On Thursday mornings on the way into the office I pick up a copy of The Reader, a free alternative weekly published in Chicago. One of its regular features is The Straight Dope, by Cecil Adams.[1] Today’s question read as follows:

Q: Coffee: let’s grow this plant, pick the berries, take the seeds out, roast and then grind the beans, pour hot water through the grounds, and throw the beans away. Drink the water! How did we get there?

In two columns of text Cecil traces the likely origins of human consumption of coffee to 15th century Yemen among Sufi Muslims.

What particularly caught my eye was the following:

In Yemen the drink ran into early contention over whether it was even acceptable by the standards of the Quran. The prophet forbade his followers from getting intoxicated, and when coffee made its way to Mecca in the early 1500s, it sparked a debate: Was coffee an intoxicant? In 1511 a local religious leader “literally put coffee on trial,” writes Tom Standage in A History of the World in 6 Glasses (2005): “He convened a council of religious experts and placed the accused–a large vessel of coffee–before them.”

After talking it over they decided that coffee is indeed an intoxicant, and therefore haram, and the drink was banned–burned in the streets. . . its vendors beaten. Within months, though, a higher council overturned the ruling. Apparently cooler heads had prevailed in the interim; maybe everyone switched to decaf.

I was fascinated that coffee had almost been banned in Islam, it apparently being a pretty close question either way. And I thought, “You know, maybe if things had broken a slightly different way in our history, we might have had a similar result and coffee might have been a permitted drink for us.”

D&C 89 famously proscribes “hot drinks.” I suspect that the original intent was to take that expression literally as referring to temperature (perhaps based on concepts of Thomsonian medicine?) But early on Hyrum opined that coffee and tea must have been meant, since those were the drinks usually prepared hot. Without that ruling, herbal teas would have been verboten, but iced coffee drinks would have been fine.

Also, the WoW was not originally intended to be a commandment (in fact, the text explicitly disclaims such), but in the 20th century we doubled down on its observance (IIRC HJG was a principal instigator of a more hard line view of the revelation). What if we had never included a question about its observance in the TR questions, but continued to take a more laissez faire attitude towards its consumption?

If history had broken just a little bit differently, we might have lived in a world where Muslims avoided drinking coffee and Mormons felt relatively free to indulge.

[1] A good friend of mine is actually friends with Cecil (a pseudoym).


  1. I remember reading (in preparation for a lesson) a old book about the history of the WoW, and how the brethern in the early 1930s(?) spent a great deal of time debating how it was going to be defined in terms of the temple recommend interview. One of the difficult areas was the ‘eat meat sparingly’ and there was someone (so wish I’d written this bit down – but I think it was Joseph Fielding Smith felt very strong that we should all be vegetarians except for extreme situations. I can’t imagine how different things would be if we had gone that direction.

  2. Interesting find, Kevin. Coffee is a staple now in the Muslim world. Tea as well as coffee may have been a secondary consideration in the WOW, according to David Whitmer’s account: “Some of the brethren were excessive chewers of the filthy weed [tobacco], and their disgusting slobbering and spitting caused Mrs. Smith . . . to make the ironical remark that ‘It would be a good thing if a revelation could be had declaring the use of tobacco a sin, and commanding its suppression.’ [Emma had support among the women]. The matter was taken up and joked about, one of the brethren suggested that the revelation should also provide for a total abstinence from tea and coffee drinking, intending this as a counter dig at the sisters.” Interesting how David refers to it early on as a commandment. If it were a bit of a man vs. woman issue, even in jest, as David suggests, Is it possible that the purpose of the wording Joseph used was to assuage both parties?

  3. Am I the only one who drinks iced coffee on the regular because it’s not hot?

  4. Dunno if you can access this.

    Very interesting. No Mily there are tens of thousands of us who drink our coffee just fine and in any way we want. When I first visited Salt Lake and the surrounding areas and saw the number of hugely overweight members I thought to myself, if they had a decent cup of coffee in the morning to start the day and bump start their mood, quit all the gallons of disgusting soda I saw in their shopping trolleys and ate a decent diet they would be so much healthier. And my amazing British grandmother would have joined the church instead of just visiting way back in the seventies if she hadn’t have had to give up tea. Sheesh. CQ.

  5. Wahoo Fleer says:

    “What if we had never included a question about its observance in the TR questions, but continued to take a more laissez faire attitude towards its consumption?”

