Last month The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a video describing the relationship between Joseph Smith and Masonry on it’s YouTube channel. This masonry video is the latest installment in the animated “Now You Know” series on both the Church’s YouTube channel (previously called the Mormon Channel) and website. What do we know about this relatively new “Now You Know” series? (Note: all 27 videos in the series are listed at the end of this post.)
First, we know the project began in early 2018 under the name “Mormon Topics” (back when it was okay to say “Mormon”). The March 12th casting call for actors in this series describes these as 4-minute topical videos and provides a project summary.
“MORMON TOPICS” PROJECT SUMMARY:
The Mormon Topics videos will give honest and “real talk” answers to questions explaining further detail about our faith. Those cast will speak authentically and conversationally to the viewer, and possibly with others, as he/she explains and clarifies topic details, shows us interesting visuals, or takes us to locations that add meaning.
Interestingly, this series has maintained “Mormon topics” in its description despite the baggage. On the Church’s website, the description states “Watch this series talking about Mormon topics you might not know about.” The first few videos use the term “Mormon” freely (those released before President Nelson’s name “correction”). The vast majority of the videos only use the term at the beginning to explain that a more proper label for members of the Church is “Latter-day Saints.”
Second, this is the latest in a long line of official topic resources for non-members. Besides the missionary-oriented resources at Mormon.org (now ComeUntoChrist.org), the Church’s newsroom debuted a new Mormonism 101 page with Frequently Asked Questions in 2012 as well as a “Topics and Background” section. With one major exception, the Church didn’t typically create videos along with these topics.
The need for more direct topical videos soon became obvious. In 2014, a returned Latter-day Saint missionary struggled to find a good video on the Book of Mormon to share on social media. He decided to make his own with two friends. The project resulted in a 5-minute video “What is the Book of Mormon?” published on January 1, 2015.
Eventually the Church picked up the baton, publishing a series of 10 short videos on the Mormon.org YouTube channel in May 2016 explaining “Mormon Beliefs.” Topics included those you’d find in missionary discussions: Who Is Jesus Christ? Why Do We Have Prophets? What Is the Holy Bible? Where Is Jesus’s Church? What Is the Book of Mormon? How Can I Follow Jesus Christ? Why Are Families Important? What Are Mormon Temples? What Happens When I Die? (Disabled) What Is a Church Community?
And then we come to 2018. Along with beginning the “Now You Know” series, the Church also created a short series of explainer videos a few months ahead of the Rome Temple dedication. These videos, located on the missionary-oriented Mormon.org YouTube channel, discussed common questions about Mormon temples: What Is a Temple Endowment? What Are Baptisms for the Dead? Can I go Inside a Latter-day Saint Temple? What Is a Temple Wedding Like? What Are Temple Garments?
How are the “Now You Know” videos different?
Publishing these videos on the Latter-day Saints YouTube channel exposes them to a larger subscription base than other official Church YouTube channels (1.09 million subscribers versus 303K for ComeUntoChrist.org and 102K for the Church Newsroom). It also makes me wonder if they were trying to reach several audiences.
The Church clearly provided these videos hoping members would share them in their own social media feeds (every member a missionary!), but the topics of these videos go beyond straightfoward descriptions of belief. These videos also address some of the more unusual (and controversial) aspects of our history like multiple First Vision accounts, translation of the Book of Mormon via seerstones, and even freemasonry. While the Church has provided resources for members on these more difficult topics in the last few years, the reality is that relatively few have taken advantage of the Gospel Topics database, Gospel Topics Essays and Church History Topics. I’m curious if Church leaders were hoping members might learn from these videos themselves. It’s kind of like the Saints church history volumes providing a surface level understanding in a way that’s easy to digest. Those who want to learn more can turn to additional resources.
Of course, these videos are also useful for anyone using the internet to locate information about the Church regardless of membership status. Search engines put videos higher up on lists of search results. For those just wanting to satisfy curiosity without digging too deep, these videos will be the more attractive option. As web marketers attest, “Watching a video…is passive. It’s much less demanding and more of an automatic process, asking a lot less energy and effort on behalf of the person watching.”
