The Word of Wisdom
So far, I’ve outlined a couple of LDS doctrines that are quite correct and Biblically justifiable, even on a general orthodox Christian level. So let’s move on to the ubiquitous hindrance to LDS recruitment: The Word of Wisdom. This imposing obstacle to Mormonism’s pastoral advance around the globe, claimst to be based entirely upon an uniquely "Mormon" revelation, but again, this too is something of a health code that finds itself in common agreement with much of American Calvinist or Wesleyan/Methodist, even Lutheran and Baptist, so-called "Fundamentalist" zealots. Superficially it strikes a tone along the lines of self-denial and Spartanistic, anti-comfort, anti-enjoyment stoicism. But the revelation itself is actually rather a different animal entirely. And Mormonism has, and generations of its leadership have unfortunately entirely missed the biggest warning in this revelation. It’s the first clause in explaining why the revelation is even being given at all:
Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence ofaevils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts ofbconspiring men in the last days, I have cwarned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—
The Word of Wisdom is only nominally a health code or guide to healthy foodstuffs and nutrition in general. It is clearly a caution against use or at least over-use of a few substances that remain very very popular, like recreational drinks laden with alcohol or say, glutting-out on a beef-only diet. But that’s not the first or arguably its primary purpose. The Word of Wisdom is first and foremost a warning not to become dependent upon substances and “rich” foods which are not good for you in large quantity anyway, not because it is evil and dirty and sinful, but because once you become dependent upon these products you will be caught paying large sums of money to your enemies and crass profiteers when you should be spending that time, money and effort in saving your asses from the hell on earth that was to come for the Latter-day Saints, and in building up the Kingdom of God. This as opposed to wasting half your income in the grog houses or on expensive, imported coffee, tea, and tobacco. God is simply advising the Saints not to become slaves to these tastes and habits because you will be healthier, and you will not fall prey to future enemies.
Never heard a sermon on that however. Not in half a century of LDS indoctrination, both in and out of Utah. I’m just a spiritual moron I suppose, but I wonder why God would put that right up front and nobody in LDS leadership for nearly two-hundred years would notice it.
In recent decades Mormons have been snidely citing scientific and medical research proving just how inspired Joseph Smith’s revelation was. You can play whatever games you want with nutritional and health research these days–one day eggs will kill you, the next day there’s "good" cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol. One day coffee will kill you, the next day, it’s actually pretty good for you. Mormons will argue for instance, that research proving moderate, regular consumption of red wine is good for the heart and reduces cholesterol and plaque build up in the arteries, are false because you can get the same benefit from the "anti-oxidants" in grapes without the alcohol. The next week a Swedish twenty-year study will will conclude that, no, it’s alcohol–acting like drain cleaner for the bloodstream, and antioxidants are basically voodoo and superstition.
Here’s the summary paragraph of one of the most reliable, intensive, and long-term studies of the effects of moderate alcohol consumption:
Univariate and multivariate analyses revealed that alcohol consumption
was significantly associated with a lower incidence of overall dementia
and Alzheimer dementia. In line with a large-scale study also based on GP
attenders aged 75 years and older, the study found that light-to-moderate
alcohol consumption was associated with relatively good physical and
mental health. This three-year follow-up study included, at baseline,
only those subjects 75 years of age and older, the mean age was 80.2
years, much higher than that in most other studies.
See the complete article here …
Mormons aren’t unique among the “tea-totaling” Christian sects keen to demonize alcohol. They foster the same asinine claims about “Jesus juice” or non-fermented “wine” they pretend Jesus drank instead of the “real” wine the scriptures rather plainly claim he did consume regularly–just like all the other ancient prophets. The fact of the matter is wine makes itself, any fruit or berry juice makes itself alcoholic within 24 hours even in temperate climates. You either culture it into a drinkable wine or you let it go nuts and degenerate into vinegar. There were no Judean refrigerators in 33 AD. If you were lucky enough to find a cave or hole in the ground to get the temperature down to 80-90 degrees F or preferably less, a big jar of wine would ferment out in a few days or easily less than a week to over 8% ABV—which is a knock-you-on-your-ass-level of alcohol that will only take about two pints for anyone under about 220 pounds to feel warm and silly. Yes, that’s the “mild” or “young” wine that was drunk daily, all day long by Jesus Christ and his disciples. Later in the fall, where the vintner could employ cooler, longer ferments, he would carefully ferment the "must" or fresh-pressed grape juice, for many weeks, and peak out around 12-14% ABV—that’s the “good” wine Jesus made out of water at the wedding in Cana. And the wine steward noted this specifically in John 2:1
In the case of Mormons, they expand this revisionist “Jesus juice” fantasy to convincing themselves that barley, singularly extolled in the Word of Wisdom as the source of “mild drinks,” was commonly used to make all sorts of other “mild drinks” rather than beer, and so it clearly means these drinks, not beer. They oddly enough in their desperation to prove this silly claim, invented a number of burnt-crap-tasting substitutes for coffee out of the stuff in the process.
