An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Word of Wisdom’

“Not by Commandment or Constraint”

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.

Too Many Sins

This morning at 7:00, George and I were in our front yard when a barefoot guy in his early 20’s stalked past wearing a robe and pajama bottoms. He walked to the corner, sat on the curb, and hunched over. I walked over to see if he was all right. He took a drag on the cigarette he’d just lit and said, “I’m fine, thank you. I just had to walk three blocks from home to have a cigarette.”

The young nicotine addict is visiting one of our Mormon neighbors. Now I understand forbidding indoor smoking. No one wants to inhale secondhand smoke. But banishing a visitor from smoking in the backyard? Was that motivated by concern for what the neighbors might think? The kid’s attire and martyred attitude suggest an argument preceded his arrival in front of our house.

Treating tobacco use as a moral transgression rather than an unhealthy practice creates unnecessary tension for Mormon families with members who choose to ignore the Word of Wisdom. Don’t we have enough sins to worry about if we just target behavior that harms others?

Devotion and Tolerance

Americans have a tradition of being intolerant of religions other than our own. Persecuted minorities who came to America for freedom of worship soon kicked out dissenters like Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams. Puritans even justified the death penalty for Quakers. In the 19th century, Catholics and Mormons were victims of prejudice and persecution as were Jews in the first half of the 20th century. Being aware of our history makes the current hysteria against Muslims understandable if not justifiable.

Yesterday my devout Mormon daughter and her family came for dinner along with some non-Mormon family members. My five-year-old grandson, Plato, watched me prepare a pitcher of iced tea and asked if it was garlic herbal tea which his mother gives him when he’s sick. I said no and he asked what kind of tea it was. “Green tea.” “Is that against the Word of Wisdom?” “Yes it is.” “Are you going to have some?” And here I hesitated. I don’t care to undermine the teachings of his parents. And I do want them to continue coming to see us. Since I don’t feel comfortable lying to a child, I answered that I would probably choose to drink some iced tea. “I won’t,” he said. “That’s good. You should not choose to drink tea,” I agreed. Fortunately, Plato was distracted by an opened bag of potato chips at that point. He will have to sort out later the fact that some adults he loves don’t follow the same teachings his parents give him.

When my grandchildren who are being raised in an evangelical religion get a bit older, I’m sure they also will find that Granny and Granddad don’t adhere to every religious principle their parents consider important. I hope that having family members with differing religious beliefs will benefit our grandchildren. I hope they will learn that good people are found in many religions and in no religions. And I hope they will realize that respecting other people’s beliefs in no way diminishes the validity of their own. If they can, they’ll be light years ahead of most Americans.

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