Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Priestcraft and the Modern Mormon, Part II

I'm finally getting to a continuation of my previous post, which proved to be too long in one piece. In my last post, I described characteristics of Nehor's teachings and behavior, and drew some parallels to modern thought. I believe this recounting of Nehor and his final fate is shared as a warning to us.

Third, the actions of Nehor's followers:
  1. They respected the law because they were afraid of being punished.
  2. They taught for honor and riches.
  3. They pretended to believe the things they taught.
  4. They persecuted those of the Church with words.

I find it interesting that Nehor's followers were law-abiding citizens, but only insofar as they would not get caught or punished. It seems they were continually testing the bounds of the law, weaving their way through loopholes and exceptions. Their purposes for teaching others their beliefs were not to share something which had brought them joy, but were to gain honor and riches. This meant they said what people wanted them to say and reveled in the attention it got them. It's easy to see how televangelists might fit into this characterization, but there are those within the Mormon church who might find themselves bearing testimony during fast Sunday or giving a talk who are doing so to gain attention. Such "testimonies" rarely share truths the speaker feels, but might give a recount of the week with a sort of "the Spirit helped me here" or "I was in tune when this happened" or "I know the Church is true and President ________ is a prophet of God, amen!" tacked on the end. (This doesn't mean you, as part of the Congregation, should be critiquing others' testimonies, just that you should pay attention to your own and share what the Spirit wants to you share, keeping extraneous self-gratifying information out of it.)

The second half of the characteristics of Nehor's followers intrigues me the most. First, as a group they pretended to believe what they were teaching. They didn't actually believe it. Perhaps they "believed" it because they wanted to believe it, but in their heart-of-hearts, they knew that what they taught wasn't true. They taught it because it sounded good; it was logical, reasonable and comfortable.

Lastly, they persecuted the Church, not by physically harming them (as that was against the law) but with words. I believe I'm rather familiar with the form these persecutions would take. They likely labeled them with things such as "blind obedience" "illogical", saying things like "you cannot know there is a God" because you can never be certain of it. They ridiculed their faith as being ignorant and provincial. They probably attacked the Church leaders as money-grubbing men (since the only thing they could understand is a desire for money.) They probably figured members of the Church were out of tune with modern thought. In short, they were probably much like many of us today. I would bet that not all the followers of Nehor were outside of the Church.

Fourth, the actions of those in the church:
  1. They contended with them, both verbally and physically.
  2. For those who contended, their hearts became hard and they left the Church.
  3. Some did not contend back and were patient with the verbal abuse.
  4. They taught the doctrines of the gospel humbly and without pay.
  5. They gave to those in need and did not wear expensive clothing, despite prosperity.

This is a pointed warning against getting entrapped in contention with those who criticize the Church. According to the account, those who were otherwise faithful became involved in debating points of doctrine, which debates eventually became physical. When they debated, they became filled with anger and frustration, which drove out the Spirit, causing their hearts to be hardened and them to leave the Church. If you look back at the previous post on Nehor, you will see that their behavior began to mirror Nehor's - they banded together in fighting and contention, eventually turning physical. Essentially, those who practiced priestcraft were able to draw others into the same practice by gendering debate and contention. Only those who did not contend back, humbly took whatever abuse was given them and simply offered their testimonies without pay, remained faithful and in the Church. They put their emphasis on helping those in need, whether in or out of the Church, both temporally and spiritually.

So how do we combat priestcraft in ourselves? I have a particular struggle with the aforementioned temptation to indulge in contention right now. Where is the balance between sharing testimony and avoiding contention? How can you draw the line between explanation and debate? I have difficulty taking verbal (or written) abuse patiently without lashing back or at least trying to defend myself, particularly when I'm (pridefully) aware of how good I can be at dealing it back. Truthfully, however, those attacking you or the Church generally do so for the express purpose of getting you to attack back. So long as they can get you riled up, they can justify their own behavior and don't have to change. So long as they can twist your words to something they can argue against, they can ignore the part of your meaning that would encourage them to soften their hearts to the Spirit. I long to find the balance between "bearing down in pure testimony" and contention. I want to be able to be patient during abuse, but still firm in expressing my convictions. I suspect that within that delicate balance lies one step closer to Godhood.


  1. Hello,
    I have not read this article yet, but when I saw that it was at least in part about Nehor, I thought you might be interested as you have posted similar thoughts recently:

  2. Thank you, Jim! This article is excellent, and I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the things to be learned from these chapters.


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