Taking One For the Team

A small, mostly meaningless diversion from the U.S. primaries:

My cousin was set apart as bishop of his ward two weeks ago. I like this cousin. He’s a liberal academic, teaching humanities at a very cool university and he has excellent taste in TV, books and movies. We usually discuss this excellent taste over Diet Coke.

When we gtalked a few weeks ago about his new calling, we chit-chatted, he asked for my condolences, I gave them and then he told me he was giving up Diet Coke. And a part of me died a little bit. What are we going to do while we talk about Battlestar Galactica and Haruki Murakami? Is he going to drink Sprite? Ridiculous.

Despite the fact that caffeine has been mentioned by Gordon B. Hinckley as one of the things from which Mormons abstain (remember that interview with Larry King?) we both agreed that caffeine is not against the Word of Wisdom. So, why, why is he giving up Diet Coke? He says it is because he never wants it to be a stumbling block to those in his ward. There are members of Church that do believe caffeine is against the Word of Wisdom and he doesn’t want that to get in the way of him being able to act as their bishop.  I said that just because they believe it, it doesn’t make it so. That they need to grow up and realize that their perceptions of righteousness need to grow a little bit (I am stamping my foot in the conversation round about now). He says that he feels impressed that he needs to give it up for the sake of others.

Gosh darn it.

Impressed. That trumps everything. I can’t argue with it.  It means the Spirit has most likely did the impressing and that beats out a girl with a diet Coke addiction.  I may or may not think this use of impress in an argument is unfair, nevertheless, I deeply respect my cousin’s decisions to do what he feels is right to be a good bishop. I still wouldn’t mind being in his ward, even if he doesn’t drink Diet Coke because he doesn’t want to be a stumbling block.

So a couple of questions, do you think things like Diet Coke for a leader can cause people to stumble? Do you think it will affect their relationship with their leader? Should a leader give up things that are culturally perceived (or were a past expectation) to be a sign of disobedience in order to help his or her (it could happen in RS) flock and their faith?  I also wonder if giving up caffeine, or being clean-shaven, while not required is a sign of greater obedience? Is it a higher law? Is that why my cousin feels like he should give it up? This same cousin did shave his beard when he was on the high council, despite the Stake President’s permission to keep it, for similar reasons as the Diet Coke. He thinks it’s silly that a human should get in the way of a person’s relationship with God. I agree. I just think that humans who think that other humans have less of the Spirit because of caffeine or a beard should grow up.

I should be able to wear a beard if I want to.


  1. This is interesting, because it’s really more about appearance than anything, and it is easy to say that appearance isn’t important.

    But, in the case of a visible leadership position in the church, appearance is important. Drinking Diet Coke shouldn’t influence anyone else, but I can see someone justifying other types of behaviors because their bishop drinks caffeine. It shouldn’t be that way, but it could happen.

    It also brings up the importance of integrity, because he could have decided to abstain only in public. But, it sounds like he’s a man of integrity and is going cold turkey, so I’d have to respect that.

  2. I think your cousin here is being quite admirable, and taking a position apprriate to one called to servant leaderhship. To me, a part of having a disposition for real service involves considering those weaker than us first, and taking their failings, as well as our own, into account as we try to serve them.

    Now with regard to specific activities or behaviors, the answer to should I or shouldn’t I is a matter of consideration and reflection and probably prayer. There are some where it is appropraite to change so that one can better serve and in other cases it is best to not–when changing, though it may make things more comfortable, will actually lead to serving them worse. And on a question like this, well, he knows–having discernment as well as personal relationships–which is the right side of service.

  3. Actually, Amri, it’s the “Diet” part of that issue that should be the stumbling block. If I knew that my bishop drank Diet Coke, rather than the real, honest-to-goodness sugary or corn syrupy packed-with-calories Coca-Cola, original recipe handed down from the gods, etc. etc. (unless he was diabetic), I’m afraid I’d be falling down stumbling, tripping, head-over-heels, usw.

    Seriously, though, this is an extension of the Elder Oaks non-interference principle (if you’re a deacon, don’t do anything while passing the sacrament that will interfere with the spiritual experience the ward members should be having). I think it’s fine, so long as it’s a personal thing. Your cousin can tell you, and his wife and children, but only in strictest confidence, w/o a hint to ward members that this somehow means they have to give it up.

  4. I think my mission president said to his missionaries that he did NOT drink Coca-Cola but his family (wife and kids did.

    That’s an interesting way to split the information/example/counsel that is being imparted that might lead to a general sense of “okay, it’s not that big a deal.”

  5. I should be allowed to glue my poster. I should be allowed to think.

    While I can see the cause of your consternation, I applaud your cousin’s decision. He’ll be held up to a higher standard than you will, his ward will look up to him, follow his example. If giving up the caffeine will help them follow, it’s probably for the best. I think of it as avoiding the appearance of “perceived evil.” Not that he thinks is wrong, but others might.

    Imagine the problems you could get into drinking apple cider out of a Coors bottle. =)

    On a slightly related note, I discovered recently that A&W Cream Soda has caffeine in it! Why?

  6. My bishop growing up had a Coke addiction. FWIW

  7. Aaron Brown says:

    “do you think things like Diet Coke for a leader can cause people to stumble?”

