Confessions of a Coffee Heathen

Brian Johnstonapostasy, Culture, history, joseph, mormon, Mormons, repentance, Word of Wisdom 68 Comments

In the past, I consumed large amounts of Mountain Dew and “energy drinks.” I’m getting older now (almost 40). My insides just can’t tolerate the sugar and chemicals. I won’t consume aspartame. It’s an awful substance. So “diet” is not an option.

I recently started drinking plain, black coffee at work. Not only do I feel better, IT’S FREE! The company I work for provides it in the break rooms. I love being thrifty.

My work is tedious, boring and stressful. I’d love to give up work! My traditional culture, big family (sahm wife and 6 kids) keep demanding to sleep under a roof and eat 3 meals a day. Big families are very expensive.

*I* slept just fine in a dirt hole rolled up in a piece of tent canvas back when I was in the Army. They’re such babies! *rolls eyes* DW doesn’t find that budget-cutting idea amusing…

I knew for sure that soda pop was killing my health. I knew this beyond a shadow of a doubt and with all the fiber in my bowels. It made me sick!

I changed my delivery method to plain, natural, black coffee – wholesome beans right from God’s garden going into my cup, with a little roasting and brewing between.

The early members of the Church didn’t make much fuss about the Word of Wisdom. It wasn’t enforced with any rigor until the 1920’s, nearly 75 years after the revelation was given to Joseph. Our pioneer ancestors fueled their journey across the plains with coffee and tea. They enjoyed beer and wine on occasion. Some of these items were listed in pioneer supply inventories. I’d have been in good company with the likes of Brother Joseph, Brother Brigham and many others of great prominence. The WoW has been flexible, and emphasis has changed at times over our ~175 year history.

Did I make a smart, rational choice based on my direct health experience and my attempt to pick the best option? Coffee was the lesser of evils for me. That makes it good, right? Am I being prudent and adapting a spiritual concept of health for my situation?

I am not making a perfect choice. I am making a better choice. I’m making the leap of faith that closer to health is better. Perhaps I am blinded and just want to justify my actions.

Do I need to be called to repentance and go back to the righteous and “approved” caffeine delivery beverages? Health is not what the WoW is about, it’s about obedience.

Let me have it! Don’t hold back.

Comments 68

  1. Well, obedience does not imply adjustement of the rule to our own little case. We are obedient or not. I have noticed that being obedient can bring me a greater knowledge and understanding. And you’re making a good point about the history of the WoW yet you can make it for any other commandment with reasonnable justification also.
    That being said I don’t feel like giving up iced tea :o)

  2. I have never been a big coffee fan. I had no problem giving it up when I joined the church. But caffeine! I loved my diet coke (and you are right, aspartame is horrible for me). I had the high pressure 12 hour a day job as well, and used it to get through my day.

    BUT I have three kids, and I nurse for at least a year. My youngest is two months old. Caffeine isn’t an option when nursing a little baby, at least not for my babies. They get wide eyed and over tired and then everyone is miserable. So I have to cold turkey it. And get more sleep. And every time I have had to do this, I feel better. I do the same sort of things with sweets. It’s late at night, and I need to go to bed, and I’m tired, but instead I get myself a sugary snack for the energy boost. I really should just go to bed.

    I’ve never been a fan of the whole ‘we have to do it to learn obedience’ train of thought. What happened to agency? Why would a Heavenly Father want us to learn to do what we are told mindlessly if the point of us being here was a plan of happiness that involved choice?

    I wonder why the word of wisdom doesn’t mention getting sleep and exercise, or it’s not completely enforced to include eating meat sparingly? If those areas are open for broad interpretation, then I don’t see why you can’t have a cup of coffee.

  3. I saw a client recently and he always offers to gets me a diet coke or coke- he knows I am a Mormon. He said wouldn’t you be better off having a cup of coffee with 1 spoon of sugar and milk.

    I guess we need some vices as members at church functions so we get a ton on cheap junk food – very little fruit dishes or vegetable platters.

  4. I love coffee, the smell and the taste. But, I gave it up when I returned to the church. Green tea is probably better if you’re switching for health reasons.

  5. Hmm, you remind me of a guy explaining why he needed a little cocaine in the morning, every morning.

    BTW, if you really need the caffeine and can’t get the sleep and exercise to replace it, you can always just take the pills, or non-aspartame diet drinks.

    Interesting that you’ve decided coffee is better than aspartame.

  6. Maybe soda is worse for you than coffee, so in that sense you’re making the right choice. But you do also have another choice. You can decide to stop being addicted to caffeine altogether. I did it not that long ago. I drink water now or soy milk. I feel so much better! My sleep is deeper and more restful, and I get about an hour more of it a day. I don’t know how to describe it, really, I just feel HEALTHIER…. saner, calmer, more hydrated, more rested. I highly recommend giving up caffeine.

    Varying caffeine levels in your blood can also cause severe headaches, similar to migraines. Drinking coffee during the week and not on weekends can cause you to have intense weekend headaches that spoil the best days of your week. In addition, coffee causes a lot of digestive problems. I heard an enterologist once say he averaged one miracle cure a week of people with digestive difficulties by taking them off coffee.

