But Is It Priestcraft?

In popular Mormon discourse, priestcraft seems to be the descriptor of choice for things that we don’t like. Paid clergy? Check.1 CES? Check.2 Deseret Book? Check. Authors of religious books? Maybe check.3

It’s fair, I think, to be suspicious of financial interests that are wrapped up with the Church. At the very least,  such interests raise the specter of conflict-of-interest.

But—and here’s the big question—is it priestcraft?4 According to the Book of Mormon, “priestcraft” is comprised of five criteria:5

  1. Preaching
  2. Setting oneself up as a light
  3. In order to get gain
  4. In order to get worldly praise
  5. Not pursuing the welfare of Zion

Note that some are objective criteria (I’d say (1), (2), and (5)), while others are subjective. In addition, in context, these criteria appear to be conjunctive. That is, for something to be “priestcraft,” and thus forbidden by the Lord, it needs to have all of these things.

So is paid clergy priestcraft? Note that the Church has paid clergy—at least some General Authorities get a stipend. What they do is certainly preaching, but it probably misses most, if not all, of the other criteria.6 Even those Church leaders who are imperfectly prideful,7 though, and want worldly praise probably aren’t in it for gain or to denigrate the welfare of Zion.

Note that the pay issue isn’t central, in any event. An unpaid clergy member could neet all five criteria.

Deseret Book? Not a fan, but I can’t get (5), and there I probably don’t get (1), either. CES? Ditto, plus even the worst, most self-absorbed Institute instructor probably doesn’t meet (3).

Basically, priestcraft requires bad motives—such a person is acting selfishly and against the interests of Zion. And we should probably reserve the epithet for such bad acts. That’s not to say that we need to like CES, DB, or Mormon bloggers, or that we shouldn’t be suspicious of people profiting financially from their affiliation with the Church. It is saying that, as far as I can tell, the Lord hasn’t expressly forbidden these things.

Show 7 footnotes

  1. I’ll note here that I’m not claiming that any of my links asserts something as being priestcraft (though some do); I’m using the links to show that the assertion isn’t unheard-of.
  2. “In the past I have viewed CES as a bastion of anachronistic ark-steadying priestcraft.”
  3. For that matter, bloggers of all things Mormon? Ditto.
  4. And why is this the big question? Because the Lord “commanded that there shall be no priestcrafts . . . . Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing.” Because priestcraft is malum prohibitum, it’s in our best interest to avoid it. As such, we ought to know what it is.
  5. At least the way I’m slicing it—you could probably combine (3) and (4) with few ill effects.
  6. Partly it depends on whether you consider (2) as having a negative connotation or not: they arguably set themselves up as a light, providing an example for us, but it’s hard to read criterion as other than setting themselves in Jesus’ place.
  7. What, me? Prideful?

72 comments for “But Is It Priestcraft?

  1. J
    November 20, 2012 at 9:44 am

    You have basically said there is no such thing as Priestcraft, unless you can give a concrete example. Televangelists maybe? I don’t think you need all five to be considered in this category, although two or more of the necessary mix might be a requirement. Its like “secret combinations” where objectivity is near impossible for pointing out what groups belong if it takes every descriptive.

  2. Jettboy
    November 20, 2012 at 9:45 am

    That was me above. It never finished auto filling in.

  3. November 20, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Jettboy, a televangelist certainly could be engaged in priestcraft; I don’t see why he or she is inherently, though. Televangelism is just a result of the medium used to communicate with congregants. I think “priestcraft” is pretty synonymous with “antichrist” as used in the Book of Mormon (e.g., Nehor, Korihor).

    All that said, though, what about the text leads you to believe that you don’t need all of the criteria? It reads conjunctively to me; I don’t see any indication that we’re talking a facts-and-circumstances test that requires some unknown number of the criteria to meet the definition.

  4. Jax
    November 20, 2012 at 10:01 am

    How about companies like ancestry.com? I don’t know much about the company, but am under the impression it was started by LDS guys in Provo. If true, then it seems like they built a for-profit company built around the “spirit of Elijah” out there. The advertising could easily qualify as (2) – “come look at the cool things we can teach you about you!” It doesn’t meet all the requirments, but it does seem to be intent on making money from spiritual principles akin to taking money to exercise your gift of healing…

  5. November 20, 2012 at 10:11 am

    Jax, again, I’d say it’s fair to be suspicious. I don’t think it’s fair to call it “priestcraft,” though, unless we know it’s set up to get gain, worldly praise, and is not looking out for the interests of Zion. (Also, I doubt it meets (2); if we go with a definition of “I can teach you important stuff,” we start bringing a lot of clearly neutral or even good things within the potential ambit of priestcraft.)

  6. Jonathan Green
    November 20, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Whoa, Sam, are you saying we have to have reasons based on the text and actual evidence before we toss off scripture-based condemnations of things we don’t really care for? Next you’ll be telling us that RJ Reynolds isn’t a secret combination.

  7. Jax
    November 20, 2012 at 10:44 am

    @Jonathan Green: LOL

    @Sam Brunson: I’m not sure I agree with your list though Sam. Or at least that it must meet ALL the criteria. Wouldn’t a priesthood holder who has the gift of healing be practicing priestcraft if he got paid to bless people?? If that were his only wrong, he wouldn’t fit your definition, so how would that be defined by you if not as priestcraft.

  8. November 20, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Jax, I’m open to the idea that something can be priestcraft without meeting all five criteria. But I can’t get there from the text of 2 Ne. 26:29; the natural reading of that definition is conjunctive.

    That’s not to say that a priesthood holder isn’t doing anything wrong if he charges to give blessings. And charging to give blessing may meet all five criteria, in at least some circumstances. But where it doesn’t, I would argue that it is wrong for a reason other than being priestcraft. (And priestcraft is not the only wrong thing we can do, fwiw.)

  9. November 20, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Thanks for writing this, I’ll send you a check for the sum we agreed.

  10. November 20, 2012 at 11:06 am

    #9 Adam G. Awesome.

  11. November 20, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Thanks, Adam. I’ll eagerly await it.

  12. Grant Hardy
    November 20, 2012 at 11:35 am

    There are two passages in the Book of Mormon that define “priestcraft.” Sam is working from 2 Ne. 26:29, but what about Alma 1:16, which offers just three criteria: 1) love of the vain things of the world, 2) preaching false doctrines, and 3) doing so for the sake of riches and honor. Does this change our assessment of any individuals or organizations? Surely there have been at least a few seminary teachers who have promulgated folk doctrines and enjoyed the admiration of their students for doing so. Or Deseret Book authors who profited from volumes that included teachings that were later discredited. Or perhaps even scholars who were a little too excited to have their literary analysis of the Book of Mormon published by Oxford . . .

  13. J. Stapley
    November 20, 2012 at 11:44 am

    Like Grant I think there are several other places to look, particularly JS’s and other early Mormons’ use of the term (as well as the broader culture). I don’t know anything about ancient antecedents, but it is pretty easy to look at what the translator thought it meant.

  14. November 20, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I don’t know, Grant and J. Alma 1:16 doesn’t feel definitional to me.[fn] It explains why priestcrafts were spreading throughout the land, but it’s not asserting that these things = priestcraft. Or, at least, the specific “priestcraft” condemned by the Lord. (And I want to add that, because it’s specifically condemned, I think we should be very careful in our application of the term; things may be bad—though excitement for an Oxford publication could never be bad :)—but priestcraft strikes me as something more than just bad.

    And J, I have to admit (I mentioned pride earlier, right?), I’m not sold on the idea of JS’s understanding of the text necessarily being the best reading. I’m not arguing that he was somehow a savant-like translator, but, like the rest of us, his views on the Book of Mormon were clearly shaped by the environment he lived in. I’m happy to dismiss his belief that the BoM people inhabited the full North and South American continent, because I don’t think the text or the evidence supports such an assertion. Likewise, if he believed that “priestcraft” referred to any paid ministry (and I’m not saying he did—I don’t have time to type this comment today, much less actually search), I have no problem saying that the text doesn’t support such a reading.

