Mormon Business? Priestcraft.

Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites, Iron Rod key chains, Captain Moroni action figures, Seven Habits of Highly Effective Poorly Written Books & All priestcraft. All of these are objects that take what is sacred, cheapen it, and sell it to the Mormon masses. Members of the Church who take the sacred and sell it for a quick buck. If this isn’t modern-day priestcraft, what is? As McConkie defined it, “when their interest is in gaining personal popularity and financial gain.” (Mormon Doctrine, 593)

Some will argue these objects help people learn about the gospel and feel the spirit. They’re conversion tools aren’t they? Help convert the non-converted or help the already converted have a stronger testimony? If this is the case why are they sold for profit? If the intent is to help, to build, and strengthen, why turn a profit? Why not sell at cost or just enough above cost to cover expenses? The answer from many is that we live in a capitalist society and if we want these items to be made and distributed, if we want lay church members to be able to help others in this way, we must make a market for these things so that lay members can make them and make a living. But why do we need these trinkets or even want them? And do we really need to create a market for these things? If the desire is to help build the Church, convert the masses, why can’t we do it in our spare time, like we do with our church callings?

You say Tennis Shoes helps the young learn about the Book of Mormon, I say give the kids the scriptures and tell the author to find a real job.

Iron Rod key chains help us remember to do what’s right every time we start the car? Put a prayer in your heart or memorize a scripture.

Seven Habits shows the masses the worth of gospel principles? How about we serve with the missionaries, give aid to the needy, and tell Covey to come up with an original idea if he wants to make a buck.

Why do we commodify that which is holy, sell that which is sacred? Are we simply trinket seekers who need additives for the gospel to be delicious to our taste?

Comments

  1. Best. Post. Ever. I feel exactly the same way. I can’t stand being in Deseret Book. The place takes almost everything I hold sacred and puts it on the same level as Golden Plates pencil toppers. Blech.

  2. I think that I mostly agree with you. And you are very courageous to speak out about this.

    But one thing I can’t help thinking: Where is the line?

    What about the movie, “The Work and the Glory”? is this also priestcraft, if they make a profit?

    What about OSC’s books on the women of Genesis?

    What about the First Presidency’s agreement to allow Doubleday (or whoever it was) to market The Book of Mormon?

    What about the comic book version of the Book of Mormon? (assuming it makes a profit)

    Where is the line drawn?

    I truly am uncomfortable at some of the stuff in Deseret Books.

    Perhaps it has to do with the spirit in which the product/endeavor was created and the purpose to which it is used.

    Does the person/company want to capitalize on gullible Mormons, to make a quick buck?

    Are they seeking to be rich and famous and popular in the world?

    What will they do with the proceeds?

    Does it take that which is sacred and debase it?

    It is a tough question sometimes. But one that needs asking.

    Thanks for a wonderful and thought-provoking post.

  3. An OK post, for a beginner :)

    Intern, you realize that now you’ve sabotaged sales of BCC T-shirts and scripture cases? Way to go.

  4. H.L.,

    When I read that your posts were going to be circulated among the full-timers here at BCC I thought it was a bad approach and hoped that it was only said in jest–but after reading this I’m beginning to rethink my position:)’

    I just flat out disagree with just about everything you have written. You apply a subjective definition of priestcraft to items of commerce that offend your sensibilities and proceed tio criticize their producers for profaning the sacred for personal gain. Question: Are the frescos in the Sistine Chapel priestcraft? IOW, do you have a high culture bias lurking behind your definition?

    You want to kill the Mormon market before it bears its best fruits.

  5. I think I agree with Matthew. We have been encouraged by our leaders to produce art based upon the Book of Mormon and other gospel themes. I think any discerning Latter-day Saint can tell if an item is a true expression of the artist/proprieters faith versus something created just because a bunch of gullible Mormons will buy it. I certainly don’t think Heimerdinger or Covey means for their works to replace the Book of Mormon or the words of the prophets. I was entertained by the Tennis Shoes series when I was a teenager. Perhaps not qualifying as “high literature”, I’m sure my parents would rather that I read that then some of the other young adult fiction available at the time.

    Sure, there are lines. Perhaps not all of us are as ascetic as you are sounding here. I personally want my home to have LDS themed music and art (so long as it is quality, of course). When I have a family, I would much rather my daughters spend their time reading Jack Weyland and other such novelists than the other “romance” novels that will only fill their minds with sex and skewed world views.

    Also, what about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir CDs? I’m sure the label makes a bit of a profit off of those. Would you call that priestcraft? I hope not.

    Let’s not automatically discount anything sold in the commericial market as priestcraft. I think such a knee-jerk reaction will make us miss out on many potentially wonderful things — or prevent others from producing things that are true expressions of their faith and being able to share that with others.

  6. Davis Bell says:

    I second HL’s motion, although I’m sympathetic to the dilemmas Travis mentions.

  7. HL Rogers says:

    Good comments from everyone except for Mat’s, whose comments were both slanderous and profane. :>)

    I relate to concerns that I’m killing off the market before it bears its best fruits. However, should there be a market? Do we need to encourage profits to encourage production? Does the very scheme of a free market commodify the sacred?

    I think a fairly bright-line can be drawn around profit-seeking. Priestcraft definitionally revolves, at least at some level, around intent. Intent is a very subjective thing, so how do we measure it? I think the question of profit arises as an easy approach to measuring intent. If the intent is to build Zion will the creator seek profits? I think they shouldn’t. Mo Tab doesn’t earn money, nor do the many products the church releases. These items are sold at cost or close to it.

