First, though, I wanted to mention that we've moved to Africa. I have a separate blog about what we're doing: https://mormoninmauritius.blogspot.com/
A few months ago, I met someone in downtown Salt Lake City. When we exchanged names, he said, "Oh, you're the Letter VII guy."
His comment reflects the tragic reality that, until recently, hardly anyone in the Church today had ever heard of Letter VII--or any of President Oliver Cowdery's other important essays on Church doctrine and history. (I call these the original Gospel Topics Essays, as I'll explain in an upcoming post.) This is a big change from the first one hundred years of the Church. President Cowdery's letters were well known because they were often republished and quoted, as I've shown on my other blog,
The censorship of Letter VII and related material has been gradual, but effective.
In the last few years as I've been writing and speaking about Letter VII and related issues, I have yet to meet a single audience member or reader who had ever heard of Letter VII previously, apart from a handful of LDS scholars in the citation cartel who would prefer that these letters remain obscure and unknown. In fact, one well-known LDS author told me he had seen a quotation from Letter VII regarding Cumorah, accompanied by this attribution: "author unknown."
Until recently, no Church leader I'm aware of, local or general, had ever heard of Letter VII. This includes Stake Presidents, Temple Presidents, and General Authorities. Most of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency had never heard of Letter VII.
Now, they have.
To paraphrase one of our hymns, "The veil over Letter VII is beginning to burst."
|Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh|
as Othello and Iago respectively,
from the 1995 film version of Othello.
Here are some of the things our M2C intellectuals are whispering in the ears of the youth of the Church.
For decades, they've been whispering these same things in the ears of the leaders of the Church and in the ears of the Saints generally. You can read most of this in the literature of the M2C citation cartel. The rest you'll see on their blogs and in their conversations.
- "Joseph Smith was confused, naive, and ignorant."
- "President Cowdery was speculating when he wrote it was a fact that the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the hill Cumorah in New York."
- "Joseph Smith speculated about Book of Mormon geography and adopted a false tradition about the New York Cumorah."
- "Joseph Smith misled the Church by having Letter VII republished in every Church newspaper during his lifetime," or, the corollary, "Joseph Smith had no idea what President Cowdery wrote, what was in his own journal, what his brothers were publishing, or what Benjamin Winchester and Parley P. Pratt were publishing."
- "In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith learned about Book of Mormon geography from a popular travel book that caused him to change his mind from what Moroni told him."
- "All the prophets who have affirmed the New York Cumorah, including members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference, were merely expressing their own opinions and they were wrong."
- "Contrary to the teachings of the prophets, there are actually two Cumorahs; i.e., the false one in New York and the real one somewhere in Mexico."
- "Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Heber C. Kimball and others were wrong about Joseph and Oliver and others visiting Mormon's depository in the hill Cumorah."
- "David Whitmer was wrong about meeting one of the three Nephites who said he was taking the Harmony plates to Cumorah."
- "Lucy Mack Smith was wrong when she quoted Joseph referring to Cumorah even before he obtained the plates."
- "Parley P. Pratt and Oliver Cowdery were wrong when they reported that Moroni himself said the hill in New York was named Cumorah anciently."
- "The 'hill in New York' cannot be the hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 because [insert any of the reasons here, including such gems as "because it's not near volcanoes," "because it's too cold there," "because it's too far from Mesoamerica," and "because the hill in New York cannot contain a chamber for the depository of Nephite records."]
- "Don't read the writings of the prophets about Cumorah. They will only confuse you. Instead, rely on the work of the qualified intellectuals. They are hired by the modern prophets to guide the Church. You cannot question what these intellectuals teach because they speak for God, especially when they teach that the 'dead prophets' are wrong."
- "The best way to understand the Book of Mormon is by referring to a fantasy map prepared by CES or BYU."
Iago was successful because he was so deeply trusted by Othello.
The M2C intellectuals have also successfully promulgated M2C because they are so deeply trusted by their students, by Church members generally, and by Church leaders.