“Now You Know” videos (in order of YouTube publication):
- Mormon Prophets (June 1, 2018)
- Baptism for the Dead (June 4, 2018)
- Restoration of Christ’s Church (October 22, 2018)
- Is God Just or Merciful? (February 12, 2019)
- Choosing Between Good and Evil (March 11, 2019)
- 13 Mormon Beliefs (March 15, 2019)
- What Happens After We Die? (April 1, 2019)
- What Is the Book of Mormon? (April 10, 2019)
- What Mormons Believe about the Godhead (April 17, 2019)
- Apostles: Special Witnesses of Jesus Christ (May 7, 2019)
- What do Mormons Believe About the Afterlife? (May 9, 2019)
- Did Joseph Smith Use a Seer Stone? (June 24, 2019)
- What do Mormons Believe About God? (July 10, 2019)
- The Word of Wisdom: A Health Code (July 15, 2019)
- Missionaries of Jesus Christ (July 23, 2019)
- God Loves His Children (July 26, 2019)
- Where Did We Come From? (July 30, 2019)
- What Happens to Our Bodies and Spirits After We Die? (August 1, 2019)
- How the Church of Jesus Christ is Organized (August 6, 2019)
- The Holy Bible: A Witness of Jesus Christ (August 8, 2019)
- What Is the Purpose and Meaning of Life? (September 20, 2019)
- Where Did the Book of Mormon Come From? (October 15, 2019)
- What is Doctrine? (October 22, 2019)
- Who was Joseph Smith? (October 25, 2019)
- The Judgment of God or Final Judgment (October 29, 2019)
- Joseph Smith’s First Vision (November 1, 2019)
- Joseph Smith and Masonry (December 18, 2019)
 The Church’s website only has the first 26 “Now You Know” videos listed. I have not yet seen the masonry video uploaded there.
 A statement and associated video on “Sacred Temple Clothing” was released by the Church’s Newsroom in October 2014. A former church employee stated that this video was created a couple years prior as a response to hidden camera footage from temple ceremonies being published on the internet by Mike Norton (aka NewNameNoah). Norton told the Church that he would release a video showing U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a temple ceremony. (See Mormon Stories Podcast #810)
 The “Baptism for the Dead” Now You Know video has since been added to the Newsroom topic of the same name.
 Liraz Margalit, “Did Video Kill Text Content Marketing?” at Entrepeneur.com (April 26, 2015)
I loved the one they did on Masons and the temple. Every member should watch that and quit telling the story of how the Masons built the original temples and kept the symbols, tokens, and signs so that they would be here on earth for the restoration. They fully debunk that notion. The Masons have only been around for the last thousand years or so. They also readily admit that Joseph used things he was familiar with to reveal what he felt God was trying to get him to.
To me they kind of opened the door for admitting that Joseph did the same in all things that he was involved in. (BOM, BOA, etc.) Brent Metcalf said that it was the most honest and open depiction of why our temple ceremony so closely resembles Masonic ceremonies that he has seen. He also said that it was a seismic admission.
In the video they said that Joseph used something he was familiar with and something that the rest of people in Nauvoo were familiar with to teach these sacred covenants. If that is the case, why can’t they come up with something that our generation relates with to teach these same covenants? I believe they will soon.
(A while back, President Nelson said in conference something about the temple ceremony having ancient origins. This video does not help that statement.)
So is the tag line “Now you know” a tacit confession that the church did hide these things from its members previously? That its members didn’t know, but now they do. Although I actually do like the marketing movement of “know you now” there is just something unsettling and upsetting about it from the church. Like a sarcastic statement…I am think of the old apologetic style of blaming the victims for not reading the obscure Ensign talk in the 90s that talked about Seer Stones or something.
Re Mason video, so someone hears their whole life that the temple ordinances are:
1) revealed to JS with no outside influence, and
2) the endowment has ancient origins,
BUT “now you know” that:
1)The endowment was not exclusively inspired from God but was borrowed from masonry, and
2) masonry is not of ancient origin, so therefore the endowment is not of ancient origin.
Well thankfully now I know..
They release these materials with little or no explanation or context for what division sponsored and produced the material, what the review process was, to what extent they were edited or approved by senior leaders, and what the target audience is. We the viewers can reverse engineer some of that context or just guess.
It’s clear the Revelation in Context essays came through the History Division. The Gospel Topics Essays were drafted by outside scholars, then went though an internal review and edition process (not sure which division or department did this). These “Now You Know” videos seem like they come through Curriculum. They are too informative to be from the Missionary Department.
An alternative title might be “Stuff We Didn’t Tell You Before,” except the way they do things they would actually call it “Stuff You Should Have Known Because We Told You Before.” Even if they didn’t.
The Gospel Topics essays went through the History Division as well. Former Church Historian Elder Steven Snow said Elder Marlin Jensen was the primary driver of the Gospel Topics essays before he retired and handed the rest of the essays off under Snow’s direction. See this for Snow describing what happened with the essays: https://gospeltangents.com/2019/07/elder-snows-role-gospel-topics/
Zach, I didn’t really have the same experience you did. While the clip does admit Joseph and many others were masons, it doesn’t go so far as to state that Joseph was directed of God to co-opt rituals from masonry. It merely states that mason Church members admitted similarities between the respective ceremonies BUT that they felt the endowment ceremony was revealed of God. The video appears to be trying to shore up the revelatory origins of the endowment while leaving the audience to draw the connection that Joseph used parts of an existing ceremony as a tool to teach the Saints about their relationship to God. I for one wish the Church would come out and make that statement. Doing so makes the numerous changes to the endowment a lot easier to accept.
