Balancing the Discussion: The Word of Wisdom

By: jmb275
February 15, 2012

Ahhhh the Ensign. Let’s see what we’ve got this month.
“Exhort them to Pray” by H.B. Eyring
That might be good.
Visiting Teaching Message.
L-A-M-E j/k
“The Lord Has Given Us a Law of Health” by ??? (what, some staffer?). That’s lame, there’s no authoritah in that!
Let’s see how they’ve packaged up the no alcohol, coffee, tea, drugs, tobacco checklist this time.

One of the great blessing we received when we came to earth was a physical body. Our bodies are holy and so important that the Lord calls them temples of God.

Dang, that chick in those leggings I saw yesterday had a nice temple. I bet she keeps the WoW!

He also tells us that none of His commandments are temporal but that all His “commandments are spiritual” (D&C 29:35). So His commandments concerning our physical health are also for our spiritual good (see D&C 89:19-21)

Hmmm, I wonder if my spirit would like Mike’s Hard Lemonade? Or maybe a caramel latte a la Starbucks?

Because our Heavenly Father wants us to take care of our bodies, He revealed essential information on how to do so. Much of this information is found in Doctrine and Covenants 89 and is known as the Word of Wisdom.

Here we learn several things we should and should not do to keep our bodies healthy. The spirit of this law is to consume nutritious foods and to refrain from anything that is habit forming or harmful to our bodies.

Wow, right out of the gate we’re gonna talk about the spirit of the law. That’s a nice touch! Next up: the checklist…

Among the things the Lord commands us not to take into our bodies are alcohol and tobacco, which are drugs (see D&C 89:5-8). We should not use any drugs except when they are necessary as medicine. Those who misuse legal or illegal drugs need to seek help so their bodies can become clean again and free from addiction. A clean body is more receptive to the Holy Ghost. (emphasis mine)

Ah, here we go. The good ‘ole WoW checklist. Bring on the coffee and tea…

The Lord also counsels us against the use of “hot drinks” (D&C 89:9). Prophets have explained that this means coffee and tea, which contain harmful substances. We should avoid all drinks, whether hot or cold, that contain harmful substances.(emphasis mine)

Wait what?? Did they seriously just put alcohol and drugs in one paragraph under the directive “commands” and coffee and tea in another paragraph under “counsels”? For the record, Ensign Staffer (or whoever wrote this), lest we rely too much on D&C 89, verses 2-3 actually explicitly says “not by commandment or constraint…given for a principle with promise.” (emphasis mine) Nevertheless, I understand what you’re up against here so no worries.

We should also avoid anything that is harmful to our bodies, such as overeating or refusing to eat enough healthy foods to maintain our health.

Wow, even a mention of overeating, and eating healthy foods to maintain our health. Maybe the Word of Wisdom is really becoming a law of health. BTW, in what verse in D&C 89 does it say something about overeating? Oh, it doesn’t. So I guess we’re really reading between the lines here. Hey, what is this article anyway…I gotta say though, I’m good with that here because it’s good wisdom in any case.

In addition to the things we should not do, the Word of Wisdom tells us things that we should do. Several of those things are shown here.

Those who obey the Lord’s law of health “shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint” (D&C 89:18-20).

In the Word of Wisdom and other scriptures, the Lord has revealed health guidelines:
1. Fruits, vegetables, and wholesome herbs are to be used “in the season thereof” and “with prudence and thanksgiving” (see D&C 89:10-11).
2. Meat and poultry have been “ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly” (D&C 89:12).
3. “All grain is good for the food of man” (D&C 89:16).
4. We should not “labor more than [we] have strength” (D&C 10:4).
5. We should develop proper sleeping habits so “[our] bodies and [our] minds may be invigorated” (D&C 88:124).

On a more serious note, I think this might be the best article/position I’ve seen the church put out regarding The Word of Wisdom. I really feel like it’s a pretty balanced discussion. We start with the spirit of the law, thereby avoiding the checklist mentality at the start, then we mention the major no-no’s, relegate coffee and tea to “counsel” (appropriately I think), mention overeaters anonymous, and wrap up with a list of good suggestions for what we ought to do to stay healthy.

