Monday, June 26, 2017

Near-death experiences get treatment from a Mormon perspective

I’m fascinated by the pop science/theology behind near-death experiences. I’ve read the “Life After Life” books by Raymond Moody and several similar books. It was interesting to discover another book, “Glimpses Beyond Death’s Door,” by Brent L. and Wendy C. Top, from the publisher Covenant Communications, which strictly follows LDS theology and authority. One can assume that “Glimpses …” has been thoroughly vetted by LDS leaders.

The authors provide a fascinating, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink, overview of near-death accounts, using many sources liberally with an emphasis on the “Journal of Near-Death Studies” and the book “Heaven and Hell,” by Emanuel Swedenborg, the 18th century Swedish Lutheran and scientist who claimed to have received access to the afterlife. Also, there are numerous discourses and writings from LDS Church leaders, including “Journal of Discourses” accounts from Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt and Orson Pratt.

If one had to summarize the “Glimpses …” approach quickly, it’d be, “throw out traditional, man-made concepts of crime and punishment” and “law and order.” Based on a consistency in nature of the NDE accounts compiled, compassion and love are the dominating sensations experienced at death. Whether greeted by family members, a guardian angel, or a life reviewer, death appears to be a very positive experience. Many didn’t want to return and were unaffected by the grieving of family members and friends.

(I will digress here to mention that for this essay, I am assuming that these experiences are real, although other than the amount of professed NDEs out there, they certainly can’t be proven. Belief in divinity, an afterlife, or other theological claims cannot be proven, and that’s why heated debate usually leads nowhere. But even for skeptics, I’d wager the topic has interest.)

LDS theology teaches that after death, we go to a spirit world, which is located here on earth, but in another sphere which we can’t see as mortals. Much of “Glimpses …” is devoted to taking the many NDEs of Swedenborg, Moody and others, and applying what they witnessed as glimpses into an LDS-taught afterlife spirit world. While readers must be aware that the authors can pick and choose sources as they wish, the Tops do make an effort to put most precedence on NDEs from non-Mormon sources.

Based on “Glimpses …,” it’s clear that death, and the subsequent journey into a spirit existence, is not a place where a “true church,” or “true gospel,” is revealed to newly arrived spirits. In fact, the most persons who have had NDEs, the authors claim, experience a jump in spirituality, but not any discernible move toward a particular religion. In fact, the afterlife spirit world, based on many of the NDE accounts, is a place where autonomy, the ability to choose, still exists for the deceased person.

Despite being in a sphere that is more advanced than earth’s (time travel and increased, almost effortless comprehension of reason, memory and why bad things happen have been reported) there is no traditional purgatory or hell. However, most accounts show a separation of spirits based on knowledge accumulated and charitable love expressed for others while on earth. The spirits who might be in a place considered “paradise” are not tethered to their own self interests or to so-called worldly pleasures. They want to serve others. They also appear to shine with a greater light. Spirits who might be considered to be in a “prison” are focused on their own personal needs or worldly indulgences. It is hypothesized that these latter group of spirits, still obsessed with the world and themselves, are those who haunt TV ghost shows, or seances, etc.

Not surprisingly, spirits tend to congregate based on similarities of light and interests. It is hypothesized by many that more self-centered spirits are simply not comfortable within the light that more “righteous” spirits possess. Hence, “hell” or spirit “prison” is defined not as an application of pain, but an inability to comfortably exist with other, more righteous people. (This frequent NDE observation may be one reason that conservative, fundamentalist Christians, who preach a literal hell of eternal pain and fire, are often very skeptical of NDEs.)

In “Glimpses …,” the authors point to these distinctions, personal autonomy, and the absence of a “true church” or “gospel” as evidence that missionary work is active in the afterlife spirit world. This is one main concept, of course, that distinguishes this NDE book from others. What may surprise LDS readers of “Glimpses …” is that missionary work in the spirit world appears to be harder than missionary work here on earth. The Tops quote Swedenborg, who describes an afterlife of spirits waiting to be taught more information, but not until they are ready to receive it.

One of the more interesting concepts of afterlife found in “Glimpses …” is that it is far harder to convert a spirit than it was during that spirit’s mortal existence. That’s because a spirit retains all that he or she learned — secular or non-secular — into the spirit world. Personalities and beliefs are molded in life, as well as passions, biases, prejudices and pride. In other NDEs recounted in “Glimpses …,” persons who had been skeptics of divine authority while on earth were observed still believing what they had once taught, and rationalizing, in a manner favorable to their own self interests, what they were now experiencing.

The idea that persons are assigned in the afterlife based on where they feel comfortable is similar to the C.S. Lewis novella, “The Great Divorce,” where residents of “hell” are taken on a journey to “heaven,” where spirits there minister to those in hell and attempt to convince them to remain with them, endure some discomfort (a metaphor for repentance), and live in heaven. Most of the travelers reject the offer, either because they are still afflicted with self pride and self pity, or, interestingly, believe that they are already in heaven.

That may sum up a key theme of “Glimpses …,” which is that in the spirit world, we end up basically where we are most comfortable. In Mormon doctrine, this requires a Millennium’s worth of missionary work, and the attendant effort to bring everyone to knowledge of God’s plan of salvation. Rather than viewed condescendingly, or as a tool to argue with, “Glimpses …” can be an interesting — and unique — opportunity to learn how Mormon theology views NDEs and how it fits into its doctrine.

-       Doug Gibson
A version of this column was previously published at StandardBlogs.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mormonism’s secret to success is its imperfections

I was watching Richard Bushman on DVD speak at some conference or other, the DVD — bought at alas, a remaindered discount at Seagull — doesn’t say where the conference was, or maybe I missed that information. In any event, Bushman is a valuable resource to learning about Mormon history.

He reminds us that history demands a catholic interpretation. When learning about Joseph Smith, for example, it’s just as important to learn what his critics thought of him as it is to learn what his most devoted adherents thought. And, it’s important to see all sides of an historical figure — the good and the bad.

Unfortunately, too often in politics and religion, many of us are simply unable to grasp that there is an opposing viewpoint worth respecting or flaws in our religious and political heroes. We know these negatives must exist; we live our own lives, with our personal doubts, failures and shortcomings. But the pedestal fantasy still grasps us.

