First, stop the arson

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I mentioned in a previous post that Church leaders are spending a lot of their time and energy putting out fires, but they aren’t figuring out who the arsonists are. In many cases, the arsonists don’t even realize they’re setting fires. Even when they do realize it, they think they’re setting prescribed fires to prevent worse conflagrations. Or maybe they’re just leaving their campfires unattended.

What I’m referring to in the context of Book of Mormon historicity and geography is the ongoing effort by LDS scholars and educators to persuade people that Joseph and Oliver were ignorant speculators who misled the Church about the Hill Cumorah being in New York. 

Short of outright calling Joseph and Oliver liars, what could be more destructive of faith than to characterize Joseph and Oliver this way?

And yet, that teaching is implicit in everything the Mesoamerican advocates are doing. Not just the Mesoamerican advocates, but the advocates of every non-New York Cumorah, including those who promote abstract maps, the Baja theory, the Panama theory, the South American theory, and all the rest.

The entire issue boils down to whether we are going to accept Joseph and Oliver as reliable and credible witnesses (the New York Cumorah) or whether we are going to reject them as ignorant speculators who misled the Church about this essential point.
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As I’ve examined the history of the debate between the various theories of Book of Mormon geography, it has become apparent to me that much of the disagreement is word thinking.

One topic that has consumed a lot of energy has been the discussion about what is the “promised land” and where the “promised land” is located. Proponents of the Heartland and Mesoamerican theories both think they are interpreting the terminology about the “promised land” correctly, and neither side can “see” what the other side is saying. 

I happen to agree with the Heartland interpretation, but I also understand the Meso position, having accepted it for decades. That semantic debate never gets resolved. Both sides interpret the various scriptural passages and statements from Church leaders in a way that confirms their respective biases. Such word thinking can never lead to a consensus. It’s like the never-ending debates between Mormons and Christians in which both sides use the same terms but with different meanings attached to the terms. These debates are inherently contentious and frustrating. They turn people off.

This word thinking is two-dimensional. It looks real, it seems meaningful, but it misses the main point. Debating the meaning of words is surface-level thinking. Additional examples are the debates over the interpretation of the “narrow neck of land,” whether a “narrow neck” is the same thing as a “narrow neck of land,” whether these are the same as a “small neck of land,” and so forth. Such debates cannot lead to consensus because they are merely exercises in bias confirmation.
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To get to the main point, we have to engage in 3D thinking. What is below the two-dimensional surface? What are the semantic debates all about? What are they obscuring? Why is word-thinking not only unable to put out the fires, but is unable to stop the arsonists?
The third dimension is the credibility and reliability of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery.
All these semantic arguments mask the underlying reality that what we think of Joseph and Oliver drives what we believe about the Restoration at a fundamental level.
Really, everything we LDS believe depends on the reliability and credibility of Joseph and Oliver. That’s why the Mesoanerican and two-Cumorahs theories are so insidious. That’s why Joseph Fielding Smith warned this theory of Cumorah in Mesoamerica (or anywhere but New York) would cause members of the Church to become confused and disturbed in their faith. 
Until LDS scholars and educators change course and accept what Joseph and Oliver taught about the real Hill Cumorah being in New York, the fires will never be extinguished. Every time an LDS youth or an investigator is taught that Cumorah is in Mesoamerica–or, worse, is on an abstract, fantasy-world map–another fire is set in the mind of that individual.
Some individuals keep the fire at bay, but it smolders. Sooner or later, at some level, people realize that the non-New York Cumorah theories contradict what Joseph and Oliver taught. As much as they may wish they could, LDS scholars and educators cannot suppress Letter VII forever. These small fires may or may not become a conflagration, but at the very least, they generate cognitive dissonance. Some people are more willing to live with cognitive dissonance than others. 
But with around 40% of returned missionaries becoming inactive or leaving the Church, it’s time to recognize that the fires we’re trying to put out are being set from the inside.
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In my view, the only way to extinguish the fires is to embrace what Joseph and Oliver taught. I hope our LDS scholars and educators will someday stop trying to persuade their students and readers that these two men are not trustworthy, but so far, they have been unwilling to stop. The citation cartel continues to promote the Mesoamerican and two-Cumorahs theories. If you’re unclear to whom I’m referring, go to FairMormon, Book of Mormon Central, the Interpreter, BYU Studies, Meridian Magazine, the Maxwell Institute, etc.
Fortunately, more and more members of the Church are catching on. They’re extinguishing fires as fast as they can. They’re rejecting the arsonists.
Now it’s just a question of whether they can extinguish the fires faster than the scholars and educators set them.

Source: Book of Mormon Concensus

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