Sunday, April 15, 2012

The new priestcraft

5 And it came to pass that he [Nehor] did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words, even so many that they began to support him and give him money.

6 And he began to be lifted up in the pride of his heart, and to wear very costly apparel, yea, and even began to establish a church after the manner of his preaching. (Alma 1:5-6)

We in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often pat ourselves on the back when we read the story of Nehor and his priestcraft. We think that because our church has lay leadership that means that we are safe from priestcraft. It is true that the way the church is organized makes priestcraft much more difficult, but we are not out of the woods yet.

I have begun to see that we are coming to a time when the temptation of priestcraft is exploding from an unexpected direction—blogging. (Other internet communication can be included, but I want to focus on blogging because that is what I am involved in, and I need this message as much as anyone.)

And I don’t just mean religious blogging, I mean ALL blogging. We live in an age when distance is no longer an obstacle to disseminating a message. Technology level and language are still barriers, but if they aren’t, a message can go around the world and bloggers can gain followers from far beyond their physical range of influence. Bloggers are very susceptible to the temptation of priestcraft. See how these verses might apply to bloggers:

…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 26:30)

Bloggers may start writing to get something off their chest, but bloggers continue to write in hopes of being read. Our human need for validation causes the hope of being read to become the hope of being appreciated. Hope for appreciation becomes desire for praise. Considering how our world values fame and celebrity, it is easy for the hope of receiving praise to transform into a hope for popularity. And considering how much our culture values creative enterprise and money-making, hope of popularity easily develops into the hope of someday making a living with one’s blog.

Many people start blogging because they feel they have something important and valuable to say to the rest of the world. We have a light we want to shine. As long as letting our light shine brings others to glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 6:16), all is as it should be, but if becomes setting ourselves up as THE light to get glory for ourselves, then we get into dangerous ground.

Further, Nephi notes that the motives for setting oneself up as a light are the main thing to watch out for.

Priestcraft motive #1: That they may get…praise of the world

This is such a real danger in blogging. What blogger doesn’t love positive comments on what they’ve written? There are little blogging awards that get passed around, contests of popularity as to the best posts or comments, etc.

I am not immune from this. I feel the pull of the desire for honors too; I get fixated on positive comments and I sometimes feel the urge to self-censor or post more of what people seem to like when my goal should be always to inspire, motivate, and edify.

And let’s be honest; it is hard to keep writing without some sense that what you are doing is appreciated by somebody. Receiving praise from other people is one way to tell your writing is appreciated. Luckily, it isn’t the only way. The Lord is able to give us revelation about our effectiveness when no one else says anything. (I just wish I didn’t forget this so often!)

The best kind of comments though, are ones in which someone says that they learned something or they changed for the better because of what was shared; that gives writers true joy. (Those comments are part of what keep me going on this blog and help me feel like all the time and effort I put in has been worth it.) And when someone comments and shares an experience from their life that illustrates what I’ve written about, I am edified and very VERY grateful. Those comments strengthen my faith in the Lord and they teach me. (I love to learn from comments!)

But back to seeking for praise. Seeking for praise can occur in more insidious forms because of blogging tools that allow bloggers to analyze what posts are getting the most traffic and what gets the most comments, what posts cause people to exit their site, and so on. The ability to quantify popularity makes the quest for popularity alarmingly more scientific and calculating. On one hand, these tools can help a blogger hone their writing to become more engaging, which is good, but on the other hand, there is that subtle pressure to write more of what’s popular and less of what isn’t in order to expand and keep readers. (Just as an example of how bloggers value their popular messages and use them, many blogs have widgets on their sidebars that have a list of popular posts. What if we also had lists of unpopular and neglected posts in our sidebars?)

Elder Oaks gave a warning that can be applied to blogging about gospel topics in an address entitled, "Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall," Ensign, Oct. 1994. This is from an address previously given at BYU:

Another illustration of a strength that can become our downfall concerns charismatic teachers. With a trained mind and a skillful manner of presentation, teachers can become unusually popular and effective in teaching. But Satan will try to use that strength to corrupt teachers by encouraging them to gather a following of disciples. . . .Teachers who are most popular, and therefore most effective, have a special susceptibility to priestcraft. If they are not careful, their strength can become their spiritual downfall. They can become like Almon Babbitt, with whom the Lord was not pleased, because "he aspireth to establish his counsel instead of the counsel which I have ordained, even that of the Presidency of my Church; and he setteth up a golden calf for the worship of my people" (D&C 124:84). (