I’m currently enjoying a Discovery Channel mini-series celebrating the positive influence of booze on America’s development. The Pilgrims for example, landed on Plymouth Rock only because they cut their intended journey short when they ran out of beer. The Puritans provisioned a daily gallon of beer for every man woman and child of them and those who drank it continuously, survived. Those who tried to make due with fresh water died of cholora, dysentery, and a number of other water-borne plagues. They even made 3.2 beer or "small" beer for the kiddies, who drank about half that ration a day. When they could get cider they drank that daily as well.
But looking at the example of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the original promoters of the Word of Wisdom, what we really see is a warning against becoming dependent upon substances that leave you beholding to "Gentiles" and sources or producers who can manipulate you based upon your addiction or cravings. There was also manifest an aversion to having the "Saints" drinking in the same taverns and public houses as the more disorderly "Gentiles." Moderation, the policy clearly outlined by LDS president Joseph F Smith in 1902 when he became the first to attempt a more strict adherence to the Word of Wisdom, is in truth, the key to understanding the point of God’s advice in this revelation.
Pres. Joseph F. Smith, in the Improvement Era, Sept. 1903.
Even in the days of Paul it was needful to caution the Saints to be moderate. In his letter to the
Philippians, the apostle particularly admonishes the brethren in these words: "Let your
moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand." While this, perhaps, is the only
instance in the Bible where the word occurs, the idea of wisdom and moderation being essential
in all things, is freely expressed in many other exhortations to the people. Thus Peter, the apostle,
calling attention to the example of Christ, exhorts them to cease from sin, which is named as
lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revelings, banquetings, and other lusts of men. And again,
Paul to the Ephesians instructs the saints "to walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding
what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the
spirit." It was Jesus himself who denounced the Pharisees because within they were full of
"extortion and excess."
Unfortunately for most Latter-day Saints, Joseph F Smith also had a thing against eating meat. He didn’t eat any basically. And he had this to say about it:
Several prophets have spoken out against sport hunting. Joseph F. Smith said in 1913, "I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he ‘needs’ them for food…I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possess life. It is wrong, and I have been surprised at prominent men who I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood. They go off hunting deer, antelope, elk, anything they can find, and what for? ‘Just for the fun of it!’ I am a firm believer… in the simple words of one of the poets: ‘Take not away the life you cannot give, for all things have an equal right to live’." (Juvenile Instructor 48:309)
In a later statement that was quoted again by two other prophets, President Joseph F. Smith said, "We are a part of life and should study carefully our relationship to it. We should be in sympathy with it, and not allow our prejudices to create a desire for its destruction. The unnecessary destruction of life begets a spirit of destruction which grows within the soul. It lives by what it feeds upon and robs man of the love that he should have for the works of God. It hardens the heart of man… The unnecessary destruction of life is a distinct spiritual loss to the human family. Men cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creation. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life. …Love of nature is akin to the love of God, the two are inseparable." (Juvenile Instructor, April 1918, p. 182-3)
I heard a great devotional sermon by LDS president Spencer W Kimball at BYU in 1978, which he expounded upon much the same sentiments–citing the now defunct LDS hymn, "Don’t Shoot the Little Birds…" Not much traction on that one in Mormon hunting circles either. I had recently returned from BYU to my Midwestern home. Having this lecture fresh on my mind, I brought the subject up in a combined elders/high priest lesson and posed the question: What would you do if this upcoming conference, the prophet made this mandatory? Well, a riot ensued. The prophet wouldn’t do that, bla bla bla. So clearly, it’s far easier to give up coffee, tea, and booze, than giving up sport hunting in the Mormon psyche.
“I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong, and I have been surprised at prominent men whom I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood.” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1939, pp. 265-66.)
One of the poets stated in this connection:
Take not away the life you cannot give,
For all things have an equal right to live.
—and I might add there also, because God gave it to them, and they were to be used only, as I understand, for food and to supply the needs of men.