    Probably. But I can introduce you to folks for whom a citation to Bruce R. McConkie in Gospel Doctrine class will cause a stumbling. Or for whom hagiographic portrayals of this or that Church leader are harmful to faith. Maybe I should use these friends’ reactions as benchmarks for what we should or should not teach in Gospel Doctrine class, rather than the wardmember who can’t bear to see his Bishop dring a cola. :)

    Of course, my real point is that once you start playing the “Will this harm the testimonies of misinformed churchmembers?” game, rather than applying the “Is this actually against the standards of the Church?” principle, you’re really asking for trouble. Better not to play.

    “I also wonder if giving up caffeine, or being clean-shaven, while not required is a sign of greater obedience?”

    Nope. If it isn’t required, than what is one being “obedient” to? I guess there are those who think that inventing standards for themselves, over and above the Church’s standards, are engaging in something virtuous. Whatever. I’ll concede it’s a sign of something, but not that.

    “Is it a higher law?”

    Be wary of this phrase… “Higher Law”. Too high for those of who actually pay attention to what the Church does (and doesn’t) say, evidently. “Oh, if everyone was only as spiritual as me, they would have the Holy Ghost testify to them that they shouldn’t eat twinkies!” Please. I rather suspect that “higher laws”, to the extent they exist, consist of general principles that spiritually mature individuals should try to apply, rather than cosmic statutes filled with lists of large numbers of additional prohibited acts (or substances) that the Church and/or scriptures just didn’t bother to tell us about, for some reason. But “higher law” gets thrown a lot, cause it sounds better than “standard I can’t defend, but that I choose to believe is a sign of righteousness anyway.”

    Of course, your cousin’s dilemma is a (presumably) unintentional byproduct of the Church’s decision to remain ambiguous about the precise contours of its standards, rather than laying out the boundaries with precision (which would be really easy for it to do, if church leaders wanted to).


  8. My Stake Presidenct always has a two-liter of Diet Dr. Pepper on the table when we get invited over to his house for dinner.

    I’d suggest that, now that he has his own copy, he look through the Church Handbook of Instructions, note that the Church takes no official position on caffeinated sodas, and simply be prepared with that info should a ward member question it.

    He’s missing out on a great opportunity to correct an incorrect folk doctrine otherwise, and as a Bishop he is tasked with keeping the doctrine pure. That means protecting it from the over-zealous as well.

  9. There’s a point at which a leader can’t be responsible for the heightened sensitivity of the congregation. If someone leaves the Church because they saw the Bishop drinking Dr. Pepper, there are larger issues at play. I can’t say that we should cater to such fragility.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Another reason why I will never be a bishop. I just lack the bishop thought process, I guess.

    I worked for my SP when I was in law school, and he kept a refrigerator filled with Pepsi. And he didn’t care who knew it.

  11. We recently moved into a ward near very liberal Portland, Or. A large percentage of my ward votes Democratic. Shortly after moving here I was called to be Bishop. I felt “impressed” to remove my “I Support Bush” bumper sticker for the very reason your friend stopped drinking Coke. Tough move.

  12. You’d look terrible with a beard, Amri.

  13. bbell, did you think he was less of a bishop because of it?

    I understand what y’all are saying but if caffeine really really really is not a part of the Word of Wisdom then I think that the general Church should move in the direction that it really is not a part of the Word of Wisdom, meaning that we should not look to it as a sign of heightened obedience.

    Also, I think it’s ridiculous that a person use his or her bishop’s diet Coke habit to justify a significant sin. A bishop should never have that weight on his shoulders.

    I think the idea (which definitely exists) of living higher laws on earth is funny and weird and sometimes damaging. That is, that there are laws we will be required to live in heaven, or that God requires of his Prophets, that we can tap into, obey and therefore become better than our fellow Saints. Firstly, we hardly know anything about the intricate details of heaven and secondly if it’s expected of the Prophet and he think it should be expected of us, then won’t he tell us?

    I respect my cousin. And his choice, but the idea that he has to give up something that isn’t really against our religion so others don’t falter is a wee bit lame to me. Plus it nurtures the idea that I am not as obedient because I drink Diet Coke. It also fosters the feelings of separation, mild rebellion, and angst of the Diet Coke drinkers. And that doesn’t seem very helpful.

  14. amri,

    I’ll take your word for it that he is an outstanding person, but I’m stamping my foot with you.

    I wonder if he has considered the amount of good he could do by showing solidarity with some of the more marginal members? I’ve had GAs (including one apostle) drink Coke in front of me, and it just isn’t an issue.

  15. Being a bishop myself, I totally understand your cousin’s decision. In the lifetime of my members, I will only be bishop for a short time (currently at 3 1/2 years, maybe I’ll get to 5? 6?). If there is something I can do or something that I can change or give up in that brief period of time that will help others, then I figure it’s the least I can do.

  16. smb, you never know. I haven’t tried for fear of being pegged the less obedient one.

    Also, in the circumstances of my cousin, he is in a conservative ward. There are lots of comments in EQ or HP, where they say “Those intellectuals…..taking us to hell in a handbasket…Satan….intellectuals….Hitler” kind of talk and he says, “well, as an intellectual…” and they’ve stopped saying it. I brought this up and told him that maybe he should drink DC from the pulpit but he disagreed.

    I mean, if they stopped putting all evil on intellectuals because of you maybe they’ll give up the freak out on caffeine.