    You think it’s impossible to kick caffeine but it really isn’t at all. Remember, the WoW is “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.” This is a promise that we can do it if we try. You can absolutely depend on that promise. Also, the struggle to give it up is highly beneficial in itself. There are great blessings that accrue from calling upon the Lord in our weakness to succor us.

    So, while I support your switch to coffee as a way of improving your health and your pocketbook, I encourage you to make that the first step you take in your path to kicking the caffeine habit altogether. You’ll be so much better off!

  7. I’m not a fan of “morality by committee.” I don’t feel like I’m in a really good position to comment on your weaknesses. But since you asked… in your place I would feel like I’m being unnecessarily disobedient. I don’t use caffeine to “get going.” There are a lot of “natural” substances in this world.

  8. I think this is a highly personal decision, but since you asked, I think coffee (and soda in large quantities) is quite bad for one’s health (and one’s brain), WoW aside. As for the church/obedience issues, if we look hard enough we can always find ways to bend the rules or otherwise rationalize our disobedience. I’ve done it as much as the next person. 😉

  9. Try no doze pills all the caffiene and doesn’t break the wow though I’m sure some of the ultra righteous will call me to repentance on it.

  10. I struggle with what to drink.I need to lose pounds so I do alot of Summer hiking and other activities. i have to hydrate. I got off diet pepsi because everyone says it contributed to mt weight issues. So I switched to other fruit stuff. It either has too much sugar or aspartane and for some reason this version of aspartame gave me headaches. I do like vitamin water and g2 gatorade but after all the hastling I decided that diet pepsi was more convienient & cheaper and didn’t make me sick. I can drink it up to bedtime and still sleep. So what can I do? It fits & works. Yeah water makes me not hydrate so I lose ground and get light headed so good ol water isn’t the trick. Hot coffee is a lame anser to your health & spiritual issues/

  11. #11 – My gut reaction is much in line with Tim’s in #11:

    What do you want out of life?

    If what you want includes the temple, give up the coffee. If it doesn’t, do whatever you feel is best for your health.

  12. I wish that coffe and tea weren’t part of the WofW. I would love to be able to drink those things. It is so hard for me to explain to nonmembers that I can’t drink coffee but please pass the cokes and the ding dongs. That is so obviously nonsensical that it makes the whole Wof W seem illogical. I know that they can’t list each thing that is bad for you and we are to use sense, but it is still strange that coffee will keep me out of the temple but coke won’t. That being said, I still would rather pass on them than lose my temple recommend.

  13. Post

    I 100% agree that consuming no caffeine would be the best option for me. I’m working in the world of “better” options, as waiting for “best” while doing nothing has not been a profitable path to take. I’d rather be 25% more healthy than do nothing in hopes of someday being perfect. I rarely last more than a few weeks without and it is EXTREMELY painful to quit. I get migraines for more than a week when I try 🙁

    The thing that makes me scratch my head is the seemingly arbitrary focus on different aspects of the WoW over our Church’s history. The WoW plainly says not to eat meat unless there are no other foods available. It talks about drinking “mild drinks” made from grains (Beer, etc.). It talks about eating fruits and herbs in their season. It talks about drinking wine as long as you make it yourself. There’s a lot of really baffling things in there when you consider our contemporary interpretation boils down to only a prohibition against coffee, tea, alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

    Marijuana, opium and other drugs aren’t even talked about in the original revelation. Those substances were known in that day.

    Why hasn’t there been any revelation in the past 30+ years on junk food? The 1st world is facing epidemic levels of nutrition-related diseases.

    Temple recommend: I have not held a current one for a few years. I am not really super motivated at the moment to have one, so it’s not really a pressing issue for me.

  14. Check out mate (pronounced mah-tay) sweetened with stevia. It’s delicious, all-natural, will get you going, and won’t stand in the way of your temple recommend. Although it does have diuretic properties and makes you pee a ton.

  15. Well, the WoW picked up emphasis about the time cigarettes were starting to penetrate. They are much more addictive than cigars and much worse for public health.

    Many people think that the one true mild barley drink is Postum.

    There are a number of ways to read the texts on eating meat, though I have no problem with sparing eating of it.

    You do seem to have an addiction, exactly of the kind that there has been discussion in the Church about for the past thirty-forty years vis a vis cola drinks.

    Temple recommend: I have not held a current one for a few years. I am not really super motivated at the moment to have one, so it’s not really a pressing issue for me.

    Too bad. That is really too bad, as is the fact that you have gotten to the point of getting past the migraines in withdrawing from the caffeine and then have gone back. Sounds like it is terribly hard for you.

  16. The reinterpretation of the WoW for modern folks like us has been done many times in General Conference. We have these dudes called as “prophets, seers, and revelators” who are tasked with that sort of thing. If you want to know how the Lord wants the church in general to understand it, go to them.

    Individual circumstances need to be (wisely) taken into account as well. For example, it’s very GOOD for my family to eat meat, especially fish and poultry. (This has to do with neurochemical traits that run on both sides.) So we eat lots of meat. In that vein, do you think perhaps you’re self-medicating? Long after quitting caffeine, do you find some aspect of your life functionally impaired? If that’s the case, I’d strongly suggest you quit the coffee to 1) demonstrate solidarity with the “weakest” of the Saints, and 2) find a substitute that’s easier to dose consistently.

