Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Friday, June 26, 2020

The Church is Big Brother, or something

It’s plainly evident that Jonathan Neville is a conspiracy theorist of the first order. He believes that “Church employees and departments are censoring information at various levels,” and “they are even depriving Church leaders and members of important information and perspectives.”

What’s surprising to me, though, is the levels to which he takes his rhetoric. By his choice of words and use of quotations, he not-so-subtly implies that Church employees are not simply mistaken but are willfully malicious in they way they use their positions to distort the truth.

Here’s just the latest example from Neville’s BookOfMormonCentralAmerica.com blog:
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

— George Orwell

Despite the Gospel Topics Essay on Translation and the Ensign, there is still at least one page on the Church’s [web] site that claims Joseph [Smith] translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim.


Let’s see how long that stays up.
Good heavens. Let’s break this down, shall we?

1. Neville begins with a quote from George Orwell about the suppression and control of history for propaganda purposes.

Orwell is, of course, best-known as author of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, whose protagonist, Winston Smith, lives in a dystopian, totalitarian state where every individual’s actions are closely monitored and the general populace is fed a steady stream of propaganda and lies from a ruling elite.

Neville’s use of that specific quote from that specific author implies that the same thing is going on today at the headquarters of the Lord’s Church: According to him, Church employees are doing their very best to conceal, cover up, and distort the true history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the teachings of its prophets.

Winston Smith revises Church history in the Ministry of Truth, Salt Lake City, Utah. B&W; 1984.
(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Neville’s imagination.)
2. Neville next claims, by use of a negative, that the Gospel Topics essay on the translation of the Book of Mormon and the the Ensign (the Church’s official English-language magazine) do not teach that “Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim.”

Now, perhaps Neville was just not being careful with his wording; if so, I invite him to clarify his statement, for, as it now stands, it’s blatantly false.

The Gospel Topics essay most definitely teaches that Joseph used the Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon:
Joseph Smith and his scribes wrote of two instruments used in translating the Book of Mormon. According to witnesses of the translation, when Joseph looked into the instruments, the words of scripture appeared in English. One instrument, called in the Book of Mormon the “interpreters,” is better known to Latter-day Saints today as the “Urim and Thummim.” Joseph found the interpreters buried in the hill with the plates. Those who saw the interpreters described them as a clear pair of stones bound together with a metal rim. The Book of Mormon referred to this instrument, together with its breastplate, as a device “kept and preserved by the hand of the Lord” and “handed down from generation to generation, for the purpose of interpreting languages.”
And, in an Ensign article from January of this year—an article that Neville heavily criticized—Elder LeGrand Curtis Jr. wrote:
Joseph [Smith] himself did not elaborate about the process of translation, but Oliver [Cowdery], David [Whitmer], and Emma [Smith] provided some additional information. Oliver said: “These were days never to be forgotten—to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted, to write from [Joseph’s] mouth, as he translated with the Urim and Thummim, or, as the Nephites would have said, ‘Interpreters,’ the history or record called ‘The Book of Mormon.’”

The “interpreters” used by Joseph during the translation process included the “two stones in silver bows” that were deposited by Moroni with the plates. In addition to these two seer stones, Joseph used at least one other seer stone that the Lord had provided.
These two articles, along with other resources published by the Church (like here, here, and here), are clear that Joseph used the Nephite interpreters to translate the Book of Mormon.

Why, then, does Jonathan Neville feel the need to lie by implying that there is just “one page on the Church’s site that claims Joseph translated the plates with the Urim and Thummim”?

3. The concluding statement of Neville’s introduction—“Let’s see how long that stays up”—again directly implies that Church history is in the process of being changed right before our eyes, and that the “one page” to which he referred could be taken down at any moment because it doesn’t mention Joseph using a seer stone to translate. And so we’re back, once again, to Neville’s grand conspiracy theory.
Why do Jonathan Neville and many other leading figures in the “Heartland” Book of Mormon movement lean so heavily on conspiracy theories? There’s no one reason, but psychologists have pointed to confirmation bias, belief perseverance, and the human desire to be uniquely knowledgeable as factors that motivate conspiracy theorists. Being an outsider and shouting at the masses to “wake up!” brings one a sense of comfort, certainty, and authority.

What Neville and his Heartlander comrades don’t seem to realize, though, is that their continual appeals to conspiracies to boost their own presumed authority can only impair the authority of called, sustained, and ordained leaders of the Church and the publications they oversee and authorize. Ironically, Neville’s actions will cause those who follow him to lose trust in the teachings of the prophets that he claims to uphold.

For that reason (among many others), Jonathan Neville’s theories should be rejected by believing Latter-day Saints.

—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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