Coke, Rum Cake, and President McKay

Mormon Hereticbooks, General Authorities, history, LDS, Leaders, Mormon, prophets, Word of Wisdom 102 Comments

I just started reading Greg Prince’s book, David O McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism.  It’s been a great read so far.  Prince tells some interesting stories about President McKay and the Word of Wisdom.

BYU has banned caffeinated soft drinks on campus for years.  I work for a few large national cable tv networks, and when they come to BYU, they often rant that they can’t find a good cup of coffee in Provo, and they are especially perplexed by the soft drink restrictions.  Often these guys fly in on red-eye flights, and a boost of caffeine is very helpful to keeping them alert during football and basketball broadcasts.  (I took one of those red-eye flights just this weekend, and drank some cheap cola to keep me awake.)

So, Coke and Pepsi are sold on campus, but without caffeine.  I find it an odd situation, and I don’t have much to say when these non-LDS people rant about banning caffeine on campus.  But it appears that President David O McKay was a bit more liberal on some of these Word of Wisdom issues.  We all know the admonition to “avoid the appearance of evil”, yet President McKay was more liberal than some on the subject of Coke.  Prince describes a situation where President McKay actually requested Coke.  From page 23, (emphasis in book)

During the intermission of a theatrical presentation, his host offered to get refreshments: “His hearing wasn’t very good, and I got right down in front of him and I said, ‘President McKay, what would you like to drink?  All of our cups say Coca Cola on them because of our arrangement with Coca Cola Bottling, but we have root beer and we have orange and we have Seven-Up.  What would you like to drink?’  And he said, ‘I don’t care what it says on the cup, as long as there is Coke in the cup.”87 McKay’s point was simple and refreshing:  Don’t get hung up on the letter of the law to the point where you squeeze all of the spirit out of life.

But that’s not all.  Prince describes an interesting story concerning rum cake that President McKay ate. Also from page 23,

At a reception McKay attended, the hostess served rum cake.  “All the guests hesitated, watching to see what McKay would do.  He smacked his lips and began to eat.”  When one guest expostulated, “‘But President McKay, don’t you know that is rum cake?’  McKay smiled and reminded the guest that the Word of Wisdom forbade drinking alcohol, not eating it.”86

Some people have tried to add chocolate as being prohibited by the Word of Wisdom.  President McKay chided an apostle about this stance.  From page 23,

he gently chided Apostle John A. Widtsoe, whose wife advocated such a rigid interpretation of the Word of Wisdom as to proscribe chocolate because of the stimulants it contained, saying “John, do you want to take all the joy of of life?'”85

Is anyone else surprised by these stories?  Do you think Mormons will ever relax to President McKay’s position on the Word of Wisdom?  When I was first married, my wife surprised me and cooked with wine.  Do others cook with wine, or do you avoid it for “the appearance of evil”?

Comments 102

  1. Aww, I thought I was being such a rebel when I enjoyed a bite of rum cake a few months ago.

    I cook with wine occasionally. My husband is mildly against it, so I have often kept to white cooking wines instead of real wine. When we’re apart I have a great recipe for a chicken stew with Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ll have to use the David O. McKay story with him. Of course, my grad school cohort is trying to convince me that Jell-O shooters are “eating” instead of “drinking”, but I don’t intend to go that far.

  2. I sometimes cook with wine or alcohol, if it calls for it. Fondue, for example, requires alcohol. And I like rum cake and tiramisu. As to the Coke thing, I think it’s a case of MoDoc gone wild. I don’t really care if people chose not to drink caffeinated sodes or energy drinks; I only think it’s going too far to judge others for something that’s not even prohibited by the WoW. And I do think it’s a problem for BYU to keep them out of their vending machines. I was once told it was because they didn’t want to cause a problem for those who thought it was against the WoW, even though it isn’t. I fail to see the logic of that. So, we don’t want it to be a “problem” for them to judge others uncharitably (while misunderstanding their own religion)? Since when?

  3. Ironically, the whole “avoid the appearance of evil” Pharasaism is based on a mistranslation (actually, just an archaic translation, where a word means something different in Elizabethan English than it does today) of 1 Thessalonians 5:22.

    That passage says “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” The LDS footnotes have a helpful Greek translation of the word translated as “appearance.” The passage actually reads “Abstain from all kinds of evil.”

    That’s more consistent with the Christian teaching that the Lord giveth not a rip for the “appearance,” but looketh on the heart. Now I’m off to Ruby’s for a chocolate Coke.

  4. My brother recently threw a “Dew” party for his BYU friends. It involved chugging from 2-liter bottles of the hard stuff – fully caffeinated Mountain Dew. Wild times…

    1. Sure, we can drink caffeinated sodas and go to the temple. But do we have to be told what we can and can’t do . . . every jot and tittle? But whether it’s Colas, Mountain Dew or non-caffeinated Sprite science has shown us it’s very unhealthy to drink soda on a regular basis and there are plenty of overweight and obese members of the Church who prove this point. The World Health Organization has recommended 24 grams of sugar per day as a maximum. Most Americans, including LDS, consume several times that per day. That’s is simply not using W-I-S-D-O-M. The Word of Wisdom is not necessarily only the printed word in section 89. The spirit of The Word of Wisdom goes farther and teaches more. And we wonder why Americans (and sadly there are many LDS among them) are highest in diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc.

      We are smarter than that. The Lord has given us a good mind (and and the Spirit to discern). When it comes to food and beverage consumption, eating sensibly, including fresh fruits, vegetables, and consuming less sugary and processed foods will also help us feel the spirit more and serve better.

      1. I’m sorry but you seem to be the one with the “jot and tittle” mindset. You’re saying exactly how many grams of sugar we should/should not be eating, along with a LIST of foods we should be eating daily? The original post was condemning this way of thinking in the first place, not promoting it like you seemed to infer.

  5. “When we’re apart I have a great recipe for a chicken stew with Cabernet Sauvignon.”

    Coq au vin without the vin would just be coq au naturel. And that would be immodest.