    My take on exceptions to rules: it can be dangerous to always assume that you are an exception, but if you are, it’s critical to find out exactly how. That allows you to be as inwardly and outwardly obedient as you can. (Note that I’m not talking as a Pharisee, but as a die-hard de facto member of the Mormon grace movement.)

    Regarding the caffeine boogeyman: it really can be nasty stuff, and is much worse than suger when ingested uncontrolled. Its main CNS function is as an adenosine antagonist. That means it binds to the same neuroreceptors as adenosine, but doesn’t have the same inhibitory effect. Adenosine is used as your brain’s “I’m too tired to think anymore” signal.

    Blocking adenosine overstimulates neurons. They respond by exposing MORE adenosine receptors, making every last neuron in your head more sensitive to it. So if you overdo the caffeine (which is EASY), you’ll eventually find yourself unable to function without it in the same high doses. This is the basis of its physiological addiction, and also why withdrawal is so darned nasty.

  17. I feel for you. I really do.

    I actually like the fact that the immeasurable aspects of the WofW aren’t part of the temple prohibition. Can you imagine the interviews that try to determine if you are eating meat “sparingly” – or “enough” grain – or your barley drinks are mild enough – ad infinitum? Can you imagine the obese getting recommends in one ward or stake and not in another? Can you imagine the genetically thin getting recommends while the genetically heavy get grilled about why they can’t lose that final 30 pounds?

    I really like the focus on the products sold by intentional addiction peddlers (conspiring men) as the proscribed things and the rest (the general health issues) being left up to us. What’s it to me to not drink and smoke if it keeps those who couldn’t control it from getting hooked? I’d rather have those who don’t struggle with moderation abstain completely than to have an environment of indulgence that produces a minority of drunks. A trivial annoyance for many is worth avoiding the pain of addiction for a few. If that is the “sacrifice” required of me, I’ll take it over others that have been and could be asked.

  18. RE 16,

    I can second the part about Mate. However, it is an acquired taste and it might be a few weeks before you consider it “delicious.” But it does give you a gentle “get-up-and-go.” You might learn to like it without the sweetener (again, takes time) and you can find it available in different fruit flavors (usually citrus works best, orange, etc). You can get it online from

  19. I can think of two non-WoW reasons not to drink coffee:

    1 – coffee breath (ugh!)
    2 – you mentioned drinking from the “free” community coffee pot at work. There was a snopes that was quite alarming about what disgruntled co-workers were doing to the community coffee pot. Here’s a link: I suppose you get what you pay for?

    I also think the view of the WoW as purely a “health” code is a pretty shallow interpretation. The WoW as JS looked at it was more about purification to receive the spirit than health specifically, and it also unites the Saints, in our peculiarity if nothing else. From a purification standpoint, since Mormons view the soul as the combination of both body and spirit (unlike most Christians who divorce the soul from the body), anything that creates a divide between body and spirit is going to distance us from being a receptacle of spirit. Both stimulates and depressants create disharmony between the body and mind by subordinating one to the other. Or so I think, she said leaning back, draining her diet coke.

  20. I don’t know if it has changed, but my friend was on a mission in Uraguay in the late 70s and they were not allowed to drink mate – they were told it was worse than coffee as far as a stimulant.

  21. Re: #8

    I think this is a highly personal decision, but since you asked, I think coffee . . . is quite bad for one’s health (and one’s brain), WoW aside.

    You’re free to think that, but there is evidence that suggests otherwise. Check out this article, for instance.

    The “health code” rationale for the WoW seems outdated. And personally, I’m not a big fan of the rationale du jour, which seems to be entirely focused on obedience.

    We’ve reinterpreted the WoW multiple times in our history. I would welcome another reconsideration of it, especially with respect to the coffee and tea prohibitions.

  22. I disagree with Hawkgrrrl, I think the Word of Wisdom as seen by Joseph Smith was a acquiescence to Sydney Rigden. I am pretty sure that after it was introduced it never caused him much thought after that. Uniting with the saints is a very big tent: a unique vocabulary, theology, underwear, devotion, a lack of coffee and alcohol, an excess of sugars and foods generally (diet Coke and Green Jello?) I find it disappointing that uniting with the Saints means abandoning use of reason.

    I made it through University thanks to Herba Mate, Diet Pepsi, Apple Turnovers and Arush caffeinated beverage. By the last year, the only way I could stay up for work during the night and for Legal Accounting during the day was to start early in the morning and continue to consume. I still barely made it. My liver was in a very sorry state. When I finally decided to quit the stuff outright I was entirely shocked by the difference – mentally too. I am convinced that it was the sugar and the Artificial sweetener that has serious consequences.

    Working now through long projects that demand a high degree of attention to detail with extremely serious consequences it I don’t do things right, and a nagging pressure to spend some time with my children during waking hours leaves me with the choice of letting my client’s go to jail through my negligence, ignoring my children or supplementing my diet to accommodate the demands of life. I know there are people that can go entirely without and do the same job. I don’t know any, but I am sure if I had more brains, or less need for sleep or less cool kids I could probably do it. I drink coffee on most week days.

    The rules:

    1. No more that 2 cups a day.
    2. No soda, caffeinated or otherwise, period.
    3. Fair trade beans from a local vendor.
    4. A spiritual message on the mug (optional)

    It is important to say that I speak as one who has no interest in attending the temple ever again; however, even if it was it would have to outweigh the importance of my family time and my work commitments.

