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Response to Denver Snuffer's remarks on priestcraft and money for ministry

I recorded a video in response to a YouTube comment some time ago. It was queued up for release in about a month, but I figured I'd release it today instead to try to get the most recent round of comments on money out and done with, so we can all move on to more important things.

I received an email today (Feb 28, 2024) from a friend who asked me what I thought about a post Denver Snuffer had written recently about ministers receiving donations. Since I don’t keep tabs on what Denver’s up to, I didn’t know about it, so I went to read it.

The first post I read was dated February 25th, and I highly recommend everyone read it. He makes some wonderful points that are much needed. It is always best to first give offenders the opportunity to answer your criticisms. You never know if there is a simple misunderstanding, or whether there is an opportunity for you to learn something beyond what you know. That being said, I do have disagreements with Denver about what the Lord’s equality looks like. In a nutshell, my perspective is that God’s equality is equality of consequences—equal access to the law and what it brings. I’m not sure how that might align or deviate from Denver’s perspective.

The second post looks to be the one referred to by my friend. Here, too, I think Denver makes several excellent points. There are a few points on which I would like to address, though.

Denver wrote:

<begin quote>

This is why the instructions we have in the Book of Mormon tell us that serving as a priest holds no glory, receives no compensation, but imposes only a burden: “And he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support. And there was one day in every week that was set apart that they should gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also as often as it was in their power to assemble themselves together. And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support, but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God.” NC Mosiah 9:10. I’ve heard of at least two fellows who mistakenly believe that God has called them to spend their time studying the scriptures, and ought to be supported by the labors of others. That is contrary to the duty imposed on them by scripture, and also weakens their faith and prevents them from becoming strong in the spirit and being able to teach with power and authority from God.

The professional class of priests leading congregations throughout the Christian world, and including the various Mormon hierarchies are devoid of power to teach from God because they have handicapped themselves by their chosen profession. “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.” NC 2 Ne. 11:17.

Fools trifle with the souls of men: “None but fools will trifle with the souls of men.” T&C 138:18.

There are many people who willingly follow, uphold and adore false pretenders who have accomplished nothing other than pretensions of greatness. And their supporters think I am a charlatan and liar. I at least have the honor of laboring to support myself and my family. And I’ve never claimed a role other than a servant who tries in my own weakness to follow the Lord. I do not want your support or adoration. Nor do I ask for you to support me. If I do not persuade you of the truth, then go in peace. But if you are one of those who believes you are entitled to be employed for your preaching, you are really in the employ of Satan, and I would advise you to get out of his employ.”

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I don’t think any of Denver’s post was meant to address me specifically, as he didn't contacted me, which (given the first post) I would expect if he were talking specifically about me. Maybe that's because I certainly have accomplished things other than “pretensions of greatness” and I do not believe that Denver is a “charlatan and liar.” I am glad to see other warriors in this fight, and I continue to wish him all success in persuading people to believe in and follow Jesus.

Nevertheless, for the sake of the truth, I will comment on the quoted portion of his post.

First, I wholeheartedly agree with Denver that those who accept money for their ministry lose a dimension of power. I know from experience that there is a certain strength to being able to say that you do what you do voluntarily. I wrestled with God over this point for years until he destroyed the last of my counterarguments in ways that were beyond my ability to sacrifice to overcome. It’s certainly something that should be retained where possible.

I want to point to several overgeneralization here that are, frankly, incorrect. He is correct in saying that serving as a priest holds no glory, and imposes only a burden, but he is incorrect to say that receiving no compensation is a definitional part of being a priest. Jesus was compensated, as was Melchizedek, Elijah, Elisha, and many others—to include every single priest under the law of Moses in the Bible. Though a full treatment of this issue would require a lot of text, given the thickness of our false traditions on the topic, the example of the Lord—the great High Priest—and one regarded as the greatest priest should be sufficient evidence that priesthood is not equal to “accepting money.”

How, then, could the passages Denver quotes (and a few others that could be included) so clearly support the idea that priests should never be paid?

They are circumstantial. Whether in Alma’s case or King Benjamin’s, the details of how often they ministered, what value they provided, and what it cost them matter.

Consider that the priests from the passage quoted from Mosiah 18 (Mosiah 9 in their scripture version) only labored one day a week, and that the time was equally sacrificed by the people and the priests per the instruction of Alma Sr., the high priest. How would this differ if the priests were laboring more than one day per week? We don't have to wonder. Alma Jr., high priest in his time, went on a full-time mission with several others some years later. We read:

37 And after that they did separate themselves one from another, taking no thought for themselves what they should eat, or what they should drink, or what they should put on.
38 And the Lord provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst; yea, and he also gave them strength, that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Now this was according to the prayer of Alma; and this because he prayed in faith. (Alma 31)

Do you think Alma and his companions stopped ministering to labor with their own hands? It's kind of hard to do that when you are "taking no thought" for what "they should eat, or what they should drink, or what they should put on." While it is possible that God sent angelic door dashers with food, water, and clothing, what is much more likely is that they were dependent upon those they ministered to for their support, as we know Alma was when he stayed with Amulek.

There are countless examples of God’s servants laboring full-time, in some cases surpassing even the 40 hours per week that is customary in our culture for earning one’s daily bread. For example, Ether took no time to labor with his hands, and the people in his day were more blessed than they would have been otherwise because of it:

2 And Ether was a prophet of the Lord; wherefore Ether came forth in the days of Coriantumr, and began to prophesy unto the people, for he could not be restrained because of the Spirit of the Lord which was in him.
3 For he did cry from the morning, even until the going down of the sun, exhorting the people to believe in God unto repentance lest they should be destroyed, saying unto them that by faith all things are fulfilled— (Ether 12)

Again, while the details of the truth exceed what can be packed into a short blog post, suffice it to say that to get closer to the truth, we need to exercise a little more sophistication than simple binary thinking.

