Parsing the Word of Wisdom

In light of the recent Church announcement regarding the Word of Wisdom, I’m seeing a lot of chatter on Facebook where people are trying to figure out how the text of the revelation actually relates to our current interpretation and practice. So I thought it might be worthwhile to set out the text of the revelation (omitting the beginning and ending that do not contain specific prohibitions) and give you my take on them, and give you an opportunity to add your own commentary.

 

5 That inasmuch as any man adrinketh bwine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.

6 And, behold, this should be wine, yea, apure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.

7 And, again, astrong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.

I assume that “wine” here specifically means fermented wine (and not grape juice) and strong drink means distilled liquors. The passage is kind of awkward, because there is an exception for the use of wine as a sacramental emblem, provided it is wine the Saints make themselves and do not purchase. Presumably this exception would no longer apply, as the Church ceased to use wine in the sacrament beginning early in the 20th century, which is why visitors to our services are often puzzled to find water in the sacramental cup.

8 And again, tobacco is not for the abody, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.

The prohibition of tobacco seems pretty straightforward.

9 And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

“Hot drinks” has been the source of enormous confusion. My own beiief is that this prohibition is referring literally to temperature. Hyrum Smith assumed that the reference was to coffee and tea, since those were the beverages normally consumed hot, and that ruling stuck and has become official. As a consequence, the language rather illogically is deemed to cover iced coffee and tea drinks, which are by definition not “hot.”

So what is the problem with these drinks? John Widtsoe and others reasoned it was probably the caffeine in them. This became a very influential ruling  from the mid to late 20th century. It meant that decaf coffee, though avoided by many, could be consumed under informal rulings from Salt Lake. It also meant soda drinks containing caffeine were considered prohibited. When I was growing up I never drank caffeinated sodas. We had an old, dusty eight pack of bottled Coke in our food storage room, which was there as a “medicine” for upset stomachs, and that is the only context in which I had a caffeinated soda as a boy.

I personally threw the shackles off my first year at BYU post-mish. I lived in a house full of guys who were Doctor Pepper fans, and we had cases of the stuff lying around, and I quickly became a convert and from that time I didn;’t give caffeine in sodas a second thought. (It would take the Church several more decades to catch up to my enlightenment.)

As for tea, I understand the position of the Church to be that this prohibition applies specifically to the tea plant, which means it applies to black, green and white teas, but not to herbal teas, which although called “tea” have nothing to do with the tea plant.

10 And again, verily I say unto you, all wholesome aherbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—

11 Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with aprudence and bthanksgiving.

Herbs and fruits are good; check.

12 Yea, aflesh also of bbeasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used csparingly;

13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be aused, only in times of winter, or of cold, or bfamine.

With meat you can pretty much see what you want to see. If you’re pro-meat you focus on verse 12, but if you’re anti you focus on verse 13. A number of early Church leaders, such as Lorenzo Snow, felt strongly that we should not eat meat but be vegetarian, but that position did not survive, probably because leaders realized that a lot of folks simply wouldn’t stand for it.

Some folks read v. 13 without the comma after “used” meaning something like “it’s pleasing to me that they should not be used ONLY in times of winter or of cold or famine, but absolutely all the time, baby! It’s eat meat a-go-go!” I personally think that’s an absurd reading.

14 All agrain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;

15 And athese hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

Grain is like fruit and herbs: in the good category. Verse 15 is a little awkward; what is the antecedent to “these”? It can’t be “grain,” which is singular, not plural. The “these” refers back to the end of the immediately preceding verse, meaning beasts of the field, fowls and wild animals, or basically the same animals and point made back in verse 12.

16 All grain is good for the afood of man; as also the bfruit of the vine; that which yieldeth fruit, whether in the ground or above the ground—

Reiteration that grain and fruit are good.

17 Nevertheless, wheat for man, and corn for the ox, and oats for the horse, and rye for the fowls and for swine, aHnd for all beasts of the field, and barley for all useful animals, and for mild drinks, as also other grain.

My impression is that we don’t limit the grains we eat to wheat only, and in effect we basically just ignore this verse. We also ignore the reference to “barley…for mild drinks,” which is a perfectly clear allusion to beer. I guess the theory is that the mild alcohol content of beer trumps this explicit approval of the beverage.

Here is the recent Church statement that spurred this discussion:

“The Word of Wisdom is a law of health for the physical and spiritual benefit of God’s children. It includes instruction about what foods are good for us and those substances to avoid. Over time, Church leaders have provided additional instruction on those things that are encouraged or forbidden by the Word of Wisdom, and have taught that substances that are destructive, habit-forming or addictive should be avoided.

“In recent publications for Church members, Church leaders have clarified that several substances are prohibited by the Word of Wisdom, including vaping or e-cigarettes, green tea, and coffee-based products. They also have cautioned that substances such as marijuana and opioids should be used only for medicinal purposes as prescribed by a competent physician.”

To me, treating vaping in a way similar to smoking is a no-brainer. Yes, vaping is safer than smoking, but it is still very dangerous, especially for the nicotine it contains, which is highly addictive.

In my view, green tea was already covered by the WoW anyway.