I know because I trusted these M2C intellectuals myself for decades.
I've said many times that I think the M2C intellectuals have good intentions. They honestly believe that Joseph Smith taught the Mesoamerican theory through anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons. Because New York is so far from Mesoamerica, they concluded that Joseph either never believed Cumorah was in New York or was wrong about that, as have been all the other prophets. The M2C intellectuals still think they are dong the right thing by changing Church history and censoring the early references to Cumorah. Because they honestly believe their M2C bias is correct, they have convinced themselves that they are justified in confirming that bias by citing illusory "correspondences" between Mesoamerican and Nephite culture and teaching M2C to their students.
All of this is basic human psychology, completely understandable. But IMO, it's not excusable because they are teaching that the prophets were wrong and they are not giving the youth, the leaders, or the Saints generally both sides of the story, including all the facts to let them make informed decisions.
Next, let's look at how this all works.
People constantly ask me, "Why don't the Brethren either affirm or repudiate the New York Cumorah? Why are we left to choose between the M2C scholars and the teachings of the past prophets?"
Let's frame those questions by considering how the Church operates.
The prophets (members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve) are incredibly busy. One of them told me not long ago that he "lives on an airplane." They don't have enough time to read everything they're supposed to read, let alone things they would like to read. They rely on their staff to filter the important from the unimportant.
All organizations operate this way. Lower-level people and groups necessarily make filtering decisions in the process of accomplishing their tasks. They don't present all the facts and all the possible decisions to their superiors because their job is to filter out unimportant or irrelevant facts, proposals and considerations.
The risk is that they end up making decisions on behalf of their superiors because they filter out facts that they deem insignificant or erroneous, but that their superiors would find important if they learned about them. IOW, the staff constrains and guides the options for their superiors, preventing their superiors from making fully informed decisions.
That's what the M2C scholars do to their students in CES and BYU, and that's what the M2C employees do to Church leaders.
It turns out that there are several checkpoints in the Church hierarchy that filter out material that contradicts M2C.
One of the best examples was the censorship of a key portion of the Wentworth letter in the Joseph Smith manual, which we discussed here.
In that case, there was a leader of the committee who decided to censor the passage, despite Joseph Smith's express request at the beginning of the letter that it be published "entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation."
As I pointed out, Joseph didn't need to worry about Mr. Wentworth. He needed to worry about the M2C Correlation Department. I'm told this edited version was presented for approval with no discussion of the significance of disregarding Joseph's specific directions regarding its publication. Busy Church leaders reviewing the manual hardly have time to examine every ellipsis and citation.
Here's another example. Some months ago a committee was working on a formal position paper about Book of Mormon geography. The wording included a statement that the Church has never taken a position on Book of Mormon geography. When we pointed out that, to be accurate, the statement should read, "Except for the New York Cumorah, the Church has never taken a position on Book of Mormon geography," the Seventy in charge laughed and said he would never propose such a thing to the Brethren.
In both cases, important decisions were made at lower levels. I could give more examples specifically related to the geography issue, but those two suffice to illustrate how effectively the M2C intellectuals have "guided" the Church by presenting only one side of the question, by presenting only M2C artwork for approval, M2C displays in the visitors centers, etc.
Now you know why you never see the teachings of the prophets about the New York Cumorah on display in the visitors centers--not even in the Hill Cumorah visitors center in New York.
All the prophets' teachings about Cumorah have been censored.
Some time ago President Oaks addressed Church employees and made the point that there have been problems with staff preparing proposals ready for implementation without counseling with their file leaders or providing all perspectives, including pro and con views, to educate the decision makers.
It is difficult for me to imagine one of the Twelve or the First Presidency formally repudiating their predecessors regarding the New York Cumorah--assuming they know what their predecessors have taught.
