We should never rank commandments. Though it is human nature to categorize by importance, nothing is gained from the argument of this commandment being more valuable or meaningful than that commandment or that a disciple of Christ should heed this one but not necessarily that one since that one ranks lower on the list of Important Commandments. As true disciples of Christ, we should be willing to give all commandments equal credence and mental exertion. We ought to be humble enough to do whatever He asks, whether we can see the meaning or not.
Which is to say, I believe the Word of Wisdom is ranked 63rd.
About a year and a half ago, I found myself in the throes of an intense Diet Coke addiction. Every morning I had to drink a Diet Coke, and if I was having a particularly bad day, Diet Coke was the cure. If I were counting calories and needed a dessert, I had Diet Coke. It is technically not against the Word of Wisdom. People say maybe it’s against the spirit of the law but please, there’s no real argument for that. I was also in the midst of a faith crisis. Meaning on a regular basis I thought: holy crap! I don’t believe hardly anything in the Mormon Church anymore! (hyperbole for effect). Frankly, I was concerned about the amount of Diet Coke I was drinking and the money I was spending to feed the addiction and a non-Mormon co-worker said I should try tea. At the time, I had very little experience breaking the Word of Wisdom and I nervous about taking this step. However, I had come to see the w.o.w. as a commandment with little meaning. Mormons don’t drink tea and coffee because it’s genuinely bad for them (because neither really is) but because it is part of our cultural identity. If anyone knows anything about Mormons, it usually involves w.o.w. knowledge, and it separates us from the world. It helps us take the moral highground occasionally too and we feel good about that.
So I started drinking tea. There’s black and green and white and spiced and sweetened, with milk or plain, short or long time steeping. You can mix herbals and greens or whites, you can mix greens and whites, sometimes greens and blacks and you can drink it iced or hot. Even tepid is not bad. Greens and whites have anti-oxidants galore and blacks have the least caffeine of any caffeinated beverage. All this and you can enjoy the cultural keystone of many, many different countries.
I had no guilt attached to my tea drinking. No loss of the Spirit. No change in my prayers. Plus this whole new beautiful, limitless world was opened up to me. So I started on the coffee. It has also revolutionized my life in the beverage world. The more I drank tea and coffee, the more I could not understand the weight placed on the Word of Wisdom as a commandment. All good was happening and no bad and I was a bit perplexed since I remember discussing in my seminary class how breaking the law of chastity and breaking the Word of Wisdom were on par with each other. Also, because I was having so much trouble believing in the faith of my fathers, I desperately wanted the w.o.w. to mean something. I have no interest in the smoking or drug part of the w.o.w. and I’ve had a few experiences with alcohol but none of them very pretty or refreshing which has caused me to lose interest in breaking that part of the commandment. I am a part keeper and part breaker, but really it has to do with my tastes more than the commandment.
I do not try and rationalize this breakage in any way. I am breaking an important Mormon commandment and am inhibited in some ways in my activity in the Church because of it. I wonder about its weightiness though. I have a friend, recently moved to a very big city with her husband and new baby, and she finds she has little in common with some of the high-powered moms, their nannies and the whole play-date phenomenon. I said, why don’t you go back to Church (she was a Mormon)? And she said, because I don’t think I can give up the wine. And I said, what? who cares, just go to Church meet people you are care about, partake of the religious community and continue to drink wine. You’re breaking a commandment but not the worst one. She said, I think I would be way too self-conscious. So she remains isolated and alone despite the fact that she has a fair amount in common with Mormon mothers and shares much of their world view.
I’m sure we all have friends who avoid the Church because of their issues to the Word of Wisdom and in the end, I think that’s just plain strange. There’s the argument that the Church is a place for the sick and not for the healthy, that we should be meeting as sinners and not as perfected beings. There’s the argument that the Word of Wisdom just isn’t significant in ways like worshipping things other than God or committing adultery and therefore not a commandment worth ostrasizing people over. There’s the argument that little to no attention is paid to the meat sparingly or fruits, vegetables, and grains in abundance portion of the w.o.w. which means we can give the same heed to the hot drinks section. Then there’s mine: tea and coffee are great! Drink up!
I do not mean to advocate breaking the Word of Wisdom. Keep the commandment because it is a part of your belief system, because it is a part of your culture, because you have received blessings from keeping it, because God said you should do it. I wholeheartedly respect this response to the Word of Wisdom. However, as a people, I think we need to reassess our treatment of those who cannot for one reason or another keep it. To reassess those who cannot find the meaning in it or develop testimonies of it. The Church would be less without me in it. It’s less without my wine-drinking friend. It is less without your insightful friend that smokes. Less without the other very kind friend who goes to bars on the weekends. Even without the drug-addict and the chain-smoker, we are less of Church. And that’s not very satisfying to any of us.