Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Jonathan Neville’s damnable lies

The title of this post is rather strong, but I believe it’s appropriate.

You see, Jonathan Neville’s primary method of operation is to try to frame the debate in such a way that it appears that he and his Heartlander compatriots are a righteous, persecuted minority struggling against an evil, entrenched opposition who “censors” Heartlander views. In other words, Neville teaches that there is a vast conspiracy, operating at all levels of the Church, to suppress what he considers to be “the teachings of the prophets” on the New York location of the hill Cumorah. He does this in an attempt to gain followers and build sympathy for his cause.

His tactic is thoroughly reprehensible. It is, in fact, a lie—a damnable one.

(Those who have read the Book of Mormon know what it has to say about lies and those who repeat them. See here, here, and here, for example.)

Some of the clearest examples of these lies come from Neville’s brief blog post, ironically titled “Diamond truth from Joseph Smith” (June 5, 2019). The first lie is:
Our M2C* intellectuals, including the employees of Book of Mormon Central, portray Joseph Smith and the other prophets as confused speculators who misled the Church by teaching that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York.
There are actually two lies here:

The first is that those who teach a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon “portray Joseph Smith and the other prophets as confused speculators.” No one who argues for a Mesoamerican Cumorah teaches anything of the sort. Joseph Smith and other prophets who have claimed that the New York hill is the hill Cumorah were not “confused”—they read the Book of Mormon and assumed, intelligently and in good faith, that the hill where Joseph received the gold plates was the same hill described in Mormon 6:6. That’s an easy assumption to make. That the hill doesn’t fit the descriptions left by Mormon and Moroni is something that they simply didn’t consider and that later readers would point out. This doesn’t make them “confused,” though.

The second lie is that those who teach a Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon believe Joseph and other prophets have “misled the Church.” Misleading the Church is a loaded phrase that does not come close to accurately representing what Mesoamericanists believe. To mislead the Church, a prophet or other Church leader would have to be teach something that led members away from salvation and exaltation instead of closer to it.

For example, it would be “misleading the Church” for a leader to teach that temple ordinances are no longer necessary for exaltation (unless, of course, the Lord had given a revelation stating so to the prophet that was sustained by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve). Such a teaching would jeopardize the exaltation of the Latter-day Saints. It would lead them away from exaltation, not toward it.

A counter-example: It would not be “misleading the Church” for a leader to teach that two men or two women in a homosexual marriage were in apostasy. That very teaching was, in fact, implemented by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve in late 2015…and then later rescinded in early 2019. Upon further reflection, the Brethren decided that the policy was not in the best interests of the Church and its members. Were they “misleading the Church” for those three and half years? Of course not—most Church members were not personally affected by the policy, and the few who were can have any action taken against them during that period reversed.

Knowing the true location of the hill Cumorah has no bearing whatsoever on anyone’s salvation or exaltation. Those who believe it is the hill in New York are equally likely to be saved and exalted as those who believe it is in Mesoamerica. Therefore, a prophet or apostle who has taught—by way of testimony or because it’s a common belief—that the New York hill is the Cumorah of the Book of Mormon cannot be “misleading the Church” if they are wrong about this.

No prophet or apostle could be classified as a “confused speculator” who “misled the Church” about the hill Cumorah. Jonathan Neville’s claim is false—it is a lie, whether he believes it or not.

Neville’s second lie is:
[“M2C intellectuals”] say Joseph changed his mind about the Hill Cumorah when he read a popular Mesoamerican travel book in 1841, even though he specifically linked it to New York in 1842 (D&C 128:20).
No Mesoamerican Book of Mormon believer thinks that Joseph Smith “changed his mind about [the location of] the hill Cumorah” after reading John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood’s Incidents of travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Joseph clearly believed that the hill Cumorah was in New York. What he did perhaps change his mind about was the location of the Book of Mormon city of Zarahemla (as indicated in the anonymous Times and Seasons article from October 1, 1842, that Joseph either wrote, helped write, or approved of as editor of the paper).

Joseph Smith’s view of Book of Mormon geography was, like all other early Latter-day Saints’, a hemispheric view: South America was the “land southward,” North America was the “land northward,” and Central America was the “narrow neck of land.” After reading Stephens and Catherwood, he may have shifted his view of the Nephite core northward to Mesoamerica, but all available evidence indicates that he still believed the action described in the Book of Mormon took place on a continent-wide scale and that the final battles between the Nephites and the Lamanites were fought in western New York.

It’s important to note the Heartlanders like Jonathan Neville disagree with the Prophet Joseph Smith about Book of Mormon geography. They assert that the entire Book of Mormon took place in what is now the eastern half of the United States (with Jaredite lands being in southern Canada), while Joseph believed it took place across North and South America.

Returning to the main point, Neville’s claim that Mesoamericanists believe “Joseph changed his mind about [location of the] the Hill Cumorah” is false—it is a lie, whether he believes it or not.

Neville’s third lie is:
[“M2C intellectuals”] say Joseph made errors in the Wentworth letter that were so serious (because they contradicted M2C), that they had to censor that part of the letter in the chapter on the Wentworth letter in the Joseph Smith manual.
Neville provided no evidence for any of the claims he made above, and he didn’t provide any for this one. I know of no believer in a Mesoamerican location for the Book of Mormon who has stated that “Joseph made errors in the Wentworth letter” that required the Church’s curriculum writers to “censor” the parts of the letter that mention the Book of Mormon.

Jonathan Neville has literally made this claim up from his own imagination. Remember, he believes in a a vast conspiracy that operates at all levels of the Church, so it stands to reason that he would invent such a wild-eyed theory. However, his claim is false—it is a lie, whether he believes it or not.

It’s both disappointing and frustrating to me that Jonathan Neville apparently feels compelled to lie about those with whom he disagrees, especially considering that the the location of the hill Cumorah is an inconsequential argument when it comes to salvation and exaltation. I truly hope that, someday soon, he makes an assessment of his behavior and the claims he makes almost daily on his blog(s) and decides to act more honestly.

—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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