Here's the dilemma:
I fully share the objectives of Book of Mormon Central (BMC) in terms of sharing the Book of Mormon. I love all the people associated with BMC and its affiliates. They're all wonderful people.
I support about 90% of what they do and wish I could support the rest. However, I think their focus on M2C undermines their objectives for all the reasons I've explained.
At the very least, they should represent all faithful views and interpretations of the Book of Mormon, but they refuse. They have earned the nickname Book of Mormon Central America because that's the only theory of geography they permit on their web site. They continue to censor alternative faithful views.
Like its predecessor FARMS, BMC is the antithesis of diversity and neutrality, but for obvious reasons they want everyone to think they follow the Church's policy of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography issues, as well as the policy against contention.
Let's see what the reality is.
As always, I'm eager to correct any errors in this material, so if there are any, please let me know by email.
First, let's review the history of M2C.
|1917 map of M2C by L.E. Hills|
M2C originated over 100 years ago with the work of RLDS scholars, including Stebbins and Hills
. You can see the 1917 map by Hills to the left. Some details in the map are different from some modern M2C maps, but the Hills map clearly shows Cumorah/Ramah in Central America.
Cumorah was part of the contest between the RLDS and LDS, as I discussed in more detail here
In the late 1800s, the President of the RLDS Church was Joseph Smith III, the son of Joseph Smith Jr. RLDS missionaries were coming to Utah and converting LDS members to their church. By one count, 3,000 LDS in Utah converted to the RLDS church.
In response, Brigham Young called Joseph F. Smith, the 27-year-old son of Hyrum Smith, to the First Presidency, where he served the remainder of his life.
Joseph Smith III and Joseph F. Smith were first cousins. Their rivalry was partly doctrinal but also familial.
RLDS scholars developed M2C about the time that LDS President Joseph F. Smith focused on the New York Cumorah. As editor of the Improvement Era
in 1899, President Smith republished Letter VII, reaffirming President Cowdery's declaration that it was a fact that the hill Cumorah in New York was the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites, as well as the location of Mormon's depository of Nephite records.
After he became President of the Church, Joseph F. Smith wanted to purchase the Hill Cumorah in New York. RLDS scholars were saying, in effect, "go ahead, but the real Cumorah is in Mexico."
Over the objections of LDS Church leaders such as Joseph Fielding Smith, LDS scholars adopted the RLDS theory. Today's M2C is the result.
The clearest statement of the philosophical basis for M2C was provided by Dr. John Sorenson, author of Mormon's Codex
and other M2C books and articles found in BMC's archive. Original in blue
, my comments in red
What may startle some about this situation is that most of what Joseph Smith said or implied about geography indicates that he did not understand or was ambiguous about the fact, as it turns out, that Mesoamerica was the particular setting for Nephite history.
Notice: Brother Sorenson announces that the Mesoamerican setting is a fact.
That is how M2C intellectuals define "neutrality," and that's what "neutrality" means to their followers, employees, and donors. They are "neutral" only about where in Mesoamerica the Book of Mormon took place, but they insist it could have taken place only somewhere in Mesoamerica.
Until he encountered the Stephens’s book, Joseph gave no hint that he was aware that such a limited area with a distinctive civilized culture even existed in the Americas. Even with Stephens’s material in mind, he made no more than a passing attempt to relate the Book of Mormon’s story to the newly-found ruins. And in the long run, the little blip on the Latter-day Saints’ mental screen caused by the explorer’s book faded as the mistaken folk view reasserted its dominance.
Notice what he's saying here. All the prophets and apostles who declared and affirmed that Cumorah was in New York were misleading members of the Church with a "mistaken folk view."
That's the essence of M2C. You can ask anyone associated with Book of Mormon Central what they think about the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah. After trying to evade the question, they will eventually admit they agree with Brother Sorenson.
They might try to persuade you that they are "neutral" because they disagree with Brother Sorenson about which river is Sidon, or exactly where in Mesoamerica a particular city or feature is located, but they agree with everything he wrote in the quotation above. That's the essence of M2C.
Now, let's look at the logo
We have Hebrew (Old Testament).