  17. But, does he flaunt the fact that he has given up the beverage, or is it something that he has just done quietly, without fanfare, unless questioned about it? Flaunting would be a cause for concern, but sans flaunting, I’d say it’s his personal decision and can’t see it being an issue.

  18. I disagree completely that a bishop ought to cave in to the WoW absolutists. I know people who object to white bread being used for the sacrament, and whose testimonies would be helped if only homemade whole wheat bread made without white sugar were to be used. Tough.

  19. We should avoid becoming addicted to any substance. If it is not specifically prohibited we should use it in moderation.

    The truth is most Coke/Dew drinkers I know drink it more than water, which is far from moderation.

    If when you go out to dinner a few times a month you get a coke, that seems fine. I think any sugary or caffinated beverage that you drink with every meal and in between meals is probaby violating the moderation clause of the word of wisdom.

    Of course, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy. Just that you should be aware of your cravings/desires/habits and attempt to control the natural man a little better.

    That’s my personal philosophy at least.

  20. I’m sure no one in his ward will even notice. I don’t know how often he hung out with them before, but he’s not telling anyone and I’m sure they won’t notice.

    And in the end, it’s not his particular decision that bugs me. He can do what he wants, for whatever reason he wants. He is the best kind of person (my kind of person a liberal Mormon) and I wish I were in his ward. But I do think the idea that you have to obey rules that aren’t there for people who think that they are there is an issue.

  21. Yeah, where does this stop — if some think the WoW means no meat, does a bishop become a vegetarian for five years? Or give up white bread? Do bishops need to restrict themselves to G-rated movies, listen only to uplifting classical music, and dress in a suit 24/7? I don’t doubt cousin’s good intentions, but he still has to live a life and maintain his sanity for five years.

  22. #19-“The truth is most Coke/Dew drinkers I know drink it more than water, which is far from moderation.”

    C’mon,sam, that’s anecdotal evidence and doesn’t really hold water and you know it.

    I whole heartedly believe in moderation (though rarely practice it myself) but that’s not what this is about.

  23. Don’t we all do things for people that we don’t normally do? It’s part of service. I guess I just don’t see what the difference is. Now I’m not talking about anything extreme, but again, if I can do something to help my members, then I’ll do my best to try.

  24. Aaron Brown says:

    My favorite bad example of catering to churchmembers’ misconceptions is from my mission. I had a companion — probably the best non-native speaker of Spanish in the mission, ironically — who actually argued to me, in all seriousness, that it was important to speak to the locals with the same bad Spanish grammar that they themselves used. (i.e., “conjugating” the reflexsive pronouns attached to imperative verbs, etc. (sientensen!)). In his view, this made us more effective missionaries, since we would be rappin’ like the locals and thus better communicating our message. I refused to dumb down my speech, a callous act for which I was accused of being a language snob. I tried to appeal to my companion’s long-term self-interest, pointing out that he’d be a better speaker of Spanish later if he practiced talking correctly now. For this, I was accused of valuing my post-mission bilingualism, and its alleged usefulness in future career endeavors, more than the needs of my Argentine investigators, and by implication, the welfare of the Church. Sigh.

    Good times!


  25. When I’m Bishop, I’m gonna drink a Rock Star at the ward party, waving it around wildly, to make sure everyone sees me.

    (Here’s why he should give it up: addiction sucks.)

  26. Amri,

    I agree about the beard, and I’ve never seen you in person!

    However, I’ve been exactly where your cousin is. When I was called as bishop 10 years ago, I drank Diet Coke, wore blue shirts to church, and had a mustache.

    When you get called to be a bishop (or bishop’s counselor, EQ president, RS president, YW leader), you do spend a lot of time thinking about those you have a stewardship over, and the example you set.

    I applaud your cousin’s integrity. Here’s what I did:

    I don’t ever drink Diet Coke, or Diet Pepsi, at a church function, or when in any kind of situation where I was more likely to be identified by my church calling than as Kevinf. I always wear white shirts to church in my own ward or when I visit other wards in our stake in my current calling. I still drink Diet Pepsi at work and at home, and when I visited the Seattle 3rd ward two weeks ago, I wore a patterned shirt and khakis. I didn’t shave my mustache until about 3 years ago, but that because it made me look older. Incidentally that was why I grew it in the first place so many years ago.

    I understand your foot stomping. To maybe help you feel a little better about your cousin, I suspect he’ll never, ever, say anything to anyone who drinks Diet Coke. Just like I never, ever, took a deacon aside to say “you need to wear white shirts to church to pass the sacrament”. It’s not official, so it’s not important.

    However, Ray made a comment over on T&S about conformity that went something like this. In some cases conformity comes through the proper exercise of agency, which he defined as the highest form of agency. Others conform due to peer pressure, or in other words, abuse of power, which is bad.

    But I think whenever we start saying “we’re living a higher law”, that it’s a step on a dangerous, slippery slope. Maybe a poor example, but a good friend of mine had a cousin that decided he and his wife would live a higher law, and even though married in the temple, lived a celibate lifestyle and adopted multiple children. That’s nuts. It’s a form of pride that is pernicious and hurtful in the long run.

    Sorry for the length of the post, but you posed a very good set of questions.

  27. Aaron Brown says:

    Graham, one could argue that you’re actually doing people a disservice by catering to their misconceptions. The real service would be to have a clarifying conversation with the bothered churchmember if and when the subject comes up.


  28. Susan M–that’s funny. Call me to that ward party.

    Addiction does suck, I don’t think he was an addict though.

