Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Jonathan Neville is now the self-appointed “neutrality police”

Jonathan Neville is again criticizing the Church and its leaders for not being “neutral” on Book of Mormon geography. (See his July 2 and 3, 2019, blog posts “More on ‘neutrality’” and “Neutrality—Teaching M2C to LDS chaplains.”)
Church police Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl
The Church Police conduct a raid on heretics. (1982, colorized.)

This time he’s not happy that the Church’s casting call for extras for Book of Mormon videos includes a representation of Christ appearing at a Mayan temple and that the Church’s website hosts a video lecture by BYU anthropologist Dr. Mark Wright speaking to Latter-day Saint chaplains in 2013 about the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican archaeology.

Neville’s latest criticisms of the Church come despite the fact that the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography doesn’t use the words neutral or neutrality.

As Captain Hook and I have demonstrated repeatedly on this blog, Neville has a spectacular talent for misreading texts and misrepresenting other people’s beliefs. He usually reads into these things what he wants to see or what he already believes (an all-too-common practice called eisegesis).

In this case, Neville has read the Book of Mormon geography Gospel Topics Essay and has (mis-) interpreted it to say that the Church is and must be strictly “neutral” on the real-world locations of Book of Mormon events. If he were to read the essay more carefully, he would discover that it says nothing of the sort; rather, it affirms the following five principles:
  1. “The Book of Mormon includes a history of an ancient people who migrated from the Near East to the Americas.”
  2. “The Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events in the ancient Americas.”
  3. “Individuals may have their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography and other such matters about which the Lord has not spoken.”
  4. “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.”
  5. “All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.”
Note that, although “the Church does not take a position on the specific geographic locations of Book of Mormon events,” that does not mean that the Church may not or should not use representations of ancient structures found in the Americas, nor does it prevent individuals from expressing “their own opinions regarding Book of Mormon geography,” even in Church settings, as Dr. Wright did.

What the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have actually said is that Church leaders and members should not “advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories.” In other words, it’s perfectly fine to discuss different geographic theories in Church settings, only one should not state or imply that either revelation or the Church support one particular theory over another.

The real problem for Jonathan Neville, of course, is that “M2C* intellectuals” (as he calls them) are following the Brethren’s counsel while he and the Heartlanders are not. Dr. Wright, in his presentation, never claims that the prophets or the Church have declared that his Mesoamerican view of Book of Mormon geography is correct. For Neville and other Heartlanders, however, cherry-picked statements of dead prophets form the entire foundation of their claim that the Heartland hoax is the Lord’s revealed Book of Mormon geography.

As Jonathan Neville’s criticisms of the Church continue to become more strident, look for signs that he believes that current Church leaders are “out of the way,” and that the Church and its leaders are in apostasy. This has been the pattern of strident gospel-hobbyists since the beginning of the Restoration.

—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.


  1. "I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition."

    1. That's the beauty of the Spanish Inquisition, Eric: No one expects it!

  2. Reading Peter's post, it occurred to me that the Church CAN have no official position without actually being neutral between competing theories.

    In other words, while not officially endorsing any specific position, Church leaders can still recognize that some models are better than others, are supported by better, more responsible arguments, have better data, etc. So they would have much less of a problem with inviting someone like Mark Wright to address a group of chaplains than they would with inviting, say, a former emergency supplies salesman or an attorney, neither of whom have any background in the required academic disciplines.


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