young was quite proud of it, wore his masonic stick pin his whole life.  There are photographs of him with it.  John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff were masons.  I believe that it ended, the affiliation of the high level leadership ended as the masonic lodge in Utah, as the Joseph F. Smith era essentially came into effect.  We had a situation with Utah excluding LDS members.  By the way they’re the only grand lodge to do it.”

John, “So you mean the early 1970s, Joseph F. Smith?”

Greg, “Early 18—by early 1872 the grand lodge in Utah was established, and they established a policy of excluding Mormons.”

John, “Ohhh, 1872.”

Greg, “They excluded until 1984.”

John, “Ok I was confusing Joseph F. Smith with Joseph Fielding Smith.  So late 1800s…”

Greg, “So as Joseph F. Smith became a man in Utah Territory, masonry was unavailable to him as an institution as a Latter-day Saint in the grand lodge of Utah had decided to exclude latter-day saints from membership.”

John, “So the Mormons didn’t shut out the masons.  It was the other way around.”

Greg, “No it was the other way around.”

John, “Ok, that’s interesting.”

Greg, “And it was totally un-masonic.  Totally.  I mean one of the things you’re never to ask is what is your religion?  What do you believe?  You can believe—I sit here in Casper, Wyoming and I sit in a lodge here that has members who are Buddhists, who are Jews, one muslim, a whole bunch of Heinz 57 varieties of protestants.”

John, “That’s beautiful.”

Greg, “and me, the lone Mormon.”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “No that’s beautiful though.  What a great way to unify the community.”

Greg, “Yeah.  But that’s one of the basic points of masonry.  It’s not a religion, and it can be religious without being religion, and kind of stand away from that whole idea.”

John, “Ok, so I have to break in with a question.  I was in Chicago, I don’t know 10 years ago maybe.  I was at some wedding reception, and there was this African-American man who had a ring on, a masonic ring, and I started talking to him about it, and he just happened to mention that at that time at least in Chicago, that the masonic lodge was segregated.  Even in the 1990s, there were not multi-racial, in terms of blacks and whites together chapters.  The blacks had to have their own masonic temples and the whites and others had their own.  Is that true?  Has that changed?”

Greg, “That is sadly, as much as we profess our good intentions, just like Latter-day Saints, church members, we don’t always live up to the high ideals that we profess.  Masonry was, with the exception of New England, segregated in many part so the United States, and in some cases, in the South remains so.  More now out of social convention than out of outright policy.”

John, “Just where people live, they go to the temple near?”

Greg, “Well there’s the African-American lodges called Prince Hall Lodges and the white lodges essentially.  In most northern jurisdictions now, the two organizations have recognized each other as fellow masons and persons can now visit and join back and forth between the two.”

John, “But full integration isn’t?”

Greg, “And it’s places like Wyoming where the African american population is very, very small they obviously don’t have their own lodges.  There’s only one kind of lodge.”

John, “Are there masonic lodges where blacks worship and practice together?”

Greg, “We don’t worship in a masonic lodge!”

John, “Right.”

Greg, “We’re not a church.”

John, “Where they affiliate?”

Greg, “We’re a business meeting!  For the most part, by the way. You know, it’s like, are we going to help a widow with her mortgage and stuff like that.”

John, “Yes.”

Greg, “Yeah, sure, in many northern jurisdicitons, if you go particularly in small towns in the northern parts of the United States where there may be only one or two African American men in the whole town, of course there are going to be members of the local lodge there.  That would be the case in Wyoming, for instance.”

John, “But it sounds like it’s something you’d like to see progress.”

Greg, “I think the Civil War ended more than 100 years ago and it’s time for these guys down south to stop fighting it.”

John, “ok, ok.”

Greg, “I’ve said that repeatedly.”

John, “So for those detractors of the LDS Church, there are even other organizations that maybe took a little bit longer than we did to come around on issues of race.”

Greg, “Yeah, well Martin Luther King said the most segregated place in America is 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning.”

John laughs.

Greg, “and he was right!”

John, “Ok, well that’s good.  Ok so let’s turn to give you a chance to evangelize yoru cause to LDS folk, and if you want to, masonry in general.  But let’s start with LDS folk.  A lot of people who have left the church or anti-Mormons are going to list masonry as one of their top 10 issues of why the church isn’t true, on why people should be troubled, on why Joseph Smith is a fraud  or whatever.

