This is not a question about what past Church leaders have said about Cumorah. It's not a question of interpreting the text and other semantic considerations.
The issue is the core belief of M2C that makes it attractive to so many Church members.
People often ask why M2C advocates get angry when their theory is questioned. A good answer appeared on twitter recently:
"Do you know why your feelings are hurt by criticism of your beliefs? Because you believe for emotional reasons instead of factual ones."
M2C believers are emotionally attached to their theory because they say it is the only plausible explanation of the Book of Mormon. For them, it is M2C or bust.
They actually think the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon depends on its Mesoamerican setting.
The M2C advocates think they are protecting and defending the Book of Mormon when they promote M2C. They think that alternative interpretations, including the New York Cumorah, are false. That's why they censor information about those alternatives, including the teachings of the prophets.
But the core belief of M2C has nothing to do with the teachings of the prophets.
high-water mark of scholarship" among M2C believers.
Do you see what's happening here?
M2C advocates think that Joseph could not have known about ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica, so the Mesoamerican setting proves Joseph couldn't have written the Book of Mormon.
By contrast, they claim a setting in North America, with the Hill Cumorah in New York, supports the arguments of critics who say Joseph wrote the book.
In my view, they have it exactly backwards.
As we're about to see, if Joseph Smith had composed the Book of Mormon, he would have set it in Central and South America.
As I discuss in more depth in my upcoming book, there are three possible origins for the Book of Mormon.
1. Composition. This is the claim that Joseph (and/or co-conspirators) composed the Book of Mormon based on his experience and the information available to him.
2. Transcription. This is the claim that Joseph merely read words that appeared on a stone he placed into a hat (the "stone-in-a-hat" theory that is popular among today's LDS historians and M2C proponents).
3. Translation. This is Joseph's claim that he translated the engravings on ancient metal plates that related one thousand years of history of the ancient inhabitants "of this country."
We won't discuss transcription or translation in this post. Instead, we'll focus on the composition claim by examining what Brother Sorenson wrote. Original in blue, my comments in red.
I could go on with this, but I suspect you see the point by now.
Its easy to see why some of the early LDS leaders and authors (but never Joseph Smith) claimed the Book of Mormon explained the civilizations described by Humboldt, Stephens and others. Contrary to what our M2C intellectuals have been telling us, people in Joseph's day knew all about ancient civilizations in Central and South America. To them, a hemispheric model made sense, especially because Humboldt himself had described Panama as a "neck of land."
Move forward to the late 1800s, when Joseph F. Smith was reaffirming the New York Cumorah and sought to purchase the hill. His opponents in the RLDS church declared that the hill in New York was not the real Cumorah, after all. They claimed that the "real Cumorah" was in Mexico.
Soon enough, certain LDS scholars adopted their theory, partly because of the apologetic benefit. They began promoting the idea that Joseph could not have known about ancient civilizations in Central America before he translated the Book of Mormon; therefore, M2C actually proved the Book of Mormon was true.
And some of them still think that.
But, as we've seen in this post, it's a fundamentally flawed premise.
If Joseph (and/or his co-conspirators) composed the Book of Mormon as a record of a lost civilization, the most natural setting would be ancient America in Central and South America, precisely as described by Humboldt and others before the Book of Mormon was published in 1830.
This is why I think M2C is exactly the wrong theory to promote the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.
This is why I think M2C is going to continue to leave people confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon, just as Joseph Fielding Smith warned all those decades ago.
Brother Sorenson did make a good point: Joseph could have composed a book based on his experiences with Indians in and around New York, but he didn't.
Joseph could just have easily composed a book set in ancient Central and/or South America. But he didn't.
So what is the Book of Mormon?
I won't get into all the semantic arguments about geography, or the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah in New York, or Joseph Smith's statements in the Wentworth letter, on Zion's Camp, etc.
For now, just consider this.
Brother Sorenson made another good point: a powerful evidence of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon would be its description of a civilization unknown and unknowable before Joseph translated the plates.
The ancient civilizations in Central and South America simply don't qualify because they were described in books sold right in Palmyra before Joseph even met Moroni.
What does qualify?
The Hopewell and Adena civilizations of North America.
These civilizations were not even named until around 1900. The extent and sophistication of these civilizations is still being discovered today.
They fit the time frames from the text and the locations Joseph identified. They align with the New York Cumorah. They match up with other important events that have taken place, and will take place, in North America.
Long-time readers know that I accepted M2C for decades. Like the fine young scholars employed by the M2C citation cartel today, I was convinced by my CES and BYU teachers that the prophets were wrong and that the scholars were right.
That was my mistake, and I hope that more members of the Church, as well as non-members, can come to see M2C for the mistake it is. I'm not trying to persuade anyone; I simply encourage people to make informed decisions.
In recent years I have come to realize the prophets were right about Book of Mormon geography all along. They have always emphasized two main points:
1. The Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in New York.
2. We don't know the location of the other events.
These are the only two positions I hold.
Point #2 is important because it's not a lack of evidence but an overabundance of evidence that we confront. It's impossible to choose among dozens or hundreds of sites in North America that could match up with the text.
That said, I don't reject a Mesoamerican setting per se (although I think it's relatively implausible). I don't categorically exclude any theory of geography that has Cumorah in New York.
As more and more people return to accepting what the prophets have taught all along, we will discover more and more evidence that supports their teachings.
It's an exciting time to be a member of the Church.