Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Rian Nelson rejects charges of Heartlander apostasy

Although the primary focus of this blog is the writings of Jonathan Neville, I’ve also on occasion been critical of his fellow travelers in the Heartland movement, most notably Rian Nelson and Rodney Meldrum of the FIRM Foundation (the “Foundation for Indigenous Research and Mormonism Foundation”).

Meldrum’s organization produces books, DVDs, and articles in support of the Heartland theory of Book of Mormon geography. They also put on a semiannual expo with a large slate of speakers and presenters, most of whom are amateurs with no credentials in the subjects on which they present.

Among other responsibilities, Rian Nelson maintains the FIRM Foundation’s blog and Facebook page. His posts in these two outlets frequently appeal to bizarre conspiracy theories, including material about QAnon, globalist cabals, and anti-vaccination tirades. He also appeals to vaguely racist notions of the United States being in danger of being “overrun” by “illegal immigrants” from south of the border.

On July 20, 2021, Nelson took issue with this blog’s claim that he and other Heartlanders are on a “long slide into apostasy.” In his post “An Absurd Character Assassination From a Meso-Blogger called Peter Pan,” he claims that I “[get their] position very wrong.”

I reprint Nelson’s response with his usual spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors unchanged:
“I wish Peter and his Pan would fess up to his secrecy. What is he hiding? I personally put up the quote above from Pres Benson last Feb. It fit perfectly into my feelings that many in the church even the very elect will be deceived. My mind has never been on the General Authorities or leadership of the church although some GA’s have led some astray in the past. The Brethren are NOT leading anyone into apostacy and they are men who I and all those at the firm foundation love and respect. Please

President Nelson and the Apostles are wonderful men and lead and guide the Lord’s true Church. I have always felt as has Rod or any other person associated with the FIRM Foundation that we love and follow the Lord through His Apostles and Prophets. Mr. Peter Pan is lying and it is not right to promote such slander. If any of you reading this post decide to email him please be nice and loving as we don’t want to treat others as he is treating us.

We advise our Heartland supporters and all people to be kind to those of other Apologetic groups just as we should be kind to all of God’s children. We are simply requesting an honest treatment from these other groups and find some way of working together to build the Lord’s Kingdom and share Christ together with the world.” Rian Nelson
Allow me to remind our readers what Nelson’s original claim was. On February 17, 2020, he posted the following on the FIRM Foundation Facebook page: (Note: The date of Ezra Taft Benson’s BYU address was October 25, 1966, not 1996.)

Nelson protests, “My mind has never been on the General Authorities or leadership of the church although some GA’s have led some astray in the past. The Brethren are NOT leading anyone into apostacy [sic] and they are men who I and all those at the firm foundation [sic] love and respect.”

But does Nelson read the things that he writes? His Facebook post began with the question-begging assumption, “For those concerned how this occultic ‘Joseph Smith’ could make its way into Church publications.…” In other words, according to Rian Nelson of the FIRM Foundation, Church publications are teaching an “occultic” version of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I, for one, would never claim that Church manuals and other publications are perfect or without error, but Nelson’s claim goes far beyond simple mistakes. Since Church publications are produced by committees headed by general authorities and general authorities provide the final review and approval for all Church publications, any claim that these publications present an “occultic Joseph Smith” ultimately means that general authorities are leading the Church into apostasy, as I claimed Nelson had asserted.

And this is just one example of Heartlander comments that flirt with apostasy or explicitly advocate for apostate ideas and actions. Like Rian Nelson, Jonathan Neville has also accused the Church of printing false doctrine and even anti-Mormon material in its publications. (See here, here, and here.) I’ve collected dozens of examples of this behavior over the two-and-a-half years this blog has been operating; anyone is free to examine what I’ve written and decide for themselves whether or not the Heartland movement is potentially dangerous to the faith of the Saints.

In the meantime, Rian Nelson’s protests fall quite flat, for he did indeed directly imply what he claims he didn’t.

—Peter Pan


  1. On my mission I was able to talk to Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy privately during a fifteen minute break at an MLC (Mission Leadership Conference). He showed me and flipped through the pages of an advance copy of the Ensign still five months out from being published which he had brought with him to review whenever he had some spare time to refer me to a yet-to-be published article I would find helpful concerning our conversation.So I can say from personal experience that General Authorities absolutely are aware of what is in Church publications.