  6. I read this book when it first came out. And,no I’m not surprised by these stories.

    From my study of the prophets and apostles I’ve learned that they are made up of men who span the spectrum (liberal to conservative) on their approach to the scriptures. President Mckay was on the liberal side.

  7. While working as a paid designated driver I was given two rum cupcakes. The first tasted so good, I quickly ate the second, then was told what was in them. Man, they were good. I’d eat them again.

  8. When I went to BYU, they didn’t sell caffeinated drinks. In the commissary at Helaman Halls, however, they did sell No-Doze and Vivarin. When I asked the manager one day why, he told me that “use correctly, those are medications”. Hmmmmm.

    I think the Church needs a lot more McKay. As I have grown older, I think the God is far above the petty things we ascribe to him – like the issues raised here, or color of shirts, or number of earrings, etc. Some people get really hung up on them for some reason – I have no clue why. As my relationship with God has deepened, my concern about the more dogmatic parts of the LDS Church has decreased. As long as I can keep a temple recommend, I pretty much ignore all of these other petty issues and just live my life.

  9. I don’t think that the phrase “avoid the appearance of evil” is relevant to discussions of alcohol because I don’t think that alcohol is truly evil. Saints in all ages have drunk alcohol , and I believe that they’ll do it again. I believe that the prohibition of alcohol is a very temporary law that is specifically relevant to our day and will not always be in force. To me, the appearance of evil is flirting with a married person even if you’re not really “doing anything” or raging at a person even though you don’t intend to actually hit them.

    I don’t cook with alcohol simply because in no cooking method is all the alcohol cooked out, and in many methods very little is cooked out. The rum cake story, however, may give me the precedent my interpretation of the Word of Wisdom needs to try some recipes I’ve been wanting to try.

  10. #10: Heidi

    I agree with you that alcohol is NOT inherently evil. Christ made wine (and we assume drank it). Nephites had it. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and other church leaders drank alcohol. While overconsumption of alcohol is obviously bad (as is eating too much good or just about anything else when done to excess), it’s not actually a “health reason” either, as the moderate consumption of alcohol has been shown in numerous studies to be beneficial.

    My opinion is that it is a current practice in the church that is mostly a litmus test to gauge obedience. And that’s about it. It is hard to tell someone’s heart. It is hard to tell if someone is truly Christ-like towards their fellowman. It is hard to tell if someone is completely honest. It’s just a factor to make us a “peculiar” people. And I fully expect to drank a glass of wine with the Savior someday in the sacrament, as he instituted.

  11. Thanks for the post MH. As I type this I am looking out the window to make sure I don’t usher in the apocalypse, but McKay’s liberal stance on drinking coke and eating foods cooked with wine is very refreshing. I tend to agree with #9, people need to relax a little bit more.

  12. “I don’t cook with alcohol simply because in no cooking method is all the alcohol cooked out, and in many methods very little is cooked out.”

    What about chocolate-chip cookies with vanilla extract? The vanilla comes suspended in weapons-grade alcohol, and if alcohol doesn’t cook out a long-stewed <bouef bourguignon, I doubt it bakes out in twenty minutes of cookie-baking.

  13. Rum cake! I love that stuff! Had it on my mission. I had no idea there was real rum in it — I just thought it was a special sauce. I figured it out later, and that explained the funny looks my comps kept giving me. I also developed a hankering for cognac-flavored marzipan. Wasn’t until I got back to the states and had to be 21 to buy it that the light-bulb went on there.

    Now, I just watch other people enjoy those things and covet them quietly. Not out of my religious devotion — out of my wife’s religious devotion (by way of my marital devotion).

  14. Sometimes, as LDS, we tend to be a little too judgmental of our fellow saints, based upon our preconceived notions of what the Word of Wisdom is and isn’t. Just because a saint has a bottle of vodka in his cupboard doesn’t mean he’s drinking it, it may mean he’s using it for washing purposes. Just because a saint has a winery and is bottling wine doesn’t mean he’s drinking it, it may mean he’s preparing for the day when we will again partake of the sacrament with wine. Just because a sister refuses to eat meat, it doesn’t mean she is breaking any commandment. Just because a saint is a raw-foodist or vegan or paleolithic, doesn’t mean they are weird or strange. Just because a saint drinks Coke or green tea or makes a meal with rum cake doesn’t mean that they are sinners. And even if we ever see a saint drinking Guinness, at 5% alcohol, are they really breaking the Word of Wisdom? That sounds like a mild drink made from barley and other grains to me.
    Remember, the Word of Wisdom was given for “the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.” It may be less of a test to see if we can follow it and more of a test to see if we can stop judging our fellow saint.

  15. We use wine when recipes call for it. But I buy the cheap stuff and make sure no one is looking when I bolt out of the Liquor store….. 🙂 But, I never worry, because 1) it all boils off and 2) Hey, I’m not drinking it!

    I am almost done with the book and loved every minute of reading it. Especially the ETB stuff. Just amazing.

  16. Wonderful book, by the way. All in all, it made me realize that many of the things we tend to worry so much about in the church are merely the opinions of whoever happen to live the longest or be the most vocal. It gives me hope that God really doesn’t care about how many earrings someone has or what color shirt they have. These are merely mad-made additions to the actual gospel. As long as I focus on the core of the gospel, I am comfortable ignoring all of these other things. They may be the “price of admission” for being a part of the “club”, but have no eternal significance whatsoever.

  17. I just wanted to add something regarding the fact that caffeine is banned from being sold at BYU, while I am all for cocaine’s first cousin being prohibited, I find it funny that people make a big fuss regarding caffeine in their soft drinks, but slurp up refined sugar as if their life depended on it, refined sugar is WORSE, yes, far worse than caffeine, and is even more detrimental to human health than tobacco is when consumed over long periods of time. This pernicious substance is found in everything from soda pop(hfcs) to TV Dinners and it has caused more death, more cancers, more misery than tobacco or caffeine could ever dream of… /rant

    Here are some references regarding the greatest threat to human health in America;

  18. No stories about how President McKay liked to drive over the speed limit? (even when he was President of the Church)

    Perhaps you’re saving that for the next posting.

