Burning Bosom

Theology, History, Culture, Politics & Life from a LDS (Mormon) Perspective

Mormon Priestcraft… Is There Such a Thing?

Posted by Jon on January 21, 2008

I’ve had this burning question for a long time (truth be told, I just re-read the P.D.P. post by Shawn L, and it inspired me to revisit this question): Does “priestcraft” exist in Mormon culture? If so, what qualifies as priestcraft? Is it the books or cds by Mormon authors that are being solicited to Mormons? Is it the endless trinkets with CTR or “Hold to the Rod” emblazoned across them? How about the jazzed up or even rocked out versions of primary classics such as “Give Said the Little Stream,” or “I Belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?” The “Forgotten Carols?” First, a definition of the word. Priestcraft as defined in 2 Nephi 26:29, which states: “…for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.”

Truth is, I don’t have an exact answer to my originally question. However, something in my gut just tells me that profiting off of someone because of their religious convictions has something inherently wrong about it. So, yes, I think it exists in Mormon culture, but to what degree, and what exactly constitutes “priestcraft,” I’m still not sure.

At conflict with my opinion is the 13th Article of Faith, which reads, and I’m paraphrasing, “… If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Though I doubt that qualifies movies like “The R.M.” or “Singles Ward,” but does it help qualify a few of the well-intentioned books out there?

On that note, I’ve created my list of the top six (it was a top five list, but then I thought of my least favorite out of all of them, so I amended it to the not-so-round-number, six) items that qualify as Mormon Priestcraft (note: I’m not providing a link to where you can buy the item as that would defeat the purpose, n’est-ce pas?)

  1. The CTR Dog Tag (yes, it exists)
  2. An LDS Girl’s Guide to Real Beauty. There are other books, lots of them, that could have made this list. Some of you are probably saying, what, no “Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites?” Personal disclaimer: I liked that book. So instead, I chose this one to represent the miriad of books available the mislead people to think they are getting the LDS perspective on any topic, but it can’t/shouldn’t be quoted in your church meetings. Not that this book in particular is incapable of helping any young lady seeking answers to this question, but by invoking the LDS name can misguide some into thinking it is approved of by the church.
  3. Any t-shirt about the Stripling Warriors, church song themes (Give Said the Little Stream was the first example I saw, but there are others out there), jr. missionaries, etc.
  4. Hold to the Rod key chains. Yes, I had one. No, I will not get one again. Heck, just about any key chain, other than the canister for consecrated oil, which I believe serves an actual purpose (if it hadn’t come in handy so many times, than it would have been considered. But since it actually serves a purpose and is used for more than just trying to out Mormon the next guy, it stays off the list).
  5. Any “Christian Rock” band whose target demographic are Mormons, or any Christians for that sake. Yes, that includes groups like Jericho Road.
  6. And, perhaps my least favorite of all and the reason this is a list of 6 and not 5: RULDS2 Bumper Stickers. Please, I can’t think of anything more pointless, self-righteous and belittling to anyone who understands it but isn’t LDS.

There are a lot more items that could be listed, some that overlap with the P.D.P.’s, but feel free to add to the list of favorite “Mormon Priestcraft” items in the comments below. Let’s be nice (no bashing on the Osmond’s or Stephen Covey… both of whom I exempt from the list because they appeal(ed) to a broader audience), but have fun with it.


23 Responses to “Mormon Priestcraft… Is There Such a Thing?”

  1. John Norton said


    I’d like to add “Saturday’s Warrior” to this list, in its many forms.

  2. Jon said

    Great point. I’ve never seen any of them, but from what I know, it would be a great addition to the list!

  3. BHodges said

    One small caveat: I think LDS themed products can be beneficial. For example, I’ve seen some cool children’s “quiet” books about the Book of Mormon. These are great for sacrament meeting, imo. And as far as the keychain goes, sure, it’s kitche, but it is a symbol to remind the carrier of a principle.

    If it’s a poorly made product, and inaccurate product, or one made for the purpose of making a buck (I’m not talking about making any money, I mean get rich scheme type things) it may qualify as priestcraft moreso than other things.