    Again, paid ministry, DB, CES, Mormon arts-and-crafts, blogging, any of them may be a bad thing. I’m just saying, I can’t make the fit within any textual definition of “priestcraft.”

    [fn] Though I confess that I hadn’t thought of Alma 1:16; I was just reading 2 Ne. 26 (your edition, actually, Grant) last night and the specific definition leapt out at me; I haven’t blogged in a while, so I decided to go with it.

  15. Grant Hardy
    November 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I’ll leave it to others to comment on the use of the term among early Latter-day Saints, but even though the Book of Mormon sometimes adds a unique spin to common words, the place to begin might be Webster’s 1820 dictionary, which offers the following definition: “PRIESTCRAFT, n. [priest and craft.] The stratagems and frauds of priests; fraud or imposition in religious concerns; management of selfish and ambitious priests to gain wealth and power, or to impose on the credulity of others.” This seems to match up pretty well with the Book of Mormon’s usage. One difference, however, is that Webster’s talk of priests seems to carry a tint of anti-Catholicism, whereas the Book of Mormon frequently condemns priestcraft as an element of modern American culture, which has long been dominated religiously by Protestant clergy. I wonder if we shouldn’t be just a bit suspicious of anything in the modern LDS Church that reflects the practices and products of popular Christianity. Have you ever noticed how the wares in LDS bookstores–not just books, but also pictures, games, toys, and inspirational geegaws–seem to mimic those available in Christian bookstores?

  16. Grant Hardy
    November 20, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Wait, one more sentence:
    To take something religious that is not derived from the Restored Gospel, or may even be somewhat antithetical to it, and then say, “Hey, if we put a Mormon twist on this we could sell it and make money!”–doesn’t that fit a minimal definition of priestcraft?

  17. Sam Brunson
    November 20, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Grant, thanks. That definition does agree, in broad strokes, with what the Lord seems to be getting at in 2 Ne., and I can certainly see why JS would have chosen the word in that context.

    That said, I don’t see any need for the English word “priestcraft” to line up exactly with whatever Reformed Egyptian word(s) was in that spot, especially since the text provides a definition. (Note that what follows is the lawyer in me.) When I read the Internal Revenue Code, a contract, or pretty much any other legal thing, I generally assume that words have their ordinary meaning. Unless the Code, contract, or whatever, provides a definition of that word, in which case, all bets are off.

    I don’t want to push this too far, because the BoM is clearly not a legal document. But I feel like when we assign something to the category of “priestcraft” because we don’t like it, the concept “priestcraft” is hollowed of any meaning or value. And that would be fine with me, in most cases, except that the concept is condemned in pretty much the strongest terms in the BoM. And because it is treated as such a really, really, terribly bad thing, I think we should be really careful calling something “priestcraft.” If we really need a word for exploitative commercial things that we really don’t like, we should probably come up with one that isn’t quite so freighted.

    I suggest “sucky.”

  18. jennifer reuben
    November 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    the wares at lds bookstores mimic those avilable in Christian bookstores because they either are the same products or the creator is trying for the large market. Naming no name but some of the current blogs that may have orginally started as “Mormon” now meet most of your criteria for priest craft.

  19. Sam Brunson
    November 20, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Also, I have to confess I haven’t spent much (any?) time in Christian bookstores, and I haven’t been to a DB in probably 4 or 5 years. I certainly agree that a lot of what they sell is tacky, treacly, and otherwise aesthetically and religiously offensive. I’m just not ready to say that it is deserving of special disapprobation from the Lord.

  20. Grant Hardy
    November 20, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    But is “priestcraft” an all or nothing sort of thing? Perhaps there is a scale along the lines of, say, pride. Drawing a bright circle around something, which conveniently excludes us, may blind us to our own faults and weaknesses. Another way to get at meaning is to look at context. In 3 Nephi 16:10, 21:19, and 30:2, the term “priestcraft” appears in lists, which also include lyings, deceits, mischiefs, hypocrisies, murders, whoredoms, secret abominations, deceivings, envyings, strifes, and idolatries. All of these are treated equally as “really, really, terrribly bad things.” Murder may be an all-or-nothing sin (I’m ignoring manslaughter here), but mischief? hypocrisy? deceit? envy? Most of the other offenses are less cut-and-dried. Which category does priestcraft fit in–sliding scale or once-and-out?

  21. gp
    November 20, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Lowell Bennion’s biographer quotes him as saying that he always felt uncomfortable getting paid to teach the gospel, and that discomfort was a (probably minor, but real) factor in his decision to take an administrative job at the U rather than write books or teach at the Y once it was clear he could not continue as an institute director at the U.

  22. Sam Brunson
    November 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Grant, I guess it kind of depends on your (and my) purpose in categorizing sins. I think you’re right for purposes of introspection; I don’t want to define sin in a way that ensures that I’m not a sinner. As I work to repent and progress, there’s probably value to an expansive definition of sin, so that I’m forced to work hard to become better, rather than justifying my way out of bad acts.

    But in terms of looking at others’ actions, I’d lean the other way and define the sin as narrowly as possible. Trying to make others’ actions fall within the circle of sin strikes me as uncharitable and unhelpful—if I say they are sinning (e.g., by engaging in priestcraft), that sets me apart from them, makes me feel superior to them, but doesn’t really make the world better in any way (because I cannot repent or grow for them).

    There certainly may be exceptions to my impulse to narrow definitions—a bishop or stake president, for example, may want to use a more expansive definition of sin in helping his congregant repent, but that comes close to the introspective side rather than the external and judgmental.

  23. Brian
    November 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    The greatest (worst?) example of priestcraft that I see right now is doTerra. Has anyone else been approached with promises of “spiritual healing?” Or been asked if a doTerra rep can “annoint” their child to cure her cancer? It’s shocking. It’s disgusting. It’s sad. I don’t know if this is how they are trained, but I see an excommunication coming for a woman in our stake.

  24. Grant Hardy
    November 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Nicely put, Sam. I entirely agree with your observations about the difference between introspective assessment and denouncing others. But another distinction that might be considered is the difference between individuals who sin and organizations or social systems that tend to enable certain kinds of spiritual problems. It may be possible to condemn a professional clergy in general, while nevertheless allowing that individual priests or ministers might be devout, self-sacrificing, insightful interpreters of the Bible. Similarly, can those of us on the inside also look at Mormon institutions introspectively with a critical eye, perhaps without calling out people by name in Sunday School?

  25. Steve Smith
    November 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I’m not sure that “not pursuing the welfare of Zion” is necessarily an objective criterion. Nor is “the preaching of false doctrine.” A seminary teacher who teaches what some regard as a “folk doctrine” can often argue the idea’s doctrinal basis by digging up sayings of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. Certainly some doctrines, such as the need for the baptism of newborns, falls outside the general consensus among LDS leaders. But other items, such as the idea that blacks were less valiant in the pre-earth life used to be considered doctrinal, but have now fallen outside that realm.

    Whether or not some idea or act is for the overall welfare of Zion is rather subjective in many cases, wouldn’t you think? Randy Bott could argue that he is trying to restore Zion to a doctrine that it has forgotten. While others could claim that he is tarnishing the LDS church’s image.

  26. dkun
    November 20, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    I’m pretty sure those companies that will send cookies to missionaries for you are examples of priestcraft.
    Preaching : Getting involved in missionary service is done through the distribution of baked goods.
    Setting oneself up as a light : Only providing two options – sugar and chocolate chip : There are other correct cookie choices.
    In order to get gain : Selling flour, sugar, eggs and a little heat at 5x market value. (those cookies aren’t that good).
    In order to get worldly praise : Marketing themselves as a virtuous service that is supporting the work.
    Not pursuing the welfare of Zion : Fatter missionaries.

