Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Jonathan Neville continues to assert that the Church is “out of the way”

In his October 1965 general conference address, Elder Harold B. Lee warned the members of the Church:
Elder Harold B. Lee There are those among us who would set themselves up as critics of the Church, saying that the Church has gone out of the way. Some splintered apostate clans even from the beginning of this dispensation have made fictitious claims to authority. We should warn these, as well as those who are in danger of being led astray of what the Prophet [Joseph Smith] predicted. He said, “That man who rises up to condemn others, finding fault with the Church saying they are out of the way, while he himself is righteous, then know assuredly that that man is [on the way] to apostasy and if he does not repent, [he] will apostatize, as God lives.”
In April 1989, Elder (now President) Dallin H. Oaks warned the Saints about “alternate voices” who “speak of…the doctrines, ordinances, and practices of his church,” but do so “without calling or authority”:
Elder Dallin H. Oaks April 1989 The Church does approve or disapprove those publications that are to be published or used in the official activities of the Church, general or local. For example, we have procedures to ensure approved content for materials published in the name of the Church or used for instruction in its classes. These procedures can be somewhat slow and cumbersome, but they have an important benefit. They provide a spiritual quality control that allows members to rely on the truth of what is said. Members who listen to the voice of the Church need not be on guard against being misled. They have no such assurance for what they hear from alternate voices.
Elder Lee’s warning about “those among us” who criticize the Church and Elder Oaks’ warning about “alternate voices” both firmly apply to Jonathan Neville, who continually criticizes the Church, its leaders, and its publications. His July 14, 2022, blog post, “The Rising Generation, SITH and the GTE,” is rife with examples of this. For the sake of brevity, I’ll share just the following excerpt.

Note how different Neville’s evaluation of Church publications is to the one given to us by Elder Oaks:
Jonathan Neville Not only has Cumorah been censored from the Saints book, volume 1, but the teachings of Joseph and Oliver about the Urim and Thummim have been all but erased as well.

A prime example is the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation as we’ll discuss below. This essay has been criticized by outsiders, but it is more problematic from a faithful perspective.

There are two aspects of the Gospel Topics Essays that people seem to overlook.

  1. They were written by committee, published anonymously, and are not canonized.
  2. They are subject to revision at any time without notice, and have been revised from time to time in the past.

These two aspects lead me to hope and propose that the essays continue to be improved. As it is now, the Translation essay misleads readers—particularly the rising generation.

[Joseph Smith] never said or implied that he dictated the Book of Mormon from words that appeared on the stone in the hat (SITH).

But the rising generation does not know any of this.

They are not being taught to refer to original sources but instead are led to the Saints books and to the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Translation.

That essay omits and edits important, relevant original sources, including the teachings of the prophets, to promote the narrative generated by David Whitmer and others, contrary to the plain teachings of Joseph, Oliver, and their successors in Church leadership.
Just in this brief excerpt of his much longer blog post, Jonathan Neville has:

  • Accused Church employees of censoring the historical record in official Church publications.
  • Accused Church publications of being “problematic from a faithful perspective.”
  • Downplayed the authority of the Gospel Topics Essays. (This, despite the Church’s explicit statement that the Gospel Topics Essays “have been approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” something I pointed out three years ago.)
  • Hand-waved the Essays’ authority away on the spurious basis that they can be and have been revised. (Every position of the Church is subject to revision as “further light and knowledge” are received, either from divine or earthly sources. The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants have been revised; that doesn’t in any way lessen their authoritative status.)
  • Accused the Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon translation of “mislead[ing] [its] readers.”
  • Accused Church publications of misleading the youth of the Church (“the rising generation”) by teaching them to ignore original sources.
  • Accused Church publications of “omitting” and “editing” sources so they are “contrary to the plain teachings” of Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders.

Please explain to me how Neville’s statements do not clearly fit Elder Lee’s warning about “those among us who would set themselves up as critics of the Church, saying that the Church has gone out of the way.”

Please explain to me how Neville’s statements do not explicitly call into question Elder Oaks’s witness that Church publications have “a spiritual quality control that allows members to rely on the truth of what is said.”

I am not claiming that Church publications are perfect. Everything produced by mortals is fallible, including scripture. There’s a difference, however, between (a) having concerns about or disagreements with specific articles published by the Church and (b) claiming that there is a conspiracy within the Church to suppress all teaching about a specific pet doctrine that one espouses. There will of course be errors in Church publications, and most publications will eventually be superseded by newer ones that correct these errors. But claiming that the entire Church is off the rails on supposedly important matters of doctrine and history is where Neville goes horribly wrong.

His approach can and will lead people in only one direction: into apostasy and out of the Church.

—Peter Pan


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