    You mean like we do with the prohibition on meat? The church would be a lot bigger and so many more people would have the benefits of Mormonism with zero cost to the church. See CQ’s comment above.

  6. I wonder how many millions of people have been excluded from our religion because they drink tea and/or coffee, which researchers have found have many health benefits.

  7. John Mansfield says:

    One morning in 1995, my wife gathered for a weekly meeting with other researchers in Johns Hopkins’ Brady urology lab. As people were settling with their coffee mugs, the director, who was also her advisor, said, “We’re all a bunch of addicts.” My wife quietly noted, “Not all of us.” The director knew exactly what she, the Mormon grad student, meant and thoughtfully mused, “No, not all of us.” Recalling her account of that morning, I also recall that the director’s last name, Coffey, was a homophone of the beverage in question.

  8. I just keep thinking of my friends who spend a great deal of money, comparable to what smokers spend, to keep themselves from crashing when they miss a dose of their morning coffee/espresso. I think we’re a lot better off, despite the various ways we try to compensate for not having that particular addiction available, e.g., soda, essential oils, postum, etc.

  9. Frank, I put essential oils in my coffee.

  10. The following was published recently in the Desert News on Coffee

    Published: July 14, 2017

    SALT LAKE CITY — Two studies published by the Annals of Internal Medicine last week suggest that coffee consumption has been “associated with reduced risk for death.”
    Here’s what you need to know about the studies, including questions the Deseret News posed to Dr. Richard Gilroy, medical director of the liver transplantation program at Intermountain Medical Center, as well as Dr. Julie M. Metos, associate chair of the Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology at the University of Utah, regarding the studies’ implications.
    • The first study surveyed more than 520,000 people in 10 European countries and concluded that coffee drinking is associated with reduced risk for death from various causes.
    • Meanwhile, a second study examined the association of coffee consumption with risk for total or cause-specific death in the lives of more than 185,000 people in non-white populations in Hawaii and Los Angeles.
    • The second study agreed with the first study in finding that higher consumption of coffee was associated with lower risk of death in the case of those surveyed, even if the coffee is decaffeinated.
    Much discussion has followed, including many discussions regarding caveats about the study itself, and a push by others to focus not on coffee, but on the nation’s burgeoning obesity crisis.
    One of the study’s authors, Marc Gunter, acknowledged that the study might be attributing causation without taking into account other aspects of the participant’s lifestyle, according to CNBC.
    “It is plausible that there is something else behind this that is causing this relationship,” Gunter said. “I wouldn’t recommend people start rushing out drinking lots of coffee, but I think what it does suggest drinking coffee certainly does you no harm.”
    • It doesn’t take into account the financial situation of coffee drinkers as opposed to non-coffee drinkers. “It might be that people who can afford three cups of coffee a day are richer and that extra money, in some way, helps protect their health,” BBC’s Smitha Mundasad wrote.
    • It is unclear whether people who avoid coffee do so because of pre-existing medical conditions.
    • Those who drink coffee might spend more time socializing, which would contribute to their well-being.
    • The BBC points out that while the study did include a large number of people, “the researchers excluded anyone who had diabetes, heart attacks or stroke” from the start.
    • In exploring the study, the largest to date on the subject, professor Sir David Spiegelhalter told the BBC that “if the estimated reductions in death really were down to coffee, then an extra cup of coffee every day would extend the life of a man by around three months and a woman by around a month on average.”
    Is this a new development?
    While this is certainly a new study, Metos of the University of Utah says it simply reaffirms what doctors have believed in recent years in terms of its being beneficial for health, but she says she “wouldn’t be impressed by living three months longer as an individual.”
    “It probably isn’t you should start drinking coffee if you don’t,” Metos said. “And it probably doesn’t mean you should quit drinking coffee if you do, but it reinforces what we’ve known for the last few years, which is that coffee has some health benefits.”
    Does this study reflect a flip-flop?
    CNN reports that the debate regarding the health benefits of coffee dates as far back as the 1500s when it was reported that patrons of coffeehouses were “said to be more likely to gamble and engage in ‘criminally unorthodox sexual situations,’” according to author Ralph Hattox. Since then, headlines have ranged from the positive: “Coffee helps you work longer” (1700s), “Coffee decreases risk of liver cancer” (2007), “Coffee reduces risk of stroke and prostate cancer” (2011) to the negative: “Coffee stunts your growth” (1916), “Coffee will give you bad grades, kids (1927), and the more scientific: “Coffee increases risk of urinary tract cancer” (2001), “Coffee and lung disease go together like coffee and smoking” (2010).
    What do health professionals say about coffee?
    “Those health benefits tend to be antioxidants,” Metos said of drinking about three cups of coffee a day. “It can increase your blood pressure for a little bit of time, it doesn’t increase hypertension but it can be a little energy boost to get moving in the morning or to get engaged in some type of activity, which can be a good thing.
    “Another good side of coffee is oftentimes people in the United States, on average, don’t get enough calcium, so coffee can be a way of sneaking your calcium in.”
    Are there dangers to drinking coffee?
    Metos said that more than three cups of coffee a day can be cause for concern.
    “Anyone who is drinking a lot more than that we look at it to see if that’s influencing them to eat a less healthful diet or decreasing their appetite. Sometimes in older people they drink a bunch of coffee or tea, it decreases their appetite and if they’re having problems with having a healthy weight, it can kind of decrease their appetite and when you’re already a skinny little elderly person that can be bad,” Metos said, adding that coffee can have similar effects on children as well as affect their concentration and growth.
    Another concern related to coffee is the increasing popularity of coffee drinks as opposed to a simple cup of coffee.
    “The things that aren’t so helpful about coffee are that coffee is usually packaged with sugar, and the rise of coffee drinks just anecdotally in Utah is pretty extreme,” Metos said. “People drink a lot of frappacinos and things from Starbucks where sometimes they don’t get decaf or sometimes not even any coffee in them but they have a lot of calories and fat and sugar and are more like a milkshake, so that would be a downside to coffee.”
    Looking at Mormons
    Gilroy said that Intermountain Healthcare is currently conducting a study related to this topic that will explore the population within the Utah Intermountain Area. The study will explore whether or not coffee consumption might have an impact on the fatty liver disease, the most common liver disease in the country. The Intermountain study will research one demographic that may not have been researched previously in relation to coffee: religion. Why? The study is being conducted in an area with a high population of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
    “Fifty- to 70-year-old people who are LDS rarely ever drink coffee,” Gilroy said. “But the LDS have a much healthier lifestyle in that they don’t smoke and they don’t drink and there are biases to this, so we’re trying to see whether coffee might be independently predictive.”
    Time will tell whether their study reveals additional findings related to coffee consumption or the lack thereof in the lives of LDS Church members.
    “Their leading a pretty healthy lifestyle gives them survival benefit over other people who don’t,” Gilroy said of Mormons. “Whether coffee may provide an additional benefit to life remains to be determined. … But at the end of the day, I may get you drinking coffee and the same thing may happen, so bottom line, everyone has a choice.”
    Members of the LDS Church follow “The Word of Wisdom,” scripture that promises both spiritual and physical blessings to those that faithfully adhere to its principles, including abstaining from tobacco, alcohol, coffee and tea.
    Focus on weight
    Gilroy and Metos both agree that there is a greater problem in Utah, one that deserves more attention than devoting time and attention to whether or not one should drink coffee, and that is the issue of obesity.
    “To me, in liver disease, a greater way to offset any benefits of coffee would be to address the morbid obesity rates within the community, including within the LDS community … if it were me, I’d be focusing on the obesity rates and that element of lifestyle,” Gilroy said.
    Metos has devoted her career to focusing on obesity and says her concern about caffeine and coffee as a registered dietician and nutritionist is “close to zero” where sugar and calorie intake are at the top of her list.
    “If we were going to look at our community here,” Metos said, “we generally do as a population have a healthful lifestyle in many ways and we do have one of the lower rates in obesity in the country, which is common for mountain states, but we still have an increasing rate of overweight and obesity, and we do among our kids too.”
    Metos, who is not LDS , said she has spent a lot of time speaking to LDS Church congregations and has noted one concern for the health of Latter-day Saints.
    “My observation is that people use a lot of treats when they congregate to do things. I see a lot of cookies, candies and soda,” Metos said. “So I think it’s easy to sometimes say, ‘Well, we’re not drinking caffeinated beverages, we’re trying to avoid them,’ but really, that’s the tip of the iceberg. I think what’s really happening in Utah is that we need to reach out to our kids and adults to talk about healthy nutrition and model it as well.”