I like this quote from Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith, “Rough Stone Rolling”: “Joseph Smith did not offer himself as an examplar of virtue. He told his followers not to expect perfection. Smith called himself a rough stone, thinking of his own impetuosity and lack of polish.”

A secular reason for Mormonism’s success, or staying power, is its lack of perfection. In “Rough Stone Rolling,” all the contradictions and setbacks that accompany a full life are listed: dabblings in money-digging as a youth; vigilante activities; distinct accounts of LDS revelations; political demagoguery; failed financial ventures; and the secrecy of plural marriage.

Moral of the story: Learning, and correcting, builds lasting endurance.

There are many reasons Smith’s church has endured beyond the “God’s work will never stop” rhetoric we hear each Sunday. Bushman cites at least three in “Rough Stone Rolling”:

• One is that the young LDS prophet did not make himself the center of early missionary experts. Since Mormonism was not a cult of personality, it was able to pick itself up and thrive after the shock of Smith’s Carthage martyrdom.

• Also, doctrines such as latter-day revelation, the gathering of Israel and a priesthood authority — all progressive in that era — was a chief appeal of Mormonism to its early converts.

• Another doctrine Bushman cites as having great missionary appeal was the temple endowments, which he opines offered converts the feeling of a “direct access to God.”

Truth is, any review of Mormonism’s early history is replete with as many failures as successes. Large swaths of the early church members, including most of the original Twelve Apostles, left the church. Many people who left the early church were justified in their anger that drove them from Mormonism. We shouldn’t try to deny that.

On the DVD, Bushman is asked how he can write histories that delve into Smith’s treasure hunting and polygamy deceptions and not meet the fate of other LDS historians, who have been disciplined by church leaders. Bushman’s answer: It’s how you conduct and write about your research. If you don’t deliberately poke certain people, your research is better received.

Perhaps a tongue-in-cheek answer, but true. Bushman has found a solution that works for him. As an active Mormon, he treats Smith as a prophet, not doubting his visions or revelations. But he also reminds us that he was a man, subject to imperfections. The result is the best biography of Smith since Fawn Brodie’s “No Man Knows My History.”

-- Doug Gibson

Originally published at StandardBlogs

Monday, June 12, 2017

1850s LDS publication touts grandeur, threatens celibacy to promote polygamy

I have the privilege to own, hold and read the Saturday, April 9, 1853 edition of The Latter Day Saints’ Millennial Star, published in London. I procured this copy via Ebay. The issue was devoted to an enthusiastic, at times clever, defense of polygamy, which the LDS Church had recently admitted it espoused. It’s interesting, and even gratifying, to read such an audacious defense of a doctrine that was as unpopular then as it still is. Unabashedly, the pub proclaims that without polygamy, husbands and wives are doomed to celibate, servant-like jobs in the hereafter ministering to their polygamous peers with husbands hopscotching between kingdoms while distinct wives sit on thrones raising children who grow in intelligence.
It’s a fascinating piece of history. Can anyone imagine if today’s LDS pubs, which are vanilla-boring compared to the Millennial Star, spoke so boldly to “gentiles” on celestial glory? The lead article was “A familiar conversation between two cousins, on marriage,” featuring Nelly, wife to George, and Abby, wife to Mormon John. It’s very entertaining, and no doubt was persuasive to many working-class Brits of that era. At the beginning, Nelly is contemptuous of Abby’s plans to share her husband with other wives, remarking, “… I would just like to pick one or two women for him that I could select; I’ll warrant that my George would have to be content with his Nelly, ever after! …”
Obviously, this conversation/debate is geared toward Abby persuading Nelly to the virtues of polygamy. Abby suggests that Nelly consider and pray about it. She tells her cousin that neither of them have the right to their husbands if the marriage is not bound by the Lord. Because her husband John has been called by God to be a “Prince Regent,” Abby is willing to share him with other wives. She says, “… Now if God is appointing His sons on the earth to fill thrones and occupy many principalities, and my husband means to be as worthy to fill thrones as others, then I will be content to share with him one throne, and rejoice at the same time to see others share with him other thrones, while my capacity will not allow me to share any more than my own. …”
Later, Abby goes for Nelly’s debate jugular when she tells her cousin that in the matter of sexual companionship in the afterlife, it’s either eternal polygamy or eternal celibacy. “…But dear cousin, the great question is this — will we unite with the plurality Order of Ancient Patriarchs, or will we consent voluntarily to be doomed to eternal celibacy? This is the true division of the question. One or the other we must choose. We cannot be married to our husbands for eternity, without subscribing to the law that admits a plurality of wives. …”
The “conversation” is an excellent polemic. It gets to the major concerns that a “Nelly” and “George” might naturally feel when contemplating an afterlife. Will they be together? Does God have some plan of eternal progression? “Abby” also argues to “Nelly” that polygamy provides more intellectual and physically fit children, grandchildren and future offspring. “Abby” later answers “Nelly’s” concern that other wives would undermine her by saying that larger families, if under the order of Abraham, “…enjoy a greater amount of intelligence, and a greater share of love also, than you possibly could in that single, contracted order which you seem to desire … In the former order your children are all the lawful heirs of thrones and kingdoms, and in your favourite order they are only the heirs of servile inferiority.”
Later in the conversation, Abby tries to persuade Nelly that polygamy provides a more moral and righteous social order than the norm and that it makes men less prone to adulterous behavior. The conversation is continued to the next issue, which I’d love to get a copy of. However, they can be read online at many sources, including from here.
As history reveals, polygamy was not to Abby’s hope. It caused poverty and heartbreak for many Utah women and near ruin for the LDS Church, which has been excommunicating earthly polygamists for 100-plus years. But it conveys the fierce pride in “The Principle,” that motivated so many smart, talented women, such as Emmeline Wells and Eliza R. Snow, to live it. I recently read where the great apostle Parley P. Pratt envisioned an afterlife of limitless Gods rushing here and there, from worlds to worlds, constantly busy creating plans of salvation. From this 1853 relic, I can see where those beliefs have a genesis.
The rest of the issue has an entertaining mix of articles. Their is a segment on the history of the Prophet Joseph Smith, several mission reports, including Burma and Switzerland, a reprint of a New York Herald editorial on the spiritual decline of the U.S. This is accompanied by an editorial comment that blasts the U.S. and assigns the ills mentioned to that nation having “refused the principles of life, and rejected the doctrine of immediate revelation, when they were taught them by a living Prophet of the Lord. …” There is a strong last-days apocalyptic tone to the rebuke. It ends with, “Then let the nations beware, for the Almighty is not trifling with them.”
There is a poem, Palestine, by a J.L. Lyne, more tidbits from other newspapers, notices of recent church publications, financial reports, and a strong essay against adultery, which cleverly points to the Utah settlement as the moral example of the nation. As mentioned, it’s a fascinating bit of history, and I hope to find more publications of that era.
-- Doug Gibson
This column originally was published online as a StandardNet blog post.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Lost Apostles an interesting history of Mormonism's originals who left the quorum

