Nauvoo – the Outer Limits of Mormonism?

On June 27, 2002, Gordon B Hinckley dedicated the newly rebuilt Nauvoo Illinois Temple. Nauvoo was the second temple built by Joseph Smith and was destroyed by the combination of wanton vandalism and a tornado when the Mormons were driven out of Illinois in 1846, just five months after the completed temple was dedicated. The new building is a twin of the original, standing in the same spot and patterned on an old daguerreotype of the first temple. And that is where the controversy begins. We have seen over the years how the Mormon Church has become more image-conscious and sought to shed it’s nineteenth century image of dangerous cult, drawing closer, at least in people’s perceptions, to mainstream evangelicalism. The exact reproduction of the Nauvoo temple is a step back and a confirmation that the fears Mormonism provoked in nineteenth century Christians are as real and justified at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

The Nauvoo temple was, and is, remarkable for the occult symbolism decorating it. The same symbolism can be found on the Salt Lake temple, which is patterned, in this respect, on Nauvoo. This symbolism reflects the Masonic origins of the secret Mormon temple ceremonies. Nauvoo was known as the city of Joseph, a city built by Mormons for Mormons on the banks of the Mississippi. Most of the early leaders of Mormonism were Freemasons and they had established several lodges in and around Nauvoo.

Borrowing freely from Freemasonry they established a pattern of temple worship followed by worshippers of the Pagan gods of ancient times in having carefully guarded secret worship ceremonies for initiates while holding seemingly innocuous public worship before the world. It was during these secret rites that early church members swore an oath of vengeance on the murderers of Joseph and his brother Hyrum. It was in secret in Nauvoo that Joseph was crowned king of the House of Israel. It was in secret that, up until 1990, initiates were introduced to the secrets of the creation, and the destiny of men as gods. In clearly identifiable Masonic-type ceremonies they swore oaths to never reveal what they had learned on pain of death, “rather than do so I would suffer my life to be taken”. In April 1990 these blood oaths were removed from the ceremonies, along with other elements, in response to protests from many both inside and outside the church.

At the time of writing there are 114 operating temples around the world with another fourteen announced or under construction (Official Mormon Church web site). It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt, it also nurtures complacency. Mormon temples are growing to be a familiar part of the landscape, both geographically and spiritually, and are increasingly taken for granted. Time was when people asked, “What goes on in there?” Nowadays the question is “Who cares what goes on in there?”

The dedication of the Nauvoo temple is a timely reminder at the beginning of this twenty-first century of the esoteric origins of Mormonism. A reminder of the esoteric nature of today’s Mormon Church, to whom Mystery is a virtue, and secrecy a duty. It is an opportunity for Christians to gently quiz their Mormon friends who often don’t understand the significance of the symbolism that is integral to their faith. An opportunity to teach the unwary of the unbiblical nature of a church that claims to be a restoration of the true Christian faith.

There is an excellent web site where you can study the origins of the symbols that decorate the temple. It is well worth the visit and very informative.

Mormon Street

“Liberty is the right to tell people what they don’t want to hear.” (George Orwell)

We are used to the idea that only those who are deemed worthy may enter the hallowed portals of the Mormon temple. Recent developments have made the Salt Lake temple not only inaccessible to the uninitiated, but also unapproachable.

One of the most basic rights in a democracy is the right to be wrong. Thank the Lord there is no law in this country against being wrong, otherwise we would all be behind bars. Of course, a corollary of that thought is that equally precious is the right to tell someone they are wrong. The Mormons have the right to go around telling Christians that they are wrong for following an apostate religion, and the Christians have the right to tell the Mormons that they are deceived in thinking that their church is restored Christianity. Dialogue is an important step to enlightenment and heaven-forbid that we should be denied a free exchange of views.

In April 1999, Salt Lake City Council sold a one-block stretch of Main Street to the Mormon Church for $8.1 million. They reserved an easement, which is basically a right of access, but limited it with a list of rules drafted by church and city attorneys: no smoking, sunbathing, bicycling or “engaging in any illegal, offensive, indecent, obscene, lewd or disorderly speech, dress or conduct.” At the same time, the church was granted exclusive rights to broadcast speeches and music and distribute literature. What constituted an offence was left to the discretion of Church security guards, who would call the city police to enforce the rules. Of course, this meant total restrictions on Christian groups who regularly use the area for witnessing. Remember that this is a city street, just like the high street in your own town or city, and the Mormon Church has bought a chunk of it.

The ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) challenged the restrictions in court and warned that there would be problems. Sure enough, despite the right of public access reserved by the City Council, security guards recently denied Christians who were known to them simple access to the street in order to travel from one end of temple square to another. Three judges in Denver have now voided the restrictions and reopened the block to sunbathers, pamphleteers and smokers.

