Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Friday, March 1, 2019

Jonathan Neville vs. the prophets

Recently The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a new Gospel Topics essay on the subject of Book of Mormon geography. This week the Church released an updated version of the same essay. This blog post by Neal Rappleye discusses the differences between the two versions of the essay.

As it so happens, just before the new version of the Gospel Topics essay was released, Jonathan Neville posted on his blog an emphatic affirmation that the location of the Hill Cumorah is foundational to the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

In that particular post (as he does in most of his posts) Neville employed the rhetorical trick of pitting “the prophets” against “M2C* intellectuals.” This has been one of his talking points for some time: Either you accept the prophets and reject “M2C” or you reject the prophets and accept “M2C.” For Neville, what prophets have said about the location of the Hill Cumorah is presumed to be inspired revelation and prophetic edict.

The fallacy Neville commits here is called begging the question. In this case, as in many instances before, Neville employs this fallacy in the following way:

The Hill Cumorah has to be in New York because prophets have said the hill is in New York and, as inspired prophets, they have established the revealed truth that the hill is in New York.

But this conclusion merely assumes the premise that what the prophets have said about the Hill Cumorah being in New York is the revealed, inspired truth of the matter; hence, Neville is begging the question. The entire debate is about whether this premise is valid—that is, whether the prophets (such as Joseph Fielding Smith and Ezra Taft Benson) were presenting revealed, prophetic declarations about the location of the Hill Cumorah or their personal opinions or assumptions based on common belief or tradition.

This brings us to Rappleye’s blog post: Rappleye astutely noticed this comment in the new version of the Gospel Topics essay:
Although Church members continue to discuss such theories today, the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas.
Rappleye points out, “This is the only position the Church takes. This means if you believe the Book of Mormon took place anywhere in the Americas, you are in line with the Church’s official position.”

President Russell M. Nelson, his councilors in the First Presidency, and the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—the current prophets and apostles—have made it clear in the Gospel Topics Essay that the only official position the Church has is that “the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas.”

What’s more, according to the new version of the essay, “The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas.” Rappleye comments, “No exceptions are made to this statement. This means the Church has no official position on any specific geography location—including, for example, the location of the final battles.”

That would be, of course, the location of the final battles at the Hill Cumorah.

The new essay specifically states, “The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories.” Rappleye points out:
This means anyone claiming or implying that in order to be “following the prophets,” one must agree with their views on any specifics of Book of Mormon geography—beyond the general statement that it happened somewhere in the ancient Americas–is literally going against the direct wishes of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and thus not following the prophets.
So the matter is simple: If Neville continues to say the prophets support anything beyond the statement “the Book of Mormon took place in the Americas,” he is explicitly violating what the First Presidency has directly counseled.

If Jonathan Neville writes a blog post that modifies or alters the new statement in the revised essay, as he did with its previous version, he will be explicitly contradicting the official position of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve.

You may therefore either accept the direct, specific counsel of the prophets, or you may accept Jonathan Neville’s question begging.

—Captain Hook

* “M2C” is Jonathan Neville’s acronym for the theory that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica and that the hill Cumorah in the Book of Mormon is not the same hill in New York where Joseph Smith received the plates of Mormon.


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