Signature has a Mormon history book, "The Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism's Original Quorum of Twelve," that provides a valuable look at the early years of Mormonism. Authors William Shepard and H. Michael Marquardt outline characteristics of the original apostles. They were mostly frontier men, chosen for their candor, stamina, independence, testimonies and personalities. These 12 were not administrators; they were young action-oriented men, sent out with virtually no assistance to study during the day, preach at night and try to baptize enough new members to form a small branch. If they were rejected, they left the "unbelievers" with a curse. If an apostle encountered a comely, unattached young woman, it was not uncommon for him to marry her, enjoy a quick honeymoon, and then go back to the mission, with a young wife waiting for his return.
The "Lost Apostles" are John Boynton, Lyman Johnson, his brother Luke Johnson, Thomas Marsh, the first president of the 12, William Smith, brother to the church's founder, and William McLellin. To those with at least an acquaintance of Mormon history, perhaps only Boynton and Lyman Johnson are historical strangers, no more than pictures in a church almanac. They are the two who managed to divorce themselves emotionally from Mormonism. Of the others, two -- Marsh and Luke Johnson -- returned to the now-Utah church, one, McLellin, skipped from Mormon offshoot to offshoot, never content, and William Smith, the legitimate rogue of the outfit, was finally allowed into the reorganized LDS church led by his nephew, ... so long as he behaved himself.
"Lost Apostles," is most interesting when it details the passions, strife, successes, setbacks, celebrations and violence that characterized Mormonism's growth in the 1830s, prior to the emigration to Nauvoo. As Joseph Smith moved the Mormons into the frontier, there were inevitable clashes between the unified newcomers and the older settlers, who didn't cotton to a large new voting bloc roiling the land. A lack of tact and propensity toward violence from both sides inevitably led to outnumbered Mormons being forced out. These exoduses were conducted under duress, in dangerous situations, and innocents died. Although the apostles were supposed to be separate from administrative duties, in reality they were not. They were often caught in the conflicts, internal and external, that roiled Mormonism.
What led most of the "lost apostles" from Mormonism was the 1838-1839 years in Ohio and Missouri. Besides the increasing violence, which became deadly, church leaders made the common mistake of wanting to get rich quick. They started an "anti-bank," due to not being able to get a charter, and created their own money (this could be done 180 years ago). During a brief real estate bubble, investors imagined themselves rich. The bubble broke, sellers and investors wanted their money, and the "currency" of the financial institution became worthless. As the authors detail, there's nothing like disputes over money to destroy harmony. Boynton, the Johnson brothers, McLellin, and later Marsh, left the church during this period. Other prominent church leaders who left were Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris and David Whitmer. Others who came close to long-time estrangement include apostles Parley P. Pratt, his brother Orson Pratt, and Orson Hyde. William Smith, a product of nepotism, clung to the quorum due to his familial relationship. However, after Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844, his thuggish behavior was not tolerated much longer.
There is a paradox in this account. All of these men witnessed what they believed were heavenly manifestations, they believed that Jesus Christ had blessed them through revelation and assigned them to be apostles.So why was the quorum shattered by greed and violence in only several years? The authors do note that despite disagreements that flared into violence, all of the men were either cordial to, or even confidantes toward one another for the rest of their lives. They were generally kind to the members of the faith they had left. Even John Boynton, who became a celebrated physician and inventor in the mid-1800s, took time out of a tour to visit his old friends in Salt Lake City. Boynton was a man who made pains to avoid mention of his youthful adventure with Mormonism, but decades later, was drawn to reminiscing with his old companions. The short answer to the paradox is that most of the early leaders of the "Mormonites" retained their belief in the Book of Mormon, as well as the early appeal that it was a book designed to usher in the return of Christ, within a generation. Their reasons for leaving, or being forced out via excommunication, were probably close to what the loquacious McLellin often said; in their opinion, the leaders, Joseph Smith, etc., became corrupted, and fell short of the principles they believed the church required.
The "Lost Apostles" is a sympathetic account of the six, but not hagiographies. The commitment to Mormonism that drove these men to be early-Mormon historical figures is acknowledged. Most of the book covers various episodes of Mormon history as the apostles related to them. Late in the book the apostles' lives post-1844 (Smith's death) are covered. As a scholarly offering of Mormon history, it's another of a series of books, including biographies of Parley P. Pratt and Brigham Young, that are part of an ongoing process of shedding "teddy bear" accounts of Mormon history with more detailed, accurate, and fulfilling, "grizzly bear" accounts. The book contains a few 1830s' journalistic accounts of the apostles' missionary efforts that are fascinating to read.
I'll conclude the review with brief recaps of the six apostles and how their lives ended:
John Boynton: Like Lyman Johnson, he was one of two apostles able to shed Mormonism. He became a legitimate celebrity of the 19th century, with inventions, 4,000 lectures and fame as a naturalist doctor. His ultimately unsuccessful marriage to a much younger woman in 1865 was illustrated in Harper's Weekly. He died in 1879 in Syracuse, N.Y.
Lyman Johnson: He stayed close to the roots of Mormonism, and was involved in legal cases of interest to the church in the 1840s. Cordial to his former apostles, he never returned to the LDS church. Tragically, he died Dec. 20, 1859, when the frozen Mississippi River broke while he and another man were crossing on a sled. He had just rented a nearby hotel to run.
Luke Johnson: Even as an excommunicated member, Johnson, as a marshal, helped the Smiths escape from lawmen seeking the Mormon prophet. In 1846, he returned to membership in the church. He emigrated to Utah, where his skills as a dentist helped the pioneers. In Utah, he assumed a respected standing west of Salt Lake City, but was passed over when a spot in the Quorum of the Twelve opened. He died in July 1861, somewhat broken by the recent murder of his son. His younger wife, America, outlived him by 39 years and is buried in Ogden.
Thomas Marsh: Many Mormons know Marsh through the myth of him "leaving the church due to his wife's fight with another sister member over milk strippings." That is nonsense. Marsh left the church in Far West, Mo., because he opposed the violence of some church members' retaliation against anti-Mormons. He testified against the church in hearings. Some blame Marsh's testimony for the extermination order against Mormons issued by Missouri Gov. Lilburn W. Boggs. When, almost 20 years later, Marsh, poverty-stricken, in ill health, abandoned by his wife, and virtually friendless, requested to be admitted to the Utah church, it was granted. Marsh died in Ogden, a pauper, on Jan. 25, 1865. Despite his return to Mormonism, Brigham Young and other church leaders frequently mocked Marsh in his last years, even when he was on the stand with them preparing to deliver a penitent lecture. This cruel behavior indicates that the circumstances of Marsh's apostasy must have had bitter roots.
William McLellin: Thanks to his legacy of diaries, McLellin is a well-traveled figure in Mormon history. Considered a learned but temperamental man, McLellin, perhaps engaging in historical license, created a history of himself joining a church of pure christianity, anchored by the Book of Mormon, without priesthood, apostles, etc. The mercurial McLellin, who lived a very long life, stayed in contact with his former colleagues, frequently reproving them. He joined several offshoots of Mormonism, often as a leader, but eventually became disenchanted and would leave each, usually within several months. He died in 1883.
William Smith: As the authors note, Smith was a legacy apostle, chosen over Phineas Young because brother Joseph Smith requested William. Although the authors note that William Smith was devoted to his brother's church, he was a scoundrel. He was a lecher, a chronic adulterer, a man who enjoyed the company of criminals, and was easily capable of abandoning a wife and young children. He skipped to many offshoots of Mormonism, only to be thrown out of the groups as soon as his character was revealed. In the later years of his life, Joseph Smith III, first president of the Reorganized LDS Church, allowed a chastened William to lecture about his father's early years, but kept his uncle on a very tight leash. William Smith died on Nov. 13, 1893, a few days after catching cold during an RLDS speaking engagement.
Information on “The Lost Apostles ...” is available here. An interview I conducted with Marquardt is here.
-- Doug Gibson
This post was originally published at StandardNET

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

History of LDS temple worship includes second anointings and floating temples trial balloon

Ask an active Mormon if she or he knows what a "second anointing" is, and I'd wager most of the time you’ll receive a blank stare.

However, second anointings, or second blessings, are still performed today in temples, albeit rarely. A century ago, second anointings were far more common.

A second anointing was an extension of the temple endowment. My best definition of it is as a guarantee of exaltation, but others may disagree with that.

Through the first third of the 20th century, about 21,000 couples had received second anointments. One could not apply for one; stake presidents determined who received one. It was usually reserved for longtime Saints with a lifetime of church fidelity; preference was also given to pioneers. Eventually, church officials took the selection process away from stake presidents and gave it to apostles. At that point, second anointings slowed to a trickle, despite the pleadings of apostle and Salt Lake Temple President George F. Richards to resume its regular practice. Richards, by the way, is responsible for many, many changes in temple ceremonies and customs adopted by the LDS Church Presidency in the early 20th century.

This information, and much more, is contained in a book from Signature, "The Development of LDS Temple Worship 1846-2000: A Documentary History." Edited by historian Devery S. Anderson, the book is comprised of memos, instructions, personal opinions, debates, decisions and declarations shared among LDS Church officials and leaders. It is a fascinating historical look at the evolution of LDS temple worship. (I digress to assure readers that nothing of a sacred or secret temple worship nature is in this documentary history).

But what readers discover in this book underscores the lack of enthusiasm LDS authorities sometimes have to reveal more about the church’s unique, interesting history. How many Latter-day Saints today know that the 19th century Mormon garment had a collar; went from the neck, to ankles and wrists, was crotchless, and used strings instead of buttons? 

Placed within this column is an old advertisement of a “modern” ladies garment that was compared to a union suit. Showing this garment is not disrespectful because of another fact that is learned in the book: For a long time, garments were sold without the sacred marks on them. The stitching of those marks were the responsibility of the owner and was done by someone worthy of a recommend. Over time, church leaders discontinued advertising and the outside selling of garments. One reason: many stores were selling them in fashions that were not church-approved at the time, such as straps instead of sleeves on ladies garments.

The importance of members wearing the LDS garment is a focus of many of the book’s correspondence. Indeed, LDS leader Brigham Young told church officials that Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith died in Carthage, Ill. because they had taken their garments off. Young said that Willard Richards survived the Carthage attack because he was wearing his. Wounded in that same attack was a future LDS leader, John Taylor.

LDS Church leaders pondered and debated the temple-worthy status of divorced women, of those who married out of the LDS Church, whether black children could be sealed to white parents, the age of eligibility for endowments, how many leaves should be sewn on a temple apron, etc. The endowment ceremony, originally an oral tradition, was finessed with a script and audio and motion pictures became a necessity as the church grew in the world. For years, the LDS temple ceremony included a short scene – with permission – from the Disney film, “Fantasia.”
More issues discussed include the gradual insistence on following the Word of Wisdom to enter a temple, the small payments allowed persons who stood in proxy for endowments, and so on. But I want to focus on two more events, one sober and shameful, and another that tickled my funny bone.

The book recounts church leaders receiving a request from Joseph Smith’s black servant, Jane Manning James, who came to Utah and remained a faithful Latter-day Saint. As her life drew to a close late in the 19th century, she asked to be sealed to the church’s first prophet. Such sealings were not unusual at the time, but “Aunt Jane,” as she was called, was of course considered to have the “curse of Cain.” In a then-compassionate gesture that would be considered grotesque today, church leaders rejected her request for a family sealing, but as a compromise, sealed Jane to Smith as Celestial servant. One hopes that this sealing was changed after blacks received the priesthood scores of years later.


The second event involved a suggestion in the late 1960s that the LDS Church construct a “floating temple” that would sail the seven seas and provide, via docking, temple rooms and ceremonies on board for Latter-day Saints who lived outside the U.S., and far away from a temple could receive endowments, etc. This idea, suggested by a church building coordinator, gained some traction until LDS Apostle Elder Alan R. Dyer, in a leadership meeting, pointed to the LDS scriptural book, Doctrine & Covenants, Section 61, verses 14 to 16, which reads:

14 “Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the water; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters.