    Once we begin to gain profits aren’t we selling the sacred? And isn’t that preistcraft? Or once we seek profits is the better rubric, yet impossible to measure.

    Maybe we shouldn’t discount everything sold in the market place, but I think we should be very weary.

  8. H.L.,

    By your own definition, many of the G.A.s including many of the apostles are engaged in priestcraft. They write books, put a disclaimer in them explicitly stating that they aren’t necessarily doctrinal or reflective of the church’s views and reap a profit.

    You have a bright line rule–but it doesn’t do the job you want it to.

  9. HL Rogers says:

    But many GAs refuse to write books for this very reason, others don’t accept the profits from their sales, others donate that profit.

    I think GAs set a different precedent. They are already serving full-time at no profit for the church: receiving living allowances. One of the very prnciples of the Church is that our leaders do not enrich themselves on the backs of the members. Perhaps they do not fit exactly into my bright-line rule. But then bright-line rules often require exceptions. Such rules lessen the cost of inquriing into very expensive questions. In the case of GAs the underlying assumptions change by the fact that they are working full-time at no profit. Thus the question of intentions is modified.

  10. What’s needed is more Mormon critics.

  11. Put me strongly in Mat’s camp. I agree that some of these products are tasteless, and do amount to priestcraft– see past discussions of the Times And Seasons “Land of Joseph” Maple Syrup company. But in general, I think it’s a very good thing to encourage a market surrounding Mormonism. It creates a supportive culture, disseminates artifacts of the gospel into our secular lives, and promotes the feeling that Mormonism is something real and concrete. Further, it’s necessary for the creation of quality products– art and music, etc.

    I don’t know if you served a foreign mission, H.L., but I can say that people in other countries latch on to little Mormon cultural artifacts as concrete symbols of the reality of the kingdom. Without stuff like that, they can feel much more isolated in their tiny branches.

  12. Does anyone else think that Mat holds stock in the company that makes the iron rod keychains?

    HL – I think the GA distinction is difficult to make because it seems to fit the usual definition of priestcraft better than any of your other examples, albeit not in the typical pejorative sense of the word. In fact, you could argue that priestcraft arose precisely because priests serve full time with only a living allowance.

  13. What about the “Know Your Religion” lectures put on by CES (since discontinued)? Didn’t the lecturer, typically a BYU religion professor, receive an honorarium, paid by an admission fee? Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  14. William,

    What’s needed are more producers of quality Mormon goods and we will get there only by wading through the schlock.

    H.L.,

    Am I engaged in priestcraft if I serve as a for-profit general contractor who builds a temple?

    In your earlier definition you listed “cheapening” as separate from profit–now you are linking the two as if accepting money in itself cheapens the sacred. To be honest, I think the cheapening aspect as you originally used it is the better part of the definition–although completely impossible to use as a bright-line.

  15. Matt Evans says:

    HL,

    Welcome to the bloggernacle, and your baptism by fire!

    The question of the Mormon market involves both supply and demand, and I think you skip over the demand side of the equation too quickly. To argue that their should be no supply is the same as saying their should be no demand, so let’s look at the demand side, starting with the Living Scriptures, a favorite whipping boy in these kinds of discussions.

    It seems perfectly sensible to me that Mormon and Christian parents who let their kids watch videos would want some videos depicting events from the scriptures. I’ve seen several of the videos and they convey a deep sense of respect for the prophets (the titles we have focus on a different OT figure), the importance of heeding their message, and the importance of living righteously. It seems natural to me that Mormon parents would want their children exposed to those messages as much as messages from Clifford and Scooby Doo.

    The same goes for children’s books — is there any reason Mormon parents should buy Miss Spider and Her Car instead of Jonah and the Whale? Tennis Shoes presumably does help kids learn about the Book of Mormon (I’ve never read them so I’m assuming this arguendo), and unless you’re arguing that young teens should read nothing but the scriptures, why insist they read fiction involving the land of Balrodor, but not the Book of Mormon?

    Similarly, is it better to have a SeaWorld keychain than one depicting the Iron Rod, or to have to have a license plate cover saying “Go Dallas Cowboys!” than “Families Are Forever”?

  16. I think that it is not so easy to discern. Maybe the preist craft has to do with the marketing more than the content.

    I would pray and thank the Lord for something like a Mormon equivelent to The Messiah and would be pleased to pay for it. I might be embittered, however, if it was advertised between Conference on KSL.

    The piece de priestcraft resistance has to be Primary lesson books and canned Primary programs.

  17. Leonore says:

    I find your eagerness to quote Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine to be hypocritical. Is there something I am missing?

  18. Leonore,

    You aren’t missing anything. H.L. is a big hypocrite (sp?). He also got me my current job, but I have a proud history of biting the hand that feeds me.

  19. Matt: “is it better to have a SeaWorld keychain than one depicting the Iron Rod?”

    YES. Have you ever tried to use a piece of rebar for a keychain, man? Don’t be ridiculous.

    Even worse is a liahona keychain — it’s a hideous bulge with pointy parts.

  20. HL, once again I add my voice in opposition to your post. *cough*

  21. HL Rogers says:

    Well if nothing else I got the production of the much anticipated BCC t-shirt finally underway. Priestcraft? perhpas. Necessary service for the bloggernacle? Defintely!

  22. I don’t see a Liahona keychain selling at all these days, given the proliferation of GPS systems that do not require any level of obedience to work.