It’s also interesting to note the title “The Lord Has Given Us a Law of Health.” This feels more like a law of health loosely based on D&C 89 with some updated wisdom, which I find to be a more palatable position than trying to more directly parse D&C 89 itself.

I like the move here, I really do. Now if I could just get the other teachers in the YM presidency to teach from this article instead of those blasted Aaronic Priesthood manuals (don’t even get me started on those).

Questions for today:

  1. For critics of the church, do you find this a balanced discussion of the Wow? What would you like to see different if anything?
  2. For traditional believers, does the differentiation of “commands” and “counsel” in conjunction with coffee and tea occupying the latter spot mean anything new, or do you feel it was always this way?
  3. Is this particular article, with the spirit of the law, list of don’ts, list of do’s etc. represent a new presentation for the WoW, is it an ushering in of a new “law of health,” or is this just old news?

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47 Responses to Balancing the Discussion: The Word of Wisdom

  1. Jon on February 14, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    You might be reading too much into it. But if you parse D&C 89 you find that alcohol is good for you in the form of barley beer. Regardless, it’s just counsel and turned into command by overzealous people in bygone days and now considered commands because of traditions, reminds me of the ban on blacks.

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  2. Hawkgrrrl on February 15, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    Personally, yes I think this is a nice updating on the whole, one that will be entirely lost on those who think little girls in sundresses are immodest, but it takes a while for things to sink in for some.

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  3. Paul on February 15, 2012 at 7:04 AM

    jmb, for most TMBs, command and counsel are synonyms. And as long as the implications of the temple recommend interview haven’t changed, then don’t expect this article to signal any movement.

    That said, I agree with you that focus on the spirit first, and guidelines for healthy living are the real assets of this article.

    (I suppose if one were stretching, “prudent” use of herbs and fruit (v. 11), and sparing use of meat (v. 12) could be contrued to suggest avoiding overeating…but it’s a stretch, I agree.)

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  4. Jeff Spector on February 15, 2012 at 7:17 AM

    Yea, I read this. The way it was written I thought maybe it belonged in the Friend. At least they didn’t try to impose a bunch of scientific gobbilty-gook to ‘prove’ the WoW.

    I’d like to see emphasis the good parts of the WoW FIRST, rather than the should nots.

    I’m also wondering why we don’t observe the Kosher laws of the old Testament? Weren’t those good ideas as well? Or, a better question is why did the Lord impose new dietary laws that have no relationship to the old ones? Did those things become OK? While the things that were OK became bad?

    Just wondering.

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  5. MD on February 15, 2012 at 7:26 AM

    Ack! I would hate to have to be a visiting teacher who has to give this message with the caution against “overeating” to a sister with a weight problem.

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  6. ji on February 15, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    I don’t like calling the Word of Wisdom a law of health — it wasn’t given for health, and someone who is obedient to it can still be unhealthy — rather, to me, it was given as a protection to us as described in v. 4. I think your discussion here touches on every verse EXCEPT v. 4.

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  7. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 15, 2012 at 8:55 AM

    I would hate to be the person asked to implement an incremental change.

    The progress from “this is a best practice” to “this is the standard” to “this is the rule” to “variances are violations” that was used to implement the word of wisdom has push back even today.

    A lot to learn from that.

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  8. Bob on February 15, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    “We should not “labor more than [we] have strength” (D&C 10:4)”
    Sounds like those who take a hard run/bike ride in the morning should think about some Green Tea instead(?)

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  9. NewlyHousewife on February 15, 2012 at 9:00 AM

    Was this lesson really necessary? Next month: Hygiene Habits.

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  10. question on February 15, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    can anyone read “all herbs are for the use of man” and not think it is sanctioning some medicinal marijuana?

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  11. Whitney on February 15, 2012 at 9:45 AM

    @ #10, I think of that, too, but I also think there’s a difference between the marijuana that grew naturally back then, and the highly cultivated stuff you can get now, which has THC levels about 100x more than the olden days. Just a thought.