It is quite a different matter when a pioneer crossing the plains would kill a buffalo to bring food to his children and his family. There were also those vicious men who would kill buffalo only for their tongues and skins, permitting the life to be sacrificed and the food also to be wasted.
When asked how he governed so many people, the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”
We look to the Prophet Joseph Smith for proper teaching. He said once: “We crossed the Embarras river and encamped on a small branch of the same about one mile west. In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, ‘Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.’ The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.” (History of the Church, 2:71-72.)
Now, the Word of Wisdom is not the most controversial Mormon Doctrine from an outsider, even a detractor’s perspective. Indeed, it has become quite fashionable in many segments of the population to promote a balanced diet, moderation, and even a complete abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and sometimes tea and caffeine. Vegetarianism and hard-core veganism are remarkably popular social trends. All of these issues are contained in the Word of Wisdom. But, the move from LDS modern leadership toward a compulsory and absolute requirement to totally cease the consumption or practice of any or all of these mostly enjoyable “vices” however, such as the current demand for total abstinence from alcohol, coffee and tea as a requirement for Mormon baptism and temple attendance, is the single most pointless stumbling block that the inbred Utah culture has ego-centrically placed in the path of otherwise good and righteous Saints and prospective Saints. One current LDS web site bills the Word of Wisdom as a "Health Law." God however, in the revelation itself, makes it abundantly clear that this is a lie. It is not a commandment, and if it is a "Law" then it is a "Law" enacted by a clergy pretending to serve God by overtly disobeying His express instructions regarding the observance of this bit of very good advice.
On February 27, 1833, Joseph Smith received this now very much aggrandized Word of Wisdom in response to his wife Emma’s nagging about the mess they kept leaving for her to clean up in the attic room above Newel Whitney’s store, where for a time they held what was called, “The School of the Prophets.” During these sessions, the church leadership and various elders and potentates settled comfortably in, lit up their pipes, downed a few shots, cracked open a beer, poured a glass of wine, stuck a pinch between cheek and gum, and slurped, puffed, spit and farted their way through the mysteries of the universe, as men even today are wont to do. All that was missing was the pizza, KFC, cheese puffs and Doritos. Emma was born and bred of a family of Methodists who wreaked of Temperance and prohibition. True sons and daughters of America’s Puritan dry-ethic. She would have naturally been appalled by all the manly enjoyment going on in those study sessions with Joseph and his prophetic pals. As a result of these lessons and discussions the young visionary made many pronouncements and received many a revelation prompted by all the study, prayer and pondering that went on in these congenial and very manly gatherings. One of these became known as the “Word of Wisdom,” and was eventually adopted into the LDS canon, in the volume that became “Doctrine and Covenants,” section 89.
Here’s the “official” LDS presentation of the purpose and requirements of this revelation:
But the truth is, the Word of Wisdom has never banned the use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, or a steady diet of beefsteak and fried chicken. It’s a word to the wise. Advice—no more. Good advice, but not a law, not a dietary code, not a restriction of any sort. It was Heber J Grant, president of the LDS church in 1921, nearly a hundred years after this revelation, who first enforced a strict abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee as an absolute requirement for temple participation. Two decades earlier mind you, then LDS president Joseph F Smith gave it a try in 1902. The effort was met with utter failure. Not even Brigham Young himself had been able to succeed in morphing the general, broad admonitions in the Word of Wisdom into specific and universal prohibitions:
Though Young encouraged Mormons to follow the Word of Wisdom code, the church was tolerant of those who did not follow it. In 1860, he counseled those chewing tobacco in church meetings to at least be discrete and not excessive, but did not charge users with sin. By 1870, however, he ended the practice of chewing and spitting tobacco in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
Young also recognized a separation between using tobacco (which was discouraged), and selling it to non-Mormons as a business (which was encouraged). He also owned and maintained a bar in Salt Lake City for the sale of alcoholic beverages to non-Mormon travelers, on the theory that it was better for LDS Church authorities to run such establishments than for outsiders.
Brigham Young at one point in his Utah adventures, briefly organized a distillery, but the army came through in 1858 bringing more booze than it made sense to manufacture locally, and Young abandoned the project when it could be had cheaply from incoming merchandisers. Young preferred beer anyway, and drank it daily until the day he died. He also took wine, as did essentially the entire Mormon population in his day:
A Mormon (one that was oft accused of killing people) started the first Utah brewery. Indeed, the infamous Orrin Porter Rockwell established the Hot Springs Brewery Hotel in 1856 (Valley Tan; November 6, 1858). Rockwell himself was a colorful character: he was the personal bodyguard to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and with his Manson-like beard and intense, thunderous eyes, he turned out to be as intimidating as he looked. During a speech given by Vice President Schuyler Colfax in 1869, Porter was noted as to have blurted out "I never killed anyone who didn’t need killing."
