Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Noel Reynolds and authorship

LDS Living published an article about Noel Reynolds and his article that explains Joseph Smith did not write the Lectures on Faith. You can see it here: http://www.ldsliving.com/Former-BYU-Professor-Shares-Evidence-the-Lectures-on-Faith-Were-Not-Written-by-Joseph-Smith/s/85893

I agree with Reynolds' assessment. I've always liked his work.

Here's a key passage from the LDS Living article:

Reynolds says there's evidence to suggest that [Sidney] Rigdon was the book's author. 
For instance, Reynolds's asserts there is no proof Joseph Smith ever even looked at the lectures, the only statement that he did so was made by a secretary trying to fill 18 months worth of missing daily records from Joseph Smith's life, with no first-hand accounts of Joseph Smith actually looking at the lectures or writing them. 

"The second thing we can look at is did Joseph use the lectures, did he claim them, did he quote them, did he teach from them, did he ever repeat these teachings? The answer to that is no, not once," Reynolds says. 

Though the author for Lectures on Faith remains to be known on the book cover as Joseph Smith, Reynolds holds to the evidence he has brought forward that it may, in fact, be Rigdon. 
____________

This is fascinating for three reasons.

First, the methodology Brother Reynolds used--comparing the Lectures on Faith with the respective writings of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon--is the same methodology I used to figure out who wrote the anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons that were the origin for the Mesoamerican theory. That methodology led me to Benjamin Winchester, as I explained in my books The Lost City of Zarahemla, Brought to Light, and The Editors: Joseph, William and Don Carlos Smith.

Second, Brother Reynolds looked at Joseph's use of the lectures. His conclusion, which I bolded above, applies equally to the anonymous Mesoamerican articles. There is no proof Joseph Smith ever even looked at these articles (or the Stephens books they quoted), he never claimed them, he never quoted them, he never taught from them, and he never repeated them. In fact, not once did Joseph Smith ever link the Book of Mormon to any geography outside of North America.

Third, I'm informed that Brother Reynolds is a strong supporter of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theory. Maybe I'm wrong and I'd like to know if I am.

This is especially ironic because the exact same misattribution that took place with the Lectures on Faith also took place with the Mesoamerican articles upon which the Mesomania scholars and educators rely.

If Brother Reynolds and other Mesomania scholars and educators applied the same methodology to the Times and Seasons as they applied to the Lectures on Faith, no one would be promoting the two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories any more.






Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mormon's repository in Cumorah explained in Letter VII

I posted must-see comments on Mormon's repository here:

http://www.lettervii.com/2017/07/mormons-repository-in-cumorah-explained.html

Columbus reconsidered

The Columbus narrative articulated by FairMormon and others claims Nephi was referring to Columbus when he wrote what is now 1 Nephi 13. I think there are other possibilities, as I've discussed before, but here's another thing to consider.
__________________

In 1 Nephi 18, Nephi describes his voyage across the sea and his arrival in the "promised land."

22 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did guide the ship, that we sailed again towards the promised land.

23 And it came to pass that after we had sailed for the space of many days we did arrive at the promised land; and we went forth upon the land, and did pitch our tents; and we did call it the promised land.
__________________

Now, compare this to how he describes "Columbus" in 1 Nephi 13:

12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.

13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.

IOW, both Nephi and the "man among the Gentiles" sailed to "the promised land."

What if they went to the same region?
__________________

Here's a map showing Columbus' route of discovery. Nephi does not describe the "man among the Gentiles" making multiple voyages. He refers only to the first voyage that took him to "the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land." For that reason, I focus on the first voyage.

The green line in the map is Columbus first journey to the Americas. The pink line is his route home. The yellow line is the route of the Mulekites from Moroni's America. The orange line is Lehi's route from Moroni's America.


I think Lehi landed in Florida for all the reasons I've explained in Moroni's America. He may have sailed south of Cuba to get there because of ocean currents and wind, but it's interesting that Mulek, Lehi and Columbus converge on the same areas.

Of course, the first people Columbus encountered were from Florida (they had inhabited the Bahamas). So if you want to believe Columbus was the man identified by Nephi, then the first people he encountered were not from Mesoamerica or South America; they were from North America, not far from where Lehi originally landed (in Florida).

If you have Mesomania, you'll ignore Columbus' first voyage, the only one Nephi described, and instead focus on his later voyages where he sailed along the coast of Honduras. Then you'll say Honduras is "close enough" to Guatemala and southern Mexico.

You'll also claim that although Lehi landed on the west coast of Central America (or Chile, or Baja, or Panama), and Columbus sailed by the east coast, they both went to the same promised land.

For me, Nephi's description makes far more sense if Lehi, Mulek, and Columbus converged on the same basic place in the Caribbean. I even think Nephi's vision of "Columbus," which he had before they left the old world, helped him recognize the promised land once he arrived there.

But that's just me.

:)

Monday, July 17, 2017

The official position of the Church - part 3 (FairMormon and Letter VII)

I have to preface this by clarifying that I don't like being the bearer of bad news. I think there's a serious need for a website such as FairMormon that would be truly honest and open (and neutral about Book of Mormon geography). But as I'll show here, FairMormon is anything but that.

It's unbelievable to me that a web site that has spent so much time and effort to explain Church-related issues would continue to promote the idea that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about something so basic as the New York Cumorah.

It's a shame, really, but it is what it is.

If you go to FairMormon and search for "Letter VII" you get 11 hits, none of which quote from Letter VII except for

1. the Messenger and Advocate page that reproduces the entire newspaper and

2. the passage and commentary in the section below, which is quoted in two of their web pages:
___________________

Oliver Cowdery (Jul 1835): "A history of the inhabitants who peopled this continent, previous to its being discovered to Europeans by Columbus"

Oliver Cowdery to W.W. Phelps in Messenger and Advocate
A history of the inhabitants who peopled this continent, previous to its being discovered to Europeans by Columbus, must be interesting to every man; and as it would develope the important fact, that the present race were descendants of Abraham....[1]
Note that "this continent" refers to both North and South America; Columbus never set foot in the present day United States; he was confined to the CaribbeanSouth America, and Central America.(Click here for maps of Columbus' voyages.)

Notes


  1. Jump up Oliver Cowdery to W. W. Phelps, "Letter VII," (July 1835) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1:155-159. off-site

https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Source:Oliver_Cowdery:Jul_1835:A_history_of_the_inhabitants_who_peopled_this_continent,_previous_to_its_being_discovered_to_Europeans_by_Columbus
____________________

This is fascinating for several reasons.

