A few months ago, the Church updated its official statement on Book of Mormon geography. At the time, I wrote a blog post setting out what I believe are the very obvious implications of the statement, and expressed a hope that people everywhere could cordially engage in conversations about Book of Mormon geography.
Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), this has not happened. A friend of mine recently shared with me the following screenshot of a comment by the FIRM Foundation’s Facebook page:
The inherent problems and contradictions within this comment should be obvious, but I am going to lay them out anyway just so we are clear:
“We don’t condemn the apostate Mesoamerican model”
There is no other intelligible way to interpret the label “apostate” in this sentence but as a pejorative, condemning the Mesoamerican model as something out of harmony with the teachings of the Church and unacceptable for a good, believing member of the Church to believe. Thus, to say you do not condemn the Mesoamerican model while simultaneously declaring it apostate is a contradiction.
“We don’t believe any of you are apostates, just good Latter-day Saints who are wrong.”
Except they literally just called the geographic model these good Latter-day Saints believe and promote “apostate.” And while you could split hairs and say that calling the model apostate is not the same thing as calling the people who believe it apostate, let’s be honest about the implications here: what is a person promoting apostate views and beliefs, if not themselves an apostate?
They want to have their cake and eat it too, but it just does not work: if the Mesoamerican model is apostate, then its promoters are themselves in apostasy. There is no getting around that. So again, calling the model apostate while denying that you believe the people promoting it are apostate is a contradiction.
Is the Mesoamerican Model “Apostate”?
Moving beyond the internal contradictions of this comment, however, I want to tackle the deeper problem this rhetoric represents, and that is simply this: it is inconsistent with the Church’s official statement, and the specific request made by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
It should go without saying that to call something “apostate” is to assert that it is out of harmony with the official position of the Church. (Unless the FIRM Foundation believes that the Church is in apostasy, but if that is the case, there is a deeper issue within the Heartland movement.) The official position of the Church is “that the events the Book of Mormon describes took place in the ancient Americas.” As I pointed out in my previous post, both the Mesoamerican model and the Heartland model are equally in alignment with this official position. Neither one can rightly be called “apostate.”
Furthermore, I think it is fair to say that calling an opposing point of view “apostate” represents the promotion your own theory in manner that implies—or, arguably, outright claims—either prophetic or Church condemnation of those with whom you disagree. As such, while it may not explicitly violate the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles’ request that we not advocate for theories in “a manner that would imply either prophetic or Church support,” I think it is clearly not in harmony with the spirit of that request, and their plea that, “All parties should strive to avoid contention on these matters.”
Institutionally Undermining the Church
The most disappointing part of this is that the comment is from the official FIRM Foundation Facebook page. This is not a random Heartland supporter, or even one of the prominent leaders of the movement speaking individually for themselves. This is the FIRM Foundation speaking institutionally from their official Facebook account.
The FIRM Foundation should be on the forefront of the promoting the Church’s official view and encouraging fellow Heartlanders to engage the topic of Book of Mormon geography with civility and respect—without pejorative accusations of apostasy. Instead, this comment represents an institutional unwillingness to take the Church’s official position on Book of Mormon geography seriously and undermines efforts to promote balanced, civil discourse on the topic.