  11. Orthodox LDS obey the WoW selectively in my view. An investigator one time told me Mormons are the biggest hypocrites in the world because only for Mormons does a cold coffee equal a hot drink but a warm mountain dew is not a hot drink. Also chocolate cake, no exercise, and beef every day are totally fine even though our own scriptures suggest otherwise. Also, he said only Mormons interpret an explicit statement of “not by way of commandment” to mean one of our defining LDS commandments.

    When my grandfather died (a genuinely humble and good man) we found cans of decaf in his cupboard. I decided then that WoW to me meant I got to decide how to take care of my body, not guessing what back office church employees define in the handbook or ask in the temple recommend interview.

    WoW needs revision.

  12. six: Do you really expect any of us to read a comment that long?

    As for coffee, I was surprised as a young missionary in Germany to discover that we were allowed to drink coffee. The members drank it all the time. It was decaf, but this was a revelation to me. I once found a statement by David O. McKay approving the intake of Sanka, which was 97 percent decaffeinated.

    Some parts of the WoW do seem a bit pharisaical to me.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    I love the stories about the early days of the MHA, and how Mormon historians following the lead of Leonard Arrington went out of their way to make sure there was coffee service for their RLDS cousins who of course drank coffee. It was a small thing, but that gesture went a long way towards bringing disparate branches of the Restoration under the MHA tent.

  14. In my own ignorant and heretical way I think the prohibition of Hot Drinks was meant to mean drinks like Hot Buttered Rum and Blue Blazers, alcoholic drinks that were very popular at a time when alcoholic intake was so much larger than it is now. The amount of alcohol that people, particularly men drank in the 1830’s would be astounding today.

  15. I don’t anybody actually interprets “not by way of commandment” to mean “this is a commandment.” I think the reasoning is that section 89 is not a commandment, but later teachings on healthy living tied loosely to some of the principles behind section 89 are sufficiently important that entry into temples should be conditioned on observing them.

    Whatever you think about the merits of our current prohibitions, they’re not really based directly on section 89.

  16. Bubbamike isn’t wrong. The settlement of the fertile Midwest resulted in a massive glut of grain, but poor internal transportation meant that it was a lot more profitable to distill it into liquor than to sell it as grain. With so much cheap hooch floating around, rampant alcoholism was inevitable. First-wave feminism, which got into high gear at the Seneca Falls Meeting (right in the heart of Restoration country), was an outgrowth of the temperance movement.

  17. Kevin, I should loan you my copy of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug. I think you would find it a highly illuminating exploration of how caffeine has been so thoroughly integrated into our global society. Caffeine has been the fuel of many industrial revolutions over the centuries. To any interested I would highly recommend the book as it really is the treatise on caffeine as a societal influence.

    The overview includes this fantastic statement:

    Caffeine, by any measure, is the world’s most popular drug, easily surpassing nicotine and alcohol. Caffeine is the only addictive psychoactive substance that has overcome resistance and disapproval around the world to the extent that it is freely available almost everywhere, unregulated, sold without license, offered over the counter in tablet and capsule form, and even added to beverages intended for children. More than 85 percent of Americans use significant amounts of caffeine on a daily basis; yet despite that, and despite the fact that caffeine may be the most widely studied drug in history, very few of us know much about it.

    As JKC calls out, like many of our policies and practices as Latter-Day Saints today, what we are called to live today has evolved significantly from the specific revelation that provides the source material for it.That is the reality of a Church that is led by those recognized as prophets, seers and revelators. But it’s important to also understand that Mormons aren’t the only ones who have pushed for prohibition of caffeine over the years. In 1916 in US v. Coca-Cola Co. of Atlanta, the government sued Coca-Cola for selling a dangerous caffeinated beverage, and called in expert witnesses who claimed that the use of Coke induced college girls to engage in wanton sexual behavior and drove boys to practice onanism. It is probably worthwhile to see LDS leadership teachings in the context of how many other conservatives around the world have responded to caffeine.

    How selectively has leadership pursued insight about specific substances? It has always been fascinating to me that we obsess over what should not be consumed while really not thinking much at all about what should be consumed. These days it seems to me that the latter is killing more people than drugs, alcohol and even tobacco do. I believe the principles of the WoW are important for a healthy life both physically and spiritually and live them accordingly but you ask some great questions.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Alain. When I was young it was pretty widely held that caffeine was the reason for the proscription (largely based on Widtsoe), and as a young man I avoided caffeine like most good Mormons. My impression is that that position has slipped quite a bit, and many Mormons will drink caffeinated beverages (myself included). BYU campus vending policies is an example of the older view having a continuing influence.

