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Sunday, April 27, 2008

What can't Mormons do? Part 1: The Word of Wisdom

If you're not familiar with the faith, it can be awkward knowing what your Mormon friends can and can't do. For instance, is there anything you shouldn't serve them at a dinner? What can they do on Sundays? If you're looking into joining the church, what lifestyle will you be expected to live?

Most commandments of the church coincide with basic laws of goodness that are common to all churches: don't kill, don't steal, don't lie, don't do drugs, don't split infinitives, etc. So I'll just discuss some major commandments which may be different from other churches, starting with the Word of Wisdom:

#1 Mormons don't use alcohol, tobacco, coffee, or tea. This is definitely the one people most want to know about. It comes from a much more general law of health given by the Lord to Joseph Smith in 1833. The entire revelation can be found here. We call it the Word of Wisdom because it was given as "a word of wisdom...for the benefit of the saints in zion." In addition to some guidelines on eating healthy, it says that strong drinks (alcohol) and tobacco are not for the body, and neither are "hot drinks," which was later clarified to mean just coffee and tea. (And by "tea" I mean green or black tea.)

So after I tell people about the Word of Wisdom, almost everyone follows up with the question: "why?" Everyone knows that smoking will give you cancer. But isn't a little bit of alcohol okay, even beneficial? And what's so bad about coffee and tea?

There are 7.3 million studies and 2.02 trillion opinions about "what's so bad about alcohol/coffee/tea." Most people want some scientific proof of exactly which compound does exactly what, but honestly, it all just boils down to faith. The Lord doesn't often provide a clear why with His commandments. If you believe the Lord said it, then you'll just have to trust Him. Frankly, He would know. In 1833, when this revelation was given, everyone smoked and chewed tobacco, and there was absolutely no evidence that anything was bad about that. People living the Word of Wisdom just had to take it on faith for 150 years, and lucky for the ones that did. No doubt one day we will know why, but until then it's just a desire to do what the Lord wants.

And the Lord promises all kinds of great things for living the Word of Wisdom. Things like "health in their navel and marrow in their bones" (an interesting way to put it) and "wisdom and great treasures of knowledge." And look, it works! According to studies by Dr. Enstrom of UCLA, active Mormons live 8 to 11 years longer than the national average, with about half the mortality rate from cancer and heart disease.

It's also important to note that health is not the only reason the revelation was given. It was given "In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days..." In that sense, it's a warning against addiction. There are plenty of drug traffickers and companies that make a lot of money by creating and preying upon the addictions of others.

Can Mormons drink caffeine? I thought you'd never ask! There is actually no commandment or prohibition against drinking Coke, Pepsi, or any other caffeinated beverage. However, there are quite a lot of Mormons who don't, just out of a personal conviction. Many consider any addictive substance like caffeine to be implicitly against the Word of Wisdom. Among my devout Mormon friends, there is a pretty big range, from people who have never had a Coke to people who can't live without Dr. Pepper. So it's something to be aware of.


Anonymous said...

Green tea? Really? Where is it written or spoken that green tea is against the WoW?


Jan said...

I like this post-- it is a great example of how the commandments really bless our lives by helping us live the way we are built to live. Heavenly Father knows how our bodies work the best, since He created them, so it follows that He would provide us with a little instruction on how to take care of them. The blessings come in living the commandment! Not just anticipating some future reward for arbitrary obedience.

dave said...

Good question, Howard. When Brigham Young clarified what was meant by hot drinks, he said "coffee and tea." (Discourses of B. Young pg 182)
So standard "tea" is derived from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Both black and green (and other teas) are made from the tea plant; they're the same thing. They're both "tea," by anyone's definition. The only difference is that black tea is more fully oxidized.

The reason I mentioned it is that we have a tendency to call anything floating in hot water "tea" whether or not it's actually made from the tea plant. And my understanding is that those herbal-type teas are not against the Word of Wisdom.

Though I think it's pretty clear that green tea is definitely "tea," It's hard to find an official statement. The best I can do is Victor Ludlow's Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel page434: "'Tea' refers to the standard tea derived from the tea plant, sometimes called black tea or green tea." If anyone has a better source, feel free to post it.

Diana said...

although I have grown up in the church, I still think it is good to have a reminder as to why we do the things we do. I've kept the word of wisdom my whole life, and I knew that this was good for my body. I've never had a desire to smoke/drink etc..., and after reading this post, it has caused me to reflect as to why I keep the word of wisdom.

I think your idea of faith is definitely key. And I think obedience to the law also builds faith. Anyway, I'm not as good of a writer as you, but l wanted to post a comment anyway.

sunlize said...

Most people want some scientific proof of exactly which compound does exactly what, but honestly, it all just boils down to faith. The Lord doesn't often provide a clear why with His commandments. If you believe the Lord said it, then you'll just have to trust Him.

I think that's the most important thing to remember. I always want that scientific proof, but sometimes we need to realize that we need to trust in the Lord and follow his commandments out of love and faith in Him.

Anonymous said...

What do Mormons believe about intermarriage?

My friend is Catholic. He recently started dating a Mormon. They've been dating for a year, and seem great together. But she's an actively participating Mormon, and he doesn't want to convert from Catholicism.

But how would that work? Can you be sealed forever to a non-Mormon Christian? If your children are raised a little of "both" (with Catholic and Mormon worship), is that acceptable to Mormons? Or is it all Mormon or nothing? (I know, this is a really contentious issue for all faiths, so I'm not specifically putting blame on the Mormon half of the relationship. I just know Catholic beliefs better than I do Mormon.)

And while we're at it...what about the apostasy? Is there any "extra leeway" in the afterlife for sincere, non-Mormon Christians in your beliefs?

Megan said...

Let me try to answer your questions to the best of my ability and knowledge.

What is the LDS view on interfaith marriage? I'd summarize that it is not encouraged. It is discouraged because it makes for a very difficult marriage. That certainly doesn't mean that a Mormon would be shunned for marrying outside the faith, however.

What it does mean, is that they would not be able to be sealed forever in a temple wedding. That is simply because only members of the church who have gone through the ordinances of baptism and the temple endowment are able to partake of the temple sealing ordinance.

It also means that the LDS member would have to attend church meetings on his or her own and that is a very lonely, sad prospect to face week after week. The couple would also be trying to have scripture study and prayer incorporating both faiths, I assume. I'll be honest with you; I don't know how well that would work. In theory, it seems they don't have to be mutually exclusive, but in practice...? I'll put it this way: A couple is urged to become one when married and that's extremely difficult to do when such an important, personal and eternal conviction is not united.

My mother and father were married by my mom's father, who was a Lutheran minister. My father was a new convert to the church at the time. A few years later, my mother joined the LDS church as well. I would assume, in most cases, that the hope and prayer, perhaps for many years, would be for that unity. I would hope that anyone considering an interfaith marriage would go into it without the expectation that his or her spouse will get baptized or "see the light" in a year or so. You can't enter a marriage expecting to change someone. Sometimes it works out that way, eventually, and sometimes it doesn't and it can be a long, lonely road to travel, hoping constantly in vain.

As for children being raised with both religions, I would say that would be accepted but only to a point. That is to say, I would think that as the children grow they would be expected to choose somewhere down the line. I don't know that it would hurt, for example, to have been baptized and christened as a newborn in the Catholic faith and then baptized at 8 years old as a Mormon, but I think at some point a choice would have to be made. It would be so emotionally and spiritually (and probably physically!) draining to be trying to please both parents and participate actively in both religions.

Perhaps someone else has further commentary or insight on this topic, but that's what I have to offer in way of an answer. I hope it clears things up a bit for you.

Megan said...

I forgot your last question!

Throughout time, there have been many good people on this earth who did not have the opportunity to hear about and accept the LDS faith. In the afterlife, missionary work continues and the gospel is preached to all those souls.

This is why the LDS church performs ordinances by proxy in our temple: it provides the opportunity for all those who have died to accept the gospel and those ordinances. said...

I think when considering an interfaith marriage where one partner is LDS and the other is not, it is important to realize that everyone's situation is unique. I would suggest that your friend and his gf be very open and honest with each other about how they feel about being in an interfaith relationship.

Since I am in a similar situation, I've come up with several possibilities for making an interfaith relationship to work. I would be very happy if my bf decided to join the LDS church, but I only want him to convert if that's what right for him. And I try to focus on not pressuring him. Another solution is to attend on church service in the morning and another in the afternoon. Or they could attend their respective services for the first 2 weeks of the month, then on the third week go to her church, and on the fourth week go to his church. They could choose to raise the children primarily in one church or expose them to both. There's so many options. My bf (non LDS) would prefer that we only go to one church service together and that it not be LDS. I would rather all attend one church service in the morning, and then I could attend my own church service in the afternoon without the family. The bf has also said that he will attend services with me but he probably won't convert.

Sometimes I do feel lonely in church. I feel sad that I won't be able to be sealed to my future husband and my children. (Children must be sealed to a couple, not one parent.) However, I feel hopeful that I will be able to be sealed to my family after death - and I expect the bf would accept the baptism by proxy as well as our sealing in the spirit world.

Sorry this comment is so long! Anonymous, if you're interested, I wrote several posts about my situation on my blog at You can find them by clicking on "relationships" on the categories section. Or you can shoot me an email by leaving a brief comment on one of my posts and I can email you back.

Dr.Gray said...

You should also include white tea, since it is also derived from Camellia sinensis (just younger leaves).

Jamy said...

I just wanted to say how much I appreciated this post. I was going to work for a company who distrubutes vitamin supplements until I found out it contains green tea. How can I put that into my own body and then encourage others to do the same? I've read so many surprising things from people who say they are active members of the church. Many justify and defend green tea. I was so glad to find this site. Thank you for your strength, truth, and honesty.