Michael De Groote, Deseret News
Rodney Meldrum

They call it the "heartland" model of Book of Mormon lands. Within the movement, phrases like "Joseph Smith knew" are almost holy mantras and the word "Mesoamerica" is a cussword.

The name and face of this geographic theory is Rodney Meldrum, the founder and president of a for-profit organization called the Foundation for Indigenous Research and Mormonism, or simply the FIRM Foundation.

The heartland theory holds that the bulk of the Book of Mormon took place in North America. Most LDS scholars, however, think the evidence places the ancient civilizations of the Book of Mormon in the areas of Mexico and Guatemala called Mesoamerica.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral on the subject of Book of Mormon geography — but a number of its adherents are not. Geographic theory wars and rumors of geographic theory wars constantly swirl around the Internet. The heartland theory is under siege from the outside, but also from within.

The heartland group has splintered in two, and a battle is about to take place in the form of dueling conferences this weekend.

On one side, you have Meldrum, described on his Web site, bookofmormonevidence.org, as a "Book of Mormon DNA researcher, lecturer and author."

On the other side, you have LDS Travel company, LDS Promised Land company and two of Meldrum's comrades-in-arms, Bruce H. Porter and Wayne May, publisher of the long-running Ancient American magazine.

On Thursday and Friday, Meldrum will host the fourth semi-annual National Book of Mormon Prophecies Conference: A Celebration of the Prophet Joseph," at the Zermatt Resort and Conference Center in Midway.

At the same time, LDS Travel and LDS Promised Land are presenting a competing conference, "Joseph Smith and Book of Mormon Geography," an hour away in Sandy at the South Towne Expo Center.

Meldrum and Porter co-authored the heartland geography book "Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and The United States of America." There was a time not so long ago when Meldrum, Porter and May traveled around the country giving presentations on the heartland theory of Book of Mormon geography. Around the end of 2008, they joined together in the company LDS Promised Land. Meldrum was president. May and Porter were on the board, as was Brian Mickelsen, president of LDS Travel.

But last April, Meldrum decided to go off on his own. "I didn't want to go this direction," he said.

"Even though he was president," Porter said, "(Meldrum) felt that he needed to pull away from that company because he could make more money doing it on his own. And that was a business decision that he made. And I've got no problem with that. ... And I can understand that."

Before the breakup, LDS Promised Lands had scheduled a conference in October 2009 in Salt Lake instead of the less-accessible Midway. Meldrum, however, went ahead with his own separate plans for another conference at Zermatt Resort.

"Out of courtesy for Rod, and for the message," Porter said, the LDS Promised Land conference was canceled. Porter and May agreed to speak at Meldrum's conference.

More than 400 attended that October conference. Another 200 were turned away because of space limitations. Meldrum announced then that he would hold another conference in six months, but before Meldrum could get his April 2010 conference planned, LDS Promised Lands announced one of its own.

"All of a sudden, out of the blue," Meldrum said, "about the middle of December, I get several phone calls and e-mails from a bunch of different people (who said), 'Hey, we just got an e-mail about your conference and you're not going to have it at the Zermatt, you're going to have it at the South Towne Expo Center?' And I said, 'Huh? What conference are you talking about?'"

The LDS Promised Lands conference was about to be promoted heavily — hiring conservative radio host Glenn Beck to record a commercial and running print ads, including in the Deseret News.

Meldrum accepted an invitation to speak at the conference, but after a few weeks and questions over sharing profits, Porter said a mutual decision was made for Meldrum to withdraw. Meldrum organized and promoted his own conference.

When Mickelsen was asked if there were any bad feelings, he said, "The message is the same. We like what Rod has discovered."

"I feel bad for Rod, and I feel bad for LDS Promised Land," Porter said. "It's not that we're splitting so far as the message goes, but it's what Rod does for a living, and everybody has a right to earn a living, and I can't complain or argue that he should have stayed with us."

Whether the Book of Mormon heartland geography theory market can bear two competing venues remains to be seen.

"Personally, I'd love to come to (their) conference," Meldrum said. "But I'll be busy with mine."

Vying for attendees:

FIRM Foundation conference: Thursday and Friday, Zermatt Resort in Midway. Cost is $40. Register at at www.bookofmormonevidence.org.

LDS Travel/LDS Promised Land conference: Thursday and Friday, South Towne Expo Center in Sandy. Cost is $30. Register at www.ldspromisedland.com.