Sunday, December 23, 2007


Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men."
(Luke 2:14)

“I heard the bell on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

“I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth goodwill to men.

“Then in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

In his immortal carol, "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day," Longfellow rightfully laments that there is no earthly peace despite the fact that for nearly two thousand years Christendom's unbroken song has been "peace on earth, goodwill to men."

Could it be that the establishment of peace is predicated upon goodwill towards humanity? If so, we might ask if Christendom--and indeed, any established religions both eastern and western--has fostered "goodwill to men."

Certainly each of world's religions has contributed to the progress of humankind to varying degrees. But each has also, to varying degrees, set limits on human progress. Each at some point in its histories has, however briefly, declared war on some aspect of human nature; each at some point in its history, however briefly, has resorted to some kind force in an effort to "redeem" human nature or "save" humanity from itself.

Can true and authentic "goodwill to men" be long established if human nature is viewed as something that must be "overcome" or "perfected?" And by "perfected," most traditional religions mean "changed."

How much goodwill can one have toward the human family if they are viewed as inherently sinful or fallen? If one's fellowmen and women are seen as tainted by Original Sin, if all human endeavors--regardless of how noble--are looked upon as futile BECAUSE they are HUMAN endeavors, then how long can goodwill be sustained.

If one believes that God has consigned every last human to eternal hell and misery for the sin of having been born human, unless they throw themselves on His mercy, or accept the bloody human sacrifice of one prefect man on their behalf, or meekly submit to God's law and will as recorded in some ancient document; if one believes that lasting joy and spiritual bliss can only be achieved through denying the appetites of the human body, or by overcoming human emotion and reason, or by breaking any connections with or desires toward the physical world and life on earth, or somehow obliterating (a.k.a., "overcoming" or "sacrificing") one's ego or sense of self--how can any of these beliefs truly nurture goodwill to men? Each of these, in a profound way, targets human nature as the enemy.

And yet Jesus, whose birth is celebrated with the proclamation of such goodwill, taught that in the end people would be judged by their treatment of one another. "Whatsoever ye have done to one of these, the least of my brethren, ye have done unto me," he told his disciples on his last night with them. Jesus broke down the walls that separated human beings from God; he eliminated the distance between human nature and the divine. Indeed, the religious establishment of Jesus' day accused him of blasphemy because "you, being a man, make yourself equal with God."

Orthodox Christianity is based on the doctrine that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, God was incarnated in human form; that “God became one of us.” If that be the case, Jesus’ teaching regarding our treatment of one another has an even more profound meaning: what we do to one another, we do to God.

Mormonism took this concept a step further--and a big step it was, too--as blasphemous and heretical in light of the established religions of its time, as Jesus' teachings were in light of the religion of his day. The defining aspect of Mormonism's new revelation was this: "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become."

The message of Reform Mormonism is that our human nature is our most profound connection to God; human nature is what we have in common with Deity.

The mind of man; human consciousness; the way in which human beings perceive the natural world around them; the manner in which the human imagination works; the way in which we connect to the natural world and to one another--even on the most visceral level; the unrestrained freedom that is inherent in human thought and emotion; the questioning nature of human intelligence, and its resistance to mindless obedience and willful ignorance--all of these things make us human. All of these constitute what it means to exist "in the image of God."

No other species or life form of which we now know possesses that attribute that we called human intelligence.

Has that intelligence brought forth suffering and evil? It certainly has. But that is no reason to decry human nature itself, for it is also the nature of human intelligence to judge and evaluate those things it has brought forth. It is the nature of human intelligence to repent of wrong done, and to seek after justice and mercy. Certainly credit human intelligence for the evils it has brought forth; but likewise do not forget to credit it for every single virtue and good that exists among us, for every single praiseworthy human achievement, for every single advancement among the human race.

The message of Reform Mormonism is that human nature and human intelligence are not to be attacked. They are not to changed or overcome. They are not to be obliterated or rendered merely temporal.

"The glory of God is intelligence," Mormonism proclaims. Human intelligence, human endeavors, human progress and above all, human life itself--these are God's values.

"This is my work and my glory: to bring to pass the immorality and eternal life of man." So declares the God of Mormonism.

"Ye are gods; all of you are children of the Most High." So proclaimed the Psalmist.

"Whatsoever you do to one of these, the least of my brethren, you do unto me." So taught Jesus of Nazareth.

"As God now is, man may become." So says Mormonism.

The human race is the glory of God. God looks upon us as we now are, and sees His own past. Deity regards human nature with no more animosity that does a mother or father when they consider their own childhood.

Could it be that this view of things--this view of God and of human nature--is a key toward nurturing goodwill to men, and as a consequence, peace on earth?

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, goodwill to me.’

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!”


Sunday, November 18, 2007


The following is the last in our series of lessons dealing with the Reform Mormon Endowment. This lesson deals specifically with the third of the four covenants administered in the Endowment. Unlike other Mormon traditions, Reform Mormonism does not require a special Temple Recommend or some proof of “worthiness” in order to celebrate the Endowment. Anyone sixteen years of age or older who identifies him or herself a Reform Mormon, who understands the covenants and is willing to enter into them, may participate in the ordinance. As was the early Mormon practice before the building of the Nauvoo Temple in Illinois, the Reform Mormon Endowment is currently presented in spaces temporarily set apart and dedicated for the ordinance. This is done during special “Temple Events.” If you would like more information on having such an event in your area, write us at: or


The fourth covenant of the Reform Mormon Endowment is related to the four principle of Reform Mormonism: Restoration.

The concept of Restoration is important to Mormons of all denominations. However, the definition and understanding of this concept differs so radically from one Mormon denomination to another, that it’s necessary for us to explore—very briefly—the evolution of the concept through Mormon history, and how the Reform Mormon concept of Restoration differs from the concept embraced by such organizations as the LDS and FLDS Churches.


When the largest denominations of Mormonism--the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, the RLDS Church (Community of Christ) in Missouri, and the FLDS Church in Texas—speak of “the restoration” they mean specifically a restoration of the divine authority needed to once again organize the ancient church government which they believe existed in the days of Jesus Christ and his Apostles.

Each of these churches (the LDS and the FLDS churches more so than the RLDS Church) claims that their respective organizations is “the one and only true and living church on the face of the earth.” In other words, to enter the presence of God after this life, every single human being must submit to their respective organization’s ordinances, rites and ceremonies. They believe that they alone have the divine authority from God—called “the Priesthood”—to administer those ordinances.

Thus, a Christian who has been baptized, must be baptized again by someone holding their Priesthood authority when joining their churches. Because they believe that they alone have the authority to administer the Sacrament (the Lord’s Supper), they do not recognize as legitimate in God’s eyes, the communion administered by other Christian churches. For the LDS and FLDS, unless a man and a woman have had their marriage performed for “time and all eternity” by an authorized member of their church’s Priesthood, that couple will be eternally separated from one another—and from any children they may have—when this life is over.

Particularly in the LDS and FLDS Churches, the concept of “restoration” means the restoration of the Priesthood and of the only true church organization authorized and recognized by God. For the LDS and FLDS, there is no salvation in the fullest sense (meaning eternal life in the presence of God, outside of their respective church organizations. The devout Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddist, atheist—while they each may be righteous, will be consigned to a lower degree of glory unless they accept the LDS and FLDS claims that they alone hold Divine authority (The Priesthood) and submit to their ordinances and rituals.

The LDS and FLDS believe that the restoration of this Divine authority were historic events that took place in 1829 in New York and in Pennsylvania. Supposedly one two different dates, Heavenly messengers (John the Baptist on one date in the Spring of 1829, and the Apostles Peter, James and John on later unknown date) appeared to Joseph Smith—the First Mormon—and his scribe, Oliver Cowdrey. Supposedly these heavenly messengers laid their hands on Joseph’s and Oliver’s heads, bestowing on them the Lower Priesthood (called the Aaronic Priesthood) and the High Priesthood (called the Melchezedek Priesthood). With these ordinations by Heavenly beings, Joseph and Oliver were given the authority to preach, baptize, organize the one and only true church, and administer its ordinances and rituals; the Priesthood and the One True Church were restored to the earth.

This scenario is so central is this to LDS and FLDS Mormonism, that it comes as a shock to the student of Mormon history to discover that the entire scenario of heavenly messengers and Priesthood restoration was a later development in Mormonism. The first Mormons in New York State and in Kirtland, Ohio originally had no concept of Priesthood authority or of a “Restoration” as now understood in the LDS and FLDS traditions. When the original Mormon church (then called “the Church of Christ”) was organized in April 1830, there were no Priesthood offices, no Priesthood ordinations, no claims of Heavenly ordinations, etc. The congregation itself elected by vote, and set apart by their collective authority as believers, Joseph Smith as the new church’s First Elder, and Oliver Cowdrey as its Second Elder.

If one reads the original published versions of Joseph Smith’s first 64 revelations in his “Book of Commandments,” and compares them to the rewritten versions printed in the modern “Doctrine & Covenants” as Sections 1 through 64, one will find no references at all to either Priesthood or to a restoration of “one true church.” (Indeed, several entire sections which focus on these later doctrines and which are dated from 1824 and the early 1830s, do not even appear in “The Book of Commandments,” because they were not even written until the late 1830’s and 1840’s.)

