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.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Cumorah and Presidents Lee and Kimball

Yesterday I discussed a video from Book of Mormon Central Censor titled "What did prophets think about Book of Mormon geography? Their old books may give clues."

The title alone exposes the nonsensical premise. We don't need "clues" from private annotations when their thoughts were declared openly in General Conference.

The video begins by rehashing the intellectual foundation for M2C; i.e., the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons. M2C proponents claim Joseph Smith wrote, edited, or approved of these articles, solely because his name appeared on the boilerplate credits at the end of each issue of the newspaper. It's absurd, really; the boilerplate also said Joseph "printed" the paper, but not even M2C proponents claim Joseph actually set type or ran the printing press.

Nevertheless, M2C intellectuals and their followers continue to promote the bogus Times and Seasons premise because it allows them to frame Joseph Smith as an ignorant speculator who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah, and who learned Book of Mormon geography from a popular travel book. Then, as well-qualified PhDs, these intellectuals assert their own views as superior to what the "unqualified" Brethren have always taught about the New York Cumorah.

As we saw yesterday, the video examines notes made in two books owned by Presidents Kimball and Lee. The mind-reading exercise is a futile attempt to support M2C, or at least to cause enough confusion that there is room to accommodate M2C.

Harold B. Lee's note: two Hill Cumorah's?
The annotations in these books do suggest that at some point, Spencer W. Kimball and Harold B. Lee considered the alternative theories about Book of Mormon geography, and, at least in President Lee's case, the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory (M2C) specifically.

No one except an M2C believer could infer that President Lee's note means he accepted M2C. At most, we can infer he considered the points made by Hammond.*

The question for us today is, has the Cumorah issue ever been addressed formally?

Yes. Of course it has been.

President Lee with
President Tanner and
President Romney
When President Lee became President of the Church in July 1972, he chose as Second Counselor Elder Marion G. Romney, who had been a member of the Quorum of the Twelve since October 1951 and an Assistant to the Twelve for ten years prior to that.

Historical trivia: Marion G. Romney was called as an Assistant to the Twelve on April 6, 1941. Harold B. Lee was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve on April 10, 1941. The two had a long association, to say the least. They served together for over 30 years before they worked together in the First Presidency.

More trivia: President Lee served as a counselor in the First Presidency to President Joseph Fielding Smith, who specifically denounced M2C.

President Lee died on December 26, 1973. Four days later, Spencer W. Kimball was ordained President of the Church. He retained President Romney as Second Counselor.

In October 1975, President Romney addressed the Hill Cumorah question in General Conference. He unambiguously declared that the Hill Cumorah--the scene of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites--was in New York, and that it was the same hill from which Joseph obtained the plates.

Let's examine the context of President Romney's talk.

Is it possible that President Lee ever discussed the Cumorah issue with President Romney?

That's a rhetorical question, of course. It's unimaginable that these two men, working closely together for decades, would have never discussed the issue, especially in light of the dog-eared page in President Lee's copy of Hammond's book Geography of the Book of Mormon.

Nevertheless, the Cumorah question was hardly the most pressing issue they faced. When we look at the conference addresses from Oct 1972, we see a focus on sustaining the new prophet, Harold B. Lee. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1972/10?lang=eng

In his first talk to the Priesthood, President Lee said:

The trouble with us today, there are too many of us who put question marks instead of periods after what the Lord says. I want you to think about that. We shouldn’t be concerned about why he said something, or whether or not it can be made so. Just trust the Lord. We don’t try to find the answers or explanations. We shouldn’t try to spend time explaining what the Lord didn’t see fit to explain. We spend useless time.

If you would teach our people to put periods and not question marks after what the Lord has declared, we would say, “It is enough for me to know that is what the Lord said.”

One would think that this direction from President Lee would suffice to resolve the question: The prophets and apostles have always taught that the Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York.

However, M2C exists because certain intellectuals in the Church put a question mark instead of a period after what the prophets and apostles have taught about the New York Cumorah.