15 “Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.

16 ”And it shall be said in days to come that none is able to go up to the land of Zion upon the waters, but he that is upright in heart.”

That early-church revelation effectively ended talk of a floating temple. I recall, in 1983, as a missionary in Peru, being warned about entering lakes and oceans, with the same scriptures being cited.

-- Doug Gibson
This post was originally published at StandardBlogs.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Mormonism and the cross -- book provides an overview

The Mormon Church has an ambivalent history with Christianity’s most iconic symbol, the cross. For about 70 years, the cross was generally tolerated within the church’s cultural fabric. However, the first decades of the 20th century initiated a slow but steady expression of disapproval of the cross; a criticism influenced by LDS leaders’ willingness to publicly declare the Roman Catholic Church as the “church of the devil” described in LDS scripture.

Banishing the Cross:The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo,” (John Whitmer Books, 2012) by Michael G. Reed, is a slim but valuable volume on the history of the Mormons’ relationship with the cross. As Reed notes, the Mormon Church was founded during an era of widespread Protestant hostility to the cross, a hostility that was due to that era’s wariness of Catholicism.

As Reed notes, Mormons were generally no fans of Catholicism, but they were more responsive to the cross as a religious symbol. There are two reasons for this. The first was that Mormonism was founded during a time of spiritual awakening in the early United States. While “organized religion” was criticized, individualistic spirituality flourished. Within these “rebel theologies,” spiritual manifestations were not uncommon. The symbol of the cross often played a role. Another reason the cross was tolerated by early Mormons, according to Reed, was due to founder Joseph Smith’s interest in Freemasonry. In fact, Nauvoo in the early 1840s was a hotbed of Freemasonry interest.
That interest is a key reason that the symbol of the cross traveled with the saints to Utah. Reed presents many photographs, both central to Mormonism and 19th century Utah, in which the cross is prominent.

However, as Reed notes, criticism of the cross started to creep more into the Mormon culture as the 20th century began. Reed cites statements from leading Mormons, including then-apostle Moses Thatcher, that connected the cross to anti-Catholicism. Around 1915, a proposal in the Salt Lake area to put a cross on Ensign Peak received significant opposition, one that initially surprised LDS supporters. The eventual failure to place a memorial cross at Ensign Peak is cast — correctly by Reed — as a dispute between church leaders. The author writes that younger church leaders, such as David O. McKay and Joseph Fielding Smith, had not grown up in the early era of the LDS Church and therefore had not been influenced by the more liberal, anti institutional, even anti-government thought of the 1840s to 1860s LDS leadership. Also, they had not been influenced by Freemasonry.

In my opinion, it’s important to note that in the first 30 years of the 20th century the LDS Church leadership had what might best be referred to as a “second Mormon reformation.” Leaders such as McKay, Fielding Smith, and later J. Reuben Clark, Mark E. Peterson and Bruce R. McConkie, successfully moved the church to more conservative ideology, including a renewal of harsh rhetoric against Catholicism.

That has changed.

-- Doug Gibson

Originally published at StandardBlogs

Sunday, May 14, 2017

‘Grizzly Bear’ Truth versus ‘Teddy Bear’ Truth trips up Mormonism

My friend and former co-worker, Cal Grondahl, says there’s “Grizzly Bear” Truth and “Teddy Bear” Truth in Mormon history.
Whether it’s the prophet Joseph Smith, polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Brigham Young, temple ceremonies, etc., one can either grab a teddy bear or a grizzly bear when wanting answers.
For a long time, teddy bear truth, which is designed to comfort people, was more prevalent than grizzly bear truth. But that has changed in the past several years.
The biggest reason is probably Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency; another is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ efforts to make its appeal more diverse, with pages on its websites on particularly thorny issues that were not addressed for much of the church’s history.
The church also has made inroads with gays and lesbians, although that effort has cooled. Nevertheless, the past few years have proven that teddy bear answers to tough questions won’t cut it anymore.
The remarks several years ago by a Brigham Young University professor that blacks not receiving the LDS priesthood was in reality a “blessing,” or that the Lord was waiting to provide the priesthood, is an example of the teddy bear truth — the lighter, happier version.
The grizzly bear truth is that trouble with violence in Missouri way back in the 1830s, coupled with the prevalent racism of the period, was the genesis of the Mormon policy discriminating against blacks. The old canard that Ham’s race was cursed was piggybacked on by many to justify the ban, and so on.
Baptism for the dead is another doctrine that, while not discriminatory or objectionable, in my opinion, suffers from the teddy bear truth syndrome. It’s easy to say to the world that we baptize the dead, your non-Mormon ancestors, because we want them to have a chance to accept the Gospel. There’s no pressure, they can say no.
The grizzly bear truth, though, is that faithful Mormons believe these dead spirits are eagerly waiting for faithful Mormons to do proxy baptisms for them.
We believe these people will confront us after death if we’re not valiantly helping them while on Earth.
The past several years, the church apologized and backed away from doing post-life ordinances for victims of the Holocaust, whose relatives are understandably disconcerted after being told their loved ones are being helped via baptisms for the dead.
And after they’re baptized, there are more ordinances to be done in proxy. We could even mention so-called “second sealing” in the temples, but that’s a grizzly bear topic for another column.
Another grizzly bear truth is that the practice of baptism for the dead was preceded by the mostly forgotten LDS practice of “adoption,” which involved sealing multiple families and people on Earth into an eternal family headed by a prominent priesthood holder.
There was competition to get people into your family because of this idea: that the larger one’s “adopted family,” the greater one’s glory eternally.
Do you ever wonder why John D. Lee, scapegoated and executed for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was called an “adopted son” of Brigham Young? Now you know.
The Summer 2011 issue of the Journal of Mormon History devotes more than 115 pages on early Mormon adoption theology in fascinating articles by Samuel M. Brown and Jonathan A. Stapley. It’s at http://​​zyksbcj.
A version of this column was previously published at StandardBlogs.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

LDS Church, pols failed to enforce cigarette prohibition in 1920s Utah

One of the more amusing episodes in Utah history is the LDS Church-directed effort to ban cigarette smoking in the state. Passed by a compliant Legislature after a rapid, few-months campaign, the refusal of law enforcement authorities to enforce the law frustrated church leaders. However, once the law was finally enforced — with a high-profile arrest of four prominent Utah businessmen — Utah’s cigarette ban made the state a national laughingstock and the LDS Church, through editorials in its organ The Deseret News, paved the way for lawmakers to repeal the ban. The two-year-comedy is recounted by historian John H.S. Smith in the Fall 1973 issue of the Utah Historical Quarterly. As Smith writes, morality-based progressive movements across the USA, after achieving prohibition, reformers set looked toward tobacco.

