Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Jonathan Neville reacts to Spencer Kraus’s reviews

In the wake of Spencer Kraus’s reviews of A Man that Can Translate and Infinite Goodness, Jonathan Neville has been flailing about, vainly hoping to land a blow against Kraus, or me, or Book of Mormon Central, or Daniel Peterson, or Jack Welch, or apparently anyone who opposes him.

Neville has begun a series of responses to Kraus that he runs under the noisome title “Under the Banner of the Interpreter,” apparently in a feeble attempt to connect anyone and anything that’s critical of his work to the loathesome anti-Mormon book and streaming television series Under the Banner of Heaven. That’s par for the course for Neville, who for years has implied that anyone who doesn’t agree with his eccentric views—including general authorities—is leading the Church and its members astray.

Meanwhile, beneath the title “Under the Banner of the Interpreter,” Neville obtusely protests that none of what he writes “is an ‘ad hominem’ argument” for “we focus on the merits” of his opponents’ arguments. Let’s see how well he lives up to that claim, shall we?

Neville writes:
Most Latter-day Saints ignore these foolish antics of the apologists in the citation cartel. We go about our business, helping our fellow Latter-day Saints and our local communities, attending the temple, teaching classes and serving missions, and generally rejoicing in living the gospel on a daily basis. We support our Church leaders and still believe what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said.
That’s only the second paragraph after Neville promised to “focus on the merits,” and he’s already descended into ad hominem and appealed to the self-righteousness fallacy: People who disagree with Neville are guilty of “foolish antics,” while sincere, righteous Heartlanders help others, attend the temple, teach and serve, live the gospel, and support Church leaders.

I’m sure that there are many Heartlanders who are sincere and righteous. That does not, however, make Neville’s views correct or immune from critical review.
In their view, if you disagree with them (especially if you offer a faithful interpretation of Church history that supports and corroborates what Joseph and Oliver taught instead of M2C and SITH), you are an apostate—according to them.
This is a strawman argument: Spencer Kraus wrote a critical analysis of Neville’s use of history and historical sources. Neither he nor the Interpreter Foundation accused Neville of apostasy.

As far as I’m aware, I’m the only “apologist” who has accused Neville of flirting with apostasy. My basis for this claim has nothing to do with Neville’s interpretations or views and everything to do with the way he continually implies—or sometimes even states outright—that today’s leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are ignorant, are leading the Saints astray, are covering up historical facts, and are not teaching the truth.

Later in his blog post, Neville asserts that “the citation cartel aggressively attacks faithful Latter-day Saints who don’t accept either their style or their substance.” But the real issue here isn’t about “style” or “substance”; it’s about how Neville is guilty of evil-speaking of the Lord’s anointed leaders. He should repent and change his approach.
Since the inception of the Interpreter and Book of Mormon Central, the growth of the Church has steadily declined. Correlation is not necessarily causation, of course, and there are many factors involved with Church growth, but anyone who is active on social media (particularly English-language social media) knows that LDS apologists are flailing in comparison to the critics.
Neville has a penchant for using meaningless charts like this, then denying that correlation equals causation while simultaneously implying via his charts that correlation really does equal causation. One could just as easily claim that the declining growth rate of the Church correlates to the rise of Heartlanderism. (And I have, tongue firmly in cheek, of course.)

Apparently it has not occurred to Neville that the decline in Church growth rates would have been greater if it were not for the efforts of Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter Foundation, and other organizations that stand up for modern leaders of the Church instead of disparaging them and spreading pernicious conspiracy theories about them.
Undoubtedly, Brother [Spencer] Kraus…is a fine, devout, committed Latter-day Saint, a great person, etc. Nevertheless, as a research associate with Book of Mormon Central, Brother Kraus naturally (and necessarily) follows the direction of his leaders in the organization, as is evident from his articles. His bio doesn’t reveal whether he is a volunteer or paid employee, but either way, he has to toe the party line or he couldn’t work there.
Statements like this make me wonder if Jonathan Neville really understands what an ad hominem argument is, because he just crafted a perfect example of such: According to Neville, Kraus has only been critical of Neville’s writings because Kraus’s job depends on it. If Kraus didn’t “toe the party line” at Book of Mormon Central, Neville claims, then Kraus “couldn’t work there.”