Now it might be argued that special circumstances prevail around the Salt Lake temple where evangelicals are often found handing out tracts and engaging passers by in witnessing conversations. This is particularly noticeable during special events such as the two conferences held in April and October, the recent Olympic Games etc. Mormons may view this as harassment and wish they could get on with their lives without having a leaflet pushed into their hands and hearing voices around them denouncing their Church. However, it cannot be right for the Mormon Church to use its vast wealth and power to deny others rights they themselves take for granted in countries around the world, notably the right to tell others that they are wrong.

The judges thought so too, stating in their judgement reported in the Salt Lake Tribune:

“The city may not take action that runs afoul of our first and primary amendment. Our country’s dedication to both free expression and [separation of church and state] are among its greatest heritages, and our fealty to the concept of a marketplace of ideas in religion as well as other fields has been the hallmark of our society.

“The judges noted changes in the way church and city officials explained the plaza at the time of the sale — as a ‘pedestrian plaza,’ a ‘little bit of Paris’ that would ‘enhance the urban fabric of the downtown area’ – and the private religious retreat they described at an appeal hearing three years later. Church and city attorneys’ claims that the plaza sidewalks are used mostly by church employees and tourists headed to and from the Joseph Smith Memorial Building or Temple Square were similarly brushed off. And they dismissed city and church arguments that the city property is now private and therefore not a public forum subject to protests.

“We are convinced the city has attempted to change the forum’s status without bearing the attendant costs, by retaining the pedestrian easement but eliminating the speech previously permitted on the same property, the judges wrote. ‘In effect, the city wants to have its cake and eat it too, but it cannot do so under the First Amendment. We remind the city that the first Amendment is a limitation on government, not a grant of power.'” (Salt Lake Tribune, 2 October, 2002)

ACLU Attorney Stephen Clark is hoping the matter is dropped and both church and city council accept that the plaza sidewalks are public forums.

To some extent, this whole thing was about giving the church a protected platform to project its own views and to deny anyone else the right to equally express their ideas,” Clark said. “I would hope the Mormon Church would have enough confidence in their ideas to accept this decision and create, in addition to ‘a little bit of Paris,’ a little bit of Hyde Park in downtown Salt Lake City so all viewpoints are heard.”

There is something about the religious mindset that can lead the zealous to an imperious cast of mind. Just as the Nauvoo temple is a timely reminder of the esoteric nature of Mormonism, so the High Street Plaza episode brings into sharp contrast the power-hungry Mormon Church and the biblical picture of a servant king washing the disciple’s feet. The church that crowned its founder king of the House of Israel still values power and control above meekness and humility. But it is still the latter that marks those destined for an eternal inheritance.

Mormon Temple, or Masonic Hall?

I wrote to Rauni Higley, whose site I recommend above for more information on Occult symbols on the Nauvoo temple, and asked about some of the features that are peculiar to the Nauvoo and other early temples. Notably, the early temples seemed to have a large assembly hall as though designed for public meetings. She pointed out that, not only are the Mormon temple ceremonies modelled on Masonic ceremonies, the Assembly Halls in larger and older temples are set just like Masonic Temple Assembly Halls. If you look at pictures of the interiors of these buildings you can see it. Rauni went on to explain:

“For example in the Salt Lake Temple, the Great Assembly Hall is in the 5th floor. The East End of the hall is set for the Melchizedek Priesthood and the West End is for the Aaronic Priesthood. They hold periodic – not every year – “Solemn Assemblies” for priesthood leaders in Utah. They can come by invitation only – and only the most faithful of the leaders are invited. Dennis (Rauni’s husband) had this “privilege” twice in his 20 years of leadership positions. No women are allowed there. I just happen to be familiar with that hall, because when translating the temple ceremony (into her native Norwegian), I was assigned to do it in the so-called “Talmage room”, behind the Assembly Hall, and I had to walk through this hall to get to this room. That was the room, where James Talmage wrote his books, Jesus the Christ and the Articles of Faith. Talmage actually lived there while working on those books.”

In another email I remarked on often seeing men gathering at the Freemasons Hall on Thursday evenings in the centre of my home city. It occurred to me that the General Authorities of the Mormon Church also meet in the Salt Lake temple on Thursdays and asked Rauni if she made a connection. Her reply was enlightening:

“Yes, Mike, there is a connection. Thursday is also a meeting day in the world of the Occult…The GA’s (General Authorities) still have their weekly meetings in the Salt Lake temple on Thursdays. Thursdays were also fast days in Mormondom. Dennis recalls when he was a young boy that they fasted once a month on Thursday.”

 

Who would think, looking at Mormonism as it presents itself to the world, that it had such roots, and held, even today, such beliefs? I have already remarked that the rebuilding and dedication of the Nauvoo temple is a real risk for the Mormon Church since it brings to the fore once more what they have been trying to play down for years, i.e. the Occult origins of Mormon thought and practice. I can’t help but wonder how these things were discussed in counsel? Did they carefully weigh the risk, ask themselves if they could get away with so overt a display of Occult symbolism on the temple, have their “explanations” prepared beforehand?

