long ago ideas

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Long ago, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery conquered false claims that the Book of Mormon was fiction or that it came through a stone in a hat. But these old claims have resurfaced in recent years. To conquer them again, we have to return to what Joseph and Oliver taught.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

If the Correlation Department was honest...

Anyone who writes to Church leaders asking about Book of Mormon geography will receive a response from the Correlation Department. I discussed this before here, but I've had so many questions about this that I wanted to summarize the situation and offer a viable solution to the Correlation Department.

I'm not encouraging anyone to write to the Church about this topic, but I'm also not discouraging anyone from doing so. I'm just explaining what the answer you get will be, and suggesting what the answer would have been if the Correlation Department had been honestly relaying the teachings of the prophets instead of trying to establish M2C* as the Church's position.

Nothing but inertia and M2C advocacy prevents the Correlation Department from changing its approach and adopting the course Joseph and Oliver established when they respond to future inquiries.

The quick summary is this:

M2C intellectuals have taken over BYU, CES, and departments of the Church including the History and Correlation Departments. But these are employees, and there's a big difference between the employees and Church leaders.

Church leaders (apostles and prophets) have consistently taught two things about the Book of Mormon historicity/geography:

1. The Hill Cumorah is in New York.
2. We don't know where the other events took place.

These are sound positions. Joseph and Oliver, the founding prophets of the Restoration who received all the Priesthood keys, translated and published the Book of Mormon, and organized the Church as the First and Second Elders, established the New York Cumorah as a fact. They had visited Mormon's depository of Nephite records in that hill. Their contemporaries and successors repeatedly reaffirmed what they taught about Cumorah. No prophet or apostle has rejected their position, and it's difficult to imagine that any future prophet or apostle will repudiate his predecessors. 

As for the rest of the geography, there are so many sites that fit the Book of Mormon narrative (over a million mound sites in North America alone), that it would be very difficult to identify any specific Book of Mormon site (other than Cumorah) in the absence of future discoveries and/or revelation (or the translation of the additional records promised). It's not a lack of evidence in North America that is the problem; it's too much evidence.

In sharp contrast, M2C intellectuals (including those working for the Correlation Department) have no qualms about saying the prophets are wrong. The M2C intellectuals have sown confusion by conflating the two clear points articulated by the prophets and apostles, replacing them with these twin assumptions:

1. The prophets and apostles were wrong about the New York Cumorah.
2. We know the Book of Mormon took place in Mesoamerica.

"Neutrality." The purported "neutrality policy" we often hear about is really neutrality about which version of M2C is correct; i.e., the History and Correlation Departments, as well as CES and BYU, completely suppress and censor any artwork, quotations, lessons, presentations, etc. that explain what the prophets and apostles have actually taught. Instead, they approve only materials that depict versions of M2C. This is evident at the Visitors Centers, where millions of people every year are taught M2C instead of what the prophets have taught. LDS students throughout the Church are taught in Seminary, Institute and BYU that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

Because M2C intellectuals disagree about which river in Mesoamerica is the Sidon, or which mountain in Mesoamerica is the "real hill Cumorah," Church employees are "neutral" about which M2C theory is correct. But they are anything but neutral regarding Book of Mormon geography if you want to talk about what the prophets and apostles have actually taught about the New York hill Cumorah.

The rejection of the prophets by the M2C intellectuals has led millions of Mormons confused and disturbed in their faith--exactly as Joseph Fielding Smith warned when he tried to prevent M2C from taking over. Members of the Church who trust the prophets have no problem. But those who trust the M2C intellectuals definitely have a problem.

If the Correlation Department was honest, it would send something like the following to Church members (and nonmembers) who inquire about Book of Mormon geography.

Prophetic Statements on Book of Mormon Geography

Beginning with President Joseph Smith, Jr., and President Oliver Cowdery, the prophets and apostles have consistently and repeatedly taught two principles about Book of Mormon Geography:

1. The hill Cumorah (described in Mormon 6:6) is in western New York. 

2. The rest of Book of Mormon geography has not yet been determined.

Essays written by President Cowdery with the assistance of Joseph Smith set out these basic facts:

The Hill Cumorah in New York is the site where Joseph Smith found the ancient plates that he translated into the Book of Mormon. This was also the site of Mormon's depository of all the Nephite records, including those he and Moroni abridged to produce the Book of Mormon. This was also the site of the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites. 

These essays are available in the Joseph Smith Papers in Histories, Volume 1, pages 38-89, available online at http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1834-1836/48.

Beyond the New York Cumorah, the prophets and apostles have never specifically identified any particular site relating to the Book of Mormon. Moreover, they have specifically declined to do so. 

Members of the Church are free to pursue their own studies within the framework established by the prophets and apostles, but no individual is authorized to claim any official position of the Church. Only the official statements of the prophets and apostles as published by the Church, including statements made in General Conference, may be considered authoritative. 

Over the years, some Church leaders have made statements that could be interpreted as relevant to Book of Mormon geography, but these were not, and are, not intended to represent any official Church position. Scholarly works, including web pages, that address these topics represent the views of the respective authors.  

Church members are encouraged to read and study the teachings of the prophets and apostles, along with the scriptures, for guidance in this area. Members would do well to follow the example of President Russell M. Nelson, as explained by Elder Neil L. Andersen in the April 2018 General Conference:

In 1982, two years before being called as a General Authority, Brother Russell M. Nelson said: "I never ask myself, ‘When does the prophet speak as a prophet and when does he not?’ My interest has been, ‘How can I be more like him?’” And he added, “My [philosophy is to] stop putting question marks behind the prophet’s statements and put exclamation points instead.” This is how a humble and spiritual man chose to order his life. Now, 36 years later, he is the Lord’s prophet.


Official statements from the prophets and apostles are found in books published by the Church such as Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith by Elder James E. Talmage and General Conference addresses such as those by President Marion G. Romney (1975), Elder Mark E. Petersen (1975), and President Anthony W. Ivins (1928). 

For example, President Romney's address titled America's Destiny, available online at https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1975/10/americas-destiny?lang=engexplains how the Book of Mormon provides guidance for current issues.

While understanding the geography and historicity of the Book of Mormon may be useful, Church members should keep these issues in perspective.

President Russell M. Nelson has taught:

"I would like to add my testimony of the divinity of this book. I have read it many times. I have also read much that has been written about it. Some authors have focused upon its stories, its people, or its vignettes of history. Others have been intrigued by its language structure or its records of weapons, geography, animal life, techniques of building, or systems of weights and measures.

"Interesting as these matters may be, study of the Book of Mormon is most rewarding when one focuses on its primary purpose—to testify of Jesus Christ. By comparison, all other issues are incidental."  [Ensign, November 1999, 69.]

*M2C is the acronym for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory, taught by BYU/CES, etc., that the New York hill is not the "real Cumorah." M2C claims Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery and all the other prophets and apostles who have taught that Cumorah is in New York were merely expressing their opinions and they were wrong because the M2C intellectuals know better; i.e., these intellectuals know the "real Cumorah" is somewhere in Southern Mexico.

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