    Most of all, I have seen into their souls and I isn’t pretty.

  27. November 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    I’d rather think of priestcraft as being something bigger than oil sellers or the makers of such Mormon kitsch as “My Baptism Towel.” Let’s think on the scale of the crusades, people. Or the inquisition. Or McNaughton paintings.

  28. Colleen
    November 20, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    I’m just going to throw this out there since I’ve been saying it (privately) for years. Glenn Beck!

  29. Steve Smith
    November 20, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Colleen, +1. Add charlatan, sensationalist, and fraud as well.

  30. November 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    I would submit that priestcraft doesn’t have to have all five, rather it must have all three like below:

    1) preach OR set oneself up to be a light
    2) to get gain OR to get praise of the world (as opposed to God’s praise)
    and 3) not in seeking the will of Zion.

    Therefore, a man being paid to give blessings would qualify. So would a person writing a book for profit or praise of a particular group claiming to define application of gospel principles to support their agenda. So would a person blogging principles in order to get praise in order to further their own agendas.

    I think the most difficult to determine is 3) because so many people claim to want the welfare of Zion, when it is only according to their own understanding of what Zion needs, and they do not seek God’s will for them. In many cases, only God can discern priestcraft from honest efforts to serve in the Kingdom. But some cases are pretty obvious even to us mere mortals.

  31. November 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    Of course, “will of Zion” should have been “welfare of Zion.” *l*

  32. JR
    November 21, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Does the Church’s hunting preserve count? BTW which I feel is wrong.
    Not trying to start arguments.
    And I agree with the Glen Beck comment.
    What about those who no longer believe in gospel doctrine, keep that information to themselves, and continue to present themselves as a good, active, worthy member, and if male use the priesthood to bless people, etc., all because they like the social aspects of church.?

  33. Sam Brunson
    November 21, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Re: Glenn Beck: No. That’s precisely what I’m trying to move away from. See, I get you—I’m not a fan of his substance or style, but, to the extent priestcraft has any meaning beyond simply things I do not like, you can’t get there.

    In the end, I wouldn’t care if “priestcraft” were hollowed of all meaning except that it comes in for specific condemnation from the Lord. That is, when you accuse somebody of practicing priestcraft, you’re making a pretty serious accusation, per Mormon scripture,[fn] and such an accusation shouldn’t be taken lightly.

    So call him a charlatan, sensationalist, or fraud. Picket or protest or ignore him. (Frankly, I lean toward the last option.) But if you’re going to accuse him (or anybody else) of practicing priestcraft, you need to be able to lay out the criteria you’re using and demonstrate (a) why those criteria apply, and (b) that he meets the test you’ve laid out.

    [fn] See Alma 1:12, 15. Nehor is essentially convicted of (a) introducing priestcraft, (b) attempting to enforce it, and (c) killing an innocent, and he’s executed for it. I don’t know whether priestcraft was a capital crime in Book of Mormon days, but it’s at least serious enough that it’s mentioned in the justifications for Nehor’s execution.

  34. anonlds
    November 21, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I would rephrase “not pursuing the welfare of Zion” I’m not sure intent matters. Someone can charge for blessings, do it privately without seeking any praise, give the money to the church, and honestly believe that charging money and giving that money to the church helps the welfare of zion. Afterall the person paying for the blessing can afford it and the church needs the money. I still think that is priestcraft.

    What about finanically struggling parents who haven’t paid their tithing and want the blessing of being able to attend the temple to see their son married? Does requiring them to pay up to receive that blessing qualify as priestcraft? Can the church itself practice priestcraft or by definition can the church not, as priestcraft must operate without the churches blessing? If the latter, I’m not sure you can include Deseret Book. I tend to believe the church itself can be imperfect and act in priestcrafty ways.

  35. Rob Perkins
    November 21, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    Whatever Beck is doing, he hasn’t killed anyone over it.

  36. Sharee
    November 21, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Our stake used to have Friday morning classes that there was a charge for. Then a recent stake president decided there should not be a charge to study the gospel, and instead of hiring the teachers, the stake called them. Our current teacher is very knowledgeable in both Church History and Book of Mormon. He gives extensive handouts and refuses to take money for them, as he says people should not have to pay to study the gospel. I did give him a ream of paper one time and I believe some of the other class members have made similar gifts. However, he is retired and has the time to teach the class without pay. For some teachers, that is their profession,the means whereby they support their families, and I would not call it priestcraft. I think the number one criteria for priestcraft is evil intent.

  37. Bryan in VA
    November 21, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    If anyone wants to see an example of full blown larger than life priestcraft, read up on Walter Gibson Murray.


    I only know of him anecdotally and found this link via Google. I don’t know whether there’s a more in depth history of him somewhere.

  38. Suleiman
    November 23, 2012 at 1:07 am

    I’m not so sure you can include Deseret Book. I don’t think we could ever accuse them of seeking the praise of the world when they obviously haven’t published any thing remotely praiseworthy by any rational human being in ages…

    Oops, I guess they did publish “The God Who Weeps.” Yep, they are an example of priestcraft.

    And as long we are passing judgement, we have to include those poisonous schemers who play up church positions to prey on the savings and retirements of the naive and elderly among us…

  39. H. Bob
    November 23, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    I wonder, Sam, how what you wrote in #19 is any different than a work acquaintance telling you, “No, I haven’t read the Book of Mormon, but based on some stuff I read on the internet, it’s obviously a fraud of the first order”? That is, if you haven’t shopped at a Christian bookstore, and haven’t bought anything from Deseret Book, how do you know what it is you’re so roundly criticizing?

  40. November 24, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Hey Bob, where do I roundly criticize DB? I don’t generally dig their products (I am familiar with what they publish), but calling their products treacly seems pretty light on the round criticism.

  41. H. Bob
    November 24, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    If “treacly” were the only critical word in that sentence, then yeah, I’d say that was pretty light. But you did also say “otherwise aesthetically and religiously offensive.” I wouldn’t, for example, buy a Simon Dewey or Greg Olsen print to put on my wall (or the ubiquitous Arnold Friberg of George Washington praying next to his horse), but I wouldn’t call any of those religiously offensive. And I might buy a J. Kirk Richards or Walter Rane or Brian Kershisnik or James Christensen painting, all of which are available from DB. (I note parenthetically here that the only Jon McNaughton paintings and prints available at DB are temples and landscapes and Church history scenes–that probably says more than my previous paragraph.)
    As Suleiman notes (sarcastically, I think) in #38, The God Who Weeps is a Deseret Book product, as are any number of General Authority-penned titles. Which of those qualify as treacly or aesthetically offensive? While I do think Deseret Book hit its nadir several years ago when they were selling logo-ripoff T-shirts and (my personal favorite) the gold-plated plastic Angel Moroni Christmas tree topper, I think they’re lightyears better now than they have been.
    And while it’s the “cool kids” pose to scoff at anything they carry as “religiously offensive,” there must be some “there” there, or they’d have gone out of business by now. The God Who Weeps is going to be a good indicator of whether or not DB should move a little out of the “safe” zone that they’ve been in and take a chance on more intellectually and doctrinally speculative material. The success or failure of TGWW, along with the noted (and I think surprising) success with the Joseph Smith Papers, should indicate to those interested that there’s an audience for good, intellectually rigorous, and well-written doctrinal and even speculative books. While there will always be books in that category that Deseret Book, because of its relationship with the Church, won’t (can’t) publish, it is encouraging that we’re getting them not only from DB, but from Oxford and a host of other university presses.

  42. November 24, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Bob, per it’s website, DB carries Cleon Skousen, which I’d put in the religiously offensive camp. It carries Best-Loved Poems of the LDS people, which I’d classify as aesthetically offensive. And it carries music which, if it’s at all like what was playing the last time I went to one, qualifies as treacly. So no, as I said, DB is not engaged in priest craft. But it clearly carries religiously and aesthetically offensive and treacly material (which, I’ll point out, I never claimed was its exclusive stock). As such, I stand by my statement.