If you had to give someone who is ignorant about this whole issue, or someone who has left the church because of it or someone who’s right on the fence and really struggling with it, give us your five-minuter on why it shouldn’t matter. “

Greg, “Why it shouldn’t matter…”

John, “Or why it’s a good thing.”

Greg, “First off, I would say let’s get a few facts down right off the bat.  Joseph Smith was a freemason, so what Joseph Smith’s father, so was his brother, so were almost all men of Nauvoo in his day.  It was a common social institution, it provided Joseph with a means of teaching the saints of the important truths.  If these people had been to the temple, they know that these are eternal truths, and that freemasonry was the vehicle by which the teaching method of the endowment was developed and delivered to the saints.  Freemasonry is not sinister.  WE’re not trying to take over the world.  We’re a bunch of middle-aged men re-enacting medival stone mason guild practices.  I am thankful that Joseph was able to learn those principles and that teaching method which is so effective at teaching the truths of the endowment.  I think that they need to separate the endowment from the presentation of the endowment.  However the presentation got developed, that’s not the endowment.  THa’t s how it’s given to you.”

John, “Interesting.”

Greg, “There you go.”

John, “That’s it?”

Greg, “That’s it.”

John, “No I actually really, really appreciate that and I have to admit I’ve never looked at it that way before.  That’s really good. Let me just ask you really quickly two things.  Is the church itself, I know you’ve been involved in FAIR, and if you want to talk about the website and how people can get up there and check things out and read what you’ve written, let’s do that at the end.  Has the church itself ever called on you or anyone else you know of and consult you on how to deal with this issue or how to talk aobut it? Or let’s do an Ensign article or let’s write some Deseret Book so that we can catch this horse off at the pass before it runs away kind of thing?  That’s the first part of a two-part question I guess.”

Greg, “Ok, the answer to that is the church itself, no.  I think the church relies upon an independent body known as FAIR to do that for them, and frankly I think that FAIR and the church like it that FAIR is kind of arm’s length from the church.  But no, they’ve never asked for an article, they’ve never asked for anything from me.  At the same point they’ve never said one word what about what I’ve presented repeatedly publicly.  I’m standing up to the FAIR conference in August speaking to 300 people about this.”

John, “And saying the same thing you’ve been saying here.”

Greg, “And saying the same thing as here.”

John, “Ok, so I haven’t asked you to talk about anything you haven’t already talked about before.”

Greg, “So they’ve never, at the same point they’ve never said Greg, you’re wrong or don’t talk about this.  They’ve never done that either.”

John, “Ok.  DO you think, I think about the masonic issue and about the—well let me just back up for a second.  A professor of mine at BYU, his name is Ted Lyon, his dad is T. Edgar Lyon who is a really important church historian and educator.  He is also the church’s expert on Nauvoo in the 60s and 70s.  One of things I read I think in Dr. Lyon’s book was that when the church really started restoring Nauvoo, one of the things they did when they were putting signs up on all the buildings to let the visitors know what the buildings were at the time of Joseph Smith, when it came time to put the sign on the masonic lodge, the put ‘Cultural Hall’ or something.  I think that’s pretty much fact that’s what they did.”

Greg chuckles, “I’ve been to Nauvoo, and I’ve seen the sign and they do call it the Cultural Hall which I am always bemused at because Joseph would have gone, what?  But the rest of the sign, when you read the whole sign it says that this building was used as the meeting place for the masonic lodge, and if you pester enough, you can go upstairs on the third floor where the lodge hall was and in my presentation, I show a diagram on how that room would have been laid out in Joseph Smith’s day and where people would have sat.  Hyrum Smith would have sat here, JOspeh would have sat here, Porter Rockwell there and stuff like that.”

John, “Well I guess what I’m trying to….”

Greg interrupts, “I have always wanted them to restore it and have the room set up the way Joseph would have known it.”

John, “Well the reason why I’m asking the question is you know there’s the issue of the masonic lodge and the issue of the blacks and the priesthood and there are like five or ten issues that it’s like the crazy grandmother in the basement.  It’s like the elephant in the room that you don’t want to acknowledge.”

Greg, “Yeah if nobody says there’s an elephant in the room, it’s not there.”

