I'll be traveling this week so I don't plan to post anything for a few days, but with General Conference arriving, I wanted to point out something from the last conference.
Elder Dale G. Renlund provided "A Framework for Personal Revelation." His framework is the best explanation of revelation that I know of. It is well worth re-reading often.
Consider these excerpts:
When we ask for revelation about something for which God has already given clear direction, we open ourselves up to misinterpreting our feelings and hearing what we want to hear....
If God has answered a question and the circumstances have not changed, why would we expect the answer to be different? ...
Joseph learned, as the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught: “Seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For … he counseleth in wisdom.”25 Jacob cautioned that unfortunate things happen when we ask for things we should not. He foretold that the people in Jerusalem would seek “for things that they could not understand,” look “beyond the mark,” and completely overlook the Savior of the world.26 They stumbled because they asked for things they would not and could not understand.
Because this blog discusses the historicity of the Book of Mormon, let's apply these principles to what we know (or should know).
1. "When we ask for revelation about something for which God has already given clear direction, we open ourselves up to misinterpreting our feelings and hearing what we want to hear...."
While many different views/interpretations/opinions have been expressed about Book of Mormon historicity and the setting for the events, we have had clear direction about one site from the first night Moroni visited Joseph Smith: Cumorah is in New York.
Joseph Smith had his scribes copy Oliver's essays into his journal as part of his life history. You can read it in the Joseph Smith Papers here:
In ensuing years, Joseph approved the publication of Oliver's essays in the Gospel Reflector and the Times and Seasons. They were republished in England in the Millennial Star and separately as a popular booklet. They were republished in New York in The Prophet and in Salt Lake City in the Improvement Era.
The New York Cumorah has been taught repeatedly and consistently ever since, including by members of the First Presidency speaking in General Conference.
Nevertheless, some LDS scholars explicitly reject these teachings and seek to persuade others to also reject them. Which leads to the next point.
2. If God has answered a question and the circumstances have not changed, why would we expect the answer to be different?
We can legitimately ask, have any circumstances changed since the prophets have taught about the New York Cumorah?
Obviously, the history and geography has not changed. The Hill Cumorah in New York is still in the same location, just as Oliver described it, along the road between Palmyra and Manchester. The mile-wide valley west of the hill is still there. Thus, we should not expect God's answer to be different today.
But one circumstance has changed. For most of Church history, members accepted the clear direction we've been given about Cumorah, but a handful of influential scholars have used their positions of trust to persuade members to reject these teachings.
This leads into the third point from Elder Renlund.
3. Joseph learned, as the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob taught: “Seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For … he counseleth in wisdom.”25 Jacob cautioned that unfortunate things happen when we ask for things we should not. He foretold that the people in Jerusalem would seek “for things that they could not understand,” look “beyond the mark,” and completely overlook the Savior of the world.26 They stumbled because they asked for things they would not and could not understand.
In the early 1900s, RLDS scholars Stebbins and Hills concluded that the Hill Cumorah was not in New York because New York was too far from the Mesoamerican setting they assumed for the events of the Book of Mormon. They began to "look beyond the mark" and concocted the Mesoamerican/Two-Cumorahs theory (M2C). In 1917, Hills even published a map showing the "real" Cumorah in southern Mexico.
LDS scholars gradually adopted the same rationale. They rejected the counsel from the prophets about Cumorah and they, too, chose to "look beyond the mark."
Alarmed at the development, Joseph Fielding Smith, then Church Historian and an Apostle for 20 years, declared:
“This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.”
When he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve, Joseph Fielding Smith reissued his warning about the two-Cumorahs theory.
However, LDS scholars and educators rejected this counsel, claiming his warning was based on his personal opinion that was wrong. Instead, according to them, their own M2C ideas were correct.
President Marion G. Romney was assigned to attend the Hill Cumorah pageant. In the following General Conference, he reported on his experience, reaffirming yet again the well-established setting of Cumorah. The teachings of these two leaders was included in the Institute manual for many years, as we saw here: https://www.lettervii.com/p/origin-and-rationale-of-m2c.html
But the scholars persisted. Even now, in 2023, LDS scholars and educators actively teach that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York. They teach that Joseph adopted a false tradition about Cumorah, and that all the Prophets and Apostles who reaffirmed the teaching of Letter VII were also expressing personal opinions—even when they spoke in General Conference.
We saw an example of this within the last week, which we discussed here:
The teachings of the M2C scholars has degenerated to the point that they castigate anyone who still believes the teachings of the prophets!
Now we're seeing the fulfillment of President Smith's warning. Because of M2C, many members of the Church are confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon.
Instead of accepting the teachings of the prophets about Cumorah and interpreting the text accordingly, the M2C scholars have rejected those teachings and are stumbling about, searching not only in Mesoamerica but around the world for the Cumorah that we've known all along is in western New York.
The rejection of the prophetic teachings about Cumorah reminds us of several scriptural teachings. Alma explained how, when people reject clear direction, they stumble and lose the knowledge they once had.
9 And now Alma began to expound these things unto him, saying: It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.
10 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.
11 And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries;
7 Behold, if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you.
(Doctrine and Covenants 5:7)
31 Who am I, saith the Lord, that have promised and have not fulfilled?
32 I command and men obey not; I revoke and they receive not the blessing.
33 Then they say in their hearts: This is not the work of the Lord, for his promises are not fulfilled. But wo unto such, for their reward lurketh beneath, and not from above.
(Doctrine and Covenants 58:31–33)
6 Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know;