President Lee's message is especially interesting in light of the ear-marked page in Hammond's Geography of the Book of Mormon. Hammond's entire thesis is a big question mark he put after the teachings of the prophets and apostles about the New York Cumorah.

The Brethren have consistently and persistently taught two things:

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

Everything else is subject to further study, analysis, and speculation.

This is my own approach, in this blog, in my books and articles, and in my presentations. Beyond the New York Cumorah, anything is possible.

The M2C tactic conflates the two issues; the M2C intellectuals need to create this confusion because most Church members, once they learn what the prophets have taught, agree that Cumorah is in New York. Church members are surprised to learn that the M2C intellectuals openly repudiate the prophets, even though M2C is on full display throughout the Church, including in visitors centers.

In my view, so long as the further study is intended to support the prophets, it's beneficial. But if it's intended to repudiate the prophets, it's not beneficial.

The M2C intellectuals disagree with me on that, which is fine--so long as they make their position clear and don't hide it behind a facade of "neutrality."

Everyone involved with this discussion seeks and relies upon facts. It is the interpretation of the facts that is driven by which bias one has. And the fundamental bias of M2C is the claim that the prophets are wrong about Cumorah.

Here's how M2C interprets the teachings of the prophets:

1. The Hill Cumorah is in New York? Question mark for the prophets, but the scholars know the hill Cumorah is in southern Mexico.
2. We don't yet know where the other events took place? Question mark for the prophets, but the scholars teach with certainty that these events took place in Mesoamerica.

BTW, it's interesting that recently Elder Neil L. Anderson reminded us of President Russell Marion Nelson's similar statement:

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.”

President Lee died unexpectedly in December 1973. During his presidency, so far as I know, no official statements were made about the Cumorah question. The issue hadn't reached the level of importance of the other matters they needed to address.

President Romney gave his Cumorah talk in October 1975, under the direction of President Kimball.

He gave the talk after personally visiting the Hill Cumorah in July, 1975, presumably on assignment.

The M2C intellectuals feel free to reject President Romney's talk because he wasn't President of the Church; he was just a counselor in the First Presidency. Had President Kimball given the talk, they say, then they would accept the New York Cumorah.

[That raises the question of why we bother having anyone but the President of the Church speak in General Conference if we're free to reject what all the prophets and apostles teach except for what the President says, and then only while he's actually in the office of President. The approach of the M2C intellectuals prohibits the President of the Church from assigning others to present Church doctrine or speak authoritatively on any topic. He can't even assign his own counselors in the First Presidency to do so.]

Let's consider two alternative explanations for President Romney's talk.

M2C scenario. The M2C intellectuals claim that President Romney was wrong about the New York Cumorah. They acknowledge (condescendingly) that President Romney honestly believed what he taught, but they claim that he, like all of his predecessors, was simply wrong because they were misled by Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, thanks to Letter VII and D&C 128:20.

BYU fantasy map, teaching that
the prophets are wrong
The M2C intellectuals also claim that Spencer W. Kimball was uncertain about the Hill Cumorah because he considered M2C as a possibility. As evidence, they cite his possession of the Popal Vuh, complete with passages he underlined, and various anecdotal accounts of statements he made while visiting Central and South America on assignments over the years.

[BTW, I've looked into these claims in some detail. So far, not a single M2C intellectual has been able to show me where President Kimball ever once questioned the New York Cumorah. All their anecdotes involve point 2; i.e., we don't know where the other events took place.]

In the M2C scenario, we can imagine the First Presidency discussing the upcoming General Conference. President Kimball asks his counselors what they plan to discuss, or they agree on topics to discuss and decide which of them is going to cover which topics.

Knowing President Kimball believes M2C, or at least thinks it is a possibility, President Romney doesn't want to alert President Kimball that he plans to discuss the New York Cumorah, so he demurs. "I'm going to discuss the destiny of America," he says. "Plus, I'm going on vacation in July to visit Church history sites."

Then, in the October conference, President Romney stuns President Kimball by claiming, falsely, that the real Hill Cumorah of Mormon 6:6 is in western New York.