“Thundered Billy Sunday in his most exuberant mood: ‘Prohibition is won; now for tobacco,’” writes Smith. In Utah, the move toward a law banning cigarettes online was signaled in late 1920 by articles and editorials against tobacco in church media, such as the D-News and The Improvement Era. As early as 1919, the LDS Church hierarchy assigned Apostle Stephen L. Richards to chair an anti-tobacco campaign. The Improvement Era “editorialized, ‘We believe that the abolition of the entire tobacco business would be beneficial to the higher interests of the human race,” writes Smith. Soon after, the Mutual Improvement Association, announced its slogan for 1920-21 “would be ‘We stand for the non-use and non-sale of tobacco.”

The committee chaired by Richards, then issued a newsletter that called for “‘coercive and persuasive’ measures to be carried out by special stake committees which were to work to interest the church membership in a greater awareness of the cigarette evil and the possibilities of prohibitory legislation.” All subtlety was cast aside after a church subcommittee issued recommendations that LDS stake presidents interview legislators to find out their attitudes on laws that would ban tobacco and/or cigarettes. Further measures, recounted by Smith, included a New Years anti-tobacco message from LDS Church President Heber J. Grant, and an article in the Young Women’s Journal “which outlined how each church organization was to cover some aspect of the antitobacco crusade,” writes Smith. While it’s not unusual for religious organizations to combat what it perceives as vice, the 1920-21 efforts assigned by the LDS leadership were specific designed to achieve a political goal — the abolition of cigarettes in Utah. On Jan. 19, 1921 following an anti-tobacco campaign in the D-News, state Sen. Edward Southwick introduced Senate Bill 12, which banned cigarettes and cigarette paper. The bill was muscled through the Legislature and signed by Utah Gov. Charles Mabey.

Its supporters were the LDS Church and other religious-based organizations. Opponents, as Smith recounts, were non-Mormon business interests and libertarian-minded citizens, including a few Mormons. The ban’s limitation to cigarettes reflected the times, when cigarettes were criticized for their cheapness and “unmanly” reputation compared to pipes. In fact, much of the anti-tobacco campaigns focused on the adverse effects of cigarettes on femininity. The National No-Tobacco Journal, in an editorial reprinted in The Improvement Era, had written, “How would you like to have women and girls, not only smoking the poisonous, stinking stuff, but chewing, slubbering and spitting the stuff around while they are baking the pies and the cookies?” (Smith UHQ footnote) So the bill was passed, and nothing changed.

Law enforcement organizations, clearly not thrilled about hunting down cigarette smokers and manufacturers, argued with each other over who should enforce Senate Bill 12. For 18 months the law was ignored. A frustrated Heber J. Grant, responding to increased suggestions that the law be repealed, “demanded that in the upcoming elections of 1922 the Latter-day Saints should vote for no candidate who will not declare his willingness to retain the anti-cigarette law on the statutes,” writes Smith. The comedy entered its climax stage when a bill to amend the law to focus on juveniles was proposed by state Sen. Henry N. Standish. It was quickly rebuffed in committee. Meanwhile, anti-tobacco advocates had found a public servant willing to arrest tobacco users. The new Salt Lake County sheriff, Benjamin R. Harries, orchestrated highly publicized arrest of four leading Utah businessmen for having an after-dinner smoke at a Utah diner.

The arrested were Ernest Bamberger, prominent Republican, Edgar L. Newhouse, director of the American Smelting and Refining Co., John C. Lynch, manager of the Salt Lake Ice Co., and A.N. McKay, the Salt Lake Tribune’s manager. According to Smith’s article, the four “were marched down Main Street to the county jail building on South Second East Street to be booked.” It must have been quite a sight. The clumsy, ham-handed gesture by Harries, no doubt approved by LDS Church leaders, attracted equal parts of media attention and censure. Smith notes, “Newspapers as far afield as Boston and San Francisco had an opportunity to wax indignant …” The Carrie Nation-ish Sheriff Harries did not stop his crusade. His deputies haunted hotels, restaurants and the state capitol arresting cigarette smokers, the more prominent the better. Outrage over Utah’s anti-tobacco law was soon accompanied by scorn and laughter by national critics. Local newspapers such as The Salt Lake Tribune were quick to point out Utah’s new, embarrassing national notoriety.

With a silly law, and a zealot to enforce it, backers of the ban, Smith notes, had gained a type of public indignation. Church leaders, very eager not to resurrect the kind of national animus against the Mormons that had only recently started to ebb, suddenly changed their tune about the recently defeated Standish amendment. On March 2, 1923, the Deseret News editorialized in favor of the Standish amendment as an alternative to the original SB 12 cigarette ban, which the editorial board lamented, would have succeeded had it been "vigorously enforced." (There is no small irony in those words, given that the law's demise was assured after it was "vigorously enforced.")

From that point, it didn't take long to repeal Utah's cigarette ban. By March 8, the Standish repeal bill had been signed into law by Gov. Mabey. 

As Standish points out, the flaw in the LDS Church's anti-tobacco campaign between 1921 to 1923 was its emphasis on prohibition, which clashed with the values of freedom and personal responsibility. 

