Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Elder Paul V. Johnson’s warning on the dangers of priestcraft

The Book of Mormon has repeated, stern warnings against priestcrafts, which Nephi defined as “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” (2 Nephi 26:29).

Nephi noted that priestcraft is more than just about getting gain; it’s also about obtaining the world’s praise—which can include the praise of the saints. When we “set [our]selves up for a light” to the Church, our pride and desires can take over. Many people have left the Church because they felt that they “knew the truth” and that others were wrong. And many of those individuals took followers with them when they left.

On August 12, 2002, Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Quorums of the Seventy gave an address on “The Dangers of Priestcraft” to Church educators. (His talk was reprinted in 2008 in Religious Educator 9, no. 3.)

In his address, Elder Johnson noted: “One of the challenges in recognizing and avoiding priestcraft is that it is a matter of the heart. It is like pride. In fact, pride is the root of the problem.… We need to be more sensitive in order to recognize the early signs of spiritual problems.” He invited his audience to “consider some symptoms of setting ourselves up as a light in the area of knowledge or scholarship.”

Among the warning signs of priestcraft, he mentioned the following. I bring these up because I see them very much at work within the “Heartland” movement and its leading individuals. Perhaps this will be a wake-up call to these individuals; I certainly hope it will serve as a warning to those who follow them.
  • Perhaps some of us feel we teach a deeper doctrine—more pure and plain than is found in any curriculum or than what any of the other teachers teach.…
  • What if we feel that CES or the Church is not emphasizing a certain doctrine enough, or even that they misunderstand it? In fact, there have been a few who feel the Brethren don’t understand a particular doctrine clearly.… [Elder Johnson called this a “canary in the coalmine” warning sign.]
  • Some of us have gospel hobbies that are taught in all of our classes, no matter what course we are teaching.…
  • We might teach our own opinion strongly and try forcefully to sway the students to side with us.…
  • Do we feel frustrated with others because they don’t seem to understand the gospel as well as we do?
You’ll see some of these warning signs in one of Jonathan Neville’s recent blog posts:

On June 24, 2019, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a YouTube video that explains the role that seer stones played in the scriptures and in the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith.

The next day, Neville heavily criticized this video, calling it the work of “revisionist Church historians and M2C* intellectuals.” He claims that it represents the version of Church history told in the very first anti-Mormon book:
And now, we have the teachings of Mormonism Unvailed presented as the truth right on lds.org.
Is this not a clear indication of what Elder Johnson warned against? “What if we feel that CES or the Church is not emphasizing a certain doctrine enough, or even that they misunderstand it? In fact, there have been a few who feel the Brethren don’t understand a particular doctrine clearly.”

On July 2, 1839, the Prophet Joseph Smith told the Twelve Apostles:
It is an eternal principle that has existed with God from all Eternity that that man who rises up to condemn others[,] finding fault with the Church[,] saying that they are out of the way while he himself is righteous[,] then know assuredly that that man is in the high road to apostacy and if he does not repent will apostatize as God lives[.]
I sincerely hope that Brother Neville doesn’t follow the “high road” Joseph talked about. His repeated, ongoing criticism of the Church and its employees (see here and here) causes me to fear that he will eventually take this road, and perhaps draw others out with him when he goes.

—Peter Pan

* “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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