  19. Floyd, I’ve thought about that a good deal, the question being should we accumulate all of the flaws of those who have gone before, or their virtues? Not to mention the age McKay was when he last drove that way (he had his license lapse, it was restored as an honorary gesture, then he was out driving instead of letting his driver drive, one last time).

  20. I still drink sweet tea and the occasional beer. If you were to ask me, the anti-depressant I take (along with a disproportionate number of our members) is more out of line with what God wants than either of them, or the cannabis replacements I hear are showing promise. It’s certainly more addictive. As #20 hinted, we Saints are far less adept at avoiding actual evil than the appearance of it.

  21. 23: You certainly may do what you like, but if you drink sweet tea and beer, then you do not comply with what today is accepted as the Word of Wisdom. That may be ok with you, and who am I to judge anyone but myself? My adhering to the ‘worthness test’ portion of the WoW (alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea) is a choice I make in order to qualify to participate in certain aspects of membership.

    Whether I choose to extend the principles of the WoW to the use of whole grains or limiting meat consumption or avoiding soda pop is a matter of personal preference according to my own understanding. It has little to do with avoiding any appearance or passing judgement on someone else.

  22. You do not comply with what today is accepted as the Word of Wisdom

    So, Paul, what is to be done if the way the Word of Wisdom is accepted today is contrary to the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants? When additions to D&C 89 have only come by way of counsel and “personal favors” to avoid such-and-such things — instead of by revelation sustained by the membership — how is judgement to qualify to participate in certain aspects of membership to be guided?

    Do you have evidence that suggests the Lord would justify witholding participation in His church on the basis of beer drinking — while being content to extend it to obese members taking anti-depressants?

  23. Justin, all I can tell you is that the temple recommend questions and the GHI are clear about what I need to do to qualify for a recommend. Those elements are quite limited in scope.

    As I said above, I make other personal choices based on my reading of Section 89, and I believe those choices bring me blessings, but I don’t look down on other members for their choices. And I’m not the the one to determine their temple worthiness, either.

    We could separately discuss the role of Prophets in leading the church. But whatever your view about what it takes to move the “counsel” of Section 89 to commandment, it’s pretty clear what the standard is for temple attendance. I suppose one could choose to answer temple recommend questions in a way that imply living that standard without doing so, but I’d prefer not to do that, nor would I recommend it. And if temple attendance isn’t something that’s important to you, then I suppose how (or whether) one answers that question is less important.

  24. Do you think there is deception in answering “yes” to the question Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?, if a person drinks beer in accordance with:
    “…and barley for…mild drinks, as also other grain.”

    Do you think that choosing to adhere to the cannonized revelations over personal choices based on the leaders’ reading of Section 89 implies that temple attendance isn’t important to a fellow-saint?

    Do you think such an attitude brings you blessings?

    By GHI, I assume you mean the Church Handbook of Instruction. I may be behind, but is that cannonized now?

  25. I read the OP to my wife and her sister, both active members. I asked them if they believed that President Mckay was breaking the Word of Wisdom in these stories.

    They both answered no to the coke story even though they both said that caffeine wasn’t specifically mentioned and that they wouldn’t drink Coke to be on the “safe side” of things.

    They did answer yes to the rum cake story. President Mckay was breaking the Word of Wisdom because he knew that there was rum in the cake…but they weren’t going to judge him.

  26. “By GHI, I assume you mean the Church Handbook of Instruction. I may be behind, but is that cannonized now?”

    This would be the topic of an excellent post. Any takers?

  27. I love McKay’s attitude towards the WoW. Personally, I adhere to the WoW and it isn’t that hard (for me). I still love iced tea (though I don’t drink it), but am not sure if this is a “temporary commandment” given that it’s been in force for over 100 years. And it’s gotten more strict over time (an older member used to serve coffee without shame at R.S. Presidency meetings).

    Do we judge non-members who drink as being evil? I sure don’t. And since the Savior himself had a drink from time to time, why are we prohibited from such? It’s not a big deal for me, but I think the WoW will only get more strict over time and not less so, if anything.

  28. ##25-27 — In the Church, scriptures are kind of like the pirate code in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” They’re more like “guidelines,” and take second place to whatever the leadership thinks at any given time.

  29. Justin: Richard’s talk made me ache inside I loved it so much. Not because of the WoW specifics, but the premium it placed on the worth of a soul. The final paragraph is startlingly prophetic in its warnings against institutional dogmatism and rigidity (and this is before correlation even got rolling!).

    So it was pretty crushing to find that apparently the Church refused to publish Elder Richard’s talk because it upset President Heber Grant so much. Look at the published conference report archive for the April 9, 1932 conference — this talk isn’t listed. ( I’ve been unable to find this talk from any Church source.

    I think Rock Waterman should do a “Second-best Conference Talk You’ve Never Read” follow-up article on his Pure Mormonism site.

  30. As I’ve read the back and forth comments on the WofW I realize that it is natural for the natural man in all of us to get hung up on those things that matter least and thereby put those things that matter most at jeopardy.

    Acquiring the Holy Ghost with all of its varied manifestations is what matters the most.

  31. “BYU has banned caffeinated soft drinks on campus for years.”

    They’re not banned in the sens that you can’t drink them. You just can’t buy them.

  32. Jared: Ironically, I think it’s the Church itself as an institution that gets hung up on things that matter least and put those things that matter most at jeopardy.

    Why do we even have talks about meaningless things like tattoos, white shirts, earrings, etc.? Aren’t there more important things? Why do we spend so much money on malls and imported marble for temples and etc.? Aren’t there other things that matter more? I think that people in the Church are realizing this more and more, that they are rejecting the “less important” things and focusing on their personal relationship with God and the influence of the Holy Ghost in their lives. Unfortunately, the institution of the Church makes it such that not following the minutiae that it has set up around the “things that matter least” makes it uncomfortable to be in the Church for the “things that matter most”.

  33. #27 Justin – I assume your questions are directed at me.

    Yes, I believe it is deceptive to answer that you live the word of wisdom if you drink beer.

    While I am aware that some will argue the mild drinks you cite include beer, the present prohibition on alcohol would seem to preclude it.

    I believe that there are blessings in my life for living the word of wisdom, including better health. I also believe that I have blessings in my life for heeding the teachings of the modern prophets.

  34. Paul,
    Sorry that I forgot to address my questions in #27 to you. Thank you for answering them.

    I wonder when choosing to adhere to cannonized revelations over personal choices based on a leader’s reading of Section 89 began to imply that temple attendance isn’t important to a fellow-saint — or when it became deceptive to answer a question directed at me in terms of how I understand the components of the query. Perhaps there would be less confusion if the leader would ask, “Do you keep the parts of the Word of Wisdom most important to Heber J. Grant?”

    Mike S #37,
    You have written the most profound thing I have read all week. Thank you for that.

  35. #37 Mike S

    I agree with most of what your saying. Sometimes I think we’re reverting to the Old Testament kind of “carnal commandment” approach to the gospel.

  36. I find it interesting that 2 members think that they know more about the word of wisdom than president mckay. wow. it is also strange to me to hear president mckay referred to as ‘liberal.’ as such, is liberal a good term or a bad term when referring to pres mckay?

  37. #41 mh–

    I have nothing but admiration for all the prophets of the restoration. Liberal, as I meant to use, isn’t expressing an idea of goodness, or badness. I meant it in the sense of how they interpret and apply the meaning of the scriptures; the W of W is a case in point.

  38. 41: LOL.

    I remember when we lived in Venezuela, we went from time to time with our mission president to a small German village in the mountains outside the city where we lived. It was a refreshing change of pace, and we’d enjoy a good German meal. Once when my wife, the mission president’s wife and I all ordered the Schwartzwaelderkirschtorte. I sort of knew it was a crap shoot, since part of most recipies drizzle the Kirsch on the cake (not just cook it in). This one was particularly Kirsch-laden and my wife and I sort of eyed one another and my wife asked me if I could taste it. The mission president’s wife jumped in, “I don’t taste a thing!” as she smiled and gobbled her last bite. I think she and Pr. McKay were on the same page.

    In the end, if one feels uncomfortable eating rum cake, probably best not to eat it.

  39. thanks jared. I am reading on my phone and it is hardto know who said what.

    you seem to be a pretty straight arrow. perhaps you said this before, but would you be comfortable following pres mckay’s example and partake of rum cake, or is that liberal interpretation too much for you?

  40. #41: mh

    I don’t think that anyone presumes to know “more” about the Word of Wisdom than President McKay. In fact, I don’t think anyone REALLY knows what it means – which is the real point. Church leaders have interpreted it all over the board. Some modern prophets drank beer and wine. Some ate “rum cake”. Other preached “not a drop”. Christ drank wine. Wine used to be used in the temple. Wine may keep you out of the temple. It is truly all over the place. Similarly with everything else. Should we eat meat sparingly? Should we eat all the meat we want? BY told the saints to bring coffee with them in their wagons. BYU won’t sell caffeinated coke. All based on what “hot drinks” may or may not mean.

    Given the fact that no one really “knows more” about the WofW than anyone else, I still think that the WofW is between a person and God. All they ask in a TR interview is: “Do you follow the WofW?” The answer is really up to that person. When even prophets interpret D&C 89 so differently, how does anyone expect the tens of thousands of bishops and stake presidents to interpret it the same way, let alone the millions of members of the church?

    McKay’s acceptance of this is what I think of when I might call him “liberal”. In my mind, being “liberal” is being willing to accept individuality. A “liberal” church member is willing to accept that the ultimate relationship of someone’s life is between them and God, not them and the institution of the Church. They are also willing to accept that someone else’s path/interpretation may or may not be the same as theirs. I embrace McKay’s “liberalness” in this regard. Not that it’s right or wrong, but for the sake of providing a foil, I would classify McConkie as diametrically opposed to McKay and “conservative”. BRM seemed to think he knew the right answer on every little minutiae regarding what was “right” in the Church. He expanded this to mean that this was the ONLY way that was “right” before God and that if someone disagreed with his opinion, that they were on their way to apostasy. He didn’t accept individuality, but prized the institution and conformity.

    It may all be semantics, as I think the outside world would look at ALL of us as being fairly conservative. But within the Church, I would look at a “liberal” member as being like Pres McKay – not too hung up on things like rum cake or Coke, not too hung up on non-eternal things, etc. and willing to let others be what they are. I think this is a refreshing attitude that is lacking in the church today on an institutional scale. Unfortunately, I think that many people are also being disaffected by it as well. Hence my comment in #37: I think that the Church is losing its effect on helping people towards the “big picture” by their insistence on conformity on the “meaningless” things.

    So, for me, referring to Pres McKay as a “liberal” is a good thing. I’m sure many “conservative” members today would disagree, and might be “shocked” by Pres McKay eating cake with rum in it – not only wasn’t the alcohol “burnt off” but it was specifically poured on after baking. I’m sure they might look at McKay being “liberal” as a bad thing.

  41. Looking at comments from #40-#45: goes along with my point.

    I don’t want to speak for Jared, but having interacted with him in the past, I would assume that he would NOT eat rum cake out of respect for the WofW. I actually WOULD eat rum cake, but wouldn’t drink a beer (although I love non-alcoholic beer). Other posters here are fine drinking a beer as it’s a mild barley drink which is actually encouraged by the WofW. And, to be honest, I’m fine will ALL of these as following the WofW – as it’s between that person and God.

    I think McKay would be closest to that same attitude. He would respect Jared for not eating rum cake, all while he finished his last bite. I would call this “liberal”. I think McConkie or Packer would be much more “conservative” and would try to define what they thought the “official” rules were on the WofW and define who was keeping it and who wasn’t.

  42. I had a Black Forest cake at the birthday of a non-Mormon former fellow Boy Scout in my LDS stake’s troop, at his family’s really excellent continental restaurant in San Juan Capistrano. I was a little unclear on the concept of what the cake involved, thinking that “alcohol burns off” or something.

    Evidently this cake involves marinating cherries in brandy until they’re absolutely pickled, sprinkling them liberally in the batter, baking the cake, and then pouring something like a barrel of rum over the whole thing. It made my tongue go numb.

    Good, though.

