WoW: Tying Up Loose Ends

Yesterday’s post about the Word of Wisdom went a little crazy. In less than 24 hours it entered the top 10 of my most viewed posts, and received over 100 comments. Most of the comments made sense, and many were so long that it required a good 44 ounces to beat your way through them.

It became readily apparent that there were a couple of things that needed clarification.

1) Despite what it says in D&C Section 89:2, the Word of Wisdom is fully entrenched as a commandment in our LDS theology. Not a recommendation, or a suggestion, but a commandment. Like one of the 10.

President Ezra Taft Benson addressed this in April Conference in 1983, when he said this:

“In 1851, President Brigham Young proposed to the general conference of the Church that all Saints formally covenant to keep the Word of Wisdom. This proposal was unanimously upheld by the membership of the Church. Since that day, the revelation has been a binding commandment on all Church members.”

2) There was some discussion as to the nature of the Word of Wisdom: Spiritual or Temporal. Here’s a thought:

Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things unto me are spiritual, and not at any time have I given unto you a law which was temporal; neither any man, nor the children of men; neither Adam, your father, whom I created.” D&C 29:34
3) I don’t get the assertion that the “no” parts of the WofW constitute a commandment, and the other directives are just good advice subject to personal revelation. It’s all a commandment – we don’t pick and choose which parts are commandments – we pick and choose which parts we will obey. I have never seen anything that implies that the “no” parts of the commandment are more important than the “yes” parts. They are just easier to quantify.
4) One of the overriding points of the post yesterday was to establish that caffeine is not mentioned in the Word of Wisdom, as reenforced by the recent Church announcement. There you go  – now you can imbibe knowing that enjoying that giant caffeinated beverage is not a violation of the Word of Wisdom.
5) And in the words of the late Steve Jobs, “One more thing.”  Today, as we all stand before the fountain, making sure we have just enough ice to ensure the proper ice/soda ratio before we fill our cups with our preferred beverage, remember this:
…We really shouldn’t be drinking caffeine. (MY OPINION, FOLKS)
What? But you said… ? Did you really think I was going to let us off the hook that easily? C’mon now! Just because caffeine is not mentioned in the Word of Wisdom doesn’t mean we haven’t been told to avoid it! And it surely shouldn’t be misconstrued as an endorsement.
Boyd K. Packer: You are a dual being, a spirit clothed in a mortal body. Your body is an instrument of your mind and the foundation of your character. Take nothing into your body which may harm it or disturb the functions of your mind and spirit. Anything that is addictive is dangerous.
Addictive? Caffeine?  My pride says no, my headaches say yes.  A stimulant?  Oh, yes.
Richard G. Scott, on being worthy to use the Priesthood: Do you scrupulously avoid the use of stimulants and substances that conflict with the intent of the Word of Wisdom, or have you made some personally rationalized exceptions?
Russel M. Nelson, on self-mastery: Indeed, as you develop courage to say no to alcohol, tobacco, and other stimulants, you gain additional strength.
These are all quotes from General Conference talks.  There are oodles more.  To me, the most worrisome thing I keep running into is the idea that any addiction can impair the Spirit’s ability to communicate with us.
I especially remember a leadership training video a few years ago, where President Hinckley, speaking directly to the bishops of the church, to refrain from using stimulants to get more work done.  I was surprised that it was an issue, and a concern to him. I thought about it often, or at least on those occasions when I was drinking a Diet Coke on the way to Bishopric meting at 6:00am.
And I love this analogy by President David O. McKay:
“Stimulants are to the body what the lash is to the lagging horse – it causes a spurt forward but gives no permanent strength or nourishment. Frequent repetitions of the lash only make the horse more lazy; and the habitual use of strong drink, tobacco, tea and coffee, only tends to make the body weaker and more dependent upon the stimulants to which it is addicted.”
No, he never mentions Mountain Dew, but I know in my heart that when he was talking about a “lagging horse,” he was talking about me.
We all have agency, and can choose for ourselves. Drinking a caffeinated soda will not keep me out of the temple, but I will still feel some guilt when I know that I have crossed that line from mere want to NEED.

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  1. This discussion has been really helpful. I’m teaching the GAS RS lesson in a couple of weeks on the WoW. I know that I cannot refer to the blog in my lesson but this will help me prepare for the discussion/debate that will not doubt follow. Thanks for the perspective.

  2. Thank you for your excellent research, MMM. I appreciate you.

    Oftentimes we are so busy looking for loopholes to justify our behaviors. If the Lord were to enumerate all the ways “designing men” have altered the things we take into our bodies so that they no longer provide the proper nutrition, D&C 89 would be a book.
    President Packer said it well in his conference address “The Word Of Wisdom: The Principle And The Promises” in General Conference April 1996.
    The Word of Wisdom was “given for a principle with promise” (D&C 89:3). That word principle in the revelation is a very important one. A principle is an enduring truth, a law, a rule you can adopt to guide you in making decisions. Generally principles are not spelled out in detail. That leaves you free to find your way with an enduring truth, a principle, as your anchor.
    Members write in asking if this thing or that is against the Word of Wisdom. It’s well known that tea, coffee, liquor, and tobacco are against it. It has not been spelled out in more detail. Rather, we teach the principle together with the promised blessings. There are many habit-forming, addictive things that one can drink or chew or inhale or inject which injure both body and spirit which are not mentioned in the revelation.
    Everything harmful is not specifically listed; arsenic, for instance—certainly bad, but not habit-forming! He who must be commanded in all things, the Lord said, “is a slothful and not a wise servant” (D&C 58:26).

  3. Love your last conclusion – “drinking a caffeinated drink will not keep me out of the temple . . “. Exactly.
    Disobedience to certain “don’ts” in the Word of Wisdom will keep us of the temple.
    Perhaps it would behoove us to determine what blessings we desire. If we only want a temple recommend then we must only obey a few very specific “don’ts.”
    Section 130:20,21 tells us that if we want the total package of blessings promised in Section 89 of health, strength, longevity, and clear thinking then we need to search this scripture and obey the letter and spirit of these Words of Wisdom.

  4. I love Dr. Pepper. Do I drink too much? Yes. Am I cutting back? Yes. Am I willing to quit all the way? Not yet. I am working on it. Do I try to follow the rest of the Word of Wisdom? Of course. Am I perfect? Not always. But I am working on it. Do I feel better when I do? Of course I do. (That goes along with early to bed, early to rise, along with what I put in my body.)

    Good post. Do I feel a little guilty? Yes. Is that bad? No. I just have more room to improve.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  5. I have chronic migraines. When I finally hooked up with a neurologist, the first thing he did was took me off caffiene. I had no idea how bad my addiction was. I was taking so much excederin,and vivrian, and drinking coke to managae the pain. He put me on seven different drugs to manage the withdrawl symptoms. I thouht I was going. to. die. He explained that Herion addiction is the only thing harder to break yourself from. But I did it. I still get Migraines, but I treat them differently. I am not anti-caffiene, and I still enjoy a Coke now and then, but It can turn into something ugly. Everything in moderation.

  6. Well, I’m off to explore one of my favorite cities today. NYC, here I come! I have plans to enjoy a Frozen Hot Chocolate from Serendipity, which I’ve never been able to do. I already know that no guilt will come from such actions today.

    And to think…I am getting paid to do all of this for work! *SNORT*

  7. I’m going to step in a play referee on this post. In the words of the illustrious Sue, “NOTHING seems to get people riled up about their own little hobby horses like the Word of Wisdom.” So true.

    I had to delete some comments that were just plain mean, some that came from anti-mormons.

    Even more, I was also saddened to see how many comments were just people spouting their opinions that are completely unsupported by anything other than the commenter’s personal bias. If you are going to bang your personal drum, or say something inflammatory, at least back it up with something – a scripture, a quote – something!