    Additionally, priestcrafts involved setting up classes, putting people above other people. Pride, and etc. Oh, well. Why am I defending a friggin’ keychain?

  4. Jared said

    In my opinion, Mormons practice a form of priestcrafts when we over emphasize the importance of certain callings in the church. We are asked to sustain our Bishop and Stake President along with their counselors. Sustain does not mean to elevate.

    The Lord makes it clear that He is no respecter of persons (see Acts 10:34).

    I wonder if some church members expect the Bishop or Stake President to live better than they do so they can in turn depend on them for things that they themselves should be doing. It’s like saying, “your my (fill in the blank) therefore I want you to live so you can have the Holy Ghost along with the gifts of the spirit, then I can come to you for help, and answers when needed.”

  5. Shawn L said

    I think Jared is on to something. I see priestcraft as something more nefarious than the Mormon kitsch you list above (all of which is obviously evil for other reasons!). Seeking office within your ward, or believing that your leadership calling somehow makes you more favored in God’s eyes than the lowly nursery assistant, come to mind when I think of priestcraft. Simialrly, I think we engage in priestcraft when we use our beliefs as a sword to remind others just how wrong their beliefs are.

  6. Jonathan said

    Shawn and Jared, if what you say is true (and I think you have a point as well), I am obviously favored above my peers, since I teach CTR 8. Literally, the best calling in the church!

  7. Jonathan said

    Shawn and Jared, if what you say is true (and I think you have a point as well), I am obviously favored above my peers, since I teach CTR 8. Literally, the best calling in the church!

  8. Joy said

    This thread may be old enough that I won’t be heard but I have to say that I don’t care if someone makes money by producing lds themed entertainment. That is not priestcraft. There is a need for less worldly movies books and music. Hymns are a form of worship meant for cerimonial meetings but when my kids are hanging out with their friends dancing or just grooving it’s wonderful to have some Jericho Road among many other talented lds musicians. I am an lds musician and I would love to make a little extra money for my family by selling a cd or two but I write because the Lord, my Father in Heaven and the Gospel are what inspire me. I do not practice priestcraft I write music for my Savior and I know He is pleased with my efforts. When I see the books available to my children to read even in the school library I’m so grateful for books like Tennis Shoes Among The Nephites series that inspires them to search the scriptures, as opposed to books like Billies Two Daddies or anything filled with worldly “wisdom” or vulgarity. I agree that all the ‘kitsch’ is irreverent but ?evil?

  9. jah said

    I’m also an LDS musician, but one who thinks that profiting from my hymns and other pieces written for the church would definitely be priestcraft. We dedicate our time and talents to the Lord and to the church — we should not profit from that work. The worst offenders of music-related priestcraft: those selling choir music, since 95% of the audience is ward choirs whose funds to purchase that music come from ward budgets, which comes from tithing.

  10. Leslie C. said

    I’ve been accused of many things, but this is the first time I’ve been accused of priestcraft, and I must admit I’m stunned. I am the author of your #2 piece of Mormon Priestcraft. My first thought is wow… this guy just accused the prophets of the church of priestcraft. According to your post, any product sold to the LDS people is priestcraft… or is there a provision for this based on the fact that these books make money for the church and not the prophet himself, per say… I mean the prophet and the 12 and other G.A’s get stipends for living since they work full time for the church but that’s not the same is it?? It’s the same thing from the comment by Jah. So then, those who teach at the church school and institutes should go without salary because they have a talent from the Lord and the church profits from their work, and our tithing pays for it? Not everyone can attend release time seminary and everyones tithing pays for it. So that is priestcraft too then?

    The other problem with how you’ve set up your definition is that you assume that the motivation for creating such things are for worldly praise and gain, and perhaps in some cases, that is true. But you don’t know me or my motivation for writing An LDS Girls Guide to Real Beauty. It is definitely NOT for worldly gain and praise, nor to set myself up as a light. I did however seek to help the welfare of the daughters of Zion. That was my motivation. WIll I make money off this book. Yes, I will make a small amount. Nothing that will buy me a mansion or a fancy car, but enough to pay off some medical bills. Is money why I wrote the book? No.