Beyond arguments about time, for at least some people, there comes a point where continuing to do what they do voluntarily requires them to withhold the word of God as given to them. In our modern world, which is not ruled by a righteous king like Benjamin, or even anything like the righteous representative republic that followed, a person can only say so much while retaining access to certain lines of employment in our woke world. 

In Denver’s case, through the timing and details of his situation, he has been able to continue ministry without jeopardizing his ability to support himself and his family. And it doesn’t matter what I think about it, but I do agree with him that there is honor in that. In his case there are enough people where he is that aren’t adequately offended by his message to prevent him from earning an income in the field he spent his life preparing for. But as the last days roll on, there will be situations where this is not possible. If Denver stopped getting cases and had to cash out his retirement and was still left without sufficient for his needs as a result of his testimony of Christ, it would be the duty of those who had benefited from it to support him up to the value of what they received, in their own estimation (that is, voluntarily), according to their ability, even if he never said another word or did anything for them again. This is taught plainly in the scriptures, for example in 1 Timothy 5, and is the same reason for which we care for widows. If Denver had enough to say and do that he could provide greater value to the world in ministering full time than he could being an attorney, Just as Christ, Ether, Joseph Smith (see below), and others, he would be required to do so in order to be acting "for the benefit of Zion,"[1] and would become reliant upon those who found value in what he provided, up to the value they appraised in it and according to their ability to give. I am quite glad Denver hasn't been required to rely on donations, because judging by how little the temple group affiliated with him has raised in nearly ten years (~$270k), it doesn't seem like those he serves would prevent him from ending up in a homeless shelter. I don't say that to be snarky against Denver--quite the contrary--to point out the terribly stingy attitude among many who claim to value what he teaches. It's astonishing that people coming out of a church where they were willing to give 10% of their income to questionable ends would give so little to a temple they say is so critical to their eternal state, especially given the heritage of the failure of Nauvoo for quite similar circumstances. Kudos to those who have lived up to their professed beliefs by donating. For the rest, it seems odd to claim that the LDS church was condemned for failing to prioritize the construction of a temple while making a remarkably lesser sacrifice to the same end. Maybe I'm missing something.

In my case, I naively trusted that the university that employed me would honor their published policy that professors had full freedom of speech in their off-campus activities until I was warned of what would happen before it did. My choice was to continue to preach the truth and lose my career, or to stop and enjoy the benefits I had just finished earning through so many years of sacrifice. To stay would have been easily justifiable: I had a whole year off coming my way, plus I had so thoroughly established my skills and setup that I could continue to exceed the standards upon me with just 10-20 hours per week, with three months off every summer, leaving plenty of time for ministry, albeit in less public ways, or at least to spend that time I had earned with my family, who was also party to the many years of sacrifice to get there. You can probably guess what I chose. 

What are the keys to identifying priestcraft? Here are two:

1. Does it seek to make the person more popular and richer than they would otherwise be? Or does it seek to get people to align their lives with the example of the Lord, which will always make a person less popular and almost always less rich than they would otherwise be. The more you say and do what Jesus would say and do, the more strongly you will be persecuted. You will be resisted, rejected, and fought against by people, not followed, and you will likely be prevented from earning what you would if you were to pursue your professional career by the stream of material you have produced or the chain of the many easily locatable nasty things people have said about you in the press and even on special websites made to smear you.

2. Does the compensation meet or exceed the price paid and value given by the servant? For example, both Jesus and Melchizedek never received any money from anyone that ever compensated them beyond the price they had paid nor the value of what they gave. You can more fully study the exchange of value between Jesus and his supporters and Melchizedek and Abraham to learn more about this. 

From these points, I hope it is clear that most ministers in Christian churches today should be doing what they do without being paid for it. It would grant them more power to say what they ought to be saying instead of curtailing what they would otherwise say for fear of losing their jobs or tax exempt status (they should have gone with a foundation instead of a church), most of them earn much more as preachers than they would in the private sector, and they really don't contribute anything of value beyond what anyone else could provide in their place.

[1] “For the benefit of Zion” does not mean “without receiving anything in return.” It means that the benefit of the people exceeds what it would otherwise be. Most people are in a situation where the greatest value they can contribute to God’s kingdom is through earning money for their full-time labor, and using that money in ways that advance his kingdom. Some people have contributions to make that far exceed the value of the money they would receive for temporal labors, such as Joseph Smith (see D&C 24:7-9) and other specific individuals (see D&C 30:11 and elsewhere), who were commanded to dedicate their time exclusively to ministry and to be supported by the people they served.

While it was not the case for Joseph and perhaps others, most of us in this position will find that the money we receive for ministry will be considerably less than what we would earn if what we said or did in our ministry rendered that impossible. I am up to about $0.65 per hour for what I have already produced in ten years of volunteering an on average full-time effort to ministry without receiving any money. In spite of the very generous donations of a few people, I think I will be safe for some time from ever being recompensed for that time and the over $400,000 I have lost to date from the loss of my tenured professorship because of this ministry, even under the assumption that the writings, videos, truths, and miracles that the Lord has and will provide from me are as worthless as some believe. But if anyone wants to come forward and weaken my position by donating, I won’t stop you. I’ll even send you a receipt!