An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

One constructive step the Church could take to retain members and possibly lessen the perception of Mormons as odd, would be to return to the original intent of D&C 89, the Word of Wisdom given as a principle with promise—“not by commandment or constraint.”  According to Mormon historian, Leonard Arrington, Brigham Young took a firmer stance against hot drinks, interpreting them as tea and coffee, for economic reasons—to keep money from flowing out of state to purchase items not locally produced. Tobacco use was probably relegated to sin status for the same reason. Alcohol, of course, could be produced locally and a wine mission of Swiss converts was sent to St. George to grow grapes and produce a beverage which was not restricted to Gentiles.

The later Mormon view of tobacco and alcohol, even coffee and tea use, not just as a health issue but as sin, makes it difficult for those who indulge in their use to participate in Church activity—and too often causes family friction as well.

Most Americans are aware of health reasons for caring about what we consume. Plenty of medical evidence exists for abstaining from tobacco. Even moderate social drinking has negative health implications for some people. Green tea has healthful benefits, but caffeine raises blood pressure levels.

People who eat and drink things that negatively impact their health generally feel guilt from themselves, their doctors, friends, and the media without adding Church condemnation to the mix. Besides, the Word of Wisdom is selectively applied. Animal flesh, according to the D&C, is to be eaten sparingly—and only in winter—but I haven’t heard of any 300 pound members with arteries clogged from bacon grease and Big Macs being denied admittance to temples. And the heavy use of caffeinated beverages by members makes Mormon disapproval of coffee and tea appear hypocritical to non-Mo associates.

Raising kids to believe violating the Word of Wisdom is a sin creates two problems—intolerance by those who follow that teaching, and resentment from those who don’t.

Since our immediate family includes both drinkers and teetotalers, I feel a sensible rule is that we don’t have alcohol served in our home at gatherings with children. I would not object to those who enjoy a glass of wine with a meal partaking. The problem I have is that drinking more than that often relaxes language and behavior into modes inappropriate around children.

Because we raised our children with the drinking-is-breaking-a-commandment mindset, our Mormon daughter does not want wine served in her children’s presence. Some of our non-Mo kids see the rule against alcohol as a belated attempt at parental control. Both groups negotiate for us to take their side—an unfortunate situation that could have been avoided by sticking with the original meaning of D&C 89:2.

Comments on: "“Not by Commandment or Constraint”" (8)

  1. Excellent post.

    I have never heard the theory/history in your first paragraph. Very interesting.

    Aren’t “mixed” families fun? Mom told me this morning that my sister-in-law tried to derail our traditional “moment of silence” and personal reflection time that we do before family meals. Mom wouldn’t go along with SIL and shut her down. Today I’m very proud of my Mom.

  2. Course Correction – Your posts are like manna from heaven. Seriously. I never understood D&C 89 myself. I think we’d all be better off with moderation…including and especially food. Case in point, early-morning donut meetings. Do we need really chocolate donuts to lure people out to a 7:00 AM meeting?

    And does anyone know what kind of mild barely drinks we are supposed to consume?

    • Matt T.

      I think the unlamented Postum was made of barley—burned barley.

      And anyone who calls a 7 a.m. meeting should serve something stronger than chocolate donuts.

  3. Nice. I certainly agree. The current implementation of the Word of Wisdom is counter to the original intent. It was meant to be guidelines in making wise choices, not something that will cause members to shun you.

    Three comments. First the comma after “used” in verse 13 is not present in the original revelation. It was inexplicably added in the 1980s iirc.

    So it should read:

    13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

    Meaning that meats may be consumed at all times, not only during winter or cold or famine.

    Second, I like how you equated the coffee and tea thing with Brigham’s economic policies. Today Mormons look at tea and coffee and think well it must be the caffeine that’s bad. But the revelation says no such thing. The revelation doesn’t even say tea and/or coffee. No, the revelation says HOT drinks. For me when it says hot drinks I tend to believe that is what it means, HOT drinks. Could it be that the temperature of the drink causes the drink to be unwise to consume rather than using “hot drinks” as a classification for certain types of drinks.

    Third, Matt T., the barley drink is beer.

    • zo-ma-rah

      Wow! What a difference a comma makes to the meaning.

      I did have a Primary teacher who interpreted hot drinks to include tomato soup and chicken broth. We probably can’t expect an official interpretation in this direction.

      I do think an official interpretation of barley drinks as beer might really help the misisonary effort.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud