Have you noticed that your Mormon friends don’t drink coffee or alcohol? Or maybe you’ve just heard about this strange behavior. But why don’t they do this? Most people can’t even imagine trying to get through their day without their morning coffee. Well, there is a reason behind this. In fact, it’s a set of “rules,” so to speak, called the Word of Wisdom.
What is The Word of Wisdom and Where Did it Come From
The origin of the Word of Wisdom comes from section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C:89). This doctrine is a revelation from God to Joseph Smith, and it took place on February 27, 1833. This was just a few years after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (informally known as the Mormon Church) was organized.
This particular revelation was a response from God to inquiries from Joseph Smith about the use of tobacco.
The Rules of The Word of Wisdom
There are several rules within the Word of Wisdom. Many of the rules teach Mormons to avoid harmful substances. Some of the rules encourage Mormons to partake of beneficial substances.
The Word of Wisdom Forbids:
In D&C 89:5-7, it teaches that strong drinks (alcoholic drinks) are not for the belly, but they are useful for washing your body. It also teaches that pure wine, of one’s own making, is acceptable for the Sacrament.
In the 1830s, society was different. Today, Mormons don’t generally use straight alcoholic beverages as body wash. We just use normal, store-bought body wash. Or, homemade stuff with oils and honey if you’re into that.
We also no longer use wine for the Sacrament. In D&C 27:2, it says, “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory.” So, since water is very cheap (try paying for enough wine to give a sip to like 15 million people every Sunday) and easy to get, we use water.
D&C 89:8 teaches, “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.”
So, no cigarettes, or cigars, for you.
Tea and Coffee
D&C 89:9, “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.”
Latter-day prophets have defined that the term “hot drinks” in this particular verse means tea and coffee.
In regards to tea, Mormons specifically don’t drink teas that come from the Camellia sinensis plant. These teas specifically include green, black, and white tea (but there are others as well). Basically, we don’t drink caffeinated teas. However, many Mormons stay away from ALL teas. I was in my late teens when I first learned that there even were certain types of herbal teas that it was okay to drink without breaking the Word of Wisdom.
And coffee… Coffee tends to be a controversial topic, especially among those who used to be members but have since left the Church. However, the general consensus that I’ve heard about in regards to coffee is that Mormons don’t drink it because of the caffeine.
Any Other (Harmful) Substance Which is Abused
This part of the Word of Wisdom includes any and all substances taken in a harmful excess in an effort to harm you, make you high, calm you down, etc. In addition, Mormons are taught to avoid all illegal recreational drugs, as well as to not abuse prescription drugs. Basically, this is the catchall category to cover things like sniffing permanent markers.
This is not to say that Mormons do not use prescription drugs. As long as there is a need, and a legally obtained prescription (if needed), the word of wisdom does not prohibit substances used for physical, psychological, or emotional treatment.
The bottom line is that it comes down to agency. Taking substances into your body that are addictive and will cause a dependency (like recreational drugs) is against the word of wisdom. Abusing substances that are used for good (like prescription drugs) is also against the word of wisdom.
Grey Areas: Caffeine and Meat
Caffeine (which means all your favorite sodas, and energy drinks)
This is a pretty big questionable area for many Mormons, especially right now. Just a few days ago, Brigham Young University changed their policy on selling caffeinated beverages on campus. This has caused some debate among members of the Church. Many anti-caffeine members feel that BYU leaders are giving in to peer-pressure, and are upset that the reasoning for the change is that they are trying to meet changing consumer preferences and demands.
However, the Word of Wisdom doesn’t technically mention caffeine. But many Mormons personally include it in for themselves. The main argument against caffeine is that it is addictive, and the Word of Wisdom teaches to abstain from addictive substances.
But then where does one draw the line? Because caffeine is in a lot of things, and I personally don’t want to give up chocolate anytime soon.
In the end, most Mormons decide for themselves on this matter.
In D&C 89:12-13, it states, “yea, 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;
“And it is pleasing unto me [the Lord] that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”
This particular part of the Word of Wisdom is a grey area, and it may be because everyone has a different idea of what “sparingly” means. And then there’s that there hasn’t been as much counsel from latter-day prophets on the topic.
While it is ordained that the flesh of animals is for man’s food, yet this should be used sparingly. The wording of this revelation is perfectly clear in relation to this subject, but we do not always heed it.
Personally, I agree with Joseph Fielding Smith. I feel like it’s an area that many members struggle with, or simply ignore. Another response to this doctrine was very eloquently stated on fairmormon.org:
Each member is encouraged to do better, but as in Joseph Smith’s day we ought not to attack or dictate to others. If the Lord is displeased with us individually, he can make his will known by [personal] revelation. If he is displeased with the Church as a whole, prophetic authority will give the necessary correction.
Joseph Smith also clarifies in D&C 49:21, “Wo unto the man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.”
The Word of Wisdom encourages:
Fruits and Vegetables
D&C 89: 10-11 teaches, “All wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—
“Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used with prudence and thanksgiving.”
Grains (wheat, oats, and rice)
D&C 89:14,16 teaches us, “All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life… All grain is good for the food of man; as also the fruit of the vine … whether in the ground or above the ground.”
Blessing for the Obedient
If a person follows God’s commandments about the Word of Wisdom, then the Lord has promised the following blessings:
- They “shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones;” D&C 89:18
- They “shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures;” D&C 89:19
- They “shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint.” D&C 89:20
- “And 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.” D&C 89:21
Those blessings sound pretty amazing. Especially that last one. I don’t know what form(s) the destroying angel will take, but I personally would like to be passed by, and not slayed.
The counsel of latter-day prophets and leaders have taught Mormons how the Word of Wisdom should be applied to this day and age. Some adjustments were made to better fit the society we live in now (180+ years after Joseph Smith had the revelation). Some parts need no revision.
For me, I follow the Word of Wisdom first and foremost because God said so. After that, I follow it because I want to. I physically feel better when I stay away from caffeinated beverages (soda in general) and oft-consumed, meat-heavy dishes. By not drinking or using mind-altering substances, I keep my sense of mind. My body is safe from the poisons from tobacco and the horrible, life-threatening health conditions that come with it. I’m definitely not perfect, but when I follow what God teaches, things work out better for me.
Try out the “Word of Wisdom” diet plan. If not for religious purposes, do it for yourself, because you deserve to be free from addictive substances. You are worth the effort it takes to enjoy life to the fullest, and you can’t do that when you’re suffering from tobacco-induced cancer. You deserve to be healthiest, and the most able-bodied version of you.