“Coffee-based products” is unfortunately pretty vague. My impression is they are thinking of fancy drinks containing actual real honest to goodness coffee such as you find at Starbucks; if so, that strikes me as fair. If they’re thinking of mocha-flavored ice cream or stuff like that, that’s probably too far, but we all have our agency to draw these kinds of ines for ourselves anyway.

So, I’m curious what you think about all this. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

  1. “The prohibition of tobacco seems pretty straightforward.”

    Do you think tobacco extracts and derivatives (including modern nicotine vaping) is straightforward included in the letter of the WoW?

  2. I thought the comment about marijuana with a prescription was a big deal but seems to be ignored everywhere, including this article. This was, honestly, the only surprising thing about the statement.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    At the end I said I agree with including vaping under that category, but I would be interested in the counter argument.

  4. Wil Groesbeck says:

    Word of Wisdom is a funny one in regards of how it meshes with the Church and its culture. I think in terms of the vagueness of Word of wisdom, i think it was intensional by Heavenly Father. It’s an opportunity to reason with the Lord and receive personal revelation on how we should follow this law. (I think it’s one of those it’s not good to be commanded in all things.)

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Good point mkng1, apparently the source I copied the statement from did not include that part (it was not my intention to exclude it). The Church has been pretty good about allowing exceptions approved by doctors (such as James Talmage being allowed to smoke cigars).

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah Wil, there is a fair amount of flexibility there.

  7. I don’t think the Church has made a serious effort to be text-based about the Word of Wisdom, from Heber J. Grant’s era forward, if not even earlier. If you’re asking what does it take to qualify for a temple recommend, the best approach—in my opinion—is either (a) “whatever they say” (for a literalist) or (b) “whatever I can feel good about making sense of what they say” (for a self-styled nuanced thinker). And ignore Section 89.

    On the other hand, if you’re asking the true wisdom question, you’re probably thinking about vaping differently than green tea, without regard to the text of Section 89.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah Christian, it’s fair to point out my anti-vaping animus is not textually based.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    Lester Bush wrote an article in Dialogue where he summarizes the medical knowledge that prevailed in the early 19th century. In the 1830s, physicians believed that you shouldn’t drink anything hotter than the temperature of your blood. Anything over about 100F was courting danger.

    The text of section warns against hot drinks, not specifically coffee and tea, although of course those drinks have now been included in our current interpretation. I’ve always assumed our proscription of these drinks had to do with the habit-forming effect of caffeine, but maybe we were simply going with the best medical advice available at the time, which advised against drinking boiling water. I wonder what our Word of Wisdom would look like today if Joseph Smith had foreseen iced tea and iced coffee.

  10. I thought the new statement was going to clarify that it is a law of health and encourage us to stop being idiots about all the do’s and don’ts and think like more mature Latter Day Saints. In other words, stop getting obese on Cafe Rio, squares, and ice cream parlors (seriously, Mormons have a serious sugar problem) while proclaiming to their Bishop that they keep the word of wisdom because they don’t drink beer.

    I admit I was a little disappointed that it was just a refocus on list making for the bad substances. Not that I disagree that making a list of prohibitive substances is bad, but I think it misses the point of what the spirit of the WoW means.

  11. To refer to the Word of Wisdom as a “law of health” seems silly if we only take some of it seriously. No temple recommend if you drink coffee but eat steak every day and weigh 300 lbs and you’re good to go.

    And to get even more specific about some parts, in effect doubling down on the hot drinks thing (except we don’t really mean hot drinks, just this weird list of some hot drinks) but to continue to just ignore other obvious parts of section 89 is nonsensical.

    It would be more accurate to think of it the same way Jews think of Kosher or Muslims of Halal. Not as a health law but rather as a mark or distinguishing practice.

  12. Ah, yes. The obligatory edgy hot-take comments reminding us of the obvious moral inferiority of our co-religionists with icky big bodies.

    So much more enlightened than the ridiculous, wrong-headed fixation on the supposed moral inferiority of coffee and tea drinkers.

    And clearly the point of this textual examination of D&C 89.

  13. As a teenager in the 1980s I can remember people bearing their testimonies about making a sacrifice to stop drinking various sodas that initially they did not know had caffeine. I was kept from doing baptisms for the dead in the LA temple one year because of my love of Pepsi. I looked down on my friends parents who drank evil beer.
    Since I can actually read now, and I take the word of the LORD literally, I realize that this “commandment of men” was actually just GOD trying to help us live a little longer or feel a little better. Section 89 was not meant as it is used today as a sign of righteousness, just as the Jews used fanatical Sabbath observance to cover their inner sinfulness. CHRIST would probably tell us today “the Word of Wisdom was made to serve man, and man was not made to serve the Word the Wisdom.”

  14. kamschron says:

    According to Ezra Taft Benson, the “these” in verse 15 applied specifically to wild animals. I don’t remember exactly how he worded it, but he said that it had always been interesting to him that the Lord had placed a greater restriction on the flesh of wild animals than on the flesh of domesticated animals, and that it was the only time when he ever got Joseph Fielding Smith on a point of doctrine.

