Mormon-splaining the Word of Wisdom


It’s holiday party season!  Which means your friends and coworkers, in joyful and relaxed environments, may foist upon you cocktails, wines, and dessert bar coffee.

You’re all experts now at saying “no thank you.”  You’ve read my summer guide for professional Mormons navigating “coffee breaks” and “happy hours.”  There I explained that in the vast majority of circumstances, no one will notice or care that you’re not imbibing coffee or alcohol.

Sometimes, though — especially with amiable colleagues and jokester friends who know you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the religious dimensions of your teetotaler ways might surface.  You can sidestep the topic if you want.  But you don’t have to!

Let’s take a common scenario.  Over brunch, a colleague might make an offhand remark while stirring her latte.  “Mormons aren’t allowed to have caffeine, right?  I don’t know how you survive.”

You could say “that’s essentially correct.”  Or you could dangle a half-answer as bait.

“Technically, the Mormon prohibition is not on caffeine.”

The bait always works. “But — but my other Mormon friend refuses to drink coffee, or tea, or even Coke!”

With their interest piqued, feed them a tidbit more.

“Coffee and tea are forbidden.  But whether caffeine is verboten is the topic of an epic multi-generational debate.  My mother forbade it, but my dad sometimes let us sneak soda behind her back.  Just last year, for the first time in 50 years, BYU permitted the sale of caffeinated beverages on campus!”

Assuming you now have both a rapt audience and time to kill, offer to explain the Word of Wisdom’s history.  Here’s a script.  It’s a roughly 10-minute conversational setpiece I’ve refined over the years.

Explaining the Word of Wisdom is one of my favorite conversations to have with non-Mormons.  It supplies infinitely fertile ground for entertaining cocktail or coffee break chatter.  I’ve added in sub-headers demarcating where you can make cuts, based on how the conversation flows and your friends’ exact questions.


Pictured:  Carolyn Mormon-splaining the Word of Wisdom at a BCC holiday party.

Genesis of D&C 89.  Once upon a time in 1833 Ohio, Mormon founder and Prophet Joseph Smith held lots of church meetings.  During those meetings, Joseph and his fellow leaders smoked and drank and chewed tobacco.  The tobacco was particularly gross — they’d aim for spittoons, and miss.  And who had to clean it up?  The women.

One day, sick of scrubbing stinky, sticky, tobacco-stained wooden floors, Joseph’s wife Emma complained.

“Don’t you think, as a man of God, you and your buddies should be less disgusting?  Doesn’t God delight in cleanliness?”

Joseph confessed that perhaps Emma had a point.  He vowed to take the question to God.  In response to his prayer, God gave Joseph more than just an answer to the tobacco-related question.  Instead God revealed a comprehensive health code.

*dramatic pause to open D&C 89 on smartphone Gospel Library app*

That health code is now codified in Mormon scripture.  We call it “The Word of Wisdom.” It’s not very long.  It basically says, eat lots of plants.  Fruits and vegetables and herbs and grains are good.  If you eat healthy, God promises to bless your mind with wisdom and your body with energy.

In response to Emma’s question, the scripture bans smoking, chewing, or ingesting tobacco.  But it does acknowledge some medicinal uses for both tobacco and alcohol.

Alcohol.  The alcohol verses are particularly entertaining in their nuance.   The passage bans liquor, spirits, strong drinks, and strong wines — but it also says mild beers and light sacramental wines are fine.  (“All grain is good for the food of man … and barley … for mild drinks.”)  Mormons like to pretend that part doesn’t exist.

By the early 1900s — largely in conjunction with the Protestant American temperance movement — the Church had adopted a categorical ban on alcohol.  Today, the marginal debates are about whether Mormons can use trace amounts of alcohol in cooking sauces and desserts.  Every Mormon has a “that time I accidentally ate a sherry-filled chocolate” confession story.

Meat.  A couple verses also instruct the Church to eat meat “sparingly” and “with thanksgiving,” “only in times of winter, or of cold, or of famine.”  That’s another part almost everyone ignores.

Some Mormons are vegetarians.  They’re horrified by the American love affair with steak.  They like to theologically posit that because we’re surrounded by the abundance of global supply chains, we’re almost never in times of winter or famine anymore.  Thus, we should almost never eat meat.

Aside from some scattered statements by antiquated Mormon leaders, however, no one takes that position seriously.  Perhaps they should.

Caffeine – Generally But your original question was about caffeine.  Let’s look at the single sentence that provides the textual basis for the debate.

“Hot drinks are not for the body or belly.”

