Chapter 11: The Nephite Experience with Enforced Priestcraft
Much of the Book of Mormon Is Devoted to the Subject of Priestcraft
We shall now discuss some of the most disturbing, yet valuable information contained in the Book of Mormon. It is the knowledge provided regarding the plan of Satan to use government to deceive and enslave mankind. The detailed description of this plan, and the many examples of its implementation, are found in the history of that relatively brief period from about 160 B.C. to the time of Christs advent in 34 A.D. There are very few details given of Nephite political history either prior or subsequent to this period. But during this 204- year span, there is a wealth of information about governments, wars and political issues, virtually all of which relates to Satans attempts to capture control of the Nephite government and use it to teach false doctrines and enslave the people.
Most of Nephite political history is concerned with the attempts of various apostate groups to implement the diabolical plan of enforced priestcraft. The Nephites, having been given their political freedom to do so, were continually voting with both pen and sword on this political issue.
One of the most frightening pieces of information contained in the history of this period is the description of the fate it gives of those who, once having known the truth, allowed their pride to lead them to fight and die for the plan of enforced priestcraft. They committed some of the most horrible crimes imaginable because they acted under the influence of the evil one. The importance this information has for us today cannot be overestimated because the doctrine of enforced priestcraft is now almost universally accepted. [p. 66]
What Is Priestcraft?
The Book of Mormon defines priestcraft as follows:
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.
Behold, the Lord hath forbidden this thing . . . (2 Ne. 26:29, 30)
A definition of enforced priestcraft is also contained in the Book of Mormon. It is contained in the following quote which describes the philosophy of a man named Nehor who first tried to incorporate it into the Nephite laws during the reign of the judges:
And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God, beating down against the church; declaring unto the people that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their own hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people. (Alma 1:3)
Thus there are two types of priestcraft: That which is enforced and that which is not. The enforced type advocated by Nehor is imposed by the police power. Laws are passed which create public jobs for priests, teachers and any others who may be engaged in the project of state education. The taxing power is used to compel the payment of their salaries. This topic will be discussed more fully later.
One of the most abominable aspects of enforced priestcraft is not mentioned in the above quote, but was an essential part of Nehors scheme. This is that government uses its powers to give itself an exclusive monopoly on the business of education. This means that all competing institutions are abolished. This is the usual aim of all who favor enforced priestcraft and was an integral part of Nehors plan. (Alma 2:4) From these facts we observe that there are two essential aspects of enforced priestcraft: (1) The compulsory teaching of false doctrines, the most pernicious of which is that of enforced priestcraft. (2) The prohibition of the teaching of the Lords plan of freedom. Let us consider some of the accounts given of the practice of enforced priestcraft in the Book of Mormon. [p. 67]
Enforced Priestcraft Was Practiced under King Noah
The first case of enforced priestcraft described by the Book of Mormon was that practiced by the people of King Noah. He imposed a twenty per cent income tax to support himself, his corp of paid teachers and their wives and concubines. Rather than teaching and enforcing the Ten Commandments, they violated nearly every one of them in carrying on their evil scheme.
They became idle, engaged in adultery, used the power of government to steal and taught lies. Then when Abinadi and Alma tried to teach the Gospel of Freedom, they martyred the one and tried to kill the other. The wickedness and suffering which enforced priestcraft caused this people is incalculable. The underlying fault which brought this calamity on the people was pride. This fact is indicated by the following passage which describes how Noah chose his priests:
For he put down all the priests that had been consecrated by his father, and consecrated new ones in their stead, such as were lifted up in the pride of their hearts. (Mosiah 11:5)
The Amulonites Practiced Enforced Priestcraft
As the martyred Abinadi had prophesied as he was being burned to death at the stake, king Noah was also put to death by fire. However his wicked priests who barely escaped with their lives, kidnapped some Lamanite maidens, took them to wife and started a community of their own in the wilderness. A short time later however, a Lamanite army found them and took them captive. This state of bondage did not last long. Remembering the soft life they had led as professional teachers, they induced the Lamanite king to hire them to teach the Nephite language and certain business skills to his people. Thus, once again they commenced to practice enforced priestcraft.
Their evil profession once again subjected them to the influence of Satan. When a group of Lamanites who had been converted by the sons of Mosiah refused to take up arms against an army of Lamanites who came against them, it was mainly these Amulonites and another group of apostate Nephites who practiced enforced priestcraft, who slew a thousand [p. 68] of those saints while they were kneeling defenseless on the ground. The record tells us:
Now the greatest number of those of the Lamanites who slew so many of their brethren were Amalekites and Amulonites, the greatest number of whom were after the order of the Nehors. (Alma 24:28; See also Alma 25:5-7)
There is a very important fact pointed out about the type of priestcraft practiced by the Amulonites which is that they taught no religion, but only secular subjects. The following passage carefully explains this:
And they (the Lamanites) were a people friendly one with another; nevertheless they knew not God; neither did the brethren of Amulon teach them anything concerning the Lord their God, neither the law of Moses; nor did they teach them the words of Abinadi;
But they taught them that they should keep their record, and that they might write one to another.
