Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Jonathan Neville attacks defenders and defends attackers of the restored gospel

It’s becoming ever more clear that Jonathan Neville’s allegiance is not to the restored gospel but to his peculiar readings of Book of Mormon geography and Church history. Anyone who disagrees with his views on those two things is, according to him, “repudiating and ridiculing the teachings of the prophets.” He’s even willing to condemn defenders of the gospel and defend its critics.

In a recent blog post, Neville criticized Daniel Peterson (whom Neville belittles by continually referring to him as “Dan the Interpreter”) and Robert Boylan, both of whom are long-time and able defenders of the restored gospel and the restored Church.

Boylan had criticized an anti-Mormon blogger who confused the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon (Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer) with three authors who wrote an awful anti-Mormon book in the 1970s (Howard Davis, Wayne Cowdrey, and Donald Scales). That blogger had written:
Why did [Joseph] Smith’s three main witnesses, Cowdrey, Davis and Scales write the book, “Who Really Wrote the Book of Mormon? (Vision House Publishers, 1977)? Why did they leave the Mormon Church, even though they claimed to have seen Smith’s tablets?
Robert Boylan rightly called this blogger’s argument “silly,” and Daniel Peterson, who brought attention to Boylan’s criticism called it “an exceptionally stupid argument.”

Neville inexplicably came to the defense of the errant blogger, telling his readers the argument was a result of “ignorance, not stupidity” and the result of a “simple mistake.” He then turned on defenders of the gospel by asserting that this sort of language is an example of “the type of ‘apologetics’ that has turned off so many people” because it is “fundamentally wrong,…at least as [it is] practiced by the M2C citation cartel (FARMS, FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, etc.).”

Confusing the Three Witnesses for three anti-Mormons who lived 130 years after Joseph Smith and never had any visionary experiences is not a “simple mistake.” It displays the author’s deep-seated ignorance of the fundamental claims and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a silly, exceptionally stupid argument.

(And, as I recently pointed out, Jonathan Neville is in no position to criticize others for using the term stupid.)

Perhaps even worse, however, is Neville’s defense of the blackguard Wayne Cowdrey, co-author of the aforementioned awful anti-Mormon book. In the 1970s, Cowdrey went about claiming that he was a descendant of Oliver Cowdery, despite the fact that Oliver Cowdery had no living descendants, as Robert and Rosemary Brown revealed in their fiery and magnificent exposé of Cowdrey and his claims.

Neville inexplicably writes:
The otherwise omniscient Dan the Interpreter doesn’t seem to realize that Wayne Cowdrey clarified that he is related to Oliver because Oliver’s grandfather was Wayne’s uncle, six times removed. Nevertheless, Dan embarks on a bizarre explanation of why Wayne could not be descended from Oliver, as if that has any relevance to the facts and argument Wayne has made. It’s another typical diversion from the main points of the arguments raised by critics.
What Nevile doesn’t seem to know (or care about) is that Wayne Cowdrey was only forced to admit that his relationship to Oliver Cowdery was so indirect as to be meaningless after the Browns exposed him as a liar. Wayne Cowdery was using his fabricated relationship to Oliver Cowdery to enhance his credibility as a critic of “Mormonism”—after all, who better to expose Joseph Smith than a supposed direct descendant of one of the Three Witnesses?

But none of that appears to have any significance to Neville. In his mind, apparently, Wayne Cowdrey was simply misunderstood about the meaning of the term direct descendant and merely needed to “clarify” his relationship to Oliver Cowdery. Instead of being considered the odious charlatan that he was, Neville would have us show empathy for Wayne Cowdrey for just being unintentionally imprecise.

I don’t have a relevant image to go with this post, so instead I’m including this image of a very adorable puppy who definitely did not lie about his relationship to Oliver Cowdery nor defend anyone who did.
Now, clearly Wayne Cowdrey’s arguments should be (and have been) rebutted, but it is critical to note Cowdrey’s appeal to false authority (himself) and what it demonstrates about his habit of not telling the truth.

We are in a battle for the souls of men. The Savior himself had no problem declaring to certain people who opposed him, “Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:44), and he told John the Revelator what would be the fate of liars (Revelation 21:8).

I, for one, do not excuse the despicable acts of the enemies of the Restored Church. Why does Jonathan Neville?

—Peter Pan

Robert Boylan has also responded to Neville’s post. You can read his reply on his excellent blog, Scriptural Mormonism.

Daniel C. Peterson also responded on his own blog, Sic et Non.

* “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. Who are these "so many people" that have been "turned off"? Everyone I have introduced to the scholarship and apologetics of so-called "M2C" researchers and professors have been impressed by their work. I wish Neville would provide some actual examples of some of these people.

  2. On my Mission in Texas I once came across a Baptist minister who did not want to allow us to leave. Half an hour into our conversation he bursts out "How can you believe the con man Joseph Smith, who shot and killed 30 people in Missouri before he fled to Utah?" Bkth my companion and I actually burst out in laughter and this minister told us we wouldn't be laughing if we only read the stuff he did because there's an old newspaper article that talks about it.

    My exact words were "That must have been a hard journey for him to make, seeing as Joseph died in Illinois." And much to my surprise, the minister nodded and openly acknowledged that he tried slipping us up with something he knew was not true.

    Frankly, whether in the form of this Baptist preacher, Wayne Cowdrey, or the blog that these apologists have responded to, there is a plethora of misinformation rooted in either deep seated ignorance or a desire to lead those in the church out of it (or both). Responding to these claims is essential. Neville is just wrong in his claims and attitude to the situation at hand.

    (As for the Baptist preacher, he eventually told us that he was impressed with how we held our ground, showing that yes, laughing at silly and stupid arguments as you respond to them gets through to people sometimes)

    1. I had a similar experience in my mission in Virginia. A gentleman told us he knew things about Church history that we probably didn't know, such as how Hyrum Smith rode hard out to Utah to tell Brigham Young that Joseph Smith had been killed. I think he actually believed this absurd claim, in contrast to your experience. He was a very nice guy, however!


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