Now why, pray tell, would we give this man, much less any man, the means to distribute beer to the common folk? The answer is simple: because of our railroaders and miners. It didn’t take long for people to find out that Utah had rich mineral deposits, and mining soon became the beating heart of Utah’s early economy (besides, there were still many unemployed people wandering around the West after hopping on the California Gold Rush train too late). Naturally, the prospect of new jobs immediately made numerous people perk up in excitement, and it wasn’t long before this little settlement was flooded with immigrants. Many of them (especially Germans) still had cultural drinking habits from their homelands, and the LDS Church greatly needed their labor. In fact, the first truly major brewery to be established in Utah was in 1864 by a German immigrant named Henry Wagener (Beer in the Beehive, 2006). The California Brewery grew to great prominence in a short amount of time, no doubt due to its prime location: right at the mouth of Emigration Canyon (in fact, it was only a couple hundred feet away from where the This Is the Place Monument now stands).
Yet the fertile fields that the Church members worked in soon provided something more: grapes. Lots of grapes. In fact, the wine that was derived from these grapes soon became hoarded by the LDS Church, largely because they were still using wine in their sacraments until the 1870s, when the teenage boys of the Aaronic Priesthood became allowed to prepare the sacraments themselves (soon replacing wine with water for their own protection, citing D&C 27:2 ["… that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the Sacrament"] as the reason for the switch). The Mormon-owned and operated Zions Cooperative Mercantile Institution outlet (ZCMI for short) soon began selling wine and beer to the general populace at its downtown location, providing much joy to the hard-working residents of Salt Lake City.
Sorry to inform all you modern Utah-Mormon products, but for generations before and after the pioneers rolled into the valley, most Mormons drank beer and most Mormon leaders understood the Word of Wisdom to have expressly promoted turning barley into beer, which is the only “mind drink” ever made of barley in the day. That and cider, but there were no apples to be had in Utah at the time. Beer was, and remains in most civilizations, a "mild drink.” Brigham Young was a regular coffee drinker as well. But, one might ask, was all this brewing and vinting and distilling something Brigham Young hatched up out of his own interpretation of the Word of Wisdom? Was it some big change in policy on how the Word of Wisdom was to play a part in Mormon lifestyles? No, not really. Young’s predecessor was certainly no more fervently dedicated to the Word of Wisdom than Brigham Young or any of the other early Latter-day Saints:
Nevertheless, contemporary records indicate that Joseph Smith, Jr. was not, himself, a strict observer. Smith is recorded at various times as drinking tea, beer, and wine. There is a report he also smoked tobacco: according to Amasa Lyman, a member of the First Presidency under Smith, Smith once finished preaching a sermon on the Word of Wisdom and immediately afterward rode through the streets smoking a cigar.
Even after many non-binding and nearly-binding “official” pronouncements along the way, it took nearly two centuries for there to be any complete “authoritative” consensus on what the Word of Wisdom actually “proscribed”:
The revelation suggests that barley-based mild drinks (such as beer) may be permissible. As recently as 1901, Apostles Brigham Young, Jr. and John Henry Smith argued that the revelation did not prohibit beer. However, LDS Church leaders now teach that consumption of any form of alcohol, including beer, violates the Word of Wisdom
In a pamphlet written in 1930 called The Word of Wisdom, Apostle John A. Widtsoe taught that refined flour was contrary to the Word of Wisdom.
Adherence to the proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom was not made a requirement for entry into LDS Church temples until 1902. However, even then, church president Joseph F. Smith encouraged stake presidents to be liberal with old men who used tobacco and old ladies who drank tea. Of those who violated the revelation, it was mainly habitual drunkards that were excluded from the temple. Around the turn of the century, the proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom were not strictly adhered to by such notable church leaders. Anthon H. Lund, a First Counselor in the First Presidency, drank beer and wine; Apostle Matthias F. Cowley drank beer and wine; Charles W. Penrose, who also served as a First Counselor in the First Presidency, drank wine; Relief Society president Emmeline B. Wells drank coffee; and church president George Albert Smith drank brandy, for medicinal purposes. In 1921, church president Heber J. Grant made adherence to the proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom an absolute requirement for entering the temple.
