At BYU Education Week Tuesday I saw this important quotation about Church history.
“If we are going to stay on the track the Lord put us on, we must know our history.” President Gordon B. Hinckley, 1978
Readers here know the track the Lord put us on with respect to the Hill Cumorah because David and Oliver made it as clear as words can be in Letter VII; i.e., there is one Cumorah (Mormon 6:6) and it is in New York.
But because some of our LDS scholars forgot our history, and the rest of us didn’t know our history well enough to call them on it, we went off the Cumorah-in-New-York track and slammed into the wall of Cumorah-is-in-Mexico.
That’s not the best metaphor here because the train hasn’t crashed. It’s still moving forward, just on a different track that won’t lead us to the destination Joseph and Oliver intended.
So how do we get back on track?
The first step is recognizing we’re off track. And that’s not easy, because our scholars and educators have persuaded us the track we’re on is good enough, and more importantly, it’s verified by scholarly research, which they think is much better than mere prophetic declarations, even when those declarations are based on personal experience the way Letter VII was.
I read something else about tracks recently.
Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, described corporate culture this way. “Many people use the analogy of a train to describe their companies. When things go wrong, we talk of getting “derailed” and of experiencing a “train wreck.” A number of people believe they have the ability to drive the train, thinking that this is a power position… The truth is… driving the train doesn’t set its course. The real job is laying the track.”
Joseph and Oliver laid the track when they clearly and emphatically and repeatedly taught that there was one Hill Cumorah and it was in New York.
But some of our LDS scholars decided that track was no good. They managed to lay another track, this one in Mesoamerica with a Mexican Cumorah, and then they managed to switch the train of the Church onto this new track. Many members and leaders didn’t know the train jumped the track, but the train wobbles a bit on this new track. It’s not leading to the destination of confusion, as Joseph Fielding Smith warned.
Getting back on the right track will require us to know our history, as President Hinckley taught.
That’s why I encourage every member of the Church to read Letter VII. Every BYU student should know about this important teaching about the New York Cumorah.
It might cause some temporary disruption as we make the jump, but it won’t cause a crash. It will put us on the track Joseph and Oliver knew was correct, heading to the destination we seek in unity and commitment.