Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Jonathan Neville spins like a top

It’s honestly hard to know if Jonathan Neville sincerely believes the stuff the stuff writes or if he knows he’s not telling the truth but justifies this somehow in his mind. As I’ve written before, I don’t want to fall into the trap of claiming that Neville must be either “stupid or evil,” but it’s exceptionally difficult to give him the benefit of the doubt when he writes things that simply are not true and have no basis in reality.

His latest opprobrious blog post is from April 26, 2019, entitled “Illusion of scholarship – Mantle vs. Intellect.” Here are some of the whoppers he lets loose in this commentary:
Everyone acknowledges that M2C* constitutes a repudiation of the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
No, Brother Neville, “everyone” does not “acknowledge” that—that’s your twisted version of the differences of belief that many faithful Latter-day Saints (including general authorities) have had on your pet issue.

“Repudiation” implies rejection with disapproval or condemnation, and there are no Latter-day Saint scholars that believe in a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon who disapprove of or condemn the statements of prophets who have taught that the New York hill is the site of final battle of the Nephites. They may respectfully have a difference of opinion, but that’s not anywhere close to repudiation.
By definition, M2C means the prophets were wrong.
This is no secret. Supporters of M2C freely and openly acknowledge this.
I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the Book of Mormon as a Mesoamerican text, and I’ve never read nor heard a single Book of Mormon scholar claim “the prophets were wrong,” either openly or in private. Yet Neville practically claims that they’re making t-shirts with this statement on it.

Once again, respectful differences of opinion are not the same thing as Neville’s blunt and distorted version of events.
Employees at CES, BYU and COB openly teach that the “real” Cumorah is in Mexico (or in a fantasy land), while the “hill in New York” was incorrectly named “Cumorah” by early members of the Church who were ignorant speculators.
Can you see Neville’s spin, dear readers? He begins with a somewhat-accurate statement—some (certainly not all) teachers do present the view that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is in Mesoamerica—but then twists it into telling us that they also believe “early members of the Church…were ignorant speculators.” Ignorant speculators is Neville’s ugly and distorted version; the truth is closer to something like “intelligent and well-meaning saints who simply misinterpreted the text.”

You see, Neville cannot grant that those who disagree with him are well-intentioned because he believes his opponents are all part of a massive conspiracy to keep the truth from the leaders and members of the Church. Conspirators, by nature, can’t have kindness and charity for opposing views in their hearts, therefore (according to the Neville worldview), they must believe that those who disagree with them are “ignorant speculators” instead of good people who simply have a different point of view.

That’s the real ugliness of Jonathan Neville’s writings—the way he disparages those who don’t agree with him. Hence his pejorative terms like “M2C citation cartel”:
The M2C citation cartel and their followers and employees claim that all Church leaders who taught that Cumorah was in New York misled the Church.
Again, Neville employs loaded language to frame the debate his way. Mesoamericanist Book of Mormon scholars do not believe that Church leaders who have taught a New York setting for Cumorah have “misled the Church.” The word “misled” implies leading astray, but it’s impossible to lead the Church astray by teaching the hill Cumorah is in New York because…[wait for it]…the real location of the hill Cumorah has no bearing on our salvation, the truth of the Book of Mormon, or the truth of the restored gospel. That the Book of Mormon is an actual historical text is a vitally important truth, but “the Church’s only position is that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas.”

No Church leader has ever “misled the Church” by teaching that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is in New York.
If you read FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, BYU Studies, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, and other members of the M2C citation cartel, you know they (and their predecessors) have been teaching this for a long time.

To support M2C, all of these intellectuals uniformly reject the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah.
I’d like to pause for a moment and give Neville credit for using the actual names of these organizations instead of his usual childish and pejorative terms like “FairlyMormon” and “Book of Mormon Central Censor.”

Despite that, here we see Neville again using a loaded term: “reject the teachings of the prophets.” People who think differently than he does cannot simply disagree or have a difference of opinion; they must be rejecting what Neville (incorrectly) believes is revealed truth.
These M2C intellectuals claim these prophets were ignorant, lacked credentials, and were merely expressing their own opinions as uninformed men.
No, Brother Neville, no one is claiming that. Not a single Mesoamericanist Book of Mormon scholar believes or has taught that. Shame on you for distorting their words and impugning their character.

The remainder of Neville’s April 26th blog post is a series of quotations from Elder Boyd K. Packer’s August 22, 1981, address to Church educators, “The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater than the Intellect.”

(It’s in no small way ironic that this talk was first published in BYU Studies, which Neville believes is part of the “M2C” conspiracy to undermine the prophets. Apparently the editors of that journal missed the memo.)

Elder Packer’s message was a repudiation of secular-leaning Church educators who “lose their testimonies and yield their faith as the price for academic achievement,” and then “capitulate, cross over the line, and forsake the things of the Spirit,” thereafter “judg[ing] the church, the doctrine, and the leadership by the standards of their academic profession.”

Neville believes that Elder Packer’s message “applies to those who claim the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah.” But, yet again, he’s got it all wrong. Unlike the secularist educators Elder Packer warned and was warning about, Mesoamericanist Book of Mormon scholars support the leaders of the Church, firmly believe that the Book of Mormon is a historical document of a historical people, believe that the resurrected prophet Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith in 1823, and believe that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. They do not believe or teach that “the prophets are wrong” or “have misled the Church”; rather, they understand (as the First Presidency has recently stated) that there is no revealed geography of the Book of Mormon—including the location of the hill Cumorah—and respect those Church leaders who have a different view on where Cumorah might be.

If anything, Elder Packer’s warning about those who “judge the Church, its doctrine, organization, and leadership, present and past, by the principles of their own profession” could just as well apply to Jonathan Neville, who is critical of Church leaders and Church organizations and believe they’re conspiring to suppress the truth about the hill Cumorah.

I fear that Neville’s spin on the Mesoamericanist viewpoint is so hard that the g-forces may cause his readers to black out.


* “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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