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.”

[For more commentary on “the stuff that distracts from you,” click here to listen to my podcast!]

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.”

BT

Doctrine: Modesty is not about keeping others from sinning, it’s about you keeping your covenants with God.

At baptism we covenant to:

  • Take upon us the name of Christ (to carry His name and be like Him)
  • To stand as a witness of God at all times, in all things, and in all places
  • To feed God’s sheep (i.e. share His gospel)
  • To be a light to the world (to set an example)
  • To help others, to comfort them, to guide them, to love them, to bear with their weaknesses and infirmities
  • Keep God’s commandments

So, what does modesty have to do with keeping your covenants? Answer: it may be one of the biggest things you do that gets in the way of your ability to keep your covenants because your personal appearance impacts your ability to do all of the things listed above.

So many people think how you dress has to do with how you feel about yourself, your self-confidence, etc. And, in so many ways it does. But, the “feeling about yourself” you are trying to project or feel may or may not be a completely righteous one. It may be blocking the name of Christ you have taken upon yourself.

As well, so many people complain that they should not have to be responsible for the sins others commit (or think about committing) in response to what they wear. And, they are right, they should not have to be responsible…and they aren’t. But, there’s so much more to it than that.

Imagine this, you covenanted to take upon you the name of Christ. Sure, it’s figurative and spiritual. But its real. And, if how you dress distracts others from seeing Christ in you, you’ve got a problem. If you speak in an immodest way that distracts others from hearing Christ in your conversation, you’ve got a problem. If you act in an immodest way that distracts others from recognizing you as a follower of Christ, you’ve got a problem.Portrait of a mysterious woman

Priestcraft is “setting yourself up as a light” instead of Christ, to get praise and gain (and we’re not talking about simply money here). Thus, immodesty in dress, thought, word, and deed is priestcraft.

Consider that you can be covered from neck to ankle, but if your actions are immodest, you are breaking your covenants. If you are covered from neck to ankle, but your speech is immodest, you are breaking your covenants. If you are covered from neck to ankle, but your clothing is sloppy, dirty, covered with irreverent slogans, etc., you are breaking your covenants. If you are covered from neck to ankle, but your clothing is so tight people are distracted from Christ, whom you represent, you are breaking your covenants.

Yes, your body is Christ’s. He bought it through the atonement. That alone is reason enough to respect it. Your voice was also bought, and your ability to move, etc. That alone is reason enough to be good and act right. But, modesty in word, thought, action, and dress transcends even that grand doctrine. If you are a follower of Christ then you have covenanted to be a witness of Him. And, if you do anything with your body, clothing, actions, and words to distract from your witness of Him, it is priestcraft and immodesty.

Just some food for thought for today.

BT

Doctrine: Modesty is the absence of priestcraft (see explanation of this truth below).

Today, LDS Living posted an article by Katie Lambert (https://www.ldsliving.com/Why-We-Need-to-Stop-Humiliating-Others-in-the-Name-of-Modesty/s/83305).

I appreciated this article. It made a good point; one that needed to be said. But, it also made me think about why these kinds of situations happen. People humiliate in the name of honesty, but only because they are trying to teach correct principles. People get humiliated in the name of honesty because the standard hasn’t been explained to them. Or, even more likely, they don’t understand the truth behind the standard, so the standard seems rigid or ridiculous and they are lax in following it.

As I have studied modesty over the years, I have come to understand that modesty is about far more than what anyone wears. God sees all. He sees us without clothes or with them. People out in the world have seen a body naked. We have seen our own body naked. So, what’s the big deal?

Often, when teaching modesty people teach that our body is a gift. This is true. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” This scripture clearly states that our body is a gift that we are given which we are to use to glorify God.

But, let’s face it. Whether or not you can see my shoulders or my kneecaps is not necessarily going to make you have inappropriate sexual thoughts. Judgmental thoughts, maybe. So, why do I have to cover my shoulders and kneecaps up?

What if I’m covered from neck to toe but my facial expressions, body language, and verbal communication are lewd and crude and unfavorable attention to me? What if I’m wearing a burlap sack from neck to ankle, but it has an expression of profanity on it and I have a sleeve tattoo that shows because I’m only wearing cap sleeves? What if I’m dressed all in white but I have a scowl on my face and I’m making fun of others under my breath to the people around me?

The truth is modesty is about far more than the clothes we wear. It is about the words we speak. It’s about the messages we preach through our body language, clothes, and verbal communication. Most importantly it’s about the intent with which we do anything.

Modesty is the absence of priestcraft. In the Book of Mormon we are taught that priestcraft is a person setting themselves up for a light unto the world that they may get gain and praise of the world; they do not seek the welfare of Zion (2 Nephi 26:29). We learn that people say things or do things to get praise, riches, and honor (Alma 1:16). I note specifically that personal gain is rarely directly related to money. It is about honor, popularity, attention, and so forth. So, what does this have to do with honesty?