1. It shows that FairMormon can quote from Letter VII but chooses not to whenever Oliver and Joseph disagree with FairMormon's editorial Mesomania. On the very next page from this quotation about Columbus, Letter VII explains that it was a fact that between the Hill Cumorah and the ridge a mile to the west, "the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed." That passage and the rest of Letter VII FairMormon does not want anyone to see because it repudiates their "two-Cumorahs" and Mesoamerican theories.

2. On the merits, FairMormon uses ellipses to take this excerpt out of context. In Letter VII, this Columbus sentence is part of a series of paragraphs that describe the temptations Joseph felt when he was walking to the hill Cumorah for the first time. The paragraph continues that these ideas running through Joseph's mind "seemed to inspire further thoughts of gain and income from such a valuable history. Surely, thought he, every man will seize with eagerness, this knowledge, and this incalculable income will be mine." These were Joseph's thoughts before he even saw the plates for the first time. However, FairMormon quotes it here as authority for the idea that Oliver was teaching what the Book of Mormon taught.

3. Further on the merits, notice what Oliver says Moroni actually taught Joseph: "He then proceeded and gave a general account of the promises  made to the fathers, and also gave a history of the aborigines of this country, and said they were literal descendants of Abraham." This was in Letter IV, a passage FairMormon never quotes. Oliver uses the term "country" consistently throughout these letters to mean (i) the United States or (ii) a smaller local area or region. E.g., he wrote that the Priesthood "has been held in reserve to the  present century, as a matter of right, in this free country." Referring to Cumorah, Oliver writes, "Why I say large, is, because it is as  large perhaps, as any in that country... The soil  is of the first quality for the country." We have Oliver referring to both a region and a nation as a "country," but neither of these mean an entire continent, let alone a hemisphere. Twice Oliver refers to continent (Savior's ministry and the twelve) but of course an event occurring on a small parcel of land takes place in a country (region), a nation (U.S.) and a continent, all at once. It's the difference between specific and general. When you specify the "country" you're not specifying the continent, but when you specify the continent, you necessarily include all the countries and regions located on that continent.

IOW, Moroni told Joseph that the record gave a history of the "aborigines of this country," meaning those who lived in the immediate area around Palmyra or in the "free country" of the United States, but when he was heading for the hill for the first time, Joseph was thinking how he could obtain "incalculable income" from a history of the "inhabitants who peopled this continent."

4. As long as FairMormon considers Oliver as an authority about the contents of the Book of Mormon, note that Oliver continues in Letter IV with this: "He said this history was written and deposited not  far from that place [i.e., Joseph's home]." Obviously, if the history was written near Joseph's home in New York, it wasn't written in Mesoamerica. FairMormon never quotes this sentence, either.

5. As for Columbus, when he "discovered" the "continent" on his first voyage, the first land he sighted was the island of San Salvador, now part of the Bahamas. He continued to Long Island, about 350 miles from the coast of Florida, before continuing to Cuba and Hispaniola. The Bahamas, which became a British colony like the 13 colonies that became the United States, fell to the Spanish during the Revolutionary war. In 1762, the British seized Cuba but traded it back to Spain in return for Florida.

Ironically, Florida is the most likely landing site of Lehi. Columbus came much closer to Florida (350 miles)  than to Central America (1,200+ to Guatemala or 1,400+ to Mexico). Neither Columbus nor Lehi ever visited Guatemala or Mexico. Not that this matters anyway--the Vikings "discovered" America long before Columbus, and the Lamanites living in New York at the time when Columbus "discovered the continent to the Europeans" were still inhabitants who peopled this continent.

Now, compare a real map of Columbus' route to the one FairMormon links to here: https://pool.fairmormon.org/images/8/80/Columbus1.PNG. FairMormon goes so far as to cut off the part of the map showing Columbus' first (and most northern) landing! You can't make this stuff up.

6. This out-of-context quotation, combined with the omission of much more specific and relevant quotations, shows that FairMormon's purported "neutral" position is a sham designed to mislead readers. Here's their statement: "Summary: The geographical setting of the Book of Mormon has been the subject of serious study and casual speculation since before the book was first published. The Church has been neutral when it comes to issues relating to Book of Mormon geography, as is FairMormon."
https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Topical_Guide/Book_of_Mormon/Geography

Except, as I've showed here, FairMormon is anything but neutral.
__________________

I'll leave it to readers to explore the other uses of Letter VII by FairMormon. My favorite is here:
https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Question:_Where_is_the_Hill_Cumorah%3F

I've gone through this one before. It's my favorite because of the out-of-context quotation from Letter VII discussed above, the omission of any of the relevant passages from Letter VII as mentioned above, and this line, which is an all-time classic:

"Despite this early "identification" of the Hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon with the hill in New York, readers who studied the text closely would later conclude that they could not be the same."

Can you believe that one?

"Readers who studied the text closely," meaning if you believe Cumorah is in New York, you haven't studied the text closely. I.e., Joseph and Oliver didn't study the text closely.

They just translated it. Oliver wrote most of the entire text by hand, twice. He and Joseph visited Mormon's repository in the New York hill. They communed with angels, handled the plates, etc.

But because they forgot to "study the text closely" the way our modern Mesomania LDS scholars and educators have, Joseph and Oliver misled the Church and all their contemporaries. If not for our modern Mesomania  LDS scholars and educators, we'd still be walking in the dark, thanks to Joseph and Oliver.

Or, as I believe, it's the other way around. Joseph and Oliver were specific, declarative, and unequivocal because they knew, from personal experience, that the repository was in the New York hill. Meanwhile, our Mesomania LDS scholars and educators are trying to confuse people and characterize Joseph and Oliver as ignorant speculators who misled the Church.

By now, readers of this blog also know all about the phony Mesomania "requirements" set up for Cumorah.

And this is how our Mesomania scholars present "the official position of the Church."

______________________

If anyone finds anything "neutral" about Book of Mormon geography on the FairMormon site, please send it to me ASAP. There's always a chance for an editorial change at FairMormon. A slim chance, but I'd like to know about it if and when it happens.

As always, I'm eager to correct any errors on this or any other posts the moment anyone brings them to my attention.





Sunday, July 16, 2017

the deleware Nation of Lamanites

Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter dated April 8, 1831, from Jackson County, Missouri, to the Saints in Kirtland. He described some of the events of the mission to the Lamanites.

I think everyone agrees that "early" members of the Church believed the American Indians in the U.S. and its territories were Lamanites. Here, Oliver refers to the Delaware Indians as the "deleware Nation of Lamanites."