  23. ron hall says:

    I’m for whatever bright line definition of priestcraft draws a circle around John Bytheway.

    Keychains, dumb videos, bad books, these all pale beside his particularly obnoxious brand of ‘humor’.

  24. The BCC T-shirt, required attire for YSA activities. I’m holding out for the power tie.

  25. HL Rogers says:

    Before we competely lose track of the original thread …

    The problem as I see it is to create a definition of priestcraft that allows for normative statements regarding those things that really do demean the sacred. For example, we could start with an example that most would agree with: the t-shirts with a picture of Christ on the cross and read “this blood’s for you.” From there we inch the line up to continue to encompass those things the cheapen the sacred, that serve as money changers in the temple as it were. Of course, not everyone will agree with my defintion. I have very little patience for Mormon kitsch and have seen no commercial mormon “art.” This also alludes to the fact that yes, there is the mangy head of elitism hiding behind my definition. I do have a harder time applying my bright-line to great pieces of art.

    Matt Evans: I do think youth should be reading other fiction besides mormon fiction. I think cheapening the sacred demeans our religious experiences and our ability to commune with the divine.

    But here the definitional problem is that some art does allow us to commune with the divine (sistine chapel, Messiah, etc., hymns) but art is completely subjective. One man’s poem is another man’s doggerel as it were. Can both lead different people to the divine, I don’t think so. Perhaps, the bright-line I created is a little unwieldy but it does escape the problem of trying to define what art is–but perhaps that endeavor would be better than the one I began.

    However, if my bright-line, anti-capitalist approach does not work for you guys, what do you have in mind?

    Surely we can find a defintion we all agree on that also defines John Bytheway as priestcraft (no offense if John is reading this, I took a NT class from him at BYU and it was actually pretty good).

  26. What about money itself, which reads, “In God We Trust.” Is that priestcraft?

  27. HL – Having that Jesus T-shirt in and of itself is not priestcraft. Bad taste? Yes. Mildly blasphemous? Yes. Priestcraft? No.

    Isn’t it when you go and try to sell it to someone and market it as a way for greater contact with divinity that we have priestcraft?

    It is when you say, “Buy this. It will bring you closer to God.” that we have priestcraft. Poor Taste is a different sin all together.

  28. [Posted too early]

    …So from this you have a situtation where we can have religiously themed items and even sell them without practicing priestcraft. Like previously stated, it is in the marketing.

  29. The t-shirt described was more than mildly blasphemous.

  30. a random John says:

    Steve,

    I hardly see how your example falls into the category of priestcraft. If it does then BYU t-shirts would be even worse, right? Of course BYU t-shirts (and anything else) is already worse in my book, even without the priestcraft, but that is a topic for another day.

  31. random John — You are right that Steve’s example could never be categorized as priestcraft. It is wholly lacking the other side of the equation necessary for profit, as described by Matt E. – demand.

  32. a random John says:

    Marko,

    I thought it was lacking in sacredness, but that would ruin comparison to BYU t-shirts, right?

  33. Has anyone seen the Living Scriptures Hero Classic series, which contains a DVD/Video of Christopher Columbus? Yeah, CC is a hero, how absurd.

  34. Has anyone seen the Living Scriptures Hero Classic series, which contains a DVD/Video of Christopher Columbus? Yeah, CC is a hero, how absurd.

  35. Bob Caswell says:

    Though I’m not too excited about the many Utah businesses popping up (MissionaryMail.org, DearElder.com, etc.) and think their signs and billboards are extremely tacky, I feel uncomfortable labeling what they do as priestcraft. And if you *force* not-for-profit status on any of this, then it will just simply go away. Many good things come from service-oriented behavior. But many good things can (and do) come from capitalist behavior; it’s not all bad.

  36. Seven Habits shows the masses the worth of gospel principles? How about we serve with the missionaries, give aid to the needy, and tell Covey to come up with an original idea if he wants to make a buck.

    Actually, Seven Habits is a business book. It has been on the NYT best selling business books list for years at a time. It is not even close to priestcraft. And it does not heist any uniquely Mormon doctrines — unless you consider basic fairness, planning, ethics, etc. uniquely Mormon. I guess you could say it steals Mormon doctrine based on Brigham’s statements on how Mormon doctrine encompasses all truth… (Incidentally — Despite your qualms with the quality of the writing I think quality of the content is excellent. This is a pattern for lots of useful business books.)

    Steve — I’m impressed with the speed at which the cool new shirts were launched. I didn’t know you could do that so quickly at CafePress.

  37. I guess there are a lot of different interpretations of the scripture, “Do not spend for that which is of no worth, nor your labor for that which cannot satisfy.”

    For some that might include a glut of books by general authorities with nothing new or interesting to say, for others it might be the BCC shirt.

    And yet there is a demand for these things.

    I remember one time a solicitor of some kind got a hold of the ward records and started calling everyone up trying to sell those church cartoons, using very manipulative language. The only person who paid any attention was a poor vulnerable soul who was bamboozled into buying the whole catalog, having been convinced that it was essential for their family. Of course this was the person least able to afford it. The bishop was furious and forced them to let them return the merchandise.

    This sort of scenario, and the dreaded multi-level marketing schemes, rife with coercion, should have no place in the church.

  38. The church wouldn’t support Deseret Book if any of this crap about priestcraft was even moderately true.

  39. Tom Manney says:

    HL, I can’t fully agree. We need Mormon arts — great music, literature, drama, etc. The problem is that so little of it is good. We’re forced to conclude that the only logical motive for the glut of schmaltzy novels, music albums, cartoons, etc. must be profiteering.

