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”