Will a time come when Mormonism will be so familiar in its popular form that people will stop paying attention? There is a concept in the spoof Science Fantasy, “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”, called the SEP Field. An SEP relies on people’s natural predisposition not to see anything they don’t want to see, weren’t expecting to see, or can’t explain. The brain edits it out and says that it is Somebody Else’s Problem. Even if you look at it directly you won’t see it unless you know exactly what it is. Perhaps the Mormon temples are each fitted with an SEP Field. Those who step inside fail to see, and those who stand outside can’t imagine, how far from Christian reality it truly is.

Ye are gods!

Of course the whole purpose of the Mormon temple endowment ceremony is that faithful members are given instruction in the cosmology of Mormonism. Christians view God as the first cause of all creation, and declare that “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever” (Westminster Catechism). Mormons see mankind’s true origins in a Von-Daniken type cosmos in which God is an exalted man; men and women become not creations of God but the same species as God, who lived with God in a pre-mortal life, gods in embryo if you will. The secrets of the Mormon temple are the means by which we come into our full inheritance as gods ourselves.

Mormons use several Bible texts to support the idea that there are many gods, but they can be easily explained.

Genesis 1:26a “And God said, Let us make man in our image.”

The Hebrew word for God used here is Elohim. This is a plural form and requires the pronouns “us” and “our” to be used. However, the rest of the account is in the singular:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Several explanations seem reasonable. Elohim might be seen as the plural of majesty, reflecting the human agency in the authorship of Scripture, i.e. it is the practice for earthly monarchs to refer to themselves as “we” and so the writer represents God in the same way. Alternatively, God might be addressing his heavenly court or, thirdly God might be addressing Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Whichever way you look at it God is using here a plural noun but singular verb and pronoun. There is a mixture of the many and the one in reference to the same thing – the Godhead. The trinity explains this phenomenon very well.

Psalm 82:1 “God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgement among the ‘gods’.”

The Hebrew here is again elohim but the meaning is quite different to what we find in Genesis. Elohim can mean the one true God. It can also refer to idols and false gods. And it can, as in this case, mean judges – those given power on earth to mete out God’s judgement. An illustration can be drawn from the use of the word Lord, which can refer to God the Father, or to Jesus, or to members of the judiciary. When a barrister refers to a judge as “my Lord” there is no suggestion that the judge is a god. If you substitute the word “Lords” for “gods” in this Psalm you get the sense immediately. It is notable that the “gods” in Psalm 82 are themselves being judged and their mere humanity is clear from verse 6, I said, ‘You are “gods”; you are all sons of the Most High.’ But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.

John 10:34 “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I have said, you are gods”?’

This is out of chronological order but worth mentioning here since it is a reference to Psalm 82. The same argument applies here as there, i.e. “gods” means judges. Jesus’ argues that if sinful men can be called “gods” and the Pharisees raise no objection, why do they object when such a good and holy man calls himself God’s Son?

Matthew 3:16-17 “As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'”

You can see immediately the argument. There are clearly three separate persons here, so how could they all be one God? Of course, this comes from a misunderstanding of language and terminology more than anything. Evangelical Christians believe in one God, but that there are three persons in the Godhead.

This does not mean that there are three Gods, or that God is “one person who is three persons”. It is important not to confuse the word “God” and the word “person”, i.e. there is one God but three persons. God is not a person but three persons, he is a being (singular) who exists in three persons (plural).

Acts 7:55 “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.”

Here you have what seems to be a description of the Father and the Son similar to Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision. The first thing to be said is that Stephen didn’t claim to see God physically but “the glory of God”. Secondly, to see Jesus standing on the right hand of God is a figurative expression meaning that he “saw” Jesus in the place of honour. This is a poetic description of a Spirit-filled perception of Jesus’ place in heaven, a place of honour, and God’s glory vindicated in Christ.

1 Corinthians 8:5 “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’), yet for us there is but one God.”

This is a key text since it is from here Mormons argue that, although there are clearly many gods, yet Mormons only worship one God, “for to us there is but one God”. Paul is writing here about food offered to idols not the order and population of the cosmos. Should Christians buy food in the marketplace that has almost certainly been offered to some pagan “god” or another. His answer is yes because “We know that an idol is nothing at all in this world, and that there is no God but one.” In other words, these “gods” are idols and not true gods therefore they are of no consequence. He goes on to declare, “For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth [as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”], yet for us there is but one God.”

The NIV brings out the meaning very well in calling them “so-called gods”. He does counsel, however, that those who know this should be sensitive towards those who, “are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled.”

In other words, to pay heed to these false gods is a mistake and we are free to eat, but we should be patient with those who still feel there is something in it and fear to partake.

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