  43. I find it interesting that 2 members think that they know more about the word of wisdom than president mckay.

    In what way are the two members exhibiting that they know more about the Word of Wisdom than David McKay?

  44. What is “today accepted as the Word of Wisdom” is not the the Word of Wisdom. What the bishop thinks he’s asking me when he asks me about the Word of Wisdom is not the Word of Wisdom (and really, asking me the question at all isn’t the Word of Wisdom). Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants is the Word of Wisdom. That’s what I try to live.

    By the way, I counted the other day. There are as many verses concerning meat as alcohol in D&C 89; I know what I feel guiltier about having in my diet, even if I do interpret my post-college brokeness a “time of famine”.

  45. mh & Mike S–

    I would eat rum cake; I wouldn’t drink beer. Mike S and I would party on.

    I don’t know if Mike S goes to R rated movies, I don’t, even though there are some R rate movies I would like to go to. I wouldn’t eat rum cake in some settings, for the same reason I don’t go to R rated movies. Why? I don’t want to set a bad example for my family or “offend” church members who might be weak in the faith.

    The apostle Paul reasoning regarding idol meat applies here:

    1 NOW as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.
    2 And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.
    3 But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
    4 As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.
    5 For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)
    6 But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.
    7 Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
    8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.
    9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak.
    10 For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;
    11 And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?
    12 But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.
    13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

    (New Testament | 1 Corinthians 8:1 – 13)

  46. Jared, I’ve made similar points before.

    It’s an interesting compromise. Paul was big on rejecting ritual observances unrelated to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” which he said was the entire fulfillment of the Law. (I strongly suspect that — if he weren’t privy to the Word of Wisdom’s revealed nature — if he’d encountered it, he would have declared it an example of creeping apostasy.)

    And yet Paul recognized that not everyone agreed with him, and that conspicuous “violation” by a Christian of rules that ad advanced Christian knew weren’t really rules — but a novice Christian might not — could be confusing, and deprive the novice of the disciple’s moral example.

  47. Thomas–

    I don’t think there are church leaders, scriptures, and handbooks in the celestial kingdom. These things help us get there but I don’t believe they are needed once there.

  48. Jared, thanks. Justin, let me quote the particulars of species in 28: “I asked them if they believed that President Mckay was breaking the Word of Wisdom in these stories….They did answer yes to the rum cake story. President Mckay was breaking the Word of Wisdom because he knew that there was rum in the cake…but they weren’t going to judge him.”

    Yes, President McKay broke the Word of Wisdom, but we’re not going to judge him???? That sounds like an oxymoron. President McKay broke the Word of Wisdom. That sounds quite like a judgment to me. It sounds to me like these 2 people understand the Word of Wisdom better than Pres McKay, but of course let’s soften the blow a bit and say “they weren’t going to judge him.” Good thing–I’d tend to follow the prophet rather than these 2 people’s judgment in this instance–it seems a bit safer to me.

    I think the whole Word of Wisdom strictness is Puritanism/Phariseeism in the church. The “law” has become more important than the principle. I find Pres McKay’s position incredibly refreshing, and I would love to see more liberal prophets. The church expanded to unprecedented levels under Pres McKay–I think his liberalism should be embraced and encouraged. He espoused a much more “big tent” approach and quashed some ultra-conservatives that couldn’t stand heretics like Juanita Brooks or Sterling McMurrin. While McKay didn’t agree with Brooks or McMurrin, he felt the church was large enough to accept their liberal positions on issues McKay disagreed with.

  49. Someone (above, somewhere) mentioned that one integral aspect of the WoW is how we tend to use it as a rule to judge people. For example, when I was more dogmatic about my approach to the WoW (and, it was a generally pick-and-choose dogmatism – i.e. I sort of ignored the veggie principles, ate a lot of meat, etc), I drifted into judging people about their eating choices. Especially as it pertains to the “do not” variety, it was all too easy to put someone down (in my own mind) because they had this or that “weakness,” while I was certainly better than them because I’d been raised to shun beer, wine and tobacco (among others).

    As I’ve tried to let go of this pharaisical nature, I’ve found that it’s much easier to recognize everyone as fellow traveler’s on a strange journey, where we think we’re the only true church with all the truths ever to be found on this greenish brown planet and, as such, tend towards developing an elitist attitude towards others who don’t see life the way we do. I’ve also been able to step out of the LDS self-defined box as it pertains to the WoW and see how judgmental I had become (and still am working to get out of).

    What Mike S said above (#37 and #45) is rather profound in that the Mormon culture (of which I am part) tends to focus on far too many things that have absolutely zero significance in this great concert of life (i.e. earrings, ties, hair cuts, white shirts, etc) while we ignore or, worse, applaud others (i.e. multi-billion dollar malls, encouraging competition in Babylonian enterprises, etc). And, worse, we’ve allowed dogmatism – the “guilty tyrant” – to creep into and overcome much that is the gospel.

  50. re: #53

    I agree with most of what you said, but certainly not this: “… I’d tend to follow the prophet rather than these 2 people’s judgment in this instance–it seems a bit safer to me.”

    The only “safe” route, as I’m sure you’d admit, is to follow Christ and the message He sends to whosoever he chooses, be they called to an “office” or something else entirely. I’d just as soon ban the “follow the prophet” song as ever hear it sung again. My own version of despotism.

  51. OKay,

    I’m up to four active members who say that Pres. McKay was not keeping the Word of Wisdom in the rum cake story. Although one person hedged with the caveat that Pres. Mckay was not keeping the WoW according to current understanding but during his Presidency, as Prophet, he got to call the shots, so it was okay.

    Also none of these people cook with wine and they avoid food that is.

  52. re 45
    Mike I am about as far right in my beliefs as it gets yet I find nothing wrong with Pres McKay and the rum cake. Because of my literalist leanings to the scriptures I don’t even believe that the WOW is a commandment. I follow the WOW because I used to abuse alcohol, tobacco, etc and God gave me the strength to walk away from them. I just figure why play with fire. But I don’t find fault in someone who drinks beer, even LDS. Beer is yummy stuff, too tasty for me to drink it though.

    re 55
    Your last paragraph Tom resonates greatly with me. I have no love for the “culture” of Mormonism and believe the church grows more Pharisee every year. Ever wonder how the Pharisees couldn’t accept Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath? Living the letter of the law and not the spirit will give you(generalization) a church where the religion is your “god” and you won’t be able to accept when Christ himself performs a miracle in front of you.