Until 1834, the first Mormons organized their church along the lines of the Methodists. (Joseph Smith had been a member of the Palmyra Methodist church’s debating team, had preached as a teen at Methodists gatherings, and had applied for membership in a Methodist congregation in 1825.) But it 1834, there was a mass dissention among Mormons in Kirtland, Ohio. To fight this, claims to divine Priesthood authority were put forth by Joseph Smith and Sydney Rigdon (at that time, Mormonism’s most popular leader) in an effort to hold the church together and strengthen its organization. Many of Mormonism’s founders (such as the majority of witnesses to “The Book of Mormon”) were so opposed to the very idea of a restoration of ancient Priesthood, that they left the church altogether. One of Mormonism’s earliest leaders and shinning lights, David Whitmer, maintained until his death some forty years later that the concept of a restoration of a Priesthood was not part of original Mormonism, but was introduced by Sydney Rigdon in 1834 in an attempt to consolidate control over the Mormon community in Ohio.

To this date, no contemporary evidence prior to 1834 has been found in the writings of Joseph Smith and other Mormons to substantiate the later claims of a restoration of Priesthood authority

And yet the concept of “Restoration” was central to early Mormonism. The doctrine of “the Restoration” is found through “The Book of Mormon.” However, it is not a doctrine related to either Priesthood authority or the idea of “one true church.”

It is this understanding—the original Mormon understanding of “Restoration” that is central to Reform Mormonism. It is this understanding of “Restoration” that is symbolized during the last portion of the Reform Mormon Endowment.


In “The Book of Mormon,” the words “restore” and “restoration” are used in two contexts. One is in regard the restoration of the scattered Tribes of Israelites and their decedents to the lands and status God anciently granted them in the Hebrew Bible.

But the other context is much broader and has universal application; it has to do with survival of the individual after death. In this context, “Restoration” IS the resurrection of the dead. One of the first passages in “The Book of Mormon” that equates the “restoration” with the resurrection is the following:

“… the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel. O how great the plan of our God!... the spirit and the body is restored to itself again, and all men become incorruptible, and immortal, and they are living souls, having a perfect knowledge like unto us in the flesh, save it be that our knowledge shall be perfect.”(“The Book of Mormon,” II Nephi 9: 12-13)

Later in the book, nearly three full chapters in Alma are devoted to equating the “restoration” with the resurrection of the dead, and with explaining the importance and centrality of this concept with the Divine plan for humanity. Here are some highlights from those chapters:

“The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt.

"Now, this restoration shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God, to be judged according to their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil.”
(“The Book of Mormon,” Alma 11:43-44)

“Now my son, here is somewhat more I would say unto thee; for I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning the resurrection of the dead …there are many mysteries which are kept, that no one knoweth them save God himself. But I show unto you one thing which I have inquired diligently of God that I might know—that is concerning the resurrection. Behold, there is a time appointed that all shall come forth from the dead. Now when this time cometh no one knows; but God knoweth the time which is appointed. Now, whether there shall be one time, or a second time, or a third time, that men shall come forth from the dead, it mattereth not; for God knoweth all these things; and it sufficeth me to know that this is the case—that there is a time appointed that all shall rise from the dead. ... it [the resurrection] meaneth the reuniting of the soul with the body… the dead shall come forth, and be reunited, both soul and body, and be brought to stand before God, and be judged according to their works. Yea, this [the resurrection] bringeth about the restoration of those things of which has been spoken by the mouths of the prophets.... I say unto thee, my son,that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself.” (“The Book of Mormon,” Alma 40:1, 3-5, 18, 21-22; 41:2)

“And now behold, is the meaning of the word restoration to take a thing of a natural state and place it in an unnatural state, or to place it in a state opposite to its nature?…the meaning of the word restoration is to bring back again evil for evil, or carnal for carnal, or devilish for devilish—good for that which is good; righteous for that which is righteous; just for that which is just; merciful for that which is merciful. Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you For that which ye do send out shall turn unto you again, and be restored; therefore, the word restoration more fully condemneth the sinner, and justifieth him not at all. (“The Book of Mormon,” Alma 41: 12-15)

“..,the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice….Therefore, O my son, whosoever will come may come and partake of the waters of life freely; and whosoever will not come the same is not compelled to come; but in the last day it shall be restored unto him according to his deeds. If he has desired to do evil, and has not repented in his days, behold, evil shall be done unto him, according to the restoration of God.” (“The Book of Mormon,” Alma 42: 23,27-28)

While couched in traditional Christian terms, the original Mormon doctrine of the Restoration had to do with the individual eventually being restored from death to life; with being changed from a temporal condition to an eternal condition; with standing before God and reaping the eternal consequences of one’s actions (or, in the terminology of “The Book of Mormon” having “restored” to one’s self” according to his deeds.”)

At the foundation of the original Mormon doctrine of Restoration is the belief that the individual is an eternal being, and that one’s values, choices and actions can have eternal consequences. Though humans are subject to death, early Mormonism taught that it was the Divine plan to “bring to pass the immorality and eternal life of man.” (See Moses 1:39) In other words, it is God’s work and glory to restore mortals to an immortal state.


Most religions have a belief in immortality. But Mormonism broke from monotheism in one very profound way. All monotheistic religions worship one God who is the Creator of all things. Humans are the creations of that one God, and while most believe that God intends for humans to survive death and have an everlasting existence beyond the confines of this present existence, all of these religion nevertheless teach that humans had a definite beginning. Thus all humans are finite.

In the last years of his life, Joseph Smith explicitly rejected this doctrine—which is the foundational doctrine of all monotheistic faiths.

Joseph taught that the mind—the spirit or intelligence—of each individual is eternal, uncreated, without beginning or end; that it has a material component that has always existed, the same as all matter.

Below are Joseph’s final teachings (delivered just weeks before his death) regarding the eternal nature of the individual:

“…the soul—the mind of man—the immortal spirit. Where did it come from? All learned men and doctors of divinity say that God created it in the beginning; but it is not so: the very idea lessens man in my estimation. I do not believe the doctrine; I know better. Hear it, all ye ends of the world; for God has told me so; and if you don't believe me, it will not make the truth without effect. I will make a man appear a fool before I get through; if he does not believe it. I am going to tell of things more noble.

“We say that God himself is a self-existent being. Who told you so? It is correct enough; but how did it get into you heads? Who told you that man did not exist in like manner upon the same principles? Man does exist upon the same principles. …
“The mind or the intelligence which man possesses is co-equal with God himself. I know that my testimony is true…

“I am dwelling on the immortality of the spirit of man. Is it logical to say that the intelligence of spirits is immortal, and yet that it had a beginning? The intelligence of spirits had not beginning, neither will it have an end. That is good logic. That which has a beginning may have an end. There never was a time when there were not spirits; for they are co-equal [co-eternal] with our Father in heaven.

“I want to reason more on the spirit of man; for I am dwelling on the body and spirit of man—on the subject of the dead. I take my ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man—the immortal part, because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut it in two; then it has a beginning and an end; but join it again, and it continues one eternal round. So it is with the spirit of man. As the Lord liveth, if it had a beginning,it will have an end. All the fools and learned and wise men from the beginning of creation, who say that the spirit of man had a beginning, prove that it must have an end; and if that doctrine is true, then the doctrine of annihilation would be true. But if I am right, I might with boldness proclaim from the house-tops that God never had the power to create the spirit of man at all. God himself could not create himself.

“Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self-existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age, and there is no creation about it. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement.” (Joseph Smith, “The King Follet Discourse,” April 7, 1844)


These truths are taught at the very beginning of the Reform Mormon Endowment. The ceremony which follows is a symbolic journey through life. The ceremony ends at the veil, which is symbolic of that which separates the present from the future, the temporal from the eternal. Here at the veil, each individually symbolically encounters God for him or herself.

At the veil each participant makes the Fourth covenant which is that he or she will always try to see the eternal aspects of all things.

Having made that final covenant, the Endowment ends with the participant passing through the veil, which symbolizes being restored to the Divine presence and entering the Celestial Glory of the Gods.

Friday, October 19, 2007


The following is the next in our series of lessons dealing with the Reform Mormon Endowment. This lesson deals specifically with the third of the four covenants administered in the Endowment. Unlike other Mormon traditions, Reform Mormonism does not require a special Temple Recommend or some proof of “worthiness” in order to celebrate the Endowment. Anyone sixteen years of age or older who identifies him or herself a Reform Mormon, who understands the covenants and is willing to enter into them, may participate in the ordinance. As was the early Mormon practice before the building of the Nauvoo Temple in Illinois, the Reform Mormon Endowment is currently presented in spaces temporarily set apart and dedicated for the ordinance. This is done during special “Temple Events.” If you would like more information on having such an event in your area, write us at: or


The third covenant in the Reform Mormon Endowment is related to the third principle of Reform Mormonism: revelation.

From the very beginning, the principle of revelation has been central to Mormonism. As Mormon historian, Kathleen Flake explains:

“Mormonism's sense of revelation may be distinct in its ubiquitousness -- how everybody feels they can get it and that they must get it. The "it" that they're going to get is as dramatic as anything they read in the Bible: that they hear voices; they dream dreams; they have visions; and they expect in their daily walk to receive instruction if they're living worthily, that God is able to drop in at any particular time and say, "Stop what you're doing; I need you to go visit Brother or Sister So-and-so; they need help…
… Mormonism could not exist without revelation. The Bible is not enough for them. ... It is revelation or nothing for these people, and if they ever lose that, then they have no reason for being. Their whole message is ‘God speaks today.’
....Joseph Smith's uniqueness can, I think, be understood by an analogy that I sometimes use to Henry Ford. Henry Ford wanted a car in every home. Joseph Smith was the Henry Ford of revelation. He wanted every home to have one, and the revelation he had in mind was the revelation he'd had, which was seeing God.” (From the 2007 PBS documentary series, “The Mormons.”)