Today, adherence to the proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom is required for baptism and for entry into temples of the LDS Church. BYU historian Thomas G. Alexanderpoints out that while the original Word of Wisdom as a "principle with promise" was given by revelation, there is no evidence that any church leader has claimed a separate new revelation, or even a spiritual confirmation, of changing the Word of Wisdom from "a principle with promise" to a commandment.
As recently as a few days of this writing the LDS church was responding to presidential campaign related television articles, and clarifying another long-held Utah cultural Word of Wisdom myth:
On Wednesday (Aug. 29), the LDS church posted a statement on its website saying that "the church does not prohibit the use of caffeine" and that the faith’s health-code reference to "hot drinks" "does not go beyond (tea and coffee)."
A day later, the website wording was slightly softened, saying only that "the church revelation spelling out health practices … does not mention the use of caffeine."
The same goes for the church’s two-volume handbook, which LDS leaders use to guide their congregations. It says plainly that "the only official interpretation of ‘hot drinks’ … in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early church leaders that the term’ hot drinks’ means tea and coffee."
I am not going to give any command, but I will ask it as a personal, individual favor to me, to let coca-cola [sic] alone. There are plenty of other things you can get at the soda fountains without drinking that which is injurious. The Lord does not want you to use any drug that creates an appetite for itself.
Two years later, Grant met with a representative of the Coca-Cola Company and concluded:
…I have not the slightest desire to recommend that the people leave Coca-Cola alone if th[e] amount [of caffeine in Coca-Cola] is absolutely harmless, which they claim it is". Grant never again spoke out against the use of cola drinks.
Approximately fifty years later, 1971, the church issued an official statement on the matter:
With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.
And it’s really not the Word of Wisdom itself that commands the LDS faithful to do the bidding, er, that is, follow these sorts of “suggestions” from high LDS authorities, even given clear disclaimers from those same authorities that their “suggestions” aren’t binding in any way. It’s the prevailing notion, promoted by these self-same authorities oddly enough, that their “advice” is “modern day scripture,” even when they’re just blowing doctrinal smoke out of their backsides or expressing personal preferences. Heber J Grant for instance, was probably already fixated upon the notion that Coca Cola was loaded with cocaine when he made the church’s first attack on caffeinated drinks. Cocaine, it’s original booster ingredient, had been removed in 1903, and caffeine replaced it. In 1918 some University of Utah cluck of a chemist named Frederick J. Pack wrote a paper concluding that since coffee contained caffeine as its active ingredient, and so did Coca Cola, it should also be banned in the "spirit" of the Word of Wisdom. Grant was no chemist and it all probably sounded the same to him. Drugz iz drugz. He bought the article’s premise obviously, and here we have the beginnings of Mormon scientists and laymen essentially writing their own research and folk-doctrines into official LDS policy through the well-meaning, if ill-informed lay-clergy that makes such rulings with or without an actual "revelation" and has the social and organizational clout to enforce them just by making the suggestion.
The problem these modern prophets and apostles and “authorities” of various stripes in the LDS church have with promoting the Word of Wisdom as a list of compulsory proscriptions, is that in the end, it doesn’t matter what any of them, including founding prophet, Joseph Smith have to say about it. Regarding The Word of Wisdom, unlike many other LDS doctrinal controversies, the language of the revelation itself unarguably defines itself as a non-commandment. Unlike many other Mormon folk or pop doctrines, or even longstanding "policies" like not ordaining Negroes to the priesthood, in the case of the Word of Wisdom, all LDS authorities have always accepted verbatim Joseph Smith’s revelation to be the very Word of God. Again, unlike many other murky LDS interpretations of early "revelations," quasi-official oratorios or ad-hoc scribblings, the Word of Wisdom has a direct provenance from Mormonism’s founding prophet, who immediately recorded it–as he claimed–from God’s lips to his ear, and directly onto paper. It was immediately broadcast and well-known and has never been changed. It has been adopted as LDS canon and as such is the ultimate reference in any determination of "true" or "accurate" doctrine of the church.
Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants is without any room for interpretation, a “Word of Wisdom.” God says it is presented merely as good advice. God says so in its introduction. It is not given as a commandment and God Himself says so. It cannot be made compulsory by any or all of the ruling quorums who have obviously done so anyway, simply through ignoring a few lines and adding some cultural spin. That isn’t the order of the church. And in this specific case, it clearly can’t be adopted as a set of binding requirements even through communal acclaim because God says it is not to be made in any way compulsory. Only God can say otherwise. God says: Here’s a Word of Wisdom, but remember, it is not intended to by a commandment or binding in any way. Then Heber J Grant a hundred years later says: Hey, I’m making it a commandment. Ignore that line and obey my ruling or you’re out of the temple and out of the church. And then his counselors and the two other quorums sustain his heresy.
