When I was growing up, there was an elderly couple in my ward. The wife had been a faithful, active member for years and the husband, a non-member, attended church with her faithfully every Sunday until he died. From what I remember, he was well-received and well-liked by the people of the ward, but it was a known fact that he never became a member himself because of his smoking habit. He tried, but just couldn’t kick the habit. So he could never be baptized.
Years later, an older gentleman — another very heavy smoker — investigated the Church and, despite having smoked for several decades, managed to quit and was baptized. A strong, active member now, he has never looked back and (as far as I know) never relapsed. One can say that without his strong desire to be baptized, he probably never would have quit smoking.
Over the years, I’ve encountered a few people who have expressed a desire to be baptized but cannot because of a problem with the Word of Wisdom. For some, it’s a case like the elderly gentleman I mentioned at the beginning. Sometimes lifelong smokers, they have repeatedly failed to quit and know that they are enslaved to their addiction — even though they may have a testimony of the Gospel and a desire to be baptized.
For others, it’s not so much a matter of addiction, but rather a doubt that God cares so much about whether or not they have a glass of wine with dinner that he would keep them out of his Church if they were a good, Christlike person otherwise.
So, it’s a matter of pride, right?
Probably. But perhaps their argument is not so hard to dismiss when we look at the history of the Word of Wisdom — which was given in 1833 “not by commandment or constraint” (D&C 89: 2) and was not implemented in the strict fashion that it is today until after 1900 — making many of the early Saints, including Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, violators of this non-mandatory law due to their consumption of banned substances.
Also, if we want to get technical, how many Mormons are truly living the Word of Wisdom? How many of us are eating meat “sparingly” and only in times of “in times of winter, or of cold, or famine?” (D&C 89: 13)
Most of us will probably agree that adhering to the Word of Wisdom is a good idea. I’m not attempting to argue otherwise because I love what it stands for. But, when someone has a sincere desire to be baptized into the Church and is worthy in every way — except that he has failed to quit smoking, or perhaps has a beer or a glass of wine on occasion — are we perhaps forgetting the spirit in which the revelation was given? Or is the current policy the way that the Lord always intended it to be and to change it would be lowering the bar?