    Aaron, did you stone him? Cuz that’s the only thing I can think of to do in that situation.

  29. Susan M, please post video of your first ward party as bishop, for so many reasons!

  30. kevinf, thanks for the insight. He isn’t judgmental and wouldn’t ask anyone else to give it up. I’ve also wondered if it comes out of the feelings of inadequacy that must come when you’re called as a leader. And you would feel the willingness to give up anything for anyone, I imagine, not because it makes you more worthy but just because you’re so humbled by it.

  31. Amri,

    It is anecdotal, but still, the people who I work with drink cokes/dew/insert sweet drink here with every meal and during breaks.

    That’s my experience. There’s the old 80/20 rule (80% of the business comes from 20% of your customers) so I don’t know how that applies to soft drinks.

    I have no problem with a Bishop drinking caffine and I have no problem with a Bishop deciding to abstaine because caffine is not good for you to take unless you have a specific reason for doing so.

    I used to drink Mountain Dew all the time, but decide to stop and just start drinking water when I was thirsty in between meals and milk with dinner or lunch. You can do what works well for you of course…everything in moderation…even moderation!

  32. “Manic depression, it ain’t half bad.” I have a beard. Brigham had a beard. Live and let live. Are we really bothered by facial hair? Have we all gone insane? Are we all sheep or does free-agency still exist? I hope so.

  33. I hope not that is. Overcome by the spirit I guess.

  34. Really, kevinf? You sure about that celibate couple? Maybe they just decided to not add to the population, he had a vasectomy and they were off to the races (and the adoption agency).

  35. John W,

    I’ve mentioned this before, but when I had my mustache as bishop (all five years), more than half the bishops in our stake had facial hair. Two of them now are in the SP. However, as we’ve aged, we’ve all shaved, generally for the same reason. A gray mustache is just not all that attractive.

  36. Mark, nope. They had openly discussed this with the rest of their family at various family gatherings. I should note that they adopted 11 kids as well. Their family mostly thought they were nuts too. They also probably did other things to live a higher law, but I’ve never found the Book of Higher Law, even in the Pearl of Great Price or the OT. Was he one of the lesser prophets?

  37. John Withers says:

    Come on, Aaron. The best non-native Spanish speaker in the mission? I didn’t think you and I were ever actual companions….


  38. It’s interesting that I find myself avoiding certain practices solely to make people more comfortable as their bishop. I’ll wear a wrinkled white shirt to church when I have several crisp pale blue ones in the closet. I forgo the bow ties that are perfect for Christmas, New Years, and various other festive occasions. And I check my interview schedule each week to see “who needs their bishop to leave work early so he can put on a suit instead of showing up in jeans?”

    But I still bring a can of Diet Coke to the ward house on interview nights and would not feel uncomfortable if I bumped into a member at the Sev while buying a RockStar. Of course this calling causes me to sleep less than anyone I know in our ward, so I see my addiction as medicine to cure what ails me.

    I need a nap.

  39. It is important for some people to have handy little gauges by which to assure themselves that they are standing on a slightly higher step than most (because, of course, we all want to believe we are “above average”). Look at the levels available to Mormons on the matter of what one drinks:

    PURIFIED (such as alcohol-free champagne).

  40. Elouise, I’m so below average, I had to move from Lake Wobegon as a child!

  41. Elouise–Where does hot chocolate fit into this list?

    What about Yoohoo?

  42. Amri,

    I’ve been feeling a higher degree of sensitivity since I acquired my latest calling (just a humble HPGL) as well and I can appreciate your cousin’s decision. I also gave up Diet Coke (elixir of the gods – genuflect), and the withdrawal was . I also gave up certain kinds of movies, humor, music… and it wasn’t so much a conscious decision to be a better example as much as it was my comfort level. I always knew Diet Coke was bad for me, but I didn’t care until my stewardship heightened. Perhaps this is an underlying reason for your cousin as well, that he became more aware of himself with the new calling. My two cents.

  43. It’s his call to make as an individual Bishop. I don’t know how I’d act, and it might be different if I were a Bishop more than once. That would depend on what I felt as I prayed about my calling. I’m not about to question his individual decision, especially given your description of his goodness, sincerity and closeness to the Spirit.

    Right now I wear a white shirt, tie and suit coat in all public church meetings – because my direct Priesthood leader asked me to when I was called. However, I often am the only one not wearing such attire in our non-public meetings; I usually wear slacks and a polo shirt there. He hasn’t said anything to me, so I don’t bother to dress up.

    Having said that, in general, I don’t think anyone should feel compelled to follow an artificial higher law. I don’t believe in laws higher than those articulated explicitly by the official Church standards. Creating more laws than minimally necessary smacks of Law of Moses obsession.

  44. that’s funny Elouise

    I have met people like that. Who only drink mineral water and it’s somehow connected to the Word of Wisdom and their righteousness. If I’m ever only allowed to drink mineral water, please put me at the sinners’ table.

    kevinf–for being accused of having God, Joseph Smith and eventually us being able to have lots of celestial sex, I love that these folks thought no sex was higher law. Maybe they were thinking of the Shakers? That’s embarrassing. Living the higher law of the wrong religion and everything.

  45. Ack!

    I meant to say “…the withdrawal was brutal.

  46. #42 David T “(elixir of the gods – genuflect)” that’s funny!