There is nothing unclear or unanswered or ambiguous about God’s will in the matter of the Word of Wisdom. It’s not like the Negro/priesthood ban where there never was a clear, canonical declaration one way or the other. There is no commandment that you obey the Word of Wisdom. It is therefore not even rational to answer “Yes” when you are asked if you obey it or not. One cannot "obey" a suggestion or good advice. Indeed, no LDS authority has any right to ask you that question, nor prescribe a penalty for not answering it or answering it “no.” You cannot “obey” a suggestion—even if it comes from God. Nor can any LDS authority punish his flock or any member of it for not following a suggestion.
God, indeed, clearly delineates only the benefits of following, repeat: following—not obeying–His Word of Wisdom: Better health and peace of mind. In the revelation itself, God does not assign any punishment of any sort for not following this advice apart from the implication that you won’t be as healthy or clear-headed as you would be if you chose to follow his advice. You cannot vote in a commandment from God when God explains Himself it is not intended to be compulsory in any way. The Word of Wisdom is a greeting and some good counsel. Don’t read what I have to say about it. I’m just telling you what God had to say about it. Only God can deliver a commandment through revelation—modern or otherwise. This particular revelation says it’s not a commandment. You can sustain it all you want and vote it into the canon. That just canonizes the fact that it’s not a commandment.
Since nobody’s ponied-up a revelation, or even a pretense of an allusion to a revelation that supersedes the concise and irrefutably non-commandmental nature of the Word of Wisdom, what we have in the form of modern LDS policy on the issue of interpreting or "following" the Word of Wisdom, is essentially defined as heretical. Directly contravening the express will of God as stated in church canon, and issuing an edict demanding that the body of the church do likewise, has all the elements of the Council of Nice, or any of the other Church councils the early Latter-day Saints began their career condemning. The purely socio-political processes and mechanisms through which compulsory compliance to the "suggestions" made in the Word of Wisdom have grown to be enforced in the LDS church today are exactly the sorts of "interpolations of men" described by Joseph Smith in his condemnations of the state of orthodox Christianity Biblical translations and interpretations in his day.
There is a legal doctrine meaning “the thing speaks for itself.” The Everest of ecclesiastical truth built from the translations and revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith speaks for itself as it towers above the foothills of philosophy. Even so, most will ignore it. Still others will reject the Restoration, supplying their own alternative explanations, just as some did who once heard thunder instead of the voice of God. (See John 12:27–30.) However, in a happy day ahead, “they that murmured shall learn doctrine.” (Isa. 29:24; 2 Ne. 27:35.) This suggests that doctrinal illiteracy is a significant cause of murmuring among Church members.
“There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. …
“Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth.” (D&C 91:1–4.)
Well, the Word of Wisdom certainly speaks for itself. And the history of its promotion into a "Health Law" by a bunkered LDS leadership eager to create cultural unity also speaks for itself. The current Word of Wisdom policy originated in the Methodism of Emma Smith, and is the product of John Wesley and the creeping Puritanism of John Calvin. It certainly flies in the face of the enlightened moderation of Joseph Smith. The specific Mormon mandate against alcohol, tobacco and "hot drinks," found its fervor in the Temperance Movement as championed by the elitist, sacrificial demands of Heber J Grant in the heyday of prohibition. Joseph F Smith began the push for in-house prohibition, and did so three years ahead of national prohibition. Heber J Grant took over as president a few years afterward and stiffened penalties, made strict observance of the Word of Wisdom a “test of fellowship.” For decades they pushed forward to have not just the Mormon world, but the entire world abstain from alcohol. But embracing and entwining the Temperance Movement and the beliefs of Calvin and Wesley and those personal prejudices of the largely female leaders of the nation’s rising political religion, from Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, to Emma Smith and Carrie Nation, any more authoritative or doctrinally valid than the generation of LDS leaders following them, who embraced Klingon Skousen and all his conspiratorial delusions and made the John Burch Society and anti-Civil Rights politics a quasi-official wing of the Mormon priesthood for the last four generations.