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  12. BeansDude on February 15, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    re: 10

    I’d agree, and I’d say that this article also sanctions Medical Marijuana.

    “We should not use any drugs except when they are necessary as medicine.”

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  13. jmb275 on February 15, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    Re Paul #3

    jmb, for most TMBs, command and counsel are synonyms. And as long as the implications of the temple recommend interview haven’t changed, then don’t expect this article to signal any movement.

    Yeah, I think you’re right. In which case, I really think this follows a tactic that is increasing in the church – providing nuance without driving away more conservative believers. I think it’s pretty good. Critics will say it doesn’t go far enough, but I think it’s a good strategy. For those who want to carefully parse the discussion, they see a difference, for those who don’t, they won’t.

    Re Jeff

    I’m also wondering why we don’t observe the Kosher laws of the old Testament? Weren’t those good ideas as well? Or, a better question is why did the Lord impose new dietary laws that have no relationship to the old ones? Did those things become OK? While the things that were OK became bad?

    I think it’s a good question, but I feel like it has an easy answer. The WoW really isn’t a law of health, it’s more like a right of passage, a transaction cost to participation if you will. The details aren’t particularly important, or well established, they just are what they are, and we’re to obey it. In other words, I’m saying I don’t think it needs to make sense. Green tea may very well be good for you, but it doesn’t really matter.

    However, I would be interested in some more opinions on your question – it’s an interesting one.

    Re Stephen

    The progress from “this is a best practice” to “this is the standard” to “this is the rule” to “variances are violations” that was used to implement the word of wisdom has push back even today.

    Well, and I think now with the push back, they’re having to reconsider some of the language and perhaps some of their position. The incremental step “back” (if it is a step in the other direction) is probably even MORE difficult to make the ones you mention. Especially will 14 million members.

    Re question #10

    can anyone read “all herbs are for the use of man” and not think it is sanctioning some medicinal marijuana?

    Not sure if you’re being serious or not. Assuming you are, I think our social and scientific biases carry nearly equal weight with the WoW. For the do-not’s clearly the WoW carries the day no matter what science says, but I think most Mormons are on board with the idea that not all herbs are good for us (indeed, some are literally poisonous).

    Re NewlyHousewife

    Was this lesson really necessary? Next month: Hygiene Habits.

    Well, I think this is part of my question. Is this anything interesting, or just old news? I take it you’re in the latter camp.

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  14. NewlyHousewife on February 15, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    jmb: yes, yes I am. Mainly because I figured after aging out of the youth system and joining the adult side of things would mean lessons like these fall into the “common sense/everyone knows” category like Jesus is God’s son. Even non-members know about the WoW (probably not word for word but they know we don’t drink).

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  15. alice on February 15, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    Wait! No tomatoes from Chile in the winter? No frozen out of season strawberries?

    I never thought about those before.

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  16. Heber13 on February 15, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    I like the tone of the article, reiterating there are good spiritual reasons someone may choose to avoid some things or commit to some lifestyles. As Hawkgrrrl mentioned in her post on HCG diet, some things can be beneficial when we commit to a certain way.

    My honest opinion: Putting it in the Ensign continues to raise its status as an important commandment Saints should think about and talk about. I think there are greater things they can spend ink and paper and printing money talking about.

    I’d prefer it stop being discussed, de-emphasized as a commandment, removed from Gospel Principles as its own chapter, and bishops try to remind members to let drinks cool down a bit before drinking so you don’t burn your mouth…since the body is a temple.

    Letting it fall to the background and not talking about much would be my preference…then it would only take a generation to see it totally different in the Church. The Church is good about knowing how to not talk about things until they fade out and eventually become, “I’m not sure we teach that in the Church”.

    “The Lord has given us a law of health” – bah…the Ensign can do better.

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  17. jmb275 on February 15, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    Re Heber13
    It’s not that I disagree with you, but do you really see this as a possibility? I don’t think it is. Let me try to explain. There are a few issues here:
    1. What can the Ensign do?
    I think the Ensign’s hands are tied as it were. It has to emphasize it because the church continues to insist on its importance. All it can do is reflect the correlated material. As far as that goes, this article is fantastic in its tone and structure.