That fits pretty well with what the Lord said in D&C 28, 30 and 32.
_______________

Here is a short history of the Delaware nation:

The historically Algonquian-speaking Delaware refer to themselves as Lenni Lenape. At contact, in the early 17th century, the tribe lived along the Delaware River, named for Lord de la Warr,[4] territory in lower present-day New York state and eastern New Jersey, and western Long Island
The Delaware nation was the first to sign a treaty with the new United States. They signed the treaty on the 17th September 1778. Despite the treaty, the Delaware were forced to cede their Eastern lands and moved first to Ohio, later Indiana(Plainfield), Missouri, Kansas, and Indian Territory. The ancestors of the Delaware Nation, following a different migration route, settled in Anadarko. Other Delaware bands moved north with the Iroquois after the American Revolutionary War to form two reserves in Ontario, Canada.[4]
Traditionally the Delaware were divided into the Munsee, Unami, and Unalachtigo, three social divisions determined by language and location... 

__________________

Among other things, Oliver wrote:

"I this day received heard from the deleware Nation of Lamanites by the man who is employed by government a smith for that Nation he believes the truth and says he tha[n]ks God he does believe and also says that he shall shortly be baptized which I pray God may be the case for truly my brethren he is a man he also says that we have put more into the lamenites during the short time we we were permited to be with them (which was but a few days[)] then all the devels in the infernal pit and and and all the men on earth can get out of them in four generations he tells me that, that evry Nation have now the name of Nephy who is the son of Nephi & handed down to this very generation, there is only a part of that Nation here now but the remainder are expected this spring the principle chief says he believes evry word of the Book & there are many <more> in the Nation who believe and we understand there are many among the Shawnees who also believe & we trust that when the Lord shall open the <our> way we shall have glorious times for truly my brethren my heart sorrows for them for they are cast out & dispised and know not the God in whom they should trust we have traveld about in this country considerable and proclaimed repentence and very <many> are very anxious serious & honest."

You can see the entire letter here:

http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/letter-from-oliver-cowdery-8-april-1831/1


Friday, July 14, 2017

The official position of the Church - part 2

FairMormon is a group that does a lot of good by answering questions and assembling references and resources. But their editorial position is full-fledged Mesomania, and they employ clever techniques to promote their two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories.

Which is why I can't recommend FairMormon to anyone who has questions.

They also tend to make authoritative statements on behalf of the Church while they omit inconvenient sources and use sophistry to mislead readers, at least in my opinion. I've told them about my concerns but they've completely ignored them.

Here's an example from their web page: "the Church has no official geography. No revelatory basis exists for any geographical scheme outside of the Book of Mormon text itself."

That's quite a statement to make about the D&C and Oliver's historical letters, many of which describe heavenly visitations but, according to FairMormon, are not "revelatory."

This FairMormon web page establishes the FairMormon/Mesomaniac position that an anonymous fax, plagiarized from an article in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, overturns the explicit statements of Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, all of their contemporaries, and other modern prophets and apostles who have spoken on the issue of one Cumorah in New York, including in General Conference.

See what you think after you go through this analysis.

I'm going to post their page below with my comments in red.
________________________________________

https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Question:_Did_the_First_Presidency_identify_the_New_York_%22Hill_Cumorah%22_as_the_site_of_the_Nephite_final_battles%3F

Question: Did the First Presidency identify the New York "Hill Cumorah" as the site of the Nephite final battles? Of course, the answer is unequivocally yes. Joseph was President of the Church and Oliver was Assistant President at the time they wrote and published Letter VII. But FairMormon won't tell you that. Instead, they focus on an obscure letter written in modern times, as you're about to see. 

The First Presidency's secretary apparently answered a question according to his own understanding - No revelatory basis exists for this position. Notice how FairMormon characterizes Letter VII as not "revelatory" without informing readers that the letter even exists, let alone that Joseph and Oliver wrote it, that Joseph made sure every member of the Church in his day had access to it, that all of his contemporaries accepted it, and that no Church leader has contradicted it since. 

The First Presidency's secretary apparently answered a question according to his own understanding, [consistent with Letter VII and multiple talks in General Conference] and then at the direction of the First Presidency later clarified/corrected his statement to indicate that while many Latter-day Saints have expressed opinions about the location of Cumorah (or other Book of Mormongeography issues), the Church has no official geography. No revelatory basis exists for any geographical scheme outside of the Book of Mormon text itself. [Emphasis mine. Remember this when we see what members of the First Presidency have actually said about Cumorah.] 

A letter from the Secretary to the First Presidency said that "that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon"

In 1990, F. Michael Watson (secretary to the First Presidency) sent a letter to a questioner which read as follows:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
Office of the First Presidency
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
October 16, 1990
Bishop Darrel L. Brooks
Moore Ward
Oklahoma City Oklahoma South Stake
1000 Windemere
Moore, OK 73160
Dear Bishop Brooks:
I have been asked to forward to you for acknowledgment and handling the enclosed copy of a letter to President Gordon B. Hinckley from Ronnie Sparks of your ward. Brother Sparks inquired about the location of the Hill Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, where the last battle between the Nephites and Lamanites took place.
The Church has long maintained, as attested to by references in the writings of General Authorities, [emphasis mine, because this includes Letter VII and the writings of all of Joseph's contemporaries and every modern prophet and apostle since who has formally addressed the question] that the Hill Cumorah in western New York state is the same as referenced in the Book of Mormon.
The Brethren appreciate your assistance in responding to this inquiry, and asked that you convey to Brother Sparks their commendation for his gospel study.
Sincerely yours,
(signed)
F. Michael Watson
Secretary to the First Presidency
[This letter is clear and factual. Among the General Authorities who have written and spoken about this are Oliver Cowdery (with the assistance and approval of Joseph Smith), all of their contemporaries, including Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and others, Joseph Fielding Smith, Anthony W. Ivins, Marion G. Romney, and Mark E. Peterson. At the same time, no modern prophet or apostle has ever said Cumorah is anywhere else.]

Letter from F. Michael Watson sent 16 October 1990.

Two statements [they're really one statement, as you'll see] made available within the next three years clarified the Church's opinion on the matter

It is apparent that Bro. Watson seems to have been speaking on his own understanding of the matter, and not as an official declaration of Church policy. [Because he referred to the writings of the Church leaders listed above, Bro. Watson was not speaking for himself. FairMormon takes the position that the statements of these prophets and apostles, including those made in General Conference, are not official Church policy because FairMormon believes on its own authority that Cumorah cannot be in New York. Why? Because FairMormon thinks Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church when they wrote and endorsed Letter VII.] 

