Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Friday, June 12, 2020

Jonathan Neville continues to dismiss the First Presidency’s counsel

It must be deeply frustrating to be Jonathan Neville. Nearly everything produced and published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contradicts his heterodox views, so he has to continually look for ways to dismiss and disregard the teachings of the Church and its leaders.

He’s railed against what he considers to be false teachings in Church-published magazines, the Church’s new official history, and Church lesson manuals, as well as the teachings of Church missionaries at its historic sites.

One particular thorn in his side has been the Church’s Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon geography. He’s published at least 120 blog posts attacking it, doing everything in power to convince uninformed people that it has no authority, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

In his latest effort—“Rethinking the entry on Book of Mormon Geography” (June 12, 2020)—he tells us that “it hardly qualifies as an essay” because “it omits scripture references and the many quotations from General Authorities on the topic” of Book of Mormon geography. By “many quotations,” he of course is referring his cherry-picked list of quotes that have no revelatory or official standing and represent the views of the leaders who spoke them—even if those views were popular and traditional ones.

He asserts:
The amazing thing is that the New York Cumorah has been consistently and persistently taught by every Church leader who has addressed the topic. It has never been contradicted by Church leaders. It has been contradicted only by scholars, beginning with RLDS scholars in the late 1800s who rejected the teachings of LDS leaders on several topics. Then, in the mid-1900s, LDS scholars began claiming the prophets were wrong because of M2C.* Now, thanks the academic cycle, M2C has spread its influence throughout the Church.
There are numerous falsehoods in this single paragraph:

  • Neville fails to tell us that not one apostle or prophet has stated that the location of Cumorah has been revealed by God, and that some have expressed doubts about the New York location, including apostles John A. Widtsoe and (possibly) Robert D. Hales.
  • Neville here repeats his false narrative that the proposed Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon originated with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in “the late 1800s”, even though there’s no evidence for an RLDS Mesoamerican model before 1917 and a Central American model by an unknown Latter-day Saint exists from 1887. (See John L. Sorenson, The Geography of Book of Mormon Events: A Source Book [1992], pp. 15–22, 87–89, 135–137.) Louis Edward Hills’s (1917 RLDS) proposed geography (Sorenson, 87–89) bears little resemblance in its details to models published by Latter-day Saints Willard Young (before 1920; Sorenson 205–206) and Jean Russell Driggs (1925; Sorenson, 67–68), let alone to the proposed maps published at Brigham Young University by Professor M. Wells Jakeman in the 1940s (Sorenson, 98–100), Thomas Stuart Ferguson in 1950 (Sorenson, 73–74), and Professor John L. Sorenson in 1955 (Sorenson, 178–182).
  • And, of course, Neville continues to insist that “M2C intellectuals” claim “the prophets were wrong.” In his mind, apparently, all teachings of prophets are authoritative and revealed. In Neville-Neville Land, prophets (at least the prophets he quotes) don’t have opinions and personal beliefs. In the real world, however, prophets are more fallible than that (as many prophets themselves have testified).
Jesus Teaching in the Western Hemisphere (Jesus Christ Visits the Americas) by John Scott, 1969
Jesus Christ Visits the Americas (a.k.a. Jesus Teaching in the Western Hemisphere) by John Scott, 1969
But the most insidious thing about Neville’s latest blog post is the way he disparages the authority of the Gospel Topics Essay by claiming that it omits “quotations from General Authorities,” when, in fact, it contains direct counsel from the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
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. All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.
As I’ve written previously, it’s obvious to anyone with “ears to hear” that the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve want Jonathan Neville and other Heartlanders to stop claiming that their theories of Book of Mormon geography are supported by “the teachings of the prophets,” while other theories (including the Mesoamerican geography) “reject the teachings of the prophets.”

That, I believe, is the real reason Jonathan Neville continues to pound away at the Book of Mormon geography Gospel Topics Essay: The Brethren are calling him to repentance, and yet he refuses to hear and hearken to their counsel.

—Peter Pan

(An earlier version of this blog post misread Neville’s date of “the mid-1900s” as “the mid-1990s,” and included a rebuttal to the mistaken, later date. I’ve since removed that section; I apologize for the error.)

* “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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