    Do you have daughters? I do, I have 3 and a sister who is the same age as one of my daughters. I have worked with youth my whole adult life. My mom, sister, and I joined the church at age 10 and that changed my life in many ways. I used those experiences to try and reach out to girls while keeping to gospel principles and standards. This book is geared for ages 10-14, an important age in the development of self esteem and it’s various issues. When my oldest daughter was 10, she was going through a tough self esteem time. Nothing I said would help. She liked to read books by American Girl on self help topics, but she had been through them, so I went to a books store and looked for something that would be what I want to teach her, but that she wouldn’t let me. My jaw hit the floor as I looked through the self help books for girls. First of all, it’s all worldly. Yes, there may be a chapter about inner beauty, but it is right next to the chapter on how masturbate and whether or not sex is right for you. Truly… it’s awful. There was not one thing remotely close to what I felt my daughter needed so I decided to write it in the hopes it would help her and others like her who struggle to find themselves, and know they matter, even in our church that teaches the answer to that.
    My daughters gave input to the book and gave me perspective on things I asked them about. I chose to use the gospel as the foundation of what I wrote because I believe as I think most members of the church believe that the gospel should be the foundation of everything we do.

    So you don’t like the title, fine. I can see your opinion in that people might take it as a “church produced material.” However, I also think that people who buy such things are smarter than you’re giving them credit for in that regard. I also agree that there are many products that cross the line. I saw a plastic “Liahona” that reminded me of a Magic 8 ball because in the center there were floating messages of “go and do” etc. For me, that crosses the line. But if someone has a gift for music, writing, or art, and want to share that with others, it’s okay as long as it has no mention of being LDS? That makes no sense to me. If there were truly something evil about it, the church wouldn’t be in the business of producing it… for a profit… unless you are accusing the church and it’s leaders of priestcraft. By their fruits ye shall know them… there are many who have been touched by hearing a song from one of those on your list, where the spirit bears witness to them and they feel the answer to a prayer that they had been seeking. The most touching thing I have heard in response to my book is that a young woman felt the spirit and doesn’t feel alone in her feelings anymore. Is that a bad thing?

    Are there lines being crossed? Of course. Are all of us who produce things that just happen to be for members of the church practicers of priestcraft? No. Please don’t make blanket accusations toward and judge people of whom you know nothing about.

  11. LdsNana said

    Someone suggested the philosophy that “the servant is worth of his hire”. This bids the question as to “whom” we are serving as we “labor” to produce?


  12. Jayson S. said

    Wow! I feel the original post is way off based. Just because a company or product uses church members as their demographic does not constitute them as practicing priestcraft. No, priestcraft is using an office or a type of authority to gain money. Think about if a bishop rents out the cultural hall to a local organization for a community event. Or, a priesthood holder that asked from something in exchange for blessing a sick neighbor. That is priestcraft! Read examples in the scriptures, they are full of them. And nothing had to do with making a living by capitalizing on the trends of a culture. You must remember that none of these companies have any church authority that they are pressing upon our members. If a church leader was coming out and promoting a certain product or company in which he or she had a financial interest in, then this fact would change. EVEN if a church leader is an owner in a company that sells products marketed to the LDS community, this does not solely constitute any grounds of priestcraft. That church leader would have to be using his or her said authority and calling as a means to be market their company and product.

    In actuality, making a list of companies and products that do not actually fit the correct criteria of priestcraft is childish and rude. Do you realize that these people do have REAL jobs? Being an entrepreneur is a real job, one of the most important jobs of developing and continue to progress our cultures and civilizations. Though I do not take offense to any of the above comments, those comments seem hurtful and un-Christlike. We preach unity and build up of others, but these comments do not reflect those teachings. If these are the teaching that I believe many of you that have posted believe in, I encourage you to mend the damage which they may have caused. They are not just. And they do not accurately define priestcraft.