Two statements made available within the next three years clarified the Church's opinion on the matter. The first was the publication of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Although not an official statement of Church policy, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elders Oaks and Maxwell, served as advisers during the production of the Encyclopedia. [Look at the logic here. Elder Watson referred to specific statements made by Joseph and Oliver, as well as others made in General Conference, including by members of the First Presidency. According to FairMormon, none of those constitute official statements. However, a self-serving article that made its way into the Encyclopedia of Mormonism is supposed to reflect the official position of the Church. (Although FairMormon also says it is "not an official statement of Church policy," their claim that there is no official position on Cumorah is based on this article.) I say the article is self-serving because it was written by David Palmer, who wrote the book In Search of Cumorah that certainly reflects one form of official position--the official position of the Mesomaniacs. Does anyone think Elders Oaks and Maxwell realized they were conferring official policy status onto Palmer's book by allowing this article to be published in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (assuming they even read it)?]   Thus, [this word carries a lot of weight here] we have the following statement published in 1992:
In 1928 the Church purchased the western New York hill and in 1935 erected a monument recognizing the visit of the angel Moroni (see Angel Moroni Statue). A visitors center was later built at the base of the hill. Each summer since 1937, the Church has staged the Cumorah Pageant at this site. Entitled America's Witness for Christ, it depicts important events from Book of Mormon history. This annual pageant has reinforced the common assumption that Moroni buried the plates of Mormon in the same hill where his father had buried the other plates,
[The rhetoric here is clever. First, as I've mentioned, the entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism was written by David Palmer, who cites his own book as authority (FairMormon omits the citation at the end of the article, of course, possibly because they're starting to realize how ridiculous the citation cartel is, and this entry on Cumorah is one of the most blatant examples of that.) Nowhere in Palmer's article does he even mention Letter VII, despite it's being the most explicit and unambiguous statement about Cumorah in Church history. (In his book, he alludes to Letter VII IN A FOOTNOTE, without quoting it, and citing only the Messenger and Advocate as if Letter VII was an obscure oddity. He doesn't tell readers that Joseph helped write the letter and explicitly endorsed it at least three times.) Instead, in his article Palmer writes that the pageant has "reinforced the common assumption that Moroni buried the plates in the same hill where his father had buried the other plates." Palmer, FairMormon, and all the Mesomaniacs want people to believe that Letter VII, which declared the New York Cumorah to be a fact, written by the Assistant President of the Church with the full approval of Joseph Smith, is nothing more that an expression of a "common assumption" that was wrong. This is how these Mesomaniacs are teaching that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about Cumorah being in New York.]
thus equating this New York hill with the Book of Mormon Cumorah. Because the New York site does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Book of Mormon geography, 
[This statement is based on Palmer's imaginary list of requirements, set forth in his book and designed to fit Mesoamerica, that include the necessity for volcanoes that never even appear in the Book of Mormon. His requirements also include this: "the hill must be large enough to provide a view of hundreds of thousands of bodies." This is the same claim made by anti-Mormon critics, of course. But the text--and Letter VII itself--explain there were only "thousands" of Jaredites and "tens of thousands" of Nephites/Lamanites killed at Cumorah. Not "hundreds of thousands" (or millions). 

FairMormon wants you to believe that the Brethren take the official position that the Hill Cumorah in New York (labeled as "the New York site") cannot possibly be what Joseph and Oliver said it was. It's yet another way of telling the world that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church. And yet, when you go through the actual text and compare it to the archaeology, anthropology, geology and geography, the New York Cumorah fits nicely.]
some Latter-day Saints have looked for other possible explanations and locations, including Mesoamerica. [Notice how only one alternative is even mentioned, and no surprise, it's Mesoamerica. This is how the Mesomaniacs have managed to infiltrate the Church, by suppressing information (Letter VII) and censoring any alternatives to their own theories.] Although some have identified possible sites that may seem to fit better (Palmer), [there's his self-serving citation to himself that FairMormon wants you to believe Elders Oaks and Maxwell specifically approved] there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site that has been suggested.
—David A. Palmer, "Cumorah" in Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism.

The Secretary to the First Presidency later clarified his earlier statement: "there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site"

On April 23, 1993, F. Michael Watson arranged for a clarification letter after a discussion with a FARMS staffer. The text is similar and consistent with [a nice euphemism; It was actually plagiarized from the article by just reordering some sentences] what was published in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism the previous year:
The Church emphasizes the doctrinal and historical value of the Book of Mormon, not its geography. While some Latter-day Saints have looked for possible locations and explanations [for Book of Mormon geography] because the New York Hill Cumorah does not readily fit the Book of Mormon description of Cumorah, there are no conclusive connections between the Book of Mormon text and any specific site.[1]
Since the text of this letter was published in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, some critics have charged the FARMS authors with either manipulating the Church into sending the letter, or forging the letter text altogether. [Notice they never provide a copy of this letter. Maybe one exists. If so, plenty of people would like to see it. It's exceptionally strange that the author of an article would claim to quote a letter that he does not possess and cannot explain who does possess it. Meanwhile, the actual letter from Elder Watson that started all of this does exist, as they show in this web page.]
Matt Roper of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship located a faxed copy of the same [how do we know it's the "same" if we don't have the original letter? Remember, this fax is plagiarized from Palmer's EOM article] statement sent from the Office of the First Presidency, along with its cover page, and sent FAIR a copy with permission to post it. The 1993 fax was sent by Senior Executive Secretary for the Office of the First Presidency, Carla Ogden, to Brent Hall of FARMS. (Sister Ogden continues to serve in this position as of 2009). The text of the fax matches exactly the text reported to have been in the response by Watson as described in the FARMS Review. The cover letter reads as follows:
I thought you would be interested in this FAX from Michael Watson, secretary to the First Presidency. [Except Elder Watson's name appears nowhere on the fax.] We have been receiving a number of questions from the Oklahoma, Texas area where anti-Mormons [This is exactly the problem. Anti-Mormons frequently point out that our own LDS scholars claim Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church. That is why it is critical that this issue be resolved, and I think it should be resolved by reaffirming what Joseph and Oliver said from the beginning.] are using a letter from Brother Watson to a Bishop where Brother Watson said that the Church supports only one location for Cumorah, and that is the New York location. [I've looked but have been unable to find a single instance of a Church leader repudiating Letter VII. Instead, I've only found multiple confirmations of what Joseph and Oliver said.] I talked with him on the phone the other day and told him of the questions that were coming to us. He responded that the First Presidency would like to clear up that Issue and he would FAX me with that clarification. [Maybe this is an accurate statement of what happened, but people often hear what they want to hear.]