Traditionally revelation has been conceived solely as a supernatural phenomenon: one seeks some sort of knowledge and through some supernatural means—such as a vision, a heavenly voice or the appearance of a being from some heavenly realm—the knowledge is revealed. Mormonism as religious movement began on the American frontier of the 1820’s among individuals who claimed to have experienced revelations of this sort.
But at the same time there was an element of intellectualism and naturalism in the early Mormon concept of the revelatory process—and it is this element that is central to the Reform Mormon principle of revelation.

Reform Mormons do not believe that one should go through life expecting the laws of nature to be suspended. Indeed, since Reform Mormonism is based primarily on mid-19th century Mormon theology (a theology which profoundly contradicted the theology of early Mormonism), Reform Mormons hold that nature is supreme, and that God works within the context of natural law. One of the most radical doctrines of mid-19th century Mormonism (a doctrine which orthodox Christians and traditional monotheists to this day consider heretical and blasphemous) is that God is a limited being who, no more than man, can break the eternal laws of nature which govern all existence.
For Reform Mormons the process of obtaining personal revelation does not consist of discarding rational thought or turning a blind eye to the realities of the natural world. Instead, revelation can come only when one engages one’s entire rational faculties.

From the earliest days of Mormon history, individuals were encouraged to seek a spiritual confirmation, a personal testimony and revelation concerning the truthfulness or falsity of Mormon doctrines. This testimony, witness and revelation would be spiritual and emotional in nature: it might manifest itself a a sense of peace and confidence, accompanied by new and deeper insights.
But such an experience can only be trusted and relied upon if one has honestly considered, examined and pondered all the evidence that one has available. The following passage from “The Book of Mormon” explains the early Mormon approach to seeking such a revelation:

“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” (“The Book of Mormon,” Moroni 10:3-5)

Even after such an experience, one must seek and be open to further insights, knowledge and revelation. As existence is eternal—without beginning or end—no intelligent being can ever reach the point when he or she knows everything. Revelation is merely one part of an eternal process of growth, development, evolution and progress.


Personal revelation as a means of obtaining knowledge was central to early Mormonism as is illustrated in the following Mormon scripture:

“You [may] receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge... Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation..” (“The Doctrine & Covenants” 8: 1-3)

However, the very first Mormons—largely uneducated, struggling frontiersmen and women with backgrounds in Pentecostal revivalism and folk-magic—expected revelation to come by supernatural means, without the need for any intellectual or rational effort or preparation. One of Mormonism’s earliest leaders—Oliver Cowdrey—approached revelation in this way.

Cowdrey was practitioner of folk-magic; he believed in the magical powers of divining rods and peep stones. When his attempts to receive a supernatural revelation by these means failed, Joseph Smith dictated the following Mormon scripture to him:

“Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.” (“The Doctrine & Covenants” 9:7-9)


Coming from the Christian revivalist traditions of the American frontier, early Mormons were anxious to the experience the type of mass Pentecostal revelatory experience recorded in the New Testament book of Acts. They believed that if they built a temple to God in Kirtland, Ohio and prepared themselves, such Pentecostal revelations were possible.

Early in his career, Joseph Smith encouraged such expectations, but unlike many of his fellow Mormons (perhaps the majority of them), he was not comfortable with leaving the intellect out of the process. Having spent most of his youth attending revivals, he was distrustful of the extreme emotionalism that manifested itself at such gatherings. He knew that even though emotions could result in passionate professions of faith, such feelings could not be sustained indefinitely. He later commented on the tendency of most people to return to their old ways once such Pentecostal fervor and emotionalism had subsided and they returned demands of every day life.

Wanting Mormons to have a more substantial revelatory experience--one with longer lasting effects—Joseph Smith and fellow Mormon leader Sydney Rigdon founded a seminary in Kirtland, which they called “The School of the Prophets.” The purpose of this school was not only to prepare Mormons for missionary service, but also to prepare them to receive revelations once the first Mormon temple was finished and dedicated.

The following scripture, recorded on December 27, 1832, presented reading, studying and the pursuit of an education as necessary components in preparing to receive revelation:

“Therefore, verily I say unto you, my friends, call your solemn assembly, as I have commanded you. And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith. Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God…” (“The Doctrine & Covenants” 88:17-19)

I give unto you a commandment that you shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnifythe calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you. (“The Doctrine & Covenants” 88:77-80)

As Joseph Smith’s theology evolved, he would put more and more emphasis on education and learning. This education would not be confined to religious subjects only, but to secular knowledge as well. In fact, one of the unique aspects of Joseph’s later theology was that the lines which had traditionally separated sacred knowledge from secular knowledge disappeared. Within a few years of Mormonism’s birth, Joseph was encouraging his fellow Mormons to “…study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages tongues, and people.” (See “The Doctrine & Covenants” 90: 14-15)

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men liberally…”

This verse from the first chapter of the Epistle of James is known to Mormons of all denominations. In his later writings, Joseph Smith would trace the origins of Mormonism to his reading of this verse as a teenager. For Mormons, revelation is not an end in itself, but a means by which greater knowledge and wisdom can been obtained.

This reverence for wisdom comes from Mormonism’s roots in Biblical tradition. Ancient Israelites revered Wisdom highly—so highly, in fact, that the author(s) of Proverbs envisioned Wisdom as being co-eternal with God, as being God’s Divine Female Consort:

“It is wisdom calling,
Understanding raising her voice.
She takes her stand at the topmost heights,
By the wayside, at the crossroads,
Near the gates at the city entrance;
At the entryways, she shouts,
“O men, I call to you;
My cry is to all mankind.
O Simple ones, learn shrewdness;
O dullards, instruct your minds.
Listen, for I speak noble things’
Uprighteness comes from my lips.
All my word are just,
None of them perverse or crooked;
All are straightforward to the intelligent man,
And right to those who have attained knowledge.
Accept my discipline rather than silver,
Knowledge rather than choice gold.
For wisdom is better than rubies;
No goods can equal her….

When God fixed the foundation of the earth,
I was with Him as a confidant,
A source of delight every day,
Rejoicing before Him at all times,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
Finding delight with mankind.
Now, sons, listen to me;
Happy are they who keep my ways.
Heed disciple and become wise;
Do not spurn it.
Happy is the man who listens to me.
Come early to my gates each day,
Waiting outside my doors.
For he who finds me find life, ‘
And obtains favor from the LORD.
But he who misses me destroys himself;
All who hate me love death,”
(Proverbs 8:1-11, 29-36, JPS Translation)

In some Jewish and Christian esoteric traditions, Wisdom (Sophia) is seen as the Divine Female Principle, as something of a Goddess herself. Such ideas do not seem strange to Reform Mormons who accept the Mormon doctrine of a Heavenly Mother—a Goddess—who is an eternal companion of their Heavenly Father. (Reform Mormons are free to pray to Heavenly Mother, Heavenly Father or to both—as “Our Heavenly Parents.”) God can be revealed in the feminine as well the masculine.


In Mormonism, as in most other religious traditions, revelation is also the means by which the Divine is made manifest to human beings. Mormon history and myth is filled with stories of men and women who claimed to have had visions of God.

Toward the end of his life, Joseph Smith began teaching that people “learn to be Gods” themselves. Pointing out that in the Biblical creation myth, Adam was said to be made “in the image of God,” Joseph reasoned that man/woman was in fact the same type of being as God. Because God and humans share a common nature, Joseph reasoned that all Gods had once been humans like us, and that all humans, by nature, could grow and progress until they too were Gods.

Within this theological paradigm, Reform Mormonism teaches that the most profound revelation of the Divine can take place within the individual. As each of us progresses and grows in knowledge and virtue, the character traits that we envision God possessing, are revealed within our own characters. We can become more Godly; we can develop the attribute of Godliness. As children grow up and become like their parents, the realities of adulthood are revealed to them. In the same way, Mormonism teaches that every human being is a child of God. As each of us pursues a path of growth and eternal progression, we can become more like God; through this growth, the realities of Godliness and Divinity may be revealed to each of us.

Concerning this type of growth and progress, early twentieth century Mormon theologian, Nels L. Nelson, wrote the following:

“The only conception that any people can possibly have of Deity, is one which comes within their mental horizon—the horizon bounded by their experiences. Into His personality they will think their highest and noblest ideals. What they love most, fear most, admire most, will somehow be found in his attributes. To the extent and in the direction, that they are civilized and enlightened, to that extent and in that direction will He be idealized.
“It was therefore a profound remark of [Jesus], that to know God is to have eternal life. No one can know Him, save as he becomes like Him…
“…But becoming like Him implies a progressive means of getting ideas about Him…
“…To know God is to have adequate notions of His personality in, say, five different aspects: physically, intellectually, socially, morally, and spiritually. Manifestly these notions can come to man only as God reveals them. The germ ideas respecting His personality can be found in scripture; but these are meaningless, save as man thinks into them the content of his experiences. The real revelation of God to man is, therefore, to be found in that which gives man experience: in life—nature—law.
“If a man would have the noblest ideal of God’s physical personality, let him master all that is known of physiology and hygiene—and conform his own life thereto; if he would realize His intellectual personality, let him become familiar with the elements of intellect in man, then calculate what must be the Intellect that could create and control a solar system, with all the myriad forms of life and being therein manifested; if he would know God’s social personality, let him study sociology, determine what qualities in man lead to love and harmony: in the home, in the state, in the nation, in the world,--and then consider that God has so mastered these laws that heaven (ideal social harmony) is His eternal habitat; and so of God’s moral and spiritual personalities: to the extent that man discovers and lives moral and spiritual law,--to that extent he will know God.
“It follows therefore from the very nature of things, that the honest man’s conception of God is a progressively growing ideal. As, day by day, he discovers law (truth), and especially as he conform his life to law (obeys truth), so must his ideal of the Ordainer of law change; and let not ecclesiastics presume to lay an embargo on his soul, by pronouncing once for all what God is or is not.”