  15. @HHB Maybe I wasn’t reading closely enough, but I didn’t see anyone treating the obese as morally inferior. It’s just a fact that they, like smokers, will on average contribute fewer years to the cause of building up Zion in this life. While for some, obesity may be unavoidable, for most it is a sad result of the standard American diet and sedentary lifestyles, both of which are a choice for most people. Following all parts of the WoW carefully, separating ourselves from the detrimental habits of the world around us, would make us a stronger people. Instead we choose to live below our privileges, eating our beef and drinking our Sodalicious as the world does, for tomorrow we die.

  16. Has anybody else read the treatment of WoW in Mormon Enigma? It has a surprising little nugget about coffee and tea. From p. 47:

    Thus Emma, faced almost daily with “having to clean so filthy a floor” as was left by the men chewing tobacco, spoke to Joseph about the matter. David Whitmer’s account supports Brigham Young’s description. “Some of the men were excessive chewers of the filthy weed, and their disgusting slobbering and spitting cursed 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…Whitmer further reports, “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.” Joseph made the issue the subject of prayer, and the “Word of Wisdom” was a result.

    Endnote 23 for Ch. 3 says the David Whitmer quotations are from the Des Moines Daily News, 16 Oct. 1886, p. 20.

    I don’t know enough about Whitmer’s memory, but if his account is true, then I can’t help wonder whether the prohibition on coffee and tea was just tit for tat, or even-steven so Joseph could sell WoW’s ban on strong drinks and tobacco to the men. And WoW’s suggestion-level status also makes me wonder whether he (Joseph) really meant it. What with his continued alcohol consumption and sales. The revelation must have placated Emma somewhat while reserving party-boy wiggle room. Here we are 186 years later festooned with guilt or potential guilt over whether coffee makes it into our ice cream, or over drinking a glass of iced tea on a hot summer day. I wonder whether the Lord cares at all about moderate consumption of coffee or tea. (See Matt. 15:11.) Science hasn’t really bolstered this component of WoW.

    Obedience in ignorance can be a legitimate test, but incoherence is a real mind-bender. Dug’s steak-eating 300-pounder can drink buckets of caffeinated soda on the way to the Temple while a thimble full of ice tea will block my ticket in.–Maybe there’s truly a divine reason… I’ve obeyed the coffee/tea thing all my life. But I do question whether God or Joseph ever intended it to become the thing it’s become. It just feels pharisaical. And I wonder whether God or the Prophet, or littler prophets ever banned or demanded common consent to ban “coffee based products.” Why don’t we use AOF 9 more often? It doesn’t get out much.

  17. Thanks, Owen! As you point out “the world” just lets fat people off too easy, what with all of the coddling and social acceptance they enjoy out there as they wickedly fritter away their birthrights for the literal high-calorie pottage of the modern Western diet.

    I’m not going to say any more after this comment, because it is clearly not the purpose of the post, but I am pretty weary of this latest round of WOW discussions being used as an opportunity to make snide or faux-concerned remarks about people with large bodies.

    This world already views them as moral and intellectual failures as well as super gross! It disheartens me to see how some of us are so willing to add an additional layer of religious excoriation—either in service of a rhetorical point about the supposed absurdity of some of these “health” guidelines or because we legitimately believe we are able and entitled to make observations about peoples’ health (and, apperantly, righteousness) based on how their bodies look.

    I don’t know exactly what the WOW is, but it shouldn’t be a prosperity gospel of hotness. “For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

  18. Brian Taylor says:

    In my view it’s all an unfortunate and necessary barrier to participation in the gospel. If the gospel is what mormons believe it is they should stop wrapping it in barbed wire. They should scrape the barnacles off “old ship zion.”

  19. HHB, nobody here has made the argument that the WoW is a “law of hotness.” Nobody is shaming obesity, or larger body types.

    I think we can fairly argue against America’s problems with diet and church members’ blind spots about the WofW, without jumping to that conclusion.

  20. HHB, my point was not to shame larger folks and I apologize for my insensitive comment. My point is that the Word of Wisdom is no longer (amd maybe never was) a law of health. It’s time we stopped pretending it is.

  21. I like Brian’s analogy. It seems to me that old ship Zion is rather prone to barnacles for a couple of genetic reasons. First, it’s an Old-Testamenty style of Christianity with prophets, Temples, high priests, and…. Rules! Second, Joseph Smith and other early prophets’ precedents often seem to get locked in and retroactively rationalized as doctrine. Hence barnacle after barnacle. Old ship Barnacle captained by Barnacle Bill the Sailor. As I suggested, why don’t we dust off AOF 9 and see what happens.

  22. It’s certainly true that obesity is a health problem, and there is a legitimate conversation that can be had about solutions, but HHB isn’t being unreasonable. Let’s not judge and make blanket statements about obese Mormons and the restaurants they *obviously* frequent.

  23. It’s a little troubling that Church members tend to use caffeinated sodas as a substitute for coffee and tea, while there are so many studies showing that sodas are really bad for you health-wise, because of the high sugar content. Wouldn’t it actually be healthier to get caffeine from coffee and tea? That’s why I like the temperature-centric interpretation of “hot drinks”.

  24. EnglishTeacher says:

    👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

  25. Often forgotten in these conversation is that the announcement didn’t happen out of the blue. There have been numerous questions, and it’s far easier to put out a statement rather than hoping all Bishops agree.

    It’s also unfortunate that the direction of conversation has gone toward, “-they- aren’t really doing what the WoW says”.

    To me, it makes total sense that 19th century people would think that medically imbibing or inhaling hot substances or constantly chewing on substances would be bad for the body. It’s pretty much the medicine of the day. The wine thing makes sense with the stories of enemies using poisoned wine in the BofM.

    Whenever we get revelation, the almost immediate response is “but where -exactly- is the line?”, then arguments over weather that line is really legitimate or not. It’s been so since Eden, with “there’s no other way, so the rule doesn’t really apply”.

  26. I like to read the last few verses, which you skipped here, as a commandment rather than a blessing. In verse 21, it says the Lord gives a promise or blessing. So then read 18-20 as the commandment that precedes the blessing – ye shall be obedient, receive health, find wisdom, run and not be weary, and walk and not faint. This to me is the purpose or vision to keep in mind. If we are doing what we should to be healthy and active, we can serve the Lord. If we are addicted and unhealthy, it is difficult to magnify your calling, and you may even not be qualified for some callings.

  27. Roger Hansen says:

    To me the modern interpretation of WoW isn’t so much a health code as it is a requirement for full membership.

  28. Eric Facer says:

    As Jana Riess has pointed out, prohibiting green tea simply because it is derived from the same plant as black tea makes little sense from a health standpoint. Green tea has antioxidants that may fight cell damage and, perhaps, even cancer. There also appears to be a connection between green tea and lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, though medical research in this area is not conclusive. Still, I don’t know of any significant harmful effects that stem from the consumption of green tea. And since the W of W is all about health . . . ?

    My favorite explanation for the “hot drinks” language in the W of W is the one proffered by Newell and Avery in their Emma Smith biography—that Joseph threw it in there to get back at Emma and the Relief Society for making him ask God about tobacco and alcohol. The evidence for this interpretation isn’t overwhelming, but I still like it.

    On the subject of vaping, assume you have a convert who used to be a smoker. He quit when he joined the church but then several years later he took up the habit again. To kick it, he decides to transition to vaping since it is considerably less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Should he be denied a temple recommend while he is vaping?

  29. People in my family have ADHD. The medicine available to them right now is a stimulant. It could become addictive. It has side effects associated with it. So they could take this pill… or they could have a cup of coffee in the morning or afternoon, which is a natural stimulant and a ritual that they can share with people who don’t have ADHD. And let me tell you there is value in shared ritual when you are one of the kids/adults who never fit in.

    God made coffee beans too. And maybe he put them on the earth for families like mine who have people with synapsises in their brain that are not able to function in the neurotypical way.

    It is unfortunate that the SLC guidance on the Word of Wisdom is something other than to make it a matter of personal revelation.

    And while smoking, drinking, vaping and red meat are not my thing, I only feel peace approaching all of these dietary restrictions from the place of personal revelation. I accept that for other people the answers will be different.

  30. Billy Possum says:

    Thank you, HHB, for raising an important point. We should listen (and I’d be interested in reading an article or two on that specific part of this topic).

  31. jaredtaylor77 says:

    I’m disturbed so many members blow past the very explicit word of the Lord that section 89 and the Word of Wisdom are not to be taken by “commandment” or “constraint.”

    I know of no instance where the Lord has rescinded this or where he has elevated the WoW to a commandment. To accept it as such (a commandment) goes in the face of the revelation itself and elevates mans interpretation over the will of Gods. There has been no official declaration, no vote of common consent and no official turning point to where we should read anything like the WoW as a commandment. A post prohibition , cultural and political era aside, is no reason the word of the Lord should be thought of as changed.

    This is an example, like Brigham era priesthood restrictions, where members forget their inheritance and rely upon man more than God. They give away their agency to follow the prophet when it goes against clear scripture itself.

  32. The other Chad says:

    Honest questions for those who subscribe to the “not-really-a-commandment” idea: What is the “order and will of God” (vs.2) if not a commandment? When considering the meat verses (12-15), is there a better example of the lord setting boundaries; and is there any other commandment (or advice) the Lord says would “please” Him for us to obey that we completely ignore?

  33. Amy, my brother has ADHD as an adult. His doctor prescribed a daily cup of coffee over putting him on additional pills and his bishop had no problem with it. Knowing how these things work, other bishops might disagree of course.

  34. The WofW needs to be re-evaluated and DC 89 modernized. To say that hot drinks = coffee flavored ice cream is ludicrous. There are so many people who are gluten intolerant and so many points of view about meat and so many cultures in the world… etc.

    Seems like a no brainer to say “God just wants you to take care of your body.”

  35. I’ve also never understood why we ignore the express purpose the Lord himself gave for D&C 89. “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you…”

    God doesn’t say it’s because of health.

    Taking this perspective helps me be on board with things I’d have a harder time with otherwise. Why prohibit green tea but not overeating? Why give specific textual prohibitions instead of talking about principles?

    Interesting to me then to look at the histories of the items consumed and their effects not just on the consumers, but also the producers. A few examples come readily to mind:

    * The Opium Wars in China were more about tea than opium, and the destruction that happened in the 30 years following the Word of Wisdom set the stage for the next century of trouble in China, India, and other Asian countries ((the East India Company forced opium cultivation in India and encouraged consumption in large part to counter a trade imbalance with China – the British consumed massive amounts of tea).

    * Slave labor enabled plantation-based coffee and tobacco production, and sometimes still does.

    * Nutrition-less energy in the form of caffeine and nicotine (and refined sugar?) enables exploitation of workers, soldiers, etc. The energy drain must be paid back later in health or well-being.

    Hindsight seems to justify a prohibition on alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. I’m concerned about what I’m missing today, what evils I’m contributing to, by not taking as seriously other parts of D&C 89. What else might we be missing?

    (Side note, but re Kevin B at 7:12pm – The counter argument to vaping being in the same category as smoking could be posed as a question, I think: How is using nicotine separate from tobacco any different than using caffeine separate from coffee or tea?

    Most soft drink caffeine used to be extracted directly from tea leaves or coffee beans, though now I think it’s mostly synthesized in China… Vaping, or other nicotine consumption, seems much the same. In fact, nicotine is much less addictive by itself without the other components of tobacco. Not that I think that makes it good, but I don’t think the call is nearly as straightforward as it seems on the basis of health, addiction, or in comparison to the current stance on caffeine)

  36. I am not certain that mild barley drinks has to be a reference to beer. A drink I remember from years ago reading Little House on the Prairie was barley water. Basically barley soaked in water with a bit of sugar and maybe ginger. It was supposed to be fantastic to drink on sweltering days while putting up hay.

    I’ve also had mugicha, a Japanese version of this, where the barley is toasted before soaking it. It can be drunk cold or hot and is mildly bitter. It is the most amazingly thirst quenching think on hot summer days. This first time I had it I thought it was nasty. Then I had someone share it with me on a melting hot day and it was the best thing I had ever tasted. Better then just straight water to quench my thirst.

    Just putting this out there as an idea for mild barley drinks.

  37. I had brain trauma several years ago. I had 2 neurologists from opposite sides of the country and different research centers each advise me that drinking green tea (hot or cold) was the best thing I could do to ward off early onset dementia as a result of the brain issues, and each year my cognition has shown improvement. It never once occurred to me that green tea was forbidden by the Word of Wisdom. It has a pretty lengthy record of success at maintaining and improving brain function.

    In my much younger years I lived in Japan and every member I associated with drank green tea, including a convert I helped teach who was baptized without being asked about green tea drinking. I first tasted green tea in a bishop’s home. I learned today that my experience in Japan was leadership roulette because later Stake Presidents started to ask the members to refrain from drinking green tea except during tea ceremonies. I have often wondered what my convert friend thought about the change.

    In any event, if someone can use marijuana for medicinal purposes, then the people who use coffee to treat their ADHD rather than taking drugs should not feel guilt. I feel fine drinking green tea and still answering that I keep the Word of Wisdom. I am more in tune with the Spirit when my brain is healthy and I know that is what my Heavenly Father wants.

  38. I am grateful beyond belief that I was taught to avoid caffeinated soft drinks, especially after the research showing the damage caffeine does to your bones.
    And thanks HBB. Your comments nailed it.

  39. I remember a road trip I took with an LDS friend who, when he was young, had thought himself too wise to be taken in by the advice to avoid soft drinks containing caffeine. He suffered withdrawal headaches if we did not stop every two hours for him to feed his caffeine addiction. So glad our leaders counseled us to abstain. So glad to be sitting here without addictions to any of the products the WOW told us to avoid.

  40. Much thanks HHB. I was afraid the snide digs were going to pass by unremarked upon.

  41. I have loved the Word of Wisdom since I first heard it. Having recently buried a good friend of mine who returned to smoking and drinking coffee not long after he joined the Church, I could only wish everyone had been taught it early. Lung cancer is a terrible way to die. And dying in your fifties is way too young.

  42. I am finding it hard to imagine the controvery here. We know the tobacco companies manipulated the nicotine in cigarettes to make them more addictive. We know the marijuana growers are doing the same. Conspiring men who made themselves rich. We realize the weak minded will always be more attracted to the fashions of the world than to a desire to follow God’s counsel. Thus parsing coffee flavored drinks, different methods of processing leaves from the tea plant, and vaping as issues to split hairs over. I trust God to give me good advice. I limit my meat and am trying to eat more whole grains. I avoid the prohibited substances because I realize all the science has not yet been done.

  43. Thus sayeth the lord? Vaping is “way way worse” according to an article by church leaders. It’s too bad we’ve moved from Elder Packer dismissively saying in Conference that we don’t need members writing in to ask if this or that is “against the word of wisdom” because we can hearken to the spirit on our own, to articles from unnamed leaders, but declared with authority that XYZ is against the word of wisdom. For the record, vaping is dumb, but so is your daily Diet Coke. Do whatever you think is right by studying the issue in your mind and pondering with God for your dementia, triathlon, cancer, or ADHD and you don’t need to explain yourself.