He's correct in his assessment that had the church focused its efforts on education and propaganda, it would have likely been lauded for its tobacco eradication campaign of that era, which today is consigned to footnote status in Utah history.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

'The Mormon Jesus' -- a history of Christ within the LDS faith

Several years ago, John Turner, who holds a Ph.D. in American History and Masters of Divinity, wrote “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet,” a candid, warts-and-all biography of Joseph Smith’s successor, who moved the Latter-day Saints across America and oversaw its growth in the western United States.
His interest in Mormonism has not waned, and this month Turner published “The Mormon Jesus: A Biography,” (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press). It provides an overview of Christ’s role in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Besides that, it also compares how Christ has been perceived since Joseph Smith and what influence that has had on the LDS faith. Most who walk into a Mormon chapel view Christ as a handsome, clean, bearded man, one with compassion but strength. How that scenario evolved is an interesting read.
Turner provides the cultural history of these portrayals of Christ and even mentions the era of Arnold Friberg, whose art still influences how Mormons view Book of Mormon personalities. Apparently, Friberg’s depiction of macho Christ (The Risen Lord) was a bit to much for LDS Church leaders, who sought a less-muscled savior. 
The move for a muscular Christ was an era of Christianity in which Protestant pews were not filled with many males. There were outside influences to Mormonism, despite its Christ who is considered our literal elder brother, distinct from Heavenly Father, and composed of a body of flesh and bone.
While the Mormon Christ has remained white and tall, there have been some inroads toward a more delicate Christ. Minerva Teichert, and her Christ in a Red Robe, is an example. 
Turner begins the book by guiding readers through the church’s annual Hill Cumorah Pageant, and its portrayal of Christ. He rejects claims from some evangelicals that Mormons are not Christians with many examples, the easiest is The Book of Mormon’s central message, which is a belief in Christ. Turner is not a Mormon, a trait which provided necessary objectivity in his Young biography.
The same applies with “The Mormon Jesus.” Turner guides readers through Young’s attempt to instill the Adam-God doctrine to 19th century members, an idea that never really caught on and was eventually downplayed, if never repudiated, by a frustrated prophet.
Also, the racist belief that blacks and native Americans were inferior to whites is discussed. Turner recounts influential church teaching, not scriptural, which advanced these ideas, such as blacks being less valiant in the pre-existence. This racist theory expounded from interpretations of Noah’s son, Ham, in many non-Mormon interpretations.
Turner also includes the much-believed idea of generations past that Native Americans would see their skin color change if they embraced the Gospel. It’s jarring to learn that many Latter-day Saints assumed this to the point of church leaders pointing to Native Americans, claiming their skin had whitened.
This is our history, for better or worse, and it plays a role in how beliefs evolve. But there is much to favor, as well. Turner clearly is impressed by Mormonism’s belief that man can aspire to be like God, that Christ’s perfection is a goal for mankind. The Mormon conception of Jesus is personal, with a deity that stands for us not only as the means to our atonement, but as a source of strength. 
Interestingly, even this perception of Christ has been shaped through decades of competing ideas. Near the end of the book, Turner contrasts the beliefs of the late LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie, who viewed Christ as a more formal deity, one who provided a path toward exaltation so long as obedience and formal rites were followed.
This is contrasted with the more-recent popularity of Stephen Robinson’s “Believing Christ,” which describes the atonement with a parable of a young child having less than a dollar to buy a sought-after bicycle. Her father gives her the rest of the money because she already gave all that she had. As Turner notes, Robinson’s ideas that mortals, despite their liabilities, can enter exaltation with Christ’s unlimited power is closer in spirit to the idea of salvation by grace.
While McConkie’s grasp of exaltation remains doctrine — and anyone who watches his last conference talk, delivered shortly before his death, wouldn’t doubt his belief in Christ — in recent years the rhetoric of Robinson has gained traction. An example is this month’s LDS general conference, where LDS apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf told listeners, “If you cannot muster faith right now, begin with hope.
“The Mormon Jesus” is an example of excellent Mormon scholarship that can be found from authors outside the faith. Turner’s devotion to his subject and his passion for LDS people and history are strong. It stands with members Terryl and Fiona Givens’ “The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life” as a worthy look at the LDS faith.
-- Doug Gibson
This review was first published at StandardNET.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