(Nels L. Nelson, “Scientific Aspects of Mormonism,” pp.18-20. [1904])


The third covenant made during the Reform Mormon Endowment is to seek divine counsel; to seek to develop wisdom and, as a result, to continually try to make better decisions in one’s day to day life.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


The following is the next in our series of lessons dealing with the Reform Mormon Endowment. This lesson deals specifically with the second of the four covenants administered in the Endowment. Unlike other Mormon traditions, Reform Mormonism does not require a special Temple Recommend or some proof of “worthiness” in order to celebrate the Endowment. Anyone sixteen years of age or older who identifies him or herself a Reform Mormon, who understands the covenants and is willing to enter into them, may participate in the ordinance. Currently the Endowment is presented in spaces temporarily set apart and dedicated for the ordinance, during special “Temple Events.” If you would like more information on having such an event in your area, write us at: or


Each of the four covenants administered in the Reform Mormon Endowment is related to one of the Four Principles of Reform Mormonism. The second covenant is related to the principle of Knowledge.

Often many other religious traditions have looked upon human knowledge with suspicion. Many teach that the only knowledge which benefits the individual is mystical knowledge or knowledge from some supernatural sphere or realm

But Mormonism—born on the American frontier of the early 19th century—developed an opposite view. Knowledge and understanding were linked. Even early Mormonism’s claims of supernatural revelation had as their objective increasing one’s understanding regarding the nature of God, humanity, the past, the earth and the solar system—knowledge that would benefit people not only in “eternity” but also in this “temporal sphere” of life on earth. By the mid-1840’s Mormon theology had more or less dismantled the wall that had traditionally separated the profound from the mundane, the eternal from the temporal, the sacred from the secular, and the human from the divine.

In the new vision presented by Mormonism, the “Truth” was not mystical, arcane or otherworldly. Mormon scripture defined “Truth” in much the same terms as any secular dictionary might define the word: “Truth is a knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come.” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:24)

Mormonism became unique in that religiously speaking “Truth” became an individual’s knowledge of existence itself.

Armed with knowledge, individuals are free to use their agency (Free Will) to decide what their values should be, what actions they should take and how they should live their lives. In the process, mistakes will be made; wrongs will be committed—both intentionally and unintentionally.

What does one do when one is guilty of wrong-doing?


As is evident from reading “The Book of Mormon,” Joseph Smith (the First Mormon) initially put great emphasis on the traditional Christian doctrines of repentance and faith in the Atonement of Christ

This doctrine teaches that Christ had to suffer, spill his blood and die on the cross in order to atone for the sins and mistakes of the individual. Only by exercising faith in Christ’s “sacrifice” could one escape eternal damnation.

At this early point in Mormon history, God was envisioned in a traditional Christian way: God was all powerful, holy and righteous. Being just, He could not tolerate in His presence anyone who was not completely pure and holy. Thus even the most common human shortcoming or weakness rendered an individual unworthy to enter God’s presence. Indeed, the supposed human inclination toward sin meant that all humanity was doomed from ever being united with God. In this regard, the majority of “The Book of Mormon” teaches the well-know doctrines of 19th century evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity.

This stark, negative view of humanity within early Mormonism not only changed during the first decade of the movement’s history, but had been completely discarded by the mid-1840’s. Toward the end of his life, instead of teaching that God’s holiness required that He damn humans for their frailty, Joseph Smith was teaching, “God is much more liberal in his mercies than we imagine,” and “what is wrong in one circumstance, may be—and often is—right in another.”

Even as the first edition of “The Book of Mormon” (with its Evangelical sermons on the damnation awaiting those who rejected Christ’s atoning sacrifice ) was coming off the printing press in preparation, Joseph Smith began to change his ideas regarding the subject.

In a “revelation” to Martin Harris, written in March of 1830, Joseph began teaching that Christ suffered so that others would not have suffer to if they repented. If they did not repent, then they would have to suffer punishment for their sins. According to Joseph’s evolving vision, this suffering would take place in eternity in a place where punishment (“torment” and “damnation”) were being eternally administered. However, once an individual had finished suffering for their sins in this place, they would be released to a state of salvation. (See “Doctrine & Covenants” 19:1-21) Like his father and paternal grandfather, Joseph Smith embraced the 19th century Unitarian doctrine of universal salvation. As is evidenced in Joseph’s famous “Vision” of the Three Degrees of Glory (published as Section 76 of “The Doctrine & Covenants”), Mormonism rejected the orthodox Christian concept of Hell and eternal damnation very early on in it’s history, and instead taught that all humans being would, in the end, enjoy eternal salvation. Eventually Joseph would teach that the word “Hell” was merely the English translation of the Hebrew word “sheol,” and that rather than a place of damnation, torment and suffering, it signified nothing more than “the spirit world” that awaited all humans after death.

In his March 1839 “revelation,” Joseph explained that Biblical references to “eternal damnation” and “endless torment” were not to be taken literally, but that they were merely literary devices meant to “work upon the hearts of the children of men.” (Doctrine & Covenants 19:7)

In other words, Joseph, in his early 20’s, thought people needed to be frightened into doing what was right; that the threat of eternal punishment was an effective incentive to live ethically. Since Joseph had spent his teenage years attending Evangelical revivals and as an active member the debating club of the local Methodist church in Palmyra, it’s understandable that he would think this way. However, in the coming years his ideas would change dramatically, evolving to the point that he rejected “fire and brimstone” preaching and scare-tactics. In his 30’s, Joseph often bragged that his approach to governing was to “teach people correct principles and let them govern themselves.”

The views expressed in the March 1830 revelation—that one was not damned or tormented forever, but merely long enough at atone for one’s own sins--was a major departure from orthodox Christianity and from the doctrines laid out in the then forth-coming “Book of Mormon.” Not only was the traditional doctrine of damnation and Hell dismissed (albeit in secret at that point; in verse 21, Joseph told Martin Harris not to show the revelation or its contents to anyone, but to continue preaching repentance)—but the revelation also has implications regarding the traditional doctrine that someone else (Christ) could by proxy suffer for the consequences of another’s wrong doings and mistakes.

Throughout the 1839’s and into the 1840’s, Joseph moved farther away from the traditional Christian doctrine of Atonement, placing more and more responsibility on the individual. By the end of Joseph’s life, he had moved Mormonism beyond Christianity altogether. In his last great sermon (The King Follett Discourse), he did not teach that “salvation” came through Christ or through an Atonement of any sort. Instead he taught “Knowledge is what saves a man….and you have got to learn to be gods yourselves, the same as all gods before you have done.”


Needless to say, humans are not infallible. Even when going into a situation armed with proper knowledge, we may ere. We are often blinded by prejudices and preconceived notions; emotions may get the best of us; judgments made may simply be wrong, and actions taken may result in suffering.

At such times, the ethical thing to do is to assume full responsibility for one’s actions; to acknowledge that one’s choices and actions—regardless of intentions—hurt others and caused harm; to try to make amends, and to learn from one’s mistakes. The past can not be changed—even by a divine act of atonement--but one can always “own up” to the role one played; one can try to relieve any suffering that one may have caused others. In such a case, it would be forgiveness from those whom one has wronged—not forgiveness from God--that one would seek.

From the Reform Mormon perspective taking full responsibility for one’s actions and willing suffering their consequences is in itself godly behavior, This is maturity in action; it is moving beyond the childish stage of either assigning blame to others for one’s action or wishing that someone else could “take the lickin’” for one’s mistakes.

In recent decades, other Mormon traditions—especially the LDS Church—have returned to the evangelical theology of “The Book of Mormon,” insisting that salvation comes only through accepting the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. To illustrate this idea, a particular modern parable—“He Took My Lickin’ For Me”—has become very popular in LDS Mormon culture.

The story is set in a 19th century school house where the breaking of rules is punished with a whipping (“a lickin’.”) One little boy breaks one of the rules. The teacher explains that in order to be perfectly fair and just, punishment must be administered because the rule was broken. The guilty child is, of course, repentant (out of fear if nothing else) and dreads that fact that now he must be whipped. Feeling sympathy for the guilty boy, another student—who is kind, obedient and never breaks any rules—comes forward and offers to receive the whipping from the teacher so that the guilty boy might be spared the pain. The parable ends with the guilty child feeling a deeo sense of gratitude and loyalty to the righteous student who “took my lickin’ for me.”

This parable is supposed to show how perfect justice and righteousness requires punishment when humans fall short of being perfectly righteous. Supposedly this maudlin little tale explains how—in the eyes of a perfectly just God—an innocent person can suffer and atone for the mistakes and wrong doings of someone else.

But in fact, many intelligent, ethical people would be horrified by this idea, and would think it a grave injustice if someone else were to suffer the consequences of his or her wrong-doing—even if the person who suffered did so willing.

