Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Do your teachers accept or reject Letter VII?
People wonder what I want. I'm writing this and other blogs (hundreds of posts so far), as well as the books (not to mention a lot of speaking, youtube videos, and other activities), because I have two basic goals.
1. I would like to see every member of the Church read Letter VII (hopefully in 2016, but 2017 is okay too) and decide whether to accept or reject it.
2. I would like every student (and every parent of students) in the Church to know if their teachers accept or reject Letter VII.
1. Read Letter VII. When Joseph Smith was alive, every member of the Church knew (or should have known, if they could read English) about Letter VII, which unambiguously declares that the Hill Cumorah (the Mormon 6:6 Hill Cumorah) was in New York. The New York location of Cumorah was unambiguously declared in the footnotes of the official edition of the Book of Mormon from 1879 through 1920. It was only after all of Joseph's contemporaries died off that RLDS scholars, and later LDS scholars, rejected the New York setting.
I think every member of the Church should know this history and the importance that Joseph and Oliver placed on this fact. After all, Joseph included it in D&C 128. He instructed his scribes to copy it into his own history, as you can see for yourself if you go to the Joseph Smith papers and search for "Letter VII."
Think of this: we have entire books (and lesson manuals) full of what are purported to be the teachings of Joseph Smith, even though many of them are derived from a single mention in someone's journal. Or, worse, they are derived from anonymous articles in the Times and Seasons!
On the other hand, Letter VII was written with Joseph's assistance, included in his own history at his specific direction, republished with his express permission, and referenced in D&C 128, yet it appears nowhere in the books and manuals about the teachings of Joseph Smith.
Ask yourself why.
2. What teachers think. Obviously, teachers have tremendous influence. Students deserve to know where their teachers are coming from. Let's say you're a student at any BYU campus. Do you know if your professor accepts or rejects Letter VII?
If not, you should ask.
Are you a student in Institute or Seminary? Do you attend a Gospel Doctrine class in your ward? Relief Society? Priesthood meeting? Primary? Young Women or Young Men? Do you know what your teachers think about Letter VII?
If not, you should ask.
The reason is directly related to the core beliefs of our religion. Oliver Cowdery was one of the three witnesses to the plates, but he was also the only witness other than Joseph to many of the most important events of the Restoration, including the restoration of the Priesthood, several revelations in the D&C, and the restoration of the keys in the Kirtland Temple.
Detractors claim Oliver was not a reliable, credible witness; that's one of their reasons for rejecting the existence of the plates. (They say the same about all the witnesses, of course, but Oliver was the Assistant President of the Church and a special witness as mentioned in the previous paragraphy.)
This is what makes rejection of Letter VII so problematic when it is our own people--our own educators--who are rejecting Letter VII.
I'll spell it out.
There are two groups of people who reject Letter VII on the grounds that Oliver Cowdery was merely speculating (or lying) when he said the final battles of the Jaredites and Nephites tool place in New York:
1. Those who claim the final battles did not take place in New York (this includes Mesoamerican advocates, Baja advocates, and advocates of Panama, Peru, Chile, Malaysia, Eritrea, etc.).
2. Those who claim the final battles did not take place at all (anti-Mormons, former Mormons, and anyone else who rejects the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon).
As always, I emphasize that this is not some kind of catechism. No one has to accept Letter VII. It's not a test of faithfulness or good standing, etc., and I don't want to imply that it is.
However, it is a serious question about how we approach Church history and the historicity of the Book of Mormon.
In Joseph's day, everyone knew Cumorah was in New York. There is no ambiguity in Church history on this point, despite the attempts of modern LDS scholars to create some.
You can believe the Book of Mormon took place somewhere else. But you should also recognize what the implications of your beliefs are, both for you and for those you teach.
If you're a teacher in the Church, you need to be aware that students may have difficulty reconciling your rejection of Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII with your acceptance of everything else he wrote.