  43. Jonathan Green
    November 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    H., the key phrase in Sam’s comment is “a lot of what they sell,” which isn’t the same as “everything they sell.” You’d be hard pressed to find a store of any kind that doesn’t sell a lot of things that are tacky, treacly, or otherwise offensive (by somebody’s definition).

    I think DB serves a useful purpose, but I also have the impression (based on a couple trips into one of their stores followed by a quick scan of the shelves) that most of what they sell isn’t quite what I’m looking for. Tastes differ.

  44. Meldrum the Less
    November 24, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Does getting compensated with a modest living allowance you are unwilling or ashamed to acknowledge in public qualify as priestcraft? Snarkiness aside, is there any reliable information out there as to exactly what amount these modest sums might be? If not, why not?

    “Modest in comparison with executive compensation in industry” could mean anything up to hundreds of millions. Does this acknowledge the church really is first a corporation if its leaders expect to be paid like corporate executives? And they won’t let me spend a few shekels for a ward party because it might endanger the tax exempt status of the church?

    Drive past those summer cabins owned by several GA’s up above The Homstead in Midway, Utah. Makes me kinda nervous. Not from the avalanches either.

  45. November 24, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    Meldrum, you tell me. Does it meet any scriptural definition of priestcraft? If not (and, incidentally, it doesn’t), you may be uncomfortable with it, but it Is. Not. Priestcraft.

  46. Meldrum the Less
    November 25, 2012 at 8:36 am

    Bro. Brunson:

    Placing final authority with the scriptures is a defining characteristic of the Protestants. Both Catholics and Mormons do not place final authority in scriptures but on their leaders; an infallible Pope in one case and inspired Prophets in the other. I disagree respectfully with your presumption that scriptural definitions are final.

    However, I concede that from this traditional Mormon perspective the leaders can determine whatever allowance they wish for themselves, scriptures be damned, and so my argument strengthens your position considerably. (Is. Not. Priestcraft.) Priestcraft is logically impossible when we hold prophetic pronouncements above scripture, which we do. Convenient, priestcraft is what other people do, not us. By. Definition.

    Aside from legalistic considerations, in the spirit of fairness and compassion, I would like to make a modest proposal, lets yoke the oxen the other way. “Modest” should be defined by inspiration as a level of tithing income with which the church can easily do without. Everyone earning less income than the modest living allowance of the top leadership should be exempt from the blessings of paying tithing.

    All in favor manifest by the usual sign?

  47. Mark
    November 25, 2012 at 10:58 am

    I have always wondered about this as it relates to those on the so called “circuit” of LDS speakers. For sure they meet some of the criteria (honor of men, gain from CD sales & books). False doctrine may be a stretch for most that I’ve heard. But if they are mingling their own thoughts and no authority is present to ensure doctrine is pure then it could fit that one too. I don’t know if one has to meet all of these items to be considered a priestcrafter. Setting themselves up as a light (intentionally or otherwise) may be just enough. Think about those who flattered many away in the BoM. It was mostly to get honor and gain. Becoming a “popular” LDS speaker might just be the same.

  48. Rob Perkins
    November 25, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I draw from the Seminary curriculum that Sam Brunson’s scriptural definition of priestcraft is precisely what is intended to be taught to teenagers in the Church. That curriculum is (mostly) correlated, I think. That suggests to me that the scriptural definition is in harmony with the traditional Mormon perspective on prophetic leadership: The institution-Church upholds the final authority of that scripture.

    The logic that flows from supporting the Twelve and the Seventy at $120k/year/person or so, or whatever the amount is, while observing that some of them have investment property in pleasant places also depends on its source. Because its source is not the tithes and offerings, I don’t suppose that I have a say in amounts or disposition, or a reason to become critical.

  49. Sam Brunson
    November 25, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    Meldrum, unless I’m misreading you, you want to use the scriptures’ condemnation of priestcraft while divorcing it from scriptural (or any other) definition. But that doesn’t work. The only reason “priestcraft” is a bad thing is because scripture tells us it is. Moreover, scripture defines for us just what it is condemning. If you don’t like its definition, propose another, explain where it comes from, and explain why it is bad. Otherwise, by “priestcraft,” you mean “things with which I am not comfortable.” Which is fine, but is not priestcraft. Cc: Mark—I’m not familiar with the lecture circuit, but if someone is violating divine proscription, we need to be able to see where that proscription arises, and why it is not conjunctive (which is the natural reading).

  50. Meldrum the Less
    November 25, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Bro. Brunson:

    External versus internal moral reasoning. Nothing inconsistent from the internal perspective.

    Scriptures teach us HOW to think, not necessarily WHAT to think.

    I reserve the possibility that I can determine what is right or wrong through my own reasoning and inspiration in some matters. Not commanded in all things. It might not be infallible but this has other advantages. For example, I have nobody to blame when I screw up. I don’t blame the church or the scriptures or the prophets when their errors are revealed that have a negative impact on me.

    The question of whether my church leaders are taking too much income from the offerings is not so complex that I can’t figure it out. I don’t need a scripture to tell when someone is stealing from us like that. The problem is that none of us know the simple fact of what the amount of their “modest allowance” might be and upon this fulcrum turns all of our analysis.

    What doesn’t work is this discussion, without access to the basic facts of the subject and that is my point.

    Let me illustrate: My crazy cousin who washes dishes at (Up)-Chuck-a-rama claims his friend used to work in the church finance department and left the church in disgust when he found out the obscene amounts the GA’s get. He reports that the Q12 has a “modest allowance” of $800,000 per year plus expenses. It would be nice to have a reliable source that says it was $60,000 or some other reasonable amount. (To him even $60,000 might seem like too much but that is another story.) Or to lay awake at night and wonder if my crazy cousin might be right, under the principle that even a blind squirrel finds a few acorns and I have no way to crack this particular nut.

    I like to know how much things cost. Even if I am going to pay for them anyway. Is that asking too much? Apparently so.

  51. Sam Brunson
    November 25, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Meldrum, you are certainly entitled to evaluate yourself what is right and wrong, using your own idiosyncratic criteria, in the same way I and everybody else does. My sole modest point is, if you see something that strikes you as wrong and claim that thing constitutes priestcraft, but it doesn’t meet a scriptural definition of priestcraft, you are misusing the term. Full stop.

    If it makes you feel better, “priestcraft” is not the only wrong thing that we can do. I do assert, though, that paid clergy =/= priestcraft, and that unpaid clergy is not automatically not clergy.

  52. Sam Brunson
    November 25, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    And, although it is entirely outside the scope of this post, you aren’t “paying for” general authorities any more than you are “paying for” your doctor, attorney, or teacher and, unless you have information I don’t, accusing them of stealing from the church is both offensive and entirely unfounded. Per my “Entirely Privately” thread from a couple months ago, it looks like the general consensus in US culture is that our salaries are a private matter. As much as you would like to know what the stipend is, I don’t see any legal, social, or religious reason why you are entitled to—or frankly, should—know.

  53. jennifer reuben
    November 25, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    many of the salaries paid to general authorities can be located if you are truely interested under their para-church responsiblies(officer of church owned businesses etc.) I personally hope they receive enough to free them for their important and full time work within the kingdom of God.

  54. whizzbang
    November 25, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I recall Elder John M. Madsen then of the Seventy coming to our stake in 2007 and his shoes could not have been any older, his scriptures are what I would consider very, very well read. Elder Marion D. Hanks was in a rest home for sometime before he passed and I hope that the Church was footing the bill as he was called to be a General Authority at what like all of 31? that doesn’t leave much time to get some retirement fund going.

  55. Meldrum the Less
    November 26, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Bro. Brunson:

    I percieve that you are getting pissed at me. Rather than being a weenie and retreating, in the spirit of going to a brother and trying to resolve a disagreement, I hesitantly reply.

    We can neither misuse nor not misuse the term priestcraft without further information. That is my point. Full Stop.

    Why do you repeatedly attempt to force me to make a judgment without this information? You accuse me of accusing them of stealing while you also say they are not. How can we determine this without knowing the amount of the modest allowance?

    Your idiosyncratic and actually useful 5 point criteria of priestcraft, point #3 “get gain” about covers it if the allowances are excessive. I refuse to permit you to label my point as any more idiosyncratic than your points aand then to blithely dismiss it.

    “…accusing them of stealing from the church is both offensive and entirely unfounded…” Wait a minute how can you say the accusation is unfounded if there is no foundation either way? The defense that they are not taking too much is what is entirely unfounded. As far as offensive, it is not offensive any more than any other inconvenient truth if in fact it is true. Which you have not demosntrated.

    I have no legal social or religious reason to be entitled to know what they are paid? Then why all the fuss? Obviously, visible public figures do have this obligation. It is not like I am asking for their shoe sizes or the time of day of first sexual intercourse or some other irrelevant piece of information. Besides, last time I checked it was the LDS church that is constantly trumpeting the claim that they have no paid clergy. The LDS church creates this obligation when they so loudly and broadly make this claim and go further when they lamblast other ministers for getting paid.

  56. Sam Brunson
    November 26, 2012 at 11:22 am

    We can neither misuse nor not misuse the term priestcraft without further information.

    I’ve provided a definition of “priestcraft.” If you don’t agree that mine is the definition, you’re welcome to propose an alternative definition and indicate how you derived it. But if your derivation is some version of This is how I think it is, you’re not going to convince me.

    Your idiosyncratic and actually useful 5 point criteria of priestcraft, point #3 “get gain” about covers it if the allowances are excessive.

    Covers what? I’ve said that the list is, by any reasonable reading, conjunctive (that is, in order for something to be “priestcraft,” it has to meet all five criteria). I find that the most natural reading; in 30, SilverRain, while keeping the conjunctivity, rearranges the criteria to require each of three things. I’m not convinced by her grouping, but if she were to come back, she could explain why she thinks that’s a better grouping. Though I’m not convinced, what she’s trying to to is rigorous, and presents an actual counterargument. But saying that satisfying one criterion meets the definition does not cover anything.

    Moreover, to the extent it did, “get gain” is not the criterion; rather, that criterion is a mens rea criterion: the priestcrafter must be doing the bad thing she is doing in order to get gain.

    Wait a minute how can you say the accusation is unfounded if there is no foundation either way?

    The accusation is unfounded because you have no foundation on which you’re alleging theft. When you make an allegation, you need to have some sort of evidence on which you’re basing the accusation; otherwise, it is, definitionally, unfounded.

    Obviously, visible public figures do have this obligation.

    No they don’t. I have no idea how much Brad Pitt or Brandon Flowers makes. Heck, I don’t know how much Jeff Bezos makes. (On Bezos: I know how much Amazon pays him, because, as a publicly-traded company, it’s required to make certain SEC filings. If it weren’t public, it would have no disclosure obligation. But I assume that he earns more than the $1.68 million he gets from Amazon, because I assume he invests, and that money isn’t subject to public disclosure.)

    I get that you’re apparently uncomfortable with church leaders being paid. But, though you’ve thrown around unfounded accusations of criminal behavior and asserted that priestcraft means “just what [you] choose it to mean—neither more nor less,” you haven’t made a substantive point.

    At this point, I don’t have time to engage unless you’re interested in discussing priestcraft in a substantive and meaningful way.

  57. Meldrum the Less
    November 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

    I am reminded when I was a missionary in Japan and sometimes I would look up every word in a sentence and still not understand what was said. Honestly, I am confused about what you are saying on several points and it appears to me that you are likewise in the same boat? Are we talking past each other?

    It is obvious you are as unconfortable as I am with this topic and that you are distorting/exaggerating at least a little bit of what I said: nowhere have I stated that it is “criminal” for church leaders to take any ridiculous amount of money given to them. Criminal? Jail time? Really now.

    Let me go legalistic in an effort to be meaningful and presume your 5 criteria are close enough for government work. I am confused. I thought any one of them was enough to define priestcraft coupled with the first. Are they all “and” statements or “or” statements? It seems that from your remarks you see them as a mixture? If a person met the first 4 criteria, but not the 5th would that be sufficient to call it priestcraft? Or some other mixtures? Are these black-and-white definitions of priestcraft ? Or might there be grey areas?

    I doubt anyone would disagree that every LDS member who has served a mission or held any position of responsibility or given a talk, lesson, or testimony has preached. (#1)

    Set themselves up as a light, I think implies some power or authority and the determination of whether God called one to it or they called themselves to it requires the reading of God’s mind. We can’t even read each others statements in plain English and comprehend their meanings. Since we can’t determine this, it isn’t very useful except in the hypothetical. Can we agree that our church leaders have been set up as a light by someone, either God or us as the church or themselves? (#2)

    The last three all seem to be “or” statements. I think if someone is doing any one of them in addition to #1, they are doing priestcraft. But it is difficult to nail down the last two.

    Attract worldly praise is quite nebulous to determine but sufficient exposure to the media and large enough audiences at their sermons seem to be adequate. Can we agree that our leaders have attracted a high amount of praise, possibly justified by their good leadership? And the distinction of worldly from godly praise might be hard to differentiate without again reading God’s mind? (#4)

    Not pursuing the welfare of Zion is extremely nebulous to me. Either you think they are generally doing God’s work or not. It does again imply intention to me but not strongly. (#5)

    That really leaves me placing an enormous weight on the middle one, #3 getting gain as the easiest and most objective measure of priestcraft. We can look at how much gain and determine whether that is acceptable or too much. If it is too much, the other dominos seem to fall over with it. That is the way I see priestcraft.

    Another useful test case might be my relative, Meldrum the Great. I refer to Rod Meldrum and his geography theories. Is this priestcraft? Because I can tell you one thing for certain; he is not meeting your #3, not even close. He sincerely thinks God has callded him and he thinks he is doing this for the welfare of Zion, pointing to hundreds of reactivations. So about the only point beyond preaching where he might be vulnerable is #4 setting himself up as a light, which is laughable if you know him. He is no luminary. But if I were to tell you he made millions last year, does that influence your assessment that he might be practicing priestcraft?

    If I understand your latin terms (which I don’t really) what you are saying is: if the 12th apostle is being paid $100 million dollars a month and we don’t know it and we are all claiming they are unpaid except when pressed we admit a “modest allowance” and (this is the big one), if he is otherwise doing God’s work in every other way, that is acceptable. That cool $100 million a month is not practicing priestcraft?

    Because, I might have a problem with it. And at levels much less than my example.

    Another perspective which I borrow from the legal beagles (I am not in that kennel) is the concept of burden of proof. This theoretically can be placed on either shoulder, there is no inherent moral reason to define it favorably in one direction or the other. The American presumption of innocence is a gift, not an inherent principle. If I say the church leaders allowances are not modest, for example, is the burden of proof upon me to determine the amount or is the burden of proof upon them? Do they merely say it is modest, trust us? Or would it be wise to say exactly what it is and let us determine what is modest?

    The word “unfounded” has been tossed both directions. One thing we can agree upon is that they are getting something. That is the beginning of a foundation that they are geting too much. Especialy since we don’t know how much. I think we cross swords on this point. Y’all think the burden of proof is upon me even though I have no means to determine it. I think I need to know how much a modest allowance might be to do it. I am trying vainly to convince y’all that since we are the church bragging about “no paid clergy,” that this burden of proof is upon our church leaders.

