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