  47. #38 is priceless.

  48. To me it seems that giving up DC when impressed so as not to be a stumbling block to others makes sense for the same reason a seminary teacher wouldn’t want to tell his students he only believed in a local flood; or a GD teacher who studied textual criticism wouldn’t tell his class that all scholarship pointed to such and such being added to the NT much later, and probably didn’t happen. It is a similar (thought not entirely the same reason) I generally wouldn’t crash someone’s world by telling them that JS did have 30 wives.

  49. #48 – Sorry, nmiles, but those examples are another, completely different discussion.

  50. Kevin– Love it! There’s a book there.

    Re my post: some technological glitch happened and the post went up before I had fine-tuned it. For example, #9 should specify only non-fizzy mineral water bottled by DI. And on second thought, I wasn’t sure Sanka was still on the market. And I’m totally ignorant of how sports drinks rank–good because exercise-related or bad because secretly loaded with steroids or what?

  51. I guess that since you don’t have to worry about having a miscarriage you might be alright… But if it was the President of the Relief Society….


  52. Our former bishop once stood up after two or three testimonies condemning cola and other caffeine containing drinks (and implying that avoiding caffeine sets an example of Mormon-ness) and said something like “A person may avoid caffeinated drinks if he or she chooses, but it is not a part of the word of wisdom or required to be a good member of the Church.” I don’t recall a Church leader ever making a public defense of caffeine drinking in an official Church meeting I have attended before or since.

    In our mission, the directive was that if we were offered a cola drink, we should imbibe, but if given a choice, we should request something else.

    My mother goes to movies she likes, regardless of rating. It was either when my father was called as bishop or as patriarch that he told her he felt uncomfortable going to R-rated movies, in part because of his calling, so since then, if the movie is R-rated, she has gone by herself.

  53. Ray
    How so?

  54. #51–so now you’re just asking us to judge women of child-bearing age that drink caffeine?

  55. Latter-day Guy says:

    I have it on good authority that President Monson drinks Dr. Pepper like he breathes. Thus, I know he is a true prophet.

  56. That’s well over a 50% reduction in judging :), but no, I’m not asking.

  57. Oh good Lord…55 posts about whether or not a bishop should drink Diet Coke…and the obligatory facial hair debate thrown in, too, for good measure. I hope I never get called as a bishop.

  58. Come to think of it, the people who refuse to vote for a Mormon were pretty astute after all. We’re nuts.

  59. Hey lay off, guys! We’re busy straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

  60. Mmmmmmm. Camels.

  61. Mmmmmmmmm. Gnats.

  62. Amri, I’ll give you a dollar if you can grow a beard.

  63. I have a great Diet Coke story that I’m almost afraid to tell. It involves Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf (before he was President Uchtdorf) and I got it first hand.

    My mother’s best friend lives here in the Salt Lake City area. One night she went to the local grocery store on a Diet Coke run. She was pushing her cart with two 12 packs of Diet Coke in it when she saw Elder Uchtdorf and his wife grocery shopping. She’s a real general authority groupy, so she really would have liked to have shaken their hands, but she was too ashamed because she was purchasing the evil substance. When she got to checkout, the checker told her that there was a buy 2, get one free sale on Coca Cola products and that she also got a free bag of Cheetos with her purchase. So she headed back to the soft drink isle and who did she see there but the Uchtdorfs, loading two 12 packs of caffeinated Coke products in their cart. So she went up to them, introduced herself, and let them know about the buy 2, get one free sale. “Oh, it must be my lucky day,” said Sister Eucdorf. When she informed them that they also got a free bag of Cheetos, Elder Uchtdorf said, “Oh, it must by my lucky day too.”

    Remind me to tell you about the time when Elder Glen L. Rudd of the Quorem of the Seventies came to my mission and made me and my companion stop at Dairy Queen on Sunday for Blizzards.

  64. I wonder if your cousin the bishop was thinking like this:

    I want all of my ward members to be able to feel comfortable in coming to me to with problems, to accept callings, etc. I feel like my diet coke habit could cause some of these ward members to shy away from visiting with me or from accepting callings. Maybe I should remove that as an excuse so that we can work on perfecting the saints and not getting stuck on the perceived impropriety of a caffeinated drink

    This kind of sounds like a question of “who adapts to whose expectations.” Amri, you’d like others to adapt to your view because there’s no official stance on this subject. Your cousin is willing to adapt to others expectations (I’m assuming so that attention can be focused on more important issues).

    I didn’t think I had a diet coke (w/ lime, the one and only true diet coke) addiction until I tried to stop (the stuff is expensive if you go through a 24 pack in a week).

  65. Rich Haskins says:

    As a Bishop that gave up all soda drinks primarily for health reasons long before being called as Bishop, I see the word of Wisdom as a rule/law given in the 19th century and that obviously includes 19th century understandings. We know that the handbook of instruction directive is the minimum standard. The question for me is, how does the word of wisdom apply in the 21st century with the creation of thousands of products that are created in our modern vibrant capitalist economy. Lacking clear direction from a prophet, I think we must interpret that question through a prism of understanding of how God would like the law interpreted today in the 21st century just as Joseph Smith interpreted it using 19th Century standards. Each person must make that decision for themselves. On a personal level, it is just much easier to serve as Bishop free of any of the controversial products and a lot healthier.

  66. Amri no,

    Just pointing it out. I opted out of the Cola wars long before my mission. We drink Cola at my house all the time.