What on earth is a ‘hot drink’, you ask?  For that, we turn to originalism.  Early Latter-day Saints universally understood tea (which had fallen out of favor after the American Revolution) and coffee (a hot American fad in the 1830s) to be the forbidden beverages.

No, “hot chocolate” is not a “hot drink.”  Even though chocolate has trace amounts of caffeine.

Yes, Starbucks exists in Utah.  They even put out these super weird advertisements for steamed milk beverages without espresso.

Yes, even iced coffee and iced tea are out.  Yes, decaf coffee is also taboo.

Herbal teas?  We still debate that one.  I think most people are fine with a mint or ginger-lemon tea?

Caffeine – Soda As I alluded to earlier, the big fight is over Coca-Cola.  In the absence of other vices, Mormons looooove their sugar.  Cookie parties are rampant.  Utah teems with drive-through Sodalicious chains.  Whether or not you’re addicted to un-caffeinated Mountain Dew or fully-caffeinated Diet Coke is still a major demarcation line in judgmental Mormon righteousness.

How did we get there?  It’s a fight that started a hundred years ago.

In 1918, a Church magazine (The Improvement Era) published an article pointing out that the stimulant in the new-fangled soda drink Coca-Cola was chemically identical to coffee and tea.  It gained traction.  So in 1922, the President of the Church gave a sermon asking everyone to give up Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola sales in Utah plummeted overnight.  Unsurprisingly, Coca-Cola executives in Atlanta panicked.  In 1924 they sent a lobbying contingent to Utah to figure out what on earth had happened.  They traced the problem to President Grant’s sermon — and then the executives personally met with President Grant, twice.  They convinced him that the amount of caffeine in Coca-Cola was much less than coffee, and “absolutely harmless.”

Mormonism’s position on Coke has been conflicted ever since.  But two years ago Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf confessed an addiction to “a diet soda that shall remain nameless” — and the soda-loving hordes of Utah proclaimed victory.

The End.



  1. I haven’t been there for a long time, but they used to sell Celestial Seasons herbal tea in the cafeteria at the Washington D.C. temple. I took that as an authoritative thumbs up on herbal tea and I have an entire kitchen drawer devoted to all kinds, medicinal and flavorful.

  2. what is that amazing sugary monstrosity in the cup in the first picture?

  3. Please don’t use “schizophrenic” the way you do in the last paragraph. Not only is it just plain wrong on the metaphor (schizophrenia involves hallucinations and paranoia, not multiple personalities or opposing moods; you’re looking for “bipolar” for the latter or “dissociative disorder” for the former), using people’s mental illness as a metaphor is gross.

    Otherwise a good rundown of the history/controversy over the Word of Wisdom.

  4. Stacy: fair point. I apologize for that use; I’ve changed it to “conflicted”

  5. Aussie Mormon says:

    Jennifer, as far as I’m concerned the verboten tea contains tea leaves. If it’s another plant it’s not actually tea. Much in the same way that white chocolate isn’t really chocolate because it doesn’t contain the cocoa solids only the cocoa fat.

  6. Have you ever imagined how great it would have been if the W o W consisted of basic DONTs (alcohol, tobacco, hard drugs) and basic Dos (fruits, vegetables, grains) without the silly coffee an tea prohibitions? Note: I’ve never consume a drop of tea or coffee but it’s just plain silly those are included. So arbitrary. It’s a good thing Joseph Smith did not have a beard — Emma might have complained and we might have been left with a BYU-type beard ban.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    When I was growing up we had a whole room in the basement devoted to food storage. In there was an eight pack of bottled Coke. They were there for medicinal purposes to calm an upset stomach. They always had a thick layer of dust, because we just didn’t get sick that often.

  8. Benjamin Knoll says:

    Add to the conversations with non-Mormons that about a quarter of active Mormons admit on a survey that they’ve had either coffee, tea, or alcohol in the last six months. That’ll really make their heads spin.

  9. Aussie Mormon, yes! Thank you for bringing up the fact that real tea is made from a specific plant. But I think the white chocolate analogy doesn’t really fit here, since it still contains cocoa fat, so it’s coming from the same plant as milk and dark chocolate. That’s closer to the black tea vs green tea debate.

    peppermint tea is about as similar to black tea as caramel is to dark chocolate.

  10. Ann Porter says:

    On what planet is Mtn Dew uncaffeinated?

  11. Aussie Mormon says:

    Yeah, I realised that after I posted ECB. Unfortunately my inner “I like to make fun of white chocolate” voice took control of my fingers before I could think it through.