  13. Bob Newark said

    The entire LDS structure is priestcraft. The “Prophet” Joe Smith was priestcraft. Joe’s entire motive was to have sex with as many little women as he could, gain fame for himself, step over his already mystical and loopy family with further loopiness, and in the process become an early-american-idol. The entire LDS religion is priestcraft, becoming a God? Really? Sounds like a t.v. pitch. And it is, nothing more. Wake up folks, you have been duped by pure old fashioned 19th century priestcraft a la Smith.

  14. Todd said

    What about a GA using his position to secure for himself and his friends coveted tickets to ?

    I just finished reading a book about the 1960 world series, where E.T. Benson, an apostle at the time, called up Vernon Law, a Mormon and a pitcher for the Pittsburg Pirates, looking for four free tickets to game seven of the series. Granted, he was US Secretary of Agriculture at the time, but it seems he was using his position as Mormon Apostle when asking Mormon ball player to secure the tickets. Besides, is it any less bad to use your position as a government official (a servant of the people) to get gain?

    But, then again, who hasn’t used inside connections of one sort or another to jump to the front of the line?

  15. Ryan Cooley said

    I think you completely missed the meaning. It defines people who set themselves up to be worshipped or believed to hold answers to key social/political issues. Then it adds the caveat: they do not seek the good of Zion. Which implies that while they may be seeking the good of Zion, they actually work against it. D&C 121 illustrates this beautifully.
    So sure there may be some that are set up to get gain, but by their fruits ye shall know them.
    To me, however, there are none so blatant as those who would use a perception of righteousness to sway the public into listening to a talk radio show or elect them as president. This is where we see the part about vain ambitions rearing its ugly head. Especially when they pretend to preach an end to society as we know it when they clearly have no authority to do so.

  16. Fay Farrell said

    I’m appalled to read these comments pointing the finger at my Religion as practising priestcraft. I just want to say, you will one day be judged by the judgment you have now of my Religion. Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of God chosen to restore His Church on earth. We are lead by a living Prophet today who receives revelations from our Father in heaven to guide His children here on earth. I dont care what you say or how much you ridicule my Religion. I stan firm in my Testimony of the true Church of our Father in heaven restored by Joseph Smith. Jesus is the head of this Church, and we follow His teachings and obey Father’s commandments. We don’t practice priestcraft, never did and never willl. We know it’s not the will of our Father in heaven so we don’t do it. We practice Charity, which is the pure love of Christ to all mankind, good or bad. We don’t judge anyone. Jesus Christ will do that for all mankind including all or you who are making a mockery out of the truth.

  17. Me said

    There is a distinction to be made between 1)Priestcraft, 2)Making a profit off of shared culture, and 3)Cliquishness.

    The Mormon kitsch that was described in the original post is making a profit off of a shared culture. Sure, most of it is supremely tacky. Sure, most of it is the exact same stuff you would find in a “Christian” bookstore only with the words “Mormon” or “LDS” tacked onto the title. Sure, a lot of it is pointless and has little to do with the actual Gospel. But, it’s not priestcraft. A lot of it is quite manipulative (implying that “good Mormons” should buy their products or that the products are good simply because they have the words “Mormon” or “LDS” in their title or description or are authored by a member of the church). That’s tacky and manipulative and usually without merit. However, it is not priestcraft. It is akin to people selling images of dead saints, holy water, and candles to burn to Catholics. It is taking advantage of the gullible. Not the same as priestcraft, but one could argue morally incorrect still.

    Cliquishness among LDS is a well-known phenomenon among anyone outside of the church who has worked with a significant number of Mormons. I have seen many times this web of contacts and “who you know” come into play with doctor appointments, sports team involvment, and even college admissions. You will find the same kind of “who you know” or cliquish networking among Jews, Muslims, and any other insular groups (both religiously oriented and not – fraternities exhibit this same behavior long after the college days are over). Is it correct? Well, that’s an argument of ethics among individuals and groups. But, it does not qualify as priestcraft.