    True artists who create their works out of a love of God or a desire to explore the more mysterious aspects of the faith should not be accused of priestcraft, but then again, maybe they shouldn’t accept payment for their work. Of course, if we want talented artists to have the time and resources to be able to put forward their best effort, they need some kind of financial compensation, no?

    A good socialist solution would be for the Church to sponsor quality artists through grants. I wouldn’t have a problem with my tithing money supporting talented artists. It’ll never happen, of course. What would happen to the artist whose artistic exploration leads to a work which pushes the envelope more than the already queasy Brethren are comfortable with? Would they have to pay back the grant? Alas, it’s nice to dream, but artists’ grants will never happen.

    So what’s the solution?

  40. Personally, I would like to see action figures of the modern prophets. My daughter’s Barbies need a stern lecture regarding modesty.

  41. For the curious, the T-shirts aren’t “official” BCC merchandise. The good stuff is yet to come.

  42. I have to say that I am on the side that this is not priestcraft. But there is profiteering going on in the LDS market, that much is easily seen. I think that the only way one could actually take care of this would be for the church to live under the United Order again. That way, no one would be profitting and hopefully the only “art” that would be produced would be from artists that really care about what they are doing. Then the “art” would have more worth and we would have some of the coersion and manipulating that you get from some salesmen.

    All in all, I think that the market is a good thing in general. If you don’t like some of the things that are produced then don’t buy it. If you think something is of worth to you, then by all means go and get it. But isn’t that the council we have for everything that we buy. I know that we are counciled to read from the best books. I think that that can transfer to only buying the best things or those things taht are of worth.

  43. Jared, I have less faith than you do that artists who really care would make better art. There’s a lot of sincerely-produced crap out there, quite aside from the schlockiness introduced by mass marketing.

    I’m with Tom that institutional support for the arts is necessary. I’ve never seen it convincingly demonstrated that free markets could encourage the production of good art. Deseret Book is never going discover and market a Mormon Milton. Much (most) of the really good, enduring stuff is produced with some kind of government, church, or private patronage. (See, e.g. Palestrina, Bach, Michelangelo, MoTab, modern LDS temples (yes, I’m aware of the significant problems including MoTab in that list, and perfectly willing to debate the architectural/design merits of modern temples, but they’re the closest we’ve got)).

    But I’m less pessimistic than Tom, I guess. I think the LDS church could eventually mature enough to support good stuff; there are a few congregations here and there where there are real attempts to get an interesting and beautiful chapel built despite the best efforts of the Building Committee, or to privately pay for a really good organ instead of the bottom-of-the-line Allen. In another half-century or so, the post-Correlated church might start to allow, even encourage, art again.

  44. I don’t really think preistcraft when I think of a lot of the stuff that is marketed to us. I don’t think there is anything really wrong with having items based on gospel ideas, or church culture…

    However, so much of what is out there is just plain tacky. I would love to see something of higher quailty, something without “the cheese factor” that so much of it has.

  45. I didn’t say that there wouldn’t be institutional support. Isn’t that what the United Order would be, an institutional support. If it isn’t worth it to the whole institution, then there would be no need for it and they wouldn’t get the things they need, because their time would be better spent doing something else in the Order. That’s how I see the United Order as working anyway. So yes, I would think that those things that wouldn’t be of worth would be missing, though probably not all.

  46. True Story:

    When I worked at Deseret Book, we had a display of Iron Rod zipper pulls (basically a small piece of metal you hook to your scripture zipper) on the back counter. A woman came in, saw the logo on the bars that reads “Hold to the Rod”, assumed the zipper pulls were for men’s pants, said, “That’s so vulgar!” and left the store before we could explain.

    Good times.

  47. Since we’re talking about t-shirts and priestcraft I just want to say that I used to get a kick out of those t-shirts that had Brigham Young wearing sunglasses. And they were sold out of BYU Bookstore if I recall. Someone should have drawn the natural conclusion and shown how nutty that was by printing up a similar image with the face of the modern prophet (at the time I think Pres. Benson). I’m sure that would have gone over really well.

    But Steve — I only am thinking of this earlier gag because that BCC t-shirt lacked an image. If there’s going to be BCC: (by the way, I like the colon on there) t-shirt then there needs to be something more than just the letters … and perhaps also the actual full domain address as well.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the real merchandise. Let it roll forth.

  48. I hope this isn’t obnoxious, but I just stumbled upon a site selling T-shirts and stuff that say “nobody knows I’m a liberal mormon”. It cracked me up. Pretty relevant here. http://www.cafepress.com/loveliberal

  49. Sara Randall says:

    As a liberal Mormon and a femminist I think your form of liberalism is a sham. You guys are not interested in real dialog, just towing the same old Mormon line…

  50. Bye, Sara.

  51. I have never really considered such things to be priestcraft, unless they sold them at the temple or something like that. And even then, maybe. But I do find such things to be completely obnoxious. RULDS2? Are you kidding me?

    I always thought that a non-Mormon moved to Utah and saw lots of shallow people (as there are in any community,not just Utah) and dollar signs. I simply couldn’t imagine a real Mormon being so willing to wear their religion on their sleave like that.

    Don’t think I am talking about all of that stuff sold at Deseret Book (though I am talking about most of it). The living scriptures and some of the game can be very helpful in teaching otherwise boring stories to children. These things are made to help people.