  12. I once had this conversation with a friend who asked me about the wow out of a genuine sense of curiosity. I’d just taught a class on it and pretty much followed the timeline you presented. My friend’s response was to ask me if it bothered me to make life decisions based on something that made absolutely no logical or historical sense.

  13. This is entirely hearsay, but I had heard that it the WoW didn’t actually go into effect as a temple-worthy requirement until the 1920’s, and it wasn’t just a ban on alcohol but on the tobacco and other things as well. Addittional hearsay says that Brigham Young was a recreational tobacco user as well.

  14. There is evidence that many members felt that hot chocolate was prohibited by the WofW–there is an 1868 conference talk from an apostle, George Q. Cannon, who mentions it matter-of-factly. I know of no official statement contradicting that (I have no problem with hot chocolate myself, btw!). I personally have only been able to find an official explanation that “hot drinks” means coffee and tea, which could mean either hot coffee and hot tea are prohibited OR coffee and tea in any form are prohibited. If anyone can find an official church statement prohibiting iced coffee or tea, please let me know. I don’t drink them, but suspect they really shouldn’t be part of the WofW.

  15. Fun fact – Joseph drank wine in Carthage jail

  16. I was part of a dinner group that met monthly for a couple of years. This group was comprised of mostly LDS with a few other friends in the mix. We cooked foods from different countries each month. One month the country featured was China and a non-LDS friend brought dessert: homemade Green Tea ice-cream. One member of the group was our current Stake President (former Bishop). He took one look at the dessert and said promptly that “we couldn’t drink tea but there was no prohibition against eating it”. So we all dug in and enjoyed!

  17. According to David Whitmer, “…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.’ 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.” So that’s why coffee and tea are included. (Quote taken from the MormonThink essay on the WoW)

  18. This is fun, Carolyn. I agree that a WoW conversation can be endlessly fascinating. A couple of edits and additions, from my conversations:
    1. There is basis for saying decaf coffee is OK, which is a lead into an “appearance of evil” conversation. Not incidentally, kosher law discussants also consider appearances.
    2. Heber J. Grant making the WoW mandatory as part of the temple recommend interview in 1921 is an important demarcation. Before 1921 you find different levels of enforcement and interpretation, with reference to the actual section 89 text, with more attention to ideas of “wisdom” and “excess” (for example, concern about drunkenness rather than the first drop). After 1921 the text of section 89 is relatively unimportant, and conversation about caffeine, cooking alcohol, chocolate, etc. is at core “what is the content and interpretation of the temple recommend question?” (Although not always spelled out, that’s what people are usually talking about, in my opinion.)
    3. Leading of course to a cultural divide over the temple recommend—are you working on a TR standard or not? An interesting topic, although a little heavy for parties.
    4. Compare and contrast with kosher and halal/haram laws is a fascinating conversation. I’ve found interesting parallels in discussion about health vs purity vs obedience vs appearance vs identity, parallels in “who says?”, and “fun” sorts of corner issues of interpretation analogous to our conversations about caffeine. (But maybe your social circle has to include mostly lawyers of the several traditions to think this is fun. As mine has.)
    5. Acknowledging that I may be a radical outlier, I also find it interesting to discuss the sociology of dissent. How tobacco is mostly talked about as an individual bad habit. Alcohol as serious rebellion. Coffee as the least cost (moral cost) way to mark oneself as outside the fold. And tea as squishy with a lot of “who knows for sure?” and “different world cultures.” (All said and meant descriptively—not normative or prescriptive.)

  19. It’s funny how Emma complained about tobacco juice on the floor and God said “hmm you may be on to something,” but Emma complained about polygamy and God was all “you better go along with it OR ELSE.” Sometimes the heavenly suggestion box is open and sometimes it’s not.

  20. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    My response at holiday parties goes like this: The Word of Wisdom is God’s law of health. Kindly pass those chips and fried shrimp this way… and keep them coming!

  21. Joni, and with the recent excommunications of prominent people, it’s been shown that the heavenly suggestion box is firmly closed along with the whole idea of “By Common Consent”.

  22. Hello, Wondering how hot chocolate is not a hot drink.
    Actually Coca-Cola contained some level of cocaine until 1929. :)

  23. Bro. Jones says:

    Fun Fact: Joseph drank wine a whole lot of other times too. It’s why I always roll my eyes when the story of him refusing alcohol as an anesthetic for his leg surgery gets presented as a “Word of Wisdom”-type event.

    I’ve often wondered how things would play out if we had continued to practice the WoW as an exercise in moderation rather than teetotaling. Something like: “Oh, don’t invite Sam over there to do shots. He’ll drink exactly two beers and then call it a night, but he stays away from the hard stuff. Something to do with him being Mormon?”