  23. Sally, 14:

    I get questioned about coffee and tea almost weekly at work, especially by those who are confused at my refusals when they’ve seen me with cola, etc. I tell them this: “I can give you the medical reasons we don’t drink coffee or tea, or I can give you the real reason. But let me warn you, you won’t like the real reason.”

    Of course they demand the real reason. So I tell them “God told me not to drink them.” That brings up other questions about how that inofrmation got from God to me and they can either opt out or keep pressing. It’s fun. 🙂

  24. I re-read my last post. I apologize for my tone. I should have been clear that I find it disappointing that uniting with the Saints sometimes means abandoning use of reason or faith. I don’t know that aspartame is bad for me, I believe it is, just like I believe coffee is a lesser evil than cola or sweets. It is reasonable to me, and the ‘fruits’ are evident in areas that are important to me.

    Being part of the club / kingdom is not more important than my family or my health. I realize that for many people the choices are not as mutually exclusive, but I find it inescapable.

  25. #26 – Thanks, Gerry, for the additional comment. I was going to ignore the first one completely, frankly, because I believe everyone needs to make up their own mind about this topic – but I appreciate that you realize it’s not mutually exclusive for all.

    Personally, I think your first comment highlighted a much more critical issue, but you have to live the life you feel necessary. Again, thanks for the follow-up.

  26. Gerry: “I am pretty sure that after it was introduced it never caused him much thought after that.” Well, it certainly didn’t take hold for quite some time (e.g. the pack list to go west had coffee & tea on it). However, I do believe there is merit in trying to keep both stimulants and depressants to a minimum in our bodies.

  27. If I were in your shoes, I would not have any problem giving an enthusiastic ‘Yes!’ when asked if I kept the word of wisdom in a temple recommend interview.

  28. The image of an enthusiastic “YES!” that bowls the bishop over with his coffee breath is killing me.

  29. RE 22,

    Yeah, often the missionaries are not allowed to drink it. This is (I have been told) because it is a time issue (people will pass a gourd around and chat for a couple of hours) and a health issue (all drinking from the same bombilla/straw) as fas as passing communicable diseases.

    In my mission in the US, Spanish speaking and in an area with a lot Uruguayan immigrants, it was a fun way to get to know people (they were surprised that an American liked the stuff). The members/missionaries who are natively from countries in central and south America that I knew drank it, so I don’t think that there is any official church ban. (Of course, local leaders sometimes have a scary amount of latitude in some of these issues.)

    Often in foreign cultures, WOW application is confusing because the Church will rarely clarify. Similar to tithing, they make a statement and then allow individual members to interpret. For instance, while kava is banned by the BYU Hawaii honor code, the last time President Monson was in Samoa, he participated in a kava ceremony. I have also heard from missionaries who served in Mongolia that the church did not ban the local drink of (so gross!) fermented mare’s milk, which could vary in strength from very mild to quite alcoholic.

    So, read D&C 89, follow the Spirit and your conscience. (And your palate. Mmmm. Tiramisu.)

  30. However, I do believe there is merit in trying to keep both stimulants and depressants to a minimum in our bodies.

    I think we should consider keeping stimulants (i.e., caffeine) to an optimal amount, rather than to a minimum. The article that I linked to in comment #23 above summarizes the health benefits of caffeine as follows:

    “The evidence is very strong that regular coffee consumption reduces risk of Parkinson’s disease and for that, it’s directly related to caffeine,” DePaulis tells WebMD. “In fact, Parkinson’s drugs are now being developed that contain a derivative of caffeine based on this evidence.”

    Caffeine is also what helps in treating asthma and headaches. Though not widely publicized, a single dose of pain reliever such as Anacin or Excedrin contains up to 120 milligrams — what’s in a hefty mug o’ Joe.


    “What caffeine likely does is stimulate the brain and nervous system to do things differently,” he tells WebMD. “That may include signaling you to ignore fatigue or recruit extra units of muscle for intense athletic performance. Caffeine may even have a direct effect on muscles themselves, causing them to produce a stronger contraction. But what’s amazing about it is that unlike some performance-enhancing manipulation some athletes do that are specific for strength or sprinting or endurance, studies show that caffeine positively enhances all of these things.”

    How does this brew affect growing minds and bodies? Very nicely, it seems, says DePaulis. Coffee, as you probably know, makes you more alert, which can boost concentration. But claims that it improves a child’s academic performance can be exaggerated. Coffee-drinking kids may do better on school tests because they’re more awake, but most task-to-task lab studies suggest that coffee doesn’t really improve mental performance, says DePaulis.

    But it helps kids’ minds in another way. “There recently was a study from Brazil finding that children who drink coffee with milk each day are less likely to have depression than other children,” he tells WebMD. “In fact, no studies show that coffee in reasonable amounts is in any way harmful to children.”

    And here’s a good reason why coffee might be preferable to other foods or drinks as a source of caffeine:

    In other words, consume enough caffeine — whether it’s from coffee or another source — and you will likely run faster, last longer and be stronger. What’s enough? As little as one cup can offer some benefit, but the real impact comes from at least two mugs, says Graham. By comparison, it’d take at least eight glasses of cola to get the same effect, which isn’t exactly conducive for running a marathon.

    Just something to think about.

