Bootlegged: Utah and the 21st Amendment

KC KernMormon 32 Comments

The Word of Wisdom has come to be a central and defining tenant of the Mormon faith. The phrase “don’t drink, don’t smoke” is almost universally included in a description of Mormon values or behaviors. Perhaps due to its clear-cut nature (or at least the clear cut nature of its prohibitions, not its recommendations) the Word of Wisdom has nearly been elevated to the status of the commandment of commandments.

But anyone who has actually bothered to read D&C 89 will know that the Word of Wisdom was given “not by commandment or constraint”, but as just what it claims to be—“a word of wisdom.” September 9, 1851 is usually cited as the day that it became a commandment, when Brigham Young declared it binding on the saints. What seems to have slipped the general membership’s body of conventional knowledge, however, is that the Word of Wisdom did not attain its status as the indispensable, orthodoxy-defining regulation that we now know it as until many decades later, under Heber J. Grant.

And this is where we see an interesting cross section in the Venn diagram of Church history and United States history. The student of the US Constitution should recall that the 18th Amendment to the constitution nationally outlawed “intoxicating liquors” in 1919. It was two years later, in 1921, that Heber J. Grant added strict Word of Wisdom compliance to the lineup of temple recommend questions.

Now, let me deviate just a bit and tell a little story; I promise I’ll come full circle with this train of thought.

One of my hobbies through the years has been amateur video production/filmmaking. Two years ago, a friend and I decided to enter a local Provo short film festival. This was no ordinary film festival though; this was a 48 hour film festival. Participants (teams) would attend a kick-off meeting, where they would be assigned a film style (science fiction, spy movie, kids show, etc) and a scripted line that they would be required to include in their film. Then, the timer would start, and 48 hours later, the teams would reconvene and be required to submit their finished product. The films could be no longer than 8 minutes, and had to be completed from start to finish in 48 hours.

So my friend and I attended the kick-off meeting, and we drew our required scripted line from a hat: “Last time I did that, I ended up naked in Mexico.” I rolled my eyes at the selection. Next, we drew our film style: “Film Noir.” Film Noir? What on earth is that? After a little googling, we learned that it was the Dick Tracy / Casablanca high-contrast black and white style that often told a grim tale of cops and robbers that usually had a morbid ending. Also, the stories told in Film Noir often took place in the time frame of the 1920s or 1930s.

We put our thinking caps on, and remembered that those years encompassed the Prohibition Era, where the mafia profiteered off of bootlegging, and the criminal underworld of the US was in its luxurious golden age.

Further research led us to discover that the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed prohibition, was ratified in 1933, and the state that cast the deciding vote in ratifying this amendment was—of all states—Utah.

With our filmmaking task in mind, we immediately saw the framework for a great story that would have particular relevance to a Utah audience, and fit perfectly in the in Film Noir genre. Considering the Heber J. Grant influence in the state at the time, one can only wonder what the political force was that led Utah to vote against prohibition. And that’s the story we set out to tell.

However, this is where we decided to diverge from history or reality in general, and just have some fun. We let our imaginations loose, and concocted a story about a Utah mob boss named “Slim Giovanni” (a la Al Capone) who was the ring leader of Utah bootlegging, and a corporate kingpin with massive political clout. A private eye detective sets out to go undercover into the mob, with the intent of breaking up the bootlegging ring, and dismantling Slim Giovanni’s political machine. A shady love interest and a series of double crosses leads the detective through a path of deception and betrayal, to his ultimate failure. The Utah bootleggers prevail, and the 21st Amendment is ratified.

So in the allotted 48 hours, we scribbled out a script, rounded up some friends and residents of the dorms as our cast, pulled together some makeshift costumes, scouted out locations, filmed the scenes, edited them, and produced the finished product.

Now, for your viewing pleasure, and in a shameless instance of self promotion and of tooting my own horn, I present to you Bootlegged: The Untold Story of the 21st Amendment.

If the video doesn’t work, click here.

Now, this of course should not be taken seriously, or seen as anything more than an attempt at historical fiction. But I do find it interesting to think back on the eras of the past, and think about those Mormons who viewed their faith, and even defined their orthodoxy, in ways very different than we do now.

“This is the Place” state park in Salt Lake exhibits a room full of pioneer bar-tending tools and artifacts, the Hotel Utah had a tavern, and there are many instances earlier church leaders using now-forbidden substances—facts that are very uncomfortable when perceived through a 21st century LDS perspective, but when all things are duly considered, are really of little consequence.

So that begs the question, what practices or behaviors do we now consider commonplace that will be embarrassing, appalling, or otherwise disconcerting to 22nd century Mormons?