Also, thanks for the snippet from President Nelson. I’ve been hoping for someone with education/experience on the bloggernacle to take it on for a lengthy post.
Thanks Not a Cougar. I often read between the lines and think that it is obvious what they are saying when it may just be me projecting. I always feel like I know what they want to say and take it right to the edge of saying it without actually saying it. They have to get it approved and their target audience is faithful members. This is what makes reading and watching this stuff so difficult for people like me, but I recognize they are in a difficult position.
Zach, I couldn’t agree more. I’m not sure I understand the hesitancy to embrace the idea prophets might be inspired to re-purpose pre-existing things for a higher purpose, but I guess it’s part and parcel of the 20th century Church’s attempt to package Mormonism into a miraculous-yet-palatable religion for the wider world via correlation.
I thought the “And Now You Know” was lifted from Paul Harvey’s tag line: “And now you know….the rest of the story.”
Does that date me?
Onandagus: You have outlined why I no longer attend the temple. I do not believe its form and function was revealed. It seems to me that it was thrown together by Joseph Smith. In other words, it’s not really the restoration of some holy ritual. It’s an activity based on JS’s research. And while I’m not willing to say there is anything “wrong” about our temple rituals, I don’t think they are rooted in sacred tradition. JS did his best, kind of like his translations of the Bible, to give to us what he thought we needed. But I’m not convinced these are direct revelations from God. So why attend over and over once I have my own work done (just in case)?
As a master mason I can say that half the signs and tokens in the endowment are identical or nearly identical to those in Freemasonry and the the five points of fellowship and penalties that have been dropped from the endowment are identical. Phrasing and pacing plus repetition in the ceremony is instantly recognizable as masonic in origin as are the square and compass on garments. Even the new name was once a part of masonic ritual. To me it is another example of JS’s making a group of followers special to increase loyalty and add another level of charisma to make people feel “set apart” and special in God’s eyes. The youtube presentation is more notable for me in the way it artfully avoids that for what it explains.
CS Eric, maybe I’m old, but that’s how I took it as well.
For those unaware of President Nelson’s statement that Zach and Not a Cougar refer to, it’s in his closing remarks at the October 2018 general conference. “These sacred temple rites are ancient. To me that antiquity is thrilling and another evidence of their authenticity.” https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2018/10/becoming-exemplary-latter-day-saints?lang=eng
Dave B has just published a post going more in depth on the Masonry “Now You Know” video: https://wheatandtares.org/2020/01/14/joseph-smith-freemasonry-and-the-endowment/
@Josh H, yes, that was one of the causes for my faith crisis also. We have been grossly and specifically mislead to believe one narrative that is false. At the time of the endowment, most of those who received the endowment were free masons, but the reason that many didn’t have as big of a problem with it, is that they believed that masonry dated back to the beginning as well. JS even stated as such, and so to them the similarities coupled with numerous “proof scripting” were another evidence of the authenticity of the endowment. As for your question, why keep sending over and over again once your work is already done, my thoughts are that: 1) you don’t really need them anyways as i) there is no valid evidence that any of this occurred anciently and ii) I reject the notion that the only way to be saved is for the billions of people past, present and future to receive these ordinances. 2) Therefore, the purpose of going to the temple at all is neither to just receive them so that you can be saved, NOR so that you can save the dead, but simply so that you can enjoy a symbolic presentation of humans trying to interact with the divine. I still attend the temple, but as a buffet mormon in that I don’t accept anything I don’t agree with (e.g. the past sexist language, or even the literal concept of creation or an Adam/Eve, etc.) while enjoying the symbolism that is either intended (e.g. Tree of Life = JC) or my own fabrication (e.g. Adam was told to dress this garden, take good care of it, be happy and have joy therein, which I feel inspired that I should also find more joy in taking care of my yard and be happy without complaining lol). However, this doesn’t work very everyone, and the temple is quite triggering and very cultish, etc. Perhaps I can enjoy it more only because I have “become past feeling” and also have read brainwashed myself with a lot of proof texting and ancient symbolism, which despite it likely all being wrong, still provides meaningful insights…
I don’t mean to dominate the discussion. I usually limit myself to one comment in SS or Priesthood because I don’t want to be that annoying person, but please excuse me on this one.
The problem for me with the temple ceremony is the one thing in there that is not ancient and has no meaning whatsoever is the thing that people focus on the most and causes the most angst.
Ritualistic washing and cleansing- ancient and important.
Covenant making- ancient and important
Realization of our departure from God and need for redemption – ancient and important
Endowed with power from on high by God – ancient and important
Having God put his “seal” on us – ancient and important
The ritual we do in the endowment to learn all of those things I mentioned above – not ancient, not important
There has to be a better way in 2020 of portraying the ancient and important parts.