    So, what is priestcraft? In the Book of Mormon we find that priestcraft (1) involves being popular in the world (famous). Now, General Authorities are going to be famous among LDS to some extent simply because they are severely limited in number and exert absolute authority over member of the church (just read Ezra Taft Benson for that information – politics, business, etc. was all stated as perfectly viable territory for a prophet of God to issue commands to the world). Therefore, the question is: When a General Authority authors a book for which he (or she – R.S, Primary, and Y.W. auxillary general presidencies included) gets gain (both by money from book sales and from the publicity) is that priestcraft? Would that same person make the same number of book sales were he (or she) not a General Authority of the church? Would I make the same number of sales writing a book geared towards LDS that Thomas Monson would make writing the same book? Chances are great that Monson would make a killing in book sales. Why? Because he is already the supreme priesthood authority on Earth. That notoriety and fame grant him an immediate, paying audience.

    Now, that gets into the second definition of priestcraft or (2) getting gain from one’s position of priesthood authority. Book sales are the most obvious of that particular definition. However, we also see that in the Book of Mormon priestcraft is also specifically denounced as church members supporting priesthood leaders with clothing, food, shelter, etc. While most LDS church members strongly advise their nonmember friends that the LDS church has no paid clergy this is actually…not entirely correct. Once a member of the priesthood gains the status of Apostle or Prophet (or mission president as some parts of D&C indicate) according to the Doctrine and Covenants the people of the church should provide clothing, food, shelter, etc. for that priesthood leader. In the church it is euphemistically called a “living stipend”. “Living stipend” in the English language is synonymous with “fee”, “gratuity”, “hire”, “pay”, “pension”, “salary”, “take”, and “wage”. We pay our General Authorities a “wage” solely for their priesthood position. This was true from Joseph Smith, Jr. onward, in fact. Would these members be paid by the church membership if they were NOT General Authorities? The answer is resoundingly, “No, these priesthood holders would not be paid by the church membership without their callings as priesthood leaders/authorities.” You will find most members of the church jump through many mental hoops trying to reconcile this information. There are explanations such as, “Well, they give up a paying job when they become a General Authority.” Except that most of these men are already at or near retirement age once they attain the position of General Authority. And, their “living stipend” is directly tied to their previous average salary in whatever career they had made a living prior. One need only look at the high profile and financially lucrative previous careers of most of our General Authorities to see that they are paid handsomely relative to the incomes of the average church member once they attain their calling of Apostle. Christ lived as the lowliest of his followers lived. Think about that for a moment.

    When one reads the Book of Mormon priestcraft is also defined as (3) “preaching erroneous doctrine”. Recently the LDS church public relations department issued statements that previous teachings from the pulpit (General Conference) and in published books by General Authorities were incorrect – wrong – erroneous doctrine. Specifically these were words that described all righteous, worthy, black church members as unworthy to hold the priesthood for numerous different reasons given. One could also surmise this included the General Conference address by a previous prophet that called for the death of any white person marrying a black person. Was this priestcraft? These were General Authorities – prophets and apostles – preaching what is now labeled erroneous doctrine.

    Making a living off of administering to the spiritual needs of others is a part of the definition of priestcraft – but, according to the Book of Mormon is not the complete definition. It is certainly enough of a definition to give someone pause when looking at the modern structure of the church.

  18. Jan H. said

    I think before you go making posts like this one, you should research your subject a bit better. Priestcraft has absolutely nothing to do with your “Top 6” items.

    Priestcraft is not about selling trinkets or help/aid books. Priestcraft is not referring to authors, publishers, or people who provide items/songs/movies/etc towards an LDS demographic. Believe me. They aren’t making any real money on it! Priestcraft refers to people who use their position (ie: priesthood holders) for their own personal gain in position and influence. Priestcraft borders on abuse. These are people who may say the right things, but are doing so to make themselves look good. They want the praise. They want to be viewed as the authority. They want everyone to follow them, not the Lord. There are some Priesthood holders (who really shouldn’t hold the priesthood) that will use that “title” to demand, order, and abuse their wives and families. There are others who will use that position to influence the way those who listen to them think and behave. Many of them will quote scripture, but take it completely out of context. That’s not how it should be. (And this is not limited to men. There are women who can also be pretty persuasive.)