    2. What should the church do?
    I think this is the question you answered. But I’m not sure the church can do that either until the WoW becomes a stumbling block similar to polygamy, or adam-god theory. Most of the time we de-emphasize a certain doctrine or practice for political, or social pressure, revelation, or to more appropriately fit in with our Christian fellows. The WoW doesn’t present the same stumbling block unless it becomes overwhelmingly obvious to the world, and science, that green tea, coffee, or alcohol are good for you.

    I mean if you’re waiting for some exegesis on D&C 89, don’t hold your breath!!

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  18. Jeff Spector on February 15, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    JMB,

    “The WoW really isn’t a law of health, it’s more like a right of passage, a transaction cost to participation if you will.”

    Of course, you are right. But Jews will say the same exact thing about the Koshers laws. They are there to demonstrate obedience.

    What I find interesting about all the dietary laws, past and present is that the science has shown them to be pretty accurate, all in all. Now, before anyone gets all bent out of shape, I will also say that they are also in place to moderate the excess consumption, not the little to moderate consumption. So they protect those who are most vulnerable to addiction or excess consumption.

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  19. Heber13 on February 15, 2012 at 12:21 PM

    I’m not holding my breath.

    But I would say that I would imagine the Ensign is given topics and agendas from the Church, so yes, hands are tied.

    With 12 issues a year, 2 on Conference, the other 10 have 5 articles on church teachings (1st Pres message, VT message, and 3 “What we believe” articles), there are about 50 topics a year to write on.

    There are plenty of great topics to include, and WoW doesn’t have to be one of them.

    Realistically, I hear what you are saying. It is a baptism question, it is a TR question, and so, it remains in our teaching.

    Yes, I agree, the tone of this tastes better to me than others I’ve seen written on the subject…but it would be even better if they took out the checklist entirely.

    What is the value of the checklist, except for obedience to authority? If the real value is a spiritual law, it can continue to improve in future Ensign articles by more focus on that, less on the checklist and teaching members not to seek to be commanded in all things.

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  20. Heber13 on February 15, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    last sentence was meant to be:
    “less on the checklist and more on teaching members not to seek to be commanded in all things.”

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  21. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 15, 2012 at 12:45 PM

    Kosher laws are addressed in the book of acts in the New Testament — which explains why we do not observe them or the law of circumsicion.

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  22. mh on February 15, 2012 at 12:50 PM

    I can’t remember the last time I read the ensign. just sayin.

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  23. Jeff Spector on February 15, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    Stephen,

    Yes, I know. But if Christ fulfilled those laws, why the need for the WoW? Plus the Law of Circumsion is associated with the Covenant with Abraham, which is still in force. Small problem that I have…..

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  24. Jeff Spector on February 15, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    mh,

    “I can’t remember the last time I read the ensign. just sayin.”

    Heathen! The Ensign is scripture for our day….. even the cartoons.

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  25. Remlap on February 15, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    I think that WoW is a perfect example of how it is human nature to be pharisaical. The word of wisdom started out as counsel and now is a requirement to get into the temple (and therefore the celestial kingdom?) even though it was never sustained by the church as a commandment. Some people just can’t help themselves in wanting to control other people’s actions…wait isn’t that what Satan wanted to do?

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  26. jmb275 on February 15, 2012 at 1:13 PM

    Re MH-
    Oh man, you’ve sealed your fate now! You probably don’t watch each session of conference either. I know your type. You better get to repenting right away.

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  27. Mai Li on February 15, 2012 at 2:07 PM

    I have to agree with J. Spector that this seems more suited for the “Friend.” Not just because of the content but the juvenile way it is written (although since I don’t subscribe to the Ensign, I have only read the excerpts here). Talk about the Primary voice in print!

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  28. jmb275 on February 15, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    Re Mai Li

    (although since I don’t subscribe to the Ensign, I have only read the excerpts here)

    Actually it is the complete text of the article (the stuff in blue).

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  29. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 15, 2012 at 2:47 PM

    Jeff, so you do not agree with Acts and Romans on circumsicion?

    The analysis there seems pretty clear.