We have Egyptian (Book of Abraham)
We have Greek (New Testament).
And we have Mayan (Book of Mormon).
That's as non-neutral as it gets. The logo is a carryover from the old FARMS, which was also 100% M2C, as discussed below.
This logo, heavily promoted with millions of dollars, announces to the world that there is no room for an interpretation of the Book of Mormon outside Mesoamerica.
Now, the people
We love all these brothers and sisters. They are all wonderful, faithful, smart, etc. But they all have one thing in common: complete fidelity to M2C. Some of them are active in social media, pushing M2C aggressively. Maybe we'll look at some examples of their work, but anyone following this topic knows what I'm referring to.
It is difficult to find more dogmatic groupthink than what exists among the BMC staff.
I tried really hard, though, and came across this group.
Actually, there was more "neutrality" about President Trump among the Democrats at Jim Clyburn's recent fish fry
than there is "neutrality" about Book of Mormon geography at BMC.
The BMC editorial position, demonstrated in their archive as well as their regular Kno-Why series, focuses purely on M2C.
They oppose the New York Cumorah at every opportunity because they equate M2C with the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. It's M2C or bust. This explains why they think the stakes are so high, and why M2C promoters have such an emotional attachment to M2C.
This also explains why so many people (including BYU professors) lose their faith in the historicity of the Book of Mormon when they realize M2C is based on circular reasoning and illusory evidence (as well as the repudiation of the teachings of the prophets).
Long ago, Joseph Fielding Smith warned that M2C would cause members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. BMC rejects his warning, along with the teachings of all the prophets and apostles who have taught that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.
BMC coordinates its M2C messages with several affiliates who also promote the same M2C message, including Fairmormon and the Interpreter.
The M2C editorial position is at the core of their approach to the Book of Mormon. BMC and the Interpreter had their origins in FARMS, an organization that was known for its dogmatism and aggressive apologetics. The BMC archive contains some of the FARMS material.
Let's look at how M2C is incorporated in BMC's official policies.
The legal organization behind Book of Mormon Central is the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum, Inc., a 501 (c) 3 non-profit public charity chartered in the state of Utah in 2004.
When people donate to BMC, they are really donating to BMAF. BMC donors are supporting the dissemination of M2C, as we discussed here.
And that's perfectly fine, so long as they know what they're doing.
For decades, BMAF's mission statement read:
If you can't read it, it says:
The Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) is a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization dedicated as an open forum for presentation, dissemination, and discussion of research and evidences regarding Book of Mormon archaeology, anthropology, geography and culture within a Mesoamerican context. Our goals are (1) to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex, (2) to correlate and publish works of LDS and CofC scholars, (3) to help promote unity and cooperation among scholars and students of the Book of Mormon, and (4) to provide a forum where responsible scholars can present current ideas and discoveries.
After I publicized this mission statement, they changed the statement to what it currently reads
The Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (BMAF) is a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization dedicated as an open forum for presentation, dissemination, and discussion of research and evidences regarding Book of Mormon archaeology, anthropology, geography and culture within Mesoamerican and other ancient contexts.
Even when they made this change, they could not bring themselves to endorse neutrality. The "other ancient contexts" they refer to here are in the Old World. They are not referring to anywhere in the Americas other than Mesoamerica.
This is evident in all their work. Anyone can see it for themselves.
BMC continues "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex." You can see it in the archive, their Kno-Whys, their social media work, their firesides, their coordinated efforts with other members of the M2C citation cartel, etc.
I've mentioned a few examples previously in this blog, which you can see by searching for "KnowWhy," "Kno-Why" or "no-wise" in the search box. For example:
Here's another official statement from BMC
Book of Mormon Central Policy on Book of Mormon Geography – June 2016
Book of Mormon Central at this time is officially geography neutral. We seek deep understanding of the Book of Mormon text. We hope diligent students work together to achieve working consensus on the geographic correlation issue. Until that happens, our selection of exegetical material is guided by these principles:
- In our hierarchy of evidence, the text itself is primary because it is closest to the divine.
