The Word of Wisdom has been in the news again, triggered by a claim about caffeine made on a network news show, which led to an official LDS Newsroom statement clarifying the church’s position, which led to fascinating discussions and events, including hilarity at BYU over its policy of serving only de-caffeinated drinks, as well as some church members exulting that now they have an official statement that they can use to tell others to back off when they try to force their “spirit of the law” Word of Wisdom interpretations on them. What is it about the Word of Wisdom that makes it both so central to Mormons as an identity marker as well as such a divider? Is it primarily a “commandment” or the “Lord’s Law of Health”? Is it a “sin” for a Mormon to break the Word of Wisdom (requiring “forgiveness” through Christ’s suffering), or more a rejection of teachings that lead to blessings?
Clearly the Word of Wisdom is ripe for fresh discussion, which is what Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists Jared Anderson, Kenton Karrasch, and Les Gripkey attempt in this two-part episode that covers (and cuts through some of the mythmaking concerning) the historical background of the revelation and how it was (and was not) practiced during the church’s first eighty-plus years, social and identity issues and inconsistencies in how it is viewed by church members (Part 1), some of the theology and doctrine surrounding Section 89, and, finally, how science and health experts evaluate today the effects of the various food and drink items mentioned in the revelation (Part 2). Among the most interesting features of the discussion is a look at the differences between how the Word of Wisdom would have been understood at the time it was given (based, for instance, upon an entirely different model in the early nineteenth century for what caused disease) versus today, and the consequences, both positive and negative, for our tendency to reflect on it through contemporary lenses. The panelists also each share parts of their own journey with and views about the Word of Wisdom.
We very much hope you will listen and then join in the discussion in the comments section below!
Links (please recommend others):
Lester E. Bush, “The Word of Wisdom in Early Nineteenth Century Perspective,” Dialogue, Autumn 1981
Thomas G. Alexander, “The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement,” Dialogue, Autumn 1981
Leonard J. Arrington, “An Economic Interpretation of the ‘Word of Wisdom,'” BYU Studies, Winter 1959
John A. Widtsoe and Leah Widtsoe, The Word of Wisdom, A Modern Interpretation
Alan Hurst, “Of Caffeine and Covenants,” Peculiar People (blog), 19 September 2012
Heather May, “What Science Says about Mormonism’s Health Code,” Salt Lake Tribune, 1 October 2012
Les Gripkey, “Among the Mormons: My Journey as a Liahona Christian,” Sunstone, December 2007
Sister Jessica Walton letter to MTC president (urging, in line with the Word of Wisdom, a more healthy menu at MTC), February 2012 (used with permission)