  19. The first verses of the text (1-3) that situate the dietary rules as “not by commandment” were not present in the original 1833 text. Vv. 1-3 appeared as a heading in 1835 Doctrine and Covenants. It was Orson Pratt who took this heading and placed it within the text of the revelation. The 1833 effect of the revelation was such that William Phelps claimed that everyone in Kirtland switched to drinking water.

  20. After polygamy was dropped as a defining Mormon characteristic, the WoW substituted as a boundary maintenance device.

  21. We require investigators to give up coffee before baptism and temple goers to give up coffee before sealing. That sounds like a commandment to me – no saving ordinances unless no coffee. I go back to the two great commandments and wonder if that is God’s intent. The WoW as practiced today is an obedience test.

    A broad health code certainly makes sense, but we seem so Pharisaic. Is doctrine hidden in talks or handbooks vs scriptures really doctrine? Or is it culture.

  22. I don’t really mind not having alcohol or coffee in my diet, although I’ll occasionally eat food laced with either of those things. However, I think some Mormons are more practical in their approach to the WoW, and sometimes it’s pretty surprising who those people are. Once I was describing to some friends how difficult it had been to travel around the Middle East refusing all the tea I was offered, and one of my BYU professors leaned over and hissed, apparently in all seriousness, “It’s just tea, it’s not going to hurt you.”

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    phbrown, yes, I believe that’s the common understanding. We need something unusual like the WoW to stand us apart (just not TOO far apart a la polygamy).

  24. D&C 89:3 “Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.”

    The Word of Wisdom should thus not be a big imposition or cause for complaint or dissension for those who are or can be called saints.

  25. There certainly is a cultural component to the Word of Wisdom as it became mandated by the Church’s leadership over time; Prohibition in the United States had an enormous influence. Tom Alexander’s Dialogue article makes that fairly clear: We see similar cultural proclivities at work in the evolution of the proscriptions in the BYU Honor Code; the socio-cultural upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s was certainly instrumental in the decisions made by Ernest Wilkinson and later BYU authorities.

    As a guide for healthier living, the Word of Wisdom has proven to be a tremendous success. We have all seen scores of studies reflecting longer lifespans for members of the Church. Of course, we have all see studies about the health benefits of moderate amounts of alcohol (both wine and lower alcohol content beer).

    It strikes me that the main issues with the Word of Wisdom are the inability of many people to moderate their activities without external pressure of some sort (that is true of food, drink, gambling, media consumption, etc.); the culture vs. doctrine question; and its implementation as a higher standard of righteousness (both internally in the Church and externally in society) over time. Rules are not necessarily doctrine, although the Word of Wisdom is treated as both within the LDS framework.

  26. Perro postum says:

    3 months into graduate school with kids I made a startling discovery: there was no reasonable way for me to be everything I needed to be (parent, spouse, student, employee) without caffeine.
    Halfway through an intense graduate program I realized that the sugar in my caffeinated soft drinks was wrecking my health…
    After a WOW wrestle, i switched to coffee. My health improved, I lost weight, blood pressure increased, and I became less judgemental.
    I still have a testimony, and still hold the WOW to be valuable, however;
    I wish we used red wine for the sacrament.
    I wish we could focus on moderation in all things rather than abstinence in a few select versus.
    How do we define doctrine? In the case of the WOW, it seems we are lead by the opinions and traditions of men.

  27. Perro postum says:

    *blood pressure DECREASED*

  28. Hello Alain:

    In defense of Coca-Cola: In 1916 this beverage contained cocaine (coca) and and an extract from the African kola nut (cola) which contained little else of pharmacological activity beyond caffeine but was thought by the African-American community to have hallucinogen/narcotic effects. Coca-Cola also had an extract from the damiana shrub of the southwest deserts which contained several substances with dubious psychoactive properties, real or perceived, and was once quite popular as a sort of Mexican intoxicant.

    Coca-Cola was concocted by a well-trained pharmacist named John Pemberton who suffered a sword wound to the chest during the War between the States which he barely survived and he suffered from severe chronic pain. He was addicted to opiates and was seeking a better or perhaps complementary treatment for his pain when he invented Coca-Cola.