  24. This is fun — here and in some other contexts. But sometimes it seems more appropriate to omit the complicated history and conflicted positions and failed attempts to justify some version of a universal WoW on a wholly consistent and up-to-changing-date scientific basis. At those times, if asked, I simply say that I don’t drink alcohol or coffee or black tea [that’s the tea restriction as taught in the ward I grew up in] or use tobacco because I agreed not to. Sometimes I add that I usually don’t drink Cola drinks because I don’t like them.

    Roy, Some people have claimed that hot chocolate was not a thing in early-mid 19th century frontier United States so that in the culture to which the WoW was addressed, “hot drinks” referred simply to the hot drinks they knew: coffee (which they say was then never iced) and [black] tea (also allegedly then never iced). Those folks conclude that “hot drinks” therefore referred to coffee and black tea and not to other drinks that are hot. I am not a historian with any knowledge of the accuracy or inaccuracy of such claims. In the meantime, its not a good idea for an individual with celiac disease or a genetic predisposition toward it to take the words of the WoW seriously enough to act on its instruction that “wheat is for man.”

  25. 1. There’s a debate about herbal tea? I’ve always drunk herbal teas and never considered it to be even close to the line.

    2. Christian’s point about making strict WofW observance a condition of temple attendance is an important point. (Though there are, arguably some textual hints that even from the beginning the revelation was connected to the temple, even though in practice that connection wasn’t really made until 1921). In some ways, I think it’s more accurate to think of our current prohibition on tea, coffee, alcohol, illegal drugs, which we call “the word of wisdom” as something different from and loosely inspired by section 89, rather than as an interpretation or implementation of section 89.

  26. Re herbal teas: Maybe it was just a single friendly kook while I was growing up, but it was debated in my ward.

  27. Another point that I sometimes like to make when talking about the WofW with non-members is that there is a wide diversity of thought on what the real justification is:

    Some see it as primarily about physical health. Under this view, everyone, members and non-members, would benefit from it, and partaking of prohibited substances in in some sense sinful even for non-members.

    Some see it primarily as a test of faith. Under this view, only members are bound by it, and those who have not covenanted to follow priesthood leaders are under no obligation.

    Similarly, some see it as a way to set ourselves apart from the world and remind us of our special obligations.

    Maybe my favorite reason, though, is to see it as a sort of expression of solidarity with recovering addicts. This makes the most sense, I think, of the idea of complete prohibition over mere moderation. Sort of a “yes, I probably could have a few beers without any bad effects, spiritual or physical, but my friend here, who is an alcoholic, can’t, and because we are members of the same body of Christ, I’ll bear his addiction with him.”

  28. Withholding my name for this post says:

    christiankimball: your point about the temple recommend standard vs. scriptural standard is something that we don’t take seriously. No one openly talks about this. I’m 5+ years into being in a calling where part of my duties includes signing scores of temple recommends, first time and renewals, each year. Over the last several years as I’ve studied all the “issues” in church history, changing doctrines etc. in my efforts to minister and walk with members “struggling” with all these questions, this issue (believe or not) has caused me more internal stress than some of the issues others would consider as “big issues” and has even caused me to question whether I should request to be released because I am enforcing a version of the WoW that I don’t think we are supposed to be enforcing. After studying in depth the history of the WoW and how it became a temple recommend requirement, I am convinced we are keeping people out of the temple (who want to go) who should be permitted to attend (and letting people in who arguably are not living the WoW but are living the “temple recommend standard”). The simple reply that “we believe in living prophets and continued revelation so any prophet can change Section 89 and require whatever they want” doesn’t work for me anymore. Because while that is true that we believe in continued revelation etc., it is clear that the temple recommend standard has not been adopted in this manner.

  29. JKC’s interpretation of “the word of wisdom” independent of section 89 pretty much matches the common understanding where I am.

    Re herbal teas: a former stake president here instructed one of our members that not drinking herbal teas was a “higher law.” It probably wasn’t a debate limited to Carolyn’s ward. I don’t know anyone who continues to take that stake president’s herbal tea statement seriously.

  30. Yeah, Carolyn, I’m not questioning your experience, I was just genuinely surprised.

  31. “Single friendly kook.” Someone in my old ward once called Salt Lake City to see if it was all right that the boy scouts were collecting beer bottles on their bottle drives.

  32. Stacy, are you sure there haven’t been hallucinations or paranoia around the WoW? I agree we shouldn’t make light of mental illness, but paranoia certainly abounds in this area.

    I think a big difference between coffee and hot chocolate comes down to likelihood to get addicted. That said, they used to sell coffee in the Salt Lake temple.