  31. Joseph Fielding Smith claimed that the habit of drinking tea can “bar” a person from the “celestial kingdom of God”:

    SALVATION AND A CUP OF TEA…. 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? … 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 (Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 2, p.16).


    According to Dean D. McBrien …. the Word of Wisdom was a remarkable distillation of the prevailing thought of frontier America in the early 1830’s. Each provision in the revelation, he claimed, pertained to an item which had formed the basis of widespread popular agitation in the early 1830’s:

    “A survey of the situation existing at Kirtland when the revelation came forth is a sufficient explanation for it. The temperance wave had for some time been engulfing the West…. In 1826 Marcus Morton had founded the American Temperance Society…. In June, 1830, the Millenial Harbinger quoted … an article from the Philadelphia ‘Journal of Health,’… which article most strongly condemned the use of alcohol, tobacco, the eating intemperately of meats…. Temperance Societies were organized in great numbers during the early thirties, six thousand being formed in one year… On October 6, 1830, the Kirtland Temperance Society was organized with two hundred thirty nine members…. This society at Kirtland was a most active one…. it revolutionized the social customs of the neighborhood.”

    McBrien then goes ahead to point out that the Temperance Society succeeded in eliminating a distillery in Kirtland on February 1, 1833, just twenty-seven days before the Latter-day Saint revelation counseling abstinence was announced, and that the distillery at Mentor, near Kirtland, was also closed at the same time (Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1959, pp.39-40).

  33. In citing to McBrien you miss the critical fact that Joseph Smith was against the temperance societies and in favor of moderation until he prayed about the matter and received the Word of Wisdom.

    Which brings some interesting thoughts full circle.

    A number of the brethren encouraged him to seek revelation and put the temperance society types in their place.

    Kind of what happened, all in all. I know, we have the Emma Smith and the chewing tobacco story, but the deeper story is more interesting.

    Though I can’t wait for the next poster who wants to laud the health benefits of smoking cigarettes (there are a number of doctors who endorsed that), the spiritual benefits of sharing sweet grass tobacco, or the mental improvement that a cut of chew provides.

    Ok, it is easy to look at those comments, think a snark, and miss the fact that it wasn’t that long ago that everything being said for coffee, and more, was said in favor of tobacco.

  34. There are ways to use caffeine for medical conditions or otherwise that don’t include buying addictive products that line the pockets of conspiring men, just like there are way to get the health benefits of moderate wine consumption without actually drinking wine.

    It’s so restrictive when the WofW gets discussed as a health law and the only alternative offered is consumption of addictive products sold for profit. That’s my biggest problem with discussions like this; legitimate alternatives almost never get discussed. That’s sad to me.

  35. I wonder about coffee. We’re told we don’t drink coffee because of the caffeine nor tea, for the same reason. So herbal tea is OK, right? But cola products are OK even though they have caffeine. Even the energy drinks (some of which have more caffeine than coffee, not to mention several other stimulants) are OK. But decaffeinated coffee is NOT OK, because…?

    See, I’ve never understood if coffee is verboten because it’s hot (thus hot cocoa and herbal teas would also be taboo, right?) or because it has caffeine (thus cola products and energy drink would be bad but decaffeinated coffee is OK.)

    I think Ray has touched on the real issue here–keeping our bodies healthy, avoiding addiction and the manipulations of “evil and conspiring men.” (I think the “evil and conspiring men” extends to the Conagra-ADM-mega-corporate-agri-types who not only manipulate our food choices but what we have come to accept as “food”. But that’s for another thread, someday, maybe.)

    I think a better case can be made for drinking wine. There is plenty of scriptural, historical and medical justification for allowing wine. I personally don’t see anything wrong with it, but I will obey the WoW as it is currently understood, not because it makes sense, but because I promised to. That’s why when someone asks why I don’t drink coffee, I don’t answer “Because it has caffeine”–demonstrably not true in light of current church policy–I answer “Because my church asks me not to.”

    BTW, I think coffee is nasty stuff. It only becomes tolerable with the addition of a substantial amount of sugar and cream. But I do love the smell.

  36. From a non-LDS perspective, I have worked with a Shaman group from time to time that is really big on two things: stopping all self-medication and learning to fast. What constituted fasting to them was initially pretty lightweight from an LDS perspective (nothing but fruits, juices & waters for one meal – I pretty much call that lunch). But they also developed the ability to do longer fasts (3 days or more), which I have never tried. On the self-medication thing, they eschewed it all: aspirin, alcohol, coffee and tea (except herbal tea). A lot of their work was on becoming more at one with your body. If you had a headache, you should learn to feel your headache instead of trying to dull your connection to your body. In many ways, their concepts resonate with the spiritual aspects of WoW, as do many Eastern religions.

  37. I never could understand the WoW and temple recommend interview portion that went along with it. I understand treating my body as a temple. But what about the marathon runner or other athlete who may exercise, eat really healthy, and take total care of their bodies in ways that few do… but will have a glass of red wine? Or my uncle (non member) who has a glass of cabernet every evening because after bypass surgery, became a total health nut– little salt, daily exercise, limited meat, lots of fruits and veggies, organic everything and his cardiologiest told him to drink a glass of red wine daily. I started drinking unsweeted ice tea at lunch instead of diet soda. I think it’s ok… I take care of my body far more than most/many church members. Just cuz I drink some tea… what about those who are severely overweight, don’t exercise or eat well?