Comments 32

  1. I understand and agree with the emphasis on the Word of Wisdom prohibitions (and I have had some special spiritual experiences as evidence of the Word of Wisdoms divine origin).

    Abuse of substances like alcohol is one of the major ways I see good people lead into lives of wickedness- particularly young people.

    However- it greatly frustrates me to no end the way ordinary members of the church have gone far beyond this in enthroning the Word of Wisdom as the premier law of God.

    There will be many people in the Celestial Kingdom who smoked, or who drank coffee and alcohol. There will be many who are worthy of a temple recommend who will not enter the Celestial Kingdom.

    God is much more concerned with how you treat others- and especially concerned with how willing you are to submit to His will. (Too many liberal Mormons/Christians forget that “Love your Neighbor” is the 2nd of the great commandments.)

    The Word of Wisdom touches on a willingness to submit to God- but violating it is not nearly as serious as a multitude of other sins, including back biting, or unrighteous dominion, ect.

    I find it particularly sad when I hear Bishops discussing their wards, and one mentions that it’s easier to get a Mormon girl to break the law of Chasity then to get her to smoke a cigarette, and the other Mormon Bishop just nods his head in glum agreement. (I actually overheard this conversation while waiting outside the Stake President’s office).

    Don’t get me wrong- strict adherence to the Word of Wisdom is beneficial to both the practitioners and to the public image of the church- but I wish people would live the weightier matters of the law and also not leave the Word of Wisdom undone.

  2. To answer your question KC…I think the stance of the church towards homosexuality will be embarrasing for those looking back…but that will only be if the world continues to change and the church along with it.

  3. KC,

    Nice video. I remember being shocked to read Joseph Smith’s journal entry in Nauvoo, “Had beer at Mueller’s.” It was a different time.

    I have a had a hard time with the WoW-related talk about purity given that Jesus said in the Gospels that what comes out of a man makes him impure, not that which goes into him. It may be good for our health to follow most of section 89’s prescriptions, but we certainly have our favorite bits in the Church. I had oatmeal this morning, which is apparently only for horses, according to section 89. Humans should stick to wheat.

  4. When I was a teen, my parents made me read D&C 89 with them due to a WoW related peccadillo of mine. After I was done, the 3 of us had this uncomfortable moment where we were trying to reconcile what we had just read will what I had actually done. I have always figured there must be hidden meaning in there that we don’t understand yet.

  5. While what is said on WoW is true, it is missing the crucial part that it was Pt Joseph F. Smith in the 1908 conference who presented the section (supported with sermons by his counselors and the president of the twelve) for the sustaining vote to make it a binding commandment. Thus it became a ‘commandment’ in 1908.

    The mistake I think they’ve made not to add a note a note telling the church about that sustaining vote (,5232,23-1-690-10,00.html)

    But considering that the WoW starts with a reference to ‘conspiring men’ and after what men did marketing tobacco to troops and the youth, and what marketing managers now do with alcohol, the WoW has to be one of the greatest examples of prophetic warning to come from Joseph Smith.

    To answer the question: I don’t think it will be WoW, if anything we will be amazed at the prophesy. Maybe TV watching or even ‘missions’ like todays full-time missions? Who knows?

    PD top filming, and wired also, I liked it. You have a future in Hollywood 🙂

  6. hawkgrrl:

    what do you mean by ‘peccadillo of mine’ -a sin against the WoW I guess? Never heard the use of ‘picadillo’; why I ask.


    I’d second your ‘blogging’. But then maybe we will be video blogging by then.


    Homosexuality? Nup, will never happen. Only if they also accept adultery as a non-sin or the big M as a no-sin…..etc

  7. “they” never make anything a “non-sin”, “they” only quit taking about things in hopes that we will forget about it. ie. caffine, clean shaven bishops, the big M, oral sex. etc.

  8. Carlos – pec·ca·dil·lo n. a small sin or fault.

    I am also pretty impressed that anyone could make this film in a mere 48 hours. I assume there had to be some reviving with Vivarin.

  9. Post

    Actually, the whole thing was produced drug free 🙂

    We did take shifts sleeping, though, so production was nearly continuous (at least on day 2 when the filming was in the can)

  10. hawkgrrrl,


    the bull,

    They don’t stop talking about it, just run out of time in general conference.

    The needs are also different and change year after year.