  53. MH #45 — thanks for explaining that. I too chuckled to myself when I read the, “I’m not going to judge, but…” comment. It reminds me of when someone is about to say something rude and he or she will begin with, “Not to be rude but…”

    species373 — I think David McKay’s logic was very sound — The OP quotes him, “the Word of Wisdom forbade drinking alcohol, not eating it.” How can you say that he broke the Word of Wisdom — even if I concede it’s a commandment that can be “broken”, which section 89 does not say that it is? Do you want to take all the joy out of life too?

    I bet if you were in the Garden of Eden, you too would have taken God’s instruction to, “Freely eat of every tree of the garden…But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. and would have told the woman placed there with you that, “God hath said, ‘Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.”

  54. I was fortunate. The Lord took the decision-making out of my hands by making me both allergic to cigarette smoke and hypersensitive to alcohol and caffeine.

    Haha, natural-born Mormon.

  55. #59: McKay’s logic is sound so far as you concede that the actual Word of Wisdom forbids drinking alcohol, but the way I read D&C 89 says something entirely different. The modern interpretation obviously lines up with McKay, but that’s not to say that the actual scriptures do.

    From my standpoint – and I realize there are many who will dismiss my point (see #53) simply because I’m not holding an office or wearing a pimp suit with cufflinks, and perhaps that’s for the best – but D&C 89 neither forbids alcohol, nor forbids anything for that matter. D&C 89 is, after all a “greeting”, and neither a commandment nor a constraint. On the alcohol side it differentiates between wine and strong and mild alcoholic drinks, so it’s hard for me to see where it says all alcohol is bad, let alone the forbidding of the same.

    “What many people call sin is not sin; I do many things to break down superstition, and I will break it down…” – Joseph Smith 🙂

    And, re #59’s last paragraph, I can’t say we’d be in bad company if we imitated Father Adam. 🙂

  56. Tom,

    Since the alcohol McKay was referring to was rum — a strong drink — I concluded that his logic was sound.

    Also, I would say that the Word of Wisdom does forbide drinking distilled spirits and ingesting/smoking tobacco, etc. — I just think that there is no command to heed its forbearances. In other words, while it does forbid, it does not justify enforcement.

    You are right, what many people call sin is indeed not sin.

  57. #53

    That’s been my position on the Word of Wisdom for a long time: It is a principle with promise and not a tenet of the Law of Moses, but in this day more and more people treat it like the latter.

    The principle behind the WoW is self-mastery and moderation with few things we’re encouraged to abstain from completely. If someone has enough self control to drink responsibly so they receive the benefit from a moderate amount of alcohol, more power to them. If someone feels that they may abuse a substance and decides to abstain from it completely in order to avoid the risk, more power to them too because both sides are doing what we’re on this earth to do: exercise our agency.

  58. As always there was something else I forgot to say the first time:

    The president of the church does not “call the shots,” he never has. The Lord calls the shots and does it through the president of the church when he needs to in his position as a prophet. Section 89 is all the Lord has given us in canonized scripture about the Word of Wisdom and, frankly, it’s all we really need because of the principle behind it. This is especially true in regards to the statement, “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days…” That statement not only tells us that men will try to foist things onto people that they claim are healthy or a type of medicine, it also mentions they’ve done it in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Not only that, but it’s also the Lord himself telling us that conspiracies of this type exist in the first place, so thus we’ve received ample warning on what to watch out for and avoid.

    Modern-day examples are hyper-caffeinated energy drinks, OTC or prescription drugs that have side effects that do far more harm to the body than the good they claim to do (not to mention a recent study that estimates 80% of big pharma’s drugs DO NOT WORK), and various hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. I’ve met people who have said, in regards to the above, that “It’s not listed in the Word of Wisdom so it must be okay.” That has the mindset of treating it as the Law of Moses and they expect it to be “updated” with what we “can” or “can’t” have. I was on anti-depressants for a while after having to come home early from my mission and I didn’t stay on them long for the primary reason that they were making me incredibly sick and I soon found a way to deal with the depression without drugs soon after.

  59. MH & Justin – For the record, I think that the WoW represents the best scientific nutritional knowledge of…the 1830’s. I keep it as far as I eat meat sparingly but I love all iced teas and Hard Apple Cider. I cook with alcohol but rarely drink it.

    I started asking some of my more conservative LDS friends their interpretation of the OP to get a different perspective. I see this site as being Pro-Mormon but tends to lean more liberal or less dogmatic. I think it would be fascinating if one could take a poll between all the various bloggernacle sites. I would bet that caffeine use & rum cake would be yardsticks of dogmatic faith.

  60. #59: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it….”

    Hmm. By President McKay’s logic, Eve would’ve been OK if she’d gotten out a blender and made a Knowledge of Good and Evil smoothie.

  61. Species — I would like my comments to you in #59 to instead be directed at your more conservative LDS friends.

    Thomas — You have presented me with an interesting viewpoint that I had never considered before. Thank you.

  62. Refreshing to read that the late Pres. McKay had a pragmatic side.

    I’ve had a few run-ins with a (former) bishop who thought ill of my habit of guzzling O’Douls (I like the Amber type best), even though he as a CPA should have well known that if California ABC and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (though strongly law enforcement is under the Dept. of the TREASURY) don’t consider it or any NA ‘beer’ to be an alcoholic beverage (when would they turn down an opportunity to tax something?), then it’s probably because it’s NOT. Yea, I really worry about the ‘appearance’ when I’m working on a cold one as I tinker with my cars in the garage with a ballgame on. Get real…or will it destroy the faith of many if a Priesthood holder is a regular “Joe Six-Pack”?
    The same inspired leader also though that any member that took Vicodin or Oxycotin also ought to be denied a recommend. He evidently knows how to treat occasional flare-ups of arthritis better than a medical professional.