  38. I wonder about coffee. We’re told we don’t drink coffee because of the caffeine nor tea, for the same reason. So herbal tea is OK, right? But cola products are OK even though they have caffeine. Even the energy drinks (some of which have more caffeine than coffee, not to mention several other stimulants) are OK. But decaffeinated coffee is NOT OK, because…?

    See, I’ve never understood if coffee is verboten because it’s hot (thus hot cocoa and herbal teas would also be taboo, right?) or because it has caffeine (thus cola products and energy drink would be bad but decaffeinated coffee is OK.)

    The 19th-century justification (as we see in D&C 89) is that coffee and tea were “hot”–drinks served at high temperatures were supposedly bad for the body. I’m pretty sure the more modern (yet unofficial) caffeine rationale arose as an after-the-fact justification, since the “hot drinks” explanation isn’t particularly persuasive nowadays. However, the caffeine rationale is also problematic, as you point out. What about Cola? What about chocolate? What about headache medicine? If caffeine is the culprit, then why aren’t these other substances forbidden?

    The problem is that the rationale for the WoW’s prohibitions are largely grounded in outdated notions of health. Therefore, it will be difficult to find a modern, scientific explanation that lines up well with the WoW’s peculiar mix of prohibitions and exclusions. Which is probably why the standard Sunday School rationale seems to have more to do with obedience than health these days.

    As I mentioned before, I think this calls for another reassessment of the Word of Wisdom. We’ve done it several times before, why not do it again? In a modern context, the revelation’s prohibition on tea (a largely innocuous substance) seems highly arbitrary, especially in light of its silence on, say, regular exercise.

    Ok, it is easy to look at those comments, think a snark, and miss the fact that it wasn’t that long ago that everything being said for coffee, and more, was said in favor of tobacco.

    While science is necessarily tentative, I think the modern findings that favor coffee consumption are based on more sophisticated science than decades- or century-old pronouncements on tobacco were. Yes, we should take these “expert” recommendations with a grain of salt, but I think Mormons tend to be unnecessarily (and selectively) cynical when it comes to science.

    There are ways to use caffeine for medical conditions or otherwise that don’t include buying addictive products that line the pockets of conspiring men, just like there are way to get the health benefits of moderate wine consumption without actually drinking wine.

    Damn those conspiring tea manufacturers!

  39. I appreciate the comments people have made about obedience. While I have a hard time with arbitrary obedience rules from men, I acknowledge there is indeed potential spiritual implications for doing something ritualistic (like abstinence from substances) for purely spiritual reasons.

    Sure, we can justify at times with health. God could just as easily say “thou shalt stand on your head for 10 minutes a day, and blessing will abound to you.” There is actually something, in a spiritual sense, to the Word of Wisdom that trancends mere health benefits. For those of us old farts that remember the Karate Kid movie, Mr. Miagi (sp?) made his student do stupid menial tasks around the house. They were indeed stupid and menial. There was however an unseen (to the student at the time) side benefit that was needed for his teacher to bring him to the next level of actual training in Karate. He had to do the stupid stuff in order to be ready for the important stuff.

    This could very well be mixed into WoW practice. Religion, ritual and faith do not always make sense in the concrete sense. They still work though.

  40. #43 – Great point. Whenever a discussion like this gets rolling, I think of washing in a dirty river to cleanse leprosy. Makes no sense whatsoever, but it worked.

  41. Valoel, your post implies that the WoW is just a health code. Problem is, there are plenty of bad substances that are not forbidden by it, and plenty of good substances that are not prescribed. If viewed in this way, the teaching will always be seen to fall short, and it will never be justifiable. On the other hand, if you make it a matter of religious observance, just as Jewish and Muslim food rules, then it begins to make more sense as a covenant of obedience that can’t (and should not) be fully justified because of its supposed health benefits.

  42. I think Carl (45) is on the right track. However, I think it’s not fully nuanced, as he, and others, have said that obedience to the WoW is obedience to God. End of discussion.

    I see it as obedience to God by way of obedience to one’s faith community, one’s tribe. Other disciples of Christ and their tribes can be quite right by God, and quite healthy, if the New Testament is trustworthy, and not observe the WoW. However, one can’t be quite right by the LDS community and not be outwardly obedient to it. May not be reasonable. May not be logical nor consistent. May not always be scientifically healthful or causatively linked. And, undoubtedly, observance to it will continue to liberalize (or not) in ways that will exasperate those who enjoy consistency from “God.”

    The WoW is a way to show one’s outward loyalty to one’s tribe, if one’s tribe is LDS. All faith tribes have their rules of conformity, of holiness, no matter how much individual liberty they do or don’t embrace. If one’s tribe one wants to be a part of is being an active, temple-going Mormon, then one, by obedience to the WoW, is placing one’s community identity over one’s individual needs, and that, it would seem to be, is always a great and appropriate way to serve God. The prescriptions and proscriptions to the LDS version of “belonging” and “obedience to God” by way of the WoW are just that. But they are more than just that.

    It’s a rewarding pursuit to finding what tribe you most authentically belong to, and want to belong to, and then living authentically to that. It’s an enigmatic yet exciting pursuit to finding out what pleases God and what please one’s tribe. Somethimes they are the same. Sometimes not. And sometimes they intermingle.