If someone was found guilty of murder, would justice be served if an innocent person—motivated by his or her sincere love for the murderer—volunteered to serve the convicted murderer’s sentence so that he might go free? Few rational people would advocate such a thing because it would seem to be a travesty of justice. Yet in principle, this is the idea inherent on the traditional doctrine of the Atonement.

Such acts of supposed “atonement,’ in fact, do nothing but increase the injustice of the situation—for yet another innocent person suffers needlessly. In the end, such “atoning” acts do nothing to alleviate guilt. In fact, feelings of guilt, shame and unworthiness on the part of the person who committed the original mistake or wrong doing are only increased.

Though the situation may be painful and difficult, ethical maturity and spiritual growth can only come about when individuals take full responsibility for their own actions and take their own “lickins’”—meaning, accepting the consequences of their actions.


Each individual, using the knowledge he or she possesses, will formulate personal values. Each of us, based on our understanding, will decide that certain things have greater value to us than others. Values can not be faked. Other cannot force us to value something against our will. Each of us will perceive reality as we do, until such a time as our minds, by virtue of experience and/or reason, are changed. Values, then, cannot be dictated through commandments—either man-made or divine. The eternal intelligence of the individual remains always a free agent, forever self-governing.

Unhappiness and tragedy usually result when our actions are out of harmony with our values. This is often the case when individuals have one set of internal values (their real values) but set them aside because society, some person, institution or church tells them that such values are sinful or wrong. Out of fear of damnation, rejection or loneliness, people will often externally embrace values dictated by others while struggling to ignore, deny or “overcome” their true, internal values.

But if one accepts the primacy of existence (that the universe is what it is, and that one’s ideas regarding it nature must be consistent with reality), if one respects the agency (Free Will) of others, and if one remains open to the fact that there is always something new to learn, that there is an eternity of knowledge yet to embarced —if one approaches life and ethics in this way, then one can find happiness by embracing one’s true inner values and acting in harmony with them. If one makes mistakes in the process, that in itself becomes a learning experience in which new knowledge is acquired which then alters one’s view of things and thus, changes one’s values.

Having values is a constant; the exact nature of those values will change according to what we learn through our choices, actions and experiences.

If one thinks of one’s highest values as a light, when one follows that light, eventually greater light will be revealed. This is nature of progression.


The second covenant of the Reform Mormon Endowment is to always make choices that are in harmony with one’s values, to accept the consequences of one’s choices and to honor one’s commitments.


1. How have your values changed over the years?

2. What role has knowledge (your understanding of things) played in the formation of your values?

3. What has resulted when you have made commitments that were out of harmony with your real values?

4. Have you ever made commitments based on limited knowledge? What happened when you learned “the whole story?”

5. How can failures, mistakes and accepting responsibilities for harmful actions aid in one’s maturity, spiritual growth and progression?

Monday, May 28, 2007


The following in another in a continuing series of lessons on the Reform Mormon Endowment. This lesson and the three that follow it will focus on the four covenants made in the Endowment.


The Endowment has traditionally been the ordinance in which Mormons make their most sacred covenants. The number of covenants made, as well as their nature, have changed over the past century and half; there have also been majors differences in the covenants as administered within the various denominations and sects of Mormonism.

One thing has been the same in nearly all Mormon denominations: the exact nature of the covenants is not disclosed prior to participating in the Endowment. Though Mormon organizations such as the LDS Church, in its Temple Preparation classes, may touch upon basic principles related to the covenants that will be made, the exact covenants themselves are not disclosed. Because of this, LDS Mormons usually enter their temples with no idea of what exactly they will be asked to commit to. Often a great number of LDS Mormons will admit to having reservations about making the covenants once they are fully explained during the course of the Endowment, but being in the middle of the ceremony for the first time, they make the covenants any way.

The Reform Mormon tradition varies greatly from LDS and FLDS Mormonism with regard to covenants. In the Reform Mormon Endowment there are only four covenants that are made, and each of these is related to one of the Four Principles of Reform Mormonism: faith, knowledge, revelation and restoration.

As explained in previous lessons here, these covenants are presented within the context of a symbolic interactive drama depicting the Adam and Eve myth. The covenants are administered in connection with symbolic signs (hand gestures) that are in effect visual symbols related to the Four Principles. These symbolic signs are ceremonial elements that are used only during the course of the Endowment.

However, in accordance with Reform Mormon philosophy, it is believed that each individual should know the exact nature and content of the four covenants made prior to celebrating the Endowment.

At the outset of the Endowment, Reform Mormons undergo a symbolic washing and anointing, indicating that they are leaving the outside world and the cares of every day life behind them and entering into a sacred space. However, prior to this portion of the ordinance, those gathered for the Endowment are given the following bit of instruction regarding the four covenants/obligations that will be made during the course of the ceremony:

“The obligations are serious commitments; covenants between you and God. They should be made thoughtfully, and with serious intent. They are designed to aide you in life, and to bring you joy. However, if you are not familiar with the covenants you will make, or are not prepared to make the covenants, as you understand them, do not proceed to receive your washing.”

In other words, unlike other traditions within Mormonism, prior knowledge and understanding of the covenants is essential. In fact, understanding the covenants and being willing to make them is the only qualification for celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment. The “worthiness” interview administered by the LDS Church (in which one must prove that one supports the LDS leadership, that one gives ten percent of one’s income to the LDS Church, and that one abstains from drinking, smoking and sex outside of a legal marriage) has no place within Reform Mormonism.

Understanding the four covenants and having a willingness to make them is what qualifies one to celebrate the Reform Mormon Endowment.


If you experienced the Endowment in other Mormon traditions, did you feel fully prepared for the ordinance? Did you feel secure in your understanding of the covenants you would be asked to make? How did this understanding--or the lack of it--effect your experience?


The first covenant made in the Reform Mormon Endowment is to love God
with all of one’s heart, might, mind, and soul.

The wording of the covenant hearkens back to the ancient Israelite commandment found in the Hebrew Bible:

“ Hear O Israel: The LORD our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart. and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

This concept also became central to Christianity as is evidenced in this story of Jesus, found in the Christian testament:

“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him [Jesus] a question, tempting him, and saying, ‘Master, which is the great commandment in the law?’ Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’“ (Matthew 22: 35-40)

The concept was central to early Mormonism, as is evidenced in the following revelation that Joseph Smith authored on August 7, 1831:

“Wherefore, I give unto them a commandment, saying thus: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength.” (Doctrine & Covenants 59: 5)


Carefully re-read the above passages of scripture. While most people would tend to see love as a virtue, is it something that can be commanded? Why or why not?


When one considers the entire quote from Deuteronomy, one might be conclude that even the authors of that book did not believe that love could be commanded. If loving God was as simple as merely obeying a command to love Him, then why the additional commandments to talk about that love throughout the course of one’s daily activities, to write down the commandment and post it on one’s front door--even to wear the words themselves as a “frontlet” between one’s eyes? It seems as if the ancient writers of Deuteronomy believed that one could force one’s self to love God if one constantly bombarded one’s consciousness with words of the commandment itself. To the modern mind this all looks like a primitive attempt at brainwashing--and an ineffectual one at that.

Since Christianity arose from Judaism, and early Mormon arose from Christianity, the idea that love could be commanded became part of both of these new religions.

The idea was founded on the central tenant of monotheism: one, all-powerful God created the human race. God has all power over humanity, and if they wish to escape His wrath, they will do as He commands. If God commands us to love him, then we better do so--or else! The principle involved here brings to a popular bit of satire often printed on T-shirts: “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Of course, beatings cannot improve morale. And regardless of how powerful one believes God to be, love of God is not something that can be commanded or forced--no more than one can command a person to love someone else.

In fact, the entire Biblical narrative could be reduced to the following: An all-powerful God creates human beings in His image only to discover that because they are in His image, He is unable to control them. God wants humanity to love Him, but despite displays of anger and violence (the great flood, the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues on Egypt), despite miraculous acts of salvation (parting of the Red Sea, the tumbling of Jericho’s walls), despite pleas and threats, God Himself is unable to control the human heart.

Individuals can only love God when they see for themselves the value of God; when they can comprehend and appreciate God’s traits as being virtuous according to their own understanding of what virtue is.

In the end, power has nothing to do with love. To love is to value, and humans by nature cannot be forced to value something or someone against the dictates of their own perception. As intelligent beings, we can only love that which we can understand and which we judge to be positive and good according to our personally held values.


Mormonism as a movement began in the late 1820’s as a defense of God’s power against the growing power of human beings. As a youth Joseph Smith seemed to sense that Enlightenment philosophy of natural rights, individual freedom, and reason over faith threatened the traditional Christian concept of one, all-powerful God. In writing “The Book of Mormon,” Joseph tried to reconcile much of Enlightenment philosophy with Christianity--and when he could not, he came down on the side of Christian orthodoxy.

But following the publication of “The Book of Mormon” and the founding of a church, Joseph’s natural curiosity regarding human nature and the Divine inspired him to continue searching, learning and rethinking his personal theology. Within a decade he began to completely reverse his youthful ideas regarding the nature of God. These reversals brought criticism upon him--not only from orthodox Christians (which criticism continues to this day), but also from many of his own followers.

By the end of his life, Joseph had completely rejected the idea that there was one all-powerful God who created all things. In his ground-breaking “King Follett Discourse,” in his “Book of Abraham,’ and in numerous writings that were published in later editions of his “Doctrine & Covenants,” Joseph Smith presented a new religion.