  67. In 1st Corinthians 9:20 Paul describes the same thought process as your cousin.

  68. I forgot,

    My favorite story of this Bishop is when he dropped the F bomb on a ref at a YM church district bball game when I was a senior and got himself ejected. Good times. One thing I have noticed over the years about church leadership is that its impossible to please everybody all the time. So I just try to be who I am and let the chips fall where they may.

  69. So, Kevinf; it seems quite possible that your cousin is gay and dealing with it the best way he can think of. Why do you think the Shakers had such awesome accessories?

  70. This whole post is representative of a lot of the stuff I see on the bloggernacle. Everybody (well not everybody)has an opinion based on their viewpoint and expectations of the gospel and are not shy about jumping in with their 2 cents (don’t you just miss the “cents” symbol found on typewriters?) worth.

    Bottom line, let’s not judge a man who has no stewardship over us, but does for a select group of individuals; the members of his ward. When he was set apart he was given the right to receive inspiration in that capacity. If he felt “impressed” to give up Diet Coke, then by all means let him give it up in peace. If he feels it will make HIM a better bishop for HIS ward, then by all means let him do it.

    It’s up to him to decided what might be a “stumbling block” to his flock, not us.

    OK, that’s my “judgement”! For the most part I really enjoy most all the LDS themed blogs that I read. I’ve learned things, thought about things, and connected with others in a way not possible in my own little world. So keep it up, folks!

  71. Amri is right–if her cousin feels inspired to drop Coke then it is hard to argue with that.

    As a general matter I would prefer to see bishops disabuse their flock of misinterpreted doctrine and practice.

  72. My wife Sandra and I both, ah, imbibe, our caffeinated beverage of choice being Coke Zero (regular and cherry), thought frankly we drink far more Fresca (regular and peach) than Coke. (And by the way — to taunt all of you — I have Coke in 12-oz glass bottles and made with _real cane sugar_. Mwa ha ha!) But when we throw one of our major BBQs (see here), I don’t put out caffeinated soda for pretty much the same reason Paul passed on the sacrificed meat (1 Cor 8:8-13). On the other hand, we do have the canned Coke Zero in the fridge, and those who want/need it know to come ask me.

    Oh, and I’ve had a beard for pretty much the last 20 years, including during two stints in bishoprics and multiple stints (including my current one) as a ward missionary/mission leader.

    There, have I covered all the issues? ..bruce..

    P.S. For those of you dying to know: I get the cane-sugar Coke — which is bottled in Mexico — at the local [Denver] Costco.

  73. Djinn,

    Not my cousin, my friends cousin. I suppose it could be, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    As to my own cousins, they all think I’m nuts for being a Democrat, but I think they’re nuts for lots of other reasons. Mark IV was right, we’re all nuts.

  74. I was called as a Bishop two years ago. Until then, I never drank caffeinated beverages, but I took up drinking Diet Coke at about that time. I get less sleep now, and I need it to get through all those meetings and interviews.

  75. John,

    I appreciate your two cents. I think you’re wrong about the opinions, though–everybody has at least one. But that’s just my opinion. 8)

  76. Sam Kitterman says:

    I too appreciate his exercise of agency. Yet, I likewise share in the concern of this slippery slope of allowing members’ personal interpretations to become a quasi-law because of a calling I accepted. Clearly, we have been “instructed” that criticism of leadership is inappropriate and yet, giving up the DC clearly is to avoid certain members critizing him for not living their interpretation of the WOW? What about the members who do drink DC or the Real Stuff (or whatever other product or substance some believe to violate the WOW, e.g., white sugar, white bread, etc.). What impact could this have upon them? In meeting what one perceives to be the “needs” of some so they will “bond” more easily with the new bishop, how does the bishop deal with the other sheep (I really hate that analogy although lemmings would be even worse) who feel otherwise about DC or the Real Stuff?
    I recognize we are not to be commanded in all things, such to me being an enabler of our exercising agency (how else for would we not be like onto the Hasidic Jews and had our 613+ commandments as to all aspects of our daily lives if we were commanded in all things), but until the day consuming caffeine becomes a temple recommend question, it clearly is not a law any member can claim as authority to judge any leader over them…And given same the leader would be in the right to counsel them their judgments would be unrighteous…

  77. I believe that though your cousin is making this choice out of concern (love?) for those in his ward, he is showing his lack of faith in them. By giving up his diet Coke “for the sake of others” he is feeding the consensus thinking that has become so commonplace within the walls of our chapels. Unfortunately, this dishonesty sets up expectations that feed a negative cycle of blind obedience (thereby depriving others of their relationship with Deity), depression, cult-like thinking, and even building an even greater co-dependent relationship with “leaders.”

    In answer to some of your questions, based on the common culture within the USAmerican Church it would tend me to believe that some members of your cousin’s ward would “stumble” to see/know that their bishop partook of the Diet Coke! I believe it could definitely have negative consequences on the type of relationship that these people have come to expect of their leaders.

    As a Church we seem to mis-teach and mis-understand “avoid the appearance of evil.” We take to heart that leaders are better or more worthy than those who are not leaders – therefore, if we are not following the leader, we must be wrong! I would imagine that your cousin sees this, though he may not understand it, and feel a need to not “lead astray” any of his flock.