    Neville, however, has compared an article written by a General Autority in a Church magazine reviewed by General Authorities to Mormonism Unvailed. And Rian absolutely did the same, albeit indirectly, here.

    Yeah, that's DEFINITELY not a sign that they are sliding into apostasy... (insert sarcastic tone here).

  2. That quote is the notes of chapter 2 of a book called Seer Stone v Urim and Thummim by the Joseph Smith Foundation. No part of that quote is from me. My statement stands as I do not believe anything occultic has been put into official Church publications. Didn't you read the part in my post about getting along and not judging?

    1. Rian: Since your Facebook post in no way indicates that you were quoting another source, it has every appearance of having been written by you. And unless you quote a source in the post, it might has well have been written by you; clearly you agree with its sentiments.

      "Getting along and not judging" sounds wonderful, but the problem here is that your movement is spreading false doctrine and pseudoscience. I will not stand by idly and not speak out against it just because "getting along" is a nice sentiment.

      I judge your actions. I judge your claims. I can’t (and won’t) judge your heart, of course; only the Lord knows that.

    2. I would also like to point out that your call to "get along and not judge" rings hollow, considering your repeated, continual remarks disparaging good, faithful Latter-day Saint scholars and others who disagree with the Heartland hoax, to the point of even accusing them of being part of some vast conspiracy bent on destroying faith in the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel.

  3. Of course the Church has not printed false Doctrine, you are way off Peter of Pan. That previous quote from the book "Urim v Thummim" is referring to the occult in response of various quotes from Richard Bushman, Brant Gardner, Mormonism Unvailed and Tiffany's Monthly. I can send you a screen shot if you would like or you can read the Stoddard's book.

    1. Rian: If what you say is true, I would again suggest that the root of the problem here is that your original Facebook post was not at all clear on any of these points—that you were quoting from another source (usually quotations of others’ material is done in quotation marks, with a citation at the end) or that “Church publications” refers to something other that publications made by the Church (rather than “Church-related publications,” etc.).

      Since Jonathan Neville has regularly criticized Church publications (i.e., materials published by the Church itself) for containing what he considers to be false doctrine or anti-Mormon material, it stands to reason that you—being a close friend and collaborator with Neville—agree with his point of view.

      Do you believe that representing Joseph Smith as using a seer stone to translate is “occultic”? If so, how do you explain Church magazines and manuals teaching this fact? These materials are reviewed by general authorities before being published.

    2. It is no secret that the Joseph Smith Foundation refers to Joseph's practice of treasure digging (which Joseph Smith readily admitted to his involvement in, stating it was "never a very profitable job," see Joseph Smith, Elders' Journal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Kirtland, Ohio] 2 no. 3 (July 1838), 43. Also reproduced in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 120; History of the Church 3:29; Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 271.)

      They have also linked the occult to Joseph Smith's seer stone in general.

      Both of these matters are published in Church materials, such as Saints (which has a lovely note from the First Presidency who "encourage all to read the book" (Saints Vol. 1, A Message from the First Presidency, xv).

      The matter at hand can be summarized as follows, then:

      Do you agree wit the Stoddards that these two matters are occultic?

      If so, how do you explain their appearance in Church publications approved by General Authorities (including the First Presidency) if you do not agree with what the Stoddards have said?

      (Furthermore, if you post anything without commentary or a citation, you can't exactly get upset when people call you out for the implications that your statement raises.)

    3. Rian has also recently taken issue against the Gospel Topics Essays, some Conference addresses by the Brethren, and Saints. Here is my response to one of his recent posts (regarding the Apostle-reviewed Gospel Topics Essay on the translation of the Book of Mormon and Elder Soares and President Nelson's conference addresses):


      He may not have intended to insinuate the Brethren are either duped, misled, or leading the Church astray, but his comments are troubling.

      I may or may not respond to his other post attacking Saints. Hope you and your readers enjoy, Peter.

    4. Rian Nelson gives every indication of being neither a careful reader nor a careful writer. I don’t see any evidence that he carefully considers the implications of what he states.