And thus the Lamanites began to increase in riches, and began to trade one with another and wax great, and began to be a cunning and a wise people as to the wisdom of the world, yea, a very cunning people, delighting in all manner of wickedness and plunder . . . (Mosiah 24:5-7)
Here then is a case of enforced priestcraft without religion because these Amulonites were after the order of Nehor. (Alma 24:28, 29) This being so, every government supported educational system, whether it teaches religion or not, falls under the Book of Mormon definition of enforced priestcraft. To the extent that a government controls education, the individual members of society cannot; and it matters not the nature of the subjects being taught. In every case freedom to exchange knowledge is restricted by force. Not only is tax money forcibly taken and used to teach that which the government decrees, but students are ofttimes compelled to spend their time under the supervision of government teachers. Thus they are denied their right to use that time in a different learning environment.
The Amlicites Practiced Enforced Priestcraft
In the fifth year of the reign of the judges, a man named Amlici who [p. 69] was very cunning and wise as to the wisdom of the world, came among the Nephites preaching enforced priestcraft. So successful was he, that he thought he had won a majority to accept the doctrine. Therefore he successfully induced the government to submit the issue to the vote of the people. Under his proposal the government of freedom would be abolished, a monarchy established with himself as king, and the practice of enforced priestcraft would be adopted.
Fortunately Amlici lost the election. When this occurred he and his followers became so angry that they formed an army and undertook to overthrow the Nephite government by force. In this they also failed, but only after more than eighteen thousand had been slain. They then induced a huge Lamanite army to join them in a second attempt which also ended in their defeat. In this battle so many were killed that they were not counted. Those Amlicites who did not perish, joined with and became part of the Lamanites.
It seems incredible that almost half of the Nephites would rebel against their own government merely for the sake of supporting the practice of enforced priestcraft. What could have induced them to do so? The following scripture which, after describing the execution of Nehor for murdering Gideon, states that the doctrine was popular because of pride and a love for the things of the world:
Nevertheless, this (the execution of Nehor) did not put an end to the spreading of priestcraft through the land; for there were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor. (Alma 1:16)
This experience teaches that when a group of people who have known the Gospel, become so proud that they accept the doctrine of enforced priestcraft, they so subject themselves to the influence of Satan that they rebel against God, commit murder, and risk their lives in support of their profession. Not only may their pride cost them everything they prize here on earth, but in the eternities as well. Mormon explains the eternal consequences of the decision made by those who did and those who did not accept the doctrine of enforced priestcraft in these words:
And in one year were thousands and tens of thousands of souls sent to the eternal world, that they might reap their rewards according to their works, whether they were good or whether they were bad, to reap eternal [p. 70] happiness or eternal misery, according to the spirit which they listed to obey, whether it be a good spirit or a bad one. For every man receiveth wages of him whom he listeth to obey, . . . (Alma 3:26, 27)
The Ammonihahites Practiced Enforced Priestcraft
The people of the city of Ammonihah, having the political autonomy which enabled them to do so, corrupted their laws and established enforced priestcraft in their city. In the tenth year of the reign of the judges, Alma went there to call them to repentance. However the majority refused to listen. The record says that Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city. (Alma 8:9)
And indeed he had for when Alma and Amulek made some converts in the city, the lawyers, priests and judges, all of whom were after the order of Nehor, became so violently angry, that they first cast the male converts out of the city and then burned their wives and children to death. And so once again we see the practice of enforced priestcraft leading its practitioners to commit murder. For this terrible crime, the Lord slew every living inhabitant of the city.
The Zoramites Practiced Enforced Priestcraft
Like the people of Ammonihah, the Zoramites living in the land of Antionum had also corrupted their laws and adopted the practice of enforced priestcraft. The record states that their pride was so great that they forcibly excluded the poor from their places of worship and refused to associate with them. Alma and his missionary companions went among them to call them to repentance and had much success among the poor.
However the rulers of the city became so angry at the converts that they ejected them from the land. Then when these outcasts found refuge among the converted Lamanites in the land of Jershon, this so enraged the haughty Zoramites that they joined the Lamanites and waged war against the entire Nephite nation. Their purpose, like that of the Amlicites, was to overthrow that government which permitted religious freedom.
Even though the Lamanite-Zoramite-Amulonite-Amalekite armies [p. 71] which combined together to destroy the Nephite government was more than twice the size of the Nephite army opposing them, the Lord intervened once again to protect His government of freedom. The valiant Nephite troops were so strengthened that they slaughtered an enormous number of their enemies and drove the remainder from their lands. And so once again the Book of Mormon provides a graphic description of the terrible consequences of enforced priestcraft.