John, “Right.  So here’s my question to you, and I don’t think that either you or I are in the position to really advise the church.  You know I just want to ask the question anyway.”

Greg, “Let’s reach out and steady the ark.”

John, “Well I don’t want to do that, but I do want—if there’s a way we can help the church through a dialogue someway, maybe it could happen.  My question would be, why not just in General Conference, out in the open, or write some Ensign article and say hey, look.  Here’s our position.  This happened. It’s actually not a bad thing.  Here’s why it’s not a bad thing, and here’s why you should—because then, nobody’s going to read, then if it’s taught in seminary it’s a little small little blurb, and then it’s mentioned in Sunday School once a year, and everybody knows about it, it’s like they’ve been inoculated such that when an anti-mormon comes along they’re like so what.  You know that’s a good thing and here’s why and they can give the same asnwers you did.  Why can’t we get to the point where we’re just honest about it?”

Greg, “I think they have bigger fish to fry than some esoteric masonry’s influence in our temple endowment.”

John, “Really?”

Greg, “Sure we do.  WE have blacks and the priesthood.”

John, “No but I know that we need to talk about the Plan of Salvation and then the atonement, and that’s all huge but this is a pretty big stumbling block for some people.”

Greg, “I think that if we get enough people who realize you can go ask this question.  You have this question?  Here’s a place you can go to.  You can go to FAIR, they’ve got a paper, they’ve got a person Greg Kearney who will send you back an email explaining all this if this becomes an issue.  I don’t think we need to get up in General Conference.”

John, “Or in the Ensign just because maybe it would create more problems than it would solve.”

Greg, “One, it might create more problems than it would solve for some people, and it just—I spend a lot of time studying this.  You know this is like looking at American history by looking down a straw.  I’ve got this little narrow view of church history that has to do with this one esoteric subject.”

John, “No I hear you, but it is one of the top five, ten stumbling blocks…”

Greg, “I think the best way we could deal with it would be to restore the lodge in Nauvoo to the way it looked in Joseph’s time, take people up there to this little masonic lodge and reconstruct it as closely as we can to what it would look like in his day.  Tha’ts all we need to say.  I always get this joke, when they take you up there, they take you to the third floor.  The last time I was there, ‘we know that they used to use this for dances because we can see the dance patterns on the floor’, and I go, ‘no those aren’t dance patterns.  Those are the tread marks of hundreds of men doing the masonic ritual walking in a circle.’”

John, “You see but this is a difference where I think the apologetic thing comes in because you know some people are going to go to that and say, ‘we’re being lied to, we’re being misled, this is deception.’  But you totally don’t see it that way.  Tell us, and I value that, I want to hear that. Tell me what that doesn’t just make you furious and say, ‘I’m leaving because it….’”

Greg, “I don’t get furious.”

John, “Help us see why so that we can …”

Greg, “These people, these members, these people doing these tours know almost nothing about masonry.  Probably all that they really know about masonry for most of them is that this was a masonic lodge.  This building was used as a masonic lodge.  That’s about it.  Latter-day saints are kind of good at repeating whatever the last tour guide told them, that’s what they’re remember them saying.   I remember I went up with one of the tour guides saying, like I said you’d probably have to beg to get up to the third floor.

I went around the room and stood in each of the positions where the officers of the lodge said, ‘this is where John C. Bennett sat, this is where Joseph Smith sat, this is where Hyrum Smith sat, this is where Heber C. Kimball sat.  There would have been this chair here, here, and here.  There would have been an altar here, there would have been Porter Rockwell without the drawn sword a tyler.  I’d like to meet up with him as a tyler. [both chuckle] He’d put the fear of God in you.”

John, “Yes.  Sounds like a dream of yours would be to help participate in the restoration of that room to its…”

Greg, “Oh that room.  WE know exactly what it looked like.  I have 1840s era ciphers from Illinois in my collection and we know exactly where everything would have been precisely.  I drew a diagram in my little lecture.”

John, “That’s interesting.  Unless there’s something else you want to talk about, I can close with sort of a final request.  Anything you want to throw in before I ask you a final question?”

Greg, “No, you can go ahead and ask the final question.”