    But let’s face it. Most of that other junk (RULDS@?, oh, that bugs me) is made for one reason, money. I don’t like to see people trying to use the church to turn a profit.

    I don’t like to see people trying to turn the church into a club. This stems from my disapproval of members trying to fellowship people into the church instead of converting them. Obviously there is a social dimension to the Mormon experience, but let’s not get the cart before the horse.

    HL used the right word… kitsch (see Approaching Zion for an extreme version of this.) Some of it I’m not a big fan of, but I can see the purpose. Some I am willing to tolerate. But most I strongly disapprove of.

  52. danithew says:

    Maybe for some people that final “S” in LDS should be a dollar sign … that would look interesting on a t-shirt.

  53. I think most agree that there is genuine Mormon art and many other things of real value to a Mormon consumer and that there are also profiteers out there who see a chance to make a buck and do it.

    The question remains, though, where do you draw the line? It appears that many people are saying it’s the intention of the creator. But the problem is that the intention of nearly all of them is to make money. If materials related to the church were sold at exactly the cost of production, you would have no more than a handful of books and CDs, and none of the other stuff.

    Another, larger issue of line drawing comes in the degree to which the sold item is “spiritual” in the first place. If The Singles Ward is too blatantly using religion then what about the LDS Pride and Prejudice, where the church is a minor issue, moving further to Saints and Soldiers where the church is never explicitly mentioned.

    It sounds like the only appropriate option would be to create a work that had no mention of religion or values whatsoever. And that is completely wrong. We need more religion and values in commercial art, not less.

  54. I for one applaud H.L.’s criticism of the Mormon pop art and random accessories business machine. I don’t really care whether a particular LDS book, key chain, video, etc. falls into the category of “priestcraft”.

    My objections are directed at the greedy intent quality, the exploitation of the sacred and the shoddy quality of the products.

    I think it is wrong to use Mormonism as a vehicle to get gain. If the artist’s/producer’s principal intent is to generate cash instead of to glorify God than I have a problem. I think this was Christ’s criticism of the money changers at the temples. The didn’t care whether or not they were facilitating temple worship, they were just in it for the money.

    I definitely get the feeling that many of the peddlers of Mormon pop art, etc. are just in it for the money. I certainly have this feeling when I am approached by Living Scriptures salesman. I don’t care whether the producer is a General Authority or a even a non-Mormon, if they are using my religion as a vehicle to stuff their pockets, I have a big problem.

    In response to Mat’s comment about the Sistine chapel, yes if Michael Angelo’s principal motivation was to stuff his pockets with Papal dough, then I object to what he did. However, I would object less vehemently because he created something of high quality.

    To me, it is compounds the offense when greedy people exploit my religion and peddle junk (i.e. cheesy key chains and shoddy fiction). And I must say, that most of the stuff you see on the shelves of Deseret Book and Bookcraft are a very, very far cry from what is plastered on the walls of the Sistine chapel.

    Yes H.L., I strongly agree with you that the peddlers of Mormon junk are a disgrace.

  55. Reno writes:

    “The peddlers of Mormon junk are a disgrace.”

    Mat responds:

    (Unable to resist a cheap lawyers trick here.) Are you saying the church as the owner of Deseret Book and the peddler-in-chief is a disgrace? You aren’t just implicating a salesman or even a couple of general authorities with your statement, but the institution as a whole. It’s not as if the prophet and the apostles don’t know what Deseret Book carries or that it is a for-profit enterprise.

  56. I may be wrong, but I really don’t think that the GAs have that close of supervisory duties to Deseret Book, let alone other businesses in the valley, like Missionary emporium.

  57. I’ve heard the words “priestcraft” and “blasphemy” thrown around in this discussion quite frequently. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the word “cult”. These are all words with heavy negative implications, but little applicable, definable meaning.

    What is “priestcraft”? What is “blasphemy”? What is a “cult”? The definitions vary from poster to poster. All too often the defining lines are drawn along the tastes of the speaker. “That which I like and spend my money on is spiritual. That which you like and spend your money on is blasphemous priestcraft.”

    Another thought. A part of my definition of the word priestcraft has always been that the practitioner/proponent was also setting themselves up as a source of truth, at times even above and beyond the prophets, the scriptures, even the Lord himself.

    While many are attempting to profit from gospel themes (and I submit that there are truly precious few actually making much money), I don’t know very many of them trying to draw reverence to themselves. True, much of what many present is kitch, but I don’t see very many of them encouraging others to look to them, rather than the brethren or the scriptures, for the source of their gospel understanding.

    MRKH

  58. Mat:

    Yes, I stand behind my statement. Of course, in my comment I emphasized that I object to the intent. So, yes if the chief intent of Deseret Book is to stuff their pockets by hawking Mormon related junk. I think it is safe to say that is a disgrace. However, I am not assuming such an intent by the owners of Deseret Book.

    I don’t know the intent.

    Although, I would be interested to know your feelings about a peddler of Mormon junk who is chiefly motivated by a desire to fill his pockets with greenbacks. Is such activity something you support and admire? tolerate? deplore?

  59. Scott,

    If I’m a powerful executive at a company and I happen to stop by one of my stores one day and see something that goes against everything my company stands for, aren’t I culpable if I don’t do anything about it? Let me put it another way. Suppose Deseret Book had been selling p0rn for years–would we say “Well, the GAs aren’t directly supervising DB, so what DB sells isn’t a reflection on the church”? Of course not. I’m reminded over the pulpit quite frequently that I am an ambassador for the church. The businesses the church chooses to be in also say something about the church–and I just don’t believe the church would sell schlock out of DB if it were priestcraft or just plain disgraceful.