    Every religion has priestcraft among its members. They are not the norm, however. Every religion has books, videos, and music for sale slanted towards their viewpoints. That is not priestcraft. That is bolstering the members. The military serviceman wearing the CTR dog tag isn’t thinking about getting gain. He’s using the dog tag to help him remember who he is, who’s with him, and stand strong in the face of the opposition (both in and out of our military). The young woman who gets some great ideas on how to dress modestly and combine fashion and color from Leslie’s guide to LDS beauty isn’t worshipping Leslie, but maintaining respect for herself and her values. Don’t go confusing “helps” with trying to get in the spotlight.

    Avoiding priestcraft has nothing to do with not buying trinkets, clothing, videos, or books. It has to do with intention and how well you listen to the Holy Spirit. Focus on the instructions in the scriptures, the influence of the Holy Ghost, listen to the teaching of the prophets, and remember who your Savior is.

  19. Lisa said

    I love this whole discussion. It seems we are dealing with two separate and distinct entities – one is the culture of mormonism and the other is the gospel. The gospel is not for sale – it never has been and it never will be. Culture, however, has it’s price and when we decide to participate in culturally relative practices, that in and of itself takes us away from the gospel. Is it priestcraft? When researching this topic, I came upon a very interesting definition by Thomas Gordon – it is that men ‘pretend to greater degrees of favour with Deity’.

    Maybe it all comes down to motive and since we cannot see motive, we must rely on other tests to judge. I personally believe there is a lot of priestcraft in the LDS culture – why would it be any different? Do some feel they are in greater favor with Deity and so then create marketable items? (the laborer in Zion – hmmmmm)

    The example of Nehor – he was definitely practising priestcraft. He died, yet he still had people believing what he said ‘The Order of Nehors’. What if getting the praise and gain of the world is more about ‘gaining’ adherents that it is about monetary gain? Nehor was tricky enough to preach to the people what they wanted to hear (okay, when does this not happen in cultural settings?) and that kept them so soothed they decided to set up an organization to soothe themselves. Was he narcissistic? Maybe, how many people are now – how many times do we tell our kids how amazing they are and how wonderful what they do is? Could this lead to later priestcraft?

    I think in order to define priestcraft and what it means, we definitely need to open our minds to they myriad of possibilities that come up in our culture. Words have layers of meaning and if we examine concepts, popularity, etc. closely enough, we will most likely find the idea of priestcraft in anything we produce or replicate that is not the gospel. It is what people do, and if we don’t do it, we want to find an idea, item, movement and feel comfortable with it.

  20. Linda Washburn said

    Christ-centered media and jewelry have MY VOTE over ALL the nonsense cartoons; fictional books; addictive violent, immoral, and mindless media, gaming, and partying which cause the forgetting of the name of Jesus Christ. Thank you authors and creators who are assisting to teach our children to REMEMBER amongst so many distractions of antichrist teaching our children to FORGET! [every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist–1 John 4:2-3]

  21. Kate said

    Have you ever noticed that some people are offended over everything. You could give them the moon and they still would be misersble. They look to be offended, they crave it. Who cares about key chains, or bumper stickers. The only bumper sticker I dislike is “Obama”, but I am not going to loose any sleep over it. I have enough things to work on in my life than to care if someone has a community Baptist church bumper sticker, or a RULDS 2. Seriously!

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  23. Tim Davenport said

    Men preaching and setting themselves up for a light to the world that they may get gain and praise of the world; they do not seek the welfare of Zion (2 Ne. 26:29).”

    This is from the official church website. After much study and contemplation on this issue myself, I must disagree with your above enumerated examples.

    The concern with “priestcrafts” is of those who use the church teachings, as a conveyor of the gospel, to get gain; not simply those profiting off of church concepts, books etc.

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