    I agree that at times we ought to see the WoW much as the (fictional) Pirates of the Caribbean viewed their code. The idea is that we should not be enslaved to things we ingest or inhale, but neither is the WoW everything there is about the Gospel. The Gospel is about Jesus Christ and how He has redeemed us.

  63. “The Gospel is about Jesus Christ and how He has redeemed us.”

    Yes, but another way to explain this is that “the Gospel is about Jesus Christ and how He can change us.” As a BYU theology professor has recently taught, Jesus once displayed this power by placing ordinary water into a ceremonial basin used for sacramental washings, and miraculously transformed it into wine. At one time, apparently, alcohol was used as a sacred metaphor.

  64. Both wine and strong drink should still be used for sacred things — i.e. sacraments [that’s plural, not just the Lord’s supper] — in accordance with our Word of Wisdom:
    wine or strong drink…only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before [the Father].

    Wonder how many members will be shocked with Jesus drinks wine with us in the Kingdom of God?
    marvel not, for the hour cometh that I will drink of the fruit of the vine with you on the earth.

  65. Ironically, one of the primary purposes of prophets is so that we are not “carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men…” When given our lack of standardized canon and large variance of opinion amongst the different general authorities, that seems to be exactly what happens, the word of wisdom being a prime example.

    Until the GAs explicitly state that everything outside of the standard works and what has been voted on by the members of the church is just somebody’s opinion, this will continue on and on. It’s a shame too. The gospel is really beautiful once you get all this nonsense out of the way.

    Mike S: as usual your comments resonate with me like nothing else. Thanks for sharing.

  66. Well, I’m sure these same people take Benedryl and such when they’re sick. Or use vanilla in their baking (which is vanilla beans in vodka). My Grandma loves coffee flavored ice cream. I don’t think it should be that big of a deal. Although I do encourage my kids to not drink caffeinated drinks b/c my extended family has a long history of being super addicted to Coke. Like, with every meal, even breakfast, have to continually sip it all day or they get migraines, spending tons of money daily on soda fountain drinks, etc. My mom tried to quit numerous times for years and now has osteoporosis. So, ya know, I’m not going to freak out about it, and I drink a Barqs or Coke Icee every once in awhile, but generally we drink water and milk, sometimes juice, and rarely have soda as a treat when we go out. And when we do, I give them an option of orange or sprite. I have no issue at all with cooking with wine. But if someone was struggling with addiction, I’d avoid it, too. It really just depends on the family I think.

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  68. I like NA brew, they don’t call it beer because it’s not. The label say’s less than .5% alcohol by volume. The only thing that statement means is it’s not subject to alcohol tax. Maybe i am more librial than most.

  69. I think we’re straining on a Nat when we won’t eat Rum Cake or drink a Coke but eat red meat in abundance. Couple years ago I went on Weight Watchers with my wife and finally starting each more fruits and vegetables and less red meat and loss a lot of weight. As I tracked my points and changed what I ate I was quite stricken but how much more closely I was obeying the WoW then I ever had.

  70. The sad thing, is that God in his wisdom has made genes way more influential on health than anything we can do diet-wise. I’m Exhibit A — I eat, frankly, horribly, on a steady diet of red meat, bacon (mmmm…bacon), soda, Swedish Fish, and heaven knows what else. I exercise way too little, and sit way too much (the job thing). And I’m ten pounds heavier than I was in high school, when I was frankly pathological about fitness. Whereas I have same-aged relatives (who clearly got a different gene-shuffle) who take a lot better care of themselves, and struggle.

    Of course, there’s always the possibility that at some point, I’ll just fall to pieces all at once and nothing first, like the wonderful one-horse shay. This is why I fervently hope there is no justice in the world.

  71. Re: #74

    This reminds me of a lesson I gave once in high priest group. I was teaching a class on being healthy and touched on the WoW commandment to eat meat sparingly. I asked “how much meat is too much?” No one had a decent answer. Frankly I think it’s amazing how much we focus on the “thou shalt nots” in the WoW and spend so little time discussing the “thou shalts.”

    I agree that as the McKay era slips further into the past, the church will only get more dogmatic over the WoW. Not that I’m actually advocating this, but I have morbid curiosity over what would happen if the church officially added chocolate to the list of WoW proscriptions. I suspect a lot of the female members would leave in a hurry. I’d also be tempted to buy stock in companies that make Carob.

  72. I can’t believe I failed to mention this but one thing that certainly doesn’t help matters is the fact that there is a grammatical error in Section 89 that remains uncorrected since the 1959 edition of the D&C. As is stands now, verse 13 reads “13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”

    However, in the previous editions the comma after “used” is not present and thus changes the entire meaning of the sentence. Adding in that comma makes the verse contradict verses 17-21 in Section 49.

    Why has this error not been corrected? The reason I’ve heard is because “It would give fuel to the antis’ fire.” Which is complete nonsense because the church already gives them more than enough.

  73. I’m confused, Dave, your D&C 49 reference says that whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats…is not ordained of God.

    How is saying that God would never forbid you from choosing to abstain from meat contradictory to the idea that it pleases God that animals only be killed for food in times of dire need?

  74. I must have worded that poorly. Allow me to clarify: Many people use Section 89 verse 13 as it currently reads to justify an interpretation that God has commanded everyone to be vegetarians and abstain from meat completely- which is what the Shakers were telling people and what the Lord said otherwise in Section 49. By removing that added comma, 89:13 reinforces the idea that meat is ordained for man but also introduces the idea that it should not be the staple of our diets unless nothing else is available, but there’s no harm in eating it as part of a balanced diet.

    As I’ve said many times before, the Word of Wisdom teaches a principle of self-mastery and moderation. If people want to abstain from meat, that’s their choice, but those who see the WoW as a commandment rather than a principle with promise and trying to tell people that the Lord forbids eating meat (either completely or only in times of famine) are missing the point.