    In general, I see modern Mormons often side-stepping the burden of proof for mere plausibility. Yet I am unconfortable doing it when I read the parting words of Jesus that say, “Go ye into all the world”… I feel a strong sense that the claims of the Christian religion are accompanied with a strong burden of proof.

    I hold the apostles of Jesus Christ to this high standard and I am disappointed when it is not being met. When squabbling over “modest allowance” is a barrier to the gospel message. And it is a barrier for me. Aside from every legal, moral, social or religious argument, I am still left wondering: Why can’t they tell us how much their modest allowance is? Because for me it is a crucial criteria in assessing priestcraft.

  58. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    November 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Spreading covetous gossip based on nothing but third hand accusations is something that the scriptures condemn, and it is being committed right here in the blog comments.

    Frankly I don’t know of any particular evidence that General authorities have a significantly higher income than other executives of a comparably sized organization. Owning a vacation home is not unusual for people who were successful in their professions, and most of the GAs were just that BEFORE they were called to full time Church service. I have not seen any evidence of conspicuous consumption by GAs or their families. If Dieter Uchtdorf had money to burn, wouldn’t he have a first class private plane to amuse himself with?

    Instead I see guys who put in long hours, including travel (which is not fun).

  59. Adam G.
    November 26, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I don’t agree with your criteria.

    I don’t think the fifth criterion is real. The scripture you cite seems to merely restate not pursuing the welfare of Zion as the same as the previous criteria, just expressed in different terms. In other words, my sense of the verse is that it doesn’t envision any situation where one sets oneself up as a light to get gain, etc., etc., but is also pursuing the welfare of Zion. If you really care about Zion, that is a line you don’t cross.

    Now, I also see the first and second and the third and fourth categories as disjunctive. In other words, I see the verse as suggesting that priestcraft is combination from the class of actions that includes preaching and setting oneself up as a light with one from the class of motives that includes wealth and status. I agree that the syntax uses ‘and’ and would be more naturally read your way if there were no other considerations. But there are other considerations, to wit, that your interpretation doesn’t make sense to me. I can see no reason why it would be seriously objectionable to set yourself up as a priest or prophet because you wanted sweet cash from your dupe parishioners and also because you wanted deference and respect, but not just as objectionable if you could care less about the deference and respect but still were invoking God to milk your desperate believers for all they’re worth.

  60. Sam Brunson
    November 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Adam, let me make sure I understand you: do you essentially read the criteria as [(1 or 2) AND (3 or 4)]? That would make sense, but I don’t think the text supports it, and I don’t think (5) is merely redundant.

    That said, maybe I can ease your mind on your other considerations: I’m not by any means asserting that, just because it’s not priestcraft, it’s not a bad thing. That is, it may well be seriously objectionable to set oneself up as a priest for the sake of sweet, sweet cash; I can’t read the scriptural definition as making that, by itself, priestcraft. That doesn’t mean, though, that it is necessarily in line with God’s plan.

    Along with that, Meldrum, you ask, “But if I were to tell you he made millions last year, does that influence your assessment that he might be practicing priestcraft?”

    My answer: no. I don’t know who Rod Meldrum is, but if, as you say, he is sincerely pursuing the good of Zion (however misguidedly), he’s not a priestcrafter. That doesn’t mean that he’s not acting in some objectionable manner (though, because I know nothing about him, I can’t speak beyond hypotheticals). It doesn’t mean that I have to take him seriously. But I don’t get the right to dismiss him as a priestcrafter—instead, I have to engage with him and what he does and, to the extent it requires my judgment, I have to have an independent basis for that judgment.

    And, simply for the record, I am unconcerned with how much (or little) GAs are paid; I should, however, be concerned with how I feel about the money I do (or do not) earn. But both concerns are entirely unrelated to priestcraft.

  61. daniel d smtih
    November 26, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    As I understand the orignal post you are arguing that Nephi’s definition of priestcraft is best represented by the following statement.

    Priestcraft IF AND ONLY IF 1 AND 2 AND 3 AND 4 AND 5

    This obviously ignores the complexity of what Nephi actually states. I’m not sure if this is done solely on the the assertion that each of the constructions Nephi uses can be reduced to a conjunction of if a more complex logical statement was simplified to arrive at this final statement. Either way I think it would be appropriate to state explicitly why each of Nephi’s grammatical constructions should be reduced to a conjunction.

    I think that #59 comes much closer to what Nephi actually intends and with some improvements is actually much better supported by the text than the solely conjunctive statement. I would represent Nephi’s statement as:

    Priestcraft IF {[1 OR 2] IF [(3 OR 4) AND 5]}

    Your statement represents “priestcraft are …” with the biconditional IF AND ONLY IF. I prefer the conditional IF to the biconditional IF AND ONLY IF. As a general rule natural language rarely actually employs the biconditional. Even when trying to define something people are rarely successful creating a necessary and sufficient definition and I don’t see any indication that Nephi was particularly careful in this regard.

    The following clause, “that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world”, is the complement to “priestcraft”. This is the core of the definition and everything that follows it is subordinate. An argument could be made that the next clause, “that they may get gain and praise of the world”, is actually parallel to the first clause and “that” is a repeated complementizer rather than a subordinate conjunction. I don’t find this convincing because it seems natural that getting gain and praise are the results of the preaching and setting oneself up in the previous clause. The two phrases are not exactly grammatically parallel either. So IF seems most appropriate to join these to compound statements.

    Internally both these statements use “and” which would generally be reasonably represent by the conjunction AND (wouldn’t it be nice if it were so easy). In the case of gain and praise, I think Nephi is actually using a merism and representing the entire set of possible goals with two notable parts of the set. In this case the merism refers to all possible rewards tangible (gain) and intangible (praise). In this case it would be more appropriate to use the disjunction OR. In the case of the first clause I would be willing to concede that AND may be equally appropriate (I don’t thing the pair constitutes a merism) but ultimately I don’t think it possible to preach and not set oneself up as a light.

    Finally I think that “but they seek not the welfare of Zion” to be on the same syntactic level as the the previous subordinate clause. In this case I think we agree that AND is the most appropriate connective.

  62. November 27, 2012 at 12:04 am

    Aargh—I lost my comment and it’s late, so: thanks, daniel. You present a compelling analysis that I’ll hae to consider.

    One thing, and I don’t know if it affects your analysis or not, but I’m not sure that this should be read as natural language. Nephi seems to be presenting a legal definition of a (potentially capital) crime. Given his familiarity with whatever parts of the Hebrew Bible were contained in the Brass Plates, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that he would be familiar with legal constructions. If that’s the case, even if biconditionals aren’t the norm in regular language, can you assume them out of technical legal language?

  63. November 27, 2012 at 12:23 am

    Also, you ask why I think reading it as entirely conjunctive is the best reading. Essentially, it’s for the simplicity. In general, “Thou shalt not” commandments are and should be easily parsed. As elegant as I think your reading is, it’s complicated, and, in order for the hearer to know what she should not do, she has to evaluate the various levels. Reding each as being a required element of the sin of priestcraft is easier to understand, and thus avoid, while staying true to the text laying out the definition of the sin.

  64. November 27, 2012 at 3:26 am

    Sam Brunson,

    yes, that’s my reading. I’m not offended by yours or anything, and admit that yours has points in its favor. I just don’t think its the best reading of the passage.

    You say that your reading is simpler and doesn’t tax the reader with a complicated textual analysis at various levels of meaning. I disagree, because I arrived at my reading without any conscious analysis whatever. My lame attempts to justify my reading in #69 are post hoc. The number of Mormons who have looser definitions of priestcraft (i.e., 99% of them) is also evidence, though not proof, that a reading closer to mine and Dan’s doesn’t require sophistication.