But the fact remains that by the time national prohibition finally passed, Smith and Grant had already made their church the piously dry example for the nation. And so it remains, as a nearly pointless slap in the face to some 90% of the already religious and most likely to embrace Mormonism population. The modern, mandated Word of Wisdom, the demonized use of enjoyable substances of any sort, is exactly what Heber J Grant defined it to be: A test of fellowship. It’s a gatekeeping device designed by a lazy church leadership to help clean their ranks of anyone not absolutely ready to deny anything and everything and give their all to the cause of paying tithing and putting up more chapels and temples, and filling every moment of their lives with leadership-initiated and defined "programs" to keep them out of trouble.
And as Joseph Goebbels, the NAZI inventor of the modern science of "propaganda" could tell you, there is great value in the social concept of shared suffering, or a shared bond of self-denial. Having had plural marriage beaten out of the Mormon doctrinal basket of goodies, later LDS leaders like Joseph F Smith and Heber J Grant found something just as “peculiar” in the Word of Wisdom, to set their people apart from the rabble of the Gentile masses. Something to make them uniquely more overtly holy and chosen than the common Christians who had invaded their happy Mormon hideaway. They would not only deny themselves common alcoholic release, but would extend this proscription to even the mild comforts of coffee and tea. Ascetic dietary restrictions put the Saints almost in the category as the Jews: Chosen. Chosen as hell, and showing it in a really chosen-looking way—by denying themselves of a few simple, mostly harmless but highly enjoyable worldly pleasures.
The problem with the current, now longstanding Word of Wisdom hyper-superiority policy, is it spits in the eye of too many other canonical and clearly doctrinal concepts. Word of Wisdom fanaticism says to the world and the congregation alike: If you aren’t ready to do as I as your current prophet say and take this bit of good advice to the extremes of obedience that not even the Lord demanded, then just piss off. You aren’t Celestial Kingdom material, and that’s the only class of member or convert we’ll waste our valuable time on. And the record shows these latter LDS leaders saying essentially that, like this gem from Joseph F Smith:
The reason undoubtedly why the Word of Wisdom was given—as not by ‘commandment or restraint’ was that at that time, at least, if it had been given as a commandment it would have brought every man, addicted to the use of these noxious things, under condemnation; so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome, before He brought them under the law.
Leaders like Joseph F Smith and HJ Grant’s were motivated by genuine concern for their people, but tyranny is tyranny even if it’s done in the name of making society more orderly and productive for one and all. The now stock argument that the Word of Wisdom was only given as an optional code initially as a favor of the Lord to allow a hundred years or so for the Saints to get used to it, is lame at best. For that to be true, the Lord would have to have delivered at least one follow-up revelation to at least one Mormon prophet explaining His motivations for making it so plainly voluntary, then reverse His strategy by redacting the introductory language that clearly makes it non-compulsory. Otherwise, it’s still the literal, pure word of God exactly as He intended it to read. God said it’s not intended to be enforced or compelled in any way—and every LDS prophet conceded that very clear and irrefutable point right up to JF Smith and Heber J Grant. Their efforts to obfuscate the truth of this "Word of Wisdom," this "revelation from God," have been quite successful over the generations. Today, dropping hot drinks and alcohol from your diet has become 90% of the Mormon culture and faith system—however extraneous it remains to the doctrinal core of the faith. It’s the deal breaker–all in or all out. Even a a non-tithe-payer is given acres of leeway and full acceptance into the bosom of the Mormon faithful. One sniff of cigarette on the jacket at an LDS church supper, or one belch in Sunday School smelling a bit like Jack Daniels, and you’re an instant pariah–the subject of ward council meetings and home teacher personal priesthood interviews.
For all of modern Mormon leadership’s fixation on the dirty three—alcohol, tobacco, and hot drinks, somewhere in the history of the Word of Wisdom, as evidenced by Brigham Young’s massive gut, the Latter-day Saints seemed to have missed all its admonitions against gluttony, fatty, dead-animal-based diets, and the fact that pot is a useful green herb–green herbs being the only other natural substance specifically sanctioned for consumption in the Word of Wisdom, apart from beer. Brigham Young took wine and a little whiskey, drank coffee often, but preferred beer and enjoyed it until the day he died. Beer, in fact was considered a "mild drink" and remains clearly and specifically sanctioned in the revelation that became Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Here’s the plain and literal truth from the lips of God to Joseph Smith’s ear: Nothing in the Word of Wisdom has ever proscribed alcohol, tobacco, or "hot drinks." The canonization of that revelation indeed in its opening remarks clearly declares:
"A Word of Wisdom, for the benefit of the council of high priests, assembled in Kirtland, and the church, and also the saints in Zion— To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the a word of wisdom, showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days— "
"And all saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones…"
The sad truth here is that Utah culture locked itself up in the fervor of the Temperance and Prohibition eras, and since then has promoted Word of Wisdom snobbery into a policy of fanatical, extreme abstinence, in part due to the drunken influence of the US Army and other civil and governmental "Gentiles" inflicted upon them for several generations as the US Federal government literally occupied Utah by crude force in their formative decades, and in part due to an inability to agree upon what "moderation" is. The now longstanding incorporation of Word Of Wisdom "superiority" into temple-worthiness and membership requirements is precisely the sort of thing the revelation seems to be reassuring the Saints the Almighty did not at all intend. The only implied internal "punishment" for not following it, is a somewhat less healthy constitution. All other “penalties” are strictly extra-canonical. Even counter-canonical. Even anti-canonical.
