Priestcraft…this is not a word most people are familiar with. It’s a religious word. And it means a person (any person) doing things to get attention for their own gain and purposes (rather than the purposes of God). It means that a person does things to solely benefit themselves by misleading, distracting, or even exploiting their fellow men (instead of doing things to lead people to God). Priestcraft can be lying or deceit in order to get what one wants. It can simply be distracting from truth in order to avoid the truth or to meet one’s own needs before serving God or others.
Priestcraft is selfish, but it can be easily justified by very well-meaning individuals. And many people are engaging in priestcraft without even realizing it. Priestcraft is diverting, and it is an art many of us cultivate to meet very real psychological, emotional, and physical needs. Priestcraft is setting ourselves up for a light to the world (or drawing purposeful attention to ourselves) so that we can “get the gain and praise of the world” (2 Nephi 26:29) or other people.
It’s Not Just About Money
The word “gain” can be misleading as a scriptural term, because it leads us to think of things like: money, prestige, fame, etc. Certainly popularity, in general, is a common reason everyday people engage in priestcraft. A teenager may continually distract and draw attention to themselves during a class (regular school, Sunday school, etc.) to meet the very real need to feel that others like them, find them funny, or entertaining, or to “act cool.” Or, a person of any age may distract others from a message being delivered because they are internally so self-conscious that they draw attention to themselves to satiate the need to not be emotionally transparent. They are trying to distract from their hidden insecurities.
In fact, many people engage in priestcraft (not because they want to exploit others or even distract from God, but) because they have a need to distract all of us, even themselves, from things about themselves they don’t want to face or don’t want others to focus on. A person may dye their hair electric pink or green to deflect from the reality that they are not secure in who they are. They want attention, but only a certain kind of attention. It’s that easy to engage in priestcraft and deny truth about ourselves, or our lives.
Personal gain can also be as simple as dressing in a certain way in order to get boys (or girls) to look at you in a sexual manner. Your need to be desired trumps your respect for the morality and chastity of other individuals (even though you don’t necessarily have any intention of committing immoral acts). You place your need to feel sexy, or desired, above your regard for the laws of God, and others.
The sad thing about priestcraft is that most of us do it because we have very real deep and unmet needs. We want to be loved and we will do just about anything to get love, even if it isn’t the best kind of love. We want to be validated and appreciated and so we will do things to get that validation, even if it means stepping on others’ toes or throwing others “under the bus.” Many people rise to what they feel are very well-deserved career heights, or popularity, by sabotaging others along the way. Ultimately, there is something they want that they put before doing what’s right.
Here’s something a little frightening. In 2 Nephi 10:5 we learn that it was priestcraft that kept the majority of the Jews from recognizing Christ when He came. Most of the Jews (especially the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes) were so busy promoting themselves and their version of the gospel that when the Son of God began His ministry they were so caught up in their own image and gain that they were not open to the truths Christ exhibited and taught. Even His miracles offended them and threatened their “craft” so they sought how they might kill Him.
The scariest thing about priestcraft in ourselves is that it does, and will, prevent us from coming closer to God. We can’t progress toward Him when we place our own needs and desires above His love and will for us. Priestcraft in ourselves will prevent us from “being a light.”
A City that is Set on a Hill
Christ commands us in Matthew 5:14-16 to “be a light” to the world. But, in 3 Nephi 18:24 He clarifies what He means just a little bit. He says:
Therefore, hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do.
When Christ commands us to be a light, He is not asking us to draw attention to ourselves. He is asking us to draw attention to Him with all that we do. The opposite of priestcraft is to do all that we do to bring glory and gain to God. The opposite of priestcraft is to “be a light” to the world by doing what Christ did.
Modesty—a term which used to refer to speech, behavior, and overall conduct and decorum, not simply how a person wore their clothing—is far more about “being a light” versus “priestcraft” than it is about how many centimeters our hem is above our knees, or how deep the V in our shirt is, or how low our pants sag down, etc. People who are immodest (in speech, behavior, decorum, or dress) tend to draw attention to themselves to meet deep and unmet needs. People who are modest attempt to draw attention to God, or a godly message, rather than themselves.
Priestcraft is Something We Can Identify and Fix
The things we do to distract from the truth about ourselves or from God are things we can identify and fix. We don’t have to remain in stagnant ignorance, unable to find peace or spiritual progression. And we certainly are stunted in our ability to personally progress in a sustainable way if we try to distract from truth (whether about ourselves or God).
Whether we are giving a talk or a lesson at church, or whether we are ambitiously seeking goals in our work or school environment, we simply have to turn to the Lord and ask Him to show us all the things we are doing to distract from our best selves and from Him. We simply have to ask Him to show us if, and where, we are committing priestcraft, and distracting from Him and from our true selves. He has said (Ether 12:27):
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness (or priestcraft)…
Really, you can substitute the word “weakness” with anything. If we come unto God sincerely, genuinely desiring to understand anything about ourselves so that we may improve, He will teach us.
If we find we have set ourselves up to get gain and the praise of others, and that we have distracted others away from God, we shouldn’t be discouraged. Even knowing how easy it is to do, I still often make the mistake. Thus, it’s comforting to know that God judges us not only by our actions, but by the intent behind them (Doctrine & Covenants 137:9).
When we do identify our weakness (or priestcraft), we can be grateful that God has shown it to us, because that means He is giving us the chance to improve (Ether 12:27) and become far better at “being a light.”