    I do think a reasonable argument could be made that the winter/famine guidelines for meat were the result of hygienic practices. The practice of slaughtering livestock generates a lot of meat. When we shared half a cow with our neighbors we had 200+ lbs of meat in our family freezer. If it’s summertime and you kill a cow, do you eat it sparingly or do you gorge on it before it goes bad? Well, in famine, do what you need to survive. Otherwise, do it in winter, so you can properly store and space out the meals. How do you guys feel about cooking with raw meat that’s been sitting out for several days in a hot midwestern summer?

    I don’t think for a minute the commandment is that we should be anything like unto vegetarians (Christ helped catch and eat many fish, ate them resurrected and even killed the first animal to make skins for Adam and Eve). We have the counsel in D&C49 that, “And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God”.

    It’s entirely possible, maybe even likely that in the millennium we won’t eat meat, but I think the science is more clear on the value of meat to the human diet than the science of anthropogenic global warming. And as good as whole grains are — they are, when refined and consumed in bulk as carbs they become far too much a staple of our diet which is causing all kinds of insulin/fat related issues.

    To return to the vaping and -ccinos though… this is probably FSY/Youth program boundary maintenance than anything else. The kids these days vapping and drinking iced lates annoys the parents and grandparents more than than tasty, equally addictive and destructive marshmallow yellow, high speed whipped oil and sugar “salad”.

  44. I’m surprised we remain so literally attached to the text of the Word of Wisdom in a Church that accepts modern revelation and the direction of a living Prophet in the context of Amos 3:7. We parse it and apply kremlinology to determine how the understanding was evolved based on trends in both medicine and prophetic perspective.

    Kevin, what I might have expected you to conclude is that this Section 89 has become more of a catalyst for revelation concerning cultural markers of health and consumption than a literal reading of the text. Very much in the same approach that Joseph took to translating the Book of Abraham as you have discussed several times in posts to this blog. I link and quote one such instance below:

    “[Another theory is called the] “pure revelation” or “catalyst” theory, and holds that the papyri simply acted as an impetus leading Joseph to receive a revelation about Abraham, which he did, just as he had done in the past in connection with all his previous revealed translation projects.”

    https://bycommonconsent.com/2013/06/27/the-book-of-abraham/

    We have prophets who are called to interpret scripture and provide an official, common understanding for today’s Saints. That’s exactly what’s going on here. Whether or not we like is up to how we perceive following the Prophet.

    I am a strong believer in not being commanded in all things but where we now have a heart surgeon for a Prophet, and one who is making more declarative “thus saith the Lord” type statements than usual, this clarification on the WofW does not surprise me. Especially given the tight connection between this “commandment,” temple recommends, and leadership roulette across a global Church.

  45. I will add, I do struggle with how often important adjustments like these are simply communicated through an article by an anonymous author in a Church magazine or through the equally anonymous declaration from the Church Newsroom. Someone at BCC needs to do a deep dive into how the Church and especially the GAs communicate with members. When clarifications and new announcements are made is there consistency to how they approach this and is there a reasoning for the choices they make as to how to communicate either directly or indirectly?

  46. But alain (9/19 at 5:23 am) the apostle John A. Widtsoe taught that refined flour was contrary to the Word of Wisdom. I never hear members scoffing at white flour eaters. And years ago there was a letter about self prescribing herbs and supplements and being careful of their use. For a while church manuals referenced it but no longer and no mention of why or what had changed. As for the caffeine issue – it used to be preached against over the pulpit and then that press release came out (August 29, 2012) saying that it never had been prohibited. Trying to follow them isn’t as clear cut as you make it sound particularly when they disagree.

  47. Jack Hughes says:

    “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you…”

    We already know that alcohol and tobacco are addictive. But many packaged snack foods and soft drinks are specifically formulated to be addictive (have you ever tried eating just one Oreo cookie when there is a whole package sitting in front of you?) and are still “kosher” by most interpretations of the WoW. These products are marketed aggressively and irresponsibly, especially to children. There are vast fortunes being made by making and keeping the majority of Americans docile, compliant and obese. Conspiring men indeed.

  48. mtp – what has been said for current “revelation” / interpretation on the matter? Doesn’t matter what some previous letter said or what John A Widtsoe said. I agree it may not be easy but in this case I Pres Nelso or whomever his ghostwriter is just made those answers really easy.

  49. Kevin Barney provides interesting insights into the Word of Wisdom and how it was originally interpreted here in this By Common Consent blog post. I like it…sort of. This is a common technique for Progressive Christians to do. Take an issue that’s not very popular or progressive. Go back and break down the Bible to attempt to show that the original context meant something different. Therefore, we should reinterpret things in a more progressive way. I have seen David Bokovoy do this with LGBT issues in the Bible, especially to show that the sin of Sodom was not homosexual sex. It’s good in that anytime we have evidence that we’re interpreting scripture improperly, especially in a way that’s hurtful for certain segment of our population, it’s great to show that it’s wrong. However, and here’s the part I don’t like so much. When we do this, we reinforce the idea that scripture has absolute authority. I think we do this in the Mormon world following the pattern of Progresssive Christians. They’re stuck with scripture. They have no other authority. So to help promote change, they have to go back to scripture context. We have modern prophets and can revise scripture and previous revelation anytime the Lord directs the prophet. So, I’m a little nervous about reinforcing scripture fundamentalism concepts, even when by doing so, it might promote healthy change. It’s possible ancient Israelites weren’t against homosexuality. But it seems more likely they probably were. They definitely had other worldviews that were backwards and not in line with modern revelation. I think I’d prefer to just get behind the modern prophet and encourage him to pray to receive new revelation on all these topics, rather than try to root ourselves to the original intent of our scriptures. Hey to Anthony D. Miller for making this point first (which feels like Bizarro world–but thanks for that).