    As for the word of wisdom, each age has its own special issues. The core of it shifting occurred as the way tobacco is cured affected cigarrettes — before then, BYU only made fun of smokers, it did not ban them.

    I am pretty good with opposing cigarrettes and with the entire concept that conspiring men are making an effort to affect our food choices. Caffeine in orange juice? What legitimate purpose does that serve other than trying to addict drinkers?

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  30. Jeff Spector on February 15, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    Stephen,

    “Jeff, so you do not agree with Acts and Romans on circumcision?”

    It is a continual questions that I have that those scriptures do not satisfy me on.

    I can easily reconcile the law of Moses associated with the sacrifices and shedding of Blood being fulfilled in the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

    However, circumcision was part of the Covenant of Abraham. If I recall, this covenant is still in force and not affected by the fulfillment of the Laws of Moses.

    Why would the dietary Laws go away? How did that prepare the people for Christ? How was it a “schoolmaster?”

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  31. Jake on February 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM

    The Smiths famously said:

    “there is more to life then books you know, but not much more.”

    In a similar fashion sometimes I do think ‘There is more to the church then the word of wisdom, but not much more.’

    There is so much more to the church then the word of wisdom, yet it seems from the traction it gets in discussions at church that it is the most distinguishing feature and there is not much more outside of it. It pains me when I hear comments like ‘ my friends know I am Mormon as I don’t drink’ at drink because all I think is how tragic that it is a drink choice that distinguishes rather then how charitable, or friendly, or kind we are.

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  32. Stephen M (Ethesis) on February 15, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    Why would the dietary Laws go away? How did that prepare the people for Christ? How was it a “schoolmaster?”

    It served to isolate and preserve the people from assimilation.

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  33. Anselma on February 15, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    Question: when/how did the phrase “hot drinks” come to be interpreted as “tea and coffee”? I’ve never heard, and it doesn’t really make sense to me.

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  34. Rigel Hawthorne on February 15, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    In this day of carb counting, it would first seem that grain as the ‘staff of life’ needs to be revisited. On the other hand, if a ‘staff’ is something to use for support when needed, but not when you have ‘legs’ to stand on, then perhaps it is just right the way it is.

    Also if one uses this definition of herb:

    A plant whose stem does not produce woody, persistent tissue and generally dies back at the end of each growing season,

    then vegetables would fall under this definition. Herbivores are organisms that consume plant-based foods. If herbs (including vegetables) are ordained for the ‘constitution, nature, and use’ of man, then there are the legs to stand on, only to be supported by grain as a ‘crutch’, while grain is ordained for the use of man and beasts.

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  35. ji on February 15, 2012 at 7:18 PM

    Anselma (no. 34) — As I understand, a second counselor in the First Presidency (the Prophet’s brother Hyrum) said in a conference talk or somewhere back in the 1840′s that hot drinks means tea and coffee. The First Presidency has never since re-defined it, so that definition stands.

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  36. Jeff Spector on February 15, 2012 at 8:46 PM

    “It served to isolate and preserve the people from assimilation.”

    I guess it wasn’t too effective then.

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  37. Mai Li on February 16, 2012 at 9:29 AM

    I have asked this question before (and I’m going to again), why doesn’t the WoW just say tea and coffee and not hot drinks. Tea and coffee have been known substances for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years, so why not just say “tea and coffee,” and remove the ambiguity. BTW #35 was that knowledge given as a revelation to H. Smith or was that just his opinion?

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  38. Howard on February 16, 2012 at 9:50 AM

    I’ve often wondered if “hot drinks” was specified because temperature is a rough indicator of the health of the drink. Black tea can be brewed in boiling water, Coffee is brewed at 195-205F Oolong tea at 190F, White tea at 180F, Green tea at 150-160F. Is there any question that Green tea is healthier than Black tea of Coffee?

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  39. Manu Forti on February 16, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    Didn’t someone, somewhere say it’s not what goes into a man, but what comes out of a man that defiles him?

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  40. Howard on February 16, 2012 at 12:42 PM

    That’s a good saying. Someone else said; You are what you eat!