Thanks 

[signed] Brent [Hall]
[The fax says nothing about Elder Watson. At any rate, it is nothing more than a plagiarized excerpt from the Palmer article in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. FairMormon wants us to believe that this essentially anonymous, plagiarized fax constitutes official Church policy that overrules every statement by the modern prophets and apostles, starting with Joseph and Oliver, including those made in General Conference by members of the First Presidency. If you want to believe this is how the Church reveals official policy, feel free to do so. I'm, shall we say, skeptical.] 

Fax from the Office of the First Presidency to FARMS dated April 23, 1993.
(Phone and numbers have been redacted from these scans; they are otherwise unaltered. The top of the First Presidency's fax had "Apr 23 '93 12:25 PM FIRST PRESIDENCY SLC P.1" in fainter letters applied by the receiving fax, which does not appear on the scan.)

Notes

  1. Jump up Correspondence from Michael Watson, Office of the First Presidency, 23 April 1993. Cited with commentary in William J. Hamblin, "Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/1 (1993): 161–197. wiki off-site GL direct link

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Ignorant of the relevant literature."

Since I turned off comments on most of the blogs, I miss the pundits, but it's too much hassle to deal with all the spam. People send email instead, to which I respond when I have time.

Recently I heard a new complaint. Some Mesoamerican supporter claims that I'm "ignorant of the relevant literature."

I wonder how widespread that belief is. Obviously, it's a form of cognitive dissonance; i.e., the person believes that I must not be familiar with the "relevant literature" because I don't agree with his/her views on the topic. IOW, I would be convinced by the "relevant literature" because he/she is convinced by it.

That's a classic logical fallacy, but it's not uncommon. It's similar to the way missionaries can't understand how anyone could read the Book of Mormon and not be convinced. Or how my Muslim friends can't understand how people can read the Koran and not become Muslim. Or how Democrats can't understand Republicans and vice versa.

These differences are not due solely to ignorance of what the other side deems "relevant literature," although certainly, that may be an important cause for disagreement.

But it's not the issue with respect to Book of Mormon geography.

Anyone who thinks I'm "ignorant of the relevant literature" should let me know, specifically, what he/she thinks I have not read.
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The first question is, what is "relevant?" 

I have been frankly astonished in the last two years at how ignorant Mesoamerican proponents are of a simple document in Church history: Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII. Joseph Smith helped write it, had it copied into his personal history, and had it republished so every member of the Church in his day could read and understand it. Letter VII unequivocally declares, specifically as a fact, that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the mile-wide valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York and that Mormon's records repository was located there.

Letter VII is the most clear and authoritative statement we have about Book of Mormon geography. It was accepted by all of Joseph's contemporaries and its teachings have been repeated multiple times in General Conference, including by members of the First Presidency.

Yet today, if you ask a Mesoamerican supporter about Letter VII, you'll get a blank stare. Actually, you'll get a blank stare if you ask most Church members, but the Mesoamerican supporters hold themselves out to be better informed and more sophisticated, so their ignorance of Letter VII is inexcusable.

Except, it's not really inexcusable from the Mesomania perspective.

It's intentional.

For a Mesoamerican supporter, Letter VII is not relevant. That's why you'll never find it in their literature.

Why?

Because it obliterates both the "two-Cumorahs" and the "limited geography Mesoamerican" theories.

Mesomania scholars and educators say Letter VII is not relevant because Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church by adopting a false tradition that Cumorah (the Cumorah of Mormon 6:6) was in New York.

Just like that, they explain it away.

Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Actually, the Mesomania scholars and educators are doing everything possible to cast doubt on Letter VII. I've addressed seven of their arguments on another blog, here: http://www.lettervii.com/2017/01/why-some-people-reject-letter-vii.html

I invite anyone interested in the topic to read Letter VII in its historical context, along with the corroborating statements by every prophet and apostle who has commented on Cumorah, and then decide whether you want to accept the New York Cumorah or accept the Mesomania dogma that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.
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Some people don't believe that LDS scholars and educators have suppressed Letter VII. I'd be very interested in any publication or presentation by a Mesoamerican proponent that quotes from Letter VII and analyzes it any differently from the standard claim that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.

There is really no alternative for the Mesoamerican proponents. That's why I adapted a Dilbert cartoon that summarizes the psychology involved:

Mesomania scholars and educators encounter Letter VII
One good example is the seminal book, In Search of Cumorah by David A. Palmer, which is frequently cited by the citation cartel. Even though his book purports to be about Cumorah, he doesn't even mention Letter VII by name, let alone quote it for readers (although he does put it in a footnote as part of his claim that Oliver Cowdery first labeled the hill as Cumorah in 1835). Palmer also wrote the "Cumorah" entry in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, which, of course, also censors Letter VII. It was this article that was plagiarized for an alleged fax from the "office of the First Presidency" that is often cited by Mesoamerican proponents.

Think about this for a moment. Because of Mesomania, the article on "Cumorah" in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism does not even mention that Oliver Cowdery, while Assistant President of the Church, stated it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in the valley west of the Hill Cumorah in New York, and that Mormon's repository (Mormon 6:6) was in that same hill. The article doesn't mention that Oliver himself had visited that repository multiple times, according to Brigham Young and others. This is raw censorship, made worse by the promotion instead of the author's own theories and his own book.

Although Letter VII was republished in the Messenger and Advocate, the Gospel Reflector, the Times and Seasons, the Millennial Star, and the Improvement Era, it has never been published in the Ensign. Instead, the Ensign has published plenty of Mesoamerican-promoting articles, demonstrating the editorial posture of that magazine.

If not for the Joseph Smith Papers, which had to publish Letter VII only because Joseph had it copied into his personal history, Letter VII would not be available to most members of the Church today. Even then, it's fairly obscure unless you know what you're looking for.

Think of this. Most members of the Church might think reading the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, the Ensign, and the Church manuals would give them a solid background in Church history. But Letter VII has been completely censored from these publications.

It can't be overemphasized that Joseph thought this was important enough to have it republished multiple times so everyone would be familiar with it.

Now, no one knows about it.

Outside of the LDS scholars and educators who know about Letter VII but suppress it, the only Church members who know about Letter VII are those who have read my blogs or my little book or some of the other materials by supporters of the North American geography.

Another good example of censorship is Mark Allen Wright's otherwise excellent article, published in the Interpreter and elsewhere, titled "Heartland as Hinterland: The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of Mormon Geography." He writes, "The best available evidence for the Book of Mormon continues to support a limited Mesoamerican model.... I introduce the Hinterland Hypothesis and argue that it can harmonize the Mesoamerican evidence for the Book of Mormon with Joseph Smith’s statements concerning Nephite and Lamanite material culture in North America." He discusses Zelph and the plains of the Nephites, and while I think his approach is ineffective for several reasons, at least he addresses these issues.

