Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Jonathan Neville and “the high road to apostacy”

Continuing his longstanding practice of criticizing magazines and Gospel Topics essays published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jonathan Neville has unloaded two new blog posts that attack these Church publications for not preaching his heterodox views: “The Restoration and the July 2020 Ensign” (June 23, 2020) and “Review of Gospel Topics Essay on Translation” (June 24, 2020).

This will not be an extensive review of why Neville’s specific criticisms are wrong; rather, I’d simply like to point out the clear marks of his growing apostasy.

road sign to apostasy
Joseph Smith warned the Twelve Apostles in 1839, “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 & if he does not repent will apostatize as God live[s].” This statement applies at least as much to Jonathan Neville as it has to any other apostate before he or she broke from the Lord’s Church.

In his first blog post, Neville has created yet another table that compares his beliefs with inaccurate and oversimplified versions of the information published by the Church. Neville’s particular beef this time is with the July 2020 issue of the Ensign. He asks his readers:
We are left wondering what to do. Do we share the Ensign with our nonmember friends? Do we tell them the [Ensign’s] narrative in the left column above?

Or do we tell them the [Heartland] narrative in the right column above and encourage them to study the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets?
“We love our Ensign,” he professes, “but sometimes we wonder what’s going on.” The problem, he continues, is the July 2020 issue “discusses Church history in a manner that undermines the faith of many people and impedes missionary work.” Neville provides no evidence that either of his claims are true, of course, other than his usual vague assertion that current Church teachings undermine the historicity of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s status as a prophet (because “M2C”* and “SITH”).

Having examined the July 2020 Ensign and found it wanting, Neville concludes by repeating:
We ask again, do we share the Ensign with our nonmember friends? Do we tell them the narrative in the left column above?

Or do we tell them the narrative in the right column above and encourage them to study the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets?
It’s fairly clear that Neville would answer his rhetorical question by choosing the latter option—as long as people study through the lens of a Heartlander. He’d prefer that people not read the teachings and counsel of modern, living prophets (more on that in a moment) but instead stick with the interpretations of dead prophets that he and his associates make.

In summary, Jonathan Neville is literally suggesting that we steer investigators and interested nonmembers away from official Church publications because they supposedly teach falsehoods.

He begins his second blog post, by quoting—with no apparent sense of irony whatsoever—President Heber J. Grant’s warning, “If you get on a hobby horse it will ride you right out of the Church.”

Neville is, of course, a textbook example of a gospel hobbyist. He is obsessed with rooting out any teaching that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is not the hill as the one in western New York that goes by the same name. He’s recently adopted a second obsession with insisting that Joseph Smith only used the Nephite interpreters to translate the Book of Mormon and never used a seer stone (despite ample evidence of the latter from many eyewitnesses). That he would claim to having successfully “avoid[ed] getting on a hobby horse” is simply staggering.

In addition to comparing the teaching of Church history in the Gospel Topics essays to Soviet-era propaganda and the works of George Orwell—I am not making this up; read for yourself on his blog—Neville tells us:
In my view, [the Lord has said] plenty regarding the translation and historicity of the Book of Mormon, but certain scholars, along with their employees and their followers, have largely rejected those teachings in favor of their own theories.
Neville completely fails to note that it’s not just scholars and Church employees who believe that Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon with a seer stone, for modern, living prophets, apostles, and other leaders have also taught this very same thing. These prophets include:

To this list I would add Elder B.H. Roberts, member of the First Council of the Seventy (1888–1933) and Assistant Church Historian (1902–1933), as well as numerous Church publications in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Jonathan Neville envisions a grand conspiracy of scholars and Church employees who are trying to undermine “the teachings of the prophets.” The only way his narrative can work, however, is if he completely ignores the inconvenient fact that living prophets and apostles are teaching the very things he claims are false and harmful to the Church.

“Know assuredly that that man is in the high road to apostacy.”

—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. On my mission I met a General Authority Seventy who spoke with me personally in a leadership conference and he showed me a review copy of The Ensign four months out that he brought with him to look over at nights and on the road. To say that it's okay to criticize the Ensign because it's not approved by the Brethren is a gross error on Neville's part. The Brethren absolutely do review church publications. Occasionally an error might slip through, but it is just like Moroni telling readers of the Book of Mormon that "if there are faults they are the mistakes of men" and they are soon corrected when the Brethren find it upon looking at it again. They would not just allow this "false narrative" to go on for years without anything being said or done about it.

    1. Thank you, Spencer. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

      I don’t believe that everything published in Church magazines is perfect and inerrant. It can contain opinion, tentative conclusions that are subject to revision, and even innocent errors. But to assert, as Jonathan Neville does continually, that Church magazines have been taken over by a cabal of renegades who are trying to “undermine the prophets” is simply ludicrous.


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