- If profound and compelling location-specific insights shed light on the text, we highlight these regardless of their geographic provenience.
- We favor authors with credentials in their areas of interest.
- We favor formally published works from reputable presses.
We welcome good work from any geographic persuasion that is responsive to these principles.
This is all window-dressing for Church leaders and donors. I've discussed the implementation here:
I'll conclude this post with another official statement and its implementation by a BMC employee who demonstrates the deep emotional attachment BMC has with M2C.
Book of Mormon Central Social Media Policy
Joseph Smith emphatically taught, "Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism. [It is designed] to revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 316). At Book of Mormon Central we strive to represent the very best of professional and personal characteristics in our private and public lives. The message of the Book of Mormon is so compelling and transformative that we have no need to engage in any form of negative public discourse, including in our professional and private social media accounts. Our tremendous work is our defense. We let it speak for itself. Diligently pursuing our mission is the most powerful and convincing way we can answer any contrary individuals or organizations.
To see how that policy is implemented, look at the following social media post by a BMC employee, one that Dan Peterson at the Interpreter
endorses. (We aren't putting any of Dan's posts here because, technically, he's not listed under BMC's directory.)
You have abundantly proven that you are not somebody who can have a rational argument in good faith with an “M2C intellectual.” You have, repeatedly, demonized and belittled and cast aspersion on anybody who doesn’t accept your dogmatic interpretation of early Mormon historical sources relevant to Book of Mormon geography. This isn’t just a matter of having differences of opinion. As your blog posts have more than demonstrated, you have a personal vendetta against the “citation cartel” (which is, in reality, peer reviewed academic scholarship, as opposed to your own brand of trashy Internet pseudo-scholarship) and anybody who is out of step with your narrow and uncompromising Heartland apologetics.
I suspect I know why you are so personally angry and upset at “M2C intellectuals.” It must be very frustrating that your pseudo-scholarship which you’ve invested so much time and energy into is not making mainstream inroads in Mormon studies. It must be frustrating to be a laughingstock at the Church History Department and amongst BYU faculty. It must be frustrating that the best you can do is publish semi-coherent ramblings on obscure personal blogs or with no-name presses. But just know that it isn’t anything personal: it’s because both your Mormon history and your Book of Mormon geography are nonsense and you’re a deeply unpleasant person to interact with..
I don’t know why you have chosen to become such a fanatic over this one issue, but I will say that it is genuinely sad that your testimony is so fragile that even the slightest contradiction of your pet theory causes your cognitive dissonance to flair up like lights on a Christmas tree.
I am content with what I wrote in my post and in the KnoWhy, and I’ll allow readers to decide for themselves which explanation they find more persuasive. I will not, however, waste further time or attention on your shenanigans. Like I said, since you refuse to engage people who disagree with you in good faith, and since you’re a close-minded fanatic, it would be utterly pointless for me to engage you any further.
I will just say this one thing: for all of your self-righteous preening about how you accept the apostles and the prophets, and how “M2C intellectuals” are subversive apostates, it is breathtakingly hypocritical for you to lambast the Church History Department and BYU faculty and Seminaries & Institutes faculty for not kowtowing to your theories, since all of them are ultimately hired by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is astoundingly hypocritical for you to criticize the “Correlation Department” of the Church, which approves “M2C” artwork and videos and articles in Church publications, when, again, the First Presidency and the Twelve are a part of Correlation. It is monstrously hypocritical of you to accuse Saints of being “revisionist history” attempting to deceive people about Book of Mormon geography when Saints has been authorized, reviewed, and approved by the First Presidency and the Twelve.
So please, Jonathan, spare us all the self-righteous BS about how “M2C intellectuals” are trying to get people to disbelieve the prophets and apostles.
Because guess what: as long as you keep doing what you’re doing, you are, in fact, doing the exact same thing. As long as you keep screaming about “M2C intellectuals” ruining the Church, you’re actually telling people to disbelieve the modern prophets and apostles who keep hiring them to work for the Church and guide the Church’s membership in intellectual and historical matters.
“Physician, heal thyself!”
That last sentence is good advice for everyone.