Somewhere long in his past, Norman Rothman decided to live by his own rules. To this day, he is not bound by convention or intimidated at being "different." He follows his instincts when he feels something is right - particularly when it comes to serving God.
Everything about his new book, "The Unauthorized Biography of Joseph Smith, Mormon Prophet," stands as a testament to his unique perspective. A homespun combination of the Joseph Smith story, LDS Church history, doctrinal explanation and personal testimony, the 393-page volume is Rothman's vehicle "to go out into the world and tell the story my way."He concedes at the beginning that "I'm breaking all the rules of acceptable writing and editing. Nevertheless, I testify I've done what the Lord has asked me to do through personal revelation; that is, to tell all and tell it truthfully." No footnotes or index - just a story told his way. "I've written two books, but I don't claim to be an author," Rothman says.
Published with funding from local supporters including Jim Sorenson and Richard Winwood, the book will be distributed mostly outside Utah, Rothman says. A few copies have been offered locally through Deseret Book and ZCMI.
As a Jewish convert to the LDS Church, Rothman believes his 30-plus years of membership and activity in a denomination seen as "peculiar" by much of the world give him good reason to "serve the Lord" through talking about church founder Joseph Smith with any news-paper, radio or television reporter that will listen.
Thus, he and his wife, Annette, are packing up for 18 months to spread the news about his work, "without purse or scrip" as early Mormon missionaries did. A marketing and promotions man by profession, Rothman isn't worried about whether people will listen. He just hopes the new car he bought to travel the country will hold out for the duration.
While most retired Latter-day Saints who wish to spread the church's teachings are issued a formal mission call and go through group training to learn precise lesson presentations, the Rothmans say theirs is a mission of a different type.
"We're not sanctioned by or sponsored by the church, but the scriptures say any who have desires to do the Lord's work are called to do it," Rothman says. "And that's what we're doing."
It won't be the first book tour for the couple. In 1986, Rothman says he felt inspired to leave his private business pursuits and write a book about his conversion to Mormonism. "So How Come A Nice Jewish Boy Became A Mormon" is Rothman's autobiography, written in his same unique style - mixed with explanations of LDS doctrine and his testimony of its truthfulness. The Rothmans spent three years touring the country to generate interest in that work and came home with scores of press clippings from newspapers large and small, as well as an impressive list of broadcast interviews.
While he still feels a particular responsibility to explain Mormonism to his Jewish friends, his new book seeks - among many other things - to explain up front the one issue that many still associate with the LDS Church: plural marriage.
"The reason why we're not well-liked is primarily because of polygamy," he says. "If we can just get the world to understand it - why it's part of our history - it's a load off their backs."
Rothman is convinced that once people come to understand Joseph Smith, their innate sense of spirituality will naturally lead them to the conclusion that he was a prophet who restored Christ's gospel to the earth - rather than the "imposter, pretender or deceiver" some have made him out to be.
That kind of spiritual sensitivity is what convinced him the Mormon Church had the "missing something" he once sought. "I tore apart the Book of Mormon piece by piece to find the gimmick, to find misinformation, to find a lack of continuity or to find the unbelievable. When I put it all back together again, everything fit."
Rothman hopes to ignite the spiritual spark in others that he says he had from an early age.
While his life-in-the-Bronx Jewish childhood was rigid, structured and lonely during the 1920s and '30s, he struggled to attend synagogue - alone - to develop that inborn love of things spiritual. Though his cab-driving father couldn't afford the tuition for Hebrew School, Rothman pressed his parents for a bar mitzvah, and he reveled in the teachings of an old rabbi who helped him pass the requirements to become a religious man in the eyes of his Jewish culture.
When World War II called, he jumped at the chance to experience life in the Navy outside the confines of a home life that had afforded him little opportunity for friendship. Yet his love for God and the principles of the Torah kept him from plunging headlong into the worldly side of freedom. He organized and held Jewish worship services for his fellow sailors.
Returning home, he enrolled in retailing school, determined to master the business principles that could transform his willingness to work hard into monetary success. By his own admission he married for com-panionship, rather than love, three times maintaining a belief in such partnerships even as they fell apart.
To compensate, he worked harder at business, moving into advertising and promotional work for everything from a Jewish children's hospital to an electronic facial device for women.
While religion remained important in his soul, he found little encouragement for such pursuits at home and even less time to devote to them - until his second marriage. His wife was a Methodist, and determined to make a success of the union, he started to attend her church.
A fascination for the New Testament and the concept of Jesus Christ as the Messiah quickly developed, though there still seemed an element missing in his religious understanding.
He continued to explore other Christian churches when occasion permitted and found "more intellectual knowledge and information, but nothing I could really say was it."
With his conversion to Mormonism in 1964, Rothman found himself using his business experience to accentuate his church service. He promoted the church in several areas of the country through any means available, generating publicity through the media, helping to stage community "Meet the Mormons" events and speaking to civic and business groups in major cities.
He plans to use many of those same skills in his current quest. The Norman Rothman Foundation - funded by the local philanthropists - has provided money to produce and print the book. "I didn't decide to write this to make a living," he says. "The Lord didn't say to me, `Do you have enough money?' He just told me to get out there and do it - not for the Mormon market, but for the world."
And that's just what Norman and Annette Rothman intend to do.