    I don’t want this to turn into another pseudo-mormon blog where people take shots at each other and tickle each other’s ears with faux debate. If you want that, there are plenty of other blogs.

  8. I have heard people actually say, “We can’t have tea, coffee, drugs, tobacco and caffeine – don’t take away our sugar!!”

    Sugar is a Mormon drug, if you ask me….

    And thank goodness there isn’t a scale in the Bishop’s office when I go in for my recommend interview, because nobody really knows exactly how the human body works and metabolises food (when all nutritionists agree, then maybe I’ll reconsider that stance), least of all my mechanical engineer Bishop.

  9. You know, as a fat person I really resent being told I don’t keep the word of wisdom. Fatness isn’t always a result of overeating or eating poorly. I have PCOS which is well known for “additional poundage” without overeating. I have seen more than one dietitian who just can’t figure out why I’m fat. I eat very carefully and do the whole food thing. I keep the WOW in all its glory. As far as I am aware, there is no cutout at the pearly gates that I am going to be required to fit through either!

  10. Hmmm “does harm” “disturbs function” “a stimulant that causes you to spurt forward with no permanent strength or nourishment”

    Sounds like a description of sugar to me.

  11. What about the whole obesity thing? If we all ate like the WoW recommends that wouldn’t be such a problem in the church. Seems like being Obese is really not taking care of the “temple of God.”

  12. I was amazed at how many comments were about accomodating the rules to your personal needs. I couldn’t believe it. Wow so than what’s the point of GOd giving commandments if everyone is just going to “pray” and ask for exeptions. I do believe God is a just GOd and he will know how to judge each and everyone of us, but to go as far as to think that we can ajust every commandment to our “necessities” is mind boggling! THanks for setting it straight.

    1. Exactly what I was thinking. No wonder there are so many conflicted people today if you think that every commandment has to be prayed over and contemplated–really starts taking the simplicity out of the gospel. The gospel is either true or it isn’t. Prophets are either called of God and inspired by him or they are not. If you have a testimony of the gospel and the Lord’s way of revealing commandments to His people, then the rest is simple. We only need to pray that we have the strength to follow.

  13. “..personally rationalized exception…” Do you mean I’m NOT special and different and the rules DO apply to ME???

  14. I have never weighed in on your blog before but I have 2 thoughts that I want to share after reading your last couple entries.
    1. If we can’t even agree on the definition of a ‘commandment’ then in my opinion we are in trouble!
    2. When all is said and done, what harm is there in avoiding caffeine? or alcohol or any other substance that might be harmful for you? Are you really going to miss out on something so amazing that your life will never be the same? That’s why Jelly-Belly makes Dr. Pepper flavored jelly beans!!

  15. This quote explains my relationship with Dr. Pepper and the 52oz mug it comes in:

    “Peanut butter fills the cracks in my heart.” -Paul Blart

    1. Love the quote and I feel the same way about my 64 oz mug of my diet coke. The lightheartedness was also much needed after all the comments I have read from these past 2 posts.

  16. I can’t believe people still don’t understand this. Does reading these comments make you want to pull your hair out?

    Great posts. I appreciate the time you put into your research.

  17. So…if all parts of the WoW constitute commandments, that would include eating meat sparingly, regardless of whether it’s been mentioned lately by General Authorities?

  18. I grew up in a family that treated cola drinks like they were as bad as coffee–yeah, one of THOSE Mormon families. Soda was such a rare treat anyway growing up in a family of 10 kids–we kind of stuck with the basics to save money. After I was out on my own I just continued to follow that way of thinking. It saves me a lot of money and it’s one less chemical I am putting in my body. I taught my kids the same thing. I think it is more of a concern nowadays with the caffeine-packed energy drinks. Just FYI the New Era published an article addressing energy drinks (Dec. 2008). I thought it was worth sharing with my kids for a FHE. Anyway–enjoyed both posts and especially the quotes on avoiding stimulants– I’ve never have regrets for heeding the word of the brethren.