John D. Fitzgerald is Utah's Mark Twain

There was a brainy, scheming little Mormon capitalist who roiled the early 1900s "town" of Adenville, Utah, with his exploits. The books are The Great Brain series, written by the late John D. Fitzgerald, a roving Gentile reporter/adventurer who spent very little time in Utah after his 18th birthday in 1924, but kept tucked into his mind an endless trove of fond memories.
My son has already eagerly read all The Great Brain books. He even had me dust off an old VHS taping of The Great Brain movie, filmed in Utah in the 1970s and never released to video or DVD. We watched it.
Fitzgerald’s memories, along with a strong talent for writing and a healthy dose of literary license, produced three novels for adults and eight “Great Brain” books for kids. You can buy the novels easily. The books also served as introductions to Mormonism for hundreds of thousands of readers. “The Great Brain” series features Tom D. Fitzgerald, the smartest kid in Adenville, who puts his great brain to work trying to separate cash from the other kids, and many of the adults, in town. The books are narrated by Tom’s younger brother, John, who provides colorful commentary.
Fitzgerald completed and published seven “Great Brain” books. After his death in 1988, a near-complete manuscript for another book was discovered, and it was polished and published several years later. The books, still popular today, and read in schools, were wildly popular in the 1970s.
I recall my fifth-grade teacher reading “The Great Brain at the Academy” to us in Long Beach, Calif. The easy-to-read prose, Fitzgerald’s sense of comic timing, and the morality tale found in each chapter no doubt contributed to the success.
Utah historian Audrey M. Godfrey, in a 1989 essay, “The Promise is Fulfilled: Literary Aspects of John D. Fitzgerald’s Novels,” correctly pegs Fitzgerald as a regional writer, a sort of Utah Mark Twain, who stresses authenticity through characterization and very detailed settings. This is particularly evident in Fitzgerald’s creation of Adenville. Witness this descriptive excerpt from “More Adventures of the Great Brain”: ” … I looked at the trees planted by early Mormon pioneers that lined both sides of Main Street. Adenville was a typical small Mormon town but quite up to date. There were electric light poles all along Main Street and we had telephones. There were wooden sidewalks in front of the stores. Straight ahead I could see the railroad tracks that separated the west side of town from the east side. Across the tracks on the east side were two saloons, the Sheepmen’s Hotel, a rooming house …”
The books are crafted as short stories, strung together to both tell a good tale and teach a lesson. “Every chapter has a moral lesson,” says one Utah teacher I interviewed several years ago (she uses the books in her classes).
Tom’s youthful urges to gain are generally tempered by a serious plot twist requiring charity, or an authority figure that moves the children to a more altruistic stance. Tom’s newspaper editor father often serves this purpose. In one example, he tempers his son’s eagerness – and success – in publishing a competing newspaper by pointing out that most of his “news articles” were in fact gossip designed to hurt subjects and appeal to readers’ baser instincts.
Another moral lesson, appropriate to today’s political climate, involves the persecution a Greek immigrant named Basil receives at the hands of jingoistic townspeople. His persecutors, including the father of a friend of Tom, complain immigrants are taking jobs away from native-born Americans. The chapter ends with the bigotry resolved – at least among the kids – as Tom teaches Basil how to assimilate. True to his character, the Great Brain tries to profit from the endeavor.
Godfrey, in an interview, says the moral lessons in Fitzgerald’s tales were likely influenced by the good feelings he experienced toward the Latter-day Saints growing up as a gentile in Utah. A consistent virtuous character in Fitzgerald’s works is Bishop Ephraim Aden, the tolerant, gentle, elderly leader of Fitzgerald’s Adenville.
However, the ecumenism prevalent in Fitzgerald’s works may owe more to his idealized, fond memories of growing up in Utah than to reality. Price, Utah, where he lived, perhaps was a less tense place for Mormons and non-Mormons than Southern Utah, the setting of his novels. The guilt and secrecy, of, for example, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, is not found in Fitzgerald’s novels.
“He had good feelings towards Mormons,” says Godfrey. Bishop Aden, she adds, is representative of the larger role a bishop assumed in a Utah community 100-plus years ago. “In a small town there was a lot more give and take” between Mormon and non-Mormons,” she says.
The accidental series The “Great Brain” series came about almost by accident. One night Fitzgerald and his wife were entertaining friends for dinner. Fitzgerald’s fiction writing career had peaked after the publications of “Papa Married a Mormon,” “Mama’s Boarding House” and “Uncle Will and the Fitzgerald Curse.” The author recounted some long-ago tales about his older brother, Tom. The guests loved the stories so much that Fitzgerald was motivated to write his first “Great Brain book.
The series, published by Dell, offered a second literary career for Fitzgerald and likely provided him and his wife Joan a comfortable retirement. The writer Fitzgerald enjoyed an adventurous life through most of the past century. He left Utah at 18 to try his hand at being a jazz drummer. Early in his career, he was a pulp fiction writer and likely authored more than 100 lowbrow novels and short stories. If any survive that describe “Adenville” or his Utah youth, they have not surfaced.
He worked as a staff writer for the New York World-Tribune and labored on the foreign desk for the United Press wire service. He was also a bank auditor and even tried his hand at politics, working on the staff of Republican Wendell Wilkie’s failed 1940 presidential campaign. He conceived the idea for “Papa Married a Mormon” while working as a steel purchasing agent in California in the 1950s.
His sister Isobelle, although not listed on the title, was active in the novel’s creation. Fitzgerald’s novels, including the “Great Brain” series, were inspired by his mother, who asked him to one day write about “the little people” who founded the West, bankers, laborers, mother, merchants, newspapermen, the clergy, etc.
Besides his better-known works, Fitzgerald wrote two other children’s novels and a book on how to craft a novel. He freelanced extensively, contributing more than 500 articles. “To thousands of youthful readers in the United States, England, and Germany he is a well known author. The Great Brain’s character in Fitzgerald’s series for children is as familiar as Tom Sawyer to these young people,” wrote Godfrey in her 1989 essay.
Despite his literary achievement, much of Fitzgerald’s life remains a mystery. Besides Godfrey’s essay, there is little independent research on Fitzgerald. In fact, his death in 1988 was barely mentioned by Utah media.
Perhaps Fitzgerald encouraged the secrecy. His books are crafted as if they include real places and real people. In “Papa Married a Mormon,” there are even photos of the main characters. Yet, while many of the tales related may have occurred in part and characters existed, the books are clearly fiction. There is no Adenville. Papa Fitzgerald is not a newspaper editor. There was no Jesuit academy in Salt Lake City 100 years ago (the setting of “The Great Brain at the Academy”).
This literary license has led to confusion. Some libraries have placed “Papa Married a Mormon” in the biography section. There was once a Web site devoted to trying to locate the “Southern Utah locations” of “The Great Brain” novels. On a personal note, I spent a long afternoon as a young teen dragging my parents through back roads of Southern Utah searching for the non-existent ruins of Adenville.
A perusal through long-filed away records in Carbon County and Price, Utah, unveil some of the mystery of the writer Fitzgerald’s life. Most of the characters existed. Most are interred in Carbon County.
The “Great Brain” himself, brother Tom Fitzgerald Jr., lived his entire life in Price. He died in 1988, the same year as his writer brother. By the way, the Great Brain was not a Mormon, but a lifelong Catholic. Tragedy dogged the real-life “Great Brain.” In 1925 his young wife Fern died while pregnant and their daughter was stillborn. Fitzgerald’s father, Tom Fitzgerald Sr., was a well-known businessman who served as a Price City councilman. At his funeral, future Utah Gov. J. Bracken Lee was one of the pallbearers.
Fitzgerald’s mother was a Mormon who married a Catholic – that much is true. Her name was Minnie, not Tena, her name in the novels.
There is still much more to unearth in Carbon County and other areas should a biographer one day tackle John D. Fitzgerald’s unique life. It has been two decades since historian Godfrey wrote her essay on John D. Fitzgerald. His “Great Brain” series is still in print, and remains popular to enough readers to keep it circulated. Nevertheless, “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and other series are read today in far greater numbers than “The Great Brain” was read even during its most-popular era.
“(Most) kids don’t even know about it. They are into more modern subjects, like fantasy, escapism,” says Godfrey.
The Great Brain has proven to be immortal, and perhaps more importantly, he has managed to turn a tidy profit for The Fitzgerald family for half a century.
A postcript: For Mormon-themed cinema, the Great Brain seems ideal for adaptation. Although few know this, it was made into a film in 1978 and starred Jimmy Osmond! On Osmond’s Web site are stills from the film. It's never had a DVD release, or VHS, but I own a personally taped copy from about 1980 (TV). You can now access it at YouTube, various locations. Here's one link.
-- Doug Gibson
Note: A version of this post was published in the Standard-Examiner newspaper in 2009. This column is also published at StandardBlogs.