    One last fine distinction: I am gratified that you think bad things are bad even if they aren’t technically priestcraft as you understand it. But I am not claiming that priestcraft must have a broader definition because otherwise bad things would be OK. I am claiming that there are no meaningful distinctions between an individual preaching and setting himself up as a light to the world to get gain and status, and an individual privately preaching to a select and exclusive group to get gain and status. I am further claiming that I prefer readings of scripture that do not make meaningless distinctions as I understand them.

    While Nephi may be writing as if in a legal code–I have my doubts, but don’t know–I’m not sure that we should read it the same way. Since we are supposed to reason from scripture and liken it to ourselves, expanding narrower scripture categories into broader contemporary ones is not presumptively wrong.

  65. daniel d smith
    November 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Yes it is possible that Nephi could be employing technical legal language. The distinction I was trying to make was between the mathematical language of logical connectives and non-mathematical, natural language. Even the heightened precision of legal language often falls short of mathematical precision and the mathematical expressions we are using have some counterintuitive properties that could misrepresent Nephi’s position. I would also prefer to work with an expression that more closely mirrors Nephi’s statement than one that has been simplified based on the mathematical relationships of logical connectives when it is unclear whethere Nephi accepted all their properties. It’s because of these difficulties that I prefer the conditional IF (and even then with some misgivings).

    I agree with you that ideally commandments should be stated as simply as possible. More importantly, I believe Nephi’s prediliction for plainness indicates that he prefers simplicity and that any level of complexity that he uses is necessary to his purpose rather than just rhetorical flourish. I’m not inclined to further simplify Nephi’s statement without very strong reasons.

    I agree with #64 that the discussion thus far has demonstrated that mathematically unsophitcated readings of the narrow definition in v.29 generally arrive at the same conclusion; there are two categories of requirements, action and intent, and that as long as each of these categories is filled (even if only by one of its parts)priestcraft is pesent.

    Now if we assume Nephi is presenting a legal definition, we should at the very least analyse Nephi’s statement beginning with the naming of the crime in v.29 and continue to the punishment which is not described until v.31. (I would be inclined to include his discussion of exclusionary worship as it precipitated the definition of priestcraft, but that aside may be too involved.) The form Crime+Punishment is actually the more common form for legal language rathern than the absolute “Thou shalt (not)” presented without explicit punishments.

    I think you’ll agree that this longer definition of the crime is reasonable. It strengthens your position that priestcraft could be a capital offense (I don’t find your previous arguments on this point particularly compelling). It follows the same form as other definitons of biblical capital crimes even if Nephi is not explicit in whether the state or divine intervention would enforce the punishment.

    Interestingly, this longer definition in vv.29-31 does include a simpler and easier to interpret test for priestcraft. In v.31 Nephi states that the only reward for laboring in Zion is Zion itself and that laboring for money in Zion caries the penalty of death. It seems to me that most accusation of priestcraft (both modern and ancient) are made on the basis of this test.

  66. Meldrum the Less
    November 27, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    I have noticed that Bro. Raymond is thick skinned and more than capable of defending himself or I would not make this comment. I risk getting it kicked right back in the face, but since he has hinted at a personal attack on me I respond.

    I plead guilty. “Spreading covetous gossip” is exactly what most Mormons do when they speak of priestcraft. They start with the mistruth that we have no paid clergy. This is repeated so often it defies logic to claim otherwise. But the truth is that although our lower level officers work tirelessly and are unpaid, our upper level officers are paid an undisclised amount that is probably more substantial than we wish to admit. Their silence on the subject screams fowl to me, although I know nothing for sure.

    Then this covetous gossip proceeds to making judgments on the motives of the clergy of other churches based on their income. We prance around on the high horse of the Mormon moral superiority complex. This attitude has been so ubiquitious in the LDS church from the lowest sugarbeet farmer to the very top where even our temple ceremony (I attended hundreds of times) used to have an obvious protestant minister in the devil’s employ.

    I heard a beautiful sermon at a protestant church recently where the simple gospel of Jesus Christ was preached with power and clarity seldom heard within the walls of my own LDS church and with no doctrinal errors that I could detect. As the preacher walks out I have this subconscious voice mutter within my head, that evil snake in the grass, he only does it for the money. See, I am hopelessly programmed to reflexively respond with this covetous gossip in spite of every conscious effort to the contrary. Not only do I spread it, I wallow in it.

    I confess to spreading covetous gossip every time I say what I am really thinking about other ministers. While my own are making more money than most of them and hiding that fact. So yes Bro. Raymond I try to repent in sack cloth and ashes and have been doing it for a decade. It isn’t made any easier when some of my brethern and fellow members think it is mighty fine for an apostle to make, hypothetically, $100 million and not be willing to disclose it.

    And dammit, can we stop thinking of the LDS church as a corporation?Because if it is a corporation its product at my ward franchise level is more expensive than a Mercedes and performs no bettter than a Trabbi. (And domo arigato, I prefer Toyota).

    I object to the relevance of executive salaries. Strongly. If they want to be corporate executives then just say no when the call to the apostleship comes. Peter wanted to go fishing and Jesus made him a fisher of men.

    See it is always the other church that is practicing priestcraft, never us. Never.

  67. Sam Brunson
    November 27, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    As the preacher walks out I have this subconscious voice mutter within my head, that evil snake in the grass, he only does it for the money. See, I am hopelessly programmed to reflexively respond with this covetous gossip in spite of every conscious effort to the contrary

    Just one single response: it’s just you. Having grown up and remained an active and believing member of the Church, I don’t have that response, and few if any whom I know do. I’ve never been taught at church that other churches are evil (and, in fact, the institutional church makes a strong point of inter-faith activities and of not demonizing other churches) or that other preachers are just in it for the money (because, among other things, there’s not much money in it for the bulk of them).

    Actually, I take that back: two things. Second, the Church is, along with every other church in the U.S. of which I’m aware, a corporation. That doesn’t have any normative significance; it’s purely its legal form. But it is, in fact, a corporation.

  68. Meldrum the Less
    November 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Bro Brunson:

    I come before you repenting in sack cloth and ashes; you tell me I am the only sinner? No compassion, no understanding, just a proverbial “go to hell?” It is most certainly not just me. Multiple generations grew up watching those temple films (or actors before the films) and that was just the tip of the iceberg. Before the rainbow missionary discussions, the first discussion was on the apostasy and it basically pounded home the point that all other churches were wrong. It was one of the cornerstones of the way we converted people for over a century. It was waaay bigger than me. Do you actually think my memory has grown that dim?

    For the record , I actually like this minister as a person and admire his work, but I still have these old intrusive thoughts. Here is his website for your admiration: http://apostles.org/

    I know one protestant minister who has lived in Utah for 10 years now and who generally shares your rosy view and who reports the same among some of his peers. That was until a woman who was a new LDS convert and newly married started having a few questions, dismissed at the ward house and invited him to their home. He was stunned at the viscious, angry response of the ward mission leader and later the bishop and he wasn’t trying to convert her to his faith. He knows that the shallow LDS friendliness has definite limits. Just like in Joseph Smith’s days, the revivials were all congenial until the converts started filing off to one church or another. Watch the friendliness evaporate when people resign and start taking their tithing elsewhere and attending other churches. It is recorded on many an ex-Mo blog.

    I applaud the inter-faith outreach. It is a beginning and more needs to be done. Perhaps you are much younger and your generation really is free from this characteristic Mormon weakness of thinking less of other churches. Perhaps y’all are just more subtle and sophisticated about it. A finely tuned snooty better-than-thou-attitude which I am getting from this series of posts. I don’t believe you when you say that you don’t look down on other churches. Maybe I am wrong, but considering the way you are treating me, and I am a mere knat of a heretic on the home team.


    Might I point out for general consideration a few differences between ministers running churches and executives running corporations?