Of course, he never once mentions Letter VII.
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From the Mesoamerican perspective, Letter VII and other material that support the North American setting for the Book of Mormon are ignored because they are deemed "not relevant." That's why Book of Mormon Central, which raised a lot of money on the initial premise that they would be a central repository for all Book of Mormon related research, instead refuses to include anything that does not promote their Mesoamerican ideology.

Actually, they have to do this; their corporate owner, BMAF, has the primary goal "to increase understanding of the Book of Mormon as an ancient Mesoamerican codex."  Obviously, Letter VII would undermine that corporate goal.

To its credit, Book of Mormon Central did upload an early first edition of my little book on Letter VII, which I gave them royalty-free to distribute. But then they uploaded attack articles without giving me a chance to respond, which is exactly how the entire citation cartel has operated for years.

When a Mesoamerican supporter claims I am "ignorant of the relevant literature," the term "relevant" always refers to "the literature that supports the Mesoamerican theory."

Anything that contradicts their theories is not considered relevant.

The Mesomania approach would be laughable if only this ideology hadn't become the "consensus" among LDS scholars and educators.
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The second question is, what "relevant literature" have I read?

In my college classes, I tell students not to plagiarize because I've read the entire Internet and I will recognize anything they copy. It's a joke, of course, but in the context of Book of Mormon geography, I've been reading, studying, listening and attending for decades.

I was raised with the Arnold Friberg paintings, the old CES materials about Ancient America that focused on Central and South America, etc. I still have my old Book of Mormon (pre-1981) that contains not just the photos of the real Cumorah in New York, but photos of artifacts and locations in Central and South America. We used to watch Ancient America Speaks, which you can see on youtube now in English and Spanish.

At BYU, I took a class from Ray Matheny, who appears in the film, as well as John Sorenson and others. Everyone I knew accepted the Mesoamerican theory, especially after the Ensign published Sorenson's articles in 1984.

Until FARMS was dissolved, I used to read all the FARMS newsletters and publications. I have most if not all of the issues of BYU Studies for the last couple of decades, and I subscribe to the digital version. I've read the Interpreter, Meridian Magazine, BMAF, FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, and many of the related blogs. That's how I came to realize it's all a big citation cartel; i.e., the same people quoting one another (and themselves) over and over.

I've read all of Sorenson's books and articles that I'm aware of. Same with the writings of other Mesomania supporters. Same with detractors, who have made some good points, such as the CES Letter and Earl Wunderli's An Imperfect Book that focus on what I consider the false tradition of Mesomania (as do most critics, including former, non- and anti-Mormon authors).

Early on, I commented on specific articles, but people got offended. I'm not trying to offend anyone. I just want people to consider all the evidence, not just the evidence that Mesomania scholars and educators deem "relevant." I made my points, so I haven't done these reviews for a while.

Not that there is a lack of material.

I've signed a "comity" agreement which provided that I not name specific individuals, and I don't want to implicate or offend anyone. (Sorenson didn't sign it, and anyway it's difficult to discuss the issue without mentioning him. And I acknowledged his positive influence in Moroni's America.)

A few of the books I used in writing The Lost City of Zarahemla

Let's just say that any book or article that promotes the Mesoamerican theory and has been cited by the citation cartel is probably in my library, physical or digital, but if not, I've read it on loan or online.

Let me repeat: If anyone can think of one they don't think I've read, let me know. Maybe I have overlooked one, and if so, I'd like to know about it.

I have Mesoamerican books that I've annotated quite extensively but have never published my comments because we're all trying to get along and I signed the comity agreement.

Besides, I don't think beating a dead horse tapir makes sense.
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I'll finish this post by recognizing the same logical fallacy that I addressed above; i.e., I don't expect everyone who reads Letter VII to be convinced that Cumorah is in New York.

Plenty of people have read Letter VII and still think Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church.

If that's your opinion, that's fine with me.

But don't assume you know everything just because you've been indoctrinated your entire life by Mesomania and then reached out to read a few passages from Letter VII, accompanied by all the anti-Letter VII material published by the citation cartel.

I think the vast majority of LDS people will accept Letter VII when they read it, especially when they read it in context. It's even more persuasive when we study the relevant archaeology, anthropology, geology, geography, etc.

And as always, I welcome your input.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The official position of the Church - Part 1

I've been curious about the claim that the Church has no official position on Book of Mormon geography.

It seems to me that the location of Cumorah in New York is as well established as just about anything else in Church history and in the statements of the prophets and apostles. So far as I've been able to determine, every modern prophet and apostle who has formally spoken or written on the issue has said Cumorah is in New York, and none of them have said it is not or is somewhere else.

It is only a few LDS scholars with disproportionate influence who insist Cumorah cannot be in New York.

Beyond Cumorah, of course, there have always been a variety of opinions about geography, ranging from as large as the entire hemisphere to as small as the borders of New York State. So beyond Cumorah, with what we know now, there could not be an official position.

This is exactly what was reflected in the 1879 official edition of the Book of Mormon, when Orson Pratt divided the text into the modern chapters and verses. He also included footnotes about Book of Mormon geography. He suggested locations for Zarahemla, the River Sidon, etc., but always with qualifiers such as "it is believed."

The footnote for Cumorah, however, declares unequivocally that the Hill Cumorah is in New York.

Just like Joseph and Oliver declared in Letter VII.

Then why, I wondered, do so many LDS scholars and educators insist there is no official position even about Cumorah?
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The first question is, how is an official position of the Church expressed?

Maybe the clearest statement of official positions is the Articles of Faith, which have been canonized. However, these are expressions of belief about doctrines, and the 8th article of faith itself leaves a lot of room for individual variation:

 11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

The location of Cumorah, like the location of Palmyra or Harmony, is not a statement of belief about doctrine. These are facts, and Letter VII declared the New York location of Cumorah as a fact.

Another interesting aspect of the Articles of Faith is that they were included in the Wentworth letter, published in the Times and Seasons on March 1, 1842. Joseph explained the purpose in the opening paragraph:

"March 1, 1842.—At the request of Mr. John Wentworth, editor and proprietor of the Chicago Democrat, I have written the following sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-day Saints, of which I have the honor, under God, of being the founder. Mr. Wentworth says that he wishes to furnish Mr. Bastow [Barstow], a friend of his, who is writing the history of New Hampshire, with this document. As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands is that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation."

Joseph considered the letter to be a complete statement as it was. The extraction of the articles of faith is useful because of how they were framed, but because Joseph specified that the letter be published "entire," we can wonder whether the articles of faith are any more or less inspired than the rest of the letter.