    1. I was raised in the midwest with the same restrictions you mention about soda. When I left our cloistered little community and went to Ricks College, one of my roommates fathers brought her a case of diet Coke and my initial reaction was that she must be inactive or a Jack Mormon. Turned out not to be true, of course. She became the R.S. Pres. of our branch and was a very spiritual woman. Learned a huge lesson in not pre-judging.

  19. I used to have a pretty unhealthy addiction to caffeine.


    I saw that famous 60minutes interview with President Hinckley. I’ll never forget it. Mike Wallace asked…Do you drink Coffee? His reply? A simple “no, Sir.” “Tea?” “No, Sir.” “Caffeinated sodas?” “No Sir.”

    That was simple enough for me. The prophet of the church himself had interpreted it for his own health that he would not drink caffeinated sodas, and at that very minute, I gave up my daily Pepsi.

    It wasn’t a week later that I ended up in the ER with a very serious Asthma attack. One I couldn’t get under control. The nurses and doctors tried everything, and it seems they couldn’t get my airway opened, so they gave me a shot of pure caffeine. Turns out it’s a medical device used to help in times like this. Except, for me, we quickly found, I’m allergic. The hyper dose of caffeine sent my body into shock. I don’t remember much after that, except coming to with about 8 nurses around and a mask on my face and a tube down my throat. Would you also believe I haven’t had an asthma attack since? I don’t even carry my rescue inhaler anymore.

    Harmful substance? Definitely. For people other than just me? Absolutely. Is it set directly in the WoW not to drink or partake? No, but revelation over the years has told us that the WoW is to keep our body healthy and avoid harmful substances. It’s like you said MMM, caffeine is not explicitly stated, but neither is strychnine. Do we need to have the Prophet come out and tell us to avoid that too?

  20. I just thought of something I learned this year. My brother informed me that anesthesia is dosed to overcome the effects of stimulants, especially caffeine; if you don’t imbibe you need to inform your doctor and anesthesiologist so the dose can be adjusted. Caffeine is so universally accepted as a way to get energy that medicine has accommodated it. Made sense to me as I remember being given a dose of relaxant before going into surgery (2005) which totally knocked me out.

    My favorite General Authority quote is from President Heber J. Grant “The Lord does not want you to use any drug that creates an appetite for itself.” My convert husband has struggled with his caffeine addiction for years–it is truly a monster to get out from under. We taught our children to not get started in the first place because “Look at the challenge Dad has.”

  21. For me, we are back where we started. The WoW addresses coffee, tea, cigs and alcohol. The rest of it must be a suggestion because none of the General A’s talked about the other dietary commandments. So, we need only follow the top half, not the bottom. No one doing an interview on an obese person would really need to ask if he/she were following the dietary commandment – whereas with the coffee, tea, cigs, alcohol – well, it might not be as obvious. So, I don’t understand why the other part is even there. If none of it is a suggestion, why do we get to ignore half of it?

    1. Ignoring it makes it less of a commandment? I can’t find any justification for the idea that half the W of W is merely a “suggestion.” I would be interested to see your quotes and scriptures backing this up.

  22. Why is caffeine special? Try giving up sugar.

    “And one more thing…” I tried giving up water once – I had the same horrible headaches you were talking about. Sadly I fell off the wagon and I’m indulging in up to 8 glasses a day 🙁

    Seriously though – if the Church puts out a press release saying that we aren’t restricted from drinking caffeine, I’ll take it at face value.

    Referencing old talks/manuals is moot to me – should I give you a quote from the 1960’s talking about how Blacks can’t have the Priesthood?

    It’s a well thought out article, but I have to respectfully disagree.

    1. Are you trying to say that old/talks and manuals shouldn’t be referred to? In that case, you probably wouldn’t want to refer to the Book of Mormon or the Bible either, because they’re older than “Old talks/manuals”. Just something you should consider.

    1. Or how about teenage boys playing poker for goldfish crackers and such. It would be super if you could do all the hard-stuff part of parenting for me!