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  41. Douglas on February 16, 2012 at 7:43 PM

    #40 – Then WHY, pray tell, if we indeed become what we eat, do the health nuts encourage us to consume:
    1) Chicken
    2) Turkey
    3) Vegetables, and (best for last…)
    4) FRUIT

    (I wonder how many fellow posters would speculate that my diet is at least 50% beef, and more specifically, from bulls…)

    I agree with some of the other posters that the WoW, though its a blessed COUNSEL, has overtaken the other aspects of the Gospel in both LDS culture, doctrine, and practices. The fanatical go even beyond what is specified as “Verboten” and have a pink fit about consumption of caffeinated beverages or the “evils” of refined flour products. I recall some thirty years ago reading a rather ridiculous Ensign article where the author (an LDS doctor of some celebrity) voiced the opinion that consumption of some HERBAL TEAS violated the “spirit” of the WoW. Imagine how many unthinking twits cast out a cupboard full of “Celestial Seasonings” for fear of going to hell!!
    I have no issue with making the proscribed items a commandment, at least for purposes of temple entry and serving in sensitive Church positions or for Church employment. As long as the commandment is duly annotated and documented. Cripes, we’ve got 138 sections of the D&C and two official declarations (and the 1995 Proclamation on the Family should be added as a third, IMHO), could we sacrifice a few more trees for print copy or gobble up a few more megabytes of storage space to get this thing written down and explained?

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  42. hawkgrrrl on February 17, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    Grains were certainly better for hard working farmers than they are for foam pad chair sitting desk jockeys.

    The other modern twist from the WoW is that it does promote buying local, so it’s good for avoiding contributing to man made global warming.

    I do tend to think hot drinks originally related to temperature. However, they weren’t really drinking iced tea and frappucinos back then. The other thing I always wondered about coffee and tea being out is how much of that related to the fact that these were expensive, imported “luxury” items that would be hard to afford when the Saints went westward. For this reason, it was financially imprudent and just impractical to be accustomed to regular consumption of these things.

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  43. Jeff Spector on February 17, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    I think I’ve told the story that I was at a big meeting for work and sitting next to one of the managers, who happened to be serving as a Bishop at the time. As many of you know, the drink of choice at those lunches was iced tea. I asked for some water and was left with my mouth hanging open as my Manager-Bishop friend consumed the entire glass of iced tea. I didn’t have the guts back then as a new member to ask him why he did that. I would have now.

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  44. Douglas on February 17, 2012 at 9:58 PM

    #43 – You got the lesson early on that the Church, while of the Lord and the prime (I don’t think ONLY) recipient of His wisdom (the Priesthood is unique, however), is NOT administered perfectly. This is because “hew-mons”, particularly the male subset (this is the Savior saying “I can whoop the adversary with one hand tied behind my back”), are not perfect and the Church is for perfecting them. So now it doesn’t faze you that a BISHOP would have a weakness or exhibit poor judgement, and his Stake President doesn’t necessarily magically receive “inspiration” to ferret these things out and either counsel him or give him his release.
    Lord knows what would be said if I was in charge. That’s why I’m reluctant to criticize my leaders up to “Tommy Boy”.

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  45. NewlyHousewife on February 18, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    Although the conversation is now (mostly) dead, in the off chance an admin reads this:

    Since “commands” is in regards to recreational drugs, and “counsel” is to coffee and tea;can I say it’s ok for me to drink tea as it’s just advice? Is it really not part of the WoW?

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  46. Douglas on February 21, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    AFAIK, the proscription against coffee and tea is still in full force. I accept it on faith, but don’t ask me to justify same on the basis of either health, image, or propensity to inhibit good judgment. IMHO, if I had to make a change, I’d keep the teetotaling and the no tobacco and ‘harmful’ drug abuse, but merely advise against coffee and tea w/o making abstention mandatory. But I’m not the Prophet.

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  47. New Iconoclast on November 26, 2013 at 8:08 PM

    Way late to the party and catching up:

    Re. #42, Hawkgrrl: 5 pounds of coffee was on the suggested manifesto for all the Saints headed west from Nauvoo. :)

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