Mormon (ish) Monday: The Word of Wisdom (aka: The Caffeine Thing)

I’m calling this post Mormonish because I will undoubtedly share my own interpretation of things, and I, amazing thought I might be in some alternate universe, do not speak for the church as a whole.  So, with that caveat, let us begin.

In addition to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments (King James version), everybody knows (I think), that we have another book of scripture: The Book of Mormon (no, I do not want to see the musical).  What is probably lesser known is that we have a third book of scripture:  The Doctrine and Covenants.  This third book of scripture is comprised largely of revelations received by the prophet Joseph Smith during the early days of the church.  One section, Section 89, is specifically referred to as The Word of Wisdom.  It is not particularly long, so I will copy it in it’s entirety for you:

1A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion—

2To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days—

3Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.

4Behold, 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—

5That 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.

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

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

8And again, tobacco is not for the body, 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.

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

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

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

12Yea, flesh also of beasts 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 sparingly;

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

14All grain 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;

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

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

17Nevertheless, 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.

18And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;

19And shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;

20And shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.

21And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them. Amen.

The sticking point for many people is verse nine, “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.”  Now, without apology or an in-depth attempt at explanation (because I don’t have one for you), later prophets have said that “hot drinks” means coffee and tea.  In our lesson manuals and on the official church website, the official position is that “hot drinks” means coffee and tea.

Some people assume that since coffee and tea (and we’re talking actual tea here – from tea leaves – not various concoctions of herbs an fruity things that make up the endless arrays of herbal teas) are high in caffeine then that means that we don’t drink anything with caffeine.  But the official position is “coffee and tea” not “coffee and tea because they contain caffeine.”

So do we drink caffeine?

Interesting question.  On campus at BYU one cannot buy caffeinated beverages of any sort.  Back in the mid 1990s, then-prophet Gordon B. Hinckley did an interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes and said we do not drink caffeine.  Yes, that Monday was an awkward one for me as I arrived at work with my 64oz. of fully-leaded Diet Coke.  Furthermore, we have been cautioned more than once by general authorities (Prophet and apostles) during General Conferences (twice yearly internet/satelite t.v. church) to avoid addictive substances.  Caffeine is addictive.

And yet?  The official interpretation of “hot drinks” is still “coffee and tea.”

This, of course, means it’s up to us each individually to decide what we feel is right when it comes to other caffeinated beverages like sodas and hot chocolate (it has caffeine and is hot!).  I had a friend who regularly drank herbal teas, but she would only drink them cold so that they were just an herbal “drink” and not “tea.”  I have known people who wouldn’t even do that.  I have known those who will not drink any caffeinated soda, and I have known those who would gladly drown themselves in it if they could.  I have been to parties at LDS homes, with only LDS guests, where the hosts have put out two beverage coolers:  one with caffeine-free pop and one with caffeinated pop.  Leaded and un-leaded, we call it.

Myself?  I never drank caffeinated pop until I was a student at BYU.  Diet Coke became a staple of my diet.  I gave it up for a while when I was about 30, but then the good people at Dr. Pepper came out with a berries and cream version for a while, and what started out as one 20 oz. bottle in the name of curiosity turned into a re-addiction.  But I can’t blame it entirely on the Dr. Pepper people.  By that time my migraines were becoming more frequent, and caffeine really does help those.  Really. 

I am off the pop again.  I have been off it for . . . I don’t know how long now.  Several months, anyway.  But in my pantry?  I have three bottles of Water Joe (which means I’ve used three).  In case you aren’t familiar with Water Joe, it is caffeinated water.  Really, I’d say the people who sell caffeinated water should be shot, except?  It’s nice to have around in case of a migraine (or extreme stress) (I’m not perfect, and it helps me feel happier).  Much better than the chemical-laden diet sodas which are more addictive and much less healthy.

