The Word of Wisdom Gives Us the Opportunity to Learn for Ourselves

By Geoff Openshaw

I’ve been thinking about the Word of Wisdom. I have no problems with it. I’m cool with it. There are many who might argue that the Mormon Church could make better use of its resources fighting poverty and society’s great ills than being concerned with whether or not its members are wine-bibbers. But really, I think we can do all these things. This post, however, is not the one where I will rant and rave about humanitarian work and the like. Besides, you’re better off visiting our friends at No Poor Among Them if you are into that. I’m a humanitarian loser.

Too easily we focus on the prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom rather than the admonitions.

So back to the task at hand. The Word of Wisdom is interesting. We can get wrapped up in its lore – how it wasn’t originally a commandment tied to concepts of worthiness or a temple recommend. But that was in the mid-19th century, and I believe that our counsel today is what best stands. God’s principles might be eternal, but his commandments to the Saints can vary.

Too easily we focus on the prohibitions of the Word of Wisdom rather than the admonitions. On top of that, the prohibitions we tend to focus on are beverage-related with little mind paid to things like, you know, gluttony, lethargy, etc.

Alcohol – Friend or Foe?

But for the sake of this post, let’s focus on beverages a bit. Alcohol is a pretty easy one. D&C 89 states:

“That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good…..”

That’s pretty cut and dry, and we can safely argue that “strong drink” would be stuff of higher proof or ABV than wine, like moonshine and absinthe. Vodka, however, gets a pass. I’m kidding.

Recently, my wife and I decided to pick up some sweet boozy nectar to make a risotto. Here were my takeaways:

  1. I know nothing about wine and meandered around the section for what felt like hours without a clue what to grab.
  2. “What if someone from the ward sees us?!”
  3. I felt strange being there, having never purchased an alcoholic beverage in my 30+ years – almost like the rush that came during high school hooliganism when I knew I was doing something BAD.
  4. $10 is more than I want to spend on a bottle of anything

Also, I should note that the risotto remains uncooked. Come on, Danielle!

Whether you are a believer in alcohol completely out of your cooking or you are OK with the concept of “burning it off,” I really don’t care. Personally, I think that it’s OK to burn it off if it does, indeed, burn off.

But what of non-alcoholic beer? I really have no idea. Aside from the fact that beer smells like stale urine and I can’t fathom why anyone would want to ingest it when Cherry Coke is so readily available, I really have no opinion on the matter. I think that, as Latter-day Saints, we easily get uncomfortable at the sight of alcohol-free beer in a fellow Mormon’s fridge. It happens. We’ve been acculturated to get freaked out by such things. I saw it a lot on my mission in Spain. Heck, there were members who owned bars in my mission. Such is life. It’s not my place to really judge or care, but will I admit to a natural human impulse to be a bit affronted? Maybe. I am, as it were, mortal.

“We don’t just drink coffee and tea sparingly, so long as we don’t develop an addiction. So then why the discussion over soda? 

After all, how many of us worry about alcohol in cooking but don’t think twice about vanilla extract in baking? If you are concerned about this, here’s a data chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that demonstrates cook times and percentage of alcohol retained in food. Pretty useful, actually.

Coffee and Tea – PLUS Bonus+ for Soft Drinks

Let’s move on to tea and coffee, merely referred to  as “hot drinks” which are “not for the body or belly” in D&C 89. We’ve had to rely on greater modern-day revelation for that one. Joseph Smith discussed the confusion on the issue:

“I understand that some of the people are excusing themselves in using tea and coffee, because the Lord only said ‘hot drinks’ in the revelation of the Word of Wisdom.

“Tea and coffee … are what the Lord meant when He said ‘hot drinks.'”

Our main counsel is about “habit-forming drugs.” So if one develops an addiction to some morning joe, decaf or caf, that’s a bad one. The same could clearly apply to black, green, and white teas, as they are caffeinated and can result in addiction.

I think this is the jumping off point for anti-caffeine crusaders, particularly with soft drinks. Carbonated soft drinks existed during Joseph Smith’s life, but they were a bit more of a boutique item in the form of soda waters and really didn’t reach the masses until the turn of the century. Even then, few involved caffeine. Suffice it to say, Coke wasn’t part of the equation back then, and the Church has been appropriately vague on the regulation of its consumption in the days since.

But the question is, if we refrain from some lovely English breakfast tea because of its addictive qualities, does that put soda in play in the same arena? We don’t just drink coffee and tea sparingly, so long as we don’t develop an addiction. So then why the discussion over soda? Bear in mind, I say this as a HUGE Dr. Pepper supporter, though not on par with Diet Coke girls, which is a strange social status thing that I’ll never understand. (Seriously, do I care about your thousand social media references to your Diet Coke?)

I am curious, though, about your opinions on teas. The distinction must be drawn between actual tea and herbal infusions. Have all the rooibos and chamomile you want, friends.  The main thing here, though, is that an infusion is technically not a tea, as tea is derived from those pesky caffeinated tea leaves. So while we soldier on with the colloquialism of herbal infusions being called “tea,” I wonder if that makes less sense outside Mormon culture.

And lastly, Pero. Drink it all you want. There’s no caffeine. It tastes like dirt. Also, it has chicory in it, which is a primary driving ingredient in the after-effects of these beauties. I think people get worked up over something like Pero just because it looks like coffee. Well heck, so does hot chocolate if coffee has cream. Again, Pero is gross, so don’t waste your time.

“Pray About It” Doesn’t Have to Be a Cliché

My main takeaway in all of this is that, yes, it is easier to draw lines and put up walls if that helps us keep the commandments and draw closer to our father in heaven. But all too easily we want everything spelled out for us without going to the effort to seek understanding and personal revelation. But make those choices wisely. I’ve met some who don’t cook with wine, for example, because they feel that the wine doesn’t entirely cook off, they dislike the subtle taste of alcohol, and they have incidences of alcoholism in their family and don’t want to risk it. The third point there is a smart one. Don’t poke the bear.

So for me, here’s how I do things:

  • Drink soda sparingly, less for addiction and more because I know that soda is just bad for me (work in progress).
  • No near beer or anything like it. Personal choice (mastered).
  • No coffee, decaf or other (mastered).
  • No real tea (mastered).
  • Copious ingestion of herbal infusions (mastered – during my undergrad years I purchased an electric tea kettle for $40, telling myself I would get more satisfaction from it over the years than from spending the equivalent amount of money on a date. I was correct.)
  • Be mindful of cooking with alcohol – I only use it if I know it’ll take long enough to go away (learning).
  • Do not bib ze wine (mastered).