    Reno,

    If someone wants to sell etched glass shower doors with the SL Temple on them and he does so only because he wants to make money. . . what I think isn’t important except to the extent that I as a consumer choose to support his activity. I wish we as a people had better taste, but the church is not established to embody a particular aesthetic.

  60. Priestcraft is the offering of the sacred qua sacred. That is, the person engaging in priestcraft holds out the article of commerce as something that it is inherently mystical or otherwise possessing a divine character. While I too have unsavory feelings when I see such commercialization, I am not so sure I would call it priestcraft.

    In copyright law, there exists a category known as “derivative works.” 17 USC §103. To qualify as a derivative work, the creator must simply add something original to another copyrighted work or to a work in the public domain, and that added something must be more than merely trivial. The derivative work is treated as entire new work of art. One can also obtain a copyright in a compilation of other smaller copyrighted elements, that when selected and arranged together, rise to the level of independent originality, and based on their total look and feel, are thought to be unique works.

    Although much of what is sold at Deseret Book is silly and tacky, I do not think they are being held out as the sacred. Do these works garner benefit based on their relation to the sacred? Sure. But I think that is also true of all the prophets, and is also true of most art.

    So long as those selling such trivial things make clear that they are not agents of the Church, and those buying understand this, then let’s not get too upset about these mutually beneficial transactions. Everything has its place, and is long as we know which is which, then I do not think we should lament.

  61. HL Rogers says:

    Ian,
    Even by your definition there are certainly items at Deseret Book that fit as priestcraft or the offering of sacred qua sacred. I think Janice Kapp Perry feels that much of her music is sacred (perhaps not mystical but certainly possessing a divine character).

    In the scriptures preistcraft was more often the selling of ceremonies or talismans that could operate in a divine manner (forgive sins, heal the sick, etc.). True, if that is your definition not much applies but I think that is a cultural difference. Closely related, people certainly purchase John Bytheway books in the hopes that it will have a divine impact on their children: helping them to heal from spiritual or physical ills. I would not be surprised if John Bytheway did not beleive his books don’t or couldn’t have such an effect.

    I think at least a second element beisdes sacred qua sacred is necessary. Perhaps it could be the belief by that person that the objects which he/she creates are not a conduit to the divine but are in fact a conduit through them to the divine (which also seems a relevant principle taking preistcraft from the scriptures). However, this principle seems problematic itself. Surely many at the temple who Christ cast out did not believe they were selling the divine or that they were conduits for anything. Rather, they saw that many who came to the temple would believe that what they offered was divine and knew that those people would allow the merchants at the temple a comfoprtable living.

  62. Mat:

    Nice job of not taking a stand.

    Of course I am not about to go over turn tables in book craft, but I think the commercial exploitation of our religion is a bad development that warrants criticism. Sure people demand it, but that doesn’t make it okay. Both suppliers and demanders are to blame. I suppose people demanded money changing services and sacrificial animals at the temple in Jerusalem, but Christ didn’t seem to like the business very much. I support the creation of Mormon art, but not the business of Mormon art. I think the exploitation of sacred religious truths or even not so sacred religious truths solely for business motives is a bad development.

    I think it is related to the general materialism that plagues Mormon culture in North America. I think this is a festering cancer on our community.

  63. Reno,

    If you had gone to law school you would know how to distinguish moneychangers in the temple from action figures in the mall–not very analogous situations.

    BTW, I take it from your comment that you aren’t materialistic?

  64. HL Rogers says:

    Matt, I was wondering when you were finally able to distinguish between the two. (I take it Gigi doesn’t allow you to bring your action figures to church anymore)

  65. Mat:

    Nice dig, problem is I did go to law school. I slept through most of it though especially the money changer-action figure distinguishing part. But, I garantee I played less ultimate pinball on my computer than you did. I am surprised to hear so much law school pride coming forth.

    No, not very materialistic, I live in a hut next to Walden pond. Just kidding, I am as greedy as any other Gipper loving Republican, but I hate myself for it.

    Come on throw me a bone here, you didn’t take a much of stand, except to say people are tacky, live with it. All that litigating is making you nasty, you need to go back to corporate that will take the fight back out of you.

  66. H.L.,

    If I’m good during sacrament I can have them in Sunday school.

    Reno,

    Sorry to hear about the self-hatred–but let’s leave Dutch out of it. I thought I took a stand but just in case I wasn’t clear here it is again: Just because you don’t like it doesn’t make it priestcraft and while I don’t personally feel the need for a replica of each of the first 100 temples made entirely out of glass, a lot of people find some (spiritual?) value in them.

    You seem to have a lot of noble ideas that you don’t live up to–why not focus on them before you start in on some merchant fellow trying to make a living. (If you look in the NT you can find an analogous piece of advice to the bit I just gave you.)

  67. Mat:

    Man, this blog stuff is as addictive as crack. I need to ween my self or it will hurt my billables.

    Get real, if I was always worried about my own sins which our many, I would never be able to point out anyone elses problems. And, don’t give me that NT line, when you are dishing criticism at the same time. That is what is so funny about people who use that to criticize another criticizer.

    No more blogging for a few days for me, I need to bill.

    But, let me get this last piece in, greedy Mormon gawkers will keep raking in the dough regardless of what I say, but it is still a nasty business.

    Out.

