The Book of Mormon uses the term “priestcrafts” as follows: “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.” (2 Nephi 26:29) Last weekend, I visited the “local” LDS bookstore (located about two hours away, near the Chicago temple) and discovered a new book about Jesus, written by a man I had met several years ago while practicing law. Although we met only briefly, my impression of this man was very favorable, and I am pretty certain that he could teach me a thing or two about Jesus. Nevertheless, whenever I visit an LDS bookstore, the verse quoted above about priestcrafts pops into my head. Mormons tend to associate that idea with televangelists, but I wonder …
1. Do authors of religious books “preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world”? Hmm. On the one hand, I suspect that most of these authors feel that they are pointing the way to Jesus, rather than setting themselves up for a light. On the other hand, successful authors become celebrities within the Church, regardless of their initial motives. This first part of the priestcraft “test” seems less about motives than about the fact of placing oneself in a position of authority.
2. Are they acting to “get gain and praise of the world” or are they “seeking the welfare of Zion”? These parts of the priestcraft “test” are about motives, and it is probably impossible for us to judge in the individual case. One test might be whether the author uses a pen name and donates all of the royalties to charity (I heard that LeGrand Richards did the latter with A Marvelous Work and a Wonder). Most LDS authors would fail if that were the standard, but that may be too strict. What about those authors who “get gain and praise of the world” and “[seek] the welfare of Zion”? Hmm, again. Pretty strict standards, no?
[P.S. Some of these ideas stem from a conversation that I had a long time ago with an LDS lawyer in Delaware. He is the reason I think about priestcrafts whenever I visit Deseret Book, but I have never been quite convinced that I was observing priestcrafts in action.]