The central tenants of this new religion were that God was finite--bound by the laws governing time and space--and that the Divine and the human (Gods and humans) share a common nature. Joseph declared that the mind of man--”the eternal part”---was never created at all, but was “co-equal” with God. He taught that “God never had the power to create man” and that the very belief that God could create man, “lessens man in my estimation.” He went even further, teaching that the being humanity worships as God had once been human Himself, and that each of us must “learn to be Gods” ourselves. One aspect of human nature that Joseph championed above all others was the individual’s Free Agency (Free Will).

These distinctly Mormon principles became central to what religious historians have called “Classical Mormonism.” These distinctly Mormon principles are dramatized in the Reform Mormon Endowment, and it is in the context of these principles that the idea of loving God is presented.


Drawing on the teachings of Joseph Smith, the Reform Mormon Endowment teaches that God’s work and glory is human progress and the exaltation of the individual. God is not presented as an powerful creator or as the “First Cause” of all things. Instead, God is presented as a loving, eternal parent, who wants His children (us) to grow up and enjoy all that He enjoys, but who also know that He cannot live His children’s lives for them.

Joseph Smith taught that “knowledge is what saves a man,” “the glory of God is intelligence,” and “a man cannot be saved in ignorance.”

In the dramatic portions of the Reform Mormon Endowment, God is depicted as directing human beings (symbolized in the characters of Adam and Eve) toward the knowledge that they need to progress and be happy. When Adam and Eve realize that God loves them, that He respects their agency, and is only concerned with their progress and happiness, they respond by expressing their love for God and pledging to love God always.

Love of God is not commanded. It is an individual’s honest emotional response to what he or she perceives as divine benevolence.


Mormon scholar Terryl L. Givens has written that the outstanding characteristic of Mormon theology is that it “collapses the distance” between God and man, between the Divine and Human. In other words, the Human and the Divine became, more or less, one and the same in the Mormon scheme of things.

With that in mind, the individual could interpret the covenant to love God in several different ways--and all of them would be correct.

One could think of the covenant in a very traditional way: God is a personal being who has been gracious to you, and so in return, you feel love for God as tender, nurturing parent.

One could consider the covenant in light of the following: “As we now are, God once was; as God now is, we may become.” With this in mind, God could be seen as symbol human potential; love of God then becomes love for our humanity’s highest aspirations.

Orson Pratt (one of 19th century Mormonism’s most influential theologians and philosophers) said that he did not worship a personal God, but that he worshipped, revered and meditated upon “the attributes of God”--meaning the ideas concerning God’s intelligence, knowledge, virtue, justice, love, etc. Pratt taught that it these “attributes” were shared by all Gods, making them all one in purpose. Orson Pratt reasoned that by focusing on these “attributes,” the individual could learn to incorporate them into his or own character. With this approach in mind, the covenant to love God could be interpreted as a covenant to love those virtues and “attributes” that one associates with the Divine.


Eternal Progression is at the heart of Reform Mormon. Change is one of the few constants in the universe. Throughout our lives, as each of us progresses in knowledge and understanding of our nature and of the universe in which we live and have our being, our ideas regarding God and love will change and evolve. When one first makes the covenant to love God, one may have very set ideas regarding the nature of both God and love. With time, these ideas will change. Indeed, if we grow and progress in knowledge, our ideas regarding those things should change.

Such change is a good thing.

It is the key to human happiness and fulfillment.


1. In the past how have you interpreted the idea of “loving God?”

2. How have your ideas regarding “love of God” changed?


If this lesson gets you to thinking, please share your thoughts with our readership. Send them to:

All view points and opinions are welcomed!

For more information on having the Reform Mormon Endowment presented in your area, email us at the above address. A document “Preparing for a Reform Mormon Temple Event” is now available.

Saturday, March 31, 2007


The First Reform Mormon Endowment is now available and will be celebrated this year for the first time. For the next several weeks, our lessons will focus on the Endowment. The following is the second installment in this series of lessons. For more information on celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment ceremony yourself, visit, or write us to


The dictionary gives the following definition for the word symbol:

“Something used for or regarded as representing something else; a material object representing something, often something immaterial; emblem, token, or sign…

....A word, phrase, image, or the like having a complex of associated meanings and perceived as having inherent value separable from that which is symbolized, as being part of that which is symbolized, and as performing its normal function of standing for or representing that which is symbolized.”

The Reform Mormon Endowments are a series of highly symbolic ordinances which are celebrated by Reform Mormons as they reach various stages of their lives. Presented as interactive dramas, the Endowments include many types of symbols—most of which are derived from Freemasonry. (As explained in our previous lesson, Joseph Smith—the first Mormon—became active in Freemasonry during the last few years of his life. Inspired by the theatricality of Masonic ritual, he incorporated many of its elements in the Endowment ceremonies that he developed shortly before his death.)

Reform Mormonism philosophy, theology and ethics are all founded upon the distinct Mormon concept of Eternal Progression. In the 1800’s, this concept was summed up in the famous Mormon saying:

“As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become.”

Reform Mormons view life as part of an eternal process of progression, in which the individual, by virtue of his or her Free Agency (Free Will), and by virtue of gaining more knowledge and greater understanding, grows and becomes more like God. The Reform Mormon Endowments comprise a symbolic journey through life. Through the use of various types of symbols, principles are taught that can help individuals live happy, productive and meaningful lives.

Unlike other Mormon denominations, Reform Mormonism teaches that these symbols are human creations; they are not dictated by God, nor do these symbols, in and of themselves, confer divine authority, power or virtue. In other words, the Endowment ceremonies are not required to “get into heaven,” to “be saved,” or to please God. The importance of the symbolism in the Endowments rests solely with the individual. One may find many layers of personal meaning in the symbols or one may not.


1. What has been the sole of symbols and symbolism in your religious life up until this point?
2. What is the advantage of viewing religious symbols are man-made versus taking these symbols as divinely mandated?
3. What can be some of the downfalls of taking symbols literally?


As in other Mormon traditions, the Reform Mormon Endowment is an interactive drama, a symbolic journey through life using the story of Adam and Eve. In the dramatic portions of the ordinance, there are three characters: Adam, Eve and God.

Contrary to the currents customs of many Mormon denominations, 19th century Utah Mormonism interpreted the Biblical accounts of creation, Adam and Eve and their so-called “Fall,” as being completely symbolic. Utah Mormon leader Brigham Young taught on many occasions that Adam was not “an adobe brick,” thus debunking the common assumption that he had actually been created from “the dust of the earth.” Young insisted that Adam and Eve were “created” in the same way, and upon the same principles, that all humans are “created”—meaning they were “born to parents.”

Reform Mormonism accepts this idea and builds upon it. The characters of Adam and Eve are just that: they are literary characters, not historical figures. They symbolize all human beings. Thus, as in earlier versions of the Endowment ceremonies, participants are told to think of themselves as if they were Adam and Eve.

In the various Utah Mormon traditions (the LDS and the FLDS churches), it is emphasized that Adam represents all males, and that Eve represents all females. Thus a central aspect of Endowment in those traditions, is mandating traditional gender roles. For instance, while Adam (meaning males) take an oath of obedience to God, Eve (meaning females) take an oath to either obey or “follow the council” of their husbands. This also reinforces the LDS and FLDS belief that heterosexual marriage is a legal requirement demanded by God Himself in order for the individual to become life God.

Within Reform Mormonism, there is not such oath because the genders are not seen as dependent upon one another. Eternal Progression is the result of individual initiative, learning and growth. Within Reform Mormonism, marriage—both heterosexual and homosexual—can be eternal, but it is for the purpose of companionship and personal happiness—not as mere obedience to some imagined divine legal system.

In the Reform Mormon Endowments, a man may portray the character of Adam and a woman the character of Eve—but if circumstances are such that two people are not available, a man may portray Adam alone or a woman may portray Eve alone. The characters of Adam and Eve—either together or separately—symbolize any and all human beings.

The third character in the Reform Mormon Endowments symbolizes God, or the Gods. As Reform Mormons openly accept the unique Mormon doctrine of a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother, the character of God may be portrayed by either a man or a woman.
In the end, the meaning of the symbolism does not change because of the gender of the person or people portraying these symbolic characters.

Because the symbolic nature of the Garden of Eden story is emphasized, there is no danger of Reform Mormons mistakenly thinking that what they are seeing presented is a recreation of an actual historical event. In every sense, the Garden of Eden/Adam and Eve story as presented in the Reform Mormon Endowment is a symbolic journey through life, applicable to all human beings.


1. If you have experienced the Endowment in other Mormon traditions, what was your reaction to the way the Garden of Eden/Adam and Eve story was presented? Did you take it symbolically or literally? What was the result of doing so? Was it positive or negative?
2. If you took the story as literal history, how did this affect your thoughts and feelings on such things as science, the Theory of Evolution, gender roles within the family and within society at large?
3. What is your reaction to the concept of taking the Garden of Eden/Adam and Eve story as being purely symbolic?


In all Mormon traditions, the Endowment has been presented either in a special temple, or in a space that has been set apart and dedicated for that purpose. For instance, the first Endowment ceremony was presented in the attic storage room above Joseph Smith’s red brick store in Nauvoo, Illinois. The attic was decorated for the ceremony and then dedicated through prayer as a sacred space “set apart” from the rest of the world. After Joseph’s death, when construction of the Nauvoo Temple was completed, Brigham Young decorated the Temple’s attic floor and set it apart from the rest of the Temple as a sacred space in which the Endowment could be presented.

