This summer as you watch Olympic athletes receive their medals, I ask you to remember the individual who founded a Utah company that manufactured many of these medals in years past, a founder named Obert C. Tanner who started the Utah jewelry establishment O.C. Tanner Co., and one of my favorite Mormons. O.C. is, himself, a hidden jewel set firmly in the annals of Mormon history.
O.C. began his career selling seminary graduation pins from the trunk of his car as a University of Utah undergraduate and went on to found O.C. Tanner Co. in 1927 while obtaining several degrees from the University of Utah and Stanford University. Tanner then taught religious studies at Stanford University from 1939-44, then philosophy at the University of Utah, all while overseeing his jewelry business and authoring 10 books, including perhaps the most beloved instructional manual ever published by the LDS Church, O.C.’s timeless masterpiece, Christ’s Ideals for Living. When asked to write this text by LDS General Sunday School Superintendent George Hill, Tanner had several serious reservations, fearing he might “not write in a sufficiently orthodox way to be acceptable …” since, as a philosophy professor, he said “neither my association nor my thinking had been in line with a particular religious position.” Tanner’s reluctance to author the requested text was overcome finally when he was told that LDS Church President David O. McKay had personally asked for O.C., by name, to write it.
Out of caution, O.C. soon scheduled a meeting with President McKay to discuss further the pending church manual. Tanner was forthright in discussing his concerns: “I told [President McKay] … I was convinced it would be difficult for me to write a manual that would please the reading committee.” President McKay replied: “Well then, we will change the committee.” Remarkably, McKay gave O.C. an unlimited budget to buy any books he needed for his research and Tanner spent a year purchasing New Testament studies texts from the university bookstores of Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Chicago, among others, charging them to the Mormon church. All of these books became “a beautiful addition to the [LDS Church] Sunday school library on the New Testament.”
O.C. soon learned that some of his earlier fears were not unfounded. His church-paid secretary, an LDS church office veteran, reported several ominous rumors to Tanner, saying: “There is a committee that has been organized to see that you do not write this manual, and some of the members of the committee are very high in church positions.” But because he knew President McKay had his back, O.C. was no longer concerned with any opposition and forged ahead.
Tanner spent several months trying to structure his text in a way that would be both practical and challenging for its audience. Then the title came to him, Christ’s Ideals for Living, and afterwards it seemed to write itself. O.C. chose timeless Christian ideals, not doctrines, as his chapter subjects, ideals such as: Faith; Humility; Courage; Balance; Integrity; Beauty; Serenity; Adventure; Prayer; Self-Regard; Friendship; Peace; Justice; Mercy; Magnanimity; Equality; Freedom; Loyalty; Tolerance; Progress; Forgiveness; Trust; Worship; Steadfastness; and Sacrifice, among others.
Tanner then divided each chapter into 5 parts: an introduction to the ideal as found in world literature, the ideal as expressed in the New Testament, the ideal as lived in the life of Jesus, the ideal as it might be lived in our lives and, finally, the ideal as expressed in quotations from LDS leaders. The final manuscript was then reviewed, as President McKay had suggested, by a new committee which approved it. Said LDS Superintendent Hill shortly after its publication:
I regard [Christ's Ideals for Living] as the finest manual yet produced as a Sunday school text. I predict that it will be regarded as one of the most valuable texts for Sunday schools and general church use, for years to come ….”
Brother Hill was correct in his assessment and prediction. Although O.C. Tanner is rightly remembered by many as a philanthropist who contributed to charities, donated water fountains to hospitals and colleges and who permanently endowed the Tanner Lectures on Human Values presented annually at several universities in England and the United States, he is remembered by me and many others as the man who wrote a fifth gospel, a text that continues to inspire and teach in timeless fashion.
 The story of, and quotations about, this book come from O.C. Tanner’s memoir, One Man’s Journey: In Search of Freedom, pp 115-121. Christ’s Ideals for Living is available in used internet bookstores and, apparently, is still in print under special licensing: http://www.amazon.com/Christs-Ideals-Living-Obert-Tanner/dp/1258002191.