  50. churchistrue, I suppose it is possible that looking back at scripture could reinforce the idea that scripture has absolute authority. On the other hand, sometimes the looking back at scripture is prompted by claims that scripture says or means x when it doesn’t or at least may not. That sort of claim is very different from a claim to know x by modern revelation. If we were to have a modern prophet who was so convinced that scripture said x that he didn’t/couldn’t receive new revelation on the topic, it might be necessary to first convince him that scripture does not necessarily say x. I suspect this was part of the reason SWK assigned BRM (and others sustained by the Church as prophets) to research whether there was really a scriptural impediment to ending the priesthood/temple ban. Perhaps I’m only saying “it ain’t necessarily so,” but it might indeed be helpful if the disagreements about what scripture says acknowledged the possibility that canonized scripture could actually be wrong — or at least wrong for our time.

  51. Michael H. says:

    ‘Some folks read v. 13 without the comma after “used” meaning something like “it’s pleasing to me that they should not be used ONLY in times of winter or of cold or famine, but absolutely all the time, baby! It’s eat meat a-go-go!” I personally think that’s an absurd reading.’

    Absolutely. If I ever catch someone making that argument, I challenge them to apply their grammar to D&C 121:

    “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;”

    …which, of course, would (by their account) mean that we SHOULD use principles OTHER than the ones listed to maintain power and influence!

  52. Kevin Barney says:

    Hi Alain, it’s true I was highlighting the distance between current understandings of the WOW and the original textual source, but I did not intend thereby to advocate for an originality reading. Take the Church’s recent announcement: vaping dies not use tobacco and therefore would be excluded from an origins list reading of the WoW, but I’m all on board with bringing vaping under its strictures. I just find the development and evolution from the original text interesting.

  53. In the church, there are, in fact, two official Words of Wisdom, though they are often confused because they are never spoken of as being separate. The first is Section 89 of the D&C; the second is the prohibition policy which is based on Section 89. When the church, in any official capacity, speaks of the Word of Wisdom (WoW), unless Section 89 is specifically mentioned, it is always referring to the prohibition policy. When the Wow is referred to as a requirement in any form, whether for a temple recommend or any other worthiness capacity, that is a reference to the prohibition policy. When your bishop asks in an interview whether you follow the WoW, there is no need to mention anything about excessive meat consumption or fruits and herbs in their season because that’s all in Section 89 and your bishop isn’t asking about Section 89. When any changes, updates, additions, or reinterpretations are made, that is in reference to the prohibition policy. The recent announcement the church made about clarifications of the WoW are in reference to the prohibition policy, not to Section 89. The church can reinterpret, change, add to, or subtract from the prohibition policy WoW in any way they want without reinterpreting any part or meaning of Section 89 because they are not the same thing. Everyone is free to interpret and follow, or not, Section 89 in any way they want. It won’t have any effect on their church standing though it will effect their health. However, members are expected to follow the prohibition policy if they wish to remain in good standing in the church.

  54. @DB that’s an interesting and potentially compelling take on this but where is said Prohibition policy? The only statement in Handbook 1 and the actual Temple Recommend interview questions is “Do you live the Word of Wisdom?” All other interpretations are cobbled together from the advisement and training communicated from SLC and they always refer to this in the context of the Word of Wisdom. I’ve never heard any reference to a separate official policy in leadership, Bishopric or Temple training. Open to enlightenment if you have something to share.

    This sounds like a construct of your own making.

  55. Sharon M Stewart says:

    I think in general the W of W is not too important to me except for smoking and drinking alcohol. I do keep it strickly though. Now if giving up ice cream were on the list it would be harder. I tatsted coffee once and didn’t like it. That’s before all the lattees. I could care about tea. I never started drinking alcholol so I didn’t have to stop, same with smoking. I take the meat thing more seriously though. I have been a vegetarian and a vegan for some years on and off.
    I think that we have a lot of more important things to to worry about than most of the W or W.
    I read an article which makes sense to me and fits beautifully with “hot drinks”. It was a medical article that talked about drinking very hot drinks often was harmful to the organs it goes down, and could cause cancer, one of the tougher ones to treat. Now that make sense to me. I guess that includes cocoa if you are into that. I see it more as a temperature thing. Also those who drink coffee and leave their cups everywhere are a little like the cigarette butts of the past. I’d like to think everything in moderation but I haven’t met that with items not on the W or W.

  56. From the number of comments on this post you can tell how passionate we get when discussing this topic.

    My father regularly had colon polyps until he made green tea a staple in his diet. Knowing this is my genetic makeup, I have added this to my diet too.

    I have been experiencing gastrointestinal issues lately. I’m at now basically on a meat and veggies only diet. I eat a lot of animal flesh. My health has improved dramatically.

    Look, I’m not going to get a temple recommend because we wouldn’t get to the word of wisdom question before I disqualified myself. But if I could get to that question, I would honestly answer that yes I followed the word of wisdom in spite of my green tea and much meat diet. This is between me and God not me and the New Era.

  57. @alain, this is indeed a construct of my own interpretation of the WoW as it is actually followed and enforced in the church. But, it is the only interpretation of how the WoW is actually followed and enforced that makes any sense and has any real meaning. When I say that there are two official WoW’s, what I mean is that Section 89 is officially referred to as the Word of Wisdom; there is also an official requirement that members abstain from certain proscribed substances which is also officially referred to as the Word of Wisdom, however, it is abundantly clear that the two are not the same. Therefore, the church has two official Words of Wisdom. Personally, I wish the prohibition requirement was not called the WoW, as it does create confusion.

  58. One last thing from thechair household… I discussed this whole thread with “sister thechair” on Sunday, and she pointed out the likely lessening of social opportunities the ban on coffee and tea has led to. (Of course that logic also applies to alcohol, but alcohol’s downsides plausibly undergird alcohol’s ban.) I agree with “sister thechair.” It’s just one more downside, however minor, to a ban that doesn’t seem to be justified by time, science, and perhaps its own origin story. — I understand the deep, animating principle of the WoW to be this: avoid treating our physical bodies in a way that hinders communion with the Holy Ghost. Physical health can be and is an end in itself, but the higher end is spiritual joy, for which physical health is a means. Such ends depend on communion with the Spirit. Some substances cause enough trouble to just ban: alcohol and tobacco, meth, heroin, etc. (If every time Dr. Jekyll drinks the potion he turns into Mr. Hyde, and if Mr. Hyde always hurts people and breaks things, it’s good policy to abstain from the potion.) But it’s questionable to say the least whether consumption of coffee and tea hinders the Spirit or harms its housing tabernacle. The ban just hangs out there incoherently these days. I’m fully aware of the “I know not why” principle, and acknowledge I could be wrong. But it seems time at least to reconsider coffee and tea’s status.

  59. @thechair: Amen!

  60. I honestly do not understand the complaints that abstaining from coffee or even alcohol creates a barrier to socializing. I appreciate that others may see differently but it seems a step too far. I go for coffee breaks all the time and meet friends and even potential network opportunities at coffee shops. I just order a hot chocolate or get a water or perhaps a smoothie. And if the social event involves alcohol I order cranberry juice or a soda or in Australia it’s always a lemon lime bitters. I have friends who are huge coffee enthusiasts so I’ve done research to learn more about the process and the background behind types of machines, brewing methods and beans so I can speak intelligently with them even though I don’t sample. I want to show them I’m interested in their interests. Just because we don’t drink certain beverages does not preclude us from spending time with those who do imbibe. If the outing winds up in a seedy bar I will encourage finding a better place or take my leave and equally if the group gets rowdy I offer to be the early departure and sober driver for those considering departing. There are definite lines not to cross but we’re called to be in the world but not of the world. Everyone knows I don’t drink and it leads to interesting conversations. I’ve gone so far as to do some deep research on the impact of consuming caffeine and the history of consuming the various beverages based on it and it enables me to tease my friends for their addictions and leads to good natured understanding.

  61. Mel Luthy Henderson says:

    In response to the tidy statement, “Herbs and fruits are good; check:” Not to add a teeny little complication here, but botanically, the tea plant IS also an “herb.” So there’s that.

    I’m observant of the WoW, but I still wonder (like many of us) the context in which parts of it arose, historically and even economically. (For example, a friend once proposed a lovely idea that I think is interesting but highly unlikely… she said the tea prohibition in particular might have had a compassionate political motive: Because buying tea was in affect supporting colonialism and thereby exploiting disadvantaged people, the saints opted out. The same argument could be made for coffee and tobacco. While it’s a nice idea, I think it’s highly unlikely that it was a factor. A much more likely economic motive would have been to help saints at the time avoid spending their modest incomes on non-essential indulgences that could become addictive and therefore expensive. But I digress.)

  62. Interesting the CDC is investigating a group of serious lung diseases linked to vaping. Still not sure of cause but some are seriously ill. Thanks to our Heavenly Father for his advice.

  63. east of the mississippi says:

    Common sense should advise anyone that vaping is not good for them, but I do thank HF for my common sense.

  64. jaxjensen says:

    If the green/herbal teas are anti-WoW, then should I also forbid my kids from drinking the left over liquid from their Ramen noodles? It’s hot (temperature) and not much different from a tea, no?

  65. James Renfroe says:

    I feel that the wow is to modern Mormons as plural marriage was to early Mormons. We need something to distinguish ourselves from others. It wasn’t until hj grant became president that enforcement of wow became so prudish. This was right around the time plural marriage was stamped out totally. We even drink water at sacrament to avoid breaking it. I personally don’t like wow not in itself but for what it’s become. I think in Utah I could kill somebody and still be held in higher esteem than someone who smoked or drank.

  66. Pat Summerill says:

    I’m still confused about Decaf coffee. Is there anyplace that says it is definitely against the Word of Wisdom?

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