  68. A working definition of priestcraft could help the discussion (and the one sentence McConkie definition from the original post isn’t working). People seem to apply the term indiscriminately. 2 Nephi 26:29 provides perhaps the best scriptural definition of priestcraft “…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.”

    This scripture allows for some interpretation. What if someone producing a product (fiction, art, music, keychains, etc.) was not trying to set themselves or their product up as a false “light unto the world?” What if they felt their product was helping Zion by increasing faith (and yes, still garnering a profit)? Do all of the conditions in 2 Nephi 26:29 (a substitute light unto the world, doing so for gain and praise, and not seeking the welfare of Zion) have to be fulfilled to be priestcraft? What if they feel they are trying to support and NOT replace the Gospel while seeking to increase faith but still do so for profit? Are the conditions of priestcraft still met? Other uses of “priestcraft” in scripture seems to reserve the term for such shady characters as Nehor and Korihor. In my opinion, just because something upsets our artistic or good taste sensibilities does not make it priestcraft.

    I think most of us would agree that there are things other than the scriptures or words of the prophets that could increase our faith and obedience. Why not an iron rod key chain for some? Or a John Bytheway talk for someone else? Or a GA doctrine book for others? If these are improving the welfare of some in Zion, must we still condemn them because they don’t help us? If these vendors are not setting themselves up to be a substitute for the gospel, but only augmenters, then leave it to each person how to augment for themselves. So how about we get off our high-minded, critical, know-it-all horses and ease up off the kitsch. It’s probably helping someone out there in Zion. I know my glow-in-the-dark CTR ring helps me when times are dark :).

  69. D. Fletcher says:

    I’m sure I’ve told this story before.

    The sequel to Saturday’s Warrior was called Star Child. Its first presentation was in about 1980, when I was a senior at BYU. There were posters put up around Provo, with the Star Child logo, and a little come-on slogan, “the musical that will magnify your testimony.” Below the slogan were the ticket prices, like $10, $15, $25. I remember thinking at the time, “if I pay for the expensive ticket, will I get more testimony booster?”

    It’s a conundrum, though, since I too have written sacred music, and my music is performed in Church, and I am not paid for the privilege, which makes me a bit annoyed. At least one of my songs is performed all over the world, and is on 7 recordings.

    I guess I do believe that no one should think they can make money off of conversion, or spiritual awakening; but surely there are those who disagree.

  70. Reno,

    Agreed. Out.

  71. D. Fletcher says:

    And by the way, I definitely believe the works of Richard Dutcher fit into this category. Anybody who thinks they are performing missionary work with their art, but they expect the audience to pay for it, would fall under this category.

  72. D.,

    Your comment bothers me enough to respond even though I said I was done for the night. I know that you disagree with the many people who consider Dutcher a fine film maker and a credit to his people, but you aren’t considering the whole story here. Dutcher has obligations to the people who finance his films–they wouldn’t get made at all if he couldn’t convince people to invest in them and his pockets aren’t deep enough to fund them himself. An artist who cares deeply about his capital intensive work is likely to find it necessary to enlist investors who expect a return on their money–and if they don’t get it, there won’t be any money for the next project.

    Now it may be that Dutcher doesn’t fit the archetype of the starving artist, but since he abandoned mainstream film because he didn’t find meaning in it, I’m willing to believe that his artistic vision, not money, is his primary motivation.

    BTW, I think he is a very good film maker with the potential to be a great film maker.

  73. D. Fletcher says:

    Mathew,

    I do not agree about Dutcher. I believe he found a niche market, and he is exploiting Mormonism just like everyone else. There’s no other reason to put the Sacrament, et al., in his films.

    I conducted a concert at Carnegie Hall that cost $30,000, all sacred music, for the Saints in the regional area. We had to raise the money, but we did not charge for tickets. The concert was free, and we filled 2700 seats at Carnegie, out of a possible 2800. We were not allowed by the Church to have missionaries on premises.

  74. Bob Caswell says:

    D., there you go again! Will you leave the man alone? He is exploiting Mormonism just like everyone else (everyone else includes you, right)? So you’ve admitted to “being annoyed” for not getting paid for your Mormon exploitation (or is not exploitation if you’re not paid?). That, to me, seems pretty hypocritical, to be annoyed for not getting paid for your potential “exploitation” but then condemn those who DO get paid.

    How do you feel when accused of exploiting Mormonism just like everyone else (I’m only playing by the rules you created)? Maybe we shouldn’t accuse people of exploiting Mormonism by filling in the gaps with speculation when we have no idea of how they really conduct their lives / what their goals are.

  75. D. Fletcher says:

    Bob, I said it was a conundrum! I want to get paid, and I want to be non-exploitative!

    Just read Dutcher’s comments on the other blog. He is arrogant beyond belief! He thinks his works are the only valuable Mormon films! Somebody’s got to cut him down to size, and I guess that’s me.

    I’ll tell you this: I’m really waiting excitedly to see what the creators of Napoleon Dynamite will do next! I loved that film, and I think these guys are really talented.

  76. D. Fletcher says:

    And by the way, I’ve never claimed that my work was a missionary tool for converting the great unwashed of the world. I’ve made my sacred songs under some pressure to provide something for Sacrament Meeting, and I’ve not earned anything for them. I’m certainly no humble hero — I wish I had a big hit like everybody else.

  77. Bob Caswell says:

    D., thanks for clarifying… Work with me just a bit more, this seems like a chicken-and-the-egg problem. What came first? What causes what? If you’re paid, are you by default exploitative? Is the opposite true (not exploitative = not paid or is it not paid = not exploitative?)? My point was that we don’t really know as there are no hard and fast rules here, so we shouldn’t really assume.