  11. Carlos, In your response to Stephen Wellington about how future members will view the church’s stance on homosexuality you said, “Homosexuality? Nup, will never happen. Only if they also accept adultery as a non-sin or the big M as a no-sin…..etc”

    How sadly mistaken you are. The nose of the camel is already in the tent. (See “God Loveth His Children” on At some future date, gay marriage WILL BE upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and homosexual members will put pressure on the church to allow them the same blessings of intimacy that heterosexual couples enjoy within the bounds of marriage. The church will be powerless to forbid it. This pressure will be punctuated by the “God Loveth His Children” message that homosexuality is not a choice (courtesy of Elder Oaks).

    Buckle up because here’s the punchline. Since the church has taken the position that some people experience homosexual attraction that they don’t choose to have, there is no way to deny that those attractions are not on par with heterosexual attraction. (Is heterosexual attration a choice?) Therefore the church will have to acquiesce to their pressure and eventually “reveal” that homosexuals may be married/sealed for all time and eternity IN THE TEMPLE.

    Don’t think it will happen? Chew in this: D. Todd Christofferson, the newest prophet, seer, and revelator, who might someday be the president of the church, has a brother who is gay and they are reported to be on very good terms.

  12. Missionary Stu: Your take is one take; Carlos’ is another. Neither is “sure”. The Church hasn’t “acquiesced” on heterosexual, extra-marital sexual activity, despite recognizing that such activities (and the urges that produce them) are natural – and that a lessening of that prohibition undoubtedly would raise baptism rates and reduce YSA inactivity rates (two very important stats the Church tracks studiously). To say that the Church will HAVE TO acquiesce and accept gay TEMPLE marriage is just as hyperbolic as saying that it will never happen. (and claiming that because an apostle has a gay brother that the apostle must secretly approve of gay marriage, and gay temple marriage, is ludicrous – and putting “reveal” in quotation marks is condescending)

    Do I think it will happen as you believe? I’m not sure, but I would be surprised if it happens in my lifetime. All “God Loveth His Children” did was to lift homosexual inclinations and activity to the same level of heterosexual, extra-marital inclinations and activity – a VERY important and overdue move, imo, but no sign of eventual support for gay temple marriage.

    Any thoughts, Nick?

  13. Ray, I never said anything about extra-marital sexual activity. I kept my remarks limited to sexual activity within the bounds of marriage. I also never said that the church would change policies, commandments (whatever) in our lifetime, but it will happen. “All signs point to YES.”

    “…and putting “reveal” in quotation marks is condescending” When was the last time a president, prophet (whatever) of the corporation of the president ever gave the world a “Thus saith the Lord” revelation? Not in any current lifetime.

  14. “When was the last time a president, prophet (whatever) of the corporation of the president ever gave the world a “Thus saith the Lord” revelation? Not in any current lifetime.”

    You’re kidding, right? Just because the exact wording isn’t the same doesn’t mean the message (“The Lord said this.”) isn’t the same.

    In my lifetime, the lifting of the Priesthood Ban and The Proclamation to the World are “official” examples of “Thus sayeth the Lord.” Also, I could pull up the talks of any General Conference in my lifetime and show you example after example of statements that have been given with the understanding that “the Lord told me . . .”

    Do you really believe it has to be that exact wording to qualify as prophetic pronouncement of what the Lord has said to them?

  15. “Do you really believe it has to be that exact wording to qualify as prophetic pronouncement of what the Lord has said to them?”

    I believe these pronouncements ACTUALLY have to come from God. Don’t you even know the history and circumstances behind the priesthood ban/policy (whatever)? A little research will “reveal” that the repeal of the ban was nothing more than a bunch of church administrators caving to outside pressure to change a vile and discriminatory church policy with a little prayer thrown in.

    U.S. Government got it right long before the corporation of the president. Or maybe you would like to quote prophet, seer, and revelator ETB or BRM on the subject of the human rights act?

  16. #17 – Don’t be condescending and mocking. I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on Manifest Destiny and the history of discrimination in America, with a special emphasis on the example of Mormonism from both sides of the coin. I dare say I know more about the “history and circumstances behind the priesthood ban/policy” than you do, but this isn’t about which of us knows more about it. It’s about prophetic pronouncements, and mocking those who I also believe were wrong (but still prophets) in their scriptural interpretations to support the ban doesn’t cut it.

    Our disagreement isn’t that the prophets no longer say, “Thus sayeth the Lord”, but whether or not it actually is the word of God when they do. **That’s not relevant to this thread, so I won’t debate it here.** I’m fine with that; let’s just be clear about it, which was my point in my response.

  17. Ray, You may KNOW more about the ban than I do, but does your knowledge come from books or the spirit? Afterall, DHO put down book learnin’ once and for all with his speech a week or so ago. Didn’t he? Or maybe he was just speaking as a man, for himself, instead of prophetically. (Hard to tell the difference, isn’t it? Since he was addressing the members of the church, only the message matters, not the mode in which it was given.)

