And yet, "most" LDS scholars and educators outright reject it.
Because it directly refutes their opinions about Book of Mormon geography.
In fact, if you're a new reader on this blog, you may have never heard of Letter VII. Especially if you were educated at BYU or in CES.
In Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith claimed it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in western New York.
But our LDS scholars and educators insist Letter VII is false because the New York hill is not the real Cumorah and that these battles took place in Mesoamerica (or Baja, Panama, Chile, etc.). This "two-Cumorahs" theory dominates the Church, despite the nominal "neutrality" position.
That's why the Arnold Friberg paintings are in the missionary editions of the Book of Mormon. That's why Mayan motifs are found throughout Church media. That's why the North Visitors Center on Temple Square teaches that the real Cumorah was in Mesoamerica.
According to our LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican theory, Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah.
Now, is it "contentious" for me to make these observations?
On the topic of contention, there's a nice article on lds.org right now from Elder Larry R. Lawrence. You can see it here.
"Satan is the father of contention. He delights in seeing good people argue. When there is contention in your home or workplace, immediately stop whatever you are doing and seek to make peace. It doesn’t matter who started it."
I completely agree with this. But we have to read it in the context of the rest of the article. Elder Lawrence's first point teaches how to resist temptation; i.e., he points out that Jesus "ordered Satan to leave." Resisting temptation consists of contending against temptation. His second point teaches us about lies and deception; i.e., the "dirty little secret that he doesn’t want you to know is that sin is addictive." Satan also uses the logical fallacy of argument by consensus; i.e., "Everyone else is doing it." His fourth point teaches us about "fighting discouragement."
Not only is there is nothing inherently wrong with resisting, fighting and contending; these concepts are central to the purposes of life. To some degree they are implicated in every choice we make. If we don't contend against the adversary--if we make peace with his efforts--we'll become like him because then we're contending with the Spirit of the Lord. Conversely, if we don't contend with the Lord--if we make peace with his efforts--we'll become like him because then we're contending with the adversary.
The decision of whom we accept is also a decision about whom we contend with.
Obviously, Elder Lawrence is not counseling against contention per se; he's warning against contention that arises from fault-finding and lies, especially when accompanied by anger.
From time to time I hear or read contentious comments about Book of Mormon geography. Some of the best come from BMAF.org, which owns Book of Mormon Central, which promotes the Mesoamerican theory exclusively.
While I think the ideal solution for everyone is to reach a consensus, at least about the New York setting for Cumorah, I have no problem with people believing whatever they want. While I think it's healthy to discuss different ideas, I don't see any reason to contend about the subject--except where advocates of any position seek to suppress information.
As I've said many times, my main priority is help people make decisions that are fully informed. I don't care if people agree with me or not; I just explain what evidence there is and how I interpret it.
In my view, the best approach would be full disclosure. Let everyone--every member of the Church, every investigator, every former member--have access to a comprehensive comparison of the various theories of Book of Mormon geography.
But advocates of non-New York Cumorahs don't want that.
My entire purpose in writing books, blogs and articles, and in speaking, is to avoid contention and make peace by giving people as much information as I can so they can make informed decisions.
For example, I've provided a simple decision tree for people to use to help them decide which geography makes sense to them. You can see it here:
I'm perfectly fine with whatever conclusions people reach after going through the analysis.
But the prevailing approach among Mesoamerican activists is to suppress information and prevent people from being able to make fully informed choices. This is why BYU Studies, the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, BMAF, FairMormon and the rest of the citation cartel will never give readers access to a fair comparison of the different theories.
I strongly disagree with the approach of the citation cartel precisely because it leads to contention.
Am I being contentious when I point this out? Some apparently think so. But in my view, it's the opposite of contention to encourage full disclosure and fully informed choices.
In the interest of full disclosure, I also posted a chart of relevant facts with which people can agree or disagree. It's here:
So far as I know, it remains the most comprehensive and fair collection of relevant facts. If anyone knows of a better one, let me know.
For too long, LDS scholars and educators who promote the Mesoamerican setting have suppressed Letter VII and its context. They don't want people to even know about it. Then, when people do find out about Letter VII, these advocates don't want people to believe it.
I've discussed their reasoning here:
If people choose to reject Letter VII, that's fine with me. At least, once they've read it, they are making informed decisions.
For me, the question of Book of Mormon geography boils down to one central question:
Is Cumorah in New York, as Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught?
1. If it is, then we can discuss where the rest of the events took place, using the New York Cumorah as a pin in the map. This can range from New York state to the entire western hemisphere.
2. If it is not (if Cumorah is not in New York) then IMO it doesn't really matter where it is. Once you accept the premise of the two-Cumorahs theory--i.e., that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who deceived the Church--does it really make a difference what you believe about what they said?
As I've said all along, if people want to reject Letter VII, that's fine with me. But let's not prevent people from even knowing about Letter VII.