Saturday, December 27, 2008

Prophecy and the Word of Wisdom

One of the things I always loved about the Word of Wisdom was how prophetic and progressive I considered it to be.

In my experience, I’m not alone. I believed we only recently came to the conclusion about the detrimental effects of tobacco on the body. Not so. We also recognize now the wonders that are whole grains and less meat. It gave me hope that one day the world would come to its senses about coffee and tea. Anyone else?

Society goes through cycles of preoccupation with healthy living. The most recent was that of the 1980s, but I was unaware of a temperance and "clean living movement" of the 1830s, the same decade the Lord revealed the Word of Wisdom.

Just in case some readers don’t know, I’ll offer a quick “official” background on what led the Prophet to what is now Doctrine and Covenants 89.

“’The first [thing] they did was to light their pipes, and, while smoking, talk about the great things of the kingdom, and spit all over the room, and as soon as the pipe was out of their mouths a large chew of tobacco would then be taken’ (Journal of Discourses, 12:158). After finding himself in clouds of tobacco smoke and hearing the complaints of his wife at having to clean the filthy floor, the Prophet Joseph asked the Lord about the proper conduct for members of the Church. He was told that “tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man’ (D&C 89:8)” – Brigham Young as quoted in the September 1995 New Era article, “Hooked!”

Michael De Groote of MormonTimes writes of the many concerns of those in the 1830s related to health. Alcohol, tobacco, hot drinks (both discussed in the word of wisdom and not), meat, water, standard 19th century medical procedure, fruits and vegetables, hygiene, clothing, exercise, and yes, even thinking.

This is not to discredit the Word of Wisdom – in fact, De Groote dismisses the easily concluded notion of D&C 89 as mere reflection of 19th century society and credits the Lord’s propensity to prepare his people for a commandment – read: the temperance and “clean living” movement. It's much akin to those who attribute the Civil Rights Movement as the Lord preparing His church for blacks to receive the priesthood.

As Section 89 is now requisite to a temple recommend, we often find ourselves asking to what extent we must follow to be worthy of the temple. I’d like to go one step further: to what extent does context matter? For fun I’d like to focus on the drinks mentioned therein.


“Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: 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, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation – ” (v. 5)

We could easily cross reference this verse with D&C 27:2-4. In these verses, the Lord tells Joseph it doesn’t matter what we use for the sacrament and issued this command: “…you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies.”

We cite D&C 27:2 when people ask why we use water instead of wine – after all, wine is mentioned in the sacramental prayer written in Moroni 5. But surely the waitress at the local Italian restaurant is not our enemy. Perhaps our “enemy” today is Satan playing with our temptations instead. Hm. There’s a lot of fear instilled here. Some would call it wisdom. I think it’s both.

Now take D&C 27:4, received August 1830: “Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made new among you; yea, in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth.”

Cross reference this with Section 89 verse 5 and 6:

“That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine 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.

“And behold this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make.”

I suppose we could make our own wine but with the stigma we’ve established I don’t imagine the Church would sanction one. Can you imagine an LDS vineyard today? Would it interest you to know we used to have them in Utah? Google it. Either way, this verse with others seems to say that we could use wine for our sacraments if we so desired. We’d just have to do it the right way.

1 Timothy 5:23 states "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities."

Verse 17 recently caught my attention:

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

Now a few people like to hop up and down and insist “He meant this barley drink people back then used to drink to detox their bodies!”

Perhaps, but there are many who disagree. Barley, as many know, is used in the production of beer. Reports argue the early Saints liked their beer. It wouldn’t be a leap to justify their activity with this verse, though others cite the “guideline” that was the Word of Wisdom in the 1800s as opposed to the commandment it is today. Could we consider beer a “mild drink” as opposed to “strong drinks” such as rum, whiskey, or vodka? Absolutely.

Hot Drinks

Coffee and Tea. As a new member, I trusted the WoW explicitly prohibited “coffee and tea.” I hadn’t bothered checking for myself as I felt my institute classes and new member discussions and Sunday School classes covered it well enough. Was I surprised!

On a slightly related note, I also thought “caffeine” must be mentioned here as well the way some of my friends acted. It’s a widely misunderstood notion that the reason we avoid coffee and tea is because of the caffeine. Perhaps, but if we’re avoiding caffeine we should also avoid chocolate.

Not enough in it, you say? Decaf coffee has about the same amount, if not much less.

We have to assume coffee and tea is mentioned here for some other reason. Perhaps there’s something inherent in the coffee beans or the tea leaves (some cite tanic acid), though it's difficult to find much to that regard. Perhaps it has everything to do with its addictive qualities. Others contend it may not be a health issue at all, but a test of obedience. As the Word of Wisdom is understood as a matter of health, I wonder about that. We don’t really know. That's where faith comes in for some; for others, deference coupled with hope.

Hot Chocolate. When I first read this verse I thought “This can’t mean hot chocolate!” I love my hot chocolate. Given the plain scripture I found it odd hot chocolate wasn’t interpreted as included, but oh well, right?

I’m told some ensure their faithfulness and obedience by avoiding anything hot – even hot chocolate. Sound crazy? Elder Harold G. Hillam of the Seventy writes in the October 2001 Ensign article entitled “Not for the Body,”

“Tea and coffee were discussed, not only because of their adverse chemical effects on the body, but also because of the temperature of the drinks. The drinks were often taken so hot that, without realizing it, many individuals were drinking liquids close to the boiling temperature. Those detrimental effects were observed.”

I hardly think any of us enjoys pouring anything boiling down our throats, though we’ve all done it. I’ve ordered hot chocolate at a café before and about lost all my taste buds due to the temperature. Heck no, I let that stuff cool down now.

But with that in mind, why aren’t things such as herbal tea (often very hot) and hot chocolate forbidden – or at the very least, discouraged?


I could live according to the letter and still get my recommend – perhaps have a beer and attribute verse 17 to my bishop (don’t worry, beer has never tempted me), or perhaps make my own wine? Anyone think that would fly? Why is it, then, I can never have a bite of whole grains and probably get away with saying I follow the WoW – after all, it seems we’re only concerned with the drinking and smoking, correct?

It seems so straight forward at first, but after only a little serious study, the Word of Wisdom strikes as guidance still – pliable, given to historical context. I understand Brigham Young and his successors have stated otherwise, but scripture remains the same.

Just where do we draw the line and why?


Cindy said...

Whenever I question something in the Church I often come back to, well the Word of Wisdom is something that must be inspired by God. The whole abstaining from alcohol thing I've always liked. I wasn't raised in the church and my own experience has consisted of a lot of family drinking, getting loud, obnoxious, mean, and doing stupid things that could harm themselves and others. Like the practice that many take of saying it's okay to drive after one or two drinks. Not everyone is like this of course, but how prevalent is it to here stories such as someone getting drunk and ending up having inappropriate relations with a stranger?
The caffeine thing I've thought about recently as I've eaten one too many pints of Ben and Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar ice cream. (I end up hiding the label in the cart in case any neighbors are in Walmart that day, sad I know!) But then you could argue that eating a whole pint of ice cream of any flavor in one sitting probably would be breaking the Word of Wisdom.
The meat thing irritates me a little in Mormon culture in how easily it is dismissed. Whenever I see one of those Relief Society cookbooks being made I still see most of the entrees consisting of meat and a starch and with very little vegetables to be seen. Often, the very subject of vegetarianism leads to scoffing from fellow members because of the whole dominion of man over beast thing and personally I think because vegetarianism reeks just a little of liberal thinking which of course, is to be avoided at all costs. Sorry, too long winded in my commenting again. :)

Shar said...

You bring up some very good points. My father who is active LDS is always getting after me because I like to drink green tea when I'm not feeling well. For some reason it seems to settle my stomach and make me feel better. Whereas, my dad has had a Diet Dr. Pepper addiction for years. What is worse? A cup of green tea with lots of healthy antioxidants and roughly the same amount of caffeine as a can of cola, or the cola?

I also find the caffeine helpful to open up my blood vessels and help me breathe when my allergies are acting up.

My mother used to take 2 Excedrines all of the time to give her energy to get through the day instead of drinking a cup of coffee because coffee holds such a stigma in the LDS culture. In the end, the acetaminophen (also in the Excedrin) hurt her liver even worse than it already was. Sometimes I wonder if she had not taken so much, if her liver would have been able to regenerate to a degree that she would still be alive today. Although, I could see how taking the Excedrin that way could actually be against the WoW too—you know, the all things in moderation thing.

So to me, I think the Word of Wisdom can be helpful, but I also question following it to the degree that it is unhelpful and perhaps even hurtful.

Laura said...

We live in the South where people look at you a little cock-eyed if you don't drink iced tea. When my mom joined the church, she always said that giving up tea was harder to give up than smoking and drinking which she only did occasionally. I still don't really get what's wrong with drinking tea.

We can't eat whole grains?? Boy am I screwed on that one. I just started trying to eat healthy but I guess I just can't win!

Kengo Biddles said...

*sigh* For me, I try to see the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

This is MY take on the Word of Wisdom:

Hot Drinks: Coffee, Tea, because of what medical studies are showing as bad effects, and because frankly, I don't like the addiction. See below.

Meat: I've started eating much less meat lately. We can't afford it, and we eat meat with maybe one or three meals a week. Not EVERY Meal.

If anything, I guess you could say I ascribe to Ovo-lacto vegetarianism (though I'm not perfect).

Grains: Yes, sure, eat them. I'm trying to be and eat better in that regard.

Caffeine: I use it when I have a headache, when I have an upset stomach (Coke was prescribed by my mission president for it). But using it to the point of addiction, I stop.

Alcohol? Fine to cook with, fine in medicine, I mean, REALLY, are you taking the medicine, etc. to get drunk? NO. Do you get a buzz when you take it? You shouldn't.

My point? I think that cooking with it's fine, taking it in medicines, etc. is fine too. Drinking it? No, not so much. De-alcoholized wine? Near-Beer? Jury's out on those. If you get a buzz? I say you shouldn't drink 'em.

My view of the WoW was that so very many people have no self-control that it's better to have them apply the self-control before it becomes a problem.

But that's my view.

Chris and Annalee Waddell said...

Hello. I think the essence of the doctrine in Section 89 relating to addictive substances is to avoid them. Members should (and do) make their own choices about following the counsel contained in the Word of Wisdom, come what may. I think it's folly to judge how other people adhere to these principles. After all, counsel comes to help us make the best choices, not so that we can judge how accurately others are following it. That is for those appointed to such positions (judges in Israel).

derekstaff said...

I strongly suspect that the Mormon Times article is inaccurate. Most anthropological reports I've read indicate that for the average person prior to the Industrial Revolution, meat was a rarity. There simply wasn't enough meat produced for it to be cheap enough to eat regularly, nor was game plentiful enough to have it at every meal. People subsisted on pretty meager fare compared to what is available now; heavy on the potatoes, grains, onions, a fair portion of veggies, and light on meats. This varied according to season and economic status, of course; the upper class would have meat much more frequently. But for the vast majority ate meat much more sparingly than today.

Arlynda said...

I like this post. Look at verse 4, it 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, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation."
What evil designs and consequences? Here are some examples. Look at the history of tabacco. When what is now the US was first settled people were planting nothing but tobacco to get really rich and then dying because they had no food. Deforestation for the production of coffee, not to mention that most people that drink it live far away from where it is produced causing transportation issues. I can't think of a particular problem with tea, but I've haven't looked into it as much. Alcohol has destroyed families, is heavily taxed and marketed.
I think that the reasons have a lot to do with the economy and how much control these substances seem to have in our market place. Substances that are not needed for survival.
Meat is so heavily used that animals are treated horribly, ways to fatten them up for market are researched, and we are left with poor quality fat heavy food that should be nutritious and lean. Beef should not have that much fat in it.
I'd have to research it more to clarify my points but, I think the Word of Wisdom might have just as much to do with how to navigate through our modern world as it does with the health of our bodies. It is just a lot easier to teach someone that these things make you healthy than to explain the world economic implications of these substances.
My two cents.

Lisa said...

Cindy: Thanks for your thought. I echo many of them, but also think we sometimes take certain things to extremes. For some people, big guys for example, it is safe to drink after only one beer.

However, I understand your concerns with that completely.

Drunkenness has always been something all scriptures and many men have preached against for the very reason you state here - you're out of control and unaware of the consequences of your actions, actions which are often very much unlike you.

Don't worry about long-windedness (word?) Heaven knows I don't seem to...though I should ;)

Shar: Excellent point. I've thought of that as well.

Laura: hahaha, nonono! We *can* eat whole grains. We're supposed to.

Man, I need to clean this entry up. Badly.


"My view of the WoW was that so very many people have no self-control that it's better to have them apply the self-control before it becomes a problem."

While I certainly see your point and agree that there are people who struggle greatly with self-control, I believe this pattern of thought is dangerous.

There are many people who do exhibit the ability to have self-control, more than we as church members probably see and hear about. I've seen both extremes but over the last few years have focused only on those who cannot control themselves.

We have to remember that we can and do have control over ourselves. If we drink to lose control, than that is a problem. But I don't see the problem in a person drinking a glass of wine with their dinner.

The "gateway drug" mentality can be a dangerous one. That's what drove me and many others to an unnecessary strictness and fear of ourselves, a fear that states we need to be told what we can and can't do do to the letter for fear of falling over the edge.

derek: Thanks for that. I suppose we can't take one article such as that one for its word, eh? I found it rather interesting though. My family is still trying to cut back on the meat.

Vegetarian lasagna is quite good, btw :)

Arlynda: Absolutely excellent points. I hadn't thought of that before - but if we're going to take that train of thought, we should also take it elsewhere such as how we acquire other goods, such as diamonds.

For a really interesting discussion, see On dishwashers, Escalades, and salvation at Feminist Mormon Housewives.

Thank you all. I'm sorry I haven't been responding to comments as of late.

Cindy said...

Oh, here's a little story to add to my comment~ In relief society a few years back, a woman made a comment that she asked her extended family members to go outside to drink their coke. Hahaha! I'll be going back to relief society next week after two years in primary, oh boy....

Lisa said...

Cindy: *spits out coke*

Nuh-uh! Seriously? Wooooooooooow.

That's stupid. And funny. Geez some of us need to get the stick out of our ass, huh?

Have fun going back to RS. I struggle so much going in there. A lot of women do. My last ward wasn't so bad - big variety of women in that ward - but ewww. It's hard.

Sven said...

Here's my take. I see this and all sriptures as merely 'guidelines' to living our lives. If we take these things too literal, we get caught on a very slippery slope.

Recently, my wife busted me for drinking on occassion. She even took it upon herself to inform our bishop of my 'indiscretion'. When I met with the bishop and he asked me if what she told him was true. Of course, I let him know that I was drinking on occassion. His words. . . "I don't blame you. Just don't let it get out-of-hand." I about fell off my chair. I even walked out with my temple recommend in hand. I think that slowly, the church is shifting its position on these types of doctrines, which I think is healthy as it removes itself from a "judge in zion" role. With a 45% activity statistic, something that they're doing isn't working. Go figure.

Tom Rod said...

First: derek, why do you think squirrels, possums, and coons are such coveted eating in Louisiana and East Texas? Cause real meat is expensive. Also "meat" back then didn't always refer to flesh of livestock, but animals you hunt.

Also, the word of wisdom is for the weakest of the weak Saints. There is so much more to it--exercise, temperance, etc. But you can't take everything literally. Rye makes chickens sick (slightly poisoned)--should we then feed them rye because the scriptures say so? No--you want your chickens healthy.

All that being said, the current interpretation of the Word of Wisdom was established by Heber J. Grant and made commandment through the addition to temple recommend interviews. Sister Woodger, a religion teacher and historian at BYU, likes to share to her classes that the St. George temple president could not get his temple recommend renewed because he couldn't quick snuff. On a more personal note, she shares that her parents also couldn't get temple recommends. It was definitly a dividing sword.

Great post, BTW. Just stay away from that mass-produced beer.