IOW, if the articles of faith are now the "official position of the Church" on the covered topics, would not the rest of the Wentworth letter also be the official position of the Church on the covered topics? If not, why not?

I raise this because of the well known suppression of an important part of the Wentworth letter in Chapter 38 of the manual, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith.

If you want to read the entire letter, you can see it in the Times and Seasons link above, or on lds.org at this link: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2002/07/the-wentworth-letter?lang=eng

But you can't read the entire letter in the lesson manual because the following passage was omitted:

Lesson manual (note the ellipses):

“Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.… This book … tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His resurrection;"

Original letter (with the omitted portions in red): 

"Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God.

"In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country. This book also tells us that our Savior made His appearance upon this continent after His Resurrection;"
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It turns out, Joseph didn't need to worry about Mr. Barstow declining to "publish the account entire." Instead, he needed to worry about the Curriculum Committee.

It's bad enough that they deleted the important passage in red, but they even deleted the "also" so readers would have no idea that the Book told us something else important.

I've asked around but haven't been able to discover why the Curriculum Committee deleted this passage. I'm left to wonder why. Here are some possibilities, and if anyone who reads this knows the real reason, let me know and I'll edit this post to explain it.

For which of the following reasons did the Curriculum Committee delete the passage?

1. Because it is no longer considered an "official position" the way Joseph Smith himself considered it.

2. Because it contradicts the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theory.*

3. Because it contradicts what modern anthropological and evolutionary science tells us about the history of humanity.

4. Because the Committee doesn't want members to know about these issues, let alone discuss them.

In my opinion, #2 is the most likely reason. (I hope #1 is not the case.) #3 and #4 are both plausible, of course, but that's digressing.**

The two-Cumorahs and Mesoamerican theories (Mesomania) are so widely held that many people take them for granted, unexamined and unchallenged. The last thing the Mesomania advocates want is for members of the Church to read that Joseph Smith said "The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country" and for that to be considered the official position of the Church. [D&C 28, 30, and 32 say the same thing, which is a little more difficult for Mesomania advocates to avoid, so they just don't mention those sections. See the display of the Mission to the Indians at the Church History Museum as an example. That's the famous exhibit that explains "Early members of the Church believed the American Indians were Lamanites," instead of explaining that the Lord identified the tribes in New York and Ohio as Lamanites, and that there are still at least some members today who believe what the D&C says.]

Mesomania is also why you'll never read Letter VII in anything approved by the Curriculum Committee. The Joseph Smith papers had to publish Letter VII because Joseph had his scribe copy it into his personal journal, but even when they cite it, they refer to "a hill in New York" instead of "Cumorah," which Letter VII unequivocally identifies as the hill in New York where three important things happened: (i) the final battles of the Jaredites and the Nephites; (ii) the site of Mormon's record repository; and (iii) the site of Moroni's stone box from which Joseph obtained the Harmony plates.
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We're left wondering what is an "official position" at this point. If one part of the Wentworth letter is official (i.e., the Articles of Faith), but the rest is not, why would Joseph insist the account be published "entire" when he wrote it?
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A related example is Letter VII itself.

Not only was it written by the Assistant President of the Church, Oliver Cowdery, with the assistance of Joseph Smith.

Not only did Oliver receive the Priesthood and the keys of the gathering together with Joseph Smith.

Not only was Oliver commanded to select things to publish "as it shall be proved by the Spirit through him." (D&C 57)

But Joseph Smith specifically endorsed all 8 letters, including Letter VII, on at least three occasions after they were first published in the Messenger and Advocate. He did not do this for any written material besides these letters and the formal revelations.

Part of Letter I was included in the Pearl of Great Price, but the others were never formally canonized, possibly because of their length, but also possibly because Oliver had left the Church (although that didn't stop Joseph from endorsing the letters and making sure they would be reprinted so all members of the Church would have them).

It takes a lot of audacity to claim, as the Mesoamerican advocates do, that Letter VII is not an official position of the Church--especially when they're constantly citing anonymous articles from the Times and Seasons that were never again cited or reprinted and were never once endorsed by Joseph Smith.***

Even better is the claim that an anonymous, plagiarized (and I think bogus) "fax from the Office of the First Presidency" constitutes an official Church position that overrules Letter VII and every modern prophet and apostle who has declared that Cumorah is in New York.

That's the topic of part 2, where I look at what some people say is an "official position" about Book of Mormon geography.
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* As you can imagine, Mesomania advocates have managed to contort Joseph's plain language into a Mesoamerican setting. Joseph was living in Nauvoo, Illinois. He wrote to Mr. Wentworth, an editor living in Chicago, Illinois. The cities were about 250 miles apart. They shared the same state, the same "country" (in the sense of a nation, the United States), and the same "country" in the generic sense of an expanse of land. But you'll find Mesomaniacs using sophistry to claim Joseph really meant the entire Western Hemisphere and just mis-wrote this one word in the entire letter.

** BYU has become one of the more strident institutions promoting Darwinian evolution; I'm told students can get extra credit for working on evolution, while they are discouraged from even mentioning intelligent design or creation science. If I'm wrong about that, I'd like to have someone tell me of any science professor at BYU who even allows a discussion of intelligent design or creationism in class, or approves research on that topic. People who believe the Bible and Book of Mormon are literal are in a quandary because the only universities that allow the study of creation science or intelligent design are Christian, and they don't accept the Book of Mormon (yet). I prefer the approach of multiple working hypotheses with regard to science (as well as Book of Mormon geography). Why not teach both evolution and intelligent design and let the respective theories fend for themselves? Evolution itself relies on faith because no one has shown the mechanism for nonlife becoming life, which requires the simultaneous evolution of independent but necessary complex systems. Evolutionary biologists use a mathematical construct that multiplies the infinitesimal possibility of such simultaneous complex random combinations times the infinity of alternative universes, a topic I address elsewhere. The point here being that academics can "prove" anything they want, when they want it badly enough.

***I know, the Mesomaniacs argue that because the boilerplate at the end of the relevant 1842 issues of the Times and Seasons claimed it was "edited, printed and published by Joseph Smith," Joseph must have approved of these anonymous articles. But no one believes Joseph actually printed the newspaper, so why insist he actually edited it? I've shown he did no editing, printing, or publishing in my 3-volume series on the 1842 Times and Seasons.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Why missionary work is stalling

People often ask me why missionary work is stalling. It is well known that last year, 2016, saw the slowest growth of the Church since the 1930s .This is a complicated issue that I can't spend much time on here, but there is an important element that most people are not considering, and it has to do with Letter VII, ultimately.