  43. Instead of the current prohibition against coffee, tea, alcohol, and tobacco, I propose a performance based word of wisdom faithfulness test. It could be modeled (through insiration) after the miltary physical test. The physical test would require something like a 2 mile run without feeling weary, and a 5 mile walk without fainting. Pushup could be used to determine “the weak and weakest of all saints who are or can be called saints.” Any deaths during the testing could be used as conclusive proof that “the destroying angel did not pass them.”

  44. There are two issues here, the “health” issue and the “obedience” issue. Though the church likes to talk a lot about the former issue, I think the latter issue is the real issue. If health were the primary concern, then dozens of other substances would be listed, to say nothing of other health requirements. But this is more of a test of faith/obedience, more about loyalty to the church, more about appearances and cultural identifiers than we like to admit.

    I won’t argue the “Health” issue. To me, it is fairly cut and dry. Though drinking coffee may have some minor health benefits, from a pure cost/benefit analysis we’d be way better off not drinking coffee.

    “Obedience” is a thorny issue for me, I’ll admit. I have many concerns:

    1.) I’m a firm believer that the “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” model is more effective at teaching us the underlying eternal principle than the “strict obedience” model.

    2.) Obedience to specific things creates loopholes whereby people essentially commit the same infraction, without the guilt. It creats a false sense of “all is well in Zion.” For example, what principle is learned by those who abstain from coffee, but drink 88 ounces of Diet Coke or Monster every day? All one has demonstrated is an ability to obey the letter of the law, to find the loophole. So you take your caffeine cold and bubbly instead of hot with cream and sugar. Go ahead and compare the caffeine content between Diet Code and Coffee, but if you do, you are simply proving, not refuting, my point.

    3.) Obedience creates the strong temptation for pharasaical judgement of those who don’t comply, or comply differently than the orthodox party line. I saw Brother Valoel at Starbucks! I saw Brother Thurston in line for an R-rated movie! I saw Sister Jones wearing a two-piece bikini! There is a reason the Pharasees and Saducees could not see the obvious truth in front of them — they were so blinded by their rules, their degrees, their clothing, their symbols and ceremonies. We make the same mistake ALL the time.

    4.) Following a rule as a demonstration of one’s fidelity to an institution or person feels too much like idolatry. It esteems status and standing in the institution above personal conscience and integrity. And it creates those annoying little sayings like, “Are you going to let something as small as Coffee keep you out of Heaven?” Please.

    So I have trouble with obedience to commandments when I see the hand of man, not the hand of God as I understand God. To me, the Word of Wisdom combines both elements of God/Divine and Man. The only way for it to make sense to me is to unpackage the two, and endeavor to follow the part I believe is Divine.

  45. I really like how you put that together Matt. Exactly how I feel, though I don’t esteem the cost/benefit conclusion on coffee the same. 🙂

  46. Ironically, Matt and JfQ, I see the current stance on the WofW precisely as the Church employing a “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” standard.

    The “correct principle” is avoidance of addictive substances that conspiring men promote simply out of greed. Those are pretty much the only things that come up in the temple recommend and baptism interviews – not meat or grain or exercise or sleep or anything else. Those things are left up to us to “govern ourselves”.

    I really think if more people realized that it would cause a little needed understanding on this issue – even if they still disagreed about the inclusion of tea. Frankly, however, enough teas are allowed around the world (like wheat tea in Japan) that even that could be grouped in the “govern themselves” category.

  47. It seems simple to me. Hot drinks have been interpreted as Coffee and Tea. So, drinking coffee, black or green tea is a violation of the WoW. If one is not interested in a temple recommend, then they can do what they want.

    For me, just like the law of Moses, it is ONLY a question of obedience. Any other reason or benefit we receive is a blessing for that obedience.

  48. Ray, actually I do agree with you, but I do so seeing many LDS distinctives, like WoW, as matters of community holiness. So when the church excludes an (honest) coffee or tea drinker from temple participation it is not keeping that person away from salvation in God. But for the excluded member who thinks they are separated from God more so than their community, then it beckons to Matt’s point #4, and I don’t happen to see the correct principles and libertarian governance you do.

    BTW, mugicha (dried wheat tea for those reading) is nasty stuff. Ash tray in a cup. 🙂 If you like it, shouldn’t be too hard to steer you into pleasure even for a proper (and decaffeinated, if it’s your thing) bitter drink. 🙂

  49. Jeff (51): **Gently ribbing** Yep, the WoW is functionally exactly like the Law of Moses. Most of Christianity, by way of the New Testament, sees the Levitical Laws of Moses as having been fulfilled in Jesus, ushering in the age of greater liberty (and condemnation, see Matt’s point 2 and 3) as well as direct access of humankind before God. So what’s an LDS member to do who agrees with same? The “blessing for that obedience” at stake is acceptance by one’s community more so that a blessing of God per se. It’s a blessing, to be sure, if that community helps you authentically pursue God and a life in Christ.

  50. JFQ,

    Apparently, you missed my point. I wasn’t arguing the fullfillment of the Law with Jesus. I was talking about obedience to the Law. Jews obey the dietary laws because God asked them too, not because of any health reasons. Just as we Latter-day Saints, do. We do it because we beleive God wants us to. There is no community/tribe or whatever you want to call it standard. It is, in our view the Lord’s standard. I know you know that.

    anyway, what is the kick that you and a few others are getting into with community and/or tribe. I know you are part of another Church but the fact is, the LDS community has been created because the gospel of Jesus Christ having been restored in its fullness to the earth. Not the other way around.

    while there many be some traditions of men present in the church community, it is the gospel and The Savior that governs it.