  75. DaveP: I agree.

    …those who see the WoW as a commandment rather than a principle with promise and trying to tell people that the Lord forbids drinking beer (mild barley drinks) or wine for the sacrament are missing the point…

  76. Of course. It’s entirely a person’s choice on what to ingest, whether it’s specifically mentioned in the WoW or not because the Lord expects us to make wise decisions. I admire the people who understand that there are benefits to drinking responsibly but choose to abstain because they’re afraid they may go too far. Personally I don’t drink because I can’t stand the taste.

  77. Dave, you’ve managed to convinced me that the blanket condemnation of meat I made in my latest entry at Pure Mormonism warranted a modification.

    So I’ve gone back in there and changed the sentence. Rather than declare that meat shouldn’t be eaten unless there’s no other choice, I changed it to suggest moderation in its use.

    How’s that for a compromise? I do believe that we (okay, currently I) eat way too much meat these days, and if I was smart I’d cut it out entirely for a season and let my body recover.

    But really, as you say, one’s degree of compliance with the WofW is a personal thing, and no one else’s business, so I have no right to dictate to others what they should be ingesting.

    Much to my wife’s chagrine, I am impishly leaving up the funny pictures of me and Thomas Monson to illustrate my point about poor eating habits. She thinks I’m being snarky. No, I’m just being silly.

    Anyway, thanks for the clarification.

  78. BTW Dave, thanks for notifying me of this particular thread. The discussion here in the comment section has been very informative. I miss too much of the good stuff here on Mormon Matters because so much comes in so fast I can’t always keep up with it.

    Thanks for being my wing man.

  79. No problem. I’m hoping that last night was my final time eating at McDonalds for anything other than breakfast (that will be much harder to break) after reading a recent article talking about how the food there is so loaded with junk that you could leave it out in the open, not even insects and animals will touch it, and you could still eat it several weeks later. In my opinion, that’s the sort of thing that the warning preceding the actual WoW describes.

  80. Yes, acts of designing men, a clause that many don’t even wonder about.

    I was pretty ALMOST completely put off McDonald’s (and others) after reading the documentation of much of the filthy, unhealthy, and underhanded stuff involved in bringing their food to market in the book “Fast Food Nation.” The movie version of the book was revealing also.

    I say “almost”, because on rare occasions my willpower is is still sometimes weakened if I happen to be driving by and hungry. McDonald’s gets me with their simple basic cheeseburger. I know I’m being suckered for synthetic cravings for flavor that is artificially inserted, but it works.

    Gotta hand it to those evil and designing men. They know how how to design an evil hamburger.

    Really, when I remember how almost every burger is tainted with fecal matter (it can’t be helped), I really ought to be able to resist. Common sense works for a few months, them I’m back when the need for convenience kicks in.

  81. Oh, good grief, there is absolutely NOTHING in the Word of Wisdom regarding caffeine. One can drink Coke with caffeine if one wants. Sometimes I want, sometimes, for health reasons, I do not. Moderation in all things was an ancient Greek lifestyle. It should be the current Mormon lifestyle. Too much Coke is a bad thing; too much meat is a bad thing; cooking with wine is a choice that one need not discuss with one’s bishop. Pouring the wine in at the end of cooking might not be a good choice, altho, I confess, I have done it to thin out the casserole or chili or soup at times. And, the bishop, at the last church dinner, asked for the secret ingredient in the chili, and when I told him it was wine, he asked if he could take the leftover chili home for Sunday dinner for his family. Now, that’s a bishop that I can get along with! Of course, we are California Mormons, ha, ha.

  82. Mormon Heretic, just wanted to offer a correction here. Caffeinated soft drinks are not “banned” on BYU campus. Everyone, including students and faculty, can dring caffeinated soft drinks (even on campus). Caffeinated soft drinks are not SOLD on campus, but they are ALLOWED on campus.

  83. I cook with wine all the time. In fact, I have sloppy joes simmering right now that have a splash of red wine in them.

  84. When in the Bishopric and giving a temple recommend a woman confessed she drinks Diet Coke.  I told her to repent, that Diet Pepsi has a much better taste.  I think President McKay was spot on.

  85. I never saw a problem with cooking with wine. Maybe if you’re afraid you might drink it you shouldn’t use it, but for me the idea of drinking wine is like drinking olive oil or vinegar. It’s just another ingredient.

  86. Mormons are not. A tradional. Christ. Based church. You can not put the book of mormom up aganist. Or along side the bible i am sure God didnt leave. Any thing out to. Need a seco g addition

    1. Most Mormons are glad that they are not considered “traditional Christians”. It is only the fact that some say that Mormons are not “Christian” at all that we disagree with. Any person who claims a belief is Christ should be called a Christian. Why do self proclaimed traditional Christians think that Christianity is a club and that they get to choose who is a member or who is not? Look a the difference between an Evangelical and a Catholic. You couldn’t get a much different view of most religious practices than between those two groups. Yet most people consider them both Christian.
      Those people who like to point out that Mormons are very different than traditional Christians do the Mormons a favor I think. Still, they don’t own the term “Christian” and do not get to choose who is Christian and who is not.
      The important thing is not whether you call yourself a Christian or not, but whether you act Christlike.
      Why don’t we let the non-believers in Chrsit watch us as traditional Christians and Mormons act Christlike towards each other.

    2. There is always the one person who has to come on a blog and spam the “Mormons aren’t Christians argument”, which doesn’t hold water even. if. you. put. a. period. after. every. word. As for your assumption (using terrible grammar and punctuation) that “God didnt leave. Any thing out to. Need a seco g addition) history tells us that it was not God who wrote or compiled the Bible, therefore, what was and was not included therein was not his choice, but man’s. God never limited his word to the Bible, in fact the Bible makes no claim to be the infallible and complete word of God.

  87. My first time at this discussion board. I love the conversation. For any lonely beer drinkers outo there, I am your amigo.
    I’m a very active, LDS, return missionary, sealed in the temple, BYU grad, weekend beer drinker. I just renewed my recommend last week.
    I’ve been enjoying Belgian dark ales lately.

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  89. I cook with wine, beer, and rum all the time! I just make sure all the alcohol is cooked out before I serve it, but all the other lovely flavors from the beverage are still there.

  90. Does anyone know where David O Makay said”There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t learn a new way to stop sinning”

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