Mormon anti-alcohol fanaticism even turned against the use of wine in communion–again, even though this is specifically sanctioned in the Word of Wisdom. Jesus turned water into wine. Joseph F Smith and Heber J Grant turned wine into water.
Simply put, even according to neo-Calvinists like the late-great Bruce R McConkie, not even a living prophet has the prerogative to compound and supersede a canonized, direct commandment from God–without of course an equally direct modern revelation that has been equally canonized to contradict the previous commandment. There has rather, never been any such new expansion of the Word of Wisdom proposed by any modern prophet, the policy has simply been socially conceded and sustained in practice by Utah cultural convention. The ascetic, Puritanical notion that "God may not require it but I’ll do him one better…" has perverted God’s original Word of Wisdom into the current, fanatical, Methodistic proscription of anything enjoyable in general. The present Word of Wisdom cult has grown to be strongly reminiscent of the Roman Church’s monastic orders. Likewise, creating a cultural peculiarity along the lines of Kosher law has added to the feeling of Mormon cultural "specialness" in the great bunker of the Wasatch Front. For generations the LDS culture hid itself from "Gentiles" and made great effort to prove to themselves and their neighbors, occupiers, oppressors and the world, that they were every bit as peculiar and "chosen" as the Jews. They believe themselves to be adopted into the House of Israel at baptism. Rigid adherence to the admonition of the Word of Wisdom is simply put, a cultural preference, not a binding canonical demand.
But that’s just me. That’s just me reading literally what God had Joseph Smith write down and called a "revelation." That’s just what the words say in the canonical 89th section of the D&C.
In practice however, Mormon doctrine has always been decided based upon whoever was in charge at the moment. So, if you want to be a Mormon, just stop smoking and drinking until they let you get baptized. After that initial test of your committment, apart from keeping you out of the temple or church employment—which honestly, you and Jesus both can live without if it means the only other option is you not being a member at all—you just do your best to moderate your habits and don’t worry about your "Word of Wisdom Problem," as it will be termed. It’s not like you’re disobeying a commandment or anything. It’s just a cultural prejudice that LDS leadership has elected to enforce as if it were. But wrong or right, it is being enforced as a commandment in the LDS realms of leadership, and the punishment for any infraction of this "Dietary Law" is shunning and banishment from the Body of Christ.
That’s just the way it is.
Prohibition gave us organized crime, the War on Drugs gave us a southern border that is made unlivable by kidnapping, murdering, beheadings and whole towns run by Mexican drug cartels. Promotion of the Word of Wisdom from a bit of good advice to a mandatory set of requirements for membership and temple worship, gave Mormonism the exclusive world-wide franchise on being tight-assed as a way of life. And the LDS leadership and the generations they raised and recruited to fill their ranks, like it that way. They only want other tight-asses to be interested in their church. Their church.
What Jesus thinks about the matter is recorded in the 89th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants. He seems to put an entirely different spin on it. And don’t get me started on our Savior’s history of pastoral preferences found around the taverns and public squares and houses he made his singular ministry. (Hint: It’s in the Bible. New Testament.)
This is just one Saint’s opinion. For my money, the reason God originally made the Word of Wisdom so clearly optional, is because He wanted it that way, and spelled it out up-front because in His omniscience knew that the tight-asses working for him in Utah would beat themselves silly with it until they’d alienated most of His children worldwide for no good reason other than Utah Mormon elitism. And all this mainly in a desperate attempt to distinguish themselves as a “peculiar” people.
Some day, the LDS church may finally decide it’s going to be a hospital for sinners instead of an exclusive hotel for the Saints who are well on the road to the Celestial Kingdom. In the meantime, it will leave you cold and bleeding out in the dark on the sidewalk until you agree to swear off that cup of java, give up smoking, and stop drinking.