The prevalence of a spirit of contention amongst a people is a certain sign of deadness with respect to the things of religion. When men's spirits are hot with contention, they are cold to religion. - Jonathan Edwards “The Book of Mormon does not supplant the Bible. It expands, extends, clarifies, and amplifies our knowledge of the Savior. Surely, this second witness should be cause for great rejoicing by all Christians.” - Joseph B. Wirthlin

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Why doesn't the world know?

Last week on a missionary split here in Africa we visited an awesome man who is investigating the Church and who made some profound statements. Our entire conversation was in French, but I'll summarize the key points.

The missionaries found this individual by doing door-to-door contacting.

He said he had been interested in religion a long time. He had studied the Bible and gone to several churches. But in his entire life, he had never heard that there is a prophet alive today. He had never heard of the Book of Mormon.

He also said that he thinks there are many people in this country who would be excited to learn about this and who would join the Church.

Then he asked, "Why aren't you telling people? Why doesn't the world know?"

I explained that the Elder I was with had come on his mission specifically to tell people about it.

"But I'm just one person who happened to be home when the missionaries knocked on my door. What about the rest of the world? Why aren't you telling everyone about this?"

I've wondered about that question for a long time, but when this investigator posed it, it caused me to reflect some more.

Why does such important information remain unknown to most people on Earth?*

One reason is that members of the Church are reluctant to talk about their beliefs. There are as many reasons as there are individuals, but one common reason is hesitation about the Book of Mormon.

BYU's fantasy map of the
Book of Mormon
There is a lot of confusion about the Book of Mormon among Church members. Current generations have been taught at BYU and CES to think of the Book of Mormon in terms of a fantasy world. Older generations, such as mine, were taught to think of it in terms of Mesoamerica.

Prior generations also considered a variety of alternatives, but they had one common pin in the map: the New York Cumorah. They were united in accepting what the prophets and apostles had taught about the Hill Cumorah in western New York.

Today's Church members don't know what to think. 

Do we believe the prophets and apostles? Do we believe the M2C scholars? Do we believe the fantasy maps of CES and BYU?

Is insisting that it doesn't matter the only option, when obviously it does matter to most people in the world?

This uncertainty has a serious impact on missionary work.

Every missionary knows that one of the most common questions posed by people who are introduced to the Book of Mormon is, "Where did these events take place?"

As it stands right now, missionaries and members can only say, "Somewhere in the Americas, but we don't know where."

That is such an implausible response that I'm always amazed when people continue investigating anyway.

Not amazed, really. The Spirit will bear witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon even when people are skeptical about it's historicity. But skepticism is a serious hurdle, as we can tell from the tiny percentage of people who join the Church and remain faithful.

Worse, of course, is the response our M2C intellectuals advocate; i.e., that the Book of Mormon events took place in Central America. Any investigator with access to the Internet is going to discover in less than five minutes such web pages as this:

M2C is not only implausible because it's based on illusory evidence and confirmation bias, but because it contradicts the teachings of the very prophets and apostles whom the missionaries are encouraging the investigators to accept. Most people will wonder why they should accept the teachings of the prophets and apostles when intellectuals in the Church repudiate them.

Contrast this to the early days of the Church, when Apostles went on their mission to England and converted more people (5,000) than they had copies of the Book of Mormon (3,000). Elder Lorenzo Snow gave a copy of the Book of Mormon to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1841. By 1850, there were more Church members in Britain than in the U.S., even after 7,500 people had emigrated to the U.S. from the U.K.

There are many reasons for this missionary success, but one surely was the way the Apostles grounded the Book of Mormon in the real world. They explained that Cumorah was in New York and that there was plenty of evidence of ancient civilizations in the New World.**

First volume of the
Millennial Star
Beginning with the second issue of the Millennial Star in 1840, Parley P. Pratt published President Cowdery's historical essays under the heading, "A Remarkable Vision."

You can read a digital copy of Letter VII in the October 1840 issue of the Millennial Star here:

Go to that link and scroll down to record 16, which is page 152, to read about the New York Cumorah.

In response to strong demand for President Cowdery's letters, early Church leaders in England published a pamphlet that consisted entirely of Oliver's eight letters.

In Nauvoo, New York City, and Philadelphia, Church newspapers republished Letter VII so everyone, both members and non-members, at least learned about the New York Cumorah.

When he wrote Letter VII, President Cowdery was responding to claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction. He knew the truth because he, Joseph and others had actually visited Mormon's depository of Nephite records in that hill in New York where Joseph found the plates in Moroni's stone box. That should have resolved this question long ago.

Imagine how much more effective the message of the Restoration would be if the entire Church were united on accepting the clear, consistent, and persistent teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah. 

*When we lived in Utah, we had the sense that everyone knew about the Church, the Book of Mormon, etc. Everywhere I've lived in the U.S. (California, Washington, Arizona, Utah, Illinois, Tennessee, New York) is about the same. Most Americans know at least something about "Mormons" if only from their study of American history and the settlement of the west.

I've lived in Europe for 8 years and in Asia for nearly 2 years. Now I live in Africa. I've visited 70 countries and every continent, and I've worked in a dozen or more countries. Outside the U.S., the story is the same. Few people have heard of Mormons, unless it's because of polygamy or unless they happen to know a member of the Church. Thanks to the Broadway show, many people in major cities know about the Book of Mormon. But far, far fewer have any idea of the existence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And almost nobody knows there is a living prophet today. That is changing thanks to media coverage of President Nelson's visits in many countries, but as he said, he can't go everywhere. And the message has difficult breaking through.

Right here where we live, we constantly see banners featuring images of religious leaders who are visiting town, holding conferences, selling books, etc. They all profess to represent God in some way, whether they are Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or something else.

**The Pratt brothers, Orson and Parley, often said that the indigenous people throughout Latin America were descendants of Lehi, which led to the widespread adoption of this notion. What most Church members forget is that Joseph Smith edited out those theories when he wrote the Wentworth letter. His declaration in that letter that the remnant of Lehi's people are the Indians that now (1842) live in this country (the U.S.) should have ended the speculation, but historians and scholars have ignored what he said. In fact, some M2C intellectuals have insisted that when Joseph wrote "this country" he was actually referring to Central America!

Worse, the Correlation Department edited the Wentworth letter to remove Joseph's identification of the remnant of Lehi's descendants. Current members of the Church and future generations will never learn what the Prophet Joseph Smith taught on this important topic, solely because of the influence of the M2C intellectuals.