    I feel it ashame that we seem to idolize our human leaders within the Church. We seem to forget to teach and encourage a true relationship with Deity, and instead teach to follow others along “the path.”

    I’m sure your cousin is a wonderful and good man. I would probably like to be in his ward. However, though I find it very understandable that your cousin would (even temporarily) give up his Diet Coke, I also find it short-sighted and a very sad evidence of how many members prefer to look to man for what to do. After all, shouldn’t we be building our relationship with God, and looking further than the pulpit for guidance?

  78. Not having read any of the comments, just let me say: any excuse to give up a mass-produced, yucky, high-fructose corn syrup containing (or cousin to one) drink is a good one. If you need a cola, I think GUS makes one. But why have cola?

    I know, not at all responsive to the question. But Coke is such a horrible drink, in its regular, diet, caffinated, and decaf versions. If being bishop is what gets him to drink something better, more power to him!


  79. cantinflas says:

    I should be able to wear a beard if I want to.

    One of the great double standards of the church, Amri. Not only could you have a beard if you wanted to (I do), but NOBODY would ever. ever. mention it to you. You would not get snarky comments from the bishopric (again, like I do) about losing your razor or forgetting to shave. I promise. Post a pic if you grow one and claim that dollar prize from Tracy.

  80. Name (required) says:

    This whole thing is somewhat silly. Why in the world does the church seem to intentionally propogate this ‘controversy’? Why can’t the church just take a stand on whether caffenated soft drinks are against the word of wisdom?

    If God is offended when I drink Coke, you’d think that a prophet could call me to repentance. If God doesn’t care if I drink Coke, you’d think that a prophet could tell me that it doesn’t matter.

  81. My wife’s Grandmother worked in the Salt Lake Temple for years. One day she was dining in the cafeteria when an elderly temple worker sat next to her, opened his brown bag lunch, pulled out a sandwich, chips, and a Coke. She didn’t think twice about it, but apparently another temple worker did and let the gentleman know.

    Quite coolly the Coke drinker looked at the concerned sister who apparently had issues with keeping her opinions to herself and basically said, “It’s none of your business…” and turned and finished his meal.

    I agree with the above, with all that is going on in the World, a Coke is “just a hill of beans.” And it certainly isn’t a gateway drug.

  82. Romans 14:12-15 can be adapted as follows:

    12 So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
    13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
    14 I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is [no soft drink] unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any [soft drink] to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
    15 But if thy brother be grieved with thy [caffeine], now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy [caffeine], for whom Christ died.

  83. Folks, Amri’s cousin is doing this out of his love for his ward members. What better thing to do than to love his brothers and sisters?

    # 78 and # 79 I think have it right, but why does Amri’s cousin have to take any crap for making a pretty harmless choice? He’s not judging anyone, and he’s helping them not to judge him (whether falsely or not).

    JimD, brilliant!

  84. I’ve always had a difficult time trying to figure out parts of the WOW. No tea or coffee. Is it the caffeine in them? Is it only black tea or any infusion of leaves? Herbal? There are cereal beverages that have a very similar flavour to coffee, are they ok or not? So what about decaffeinated tea or decaffeinated coffee? If it is the caffeine that would eliminate diet coke (THAT I LOVE!!) or other caffeinated drinks.
    As a side note, our bishop does not want any colas in the building.

  85. Btw, no problem with cut and dried no alcohol.

  86. I skipped the comments (because I’m slow at commenting), but I wanted to say one thing:

    Your cousin rocks. What an amazing person to give up such a simple, simple thing for the even tiniest chance that it might influence others negatively. I am so impressed with his attitude –and to have done it with the beard, too?

    How many of us could honestly do something so…simple? I think many of us would react in the way you did, Amri, and say “what’s the big deal? Why should I have to change something that’s not a big deal?” I know I would have a hard time with it, but holy cow, giving up something so simple for the sake of others is a HUGE deal. Tell your cousin kudos from me.

  87. Kevin Barney says:

    I just want to make sure that we here on the Nacle understand that KJV 1 Thess. 5:22 “Abstain from all appearance of evil” is a mistranslation. The Greek is apo pantos eidous ponErou apechesthe, lit. “from every form of evil stay away.”

    The problem is that the KJV followed the predominant meaning of eidos as it is used in the Septuagint, “external or outward appearance, form, figure, shape.” But the word can also mean simply “form, kind,” as is attested in classical Greek, and it is clear from the context of the letter (and context controls in these kinds of questions, not dictionaries) that Paul was using the word in this second sense, concretely and not as an abstraction.

    It is also possible that the KJV rendering was correct at the time it was first published, and that they intended “appearance” to mean something like “occurrence”; IE “abstain from every occurrence of evil, abstain from evil wherever it appears.” But if that were their intention, linguistic drift has rendered the translation inaccurate, for the principal meaning modern English speakers give to that wording today is “semblance, superficial aspect,” and this is not what Paul was trying to say in that passage.

    So we have to be cautious about the kind of legalism promoted by that passage, which was not intended by Paul, and under which Jesus himself would not have passed muster. The correct standard for judging others was given by the Savior in Mt. 7:1-5.

  88. Struwelpeter says:

    I work across the street from Temple Square, and often venture to the Nauvoo Cafe in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building for lunch, where they serve fully caffeinnated Coca-cola, and even occasionally offer Coca-cola marinated pork sandwiches.