    I think the phased implementation of the WoW being a suggestion, then gradually becoming required for leadership or temple attendance, until being required for everyone over the amount of time that roughly equals a lifetime, was to go easy on those who were addicted before it was revealed. The Temperance movement definitely had an influence, though.

    Don’t forget it was Utah’s vote that ended Prohibition.

    Then there is the wholesome medical “herb” marijuana for a whole new level to the conversation.

  33. My understanding is that drinking yerba maté is also part of a higher law.

  34. Growing up I remember my mom being at least a little conflicted about herbal tea, but she drank it despite whatever difficulties she thought it presented. We also weren’t allowed to drink caffeinated sodas. In fact, one year my sister, age 9 or so, won 2nd prize in a local “Turkey trot” race. The prize was a 12 pack of Pepsi and my parents traded or gave it away.

    JR, thanks for the point about the non-existence of iced tea when the WoW was published. I’ve been looking for a way to justify drinking iced tea instead of soda and this might do the trick!

  35. “to go easy on those who were addicted before it was revealed.”

    The problem I have with this argument is that by the same logic, new converts should also the same leeway and not be required to strictly comply with the prohibition. So that logic just doesn’t do it for me.

  36. The OP made me smile, then laugh, then giggle 😊

  37. Mr. Schmidt says:

    JKC: I suppose I’m one of the ones who see it primarily as a test of faith. I’ve never characterized it that way, but seems to fit the bill. I’ve always just viewed it personally as an expression of covenant – but not to follow priesthood leaders expressly but rather to follow God, as suggested/described by priesthood leaders. I suppose that may be splitting hairs now that I write this.

    The corollary to that, in my mind, also follows along what you say. But, I focus more on those who have technically covenanted to follow the WoW as currently interpreted. I have always pictured the WoW as more “malum prohibitum” than “malum in se”. I think there is a cultural current that has been fostered for decades that has (either inadvertently or carelessly) set up breaking the WoW as “malum in se”, with all the social reactions to that which you would expect. And I think that is sad, and causes all sorts of heartache – and lost opportunities to reach out and minister – that is just not needed.

  38. Jack Hughes says:

    In my ward growing up in the 1980s (outside of the Mountain Time Zone) there were multiple WoW interpretations floating around. One family were strict vegetarians, and they actively proselytized their meatless lifestyle to anyone who would listen, using D&C 89 as their primary justification. An older gentleman forbade chocolate in his home (my mom was his wife’s visiting teacher, and she would often sneak chocolate to the long-suffering woman). One family not only eschewed caffeinated sodas, but also caffeine-free versions of popular caffeinated sodas to “avoid the appearance of evil”. And more than one family I knew would not permit the use of alcohol-based vanilla extract in their kitchens (they also had a reputation for the blandest homemade cookies). My own parents quietly rolled their eyes at such practices, as they were not shy about drinking Dr. Pepper and eating large amounts of meat in the summertime. They took a more pragmatic approach to teaching me about the WoW (alcohol and tobacco are proven to be unhealthy and addictive, so it’s in your best interest to avoid them) which I appreciate to this day. But my mom also had a favorite chocolate cake recipe that had coffee as an ingredient, which she sometimes brought to ward functions (keeping the key ingredient a secret) as an act of quiet rebellion. She got a mischievous thrill from seeing many successive bishops over the years tell her how delicious it was.

    Even so, it was a bit of a shock for me when I got married and met my wife’s southern Utah extended family for the first time–my first encounter with unapologetic “coffee-drinking Mormons”.

  39. Don, Stacy, re hallucinations and some versions of the WoW: I’m not schizophrenic, but the one time I followed advice to take a NoDoz pill when driving long distance after a night of literally no sleep, I did hallucinate. Apparently, the combination of no sleep and a heavy dose of caffeine is not good for me (or safe for me or other drivers). I prefer naps. But those pink-polka-dotted hippos and elephants floating in the air in and above the traffic were quite interesting. My personal WoW includes eliminating NoDoz as a “cure” for lack of sleep.

    Don, Is it drinking or not drinking yerba maté that is a higher law?

    Abu Casey, If you are led astray, don’t blame it on me. I merely reported others’ explanations of “hot drinks” and did not and cannot vouch for their accuracy. On the other hand, a certain LDS federal court of appeals judge, when given a bad time by his colleagues about drinking Coke, is said to have responded “The prohibition is against hot drinks. This is cold.” (I didn’t hear that one directly from him either.) It has been widely reported that President David O. McKay not only had no problem drinking Coca-cola, but also appreciated the distinction between not drinking alcohol and eating cherry-liqueur filled chocolates. Rumors can be fun. Incidentally, while I don’t like cherry-liqueur filled chocolates, I might think it hard to overdo the Kirsch in a fondue.

