“What is Priestcraft”

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(A painting of King Benjamin)

Priestcraft

Perhaps the most explicit scriptural statement about this issue from a negative perspective comes from 2 Nephi 26:31.

Church members have a particular sensitivity to issues surrounding paid ministries particularly due to admonitions in the Book of Mormon relative to a practices known as priestcraft, which is “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” (see 2 Nephi 26:29). It is warned against and decried repeatedly (see Alma 1:12,16, 3 Ne 16:10, 3 Ne 21:19, 3 Ne 30:2, D&C 33:4). For this reason, the idea of compensation for service seems contradictory to strongly held values of the Latter-day Saint community. However, it should be noted that priestcraft as it has been defined is a condemnation of intent (to get gain and praise, and not for the welfare of Zion), and not about an individual receiving support. Living stipends are not compensations for service, but recognition of a practical reality that individuals who dedicate their full time to Church service are sometimes unable to simultaneously provide for their own modest living needs.

The example of King Benjamin adds to the LDS value of self sufficiency of leaders in particular. Benjamin, while king, still labored for his own support (see Mosiah 2:14). This is a very admirable demonstration of humility on the part of the king. However, this example was being used in the context of his political position as king, and would be comparable to a President refusing to accept his salary for his service. It should not be used to condemn the practice of helping provide for the modest living needs of full time leaders who are unable to dedicate time to earning a living.

Many people of other faiths admirably desire to serve as clergy in their respective churches, and go through extensive training to do so. Most clergy live on subsistence level wages. Principles of priestcrafts apply equally to these people as to our own leadership. The scriptures denounce preaching the gospel solely from a desire to make money and get rich, or to defraud people (see 1 Peter 5:2). The Book of Mormon likewise defines “priestcraft” as teaching for the sake of getting gain while not seeking “the welfare of Zion” (see 2 Nephi 26:29. Likewise, many members of other faiths devote time to their churches without any monetary compensation. Certainly they follow the teachings of Jesus by so doing, and accomplish much good thereby.

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