    The original formulation of Coca-Cola was a dangerous beverage and probably did unleash wanton boys and girls to commit all manner of indecencies. The Coca-Cola company removed the dangerous ingredients about 100 years ago. The only vestige of any of those powerful substances in the popular drink today is a little caffeine in some but not all current formulations.

    Coca-Cola is largely an unparalleled marketing success and has become a symbol of being a true American and participating in the American experience. The LDS church has been variably patriotic in the past, with the US being the promised land- choice above all others at times and Babylon the whore of all the earth- ripe for destruction at other times. Perhaps the prohibition of cola drinks manifested an underlying discomfort with embracing all things American during the Great Depression when caffeine began to be associated with the list of prohibited substances in the Word of Wisdom. Not drinking Coca-Cola was a subtle opportunity to be Mormon first and American second.

    It is claimed by some that the secret formula of Coca-Cola is molasses and Okeefenokee swamp water, which is exactly the same color and has a vaguely similar taste.

  29. @WVS (September 1, 2017 at 7:34 pm)

    Super interesting, I had no idea. Thanks for pointing that out!

  30. So the message I get from all of this, taking into consideration historical time and place, is that it’s okay for Mormons to drink decaffeinated coffee along with caffeinated Mountain Dew. Go figure.

  31. Glenn Thigpen says:

    Caffeine had nothing to do with the coffee and tea ban. It was generally understood by most that hot drinks meant coffee and tea, but there were some who evidently disagreed, causing Brigham Young, in August of 1867, gave a speech wherein he defined the hot drinks as tea and coffee.
    Journal of Discourses 12:117. If caffeine were a prohibited substance, all caffeinated sodas as well as chocolate would banned also.
    There have been studies that seem to show that moderate alcoholic consumption is beneficial to the vascular system in addition to the coffee studies.
    The Word of Wisdom was designed for the weakest of the Saints and because of the evil designs of men to get gain.
    I obey the Word of Wisdom, as it is currently defined, to be obedient. If my favorite soda were to be singled out to be banned and all of the others remain okay, I would switch or cease. To me it is sort of like Naaman and bathing in the RIver of Jordan, or the Children of Israel and the serpent of brass Moses put on a pole. It is the act of obedience that saves the day.


  32. In Great Basin society coffee/tea prohibition was also an aspect of a closed economy: C/T were relatively expensive and too much $$ was leaving the system. Today? Ridiculous! Drink something as innocuous as green tea and you immediately become a second-tier Mormon. Caffeine itself is NOT prohibited, as the Newsroom made clear several years ago.

  33. That coffee was almost banned in Islam is very interesting. Thanks. It adds heft to the somewhat puzzling (to me) history of religious leaders deciding for the commoners what the scriptures mean. Somewhat puzzling because I am a product of my age, even though I have read enough about the Protestant reformation and the battles over vernacular versions of the Bible to know that this was once a big issue.
    Mormons still do it to a large degree–rely on leaders to interpret scripture. But if one sets aside other people’s definitions (which also means, in Mormon practice, definitions that control the temple recommend and church discipline), there are interesting byways down which the mind runs.

  34. Mike, you are correct that the kola bean and cocaine were prime ingredients with about 9 mg of cocaine per 7 ounce glass. But that original recipe was changed in 1903 under media pressure due to the perceived wanton crimes consumption would induce and the cocaine was removed and the company only used spent coca leaves with trace amounts that provided flavoring. So by 1916 when the US government filed suit it was specifically the caffeine that was called out for causing the behavior I described. And it was not until 1917 and beyond that certain Church leaders are recognized as arguing that Coca-Cola type drinks should be prohibited under the mandate of the Word of Wisdom. So while a perception may have lingered that Coca-Cola still contained an illicit drug the blame was placed on caffeine in both the Supreme Court case and the Church leadership considerations that I cited.

  35. I suffered from frequent bouts of rapid heart beat (over 100) which left me feeling exhausted and weak. When I quit using OTC meds with caffeine in them my heart slowed down to a normal rate. For me the WoW forbids caffeine. I’ve known others (my mom and DIL) who were advised by their doctors to give up caffeine. I think sometimes more doctors enforce the WoW than bishops.

  36. “Finally, another small correction: Despite what was reported, the Church revelation spelling out health practices (Doctrine and Covenants 89) does not mention the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines prohibit alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco, and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee. *:”

  37. Alain certainly knows his stuff. I concede to his better analysis. I get most of my information on this subject while riding the train in Coca-Cola city (Atlanta) so it is about as authentic as current coke is in comparison to its historical recipe, when it gave you not just a little nudge, but a solid kick in the pants.