Reform Mormons do not currently build temples. Instead, any space that can accommodate the Endowment ceremony may be dedicated by prayer before hand, and set apart as a sacred space. Once the Endowment has been presented, the space may return to its normal uses.


Mormonism in the 19th century incorporated many elements of ancient Israelite worship in its ceremonies and ordinances. Chief among these was the practice of going through a washing and anointing of the body before entering a temple or dedicated space. According to the Bible, the ancient Israelite Priests were washed and anointed before entering the Temple or Tabernacle to perform religion ordinances.

In Reform Mormonism a symbolic washing and anointing is performed privately on each person before they celebrate the Endowment. This washing and anointing is done with the utmost modesty. Participants in the Endowment dress completely in white clothes of their own choosing. A white pancho-like covering (traditionally nick-named “a shield”) is placed over their clothing, to protect the clothes themselves. Using a few drops of water on the fingers of the person administering the ordinances, the participant’s body is symbolically washed and blessed. The participant then undergoes a similar ordinance of being anointed with oil, with a series of blessings being bestowed on the person.

Through this symbolic ordinance, the participant is blessed and set apart from the mundane routine of daily life, in preparation for celebrating the Endowment.


Historically, the elements of Mormon Endowment ceremonies that have received the greatest attention—and criticism—from those outside of Mormonism have been the use of signs and tokens. These are also key elements in Masonic rites, and Joseph Smith lifted them right out of Masonic ritual with little or any changes at all.


What exactly is a token? The dictionary gives the following definitions:

1. something serving to represent or indicate some fact, event, feeling, etc.; sign: as in“Black is a token of mourning.”

2. a characteristic indication or mark of something; evidence or proof: as in “Malnutrition is a token of poverty.”

3 a memento; souvenir; keepsake: as in “ The seashell was a token of their trip.”

4. something used to indicate authenticity, authority, etc.; emblem; badge: As in “Judicial robes are a token of office.”

As explained in our previous lesson, a token in Medieval Masonic guilds consisted of a special secret handgrip or handshake that a mason would give to his foreman to communicate his level of training in stone masonry and thus his pay scale for work done.
With the development of Freemasonry during the Enlightenment, secret handshakes were developed as tokens of fraternity.
In the Endowment ceremonies of LDS of FLDS Mormonism, as series of Masonic-like handshakes are used as tokens or proofs that one has advanced through the various Priesthood offices of the church. Because the use of tokens is often taken literally within these Mormon traditions, critics have often attacked the LDS and FLDS Churches for teaching that one can only be admitted into heaven if one can give “secret handshakes.”

In the Reform Mormon Endowment, there is only one token and its purpose is completely symbolic. It represents nothing more than the individual’s spiritual connection to God and to others, and this symbol is used ONLY IN THE CONTEXT OF THE CEREMONY ITSELF. In other words, Reform Mormonism utterly rejects the mistaken notion that one’s progression is dependent on learning a particular handshake.

For thousands of years, human beings of all cultures have developed various handshakes and handclasps as gestures of greeting and goodwill. In the context of the Reform Mormon Endowment, the token is used to convey a feeling of goodwill towards and connection with God, with others and with the eternal aspect of all things—nothing more and nothing less.


The dictionary gives several definitions, but what concerns us here in the use of sign in the context of religious ceremonies. The definitions that relate to this are:

…a motion or gesture used to express or convey an idea, command, decision, etc.: Example: “Her nod was a sign that it was time to leave.”

….to mark with a sign, esp. the sign of the cross.

…to obligate oneself by signature: Example: “He signed with another team for the next season.”

Many religions use symbolic arm and hand gestures as signs of devotion—the most famous being the sign of cross that Catholics and other Christians use in their worship and devotions. Within certain Christian and Jewish traditions, a minister, priest or rabbi may raise his arm and hand in a particular way when pronouncing a particular blessing on a congregation. Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians may raise their hands above their heads in certain ways as a symbolic sign that they are open and receptive to the Holy Ghost.

In the court systems of many nations, a person being sworn in as a witness may raise his arm to the square as a sign or symbol of his honesty and integrity.

Those celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment make a series of four covenants with God—each related to the four principles of Reform Mormonism: faith, knowledge, revelation and restoration.
When making each of these covenants, participants make a sign using their arms and hands. There is a different sign for each of the four covenants. (These covenants will be discussed at length in the next four lesson.) Just as a person in court use the right arm to make the sign of the square when “swearing to tell the truth,” so those celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment make certain signs while making the four covenants.

The universal symbol for Reform Mormonism is the drawing of the compass (a V shape) within a circle. The visual elements that make up this symbol can be rearranged to make two other symbols. Thus this one visual symbol actually contains four visual symbols. Each of these visual symbols is related to the principles of faith, knowledge, revelation or restoration.

The signs used in the Reform Mormon Endowment are physical representations of these visual symbols. Part of the instruction given in the Endowment is an explanation of how these visual elements can symbolize the four principles of Reform Mormonism.
Just as raising the right arm to the square symbolizes honesty, and just as making the sign of the cross symbolizes reverence for the death of Christ on the cross, so the use of these particular gestures—these signs—symbolize one’s commitment to the four principles of Reform Mormonism. These symbolic gestures are used only when celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment and within one’s own private devotions.


1. If you have experienced the Endowment in other Mormon traditions, what was your honest reaction to the use of signs and tokens in those traditions?
2. What is your reaction to the use of signs and tokens in the Reform Mormon Endowment as explained above?
3.With regard to the use of signs and tokens, do you perceive a difference between the Reform Mormon tradition and other Mormon traditions?


Feel free to share your opinions, ideas and insight. Send thoughts to:
All views are welcomed!

Saturday, February 24, 2007


The First Reform Mormon Endowment is now available and will be celebrated this year for the first time. For the next several weeks, our lessons will focus on the Endowment. For more information on celebrating the Reform Mormon Endowment ceremony yourself, visit, or write us to

“Jews have Bar Mitzvah, Catholics have Confirmation and Mormons have….the Endowment?” —“Newsweek,” 1990

Through the course of Mormon history, the Endowment has become the religion’s central ceremony.

While many assume that the ordinance has remained the same since Joseph Smith first developed it in the 1840’s, the truth of the matter is that the there have many versions of the Endowment over the past 150 years. While the form of the ordinance has remained fairly consistent (an interactive drama in which participants make a serious a commitments, done special clothing and learn a series of symbolic signs and token), the content and meaning of the ordinance has changed dramatically. Today there are as many different versions of the Endowment are there are denominations and sects within worldwide Mormonism.

The commitments (or covenants) which are found in the various Endowment ceremonies that now exist tend to reflect the values and the theology of the Mormon denomination presenting the ceremony.

For instance, in the Endowment ceremony presented in LDS Mormon Temples, the covenants center on obedience to commandments, the sacrificing of all that one has (“even one’s own life if necessary”) for the sake of the LDS religion, and consecrating all of one’s earthly belongings to the LDS Church for the sake of building “the Kingdom of God on the earth.” Since LDS Mormons believe that their church is “the only true Church,” the entire LDS Endowment centers on strengthening one’s connection to that organization, its leaders and program.

Among Fundamentalist Mormons, the Endowment is quite different. Since Fundamentalist Mormonism is focused on such practices as polygamy and separating one’s self from the world at large, the covenants made in their version of the Endowment reflect these concepts. Nineteenth century sexual mores, in which wives swear obedience to husbands, are featured. Other covenants emphasize separating from society at large and become part of a distinctly religious community.

In addition both LDS and Fundamentalists Mormons have a highly legalistic view of God and divine authority. Both groups believe that one must go through their Endowment ceremony in order to please God and enter into His presence in eternity. In short, you have to submit to their Endowment ceremony in order to “get to heaven.” So important is this belief, that LDS and Fundamentalist Mormons go through their Endowment ceremonies again and again on behalf of dead relatives and friends who didn’t submit to the ordinance while alive.


The Reform Mormon Endowments are completely different in content and tone from the Endowment ceremonies of LDS and Fundamentalist Mormons.

Reform Mormons do not believe that any church or organization is—or can be—the “only true church.” Therefore obedience and faithfulness to a church or community have no part in the Reform Mormon Endowments.

Because Reform Mormonism teaches that all human beings are equal—regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation—the Reform Mormon Endowments contain no covenants regarding gender or sex roles. The concept of the individual is paramount throughout the ordinance.

Reform Mormons do not believe in a God who demands worship or obedience. Reform Mormons envision a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother who expect their children (us) to be rational, and who want us to live freely, formulating values for ourselves, acting in harmony with those values, and accepting the consequence of our actions. Within Reform Mormonism, obedience to commandments is not seen as especially ethical. Indeed, Reform Mormonism teaches that thoughtless obedience—even when directed toward God—can undermine ethics, values, morality and progress. Throughout life, one must constantly think for one’s self, ask questions and act with integrity in order to grow, progress and become more Godly.

Thus the four covenants in the Reform Mormon Endowments consist of:

—A covenant to love God, and to act in harmony with one’s values

—A covenant to continually seek after knowledge and to live to integrity.

—A covenant to always be open to further inspiration and revelation, and to seek a closer relationship with God and with others in one’s life.

—A covenant to always see the eternal aspect in all things: in others, in the world around one and in one’s actions.

The principles underlying these covenants make the experience of the Reform Mormon Endowment something quite different in tone and meaning from the Endowments presented by other Mormon denominations.