  40. I thought the McKay story was about rum cake. Or maybe there’s also a liquer chocolate one also.

  41. JR, I wouldn’t dream of it!

  42. An investigator recently asked me “so Mormons can drink a Mountain Dew that’s been heated because not considered a hot drink, but not drink an iced tea because it is hot??” Amazingly he still joined the church, but the WofW has some internal inconsistencies that could use some updating

  43. Jack Hughes, One of our local former stake presidents was not at all apologetic about ordering his favorite mocha cake at a popular restaurant. It was good! and it wasn’t a hot drink!

  44. While I was attending a military leadership course, the standard was to end the week with lots of beer on Friday night. Knowing that I didn’t drink, they thoughtfully bought Coke for me. I didn’t want to be “that guy,” so I thanked them for their thoughtfulness and drank the Coke.

  45. Re: herbal tea–I’ve heard some people try the “appearance of evil” argument against it. Probably the same people who initially counseled against the use of smartphones in church because “Sure, you [i]could[/i] be looking at scriptures, but what if you were just playing a game or reading the news or [gasp]looking at pr0n? Better to avoid the issue entirely and not use your phone at all.”

  46. You know what always gets me about the WoW? Emma said, “ewww, Joseph, this is gross, why do I get stuck cleaning up all your grossness?” And instead of Joseph telling his buddies to clean up after themselves, he asks God what to do about it. And God, instead of giving a revelation that men should clean up after themselves, God said, “yeah, that’s never going to happen. Better ban tobacco entirely instead.” The original problem could have been solved so much more simply, but God and His prophet both avoided the whole issue by banning large categories of comestibles.

  47. @Amy: can you imagine a world in which a cornerstone revelation was “women are equal in all things, men you should tend to the hearth while the women tend to bringing peace to the world?”

  48. Who knows, maybe some day soon we’ll see the Law-of-Moses-like WOW, or temple recommend version, changed to be a higher law. Like home teaching changed to ministering, with fewer specifics, more self-interpretation, and less reporting.

  49. Roger Hansen says:

    The WoW is seriously out of date. It’s current interpretation has little to do with health, except tobacco. By banning coffee and tea, but not caffeinated soda, you are encouraging a poor nutrition and health decision. The sugar and fizz in soda is problematic. You are better off drinking coffee or tea. If by banning moderate levels of alcohol consumption, you are pushing members toward prescription drugs, members may be the losers. Banning coffee, tea, and alcohol to get a TR just doesn’t make sense. Toad is right.

  50. A friend from Community of Christ once mentioned that they do interpret the WoW “hot drinks” based on the temperature of the drink, instead drinking their tea and coffee at more moderate temperatures, avoiding the McDonalds coffee lap spill and accompanying 3rd degree burns and the more minor irritation of burnt tongues.

    As for herbal tea, it’s not “tea” at all, but an herbal infusion. Frankly, I think most of the people who shun it simply never acquired a taste for mildly flavored hot water. It truly tastes and looks very little like black or green tea.

    I used to go into these lengthy, questionably entertaining spiels about the history of it, but now I just opt for, “Who knows why any religions do what they do?”

  51. Thomas Alexander’s article on the evolution of the Word of Wisdom is relevant to this discussion and a terrific read:

    We have moved away from the plain text language of D&C 89 (e.g. “not by commandment or constraint”) based on a variety of factors over the years; Alexander’s article details some of these. The parsing of what is “legal”–herbal tea, soda, decaf coffee–is a cottage industry that ultimately does not matter much unless one gets into a discussion of what is allowed/what is the higher law with an ecclesiastical authority in a temple recommend interview. This happened to me when I was 15 and was nearly denied a recommend to do baptisms in the temple because I admitted to the mortal sin of drinking Dr. Pepper.

    That being said, “hot drinks” in historical context referred to hot alcoholic drinks; the coffee and tea prohibitions came later and the caffeine content of those drinks was used as a justification. Beer, until the 18th amendment, was acceptable short of drunkenness–note the proliferation of breweries in Utah through the early 20th century. It is certainly possible that similar policy changes could be announced in the near future–after all, as a physician, President Nelson would certainly have the authority (both spiritual and temporal) to explicitly prohibit specific things as an expanded understanding of the Word of Wisdom.

  52. I know I didn’t say “Thomas Alexander”, but I did link to his article multiple times in this piece, and in my summer one.