    And by the way, I will admit that Dutcher has a bit of Harvard syndrome… meaning, whenever you’re credited as being the first with something (i.e. Mormon cinema), you seem to receive more credit than merited.

  78. Scott: I may be wrong, but I really don’t think that the GAs have that close of supervisory duties to Deseret Book

    I have a copy of the first version of GospeLink on my PC, and one day I discovered that one of the books in it had 3 chapters missing. My research led me to discover that the 3 missing chapters concerned the Adam-God teachings as explained by Eliza R. Snow. I contacted someone at Deseret (they own the copyright for GospeLink)about the missing chapters, and I was informed that they were very much being supervised from above (I’m not sure I was told it was by the GAs or not, I’ve since lost the email I received about this, but that has been my lasting impression) in this particular instance. I was informed that they also wanted to include Orson Pratt’s “The Seer” in GospeLink, and were told “no”.

  79. Tom Manney says:

    There seems to be two arguments going on, one focused on the material motives of the artist/seller (fair compensation vs. filthy lucre) and one focused on the quality of the art/product — if you hate it, then you’re convinced that it must have been produced for ulterior motives, which of course raises all kinds of eye of the beholder issues (personally, I loathed “Napoleon Dynamite” — I’ll take all the meaningful cinematic sacrament scenes you can throw at me over another viewing of Napoleon).

    I’m tempted to agree with the easy conclusion that no matter how manipulative the syrupy, sentimental, “inspirational” kitcsh may be, consumers of schmaltzy products are well-intentioned people who manage to find some genuinely inspirational value in the trinkets and poorly crafted art, music, books, movies, and so on. But I can’t help but think that’s like defending a Big Mac and fries as a healthy, balanced meal. Sure, it gives you nourishment — but maybe it’s junk nourishment that makes you spiritually diabetic, always seeking and never finding honest and truly powerful spiritual nourishment.

    And, for the record, I don’t think Dutcher is arrogant. I think he’s trying to motivate us to make better movies, and I hope he can because we have a long way to go.

  80. the Mirth says:

    I think it’s time that we actually looked at what i think is the most prominent scriptural explanation of Priestcraft.

    2Nephi 26:

    28 Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all• men are privileged the one like• unto the other, and none are forbidden.

    29 He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts•; for, behold, 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.

    30 Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity• is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing. Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish.

    31 But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money• they shall perish.

    What are the lines we can draw from these verses? I don’t think we can take one like v. 31 and say–SEE–they do it for money and die. I think we have to take all of them together and get a synthesis. So what does it say?

  81. the mirth says:

    I think it’s time that we actually looked at what i think is the most prominent scriptural explanation of Priestcraft.

    2Nephi 26:

    28 Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all• men are privileged the one like• unto the other, and none are forbidden.

    29 He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts•; for, behold, 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.

    30 Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity• is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing. Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish.

    31 But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money• they shall perish.

    What are the lines we can draw from these verses? I don’t think we can take one like v. 31 and say–SEE–they do it for money and die. I think we have to take all of them together and get a synthesis. So what does it say?

  82. the Mirth says:

    I think it’s time that we actually looked at what i think is the most prominent scriptural explanation of Priestcraft.

    2Nephi 26:

    28 Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all• men are privileged the one like• unto the other, and none are forbidden.

    29 He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts•; for, behold, 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.

    30 Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing; wherefore, the Lord God hath given a commandment that all men should have charity, which charity• is love. And except they should have charity they were nothing. Wherefore, if they should have charity they would not suffer the laborer in Zion to perish.

    31 But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money• they shall perish.

    What are the lines we can draw from these verses? I don’t think we can take one like v. 31 and say–SEE–they do it for money and die. I think we have to take all of them together and get a synthesis. So what does it say?

  83. the Mirth says:

    sorry about the multiple posts–unresponsive computers and inexperience in blogging are my reasons.

  84. And those Napoleon Dynamite writers. I can’t believe they profited by making a movie that included a dance with Forever Young playing the the background. Profiting by making fun of the doctrinally important song that was played at every Mormon dance for over a decade……just shameful.

  85. I just stumbled upon this post want to make sure I understand correctly…

    1. All the LDS artists, authors and historians that make a living at their professions are committing priestcraft and must speedily repent if anything spiritual slips into their work.

    2. The culturally superior people at BCC find nearly all LDS art and literature tacky and since it’s tacky it must be priestcraft.

    3. Deseret Book is an apostate organization and as soon as the GAs discover what is being sold there it will surely be shut down immediately.

    Did I miss anything?

  86. Yeah.

  87. HL Rogers says:

    That’s about right. I think you only missed 2 items:
    1. our elitism here at BCC is spiritually and doctrinally inspired and thus is superior to other elitism (sort of an uber-elitism)

    and most importantly

    2. people seem to really love their favorite Mormon kitsch–anyone who decides to slight that kitsch even in hyperbolic fashion for the benefit of argument should do so at his/her own risk.

    Other than that though I think you nailed the gist of it.

  88. C. Jensen says:

    I’m a professor in a “mission field” state, and I was suprised to find one of my students wearing a T-Shirt that said “I can’t, I’m mormon”. Are people finally getting a sense of humor? I also found a site that sells T-shirts that say stuff like “nobody knows I’m a liberal mormon”.

    Is this the wave of the future?

  89. Thank you, Mr. Spammer, for showing us the priestcraft side of the equation.

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