Monday, 6 December 2010

Monday Mormon - The Mormon Java Jive

In the latest of our 21 Questions we ask about the peculiar Mormon health code, the Word of Wisdom. It seems strange that a church calling itself Christian should be so regressive as to have a health code that determines a person’s worthiness. Of course Christians believe in being sober and sensible in eating and drinking etc. but we follow Jesus who said:

"Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean") (Mark 7:18-19)

The clear principle is that what we eat does not in any way disqualify us from heavenly rewards. Then we have the cautious advice of Paul:

"’Everything is permissible’ - but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’ - but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lords', and everything in it.’

If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put in before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, 'This has been been offered in sacrifice,' then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you , and for conscience' sake - the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? if I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God - even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so they may be saved.” (1 Cor.10:23-33)

As before, we will look at the questions (Q) and answers (A) with comments (C) and quotes (Qu.)

Q: Are consumption of alcohol and tobacco prohibited or simply discouraged?

A: It is against the teachings of the Church to use alcohol and tobacco or to drink tea and coffee.

Q: Does the Church also ban the consumption of "hot drinks"? And does that apply specifically to caffeinated drinks?

A: It is against the teachings of the Church to use alcohol and tobacco or to drink tea and coffee.

C: These two questions are very interesting and raise an important question about what is and isn’t authoritative in Mormonism. A Mormon will tell you that the only authoritative sources are the “Standard Works”; the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) and Pearl of Great Price. The Mormon health law, the Word of Wisdom, is found in the D&C. There are two facts that stand out; 1) there is no mention of tea or coffee and 2) it is “not a commandment or constraint but a principle” therefore not binding.


You cannot neglect little things. ‘Oh, a cup of tea is such a little thing. It is so little; surely it doesn't amount to much; surely the Lord will forgive me if I drink a cup of tea.’

Yes, he will forgive you, because he is going to forgive every man who repents; but, my brethren, if you drink coffee or tea, or take tobacco, are you letting a cup of tea or a little tobacco stand in the road and bar you from the celestial kingdom of God, where you might otherwise have received a fulness of glory?

‘Oh, it is such a little thing, and the Lord will forgive us.’ Well, there is not anything that is little in the way of sinning. There is not anything that is little in the way of sinning. There is not anything that is little in this world in the aggregate. One cup of tea, then it is another cup of tea and another cup of tea, and when you get them all together, they are not so little...

God is not going to save every man and woman in the celestial kingdom. If you want to get there, and you have failings; if you are committing sins; if you are breaking the commandments of the Lord, and you know it; it is a good time right now to repent and reform, and not get the idea that it is such a little thing that the lord will fogive you; just a few stripes, just a little punishment and we will be forgiven; for you may find yourselves cast out, if you insist and persist in such a course.”

(Mormon prophet Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, vol.2. pp16-17)

C. There has been much speculation over the years about what is forbidden, with members moving in their thinking from hot drinks to speculating whether the true purpose of the principle is the avoidance of caffeine. This led to the more zealous concluding that it was therefore wrong to drink Coca Cola, energy drinks, Lucozade etc.

Mormon leaders have variously spoken about avoiding tea and coffee but warned the zealous not to take it too far, insisting that it doesn’t include Coca Cola. But then it doesn’t include tea and coffee and, in the original form, it is neither a commandment nor a restraint.

Qu. “A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of the high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints of Zion-

To be sent in greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the world of wisdom...given for a principle with promise adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints...strong drinks are not for the belly, but for washing the body.

And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly...and again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly” (D&C 89:19)

Since there is no revelation, i.e. in the Standard Works that commands obedience or mentions tea and coffee then Mormons are not truly bound except by conscience. Now there’s a novel idea.

One idea that Mormons can't countenance is that Mormonism is influenced by the society around it. All things Mormon are viewed as the product of unique and revelatory knowledge. But things that seem unique to Mormonism today were often the product of the age.

The Word of Wisdom is a good example. The way the story is told you might be forgiven for believing that society at large was smoking, drinking etc. and being otherwise "worldly" and Mormons did the same until Joseph Smith had a revelation called the Word of Wisdom.

Nothing could be further from the truth. At that time a temperance movement, started in Boston in 1826, was sweeping America and most churches swore off drink, tobacco and, yes, tea and coffee as stimulants. Where just a few years previously a visiting minister might reasonably expect to be treated to a glass of sherry with the pastor, now the test for a minister’s worthiness for the role of preacher might well be his complete sobriety.

If the Word of Wisdom hadn't been taught then Mormonism would have been the odd one out not the most enlightened.

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