For much of the latter portion of the Book of Mormon, the Nephites battle the wickedness of a gangster-like organization known as the Gadianton Robbers. In fact Mormon suggests that it is these same Gadianton Robbers who prove the overthrow of the entire civilization in Helaman 2:
13 And behold, in the end of this book ye shall see that this Gadianton did prove the overthrow, yea, almost the entire destruction of the people of Nephi.
14 Behold I do not mean the end of the book of Helaman, but I mean the end of the book of Nephi, from which I have taken all the account which I have written.
We see this fulfilled in Mormon 1:
18 And these Gadianton robbers, who were among the Lamanites, did infest the land, insomuch that the inhabitants thereof began to hide up their treasures in the earth; and they became slippery, because the Lord had cursed the land, that they could not hold them, nor retain them again.
So I begin to wonder what are the attributes of the Gadianton Robbers and are there similar organizations today that should concern us? Helaman 6 provides us with an indication of their modus operandi:
22 And it came to pass that they did have their signs, yea, their secret signs, and their secret words; and this that they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant, that whatsoever wickedness his brother should do he should not be injured by his brother, nor by those who did belong to his band, who had taken this covenant.
23 And thus they might murder, and plunder, and steal, and commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness, contrary to the laws of their country and also the laws of their God.
24 And whosoever of those who belonged to their band should reveal unto the world of their wickedness and their abominations, should be tried, not according to the laws of their country, but according to the laws of their wickedness, which had been given by Gadianton and Kishkumen.
So the following are key attributes identified above:
- Secret signs
- Secret words
- Theft which is plundering
- Disregard to civil law, but complete fidelity to the law of the organization
These attributes are certainly undesirable and should be a cause for concern if they exist today. Interestingly enough in 1828 an Anti-Masonic political party was formed in upstate New York. The party believed that Masons were forming a secret society with an effort to overthrow the government. One interesting story from the linked Wikipedia article:
The opponents of Freemasonry formed a political party after the Morgan affair convinced them the Masons were murdering men who spoke out against them. This key episode was the mysterious 1826 disappearance of William Morgan, a Freemason in upstate New York who had turned against the Masons.
What is especially surprising is how the Burned Over district (including Palmyra) was the nucleus for anti-Masonic sentiment:
Opposition to Masonry was taken up by some churches as a religious crusade, particularly in what became known as the Burned-over district. Many churches passed resolutions condemning ministers and lay leaders who were Masons, and several denominations condemned Freemasonry, including the Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist, and Baptist churches, as well as several others.
So amazingly the Book of Mormon treats with great seriousness the subject of secret combinations at the very time America was struggling with masonry. It’s almost as if the Book of Mormon was written very specifically for upstate New York circa 1830. In fact what is particularly surprising in the Book of Mormon is that the anti-masonic theme continues in Ether, despite the fact that Ether is supposed to be about a civilization a thousand years earlier than the Nephites:
In Ether 8 we read:
18 And it came to pass that they formed a secret combination, even as they of old; which combination is most abominable and wicked above all, in the sight of God;
19 For the Lord worketh not in secret combinations, neither doth he will that man should shed blood, but in all things hath forbidden it, from the beginning of man.
What is particularly troubling with these teachings in the Book of Mormon, is the later influence masonry had on the LDS Temple ceremony and Joseph Smith as a prophet in Nauvoo. Dr. Reed Durham provides a neat summary of masonic influences on the church in Nauvoo:
It is also obvious that the Nauvoo Temple architecture was in part, at least, Masonically influenced. Indeed, it appears that there was an intentional attempt to utilize Masonic symbols and motifs …
Another development in the Nauvoo Church, which has not been so obviously considered as Masonically inspired, was the establishment of the Female Relief Society. This organization was the Prophet’s intentional attempt to expand Masonry to include the women of the Church. That the Relief Society was organized in the Masonic Lodge room, and only one day after Masonry was given to the men, was not happenstance …. included in the actual vocabulary of Joseph Smith’s counsel and instructions to the sisters were such words as: ancient orders, examinations, degrees, candidates, secrets, lodges, rules, signs, tokens, order of the priesthood, and keys; all indicating that the Society’s orientation possessed Masonic overtones.
…. I suggest that enough evidence presently exists to declare that the entire institution of the political kingdom of God, including the Council of Fifty, the living constitution, the proposed flag of the kingdom, and the anointing and coronation of the king, had its genesis in connection with Masonic thoughts and ceremonies …. it appears that the Prophet first embraced Masonry, and, then in the process, he modified, expanded, amplified, or glorified it …. The Prophet believed that his mission was to restore all truth, and then to unify and weld it all together into one. This truth was referred to as ‘the Mysteries,’ and these Mysteries were inseparably connected with the Priesthood …. Can anyone deny that Masonic influence on Joseph Smith and the Church, either before or after his personal Masonic membership? The evidence demands comments …
There are many questions which still demand the answers …. if we, as Mormon historians, respond to these questions and myriads like them relative to Masonry in an ostrich-like fashion, with our heads buried in the traditional sand, then I submit: there never will be ‘any help for the widow’s son’ (Mormon Miscellaneous, October 1975, pp. 11-16, as cited in Changing World of Mormonism, Jerald and Sandra Tanner, 1981, pp. 546-547).
So the Book of Mormon condemns secret combinations, secret signs, and words, and even suggests that the Lord does not work in secret. However, today we see the influence of secrecy on LDS theology. I struggle to see how both can be right, and since both cannot be right, then either one or both must be wrong.