The King-Men Undertook to Practice Enforced Priestcraft
The war with the Zoramites had cost the lives of so many Nephites, and there were so many other dissensions among them, that it became necessary for Helaman and the other religious leaders to regulate the affairs of the Church. The record says that in doing this, They did appoint priests and teachers throughout all the land over all the churches. (Alma 45:22)
These appointments caused a mortal hatred among certain people in the church. Apparently it arose either because Helaman and his brethren had removed some priests and teachers who had previously held office, or because they failed to appoint some who, because of high birth, felt they had a right to office. It also appears that it was not only positions in the church which were affected by these appointments, but government positions as well. It is likely that in most if not all cases, those who failed to secure an appointment in the church, were also effectively denied the office of judge which was a paid position.
These conclusions seem justified since it was the custom of the Nephites to elect to the position of judge, those who were appointed as church leaders. Being selected as a priest in the church seemed to be tantamount to being elected as judge. In any event the greater part of those who became angry at Helaman and his brethren were the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power. (Alma 46:4) They united behind a man named Amalickiah who sought to overthrow the government and make himself king. He promised his followers,
. . . that if they would support him and establish him to be their king that he would make them rulers over the people. (Alma 46:5) [p. 72]
Once again we find a very large number of Nephites who, because of their insensate desires for the things of this world and the honors of men, chose enforced priestcraft. In doing so they supported Amalickiah in his traitorous undertaking to overthrow the government.
However Amalickiah found that he did not have enough followers to win an election and so he, like so many other power-hungry apostate Nephites before him, tried to lead his people to the land of Nephi, join the Lamanites, and then return and seize control of the Nephite government by bloody warfare.
The Nephite armies were able to head the army of Amalickiah in its flight and return it to the land of Zarahemla. But Amalickiah and a few of his men were able to escape and join the Lamanites. This proved to be extremely unfortunate because Amalickiah, through murder and intrigue was able to make himself king over the Lamanites. He then commenced a terrible two-front war against the Nephites which lasted some eleven years. This war caused an immense amount of death and destruction.
The only events of this war which we will mention here are the two attempts of a group called kingmen to take over control of the Nephite government and make it a monarchy. Apparently those involved in these attempts were those who had supported Amalickiahs bid for power. The record describes them thus:
Now those who were in favor of kings were those of high birth, and they sought to be kings; and they were supported by those who sought power and authority over the people. (Alma 51:8)
These kingmen first tried to establish a monarchy through the ballot box. Failing this, they waited until the war with the Lamanites reached a critical state, and then revolted against the government. They drove the chief judge from his seat and established a king over the land of Zarahemla. The reign of this monarchy was very short. Moroni returned from the battle front with an army and put the king and many of his followers to death, thus reestablishing a government of freedom.
Professional Teachers Should Study the Accounts of Enforced Priestcraft Given in the Book of Mormon
There were a number of other attempts made by apostate Nephites to [p. 73] overthrow the Nephite government, but the foregoing should be adequate to teach us what we should know about enforced priestcraft. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the many descriptions of this abominable practice and its horrible consequences contained in the Book of Mormon were placed there to warn us against allowing our own government to practice it.
Any person who engages in the teaching profession might do well to learn about the risks he runs in doing so by studying the accounts given of such men as Sherem, Korihor, Amlici, Amalickiah, Antionah and Zoram. There is also a record of two men, Alma and Zeezrom, who experienced eternal torment for opposing the Lords work, but then repented. The graphic account given of the terrible sufferings of these men before they were forgiven, might also be of interest. (Alma 15, 36) [p. 74]
We are not given the step-by-step backsliding of this Jareditic civilization till it reached the social and governmental chaos the record sets out, but those steps seem wholly clear from the results. Put into modem terms, we can understand them. First there was a forsaking of the righteous life, and the working of wickedness; then must have come the extortion and oppression of the poor by the rich; then retaliation and reprisal by the poor against the rich; then would come a cry to share the wealth which should belong to all; then the easy belief that society owed every man a living whether he worked or not; then the keeping of a great body of idlers; then when community revenues failed to do this, as they have always failed and always will fail, a self-helping by one to the goods of his neighbor; and finally when the neighbor resisted, as resist he must, or starve with his family, then death to the neighbor and all that belonged to him. This was the decreed fulness of iniquity.
Lehi, with Ishmael, and their families, came to this a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord, with the same promised blessings and the same overhanging judgments that were made to Jared and his brother.
The recounting of the history of this people is unnecessary, because you know it. Beginning with mere disputes, there grew bickerings, then quarrelings, then ruptures, then two peoples, then one cursed for its iniquities, then wars and counterwars, while this people marched steadily towards their fulness of iniquity. (J. Reuben Clark, Stand Fast By Our Constitution, pp. 177-179.) [p. 75]