Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The arrogance and audacity of Jonathan Neville

Captain Hook and I are both busy with responsibilities outside of Neville Land, but I wanted to note some of the more egregious claims Jonathan Neville has made on his blogs so far this week.

First, in a horrible distortion of Jack Welch’s 2010 Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecture (“Jack Welch explains the problem with M2C,” July 8, 2019), Neville tells us:
M2C* is based on consensus; i.e., the scholars took a vote and rejected the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. Brother Welch decided decades ago that brother John Sorenson was correct when he said it is a fact that Mesoamerica is the setting for the Book of Mormon. Since then, he and other M2C intellectuals (and their employees) have done nothing but seek to confirm that bias.
This is the typical sort of “horse hockey” (as Colonel Potter called it at the 4077th) we’ve come to expect from Neville. No one has ever taken “a vote” to “reject the teachings of the prophets,” and the Mesoamerican theory of Book of Mormon geography is not based on any person or group of people “decid[ing] decades ago” that it was true and then seeking to “confirm that bias.” Rather, most Latter-day Saint scholars of the Book of Mormon accept it because that’s where the strongest evidence points.

There are, of course, other proposed Book of Mormon geographies—John Sorenson cataloged seventy of them in 1992—including models based in South America, Baja California, the Great Lakes region, the American Midwest (which Neville himself favors), and across the entire Western Hemisphere. There are even geographic models that place the Book of Mormon in Africa and Malaysia (!). But the Mesoamerican model has gained traction over the last sixty years, not because of a cabal of conspirators working within the Church, as Neville wildly asserts, but because the shape of the lands described in the Book of Mormon most closely matches Mesoamerica and and the complex, developed, ancient civilizations described in the book line up bestwith those that were flourishing 2,000 years ago in that area. Full stop.

Second, in that same blog post, Neville also presented his justification for dismissing the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography. Here is the central argument from his apologia (boldface type in the original):
That anonymous Gospel Topics Essay has been changed once without notice and could change again at any moment. It does not even address the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah, from Letter VII through General Conference addresses by members of the First Presidency.

I view the Gospel Topics Essay as a reasonable and understandable effort to accommodate multiple points of view and eliminate contention, not as a repudiation of past prophets and apostles.

I've been informed that the committee that wrote the essay did not give the Brethren an alternative to consider; i.e., they did not submit a version that started with "Except for the New York Cumorah, the Church has no position…"

In fact, after I pointed out that the first version of the Gospel Topics Essay quoted from Pres. Ivins’ 1929 General Conference talk, but omitted his 1928 General Conference talk that reaffirmed Letter VII, the committee simply removed Pres. Ivins altogether from the second version of the Gospel Topics Essay. The committee does not want members of the Church to even know what the prophets and apostles have taught about this topic.

Like Volume 1 of Saints, the Gospel Topics Essay completely avoids the term Cumorah.

That's consistent with the way the Correlation Department edited the Wentworth letter in the Joseph Smith lesson manual; i.e., they are intentionally censoring the teachings of the prophets that contradict M2C.

Of course, at any moment the Church could issue a third version of the Gospel Topics Essay that specifically rejects what past prophets and apostles have taught about the New York Cumorah. Maybe the Brethren will actually sign such a document instead of leaving it anonymous.
I’ve reproduced this lengthy quote because (a) I want to fairly represent Neville’s views and (b) I want to clearly demonstrate the extremes to which he’s gone in order to brush aside what is a very inconvenient document for him and his beliefs.

Neville completely overlooks the explicit statement on the Church’s website that the Gospel Topics Essays “have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.” Despite this, he counters that the essay on Book of Mormon geography is the result of an “anonymous” “committee” that purposely withheld information from Church leaders (it “did not give the Brethren an alternative to consider”) and “intentionally censor[ed] the teachings of the prophets.” Not only that, but because the essay was clarified once (with Neville himself taking credit for that change!), “the Church could issue a third version” of it—ergo, it’s flawed and can simply be ignored.

Does this not rip back the curtain and expose Jonathan Neville’s modus operandi? He contends that his beliefs are The Truth, that he’s on the side of “the prophets” (at least the dead ones), and that a group of conspirators is secretly working against his version of The Truth. Anything published by the Church that is contrary to Neville’s Truth—even things which “have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles”—can therefore be dismissed as the work of the conspirators.

Finally, in a separate blog post (“Neutrality - Maxwell Institute,” July 9, 2019), Neville gives what is perhaps the most odious backhanded compliment I’ve yet seen from him. Referring to the significant changes in leadership and direction that took place in 2014 at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University, Neville focuses on one individual in particular:
Another positive development is that a former [Maxwell Institute] employee who is a strong M2C proponent (a great guy whom I won't name) left MI to work for Book of Mormon Central, where he does a great job confirming the M2C bias.
Now, I do not work nor have ever worked at Book of Mormon Central or the Maxwell Institute, but I do happen to know to whom Neville is referring. Neville considers it a “positive development” that this individual is no longer working for the Maxwell Institute, not because he might be better suited for or happier in a position at Book of Mormon Central, but because this individual is no longer “confirming the M2C bias” at the Maxwell Institute.

In other words, Neville believes that the Maxwell Institute is better off having gotten rid of this person—the person Neville disingenuously calls “a great guy.”

It may interest our readers to know that Jonathan Neville purposely deceived that individual in order to conceal his (Neville’s) true objectives when Neville first approached him several years ago to talk about a theory he had about Church history. (You can read all about it here.) Jonathan Neville lied a fellow Latter-day Saint, simply over a difference of opinion. And now he has the gall to declare “good riddance” to this man?

Wow. Simply unbelievable.

—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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