So do we, as Mormons drink pop?  Yes, many do; no, many don’t; my personal belief?  Nobody should, regardless of religious affiliation – but that, of course, makes me a complete hypocrite.  Well, not complete, since I don’t drink it any more.  I guess I could say it makes me more the voice of experience.  I understand the happy factor that comes from a bubbly combination of caffeine and phenylalanine (in diet sodas).  I have, at times, relied heavily upon that happy factor.  I don’t know if it’s the same with regular pop and all the high fructose corn syrup.  All I know, is that I believe, for myself, all religion aside, that soda really isn’t good for anyone.

Caffeine?  I believe has it’s place if used very sparingly.

But while the rest of the world is scratching it’s collective head and wondering about Mormons and the caffeine thing, here is, to me, the bigger issue:  The Word of Wisdom tells us not to drink alcohol, do drugs, use tobacco, or drink coffee and tea, but what about the rest of it?  What about the part where it says to eat meat sparingly, mostly in winter or times of famine?  What about the part that tells us to eat fruits and herbs in their season?  I think we focus on the things we should not do (which is a good start, to be sure) but ignore the things we are supposed to be doing.  I think as church members we get too hung up on judging or being defensive when it comes to others’ and our decisions about herbal teas and caffeinated sodas when we should just be worried about our own personal adherence to all of the Word of Wisdom.

It’s hard to eat things in season these days, since almost everything is available all year long, but it’s something I want to tackle at some point.  We’ve made strides in cutting back meat, but there is still a lot of room for improvement in that area.

So, now that the whole caffeine issue is clear as mud, Tewt the Newt needs to go get the chicken tacos ready for dinner.  Hmmm . . . maybe the chicken could go back in the freezer and the tacos could just be brown rice and beans?  I’ve done them that way in he past when the budget was REALLY tight, and you know what?  They are pretty darned good.

Okay.  Change of plans.  Tewt the Newt is going to put the chicken back in the freezer.

11 thoughts on “Mormon (ish) Monday: The Word of Wisdom (aka: The Caffeine Thing)

  1. I’m thinking a re-read is in order, because (in my current tired, goopy, blurry-eyed state) I thought I read something about you going to LSD parties, and it took me a minute to think, “What??? Mormons go to LSD parties? No. That can’t be right.” I see now that it said LDS, not LSD. That’s pretty close, you know.

    So I shall be back tomorrow with a fresher mind, less blurry eyes (maybe), and probably another comment containing one or more questions. Okie dokie?

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  2. Interesting, Elaine. Thanks. How were the tacos? The part about less meat jumped out at me as I read the quoted materials, too. Less meat consumption = less injury to the world in many many ways, in my (vegetarian) opinion.

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  3. There’s some wisdom in that…very hot or cold drinks are not good for our bodies (I saw it on Oprah once, LOL). My favorite drink is an iced mocha though!

    Oh, so many rules in every religion! Honestly, I just try to follow Jesus. I can’t keep all the rules straight so I just keep my eyes on Him!

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  4. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this post. So, is my assumtion that cold tea or coffe is still a no-no because it falls under the “no coffee or tea” rule more than “no hot beverages”. Also, if I were Mormon, I think I’d be the one who takes it the whole way to no hot chocolate (it is hot after all) and no caffeine. Then again, I’m not Mormon, so I’m off to have some good southern sweet tea! 🙂

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  5. Yeah, I was wondering about hot chocolate, too. Are we driving you nuts with our interest in your beverage choices? Isn’t it funny how people of other faiths can get so caught up in the nitpicky details? I’ve gotten some questions before from non-christians (or even just different denoms) that leave me thinking, “What flippin’ difference does this make? And why do you care?” lol. But it IS interesting to learn the what/why/how of others’ beliefs.

    Here’s the main thing I wonder about Mormonism, if you don’t mind… There are quite a few verses (so I won’t quote them all) sprinkled throught the Bible (Deut., Prov., Rev.) that reference the idea of “adding to” or “taking away from” the words of the Bible. Either one is a no-no. A big no-no. I know it’s a different topic than hot drinks, but you did mention you guys use three books. How does a Mormon reconcile those verses and his belief in the Bible along with the belief in the two other books? Hope that doesn’t sound judg-y- it’s not at all, I promise- just honest curiosity. I hope I’m not being an impolite ass to ask. If so, remember i have no social filter. I say what I think, and I think what I say. I guess I could go buy a book on Mormonism, but why would I do that when I have you? Email or msg me on Fb if you don’t want to answer here. I promise not to start a big debate.

    I’m also wondering about the “wholesome herbs” thing, but I’ll save those inappropriate questions for another day.

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  6. Michelle,
    It IS interesting to learn what others believe, so I really don’t mind your questions (as long as you agree to not mind the one I am going to ask you after I answer yours). So, yeah, as far as the hot chocolate thing goes, all I can say is it’s not tea or coffee. As far as the other books of scripture, I guess the answer is twothreemany-pronged. I don’t know how many prongs I’m going to get into here, but let’s just all agree from the get-go that this is MY understanding of things and I’m not speaking as an official church spokesperson. Firstly, I find the emphasis on not adding to or taking away from the Bible interesting, given its history. The Bible has been re-translated and transliterated so many stinking times over the years that some of the versions (based on my limited exposure to those other than the KJV) seem to be saying completely different things in supposedly identical verses. Then, there is the history of how the Bible even came to be compiled into THE BIBLE. My memory is sketchy, at best, on this, but I seem to recall it involved a committee of men who decided what should be included as scripture and what should be left out (we refer to this as the apocryhpa, no?). I’m guessing that explains the entire book of The Song of Solomon, and the scriptures that say women should not be allowed to speak or teach in church (don’t remember where they are off the top of my head, but used to know a guy who loved to quote them just to get a rise out of the girls in our seminary class). So, my point here is this: the Bible, in all of its current incarnations, has already had a lot of stuff added to and taken away from it. One of our articles of faith states: We believe the Bible to be the word of God, as far as it is translated correctly. Not that this justifies adding to or taking away even more; however, The Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants are two completely separate books, so it’s no like we’re trying to “add” them to the Bible. The Bible is a history of the Jewish people and Christ’s ministry among them. In John 10:16, Christ said, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also must I bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” We believe that after he was resurrected, Christ spent time teaching the people of the Americas (some of those other sheep). The Book of Mormon is a history of those people and Christ’s ministry among them. It is anothertestament of Jesus Christ. It’s not adding to the Bible, per se, but it does support it. I realize many people would just see that as a semantics issue, but it’s not a problem for me. The Doctrine and Covenants is a history of revelations received by Joseph Smith (and others), especially during the time the church was being restored (this is why we’re not technically protestants — we don’t trace our origins to a break from the Catholic church but, rather, believe Christ fully restored His church and His priesthood authority through the prophet Joseph Smith). So, again, it supports the Bible by testifying of Christ. Anyway, to me, the Book of Mormon is a beautiful thing becasue it just makes sense to me that the Savior, loving us all, would want to teach other people as well, not just the Jews, and the Book of Mormon is a record of that. And, no, I don’t rule out the possibilty that He taught others and the records just haven’t been found (can you imagine not writing about it if Christ came to teach you?).
    Okay, not sure how many prongs I hit there and what I missed. But there is kind of a nutshell answer. Now here is my question for you (and, like you, I’m not trying to be judge-y, I’m just curious and trying to understand): where does the idea of the Trinity come from and how do Protestants reconcile that with the Bible (do Catholics believe in the Trinity as well — I don’t remember)? In John 10:17 Christ says, “Therefore, doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.” And then there is Christ in Gethsemene praying, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” And when he was on the cross he said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” So it seems to me, based on the Bible and all the praying to the Father Jesus does in the Bible, that they are two very distinct beings.
    Oh, and as far as the “wholesome herbs,” I’m guessing pot doesn’t count. 😉

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  7. For starters, thank you for your answer. As to your question… CRIPES, woman! You picked the hardest question you could ask, and you’re asking an idiot. That’s a recipe for disaster.

    Keep the following in mind:
    1. This will be long. There’s no way around that. But it’s your fault. You asked.
    2. I’m giving my own opinion and my own understanding of this. This is not the doctrine handed down from the Grand Poobah of All Christians, or anything.
    3. It’s pretty much accepted by Christians that NO ONE can fully understand the concept of the Holy Trinity (meaning, it‘s a God thing- it’s beyond human comprehension), so how can anyone accurately and completely explain something so complex? I’ve read “explanations” by Bible scholars that I felt were incomplete, or just plain incorrect. In other words, my thoughts will be limited and/or sketchy at best, ‘cause I‘m no scholar. Granted, you’re not exactly asking me to explain the Trinity, just where I get the idea to support it- and that’s good. Because, you know… I’m a dope.

    In some ways accepting the idea of the Trinity is similar to accepting the idea that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God, or the Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus. If you don’t believe it to be true, no one can “prove” it to you, especially if they are using the Book of Mormon to support their position. If you do not accept Joseph Smith as a prophet, then you will not accept anything he said as “proof” that his teachings are valid. If you do believe that he is a prophet, then you will see support for that idea in his writings. Likewise, if you do not believe in a Trinity, then you will probably not see the support for it in the verses I give you. Does that make sense? In other words, you’ll probably be able to argue against the “proofs” I give you because you believe differently. But, you’re not asking me to prove it to you, sooo…

    The shortest answer to your question (“Where does the idea of the Trinity come from…?“) is: From the Bible. And that is how Protestants are able to reconcile that belief WITH the Bible, because we believe it is supported BY the Bible. And yes, Catholics do believe in the Holy Trinity, too.

    As I’m sure you already know, the word ‘trinity’ does not appear in the Bible. That word wasn’t widely used to describe the Godhead until about 200 AD, I think (maybe). And there is no single verse that expressly states “God is three in one.“ So it’s a concept (much like the “Rapture” that many Christians believe will occur) that is gathered by taking the Scripture as a whole, and believing that all Scripture works together to reveal the truth. The verses you used up above do support the separateness of Jesus and His Father, but there are other verses that support their oneness. Both are true.

    Scripture makes it clear that there is only one God. Obviously, this is a BIG tenet of the Christian faith, and there are many verses to support this. You’re not asking about or disputing that point, so I won‘t list them all (Deut. 6:4 or Isaiah 43: 10-11 are just a couple examples), but it’s worth mentioning since there can be no belief in a Trinity without the belief in one God.

    The idea of the Trinity starts to come in when you look at verses such as Genesis 1:26, or 3:22, where God uses words like “us” and “our” when speaking of Creation: “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…’” (Gen. 1:26), “And the LORD God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.’” (Gen. 3:22) Who is the Us? Who is God talking to (This may be where you guys see support for the existence of a Heavenly Mother?)?

    In Isaiah 9:6, we see a prophecy about the birth of Jesus where He is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus is the son, as well as being God and the Father.

    In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and the Father are one.” And there are many other scriptures that place Jesus on equal footing with God, and/or clearly say He IS God. I’m sure you don’t want me to type them all out. A few references are: John 1:1-3 (the Word- Jesus- IS God), Heb. 1:8 (the Son is called “God“), Isaiah 7:14 or Matt. 1:23 (Immanuel is “God with us”), Col. 1:15-20, Col. 2:9, 1 Tim. 3:16, Titus 2:13, Phil. 2:5-6, John 5:18, Micah 5:2… I’m positive there are more that I’m leaving out.

    Boy this is getting ridiculously long. Sorry.

    The Holy Spirit’s equality to, and oneness with, God is also sprinkled throughout Scripture.

    For example, in Acts 5, there is the story of Ananias. In verse 3, it says that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit, but then verse 4 says he lied to God. I believe this is saying the HS and God are one in the same, not that Ananias lied to two different beings, or that he lied on two occasions.

    Acts 13:2, says: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” The HS is speaking as God in this verse, and stating that He called those two men. He is speaking with the full authority of God.

    2 Cor. 3:16-18 says that the Lord IS the Spirit.

    In verses like Matt. 28:19, 2 Cor. 13:14 or Eph 4:4-6, all three are mentioned together, in a way that indicates equal importance.

    So… We have Scripture that says:
    1. There is only one God.
    2. There is a Heavenly Father who is God.
    3. There is a Son (Jesus) who is God.
    4. There is a Holy Spirit who is God.
    5. Refer to #1. There are not 3 Gods. There is only one.

    You throw all that in the pan and you get… The Trinity.

    I’m going to stop here because of length, but suffice it to say I do believe Scripture supports the idea that the three separate beings are indeed one in the same- one God. I hope I answered your question. I feel like I didn’t. I was very rambly. Sorry.

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  8. Thanks for your answer. It helps me understand your perspective. I really have wondered for a long time about the Trinity, but I’ve never asked anyone because I didn’t want to risk my question being taken as a judgment or a challenge. So nice to finally be able to ask! Fascinating. Oh, and just to clarify one thing — the use of “us” and “our” in talking about the creation doesn’t really have anything to do with the Heavenly Mother idea (and since we’re talking about that here, I just want to clarify for anyone else who reads all of this: we DON’T worship a Heavenly Mother. However, believing that families are eternal units, and that God is our Heavenly Father, we believe there IS a Heavenly Mother, but that’s as far as it goes). Anyway, the plural pronouns in the creation, we believe, refer to God the Father and Jesus Christ. We believe they created the earth together, Christ acting according to the direction and will of the Father.

    Oh, and totally off topic? My copy of The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide arrived today! Do YOU know what Edward’s middle name is? Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha . . .

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  9. When I was a child I memorized the books of the Bible in order, as a Sunday School challenge. From that very early age on I understood that each book truly was just that – a separate book written by a specific person. Some wrote more than one book, but many wrote only one.

    When I was older I attended a Presbyterian college, where it was reinforced in religion classes that each book was written separately, and each is an entity unto itself. We studied the writings of Ruth and Isaiah, Luke, and John, etc. Each writer felt the importance of the words he (she) had written, and some admonished readers not to change them. An example would be John writing the book of Revelations. As he completed it he said no one should add or subtract anything to or from the book. He was speaking of Revelations, for when he wrote it that was all it was.

    The council of men who decided which books would be in the Bible also decided what order they would be in, and put Revelations at the end. So, even though it is at the very end of the Bible, that verse admonishing no one to make changes to the book refers only to the book of Revelations, not to the Bible as a whole. John had no way of knowing how the Bible would be configured when he wrote Revelations, but knew his book was perfect as he had written it. He told us not to make changes in it. Same for the other instances in the Bible saying not to make changes.

    Just as those authors wrote the important words they had to say, other authors wrote the books that make up the Book of Mormon. And just as the words of Isaiah, Matthew, John, Daniel, David, and others were put together to make the Bible as we know it, the writings of Nephi, Alma, Mosiah, Mormon and others were put together to make the Book of Mormon. They did not change the Bible or add to it. They wrote their stories and added to man’s understanding of Jesus Christ.

    Finally, Joseph Smith wrote the words God would have him write for our days in the Doctrine and Covenants. And leaders of the church today still give us guidance, for God will not leave His children to wander in the wilderness.

    As you said Michelle, if a person does not believe in Joseph Smith no one can convince him the Mormon Church is true. Only God can do that, through the Holy Spirit. It happened to me when I was 32 years old.

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  10. My goodness, I’m really enjoying stalking these comments! I love when I have friends who are of differents religions/cultures/etc. that I can ask questions and know they’re not being taken in a manner in which I didn’t mean. It’s fun to learn from other “regular” people. We could easily ask a pastor or leader of some sort these same questions, but it’s great to hear the perpective of someone who is just living out their faith. Love you guys!

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