  51. Ray #50 said, “The ‘correct principle’ is avoidance of addictive substances that conspiring men promote simply out of greed.”

    I see what you are saying, but it seems a lot of drinks and/or foods besides Coffee, Tea, Tobacco, and Alcohol could fall under the “conspiring men” label.

    Also, I feel uncomfortable with the “conspiring men… for greed” label anyway. Many LDS no doubt work for large conglomerates that have a hand in these industries (and other industries like gambling). I don’t consider Howard Schultz and the rest of the Starbucks brass “conspiring men,” but business men and women providing a product, a service, and careers for people… for a profit, not for greed. They are also big players when it comes to humanitarian work and philanthropy. In some respects, they are a model company.

    Finally, too many people accuse church leaders of being “conspiring men”. Seems the label depends on your point of view.

  52. “Finally, too many people accuse church leaders of being “conspiring men”. Seems the label depends on your point of view.”

    Can’t argue with that.

    I agree that the term “conspiring men” doesn’t apply to every addiction peddler, but I have no qualms about saying it applies to the addiction industries – and I think it applies to FAR more people in FAR more industries than are specified in the WofW and than most members realize. It’s another aspect of “govern themselves”, imo.

  53. JFQ said, “…though I don’t esteem the cost/benefit conclusion on coffee the same.”

    Well, I was just considering the health ramifications, (of which there are multiple schools of thought). But I think there are other valid variables, besides “health,” to consider. Variables which impact hte cost/benefit conclusion.

    We don’t eat and drink for purely health reasons. We eat and drink for social reasons as well, and while I’m sure to be poo-poo’d by everyone here, there are some real social benefits to coffee, tea, and alcohol. There is a reason certain early LDS leaders “hearts were made merry by the fruit of the vine.” Did it not create a role in fostering bonhomie amongst the early Saints. And I’ve heard more than one reputable Mormon Historian speculate that both the Kirtland “pentacostal” experience, and the all-night Nauvoo Temple endowment parties prior to setting off across the plains, were aided and abetted by “the fruit of the vine.”

  54. I’d agree that the “conspiring men” label applies to the illegal drug and prostitution industries. And “conspiring men” exist in all industries of course, including many Mormon multi-level marketing industries. But in general, I have a hard time applying the label “whole cloth” to any one industry, if it is legal.

  55. I understand and respect that, Matt, but I feel differently when the industries are based on “external” chemical addictions and the major players in those industries understand that fact. I guess we just have a different perspective on this one.

  56. Matt (58): This is a tangent, to be sure, but based on your response I’m puzzled. Maybe you don’t esteem the cost/benefit conclusion on coffee, wine, tea, etc. differently than me. (I thought you were saying that coffee doesn’t add up in analysis to be a positive, or at least reasonable, consumption outside the cultural obedience issue.) So are you saying you think the social aspect of these substances is a benefit or detriment?

  57. Based on the language in the post, my question is does the author care more about driving traffic on his post and getting comments than on making healthy choices or obedience (no matter how you judge his current choice) or getting any sort of feedback that will influence his decision. I do not presume to know but I think it is a valid self-reflective question for the author and all of us who have taken the time to participate.

  58. Coffee is great!!! Whether or not it has any negative side effects has to do with the amount consumed and whether your body metabolizes caffeine slowly or quickly. The positive side effects are obvious.

    I will always choose the coffee bean in favor of aspartame, phenylalanine, saccharin, etc..

  59. Post

    #62 I really contemplate my decisions, especially when I know they are not in line with the normal decisions of fellow Church members and the traditional counsel of leaders. I’m not looking for people from the internet to make my decision for me really. I do however appreciate hearing what other people think about challenging topics. I learn a lot from people who disagree and see things different. I already know a lot about my own view 🙂

    The post was a self-reflective question. I wanted to open up my self-reflection and share it with others who care to ponder and give input.

    Thanks everyone!

  60. I don’t know exactly what the church’s problem on this subject is. I find it, personally, very confusing and tough for the church to make the position it does on the subject. I’ve had my temple reccomend taken away in the past for having consumed *one* coffee at Starbucks. On the other hand, the bishop doesn’t mind if I consume several energy drinks or sodas as soon as I get home from church. Is this really a health issue? I don’t think so. I think this is the church trying to stick to some doctrine that was written (and loosely followed) two hundred years ago. If they honestly think it’s okay to let the members go to the temple with worse things in their system than a cup of coffee, then they are out of whack in my book.

  61. I dunno. maybe i just simplifly things waaayyy to much. The Lord revealed to His Church not to drink “hot drinks” and we were given the explanation that this meant no coffee, no tea. We were also told no drugs, smoking and no alcohol. It just seems pretty easy to understand. i mean, i can picture Jesus standing there and saying to us “What part of “no” did you NOT understand” !!

  62. I suffered from stomach pain and burning mostly, couldn’t sleep well and just hated those extra pounds I couldn’t get rid of no matter what I did. Now I stumbled upon this system that is easy and it doesn’t require expensive medication or difficult exercises.

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