Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Thursday, June 24, 2021

President Joseph F. Smith warned against “gospel hobbies”

Joseph F. Smith served as sixth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1901 until his death in 1918. He was a magnificent expounder of gospel principles, and he taught with clarity and plainess.

In the March 15, 1902, edition of Juvenile Instructor, the magazine for youth published by the Deseret Sunday School Union, President Smith warned of what he called “gospel hobbies.” (See pp. 176–177.)

Almost 120 years later, President Smith’s warning seems particularly applicable to the Heartland movement in general and Jonathan Neville in particular. I reprint it in full below:
President Joseph F. Smith 1901Brethren and sisters, don’t have hobbies. Hobbies are dangerous in the Church of Christ. They are dangerous because they give undue prominence to certain principles or ideas to the detriment and dwarfing of others just as important, just as binding, just as saving as the favored doctrines or commandments.

Hobbies give to those who encourage them a false aspect of the Gospel of the Redeemer; they distort and place out of harmony its principles and teachings. The point of view is unnatural. Every principle and practice revealed from God is essential to man’s salvation, and to place any one of them unduly in front, hiding and dimming all others is unwise and dangerous; it jeopardizes our salvation, for it darkens our minds and beclouds our understandings.

We have known good men and good women who appeared to think, if they may be judged by their actions and conversation, that the all absorbing doctrine of the Church was the healing of the sick, or the law of tithing, or the Word of Wisdom, or the gift of tongues. Before this one doctrine or gift all things else connected with the plan of salvation were but secondary. Such a view, no matter to what point directed, narrows the vision, weakens the spiritual perception, and darkens the mind, the result of which is that the person thus afflicted with this perversity and contraction of mental vision places himself in a position to be tempted of the evil one, or through dimness of sight or distortion of vision, to misjudge his brethren and give way to the spirit of apostasy. He is not square before the Lord.

We have noticed this difficulty: that Saints with hobbies are prone to judge and condemn their brethren and sisters who are not so zealous in the one particular direction of their pet theory as they are. The man with the Word of Wisdom only in his brain, is apt to find unmeasured fault with every other member of the Church who entertains liberal ideas as to the importance of other doctrines of the Gospel. We simply mention the Word of Wisdom to exemplify our idea, not that we would in the least minimize the importance of its observance. But we hold that it is possible for a man to abstain, rigidly and completely, from all things forbidden in that revelation and yet be sadly lacking in charity towards the brethren, zeal towards God, and faith in His holy work.

There is another phase of this difficulty—the man with a hobby is apt to assume an “I am holier than thou” position, to feel puffed up and conceited, and to look with distrust, if with no severer feeling, on his brethren and sisters who do not so perfectly live that one particular law. This feeling hurts his fellow-servants and offends the Lord. “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18.)

There are some great truths in the plan of redemption that are fundamental. They cannot be ignored; none others can be placed before them. The fatherhood of God, the efficacy of the atonement of our Lord and Savior, the restoration of the Gospel in these latter days, must be accepted with our whole hearts. We cannot compensate for a lack of faith in these essential doctrines by the most absolute abstinence from things unhealthful, by the rigid payment of tithing on our “anise and cummin” [Matthew 23:23], or by the observance of any other outward ordinance. Baptism itself without faith in God avails nothing.

Then let none of us become so zealous in any principle or law of God that, in our minds, any one part of the Gospel grows to be as large, or to fill the place of the entire plan of salvation. No one part is ever equal to the whole. If we permit ourselves to thus misjudge we shall lose the comprehension of the due relationship of the things of God, and be in a condition to be unable to discern between truth and error, right and wrong, when the adversary of our souls conspires for our destruction.

Joseph F. Smith
I can easily imagine President Smith today warning the Saints who have embraced the Heartland movement that they have become “prone to judge and condemn their brethren and sisters who are not so zealous in the one particular direction of their pet theory as they are,” and placed themselves “in a position to be tempted of the evil one, or through dimness of sight or distortion of vision, to misjudge [their] brethren and give way to the spirit of apostasy.”

I would not apply President Smith’s teachings in this way if it were not the sad and obvious truth. For over six years now, Jonathan Neville has continually published and blogged and spoken, with single-minded focus, on his insistence that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon is in New York, that the editorials about Book of Mormon lands in Central America published under Joseph Smith’s name were written by a conspirator who sought to destroy Joseph, and that Joseph used only the Urim and Thummim and never used a seer stone to translate. All this while, he has written in condemnation of Church employees, Church scholars, and others who have questioned his evidence and rejected his conclusions.

His gospel hobby, if not abandoned, will result in his loss of faith in the leaders of the Church. And I fear that many who follow him will experience the same loss.

—Peter Pan


  1. Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave the same warning several times, e.g.:

    It is . . . my experience that people who ride gospel hobbies, who try to qualify themselves as experts in some specialized field, who try to make the whole plan of salvation revolve around some field of particular interest to them- it is my experience that such persons are usually spiritually immature and spiritually unstable. This includes those who devote themselves- as though by divine appointment- to setting forth the signs of the times; or to expounding about the Second Coming; or, to a faddist interpretation of the Word of Wisdom; or, to a twisted emphasis on temple work or any other doctrine or practice. The Jews of Jesus’ day made themselves hobbyists and extremists in the field of Sabbath observance, and it colored and blackened their whole way of worship. We would do well to have a sane, rounded, and balanced approach to the whole gospel and all of its doctrines. (Doctrines of the Restoration, p. 232)

    1. Great quote; thanks for sharing that!

      I suspect that Heartlanders would be attracted to Joseph F. Smith and Bruce R. McConkie’s writings. If only they would pay attention to them.


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