Consider that Christians are commanded to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:14); and as noted above to use our bodies to glorify God. Additionally, we learn that it’s not “us” we are supposed to hold up as a light but our examples of Christ (3 Nephi 18:24). So, it is Christ that we are holding up by our thoughts, words, and deeds (Mosiah 4:30).

So, what was the purpose of Christ’s life? Christ’s life and mission was to bring people to His Father, to help them come to know God, to help them accept the Father’s plan for them and to repent and/or be baptized and live a godly life, serving others (Matthew 23:11).

So, “immodesty” is anything that we do that gets in the way of us being a light, bringing people to God, His plan, baptism and/or repentance, and the opportunity to live a godly life.

So, if I wear form-fitting clothes to get the boys’ attention and praise so that I can feel good about myself, I’m using my body and my clothes to draw attention to myself and serve my own designs rather than to bring those boys closer to God (priestcraft). If I go to church and I’m covered neck to toe but I’m wearing a hot pink dress that poofs out, have died my hair bright purple and spiked it, have on the largest Kelly green earrings known to mankind and I sit in a conspicuous place (not that I’m not bright enough to attract anyone’s attention already no matter where they sit and keep them from focusing on the sermons/talks), I’m being immodest (priestcraft). If I speak in an un-Christ like way (profanity, crude jokes, gossip, etc.), and I claim to be a Mormon (Latter-day Saint) or Christian, while I’m at school, work, or anywhere that my example will be noticed, that language will draw focus to myself and take the focus away from God, whose name I promised to take upon myself at baptism (priestcraft). If I dress to be popular or to have a certain perception about me; which perception I make more important than being a light to the world—as Christ was—then I’m guilty of priestcraft.

I could draw up a long list, but those who are keen to be modest in thought, word, and deed know enough to ask themselves regarding any clothes, speech, or public actions, “Will this draw attention away from Christ and put the focus on me? Will this outfit, conversation, speech, or public example serve me or God?” Did not God say, “Thou shalt have no gods before me” (Exodus 20:3)? So, we must ask, “Am I doing this to get something for myself, to place myself in a position of praise and honor, instead of doing it to bring praise and honor to God?”

God is the great “I am,” and yet even He doesn’t do anything that will ever get in our way of choosing to follow Him, accept His plan, get to know Him, and embrace His saving ordinances. “He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him” (2 Nephi 26:24).

If those who preached modesty understood its true purpose, they wouldn’t be quick to humiliate those whose “intent” is clearly not immodesty i.e. priestcraft. They would accept them as they are and take appropriate opportunities to teach, in Christ like ways, about the doctrine of modesty. By pointing a finger and saying, “What you’re wearing is immodest.” What they are communicating to the individual is, “You are evil and horrible to have worn that,” causing humiliation, embarrassment, and shame.

When I was younger, I hated that church standards required that I wear knee-length shorts. At the time board shorts were not in style and in general I had to have my mom make my shorts or I had to cut off jeans. The patterns for knee-length shorts were not flattering, especially not to me, a freakishly tall girl with woman hips. I never wanted to be immodest. My intent in trying to skirt the dress code was never to wear daisy dukes. The same insecurity that made me not want to wear knee-length shorts also prevented me from desiring super short shorts.

At the time, I opted to simply wear jeans all the time, summer, spring, fall, or winter. It solved the problem. As I got older, however, and I pondered the standard of modesty, I came to some important conclusions that helped me to understand the purpose of the dress code to begin with. First, since we believe God is a glorified, perfected, resurrected man with a glorified, resurrected, perfected wife (whom we call Heavenly Mother), I asked myself, “What would Heavenly Mother dress like and why?”

A perfected, glorified, godly woman would have no insecurity. She would have no need to prove her worth, value, or attractiveness to others. She would exude confidence, love, and mercy. Her main goal in how she dressed, spoke, and acted would be to draw others, who saw her and interacted with her, unto God. She would dress in a way that would be beautiful but that would not make herself more important than her goal in bringing us to true joy and happiness.

Is being smelly, dirty, wearing tattered and ragged clothes immodest? Sure, if you’re in a place where such apparel is not appropriate or will draw undue attention to you. However, if you are doing good hard work that demands ragged clothing so that you don’t damage your other good clothes, then what you are wearing is appropriate to the occasion and modest. If you’re out mucking horse stalls then wearing super nice clothes would not only distract the people watching you muck, because they’d be worried about you ruining your clothes, but it would distract you from doing the work you were there to do.

It’s interesting to ponder that our own thoughts, words, actions, clothes, and intent can distract not only others from Christ, but ourselves as well. When we get caught up in priestcraft—setting ourselves up for a light—we prevent our own progression because we have made our will, praise, and honor more important than God’s.

So, for all you out there whether old, young, or in-between; whether you are a leader or a follower, modesty is far less about the outward appearance and far more about the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). That is the doctrine you should adhere to as you serve, counsel, and teach. And before you judge, find out the needs of a person’s heart. Often, the intent to be immodest is not there.

BT