    1. Modern executives usually have specific degrees and highly specialized knowledge in certain fields of management (with some exceptions). Ministers sometime have degrees in the broad field of theology but hardly ever in the field of management and often have little formal training at all. Part of the protestant reformation was the idea that by translating the Bible into common languages anyone could understand the gospel and by extension preach it. Our apostles do not have and never have had any professional requirements. A few have useful corporate related degrees but not all. J.Golden Kimball, my favorite church leader, was a “mule skinner” or in contemporary terms a truck driver.

    2. Executives of corporations work for and answer to the stock holders. Who are the stock holders in a church? The members? No, they are like the customers. If you think we are the stockholders of the corporate LDS church when do we meet and get to make any decisions? General Conference? Make me laugh. Do not the apostles and ministers ultimately care for our souls and answer to God for it?

    3. When executives fail, they get fired. It is a high risk position. They have to perform in measurable ways or out they go. Most work only a few short years at any position. When was the last time we fired one of the apostles for failures of the LDS church to function properly, in contrast to personal failings (usually sexual)? Never, since the days of Joseph, when they were more inclined to fire themselves, if anything.In fact we do the opposite when you consider the fact that the sitting president of the church was incapacitated healthwise almost half the time of the preceding several decades. LDS apostles have to do nothing short of dying to be relieved of their position.

    I may not be able to articulate this well, but I warn everyone of you reading this of the dangers of the growing corporate mentality in the LDS church: Some organizational advantages might result from close adherence to corporate management principles in some areas (generally finances). But there are limits. When we exceed them we will pay a heavy price! (Probably already are paying it.)

    The gospel of Jesus Christ is not just a commodity like a cola drink or an insurance policy. People in churches are more than customers. They give their life and soul, not just a few shekels. They expect a genuine community that really cares, not some sort of market place exchange of emotional goods and services. It is nauseating and insulting to make this comparison. It is a twin sister to legalism and directly in line with the spirit of the Pharisee and rather close to priestcraft regardless of the way you define it. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a corporate commodity.

    It is ridiculous to compensate church leaders as if they were high rolling corporate executives. It is disturbing even more if church leaders ever start behaving the way that most corporate executives act.

    Finally, every church incorporated? You don’t get out much. My daughter rented a room from a 60ish year old PhD in eastern theology who leads a variety of meditation groups, (even has a gold idol in her front room) that are for all practical purposes an unconventional church and they are not incorporated. The corporate skill set of this whacky woman (perhaps would qualify as a witch a few centuries ago?) was not quite up to consistently cashing my daughter’s monthly rental check. I submit that a huge underbelly of quasi-religious orders are not incorporated. I agree that most medium and larger conventional churches that might be listed in the phone book, for example, are incorporated for many legal and financial advantages. But the church rules the corporation, not the other way around. Can the same be said of us?

  69. jennifer reuben
    November 28, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    interesting, . you point out some serious areas of concern . I personally need to do more research into the history of the church as a corporation. I have floating in the back of my thoughts some historical reasons for the incopration of the church but can’t quite bring forward enough information to clearly state its relationship to the current topic. If someone could help me out it would be appreciated. On another point firing of general authorities.Yes, that has happened in the modern history of the church. At least twice in my lifetime. It was handled quietly within the quorum but both were clearly related to failure in their duties as general authorities.

  70. Bryan S.
    November 28, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    It seems to me as though Sam is arguing one definition of corporation which is broader and Meldrum is arguing another which is smaller.

  71. Meldrum the Less
    November 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I was thinking about the question, just exactly what do I wish to accomplish with this series of long rants? Is it not a foolish expectation to think I can convince everyone of all of my points? And then it hit me what I really want to get across.

    Bro. Brunson has handed it to me on a silver platter and it took a day for the pleasing aroma of it waff up my beak and penetrate my thick skull.

    “I’ve never been taught at church that other churches are evil….”

    Aside from the personal histories of each of us, as long as we restrict our application of the designation of the evil practice of priestcraft in the future to those within our own church and refrain from applying it to other churches and other ministers of which we know little, then I am happy. Since only a few LDS leaders “get gain,” and “worldly praise” is not that much or that harmful for the usual ward level cranks, and the “welfare of Zion” is nebulous, I agree- this attitude keeps the light of truth on the subject of priestcraft focused where it needs to be shined.

    Thank you, thank you, Bro. Brunson. I declare a mutual victory.

    In the spirit of compromise and good will I concede every other point of disagreement, at least relegate it to a lesser status. Except one other, that we stop propagating the bold-faced lie that we have no paid clergy. I think we already have agreement on that issue.


    FYI for Jennifer on a side issue; Apostles “fired” in the 20th century:

    Richard Lyman, 1943 over post mainfesto polygamy. Modern LDS Church version: caught in bed with second wife and arrested by police, front page shocker in the SLC Trib. My family version: he was married to 2nd wife in Logan temple secretly by Anthony Ivins (First Presidency & Pres. Grant’s nephew) in 1924 (my grandparents knew a few eye witnesses) and this plural marriage was obviously an open secret. He was sacked by young correlation enthusiasts (Lee & Fielding Smith) because he was a reliable and persuasive supporter of McKay and his correlation minimalists. It was unclear whether Richards (LeGrand’s dad) or Mckay was going to be in charge next. Power play to influence other apostles. McKay amazingly prevented Lyman from leading a Fundy unification movement and got him to be rebaptized.

    John Taylor Jr. son of 3rd prophet (would have been president instead of Mckay) and Mathias Cowley father of more famous Matthew Cowley, both over post mainfesto polygamy, both sacked in 1905. Again two versions, modern church- that they wouldn’t comply with the manifesto. But their more complex family version is that the manifesto was originally insincere, (“A trick to beat the devil at his own game”-George Q.Cannon.) Both refused to pretend to not teach plural marriage any longer while continuing to practice and santion it underground. Integrity issue. Cowley eventually came back, both did much in giving credibility to the Fundies.

    Moses Thatcher, 1897, dropped from the Q. 12 apostles but still held the office of “apostle” and in good standing in the church. Curious from today’s perspective. He was always loyal but opinionated, having major diaagreements over many issues including plural marriage but too numerous and complex for me to explain.

    Disagreements over post-manifesto polygamy equals failure of duties as an apostle and handled quietly? Not exactly the way I see it. Quietly, only that modern church history has been scrubbed thoroughly of the memory; it was front page news at the time it happened.

    Other GAs (70’s) . George P. Lee, a Navaho and first Lamanite GA, Indian placement program poster child. After Kimball’s death when the LDS church redirected resources away from numerous Indian programs Lee became openly critical, was ex-ed in 1989 for apostasy, which did nothing to quiet him. Four years later he was accused of having a thing for young teenage girls and faced criminal charges. His most loyal supporters asserted the accusations were contrived by the church to besmirch his character and undermine his criticism. He did plea guilty to lesser charges in court, avoiding a long prison sentence.

    Paul Dunn, a favorite dynamic speaker was not excommunciated but placed on emeritus status about 1991 while still healthy enough to continue a vigorous speaking tour. His downfall was telling miraculous tall tales in church talks (of the sort still constantly featured in our testimony meetings and in the Ensign) that were extremely inspirational but demonistrably not true. Brought heavy scrutiny on other GA’s stories (Monson’s especially) which were sometimes found to not always be accurate in every detail either, but not to the same extent. Curtailed good story telling at general conference, boring the rising generations exceedingly.

    There might have been other 70’s in the early part of the century that I have forgotten about. J. Golden Kimball was reprimanded constantly but that is another category.

  72. rah
    December 15, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    How about Multi-level marketing companies that target Mormon populations? They directly cover 2-5. They set themselves up “as a light” in terms of promising “the way” to economic independence and prosperity. In the end they are set up to enrich only a small number of individuals. The rest is pretty straight forward. Maybe they don’t preach so they are disqualified though I may argue they tend to preach the prosperity gospel and if you go to one of their big sales meetings it certainly feels like a big revival/tent meeting….Yeah I think it is priestcraft.

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