John, “Here it is.  I don’t know if you’re comfortable recruiting for masons, but if you were to sort of—I imagine that the masonic lodge experiences what other, the Elks lodge or the Eagles Lodge is experiencing which is an aging population, maybe even a shrinking membership, maybe a concern about reaching out to the youth of today to get new members, etc.  So if you had to put your sales hat on, if that’s something that you are even interested in doing, say hey, people should give masons a look because they contribute to society in a positive way, do you have a little pitch you’d give?”

Greg, “Oh masonry doesn’t go out and recruit members.  Like the Jews we wait for people to come to us.  But at the same point, I have members ask that.  I think masonry kind of represents a unique social institution.  It clearly is the oldest fraternal organization in the world.  It’s roots are deep in American history, and it kind of represents a unique opportunity for latter-day saints to see the world as Joseph saw it, as Joseph experienced it because pretty much our rituals and our practices are unchanged from Joseph’s day.  We do good works, we support hospitals for children.  They have never charged anybody a dime to go there and be treated, rich or poor.  We do good works in the community, and we’re probably one of the few fraternal organizations that Latter-day Saints can join knowing that there won’t be any drinking.”

John, “Oh, is it forbidden?”

Greg, “It’s forbidden for the lodges to drink, yes.”

John, “Oh wow, I didn’t know.”

Greg, “It’s an organization that supports and upholds our values.  It supports and upholds our core view that we have a set of scriptures in addition to the Bible.  Not every lodge member may accept those scriptures, but they’re going to accept that you accept them.  We have so few things that have come down to us from medieval times, reasonably intact, and this is one of them.  WE have the best genealogical records that you have ever seen.  Untapped, virtually untapped genealogical records that are just amazing the depth of information available.”

John, “So it’s not only an important part of our religious heritage, but part of our nation.”

Greg, “Part of our civilization.  It has struck me odd that there is nowhere, at least that I know of in the English speaking world anyway, where you can go and do formal academic studies in freemasonry and its influence in western civilization.  So here it is, this institution which had this huge impact and is still relatively unstudied, which I find too bad.”

John, “I think it’s because people feel like they’re not supposed to study it or something, but you’ve helped us see through that, that there’s a lot that you can know and can study.”

Greg, “There’s a lot you can know so I guess if a man is interested in being an asset to his community and in bettering himself and in being able to meet with men.  I meet with men I would never encounter any other way.  I mean I just wouldn’t come in contact with these men.  I think sometimes Latter-day saints are kind of inward looking.  It’s like the Latter-day Saint man knows everyone in his quorum, but not the man across the street.”

John, “Right.  Yeah, I’ve seen that.”

Greg, “This is a way to do that in a fraternal organization that doesn’t violate your religious principles.”

John, “Or your priorities.”

Greg, “or your priorities.  It is perfectly gospel to make masonry and get way too involved in it.”

John, “Sure, just like anything.”

Greg, “You can get too involved in anything.  You can do that at the country club, or at your job.”

John, “or with the church.”

Greg, “Or the church, yeah you can.  You can get where you’re neglecting your family responsibilities.  Masonry specifically warns you against doing that as you progress in your degrees. They’re always reminding you.  You shouldn’t place masonry ahead of your responsibilities to your God or your family.”

John, “Well I just must say you’re an incredibly positive spokesman both for masonry, for our church and for FAIR.  I just can’t thank you enough.  I have taken an issue, what’s on my top ten list of my worries and concerns and it’s all the sudden disappeared fromt eh list, so I just want to tahnk you so much for coming on Mormon Stories and for telling your story.”

Greg, “Ok, thank you.”

What are your thoughts?


3 comments on “Greg Kearney on Masonic Origins on LDS Endowment

  1. […] It is a really interesting conversation.  Here’s the last hour of the transcript.  (If you’d like to read more of what Kearney has written for FAIR, click here.  You can also listen to the audio of the interview at Mormon Stories.)  I put a transcript of the interview on my blog.  It was about 21 pages in Microsoft Word, so I figure most of you probably wouldn’t want to read the whole thing here, but check it out if you’re interested. […]

  2. […] Temple of Solomon had carried forth the ancient rites.  (This isn’t true, as Mormon Heretic detailed in his transcript of a Mormon Stories podcast.  Masonry dates back only to Medieval […]

  3. Thanks Heretic for pulling this information out. It was most interesting and enjoyable to read.

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