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

Sunday, June 2, 2019

General Authorities and Book of Mormon geography

I'm writing this to address questions people are asking about how the Gospel Topics Essay is being implemented. Everyone agrees that Book of Mormon geography is not a core issue for living the Gospel, but heeding the teachings of the prophets is.

And this question involves whether we accept or reject the clear, consistent teachings of the prophets.

This is a perennial issue, one that President Benson addressed years ago at BYU, as I discussed here:

The current version (2 June 2019) of the anonymous Gospel Topics Essay on Book of Mormon Geography states the following:

the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles urge leaders and members not to advocate those personal theories in any setting or manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support for those theories. 

When this essay was released, many Church members welcomed it as a step toward correcting course; i.e., for too long, intellectuals in the Church have been teaching that the prophets are wrong, leaving members "confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon" as President Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

This essay, we thought, "leveled the playing field" so that every member of the Church could study the issue according to their own interests, enabling them to make informed decisions without feeling as though the Church was endorsing the theories of the intellectuals.

However, we still see Church leaders advocating and supporting the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C), thereby implying Church support for that theory.

This is troubling to members of the Church who still believe what the prophets have taught about Cumorah.

One example is a recent essay published by Book of Mormon Central that explicitly teaches M2C.

At the conclusion of the essay, we see this statement:

This KnoWhy was made possible by the generous contributions of Elder Lynn G. Robbins.

Whether Elder Robbins believes in M2C is irrelevant because he, like every member of the Church, is entitled to his own opinions. However, Book of Mormon Central uses this statement to convey Church endorsement of their theory.

Is that not a direct violation of the Gospel Topics Essay?

Another example is the web page of BMAF, the corporate owner of Book of Mormon Central. For years, they've featured General Authorities on their Advisory Board to imply Church endorsement of their M2C theory.

You can see it here:

Elder Ted E. Brewerton, Emeritus General Authority
Elder Robert E. Wells, Emeritus General Authority
Elder Merrill C. Oaks, Former General Authority
Elder Clate W. Mask, Former General Authority

I have other specific examples I won't take the time to mention here, and so long as the Church's Visitors Centers, CES and BYU curriculum, and Church media continue to promote M2C, I suppose the Gospel Topics Essay is not being enforced anyway.

Well, actually, I know of specific cases in which it is being enforced--but only to suppress the teachings of the prophets to accommodate the M2C intellectuals.

Which, I suspect and hope, is the opposite of what was intended by whomever wrote the essay.

To understand the essay in context, we should look at a little history.

Until the 1980s, when intellectuals in the Church managed to insert their ideas of Book of Mormon geography into the curriculum at BYU and CES, Church leaders consistently taught two things:

1. The Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York, the same hill from which Joseph obtained the plates; and

2. We don't know for sure where the rest of the events of the Book of Mormon took place.

(I've documented many of these statements here:

In the 1980s, the illustrations in the missionary edition of the Book of Mormon were changed to accommodate the new ideas of the intellectuals; i.e., that the "real" Hill Cumorah is in Mexico and that the hill in New York was named Cumorah as the result of a false tradition that Joseph passively adopted. This is the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory.

I discussed these changes here:

CES and BYU developed curriculum that set the Book of Mormon squarely in Central America, with the Hill Cumorah featured in southern Mexico.

The teachings of the prophets were censored completely from Church curriculum. Even Joseph Smith's Wentworth letter was edited to remove statements that contradicted M2C, as I discussed here.

Fortunately, the Church keeps good records.

The teachings of the prophets cannot be completely erased. 

Anyone can read the General Conference reports to see that members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve have consistently and persistently taught that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York.

President Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII, which declares it is a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place at the Hill Cumorah in New York, is included in Joseph Smith's personal history, which everyone can read in the Joseph Smith Papers. It was originally published in the Messenger and Advocate and republished in the Gospel Reflector, the Times and Seasons, the Prophet, the Millennial Star, and the Improvement Era

It's easy for intellectuals to use sophistry to persuade members of the Church to ignore or reject the teachings of the prophets. Recall what President Benson said in the link above:

"The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them, otherwise the prophet is just giving his opinion—speaking as a man."

Those of us who still believe the teachings of the prophets should remain optimistic that eventually the Gospel Topics Essay will be implemented.

I recognize that many people are frustrated that the M2C intellectuals control CES and BYU, that they continue to censor, belittle, and repudiate the teachings of the prophets, and that so many members of the Church have formed their opinions about Book of Mormon geography in ignorance.

We look forward to the day when all the relevant information is readily available to every member of the Church so that we can each make informed decisions. 

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