    As for what this thread is about, the question was asked, “What practices or behaviors do we now consider commonplace that will be embarrassing, appalling, or otherwise disconcerting to 22nd century Mormons?” Which I answered. If anyone thinks the gay members of the church are going to allow the board of directors of the corp. of the pres. to push the nose of the camel back out of the tent, think again. I hope it does happen in my lifetime so I am able to say, “I told you so.”

  18. I know I shouldn’t goad Missionary Stu, but this was just too funny:

    “Don’t think it will happen? Chew in this: D. Todd Christofferson, the newest prophet, seer, and revelator, who might someday be the president of the church, has a brother who is gay and they are reported to be on very good terms.”

    On good terms with a homosexual? No! I’m aghast! I revoke my sustaining!

  19. “On good terms with a homosexual? No! I’m aghast! I revoke my sustaining!”

    Adam E., You think that’s funny? You know there are a huge number of conservative members who have that attitude about homosexuals for real. Don’t you?

  20. This will be my last comment on the ban in this context, something I wrote on T&S months ago in response to the same basic question of whether my understanding is intellectual or spiritual. I really don’t want to turn this into a contest over spirituality, so I will post excerpts of it here and back away:

    “You ask if I have implored God and received a personal witness. Yes, I have. One of the strongest spiritual impressions of my life (and I have had some very strong ones), came as I served in a Stake Mission Presidency in the Deep South **after the revelation lifting the ban** – as I struggled with how to reach into the Black community and was allowed to see the continuing effects of racism on the Church where I lived (both within a small minority of members and a much larger percent of non-members, Black and White). I will never forget that impression and the lessons it taught me. I will never forget how that vision changed dramatically how I perceived this issue.

    This is not an intellectual understanding for me. It is deeply spiritual one – forged over multiple decades of observing and studying the roots and continuing traces of bigotry in this country and, unfortunately, the Church.

    At the most basic level, I return to my first paragraph. Due to my calling at the time, I believe I was given a perspective that is somewhat unique. It was burned into my soul in a way that I can neither forget nor deny. I cannot say I saw the Father crying for the hardness of the hearts of His children, but I can say that I understand that image in a way that would have been impossible without that experience. It has shaped the way I see many things over the years, and I would not trade it for the world.”

  21. (Just in case it isn’t clear, I think the Lord allowed the ban even though it was not His will, because He truly does respect the agency of his children – even when it means terrible consequences follow wrong decisions.)

  22. Wow, Ray, was I ever wrong. The church WON’T allow gay members to be sealed in the temple one day in the future. Do I stand spiritually corrected.

  23. MS, Again, please don’t mock the spiritual. #22 didn’t address the issue of gay marriage in any way, only the question you asked about the Priesthood ban. I won’t engage in this type of ridicule and response.

  24. Ray, I didn’t ask a questions about the priesthood ban. You brought it up to prove that there have been directives from God to the prophets, seers, and revelators overseeing the corp. of the pres.

    I won’t mock the spiritual, if you provide something spiritual for us to talk about.

  25. MS, re-read your #19. You asked directly about the ban and why I feel as I do.

    I’m done. This has turned personal, and I won’t engage further.

  26. I did not ask about the ban. I asked you where you got your knowledge from. Then I made an accurate observation about DHO’s attempt to put down intellect and reasoning.

    What is in the Kool-Aid these days? Is there anyone who is able to answer THAT question?

  27. KC, finally saw the video. Loved it. Great work, did you win?

    What is interesting to me is that people (not just members of the Church) are always surprised when the learn the real story behind historical events. Whether it is Church history, national history or personal history, they can’t seem to realize that everyone “sugarcoats” their history until someone really digs and learns “the rest of the story.”

    I was turned on to a more honest side of US history in the 8th grade and I have questioned it ever since. No organization is really immune from stressing the positive, downplaying the negative (or perceived negative), not even the Church.

  28. K.C., your post went up while I was on vacation and I’m just now getting to it. I thought your film was fantastic, and I’m blown away that you guys pulled it off in 48 hours. As someone who has labored for days just to get a family photo slideshow where I want it to be, I think I have a tiny idea how difficult it must be to do the scripting, costumes, filming, and EDITING in a mere 48 hours. I also loved the music, which is really sometimes the hardest thing to choose and to get the timing just right. Excellent work. Loved it.

  29. Pingback: Niko

  30. Pingback: Caitlin

Leave a Reply to Missionary Stu Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *