Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Monday, August 17, 2020

Elder Anthony W. Ivins, M2C Intellectual

Anthony W. Ivins, 1921 Continuing our series of prophets and apostles who didn’t believe in the “Heartland” geography theory—which, by the way, includes the living prophet, Russell M. Nelson—today we’ll consider the case of Elder Anthony W. Ivins.

Elder Ivins’s name is perhaps not as well-known today as it was in the early twentieth century. He was ordained an apostle and called as a member of Quorum of the Twelve in October 1907. In March 1921, President Heber J. Grant called him to be second counselor in the First Presidency. After the death of Charles W. Penrose in May 1925, Ivins was called to replace him as first counselor to President Grant, a position in which he served until his death in September 1934 at the age of 82.

In January 1921, the Church’s Book of Mormon committee met to hear different views on where in the Americas the Book of Mormon took place. Elder James E. Talmage of the Twelve attended these meetings and recorded in his journal what was said at them:
January 14, 1921—Friday

In addition to other committee work I attended an afternoon session of the Book of Mormon committee, at which preliminary arrangements were made for hearing some of the proponents of different views on Book of Mormon geography. Many varied and conflicting views concerning the location of Book of Mormon lands have been advocated amongst our people; and not a few maps have been put out. With all precautions taken to make plain the fact that these maps have been intended as suggestive presentations only, we find some people accepting one map and others another as authoritative. The matter was brought before the council through the receipt of a communication from Elder Joel Ricks [Jr.] of Logan, who several years ago published a map, of which over 6000 have been disposed of. Brother Ricks and several other good brethren have voiced a sort of complaint that they have had no opportunity to present their views, with the fullness they desire, before the Church authorities. The entire matter was referred to the Book of Mormon committee; and today appointments were made for the beginning of the series of hearings.

January 21, 1921—Friday

Sat with the rest of the Book of Mormon committee in the first session appointed for the hearing of those who have views to present on the subject of Book of Mormon geography. The entire afternoon was occupied by Brother Joel Ricks of Logan, who exhibited a copy of his map, and gave many details of his personal travels and investigations in the northern part of South America and in part of Central America.

January 22, 1921—Saturday

The Book of Mormon committee sat during both forenoon and afternoon. Elder Joel Ricks occupied part of the morning session, and the rest of that meeting, together with the whole of the afternoon session was given over to Elder Willard Young, who claims that most of the Book of Mormon scenes were laid in Guatemala, and Honduras.

January 23, 1921—Sunday

[…] I had looked forward to this opportunity of attending Sunday School in my own ward for once; but this was made impossible by action taken at last night’s meeting of the Book of Mormon committee this forenoon. This morning Elder Willard Young continued his presentation. […]

January 24, 1921—Monday

We were engaged from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Book of Mormon hearing, with a noon intermission. Elder Anthony W. Ivins of the Council of the Twelve presented his views and suggestions, indicating that “the Book of Mormon lands embraced mainly Yucatan and Mexico.” There being none others who had expressed a desire to be heard by the committee, this meeting was regarded as the closing session of the present stage of the investigation.
Like many early Latter-day Saints, Anthony W. Ivins accepted that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon was the same hill where Joseph Smith received the gold plates from the angel Moroni. Jonathan Neville has reprinted portions of a talk President Ivins gave in April 1928 General Conference affirming that “so far as we have information,” the New York hill is the hill described in the Book of Mormon.

And yet Ivins also believed that “the Book of Mormon lands embraced mainly Yucatan and Mexico,” according to Elder Talmage’s diary. Neville is of two minds about this claim: On the one hand he says that he doesn’t care where people claims the Book of Mormon took place, as long as the Nephite Cumorah is in New York. On the other, he ridicules the Mesoamerican Book of Mormon geography, calling it a “zombie theory” that is based entirely on a (purportedly) mistaken belief that Joseph Smith wrote the 1842 Times and Seasons articles.

And yet, at the 1921 meetings with Church leaders, Elder Anthony W. Ivins—an apostle who soon thereafter became a member of the First Presidency—argued, contra Neville, that the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

And not only that, “none others…expressed a desire to be heard by the committee.” No one who attended argued for a North American geography. That’s because, until Rodney Meldrum began the Heartlander movement creatio ex nihilo around 2007, very few people believed in a limited Book of Mormon geography in North American.

Neville is free to believe the Book of Mormon took place anywhere in the Americas. But his claim that the Mesoamerican theory was a late development and that early Saints believed in the “Heartland” Book of Mormon geography is simply untrue.

—Peter Pan


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