Nowhere does Neville grant that Kraus may have written his reviews of A Man that Can Translate and Infinite Goodness merely because Kraus himself disagrees with Neville’s methods and conclusions. Nowhere does he grant that Kraus may have written his review without the knowledge or approval of those who manage Book of Mormon Central. According to Neville, Kraus cannot possibly be anything more than an errand-boy for the Powers that Be at the M2C Citation Cartel.

Ad hominem itself blushes in the face of Jonathan Neville.
I’m hearing complaints about Brother Kraus, but we can’t blame him.
This is perhaps the strangest statement of all in Neville’s blog post. Complaints? Complaints about what? And from whom? Neville doesn’t tell us, but that’s because he doesn’t really have anything on Spencer Kraus; instead, he’s simply trying to poison the well against a good young scholar who has obviously struck a nerve.

Being that Neville was once a lawyer, it’s a shame that he doesn’t seems to understand the legal concept of libel.
Peter Pan is a good example of the worst of LDS apologetics, which may explain why he’s also a favorite of Dan Peterson’s. He’s basically Dan’s alter ego, given how frequently Dan refers his readers to Peter’s work.

I’ve had people tell me Peter Pan’s identity, but I respect his wish to remain anonymous because what better better [sic] epitome could there be of the worst of LDS apologetics than an individual (or group) so ashamed by his (their) work that he (they) remains anonymous while publishing a blog named after their chosen nemesis? Even better, that blog is a tutorial on logical and factual fallacies.
It’s not often the Jonathan Neville acknowledges my existence, so I suppose I should be flattered just to be mentioned.

Neville claims that “people” (plural) have told him my identity. I have very good reasons to doubt that he’s telling the truth. (Among them is the fact that he can’t make his mind if I’m one person or multiple people.) Unless he’s willing to go public with my identity—and please, Brother Neville, you have my permission to do so, so go right ahead—I think he’s “blowing smoke,” as they say.

The disappointing thing here is that Neville didn’t even make an attempt to respond to anything I’ve written. He simply accused me of using “logical and factual fallacies” (something he’s claimed repeatedly) without bothering to tell his readers where and how I’ve done so. Meanwhile, this is this blog’s 308th published post that has quoted what he’s written and provided evidence of why he’s wrong. His accusation against me isn’t exactly a textbook example of ad hominem, but it’s certainly avoiding the argument.

Finally, Neville incorrectly assumes that I operate under a pseudonym because I’m deeply “ashamed” of my work. I confess that I laughed out loud at this. The truth is that I operate under the pseudonyum “Peter Pan” for three reasons:

  1. I want to avoid being personally attacked by Jonathan Neville. (Seeing his attempt to start a whisper campaign concerning supposed “complaints” about Spencer Kraus, I think this has been a wise move.)
  2. It’s in keeping with the playful name of the blog to use the names of characters from J.M. Barrie’s children’s books.
  3. It annoys Jonathan Neville, and I take a small amount of perverse pleasure in that.

At least Neville seems to have given up on the (incorrect) belief that I’m secretly Daniel Peterson.

Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning!

—Peter Pan


  1. Your blog is indeed "a tutorial on logical and factual fallacies". You've documented hundreds of Heartlander examples. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for dealing with this. I have been on the fence about responding to Neville, but find that any response to these outlandish claims with no substance would be a waste of my time. And after dealing with 600+ pages of Neville, I need a break.

    My favorite ad hominem that you didn’t mention is his implication that I plagiarized from other Interpreter articles in his part 2, or the implied comparison between Interpreter and the psychotic Lafferty brothers in part 1 of his posts. I, too, am shocked that he doesn’t seems to understand the legal concept of libel.

    As far as I am concerned, when all Neville has to respond to you is ad hominem, libel, and dodging any point raised, he has nothing to actually respond with to challenge the substance of your claims.