  89. Amri, my question is: What is his ward like, and how did they perceive him before he became their bishop? The reason I ask is because I think that could partly influence his decision.

    As many have mentioned in the comments, there are tons of examples of bishops who have not given up Coke (or any other small thing) and have been fine. And I think that has to do with how they were already perceived.

    In my own ward, I’ve had bishops who were very casual, funny guys and as a ward, we knew that, and expected that. They wore things, said things, and did things that other bishops I’ve had wouldn’t have been able to get away with.

    You mention that your cousin is “a liberal academic, teaching humanities at a very cool university.” Are his ward members predominantly the same? Or is he different? And does this influence how his ward sees him, and might be part of the reason he feels he has to “tow the line” in giving up his Diet Coke?

    Personally, I think your cousin sounds like a fantastic Bishop. And if he feels peace about his decision, then it’s the right thing to do.

    I’m only just suggesting that, perhaps, how people perceived him before he was their bishop, has an influence on what he feels he has to do now that he has the job.

  90. All I have to add is this:

    If I knew my Bishop was giving up caffeine, I would steer waaaaaaaay clear of any interviews with him until I was sure he was over the withdrawal.

    (I am on day 2 of Diet Coke detox myself; gave it up for Lent. Ow, my head.)

  91. #85 – thank you for making that so clear. I touched on it in my previous post, but didn’t get into the fine detail that you did. This misunderstanding is so often used within the Church to justify the fear we use to “teach” others “the way” or the subtle control we use in trying to influence others behavior towards what “we” (consensus thinking again) believe is “right.” Neither are very healthy, imo, and neither lead others (or ourselves) towards God/Godhood.

  92. #87 – very insightful thoughts in regards to human relations. Unfortunately, our church culture feeds the attitude of looking to the church authorities as pseudo-perfect by putting them on a pedestal. This is detrimental to the effectiveness of the leader (or dare I say it “parent” when one talks about the family unit with the parent placing him/herself on a pedestal), and also in teaching “the flock” where their sights and loyalties truly ought to lay.

  93. One thing that bothers me about church culture is the constant judging of PH leaders.

    I have legions of examples but one faithful local bishop was heavily criticized for wearing shorts in his office after extensive knee surgery.

  94. Sam Kitterman says:

    #93. Years ago as a missionary in Southern Germany I was assigned to an American branch (US Army branch in Bamberg. Halloween came around and the branch was having a party. We were invited to attend and in the “spirit” of the holiday, I wore my lederhosen atire which covered my knees.
    I later learned from the branch mission leader certain of the members were questioning my devotion to being a missionary given my choice of clothing for the event.
    Given everything we as elders in the branch had come to learn about the members, had to restrain myself from reminding them about “he who is without sin…”.

  95. Last month I was invited over to my bishop’s house for lunch. The choice of drinks were bottled water, Sprite and Pepsi. He chose the Pepsi himself.

    A former branch president used to keep cases of non-alcoholic beer in his pantry, although he never served/offered it at a branch function!

    In both cases, I can imagine that some ward/branch members might have a problem with a leader not keeping with some sort of “higher standard.” As for me, I found it a relief, because it made me feel like it was okay to drink a DC once in a while, and it made me feel good that my PH leaders weren’t hypocrites.

  96. Since no one else is mentioning it I thought I would put a shout out for Murikami – excellent writer.

  97. Snow White says:

    I would much rather have a bishop that guzzled diet coke than one who was mean and judgemental. We had a bishopric once in Indiana that was famous for driving away members for ridiculous things. Yes, the members should have known that the gospel is perfect but the people aren’t always, etc. etc. but this stuff was really petty. They were big on the white shirt thing (my hubby got talked to about it, even though he’s an elder and the only reason he had to fill in for the priest was that they were mostly inactive). They also criticized a new poor family for their clothes, which I thought was unforgivable. If their clothes were that big a deal, someone should have offered to take them shopping for proper church attire. Don’t tell the husband not to come back untill he had a suit. That’s ridiculous. Diet coke and a beard are nothing.

  98. Amri, I currently have a beard (only takes me a week or two) and enjoy diet coke, coke, diet dr pepper and other soft drinks with caffeine.

    Interestingly enough, I was not called into the bishopric of my ward when the previous bishopric was released. I must be doing something right!

  99. mike johnson says:

    President Monson, the current prophet of God, loves Dr. Pepper.

    Those who know, know this for a fact. I’m surprised no one has brought this up.

  100. Hey Amri, I miss you, come home. I thought this post on Mormon Mentality was funny. “Eating Coffee with the Bishop”


    If I were him, I would have a secret stash of DC under the bed, wait till everyone was in bed, put on some Battlestar Galactica and drink away. Slurp…AHHHHH

  101. Amri,

    I don’t believe that the gist of the issue here is about Diet Coke or beards…it’s about compassion for others. Kudos to your brother, who is willing to make sacrifices to help those who are not as open-minded. While it’s a shame that he feels the need to change based on the perception of others, it’s also the rare person who has that level of compassion for the people around him or her. Sounds like he’ll be a wonderful bishop!

  102. NorthboundZax says:

    Interesting… I have just been called to the activities committee by the good bishop in question, and am now calling myself “Diet Coke Coordinator”. The obvious question now is, what will he do with the rated-R movies in his collection? As part of sustaining my leaders, I will gladly hold them at my house until his tenure is over.

  103. 8RIYu3 hi great site thx http://peace.com

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