      (My statement is intended as an observation, not an insult.)

  4. I also offer this quote by Elder Mcconkie. I do not believe the Prophet and Apostles nor the General Authorities permit any false doctrine, but I would contend that some historians and intelletual's may allow some terrible things to be put into some materials. "I do not know all of the providences of the Lord, but I do know that he permits false doctrine to be taught in and out of the Church and that such teaching is part of the sifting process of mortality."
    Bruce R. McConkie, McConkie's 1981 letter to BYU

    1. Elder McConkie’s statement is an obvious truth. I myself have been in sacrament meetings and Sunday School classes where false doctrines have been taught and not corrected by the presiding authority. I also, of course, believe that the Heartland movement is a prominent example of false doctrine being taught “in and out of the Church,” so there’s another example.

      Elder McConkie certainly wasn’t referring to Church-published materials, which may contain errors in interpretation or fact, but are extremely unlikely to contain outright false doctrine. (But this issue is addressed in my previous comment.)

  5. If we are teaching false doctrine, please tell our Bishop's as I know you are our judge. An anonymous one at that.

    1. As I stated previously, I am not the judge of your heart, Rian. I am also not the judge of your personal worthiness. I leave that to the Lord and to his servants.

      I can, however, judge—in the sense of evaluate, measure, and weigh—the truth or error of the teachings of various individuals and groups, both within and outside of the Church. You also do this by judging the writings of Church employees, Church historians, and Latter-day Saint scholars and finding them inaccurate and misleading. I do the same, only it is the teachings of the Heartland movement that I find inaccurate and misleading.

      So please stick to making and defending arguments and refrain from ad hominem (in the true meaning of that term) attacks on my character and claims to have read my mind.

  6. Peter of Pan who is anonymous, I am officially done with communicating with you as you judge all of us to be a hoax and teaching false doctrine. You have no proof only accusations. You are not a nice person. If you dared speak with us you would find we are very good people just like I am sure you are. Of course I don't know who you really are. Are you being a hoax as an anonymous person?

    1. If you wish to end the conversation, that is your right; but please don’t claim that I “have no proof[,] only accusations.” To date, I have 263 published blog posts documenting where Heartlanders like you and Jonathan Neville have misrepresented the claims of others, distorted or invented evidence, and maligned Church leaders and Church employees.

      I’m certain that you are a good person, Rian. If we met in person, I’m sure we would have a very pleasant discussion and maybe even find much upon which we agree. But you are badly misled and are misleading others by claiming that faked and forged artifacts are ancient, by asserting that historically documented eyewitness testimony of the translation of the Book of Mormon is false, by spreading bizarre and deeply troubling conspiracy theories (including dangerous and toxic QAnon, globalist cabal, and anti-vaxx nonsense), and by mixing your faith with a hyper-nationalist zeal. It’s deeply disturbing, and I hope it comes to an end before your many followers lose their testimonies in living prophets who teach NONE of this inane foolishness.

      This sounds like a harsh rebuke, but I mean to awaken you to dangerous path you are on.

    2. And, as I’ve stated many times before on this blog, I am not “anonymous.” I’m pseudonymous.

      There’s an actual, meaningful difference between those two words.

      For example, many of the American Founders wrote and published using pseudonyms:


  7. Rian's comments here seem to be the usual "You're mean!" and "Stop judging!" responses to arguments against Heartlander claims, rather than actually engaging the arguments provided against those claims. If their position is so solid, why can't any Heartlanders ever provide rebuttals against the (supposedly) weak arguments given by scholars who oppose their claims?

    1. I agree very much with your assessment, David. In my experience, when pressed to explain their interpretations or back up their assertions, Heartlanders either change the subject or give a response laden with logical fallacies (such as Appeal to Authority).

  8. So the FIRM Foundation is a "Foundation ... Foundation"?

    Is it just me, or is that just a redundantly repetitive tautology?

    1. Yes, it’s a way of forcing the acronym to fit the Latter-day Saint term “firm foundation.” It’s a marketing thing.

      I also find it interesting that they still haven’t dropped the word “Mormonism” from their name, even though the Church’s General Handbook discourages the use of “Mormon” for anything but historical purposes, based on President Nelson’s October 2018 General Conference talk.



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