    As for tea, try to explain to a Southerner how ice tea is a hot drink. Some of it is prepared so weak it has about 10% of the caffeine as Coca-Cola. Ice tea is how they get through the hot humid summers.

    I agree with Elizabeth that many people take what their doctors tell them more seriously than what their bishops say. Caffeine can also help some medical conditions such as asthma and migraine headaches. Coffee is said to lower risk for Parkinson’s disease which claimed President Packer and many other beloved church leaders. This didn’t work for my MIL, a daily coffee drinker who is afflicted with Parkinson’s disease and has been “working on” obeying the word of wisdom assertion of abstaining from coffee, for probably about 70 years now with almost no visible progress. Her many bishops over the years understand and always give her a TR anyway.

    Less than once a month I find myself in a situation where I have to drive late into the night. Since I seldom use any caffeine, I am not habituated to it in the least and a 20 oz bottle of Coca-Cola keeps me alert and markedly decreases my risk for a traffic accident caused by sleepiness. This is admittedly an “ox in the mire” excuse. But I don’t have enough faith to risk falling asleep at the wheel or suffer the consequences of missing work the next day if we stop at a motel. I guess I am also “working on” the word of wisdom.

    Coca-Cola scholarship money put my daughter through a very nice and enlightening college experience at Emory University for which I am extremely grateful. I used to proclaim: “drink coke and support my daughter’s education,” But she graduated and I can’t use that excuse honestly any more.

  38. My grandfather was a bishop and a stake president. When he traveled outside of Cache Valley (his home), he couldn’t wait to drink coffee. I’m sure he had temple recommend.

    My dad drank coffee and kept his temple recommend. And he wouldn’t lie to his bishop. Clearly coffee is a low priority item with many bishops.

    I drink coke to get my caffeine. But because of coke’s sugar and carbonation, it would be much better for my health if I drank coffee (unsweetened). To say that the WoW is a health code is a serious misstatement. It is a test of faith, with limited health benefits. Clearly tobacco is a problem. Alcohol is only a problem when consumed in excess. Coffee and tea are much less dangerous than many other substances.

    Since weight management is a serious problem in the Church, it would be better for members to drink coffee and tea than sugary soda.

  39. Very interesting angle with the Muslim history.

    Friends in the CoC state that they take it to prohibit drinks based on temperature. The McDonalds coffee burn victim would doubtless agree with this thinking. I did have a mission friend, a convert, who drank decaf regularly with our President’s sanction.

    Tea is how I was “outed” to my boss years ago as a Mormon. She had received a specialty tea on a trip to England and was saving it to share it with me because like her, I appreciated other cultures. I said that as a Mormon I didn’t drink tea. This brought up two questions in rapid succession:
    1) “Wait, you’re a Mormon? I didn’t think Mormon women were allowed to work.” Yikes.
    2) “Uhm, why can’t you drink tea?” I didn’t have a great answer for this one that would satisfy a non-Mormon with limited knowledge of our faith (as evidenced by her first question). Tea’s not going to kill you.

  40. Angela, Some time ago I stumbled across an answer to question 2 that has satisfied my friends and acquaintances who ask: “Because I agreed not to.” No one has yet followed up with questions on either health issues or Mormon doctrine/history issues.

    I was raised with the idea that the prohibition was coffee and black tea. I may someday try green tea — simply thinking of it as an herbal tea. Of course, one stake president thought refraining from herbal tea as well as the 4 no-no’s would be “living a higher law”! I may have other ideas as to what a higher law might be.

  41. scott roskelley says:

    I suppose it was in 1851 that President Young put the church under covenant to live the word of wisdom. Just wish this could be reversed and we could go back to living it the way Joseph did, “not by commandment or constraint”. If Joseph drank a beer at Moesser’s so should latter day saints today. If Jesus converted water into wine, so should saints be able to own vineyards and produce good wine and to drink it. If Joseph paid a couple dollars while in carthage to refill the bottle of whiskey so should the saints today. If George Q Cannon while at a party celebrating his second anointing had a glass of wine with his wives so should the saints today. If Emma enjoyed coffee and Lucy Mack tea, so should the saints today. I think it is clear in Mark 7:18-23 that Jesus does not judge good people for drinking coffee, beer, and whiskey. What Christ really had a problem with was, “sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”

  42. Why the Growth of the Mormon Church is Over?

    Dr. Paul A. Douglas

    The growth of the Church is over, at least in the developed world.

