Examining the claims of Jonathan Neville and the Heartland movement

Monday, December 19, 2022

An open letter to Rian Nelson of the FIRM Foundation

Dear Rian,

I notice that you recently blogged about me. Thank you for opening a dialog; I hope this leads to further discussion.

I’ll respond to each of your points:
The blog below is from a a [sic] man who calls himself “Peter Pan.” I respect all peoples [sic] opinions, but it is very sad when they begin calling Heartlanders names.
This is a very interesting statement, since in your own blog you referred to the BYU Book of Mormon Conceptual Map by the derogatory name “Fantasy Map” (a term that Jonathan Neville has used in over 100 of his own blog posts) and also wrote that I “just seem like a very small person” to you. So, apparently, name-calling is not exclusive to my site.
He said we are an apostate sect, and hucksters, racists and other inflammatory things.
Allow me to examine those three terms in the context in which I used them:

  • Over the last four years, I have given many examples of statements from you, Jonathan Neville, and other Heartlanders that are apostate or lean in that direction. One of the most troubling features of Heartland movement is how its advocates continually imply that today’s Church and Church leaders are teaching falsehoods or withholding the truth about Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and the hill Cumorah. (For example, see these statements by Jonathan Neville about how Church leaders have been purportedly suppressing the truth about the translation of the Book of Mormon in General Conference talks and Church magazines, and this claim he made that a general authority published anti-Mormon material in a Church magazine.) These things are very disturbing. You are leading your followers away from the teachings of living prophets while claiming to be faithful to dead prophets. You are also causing dissension and division among the Saints by repeatedly attacking mainstream Latter-day Saint scholars and implying that they are a “fifth column” within the Church. These things are despicable and dangerous. When confronted, you claim that you follow the Brethren and have faith in the Church, but your own statements contract that claim.
  • Yes, I called the leaders of the Heartland movement “hucksters.” A huckster is “a person who employs showy methods to effect a sale,” and the conferences and videos produced by the FIRM Foundation certainly fit that description.
  • Please read carefully: I have never once called you or anyone else a racist. I have said, however, that some of things you have written are racist: I’ve referred to “a disturbingly racist blog post,” “appeals to vaguely racist notions,” and “a disturbingly racist approach” to a specific matter. Occasionally using racist language does not make you a racist; it simply means that you should carefully consider what you write and how it could be interpreted by your readers before publishing.
He defends the “fantasy map” they use as you see it in the video below by John Lefgren.
There you go using the term “fantasy map” (in scare quotes, no less) instead of its actual name, the BYU Book of Mormon Conceptual Map. Using its real name would show respect for its creators, but it would prevent you from using derogatory labeling as a polemical weapon.
I support the following scriptures and quotes, that strengthen my faith and testimony, as I believe the Book of Mormon events began in North America:
1- D&C 128:20
2- D&C 125:3
3- Joseph’s letter to his wife Emma, on the Plains of the Nephites. JSP
4- Story of Zelph and Onondagus on the Illinois River JSP
5- Hundreds of quotes by Prophets, Apostles and Leaders HERE.
I’ve discussed each of these references and the problems with the Heartland interpretation of them. Feel free to use the search feature on my blog to find these discussions.

The problem with the Heartland approach is that you start with a conclusion (“the Book of Mormon events began in North America”) and then interpret these texts so that they fit into your predetermined belief, while also ignoring or hand-waving texts that contradict that belief. For example, Jonathan Neville doesn’t like the statements from Emma Smith, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, and many others that Joseph Smith used a seer stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon, so he dismisses those eyewitness testimonies and tells people, wrongly, that they should focus only on specific, cherry-picked statements of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, without interpreting those statements in the light of all the available evidence.

When you write:
Please read, pray and study these references above on your own, for validation of your own feelings.
…you’re doing the same thing Neville does—telling people to focus on only a limited number of specific sources that are the keystones of your belief.
I share this information with you for an awareness of the vitriol my friends Wayne, Rod, and Jonathan have endured for many years. They are entertained and just shrug it off as the good men they are.
The “vitriol” I have supposedly heaped upon your friends is no worse than what you and your friends have said about Daniel Peterson, Jack Welch, Richard Bushman, John Sorenson, and many other good men. You and your associates have repeatedly stated that these men—along with Church employees and Church leaders—have “rejected the teachings of the prophets,” are responsible for loss of faith and a decline in the growth of Church membership.

If you want respect for yourselves, then you need to start giving respect to others. This entire conflict began in 2008 with Rod Meldrum claiming that Church scholars are leading members astray; you, Jonathan Neville, and others have continued to promulgate that lie since then. If you want to know the source of the supposed “vitriol,” take a look in the mirror.
I love the gospel and the Savior and His Church. It saddens me to see good members put others down and don’t have the courage to openly debate in a positive way. We all love the Book of Mormon and it is my prayer we can all come together and not fight with each other. Our fight is against Satan not our fellow members.
I wholeheartedly agree! So please stop putting down and misconstruing the beliefs and statements of those who disagree with your interpretations about Book of Mormon geography, Book of Mormon translation, and other matters. Stop implying that the Brethren and Church employees are suppressing or distorting Church history. Stop peddling misguided “QAnon,” anti-vaxx, and other conspiracy theories. Start focusing on the truth of the teachings in the Book of Mormon and allow for different viewpoints on historical and geographic issues without asserting that those who disagree with you are “rejecting the teachings of the prophets.”
The anonymous Mesoamericanist supporter of the Book of Mormon won’t disclose his real name as he continually calls Heartlanders names.
Many authors throughout history have used pseudonyms for one reason or another. (There’s a long list of them on Wikipedia.)

