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.
- Setting oneself up as a light
- In order to get gain
- In order to get worldly praise
- 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.
- 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. ↩
- “In the past I have viewed CES as a bastion of anachronistic ark-steadying priestcraft.” ↩
- For that matter, bloggers of all things Mormon? Ditto. ↩
- 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. ↩
- At least the way I’m slicing it—you could probably combine (3) and (4) with few ill effects. ↩
- 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. ↩
- What, me? Prideful? ↩