M2C: Five Presidents of the Church
listen to President Romney teach
false doctrine in General Conference
Future Presidents of the Church, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson, are all in attendance at that conference. None of them ever corrects or even questions what President Romney taught about the New York Cumorah.

Instead, in 1990, Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson, the members of the First Presidency at the time, each approve with their personal stamps a letter that states, "The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon."

But they are all wrong, according to the M2C scenario.

Thanks to the M2C intellectuals and their followers, employees at BYU, CES, and COB are teaching our youth that the prophets are wrong about the New York Cumorah.

The entire M2C citation cartel teaches that the prophets were wrong, including FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, BYU Studies, the Maxwell Institute, etc.

Letter VII scenario. Those who accept Letter VII and the teachings of the prophets and apostles believe President Romney was correct about the New York Cumorah. They think that when President Romney testified that what he taught was true, he was speaking as a member of the First Presidency and he actually taught the truth.

Let's say President Kimball and President Lee both discussed the question of Book of Mormon geography with President Romney on occasion. Maybe more than once. Let's say that they discussed the books they read and their visits to Central and South America.

President Lee dies after only three General Conferences. The First Presidency never got around to the topic of Cumorah.

President Kimball notices a trend toward the two-Cumorahs theory, which has been percolating among LDS intellectuals since at least the 1920s. He knows President Joseph Fielding Smith had denounced the idea of two Cumorahs because it would cause members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.

But he also knows the intellectuals at BYU are rejecting what all the past prophets and apostles had taught. The Hammond book was only one example of this.

President Marion G. Romney
declaring that Cumorah is in New York
The First Presidency discusses the matter. President Kimball assigns President Romney to study the question and visit the Hill Cumorah in New York. President Romney attends the opening night of the Hill Cumorah pageant (it was held on July 25-Aug 2 that year). Having done his research, President Romney stands on top of the hill and listens to the Spirit.

He returns and reports to the First Presidency. President Kimball assigns him to speak about Cumorah in the October Conference. The entire First Presidency approves the talk in advance.

President Romney delivers it in General Conference.

President Kimball expects this talk to settle the matter of Cumorah.

But he doesn't realize how quickly and easily the intellectuals at BYU and CES rationalize that the prophets and apostles are wrong.

You can decide which scenario is more plausible: M2C or Letter VII.

Let's consider why President Kimball would have chosen President Romney to visit Cumorah and then talk about it so directly in General Conference.

President Romney was born in Mexico. When he was about 15 years old, his family fled from the Mexican Revolution and moved to California, leaving everything behind. Eventually they moved to Idaho. He became a lawyer and worked as an assistant prosecuting attorney in Salt Lake City.

His background seemed to give him a special interest and expertise on the topic of America. Hence the title of his General Conference talk about Cumorah: "America's Destiny."

At BYU, President Romney gave such talks as "The Vision of the Founders" (1970) and "America's Fate and Ultimate Destiny" (1976).

As a prosecuting attorney, President Romney learned to evaluate alternative arguments about facts. As an Apostle, he learned that teaching pure truth is more powerful than making intellectual arguments.

Anyone who reads his talk about Cumorah can see there was no hesitation or equivocation about the New York Cumorah. He made his point crystal clear.

Now it's a question every member of the Church can answer: do we accept or reject the teachings of the prophets?

You can read about President Romney's talk here, where I have a link to his address on lds.org:


President Romney said, "In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation."

He went on to describe the demise of the Nephites at the same spot. At the conclusion, he testified of the truthfulness of what he taught.

This was nothing more or less than a reaffirmation of what had been taught since before Joseph obtained the plates, when Moroni told Joseph the name of the hill.

Every prophet and apostle who has ever formally addressed Cumorah has affirmed these teachings. None has repudiated their predecessors or fellow Quorum members.

All this is so well known and well established that the speculation about Cumorah by today's M2C scholars is inexcusable.


* The M2C citation cartel likes to focus on an obscure, unofficial comment Harold B. Lee once made, possibly with the Hammond book in mind. They think it shows that President Lee didn't know if Cumorah was in New York. I discussed that here:


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