The Fifth Mission

The Fifth Mission

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Book of Mormon and the Fifth Mission

People have asked me why I wrote so many books about Church history and the Book of Mormon.

For many years, it has been apparent to me that one of the biggest impediments to widespread acceptance of the Gospel is the problem with historicity of the Book of Mormon. I've discussed this with Muslims in the Middle-East, Hindus in India, and Christians in the United States and Europe. 

Because I believe the Book of Mormon is the tool the Lord prepared and provided for spreading the Gospel throughout the world, I think it is unacceptable for confusion to reign in the Church about the setting.

I think most people who read the Book of Mormon, or who think about reading it, want to know where the events took place. When you put yourself in the position of an investigator, it's easy to see why. You're expected to believe there was an ancient civilization in the Americas that taught Christianity before Christ was born in Israel, that Christ visited them after his resurrection, and that the literate civilization was wiped out with no trace but a volume of sacred scripture written on gold plates and concealed in a hill in New York.

That's not an easy thing to believe, but you're told the man who translated the record, Joseph Smith, was a prophet and the Book of Mormon is evidence of his prophetic calling.

But then you're expected to believe the people were actually a small group in the midst of the decidedly non-Christian Mayan civilization, that Joseph Smith, who translated the plates and interacted with ancient prophets, including Moroni, misled the Church about the setting of the Book of Mormon. You'r expected to believe that Oliver Cowdery, who wrote the Book of Mormon as Joseph dictated it and who was the only other witness to the restoration of the Priesthood, was reliable and credible in everything he wrote except when he said the Hill Cumorah was in New York.

That's a bridge too far for many--I think most--investigators. Certainly it doesn't come up in the first discussion, but it comes up on the Internet, and we can't expect investigators or members to remain oblivious of what is on the Internet. 

In my view, the Book of Mormon geography must be resolved before the world will accept it. And I don't think that geography can be resolved by casting doubt on the credibility and reliability of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.

Based on my historical research, I think it's clear that Joseph and Oliver translated two sets of plates; that the plates of Nephi came from the records repository in the Hill Cumorah in New York, described by Mormon (Mormon 6:6); that Mormon and Moroni wrote their abridgments "not far" from Joseph's home near Palmyra; that the Book of Mormon text describes North America, from Florida to Missouri to New York; and that Joseph Smith never once wrote, said, or endorsed any statement that linked the Book of Mormon to Central or South America.

Consequently, in my view, any proposed geography that puts Cumorah somewhere other than in New York is simply false. Perpetuating these theories does enormous damage to faith in the Book of Mormon and is an impediment that must be removed.

This is not to say it is improper or destructive for people everywhere to liken the Book of Mormon to themselves. Nephi likened Old Testament scriptures to his people (1 Nephi 19:23), even though they lived a continent away from the events to which he referred. But Nephi never claimed Moses lived in America, which people ought to keep in mind when doing these comparisons.

Yet we have LDS scholars and educators actively promoting and teaching the idea that Cumorah is not in New York. They are trying to persuade the youth of the Church, and members generally (as well as nonmembers), that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery misled the Church by stating it was a fact that the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites took place in New York. 

I hope these LDS scholars and educators cease their efforts and instead begin to work on establishing the veracity of what Joseph and Oliver said. If they refuse, they will continue impeding the accomplishment of the missions of the Church, but ultimately it won't matter because people are already seeing through their tactics.

The North American setting--what I call Moroni's America--supports Joseph and Oliver. It encourages people to read the Book of Mormon and find the spiritual messages and support the book offers. And it makes the Book of Mormon real in the lives of those who read it.

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