However, recall my post when I showed how the Correlation Department tells inquirers that the Brethren have never taken a position on Book of Mormon geography. The form letter they send intentionally conflates the separate issues of Cumorah and the rest of the geography, as we discussed here:
If the only thing the Brethren are ever told about this issue is that all of their predecessors have merely speculated about the geography issues, and if they are never told about Letter VII and the other specific prophetic affirmations of the New York Cumorah (let along the scientific facts that corroborate what the prophets have taught), we can't expect them to do their own independent research.
They are too busy.
And they trust their staff.
|M2C academic cycle|
[Note: This is not a new problem. Back in 1842 Nauvoo, Wilford Woodruff observed that Joseph Smith barely had time to sign his name to documents others prepared for him. Yet now everyone assumes Joseph approved not only of things he actually signed (which he apparently didn't have time to read), but he approved of anonymous writings, merely because they appeared in the Times and Seasons. The press of events that left Joseph with so little time is is one reason why the traditional belief that Joseph actually edited the Times and Seasons--the belief at the core of M2C--is ludicrous.]
The examples I cited above and many others show that the citation cartel is not confined to academic publications such as BYU Studies and web pages such as FairMormon, although those are two of the principal promoters of M2C. The M2C citation cartel has educated most, if not all, Church employees and leaders. Combined with the claim by the M2C intellectuals that they have been hired to "guide the Church," it's no wonder that M2C has permeated BYU, CES, and COB.
But that's not enough for them. As recently as yesterday, members and supporters of the M2C citation cartel continue to misrepresent the views of those who still believe the prophets' teachings about the New York Cumorah and the scientific evidence that supports the prophets.
That's why I think it is even more important today than it was when Joseph Smith was alive for members of the Church to educate themselves about Letter VII and the teachings of the prophets.
Unless something changes, Church members are not going to learn about those teachings from the M2C citation cartel or the materials produced by the Church departments that are staffed by M2C followers.
None of this is intended to criticize Church leaders or employees. As I said, it's basic human psychology and organizational behavior.
I'm writing about this to call attention to a serious problem.
The solution is easy: refocus on the teachings of the prophets instead of the teachings of the M2C intellectuals.
But that's only easy in theory. In the real world, people must educate themselves and those around them.
We all know the Church operates through councils on local, stake, regional and general levels. Decisions are made at the lowest level possible; e.g., a ward council doesn't ask the Stake President which families to visit. Also, at each level there are committees that report to Church leaders. For example, a ward council, led by the Bishop, has committees responsible for specific tasks. Each task involves numerous decisions based on specific facts and priorities. Committees report back to the ward council, especially when the Bishop needs to make a decision. Such reports are brief summaries of the work of the committee. Because of constraints in time, the committee filters out everything that isn't important.
At the general level, the Church is managed the same way. In the Church Office Building (COB), there are various Departments (Missionary, Family History, Church History, etc.) that are staffed with full-time employees, as well as volunteers and missionaries. Within and among the departments committees are formed to accomplish specific tasks. Committees are led by Church leaders, including Seventies and Apostles.
Most of the work of these Departments and committees is done by the staff. As an example, let's say Church leaders decide the curriculum needs to be changed or updated. They don't assign an Apostle to rewrite the material. Instead, they create a committee to manage the process. There will be staff assigned, missionaries called, volunteers organized, etc. These people will study the topics, assemble resources, create drafts, etc. Eventually, proposed lessons will be presented to the committee for review. When someone in charge of one of these committees, even at a low level, wants to censor references to Cumorah, it happens, precluding consideration at higher levels.
It's the same with construction projects (temples, chapels, etc.), technology projects, management of the missionary program, etc.
Every large organization necessarily operates this way.
At each level of the organization, people work with details that are filtered out from reports and proposed actions that require approval or decision making by higher authorities.
That's why it's up to us to educate ourselves and to not expect our Church teachers and professors to tell us both sides of every issue.
That said, for me, the question of whether to follow the prophets or the M2C intellectuals is an easy one. I choose to follow the prophets.
And I think most members of the Church, if given a choice through full disclosure, would do likewise.