To understand the history of the Endowment, one must first have a basic understanding of Freemasonry. While many LDS theologians, historians and apologists deny any connection between Mormonism and Freemasonry (or else they downplay the importance of that connection), Reform Mormons freely admit that Joseph Smith borrowed freely from Masonic ritual as he developed the first Endowment ceremonies in the early 1840’s.

During the Middle Age, there was a building boom throughout Europe. Great churches and cathedrals were being built in England, France and Germany. Masons (those who labored in stone work and carpentry) were in great demand. But this was also a period in history in which most people were illiterate, unable to read or even write their names. Added to this was the fact that there was no common language throughout Europe.

Masons were allowed to travel freely throughout Europe looking for work. Guilds arose among the Masons. An illiterate Mason traveling from one country to another, being unable to speak the language of the country in which he was seeking work, would present himself to the foreman at the job site. He would then greet the foreman with a special sign (usually an upraised hand, with the fingers spread in a certain fashion) and special handshake—called a token. These signs and tokens were universal among European masons, but kept secret from others outside the guild. The sign and token was the way a mason in the Middle Ages could communicate to a foreman the level of his training in masonry. When it was time for a mason to be paid, he could also give these signs and tokens to the person issuing the pay at the work site. In this way, the person issuing the pay would know what the mason’s salary should be based on his level of training. Because the use of signs and tokens easily lent itself to fraud (a non-mason might go to a worksite and present himself as a qualified mason), and because a person’s livelihood was at stake, when one finished a level of training in masonry and was given the signs and tokens, he might also take an oath to never show those signs and tokens to anyone outside the guild, with his life being forfeited should he break that oath. Thus a tradition of rather gruesome and gory “penalties” developed among some of the guilds.

Centuries later, during the period of the Enlightenment, the symbolism of signs and tokens—as well as the concept of masonry itself—was taken by philosophers and thinkers and became the basis for what would become the world’s largest “secret society.” These philosophers championed reason, science, the arts and progress, as well as the liberty and rights of the individual. Just as the free masons of the Middle Ages worked at building beautiful new structures, these philosophers and thinkers saw themselves as building a new and better society. They created signs, tokens and penalities, and an elaborate symbolic interactive drama (centered on the building of Solomon’s temple) as the ceremony through which others might join their organization—the Freemasons.

Freemasonry was very popular in Colonial America. Most of the U.S. Founding Fathers and those who planned and lead the revolution against England were Freemasons. Masonic lodges were found in virtually every American town and hamlet. Many Revolutionary War battles were planned in the meetings of these lodges. Masonic symbolism was incorporated in the architecture, art and currency of the new nation. (Just visit Washington DC, or examine a U.S. dollar bill.)

By the 1820’s, Masonic lodges were the central meeting places for men in most U.S. towns and cities. Meanwhile American church membership was at an all-time low. In the mid-1820’s religious revivalism burst forth on the western frontier, and many revivalist preachers targeted Freemasonry as an enemy of the church.

Upstate New York—the region in which Mormonism was born—was ablaze with revivals…and with political intrigue regarding Freemasonry. Just a few miles down the road from the home of Joseph Smith’s family, a former Freemason who published a book revealing the organization’s secret ceremonies, disappeared. Though no one was ever convicted for his murder, it has generally been assumed that members of the local Masonic lodge abducted and murdered him, and then disposed of the body. Suddenly the most respected organization in America was seen as diabolical, anti-Christian and un-American.

Young Joseph Smith was caught up in the anti-Mason hysteria. When writing “The Book of Mormon,” he wrote against “secret combinations”—a code for Freemasons and their like.

However, by the early 1840’s when Joseph was in his mid-30’s and the mayor of the largest city in Illinois (Nauvoo), his attitude toward Freemasonry had turned 180 degrees.

The Mormons of Nauvoo founded the largest Masonic lodge in the state. The Mormon Temple under construction in Nauvoo was virtually no different from any large American church, but Joseph began incorporating Masonic symbolism into its design. Enthralled by the romance of the Masonic drama—which centered on the building of Solomon’s temple—Joseph took the elements of Masonic ritual (signs, token, penalties, the putting on of ritual clothing, an interactive drama) and began creating a new Mormon ordinance.

Called the Endowment, Joseph first administered the ordinance to his closest friends and relatives in the attic above his Red Brick Store in Nauvoo. He explained that when the Nauvoo Temple was finished, this Endowment ceremony would be presented in the attic level of the temple to other faithful Mormons.

Those who received the Endowment in the attic of Joseph’s store formed a special Quorum within Mormonism. In was to this small select group that Joseph first introduced his radical new ideas about the nature of God, man, matter and the universe. Through the Quorum, members expected to delve into “the mysteries of Godliness.” The symbolic signs and tokens were incorporated into the Quorums prayer meetings and study groups.

Joseph was murdered before construction of the Nauvoo Temple was completed. Even among members of the Endowment Quorum, there was disagreement on just how the Endowment ceremony should be incorporated into the life of the Temple and the Mormon community at large.

Following Joseph’s death, the Mormon community split among several people contending for leadership. The largest group followed Brigham Young—who was a member of the special Quorum. When the Nauvoo Temple was completed, Brigham Young and his Quorum of Twelve Apostles administered the Endowment to hundreds of other Mormons in the building’s attic. When not being used for the Endowment ceremony, the temple’s Celestial Room became a place where Endowed Mormons held feasts, celebrations and dances.

Several decades would pass before Brigham Young had a uniform version of the Endowment ordinance written down. Many historians now think that until that time, there may have been variations in the way the ordinance was presented in various Utah communities. The Endowment as it was finally written down probably reflected the beliefs and values of Brigham Young and the corporate LDS Church, as much as it did the original intent of Joseph Smith.

Until the early twentieth century, there were actually two Endowment ceremonies administered by the LDS Church. The first was administered earlier in life; the second was administered later toward the end of one’s life, in preparation for death. By the 1920’s, the LDS Church no longer administered the second Endowment to members generally. Today the LDS Church no longer makes it know that a second Endowment ever existed.

Throughout its history, the LDS Church has continually changed its Endowment ceremony to reflect its changing theology and organizational needs. The last major changes were introduced just two years ago (2005) in the Washing and Anointing portion of the ceremony. Previously, in 1990, the most sweeping changes in the Church’s history were introduced. The use of penalties was dropped altogether, as was the covenant which required women to “obey their lord—that is, their husbands.” In addition large dramatic sections that presented Christian ministers as servants of Satan were dropped.


Reform Mormons believe that all ordinances are human inventions. God does not institute rituals and does not demand that people submit to certain ceremonies.

This is the exact opposite of the way LDS and Fundamentalist Mormons view ordinances. Reform Mormons believe that any individual can lead an ethical life, progress and enter the presence of God in eternity (what other might call “going to heaven”) without any ordinances, rituals or religious affiliation whatsoever. Humans share a common nature with God; each individual is an eternal Free Agent, co-equal with God, and ordinances (or the lack of them) have no effect whatsoever on one’s progress.

For Reform Mormons, ordinances are the means by which we celebrate and commemorate our values and our vision of Deity, as well as our own potential. Through celebrating the Endowments, an individual—in the company of others who share his or her basic values—can express a formal commitment to those values.

Within Reform Mormonism there are four different Endowment ceremonies which are celebrated at various stages of one’s life.

The First Endowment is available to anyone aged sixteen or older. (Those under the age of eighteen must have permission of a parent or guardian.) Following Mormon tradition, this First Endowment is presented as an interactive drama, using the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as its basis. As explained above, the four covenants made in the this First Endowment have to do with love of God, the seeking of knowledge, being open to further inspiration and revelation, and seeing the eternal nature of all things.

The Second Endowment is available to Reform Mormons who are at least forty years of age, and have celebrated the First Endowment. The Second Endowment explores the principles underlying the four covenants made in the First Endowment, but from the prospective of someone who is older and are at a different stage of personal progression.

The Third Endowment is available to Reform Mormons who have celebrated the previous two and are sixty years old. The Fourth Endowment is celebrated later, in preparation for death.

The Reform Mormon Endowments use the symbolism of signs and a token, but there are no penalties. Unlike the LDS and Fundamentalist Mormon Endowments, these signs and tokens have not been lifted whole clothe from Freemasonry, and so the nature of their symbolism in relation to Reform Mormon principles and values is easily seen and understood.

As in other Mormon traditions, participants wear white clothing, but the donning of the caps, robes, sashes and aprons (borrowed from Scottish Freemasonry) are not part of the Reform Mormon Endowment.

While the LDS and Fundamentalist Endowments seem strange, mysterious, perplexing—and thus troubling to many, this is not the case with the Reform Mormon Endowment. The purpose of the ordinance is to inspire, to provoke deeper thinking regarding one’s own life, progression and relationship with God and others. The intent behind the ordinance is that it be beautiful and meaningful to the individual, presenting ideas and concepts that one can actually use in one’s every day life.


1. Have you experienced the Endowment as administered in other Mormon denominations? If so, how did the experience affect you? What elements inspired you? Were there elements that troubled you, or affected you negatively?

2. What has been the place of ordinances or rituals in your life?

3. What is your reaction to the connections between Freemasonry and the early Mormon Endowment?


Feel free to share your answers to these questions with other. Simply email your answers to: All views are welcomed. Your answers may be printed here and at the Yahoo Reform Mormonism Discussion Group.

NEXT LESSON: “The Value of Symbolism and its place in the Reform Mormon Endowments”