I go by the pseudonym Peter Pan for a couple of reasons. The first is that I thought it was funny and that it tied in with the name of the blog (which was created first). The second is that, to be honest, there are some unstable people in the Heartland movement—Stephen Reed being just one prominent example—and I’d rather not expose myself or my family to being stalked or harassed by them.
Summary of Quotes from Peter Pan

1- “hucksters who are selling the Heartland hoax to gullible Latter-day Saints”
2- “advancing fraudulent pseudoarchaeology”
3- “May’s latest venture is a scheme”
4- “dubious interpretation of D&C 125:3 to find what he insists must be there.”
6- “must have a true and correct belief in Book of Mormon geography, otherwise their faith is misplaced”
7- “According to Wayne May, the Church is “under condemnation” for not believing in the correct geography of the Book of Mormon.”
8- “This is yet another example of the false god of the Heartland Book of Mormon movement:”
9- “with their own message of American Exceptionalism.”
10- “According to them, the United States is God’s promised land, and therefore the peoples of the Book of Mormon must have lived in the United States and the Book of Mormon’s promises must apply only to the United States and its inhabitants.”
11- “explains Neville’s disturbing views on nationalism and racial superiority
directly accuses the Church and its leaders of hypocrisy and teaching false doctrine. Wayne May once again claims that the Church is “under condemnation” for not accepting the Heartland Book of Mormon geography”
12- “He then asks viewers to give him money to help pay for the effort to find it.”
13- “As I’ve previously written, the Heartland movement is an apostate sect that is critical of living prophets and apostles.”
14- “Heterodox Teachings” [Not in agreement with accepted beliefs, especially in church doctrine or dogma.]
I stand by all of these statements as I made them in their original context. I invite anyone to search for these phrases on my blog and read what I wrote in full.
You can respond to Peter Pan at his blog below. Please, no derogatory remarks. I am sure he is a good member of the Church who loves the Book of Mormon. He just seems like a very small person to me.
And there’s the reference to me being “a very small person.” Who’s calling names now?

(For the record, I’m 5′ 10½″ tall, which is not “small.”)

It appears that some of your followers haven’t been heeding your advice. (“Please, no derogatory remarks about that very small person!”) Here are a couple of examples from your Facebook post about your blog: (The comment above—along with all of its replies—was deleted by its author or by Rian Nelson.) Respect is a two-way street, Rian.

If you would like to engage in a dialog, I would be more than pleased to have that conversation. Please feel free to contact me in the comments below or at peter ᴀᴛ nevillenevilleland ᴅᴏᴛ com.


—Peter Pan


  1. One thing that sticks out to me is Nelson's appeal to “validate … your own feelings”. No seeker of truth should want to validate their feelings, they should want to challenge their assumptions and what they think they know to come to a better understanding, rejoicing both when those assumptions turn out to be right, or when they must be revised or even discarded for something better. And to recognize what is a hill worth dying on, and what is a worm mound. “The mind, when stretched by a new idea, never regains its former dimensions” (from a fortune cookie, of all things!). I have given a lot of thought to this over the last several years, how we conflate feeling good with experiencing the Holy Spirit, and have concluded that it is NOT mere feelings and emotions, though our dialog dumbs it down as such.

    If merely feeling good about something were all that it takes for spiritual confirmation, then I should have no qualms with drinking, getting high, overeating, getting even, hot chocolate, getting laid…, and conversely should ignore all those uncomfortable instances when the Spirit is telling me to change course. Joseph Smith certainly didn’t get his feelings validated during his heavenly reprimands, nor his imprisonments, but the companionship of the Spirit certainly sustained him through it all.

    Since “feeling good” is as common for virtue as it is for vice, it’s not even a good metric for teaching children, and therefore “feeling the Spirit” must be something much different, and it must be an individualized experience; it may start there, but we can’t be satisfied to remain on that spiritual plane. I’ll admit, I do not know what a “burning of the bosom” means or feels like. But I also understand that the Spirit communicates in myriad ways. Maybe feelings are a beginning, but we owe it to ourselves to move past the starting line when there’s so much at stake. I’m not explaining this as well as I’d like, and I still don’t have a complete answer, but it’s something that deserves deeper thought than the self-serving lip service it tends to get.

    1. Well said, Eric. I agree wholeheartedly; feelings are not a good way to determine truth. Truth is discovered by careful and thorough study, along with (in the case of spiritual truths) prayer and revelation from the Spirit. Our feelings should not be trusted; they will often betray us.

      One hallmark of fundamentalist thinking is a distinct discomfort with uncertainty and open questions. The fundamentalist clings doggedly to things about which he or she is certain, regardless of what “further light and knowledge” may reveal.

    2. Mr. Pan, I appreciate you responding to by blog. Just a few responses.

      Calling the CES Map a "Fantasy Map" is accurate. It does not relate to any current geography in the world.

      There is not one scriptural quote about Joseph using a stone in a hat to translate, and there are at least 4 or 5 scriptures that say he used the two stones fastened to a breastplate.

      I have no problem with those of you who believe differently in the geography and the translation than I do, as we all have that freedom.

      When people say we are a hoax, or an apostate sect, or we are critical of the Brethren, or say we think we are racially superior to some, those are incorrect and small statements.

      Let me rephrase when I called you a "small person", and say your comments are small minded.

      I know The United States is the promised land foretold in the Book of Mormon, as the Lord chose it. He did not chose it because those who live here are better people, or because it is a more beautiful place than other parts of the world, but He chose it to be the place of the Restoration of the Gospel in the Latter-days. Why? Because He chose it!

      May the Lord bless you in sharing the love of Christ, as I will try and do a better job of doing so as well.

    3. Rian: Thank you for leaving a comment in response to my blog post.

      Here’s my reply to what you wrote:



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