  53. felixfabulous says:

    Great article, one of my hobby horses. My problems with the WOW: 1. There are nearly identical health codes on the books of many protestant churches in the Ohio area before D&C 89 was adopted. It appears that this was a trend in churches that we adopted. 2. The actual revelatory scriptural text is totally different than what we interpret today (it is not a commandment, beer is OK, meat sparingly, tea and coffee not singled out). 3. It was taken up as a boundary marker and way to be included with WASPs in the US after we gave up polygamy. For me, none of these are very good reasons to use this as a way to distinguish who should and shouldn’t go to the temple.

  54. DJ, I’ve been reading and re-reading Alexander’s article and haven’t found ” “hot drinks” in historical context referred to hot alcoholic drinks; the coffee and tea prohibitions came later…” Of course, my wife and my secretary could both tell you I’m notoriously bad at finding things. Instead I found: “The inclusion of coffee and tea and the exclusion of cocoa, for instance, from the prohibited substances can probably be attributed to statements of Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Brigham Young rather than to specific revelations.29” [Alexander’s footnote 29 refers to pp. 10-13 of Roy Doxey’s “The Word of Wisdom Today” (Deseret Book, 1975) and p.28 of John and Leah Widtsoe’s “The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation” (Deseret Book, 1037) for “[s]ome of the statements and reminiscences.”] So, if it was from Joseph and Hyrum, I’m not sure it was much later than the revelation. (Alexander focuses primarily on the turn of the century and subsequent events.) What’s the source for “hot drinks” meaning “hot alcoholic drinks” rather than coffee or tea, etc.? Was Krambambuli somehow worse than cold or lukewarm alcoholic drinks? We’re still singing the tune for the old student drinking song named for it.

  55. I personally imbibe hot herbal teas such as peppermint , camomile(from flowers), rooibos(bark like cinnamon) and fruit flavored ones.Once after accidentally drinking a black tea chai, getting a nice little dose of caffine on my way to an appointment to the dr’s I felt bad and asked my bishop at the time what he thought about it parents being converts they drank herbal teas. He told me he liked a peppermint tea for upset stomach and urged me to do research and to pray about it to get an answer for myself . So I did! I looked up why tea could possibly be bad. The research I did proved interesting results. Green tea is often imbibed by the peoples in China,Japan, + surrounding countries for ones health & to diet. Many Chinese & Japanese elderly regularly drink it, living to active old ages, but their diets also consist with eating meat sparingly + loads of vegetables, fruits, rice & fish. On the other side of the world however .. the Brits drank black tea literally metric Tons of it . In fact when they found the wreckage of the Titanic they thought they had found a cargo of Leather purses!! Unfortunatly this was NOT the case. They tested the “leather purses” only to fiund out that they were actually tanned stomachs of the deceased !! I was baffeled why were these stomachs turned to leather ? Interesting fact , the tannins in tea leaves & in coffee tan ones stomach while being digested killing all beneficial bacteria in the gut lining making the absorption of nutrients difficult. Good enough for me -I don’t want my stomach getting tanned from the insides ! We all know alcohol causes liver damages , is dehydrating, causes heart problems and serious stomach pains. Hense why coffee and tea are not good for the belly. As for the meat part . In the winter historically is when people have higher stomach acids to eat meat and meat was eatten in the winter after the animals had been fattened up for that purpose. In the spring, summer and fall when fruits and vegetable were more abundant people ate meat sparingly and if there is a famine all that is left is meat to eat as a last resort to stay alive. Most drs have concurred that eating seasonally & only eating a deck of playing cards size of meat a day is healthier for people. To many people in the church eat meat to extremes , very little fruits and vegetables and wonder why they are not getting the temple blessings of running and not be weary walk and not faint . And the caffeine , oh our favorite vice along with sugar. To much sugar causes candida a gut bacteria that makes us ill , have more fatigue and more risk of diabetes because of craving more sugar that the bacteria feeds off of. Caffeine is a natural chemical found in the brain but excess caffeine leads to addrinal crashes : tiredness fatigue crashing and your bodies natural chemical responses in the brain- leading to addiction. The Word Of Wisdom is truely words of wisdom to alow the natural body to feel energised and healthy to do gods work , which we promise to do in the temple – we get blessings from following it to bear our burdens placed upon us run and not be weary, walk and not faint. Thats why the word of wisdom is a temple question

  56. I believe that hot drinks mean things like whiskey and tequila. Its hard liquor that is a no no, not coffee and tea. For interesting information go to

  57. If “hot drinks” means liquor, then what does “strong drinks” mean? Is it just redundant?

  58. Rosco P Coltrane says:

    D&C 89:2 — “To be sent (by?) greeting; not by commandment or constraint…”

    Can we all just agree to go back to the ORIGINAL intent?