  23. MMM, once again you have summed up my thoughts on a subject perfectly. I try to use caffeine like the drug that it is, generally for illness or jetlag, but I sometimes drink it when I didn’t go to bed as early as I should have. I’m still trying to come to terms with the opposing forces in my life: have a lot of kids, don’t drink caffeine. When it comes down to it, if we all planned to get enough sleep, we probably wouldn’t be so dependent on those tasty caffeinated sodas.

  24. Really good points, and exactly how I feel. In my comment yesterday I said that I love Coke. And I do, but it doesn’t mean I drink it every day or even every week! I try not to consume it because of the caffeine and what it can do to your body.
    that being said, I wish caffeinated soda did something to me, because maybe that way I could justify having it. It takes me body a really long time to process the caffeine. If I have a mountain dew, thinking it will make me alert for something when I’m really tired, I just end up wasting my time and screwing myself over for later. About 4 to 5 hours AFTER I’ve had the drink I end up being more awake. And even then, it only lasts a short little while. How lame is that? I know. Really dumb.
    Anyway, really good follow up post!

  25. Thank you for your wisdom this week. I have been wanting to do a Family Home Evening on the WoW to reemphasize with my teens exactly what it states. You have made my job so much easier. Thank you, MMM!!

  26. In the WofW it mentions that it is for the “weakest of saints.” That is what the lagging horse metaphor reminded me of. Aren’t we all the weakest? We need commanding in all things, huh? 🙂 Thanks for your posts I love them!

  27. Bishop H. Burke Peterson gave a good answer when he said in D&C 89 to look carefully at the words “wholesome and prudent” when ingesting (and I’ll add ‘doing’)anything. If it’s not wholesome or prudent then leave it alone. Good posts.

  28. I LOVE Richard G Scott’s line “or have you made some personally rationalized exceptions?”
    Makes me think of ALL my personally rationalized exception.

    1. That reminds me of a saying one of my mission companions used to repeat (a bit too) often:

      There I go again – rationalizing my way to hell

  29. I have become convinced that the straight and narrow path is not on one side of wickedness but is the thin line between two extremes. When we diviate too far in either direction we become lost.

    1. Murder is taking life for reasons of anger, selfishness, or disregard. The opposite is giving life. The extreme side of that is producing so many children you can not care for them, cannot feed/clothe/actively love them, for selfish reasons and no regard for the children. My child is friends a girl who has three half siblings and one full sibling. The three half siblings do not share a father between them. The mother can not support those children on her own, so she relies on the Government (aka, you & me, the tax payers) to give them food, shelter, medical care, etc. In Arkansas a few months ago, there was a report of a 26 year old man who was asking the State to pay the child support for his 19 children (I think that was the number – regardless, it was outrageous) because his paycheck was so high that each child only got somewhere in the ballpark of $40 per month from him. IMHO that is deviating too far on the non-murder side.

    2. Mimi, although I understand your frustration with what you think is too many children, some of us who are unable to bear biological children are very grateful for the kids that have been placed in our homes because someone had “too many kids”.

    3. Anonymous…I am not frustrated with “too many children.” I have suffered miscarriages and periods of infertility myself. What I said was “so many children you cannot care for them..” My husband comes from a large family, even by LDS standards. His parents struggled, but they always provided for them in financial, educational, spiritual, and emotional ways. For some out there, having just one child can be irresponsible and careless. For those who have children out of time and season for themselves and offer them to those like you and me, helping to fulfill our families are not selfish, inconsiderate, or irresponsibile. Big difference, and not what I was saying at all.

    4. I would say murder (taking innocent life) is one extreme and not ever taking a life, no matter the circumstances, is the other extreme. Most of us won’t be in that situation but I am sure those who are (police officers, military, etc) must find that line between these two. The scriptures are full of examples of this (Nephi killing Laban, The Nephites defending themselves against the Lamanites, Isrealites destroying various enemies…)

      With the Word of Wisdom we can be on one extreme by completely ignoring it and trying to justify our choices. We can be in the other extreme by eliminating too much.

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