The leadership of the LDS church has been fairly neutral on issues of Book of Mormon geography, except for on one point.
Apostles and prophets taught for over 140 years, including from the pulpit in General Conference, that the hill Cumorah of the Book of Mormon where both the Jaredite and Nephite nations were destroyed is in New York State. No prophet or apostle has ever refuted that teaching, that I’m aware of.
I would hope that every Latter-day Saint could feel certain of the answer to at least one geography question, which is the question of where the hill Cumorah is. The answer is that it’s exactly where Oliver Cowdery (in Letter VII, which he wrote with Joseph Smith’s assistance, and which Joseph Smith had made part of his personal history) and many other apostles and prophets said it is: in New York State.
Is the hill Cumorah in Guatemala? No.
Is it in Mexico? No.
Is it anywhere in Mesoamerica or South America? No.
The hill Cumorah is in New York State. That is our first pin in the map. Any proposed geography that fails to include a New York setting for the hill Cumorah is incomplete and/or inaccurate.
Why, then, do so many LDS scholars insist that the hill Cumorah is in Mesoamerica? The answer to that question is simple, but its history is complex. Notwithstanding the fact that the scholars are mistaken on this point, the Mesoamerica setting for the hill Cumorah has become enshrined in LDS culture, in large part because of how influential the Mesoamerica theorists have been on said culture. They teach the rising generation. They are brought in to consult church staff. Because of their scholarship, their articles are published in LDS magazines. They have been very influential.
I believe these men and women to be generally upright individuals with good intentions, but I also believe that their unyielding devotion to the theory of an exclusively Mesoamerican setting for the Book of Mormon has done damage to the church in many ways for several decades, including creating doubt and confusion, harming missionary work, and contributing to the loss of faith in many young adults.
There were many times as a young adult that I felt myself being drawn in by the idea that the Book of Mormon lands are only in Mesoamerica, because it seemed like that was becoming the generally accepted and uncontested idea, but then as I read from the pages of the Book of Mormon itself I could never reconcile what it said with what the scholars were saying. I left myself open to the possibility that the real geography at least included, in part, Mesoamerica, but I always knew in my heart that the Nephite lands mentioned in the text included at least some or all of the mainland USA.
One thing is certain: both sides feel confident that their evidence points to the confirmation of their own conclusion. That’s human nature. But, also certain is the fact that the land and hill called “Cumorah” spoken of in Mormon 6:6 is the same land and hill called “Cumorah” in New York, exactly where the prophets and apostles have given their united, consistent voice proclaiming it to be.
What follows are links to articles I invite you to read. These articles go into great detail about how the Mesoamerica theory works and why it’s been so influential. The writer, formerly a “believer” of the Mesoamerican theory, masterfully prosecutes the issues related to the hill Cumorah question.
Letter VII summary – The Hill Cumorah in New York
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 1 – John Clark
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 2 – BYU/CES Fantasy Map
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 3 – Many Waters
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 4a – What Should Happen at BYU Studies
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 4a1 – More on BYU Studies
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 4b – What Should Happen at BYU
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 4c – What Should Happen at Seminary and Institute
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 5 – Confirmation Bias
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 5a – How M2C Infiltrates the Church (M2C is the acronym for the Mesoamerican/two-Cumorahs theory)
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 5b – Unique Treatment of Cumorah in New York
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 5c – Where Bias Originates
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 5d – Origin of M2C
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 5e – Curing Confirmation Bias
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 6 – Education
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 6a – What is Being Taught?
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 7 – Why it Matters
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 8 – Evidence and Confirmation Bias
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 8a – The Lure of Mesoamerican “Evidence” to BYU/CES Students
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 8b – M2C in the Ensign
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 8c – “A Realistic Setting for the Book of Mormon”
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 8d – A Map by Authority?
Getting Real About Cumorah Part 8e – Walking In Darkness At Noon Day
Important excerpts from above article written by Jonathan Neville:
“I think we don’t know the rest of the geography [beyond the New York hill called Cumorah] because of a combination of these factors: (i) we’ve ignored what Joseph Smith taught; (ii) in recent decades LDS scholars have rejected what Joseph taught; (iii) these scholars have developed an interpretation of the text designed to fit only Mesoamerica (volcanoes, pyramids, tapirs, etc.); (iv) the early European settlers destroyed most of the ancient sites and burial grounds in the U.S.; and (v) there are still so many ancient sites in the U.S. that match the descriptions in the Book of Mormon that it is impossible to choose among them with any certainty.”
“Throughout this blog, I’m referring to the Correlation Department, meaning Church employees who review material, not the Correlation Committee, which includes Church leaders.”
(This post is alive. It’s a work in progress and will continue to be built out over time.)