    Members will continue to have children, and, for a time, the Church will continue to grow in the third world where people are more trusting, less skeptical and where the internet and the “alternative” facts it showcases have not yet taken a firm hold. Also, almost all insightful criticism and commentary on Joseph Smith and the Church’s true historicity is chronicled primarily in the English language. I believe this is the reason the Church is so aggressively building its secular empire – malls, raw land, TV stations, corporate ownership, and the like, to make up for the certain future downfall in tithing revenues. The Church takes pride in projecting the image that it is one of the fastest growing religions in the world. An unknowing media repeats this mantra which is blatantly and demonstrably untrue.

    There is a ‘law’ of influence and propaganda that is often referred to as the ‘Law of Conformity. It is the bandwagon effect. It is the psychological phenomenon where people reference the behavior of others to guide their own behavior. It suggests that people tend to want products and services that they believe are desired or possessed by other people.

    Advertisers have long known the power of this ‘law.’ Apple provides a great example. When they announce a new product or a new version of an existing product, it is never immediately available. The delivery date is often a month away and then only available in limited quantities. By so doing the media reports hundreds of people lined up to get what obviously what everyone wants. If you are over thirty years of age, you might remember another example of this bandwagon effect displayed on every McDonald’s restaurant sign, ’30 Billion Served.’

    The ‘Law of Conformity’ recognizes that we are social animals. We like what other people like. We reject and discard what other people reject and discard. We tend to do what other people do, to follow the crowd. We perceive behaviors as being more correct in a given situation to the degree that others view them as correct. This ‘law’ extends to what we wear, how fast we drive on the freeway, what we purchase, and yes, what Church we belong to. This is precisely why the Church projects overly optimistic membership statistics. Mormon demographist David Clark Knowlton in an article entitled, “How Many Members Are There Really?” shows below, just how exaggerated the memberships statistics the LDS Church reports are:


    Members claimed by church (1999) 846,931

    Mormons in official gov’t census (2000) 205,229

    Phantom or ex-Mormons (difference) 641,702

    Percentage of Mexican Mormons overstated by the LDS Church 76%


    Members claimed by church (2001) 520,202

    Mormons in official gov’t census (2002) 103,735

    Phantom or ex-Mormons (difference) 416,467

    Percentage of Chilean Mormons overstated by the LDS Church 80%

    The LDS Church is far from being the fastest growing religions in the world.

    The truth is that Islam is by far, the world’s fastest-growing faith. The number of Muslims on this planet will leap from 1.9 billion in 2017 to 2.76 billion by 2050. At that time, Muslims will make up nearly one-third of the world’s total projected population of about 9 billion people.

    Regarding Christian denominations, the LDS Church’s 1.57% annual growth rate falls far short of many Christian Churches:

    Church of God in Christ In 1965, the CoG had 425,000 members. In 2012, the membership was 5,499,875, an increase of 1,194 percent.

    Presbyterian Church (in America) In 1973, the PCA had 41,232 members. In 2013, the membership was 367,033, an increase of 790 percent.

    Assemblies of God In 1965, the AoG had 572,123 members. In 2013, the membership was 3,030,944, an increase of 430 percent.

    Southern Baptist Convention In 1965, the SBC had 10,770,573 members. In 2013, the membership was 15,735,640, an increase of 46 percent.

    The Church’s own statistics tell the real story. While the Church publishes worldwide membership at 15 million, reports that less than half of those counted identify themselves as Mormon. Assuming that the number of people who are active would be lower than those who claim to be Mormon, hardly a heroic assumption, the actual functional membership, accounting for record resignations, is more realistically to be roughly 5 million.

    The Annual Report, presented during General Conference indicate that the Church grew by 261,862 people in 2015, a 1.7% annual increase. In 2016, it is even worse 1.59%. This represents the slowest growth in any year since 1937 (when it was 0.93%)

    Incidentally, the population of the world is growing at a rate of 84 million people per year. So the w orld’s population is growing at a rate about 400% faster than the Church or to put it another way, we are falling behind population growth by 83,700,000 each year. With a growth rate of a paltry 1.59%, and convert baptisms down by more than 13%, as well as declining member activity rates – roughly 25% of young single adults it can be argued that the Mormon Church is actually in decline.

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