So, one error that we can fall into as religious bloggers is thinking that readers should listen to us and ignore the prophet and apostles the Lord has put in place to lead us. This is an obvious prideful wish like Almon Babbitt’s wish to supplant those the Lord set in leadership,

Another error is seek to gather a following. Satan does tempt bloggers to gather a following, and those “Follow Me” blog widgets can contribute greatly to it. I have a love-hate relationship with my own Followers widget on my blog. I appreciate it because it reminds me that I have an audience. But I have to continually remind myself when looking at all your pictures that you are looking to the Lord, to the prophets, to the scriptures, and to your local leaders, and my words are simply my personal, though well-considered opinion, which is not binding on anybody.

A different type of error we might make is when/if we find conference messages that repeat even vaguely something we have written about, and we may be tempted to think those speakers learned it from us. (Ohhhh, the insidious ego-ness thereof! Gag! Spit! Shun!) In actuality, the same heavenly source that teaches us, teaches the leaders. Our leaders learn through the Holy Ghost, independent of us, and if anything, the Lord may have actually been working on us to prepare us to heed the words of our leaders.

Blog popularity is double-edged. Lots of readers mean a message can be spread to a lot of people easily, assuming we have something worthwhile to say. But it also brings the high risk of pride, and the risk that we are pleasing people with a message that pleases the carnal mind. (Side note: I do not consider my blog to be popular, But believe me, pride can strike whether there are millions of hits or whether there are five.)

Elder David A. Bednar said in an address originally given to Seminary and Institute instructors:

[W]e must be careful to remember in our service that we are conduits and channels; we are not the light. “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matthew 10:20). It is never about me and it is never about you. In fact, anything you or I do as an instructor that knowingly and intentionally draws attention to self—in the messages we present, in the methods we use, or in our personal demeanor—is a form of priestcraft that inhibits the teaching effectiveness of the Holy Ghost. “Doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God” (D&C 50:17–18). David A. Bednar, "Seek Learning by Faith," February 3, 2006, Address to CES Religious Educators, Jordan Institute of Religion.


This scripture has some great perspective:

…the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength. (Alma 1:26)

That verse holds a principle that has always been helpful for me to remember when I am about to puff myself up with pride. Just because I blog about the scriptures does not make me a more of a worthwhile person than someone who comments or someone who lurks or someone who doesn’t read blogs at all. We’re all equal. This is another reason why I love it when you comment and share inspiring stories from your lives about living the principles; it reminds me that the blogger and the commenter are equal.

If it sounds like I’m talking too much about myself, it is to show you that I am not immune from problems with this. I have to remind myself because I forget.

Priestcraft motive #2: That they may get gain

Popularity usually begins to bring on the next tempting aspect of priestcraft—seeking gain. There are all kinds of ways that people have discovered they can use to make money off their blogs—reviewing products, sponsorships, embedded ads, banners, affiliate links, etc. There are whole industries devoted to increasing online popularity, blogs and otherwise.

I’ve been tempted by this too. I go through stages where I wish I could find some way to “monetize” my blog, and then I have to slap myself out of that. I used to wish that I could make a living as a scripture blogger, but I’ve never been paid one cent for it, and I suppose that I probably never will.

Actually, I wrote the above paragraph a few months ago and then interestingly enough, someone commented on one of my posts, inviting me to become an affiliate so I could earn money with my blog. My first reaction was, “Wow, they think I have snagged enough eyeballs to make them money! I’ve arrived!” But my second reaction was “Priestcraft! Stay away!” I thought it through carefully, and I could see that if I became an affiliate site, my focus would change, and I would become more interested in what money I was making than in my labor of love of blogging about the scriptures, which I consider laboring for Zion.

Why is priestcraft such a big deal? Because the consequences are dire. Here’s Nephi’s warning for all those who engage in priestcraft:

For the time speedily shall come that all churches which are built up to get gain, and all those who are built up to get power over the flesh, and those who are built up to become popular in the eyes of the world, and those who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity; yea, in fine, all those who belong to the kingdom of the devil are they who need fear, and tremble, and quake; they are those who must be brought low in the dust; they are those who must be consumed as stubble; and this is according to the words of the prophet. (1 Nephi 22:23, emphasis added)

Consumed as stubble. That’s a heavy consequence for priestcraft.