Here's the graphic. I'll explain it below.

Converts per 1,000 members. Graph by David Allan.

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Most people know that much of the growth of the Church now is in Africa; in fact, nearly 10% of convert baptisms in the Church in 2015 were in the Africa West Area alone (24,409 converts out of 261,862 total throughout the Church).

I think the numbers are higher than 10% because so many "convert" baptisms in the U.S. are children baptized when they are older than 8, as well as part-member families, which legitimately count, but are not "converts" in the sense that we usually think; i.e., people coming from another religious tradition.

The Africa West Area consists of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria, where total Church membership is only around 270,000. This means the Africa West Area had a conversion rate of about 90 converts per 1,000 members.

Overall in the Church, the conversion rate is about 16 per 1,000 members. (261,862/15,900,000)

Other areas in Africa have comparable conversion rates to the Africa West Area. In 2016, 100 stakes were created. 40 were in the U.S., 21 in Africa, 7 in Central America, and 11 in South America. 16 of the 30 new districts were also in Africa. These statistics show that because Africa has relatively few members, the conversion rate per 1,000 members is far higher than elsewhere in the world, looking at regions or areas.

In 2017, 33 new stakes have been created, with a projection of 20 more to be created. 26 are in Africa, 8 are in Central America, 4 in the Philippines, 11 in the U.S., 2 in South America, 1 in Canada, which reflects relative growth in those areas.

This means the conversion rate outside of Africa is well below 16/1,000.

Here's a graphic depicting the trends. Note that converts in Africa didn't increase significantly until around the year 2000. The graphic would depict a much steeper decline if not for Africa.

Chart prepared by David Allan
It would be interesting to see this chart on a regional or Area basis, but that information is not publicly available. No doubt, there is considerable variation among the various Areas. You can read about trends and statistics here: http://cumorah.com/

The statistics on converts per missionary reflect similar trends.
# conversions per missionary from https://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php/2016/04/converts-per-missionary/

Back in 2013, some people thought that the large increase in the number of missionaries from the age change would correspond to much higher baptism numbers, but that didn't materialize.

"If we have double the missionaries out, and a stake president said that at a recent priesthood conference in Utah County they told them that by around July there will be 90,000+ missionaries out there. We could be easily looking at 500,000 or so converts by next year, I think it could come close to 400,000 for this year since the initial part of 'the surge' is really only now beginning to start going out to their in-field areas."

By and large, people haven't noticed this decline in baptisms per missionary and baptisms per 1,000 members because the number of total baptisms hasn't changed all that much.


# convert baptisms from https://www.timesandseasons.org/index.php/2016/04/converts-per-missionary/

We can think of as many explanations for these trends as we want, and every ward, stake and Area has unique circumstances, but I'd like to point to an interesting development. Of course, correlation is not causation, but in this case, I think there are significant elements of causation.
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With the background above, look at the chart again. Based on the statistics on creation of new stakes and districts, the recent downward trend would be much steeper if we excluded Africa. Why is that important? One reason could be that it is educated people in the Western Hemisphere who are most influenced by the factors I put on the chart.


I'm not saying, suggesting, or implying that "the" cause of the increase in baptisms/1000 in the late 1970s was President Romney's 1975 conference talk about Cumorah, but I do think that generally, when we focus on what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery actually taught about the Book of Mormon (i.e., Letter VII, even if it isn't actually quoted), people respond to the Spirit. A similar thing happened after Elder Peterson spoke about the New York Cumorah in General Conference in 1978, and when President Benson gave a series of General Conference talks about the Book of Mormon, the Constitution, etc., especially his 1986 talk about the Book of Mormon as the keystone of our religion, his 1987 talk about the U.S. Constitution, and his 1988 talk about Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon. 

On the other hand, when there were significant developments in the promotion of the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories, there were sharp declines in baptisms per thousand members.

This could all be a coincidence, of course. 

You decide.

As near as I can tell, the last time the New York Cumorah was mentioned in General Conference was in 1978. It would be interesting to see what would happen if this was discussed anew in General Conference. 

What if someone--anyone--actually quoted Letter VII from Joseph Smith's personal history?
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I'll focus on the 1981 change in the illustrations in the Book of Mormon as an example because I don't have time to go through each of the incidents on the chart. 

As I've explained before here, https://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2017/05/expectations-and-art-missionary-work.html, far more people view the illustrations in the missionary and foreign language editions of the Book of Mormon than read the actual text. 

In 1981, when the New York Cumorah images were removed from the official editions and replaced with the depiction of Christ visiting the Nephites in Chichen Itza, along with Moroni burying the plates at "a hill in New York" (because the "real" Cumorah was in Mexico), anyone reading the text together with Church history became confused, just as President Joseph Fielding Smith warned.

Imagine an investigator, youth, or missionary looking at the Friberg and John Scott paintings and then reading the text to learn about Mayans, massive stone pyramids, jungles, etc. 

The text doesn't fulfill the promises made by this artwork.

Readers are disappointed. 

They search the Internet for answers and read either anti-Mormon or LDS scholarly articles, both of which teach that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the Hill Cumorah being in New York.

Or, they visit Temple Square and learn the same thing in the North Visitors Center, as I've explained here: https://bookofmormonwars.blogspot.com/2016/12/yes-they-do-teach-two-cumorahs-theory.html
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Usually, when people discuss trends in missionary work, they focus on such things as "the Internet," "materialism," "general wickedness," changes in missionary ages, the "centers of strength" policy, missionary preparation, etc. etc. No doubt all of these play some role.

But if the Book of Mormon was designed to tell the remnant who they are and to convince "Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ," what do we expect when we confuse investigators, youth, and the missionaries themselves about what Joseph and Oliver plainly taught in Letter VII? 

As long as our LDS scholars, educators, and media people are trying to persuade everyone that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the New York Cumorah, I think the downward trend will continue.

But that's merely my opinion.

I'm sure the Mesomania cognitive dissonance will prevent these same LDS scholars, educators, and media people from even trying to understand my point, let alone accept it.

But there are plenty of other people who aren't suffering from Mesomania who will know what I'm talking about and will offer even more insights as we continue to discuss this.
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BTW, except at BYU, there's no policy that prohibits anyone from quoting Letter VII or any of the modern prophets and apostles who have quoted it or taught what Joseph and Oliver taught in Letter VII. You can quote it from the Improvement Era, the Millennial Star, the Times and Seasons, the Gospel Reflector, and the Messenger and Advocate.

You just won't find it in the Ensign.

Yet.
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In the future, when people ask me about what's happening with missionary work, I'll refer them to this post. You can do the same when people ask you those questions.