    (For the record, my job does not depend on my acceptance of any theory, and I base my opinions in well-grounded history, which Neville’s history is not. Neville’s opinions about John W. Welch’s role in my reviews is likewise unwarranted – he did not have any input in my work, and is far too busy to have done anything even if he wanted to. I also did not accuse Neville of being an apostate in these reviews, simply critiqued his ideas with all Neville's implications associated with them, but have called him a critic of the Church on my blog multiple times not because of his fringe theories, but because of how he responds to General Authorities who disagree with him, most notably Elder Gong. Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is a very serious issue of covenantal import, and Neville is mistaken if he thinks I will just let people make those claims about leaders of the Church and sit in silence.)

  3. I’m just curious— What’s your guys’ end game here? Do you guys want to be right? You want Neville to resign his efforts? I mean, you want the First Presidency to call him and censure him? What do you want?

    1. Capt. Hampton,

      I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but my “end game,” as it were would look something like the following (in order of preference):

      • I would hope that Jonathan Neville would stop flirting with apostasy by no longer clinging to the selective teachings of dead prophets and instead following the teachings of living prophets, that he would stop accusing the Church of publishing anti-Mormon claims, that he would stop spreading conspiracy theories that the Church has been taken over at all levels by a “citation cartel” that teaches “M2C” and “SITH,” and that he would engage honestly and sincerely with people who disagree with him instead of libeling them.

      • If he’s not willing to do those things, then at the least I would hope that this blog and other reviews of Neville’s work would warn unsuspecting Saints of the dangers implicit in his teachings and that they would avoid supporting or promulgating those teachings.

      • The last thing that I want is for the First Presidency to have to get involved with him personally, nor do I wish that he face any disciplinary action. Considering his trajectory, I am worried that one of those two things may be necessary, however, if he does not stop. He is supporting factionalism within the Church—a group that believes the Church is “off course” (a term used by the research director at the Heartland-affiliated Joseph Smith Foundation). He and his associates are advocating dangerous things that will only serve to divide the Saints and weaken testimonies in living prophets.

    2. Can you explain why dead prophets aren’t relevant? After all, the Book of Mormon is written by now dead prophets. Can you help clarify where people draw the line of who to trust? Is I when they die? Asking for a friend.

    3. “Apostasy usually begins with question and doubt and criticism…. They who garnish the sepulchres of the dead prophets begin now by stoning the living ones. They return to the pronouncements of the dead leaders and interpret them to be incompatible with present programs. They convince themselves that there are discrepancies between the practices of the deceased and the leaders of the present.… They allege love for the gospel and the Church but charge that leaders are a little ‘off the beam’! … Next they say that while the gospel and the Church are divine, the leaders are fallen. Up to this time it may be a passive thing, but now it becomes an active resistance, and frequently the blooming apostate begins to air his views and to crusade.… He now begins to expect persecution and adopts a martyr complex, and when finally excommunication comes he associates himself with other apostates to develop and strengthen cults. At this stage he is likely to claim revelation for himself, revelations from the Lord directing him in his interpretations and his actions. These manifestations are superior to anything from living leaders, he claims.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 462.)


    4. Thank you for the response! That’s a great quote! But you’ll have to excuse my confusion still. You answered my question about dead prophets with a quote by a dead prophet (Spencer W. Kimball). I was asking for clarification where the line is drawn, or maybe where you see the line, because that matters too.

    5. If you re-read my earlier comment and President Kimball’s statement, I think you’ll find the answer to your question: The problem isn’t “dead prophets,” per se, but rather pitting dead prophets against living ones. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time rejected the gospel that he brought because it was incompatible with their understanding of the scriptures and their traditions; they clung to their belief in dead prophets while rejecting the living Christ. Jonathan Neville similarly clings to his interpretation of selected statements from Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery while rejecting the teaching of Russell M. Nelson regarding how the Book of Mormon was translated and rejecting modern Church publications issued under the direction of living prophets and apostles.


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