Nephi observed priestcraft causing great problems in gentile society:

And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor. (2 Nephi 26:20)

These days churches aren’t just brick and mortar; they can be virtual as well. Nephi notes that spiritual hazards that go with priestcraft are denying miracles and preaching up one’s own wisdom (which may include scientific atheism), and neglect of (and even abuse of) the poor.

Seek the welfare of Zion

Seeking the welfare of Zion should be the motive of any blogging or preaching. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? It’s about wanting to make the reader’s lives better, wanting to say something that will be of benefit, that may bring positive change, something that may help unravel difficulties and make the right way clear. It’s not saying something just to keep posting on schedule, but to edify and enlighten. It requires charity.

The goal is to not put oneself above others, but to show others how to rise to a higher level. The goal is not to champion our own view, but to increase perspective so the truth can be seen more clearly.

I’ve written about the different aspects of priestcraft that can enter blogging because I’ve had to struggle with it myself in all kinds of different ways. My hope is that sharing these things will help you to find and conquer priestcraft in yourself, and your desire to strengthen Zion with sound words and pure motives will be increased. We need as much of that as we can get.

The goal we are all striving for is this:

And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34, emphasis added)

The day will come when teaching will be over because ALL will know. It will be a day of kings and queens, priests and priestesses, everyone at the pinnacle of knowledge and development. There is no room for pride and priestcraft in that future.


Rozy Lass said...

Thank you! I hadn't thought of blogging as priestcraft, but I can sure see how it could happen. I appreciate your thoughtful posts. Our here is Iowa I feel so alone in living the gospel and I am grateful to bloggers as a way to have gospel conversations during the week.

Rozy Lass said...

I meant "out" here in Iowa!

RaisinCookies said...

I really appreciate this. As a blog reader, I try to focus on only reading uplifting spiritual blogs, but with the focus of "being careful." Careful of what? I hadn't really defined it in my head, but you sure did! Thanks!

Jocelyn Christensen said...

Hey Great post! MMM and I have been pondering this exact topic for some time now...and you share the thoughts so well. Thank you! And thanks for steering yourself and others away from Priestcraft!

Ramona Gordy said...

Great observation. I have been going back and forth with my own purpose for blogging. I love to write, and also learn. I started my blog as a way to "talk to myself" about my experience in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I invited my friends to "read at their own risk". Four brave souls decided to "follow" me, so I called them like-minded believers LOL. But even now, I have to look at the content of my blog and determine if what I am posting,is edifying to the faith that I profess.So I have considered (all the time) shutting it down, but I find comfirmation in my heart that what I am writing will help and not hinder. I try to set "goals" or a vision for my blog, and keep focused and humble.

Malachi 3:16-1716 Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.

Huston said...

Very wise words! This will make me scrutinize my own writing more. We should all take this to heart.

chococatania said...

This is a good post, and timely for me. It helped me to answer a question that I had been asking myself for some time.

Blogging can be a two-edged sword. There are really good things about. Often, I'm inspired to blog because my hope is that if someone googles "Book of Mormon" they will find positive testimonies rather than something written in an antagonistic view. However, we are "natural men" and there are times when I get a little too worried about my stats and such. That stuff doesn't matter. What does matter is being a positive voice - maybe not for the typical reader, but for the person who is searching.

Anyways...thanks again!

Bonnie said...

Found your blog poking around and have to say I really love this idea. I've noticed a particular spirit about some group blogs on which I sometimes comment that seems very much like this. Humility is such an important virtue, but hard to maintain in the virtual world. These questions bring me back to center. We all need that. I appreciated you calling them out ... honors of men, to get gain ... how familiar!

Mach Momma said...

You know I began to feel weird about blogging and actually quite over a year ao. I felt it was "idleness" of my time and it was all I thought about. I knew I was neglecting what was truly important. I just recently started to look at my google reader (like last week!). Thanks for the post. You have such great insight to share

Michaela Stephens said...

Mach Momma, I know what you mean about the feeling of idleness. That is also something I fight.

Chocotania, I understand the high interest in blog stats. Take a vacation as much as you can from it; that helps. Don't check them every day. Check them once a week. I used to check mine every week, and it still was a problem for me, so I'm trying to hold out for once a month.

RGG, loved that verse you posted. We're all trying, aren't we.