    (I’m sure we can find other things by which to judge each other’s worthiness?)

  59. On what planet is Mtn Dew uncaffeinated?

    Planet Canada up until 2012.

  60. Kevin Barney says:

    My own originalist interpretation of Sec. 89 is that it is mostly cautioning against hard liquor (strong drink) and tobacco.. Wine is ok if it’s for the sacrament or you make it yourself, and Joseph himself drank wine after this so that’s not clearly taboo. Mild barley drinks = beer and is fine. Grain and fruits are good; meat should be eaten sparingly. I interpret “hot drinks” as originally referring to temperature (presumably based on some sort of Thompsonian medicine concept or something), with caffeine eventually becoming a post hoc rationalization. For its time, pretty good advice.

    I don’t use this reading to justify drinking beer or wine or iced coffee or tea drinks, because I just don’t care for those things. The one area where I clearly violate the original intent is that I am not sparing in my eating of meat. But that notion hasn’t survived in the modern interpretation. So even though I could rationalize doing something else, I adhere to the modern temple recommend reinterpretation anyway.

  61. Amanda H: I agree about green tea. Its health benefits are pretty well-established, with caffeine levels less than Mountain Dew and certainly coffee.I don’t think they found any “purses” tanned by green tea from the titanic, hence your point about Brits and their black tea. My bishop approves of green tea, with the caveat of in moderation. For many LDS, “in moderation” apparently doesn’t apply to consumption of sugary Coca-Cola and other soft drinks. I apply the same logic to kombucha, the king of beverages: While the brewing process creates small amounts of alcohol similar to what might be in chocolate or vanilla extract, it “eats up“ most of the sugar and much of the caffeine, leaving you with a healthy low calorie probiotic drink.

  62. @”Withholding my name for this post” . thanks for your reply – feel the same!

  63. Also @“withholding my name for this post” — I am writing about this kind of problem. Although my most troubling experiences are with issues other than the Word of Wisdom, the rest of your comment resonates, down to thinking about getting released. I understand you staying anonymous, but would love to connect privately, if only to ask for comments on my work.

  64. Coca-Cola
    Coca refers to cocaine. Cola refers to the African kola bean with hallucinogenic properties.
    Both removed, I think in 1914 Narcotics Act. Caffeine was relatively harmless replacement. HJG was a little slow on the draw. His admonition would have been more helpful a few years earlier.

    Mt Dew
    Mt Dew originally referred to bootleg whiskey distilled in the Southern Appalachian mountains. The smoke from the fires to distill it resembled the morning fog characteristic of the area and which is also where the Smoky Mountains got their name. Mt Dew usually was far above 100 proof which is usually the limit of what you can buy in liquor stores. Also some of it was made in stills welded together with lead or mercury and hence a source of heavy metal poisoning.

    Worse than these were hundreds of tonics and remedies in wide use during late 19th and early 20th century that contained opiates, especially morphine. Some of you might have noticed a barn in Cache Valley painted with “Dr Pierce’s favorite prescription” (for weak women- on other barns ). That would be a hazardous concoction of alcohol, morphine and quinine. Other tonics contained heroin, first marketed by a company called Bayer, now famous for baby aspirin. All to be found in grandma’s medicine cabinet when I was a mere lad in rural Utah.

    My dad, born 1920’s, claimed it was grown widely in Utah by Asian immigrants when he was young. It was called hemp but people smoked it for the same reason they do today. Perhaps it can be included in the category of “wholesome herbs” for purposes of this discussion?

    Used in WWII to keep pilots awake on long flights and not discontinued until the 1970’s. Didn’t Boyd K Packer fly planes in WWII? He undoubtedly used it. Amphetamines were first synthesized in Germany. Do I dare speculate about our favorite GA pilot, code name the Silver Fox?

  65. Bro. Jones says:

    Wesley: the Silver Fox has humbly admitted to a Diet Coke habit for his stimulant fix.

  66. Three things…1. If you have questions, ask your Bishop. 2. If you’re not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, why do you care? 3. If you feel guilty, don’t do it! Anything else, see number one.

  67. At a happy hour at work recently. Friends were tasting each others’ beers.
    Friend: “Do you want to try?”
    Me: “No, thanks. I don’t drink.”
    Friend: “I know. I’m just teasing you.”
    Me: “Joke’s on YOU. You just gave me another chance to talk about my religious beliefs.”

%d bloggers like this: