You’ve probably already heard by now, but the Word of Wisdom has been in the news the past week. If this is news to you, here is a brief explanation of what has been going on:
Back on August 23, NBC ran a profile on the LDS Church entitled “Mormon in America.” For the most part, it was fair, and not too mean, but they did make an inaccurate comment. (I know, you’re thinking, “NBC provided false information? How is that possible?“) Well it’s true. When discussing the Word of Wisdom, they mentioned that caffeine was on the list of prohibited items for the faithful, along with alcohol and tobacco.
The Church usually doesn’t respond to stuff like that, but this time the LDS Newsroom issued a statement clarifying the misrepresentations in the program. (link here) Regarding the devil caffeine, they said:
Finally, another small correction: Despite what was reported, the Church revelation spelling out health practices (Doctrine and Covenants 89) does not mention the use of caffeine. The Church’s health guidelines prohibit alcoholic drinks, smoking or chewing of tobacco, and “hot drinks” — taught by Church leaders to refer specifically to tea and coffee.
After this statement was posted, there were two polarized responses. First, the “Anti-caffeine-soda-ites” sat back in unanimous disbelief, while the armies who found joy in the consumption of said substance shouted its praises. Hypocrisy abounded on both sides.
Basically, the Church said that caffeine is not mentioned in the Word of Wisdom. And what they meant by that is that caffeine is not mentioned in the Word of Wisdom. What this means to us is that absolutely nothing has changed, The Word of Wisdom has never been about caffeine.
That’s what happened. No big deal – but it has resulted in a lot more discussion about the Word of Wisdom – and that is always a good thing.
• There are lots of teas that aren’t really tea. Herbal, lemon grass, peppermint, chamomile, etc. all have one thing in common – they don’t say “tea” on the ingredient list. Same with barley coffees. (Which mysteriously tasted much better on my mission than they do in real life.) Since they don’t include tea, they are not tea, and are not prohibited.
• God never mentioned WHY he banned coffee and tea. We all ASSUME it is because of caffeine, but that is only our attempt at logically defining the mind of God. We have no real basis in that assumption.
• Some people get freaked out that Jesus drank wine, and cite elaborate arguments to explain it away by saying it wasn’t fermented wine, or whatever. Personally, I don’t care if Jesus drank wine or not. Our health code wasn’t around back then. I would have been much more concerned if I read that Jesus and the apostles had a clambake. What? You didn’t know that Jesus couldn’t eat shellfish? Or bacon? Or baby back ribs? Nope. All those things were prohibited by the Law of Moses. It makes me want to cry.
And do you know why they were prohibited? Me neither – because God gave Moses the command, but never told him “why”, other than to say that it would make them “unclean.”
• You might notice a trend here: God doesn’t always explain the reasoning behind His commands to us. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to use our mortal minds to make sense of it.
• I wonder if we might be surprised one day to find out God’s reasons for something we assume we know the answer to. Take, for example, the edict to eat meat “sparingly.” Imagine this dialogue, while there is a lull in conversation at the Final Interview:
You: So if we weren’t supposed to eat a lot of meat, why did you make it so yummy? Is it really that unhealthy?
God: Oh that! It had nothing to do with health. It was about migration and economy.
You: What do you mean?
God: Well, when the restored Church was getting started, I knew that they would be on the move a lot. A livestock-based economy would have made that nearly impossible, and producing meat is much more expensive and difficult that growing produce. They needed to be agriculturally focused to survive, so I told them “easy on the meat.”
(Disclaimer: I am not claiming that this is what happened – it is just an example of how our thinking might not have anything to do with God’s thinking – so relax.)
• I tire of people telling me what the Word of Wisdom “means” to say. I have learned that when someone begins talking about the “Spirit of the Law” beyond the “Letter of the Law,” they have usually just crossed that line between doctrine, and personal opinion. It is just fine with me if you hate white bread, but don’t try and tell me that the Word of Wisdom means that we are supposed to only eat whole wheat.
• We are told to eat meat and poultry sparingly – but there is no restriction of fish or shellfish. That means I can have as many lobster rolls as I want when I go to Maine. Thank heavens I’m not Kosher. Lobster rolls are another in a long line of evidences that God loves me.
|This is not a sin – but it is sinful. It is a Lobster Roll.|
• I have never understood why people say that the Word of Wisdom suggests “moderation in all things.” There isn’t anything in the Word of Wisdom that even suggests “moderation” – yet I hear it all the time. Seriously – go read it, and show me the moderation. Strong drink? No. Hot drinks? No. Tobacco? No. Fruit? Yes. Grain? Yes. Meat? Sparingly. Where is the moderation in that?
• We don’t keep cooking wine in the house, but love a good Marsala sauce. Does that make me evil?
• Donuts are not listed in Section 89. Granted, the flour is made from grain, so you actually have a better case for donuts, than against them. Other things not listed: Cake, Reese’s cups, buffalo wings, mayo. Things that should have been forbidden, but apparently were overlooked: Beets, black licorice and Miracle Whip.
• Why do alcohol, hot drinks and tobacco get all the attention? Why are they the primary focus when we talk about the Word of Wisdom? I think it is for two reasons: 1) Their prohibition flies in the face of society, and 2) Adherence is quantifiable. If you are in a temple recommend interview, and are asked “Do you eat grain and fruit of the vine?” then you are going to have a weird interview – because now you have to figure out a common definition of words like “grain” and “sparingly.” The other things are a straight-up yes or no.
• If the brethren do not focus on something – ever – then I figure it is not something I need to be overly focused on right now. For example, I can’t remember the last time I heard someone criticize our meat consumption in General Conference. I also know that Friday is Prime Rib night in some of the temple cafeterias. It must not be that big of a deal right now to the brethren, but watch, I’ll probably be eating my words this October. (I’m sure my Brazilian readers are breathing a sigh of relief.)
• There are many things that science is teaching us about what is good and bad for our bodies. Sometimes the scientists are right, sometimes they are wrong. However, just because science says green tea, or a daily glass of wine is good for you doesn’t mean it is OK with God. Why? Because the Word of Wisdom is more about obedience than it is about health. That is why it is a temple recommend question. Not because the Church is the Food Police. Please don’t confuse your personal views on eating healthy with God’s commandments. Remember, what God revealed in 1833 was years ahead of science.
• God has the right to change His policies regarding His health code for us. He has changed it before – He could do it again. It is possible that the prophet could announce that caffeinated soft-drinks and green jello are now banned – effective immediately. If he did, we would be told through official channels. That would be just fine. That’s why we have prophets – we are not stagnant in our beliefs and practices. Beyond what it says in Section 89, prophets have counseled us to stay away from prescription drugs abuse, energy drinks, and a host of addictive things that were not in even existence in 1833. And that is a beautiful thing.
We are promised great blessings from obeying the Word of Wisdom. Whatever.
I’m going to keep it because God asked me to – and I love HIm.